Panthers TD by Christian McCaffrey highlighted problems for Cardinals

Sep 23, 2019, 5:23 PM | Updated: 5:40 pm
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) breaks free for a 76-yard touchdown run as ...
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) breaks free for a 76-yard touchdown run as Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (33) pursues during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Behind late against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals found themselves in familiar territory.

Forget that they were trailing during the fourth quarter with the clock working against them — they also put themselves in 3rd-and-long situations, giving the Carolina defense every reason to believe they would be passing the football.

It was the perfect storm for a rookie quarterback to look as such.

From the time Christian McCaffrey ripped off a 76-yard touchdown to put Carolina ahead 28-20, it was all Panthers. And there were multiple issues that stemmed from McCaffrey’s run, ones that went beyond Arizona failing to make a tackle.

The first: In Week 3, Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray didn’t make the decisions that had kept Arizona within striking distance late in his first two outings.

“There were times we’ve got to get the ball out and understand (that on) first and second down we can’t afford to take a sack. On third down, you’re trying to make a play — that can be a different situation at times,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

On a 2nd-and-9 following McCaffrey’s 76-yard run, Murray ripped a pass into a Panthers zone. It was intercepted by Donte Jackson and returned to the Arizona 26-yard line.

Carolina tacked on another touchdown off that mistake for a 15-point lead, and Murray responded by taking two sacks in a row on first and second downs, killing the next drive after five plays.

The quarterback also took one of his eight sacks on 3rd-and-7 with the next possession.

And on the next Arizona touch, Murray was picked off on second down by trying to drop a ball behind Jackson, who was again baiting Murray trying to dump a pass over the defensive back’s head to a receiver on an out.

“You learn more from the tough times than you do from the successes,” Kingsbury said of the picks. “He understands that, but we can’t continuously be in 3rd-and-14, 3rd-and-15.”

While Arizona’s offense line took some of the blame, Kingsbury made it clear Murray could take a few personal lessons from the game — and by watching the Cardinals’ next opposing quarterback, the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.

“I think more than anything, (Murray can take away) the poise and … the way he handles every situation,” Kingsbury said. “Throwing it away, not taking sacks, doing different things to always keep his team in the game.

“If you look at Russell Wilson’s teams, they’re always in the game in the fourth quarter and that’s key in this league.”

Another thing about the McCaffrey run …

Kingsbury did not want to speak on the Cardinals’ poor coverage of tight ends on Sunday night after their loss, not without looking at the film. On Monday, he only added that how Arizona has played is “unacceptable,” adding that “everything is on the table” when it comes to finding solutions.

The latter comment came after Kingsbury was asked if Budda Baker could play more in the box. Baker had moved to a deep safety position this season but over the last few years played as a versatile — and productive — nickel.

The conundrum of the personnel packages available became clear on McCaffrey’s run.

Arizona had Baker in the box seemingly following tight end Greg Olsen on that play — but he got swallowed up by Olsen on a block.

The Cardinals also had strong safety D.J. Swearinger and rookie safety Deionte Thompson in the game with two inside linebackers, three down linemen and two outside linebackers.

The perfect package to defend tight ends down the field? Maybe.

But not the perfect personnel group to get off blocks and make a key open-field tackle.

Extra points

— Kingsbury, on the split snaps between right tackles Jordan Mills, who made his first start with Arizona, and Justin Murray: “I think we feel good about both guys. I was impressed by Jordan being able to step in — he did get fatigued towards end but initially I thought he had some nice plays and really did a nice job in the run game.”

— Kingsbury did not have an update on the health status of punter Andy Lee, who left mid-game Sunday with a hip flexor injury after needing to make a tackle. The Cardinals coach later told Bickley & Marotta they would know more on Tuesday.

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