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Breakthrough they needed: Kingsbury feels good about Cardinals’ progress

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) meets with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, left, after an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Late in Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Kyler Murray flipped a pass to the feet of his receiver for an incomplete pass. It was one of Kliff Kingsbury’s favorite plays of the day.

It’s that kind of throw – the safe, correct read rather than a pass attempted through a swarm of defenders – that tells the Cardinals coach his young star quarterback is learning.

“As a coach, I’ve been around some really good quarterbacks and they put up stats and all those things,” Kingsbury said Monday. “But when you see a guy show progress in an area that you’ve talked about and you’ve preached and it helps the team, that goes a long way.”

The Cardinals’ game against the Bengals was all about progress. Neither team had won a game heading into Sunday, and at numerous times through the 26-23 Cardinals win, it seemed obvious why. But Arizona also succeeded in areas it so often faltered in the first month of season.

Murray, who was sacked an NFL-leading 20 times through four weeks, was sacked only once in Cincinnati. And after getting gashed by tight ends all season, the Cardinals finally stopped the bleeding, holding Bengals’ tight ends Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah to a combined four catches for 30 yards.

Kingsbury spoke several times in his post-game press conference and on Monday about the importance of limiting negative plays, and how his young team managed to do that on the road.

But outside of that, there were also tangible differences in strategy. For one, Murray ran the ball 10 times for 93 yards and a touchdown. Kingsbury even called some designed runs for Murray, something we’ve yet to see much from this offense despite Murray’s talented feet.

But it does seem like this is the Murray we can expect to see:

Murray, on average, weeks one and two: 27 of 47 for 329 yards, and 3 rushes for 9 yards.

Murray, on average, weeks three through five: 24 of 36 for 222 yards, and 7 rushes for 63 yards.

“As long as he protects himself, we want him to do whatever it takes to win the game,” Kingsbury said of Murray’s running. “When plays were there, he took it. We had several called runs he maximized but you also don’t want to put him in harm’s way too often.”

Kingsbury said the Bengals game was closer in line with what he wants from a game script perspective. More running, more balance, or as he puts it, “able to mix things up.”

The Cardinals certainly had no problem running Sunday. Between David Johnson and second-year running back Chase Edmonds, along with Murray’s contributions, Arizona racked up 266 yards on the ground, the third-best mark of any team in the NFL this year.

But the Cardinals may not have Johnson next week. The 27-year-old rusher’s back tightened up during the game, Kingsbury said, and even though he managed to play through it, his status for next week is a question.

That would mean Edmonds would need to step up in a serious way, though Kingsbury said he’s been more than happy with what he’s seen from him so far.

“He’s earned it. His practice habits, what we’ve seen every time he’s gotten in,” Kingsbury said. “We’ve developed more of a role for him and that should continue.”

The Cardinals will host the 1-4 Atlanta Falcons at 1:05 p.m. Sunday, when they’ll try to find more of that elusive progress.