Cardinals offense doesn’t reflect the style Kingsbury displayed in college

Sep 17, 2019, 3:08 PM
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, right, speaks with quarterback Kyler Murray in the fi...
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, right, speaks with quarterback Kyler Murray in the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Arizona Cardinals’ decision to hire Kliff Kingsbury as coach was intended to buck tradition-driven NFL trends. While the 40-year-old Kingsbury was far from unqualified, with 11 years of college coaching experience on his résumé, his qualifications stemmed more from his unique coaching style than the final outcomes of games.

Even the staunchest Kingsbury supporters expressed concern over his 35-40 record as a college coach, including a 5-7 finish in his final season at Texas Tech. Still, Kingsbury’s high-scoring Red Raiders offenses were intriguing.

The 2019 season is just two games old, but Kingsbury hasn’t looked anything like that intriguing college coach who threw the ball all over the yard. He has been one of the league’s most conservative coaches, especially in red-zone opportunities. In a 23-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the Cardinals became the first team since the NFL moved the goalposts back in 1974 to kick three field goals inside the 5-yard line while trailing in the game.

When pressed for an explanation, Kingsbury was vague, reiterating that he did not consider going for it on any of the three, fourth-and-goal opportunities, which came with the Cardinals trailing by seven, seven and 11 points respectively.

“We have a system and analytics involved, and all sorts of things that we go through,” Kingsbury said at Monday’s press conference. “You’re always going to, after the game, think about different situations, but at those points in the game, that was the decision I made.”

Analytics have been an early focus of the Kingsbury tenure. This offseason, the Cardinals became one of a handful of NFL teams to employ a coach whose primary focus is to provide mid-game, data-driven analysis of key decisions. The Cardinals have never named that coach publicly, but Charlie Adkins is listed on the team’s website as coordinator of analytics and research.

While Kingsbury has made it clear that the final decision remains his own, he has also shown an affinity for new-age thinking, especially near the goal line. While the first-year coach insists that most of his decisions simply stem from that week’s matchup, through two weeks, Murray leads the league in passes inside the 10 with nine, and he has thrown the third-most passes (16) in the red zone, per

“We’re going to make those decisions based on what we think is the best for our team in that moment,” Kingsbury said. “In the first two weeks, (we’ve faced) very good front sevens and we felt like we had a chance to hit some things in the passing game. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but like I said that was the decision we made.”

The Cardinals know they have to be better near the goal line. Those lost points factored heavily in the first defeat of the season.

“We have to execute better,” Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk said following Sunday’s defeat. “The red zone is tough. The field obviously shortens, and so does your playbook. We just have to be better down there.”

Even with the lack of point production this season, confidence remains high internally that this offense can match its lofty preseason expectations. Both Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray are still acclimating to life in professional football, with Kingsbury admitting Monday that there are some things in the NFL that you just “can’t get away with.” With the winless Carolina Panthers coming to Arizona this week, the Cardinals hope to apply those lessons.

“I know we’re heading in the right direction,” guard Justin Pugh said Sunday. “You get a feeling and a sense that this team is explosive and can make plays. We’ve got to keep building, keep getting better, keep sticking together and we’re going to be a fun team to watch this year.”

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Cardinals offense doesn’t reflect the style Kingsbury displayed in college