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Keim: Cardinals could be ‘pretty scary’ if they shake red zones woes

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs the ball in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

A first victory for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5 did not alleviate their biggest problem.

In fact, beating a winless Cincinnati Bengals team on the road only did more to confirm a troubling trend. In just one of six trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Arizona’s offense got a touchdown.

“If we clean up the red zone it’s going to be pretty scary, in my opinion,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Keim sees promise. He cited Arizona being No. 4 in the NFL by averaging 5.4 yards per rush and their No. 7 ranking in terms of pressures given up by the offensive line.

According to Football Outsiders, Arizona’s offensive line is tied for first by allowing runs to get stuffed just 10% of the time. The unit’s adjusted sack rate is ninth-best.

“(The win) just shows the fact that we feel we’re getting better in a number of areas and growing as a football team,” Keim said. “You hope that’s infectious in your locker room and you continue to see the chemistry in that area.”

But the red zone issues continue to limit the point production.

That the Cardinals lead the NFL by scoring field goals on 25% of its drives illustrates how effectively they have moved the ball — but also how many times drives have stalled with a shortened field.

Heading into a Week 6 home game against the struggling Atlanta Falcons, Arizona ranks 28th in the NFL by averaging 4.00 points per red zone trip, well below the league-average of 4.74.

The Cardinals are 30th in touchdowns per red zone trip by reaching the end zone just 30% of the time. The league average is 55%.

Keim could also use fewer penalties — Arizona had 11 on Sunday — but the GM saw other promising signs.

Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray’s 20-for-32 passing game for 253 yards was impressive. But the biggest improvements showed in his throwaways and single sack taken.

“Every week we’ve seen how talented he is,” Keim said. “That’s one thing that we’ve emphasized: taking care of the football, protecting it, making good decisions. I think the other thing where you’ve seen some growth is identifying coverages and how it all works together. Whether it’s identifying coverages, what you’re asking your offensive linemen to do up front from a protection standpoint and how all those things tie together.

“Which again, with your decision-making, gives you a better understanding of, ‘OK on this play all of a sudden they’re playing man on the backend. Middle field is open. Now I don’t have what I want right away, that gives me an opportunity to run the football.’ That’s why, last week, I think he had great success.”

Extra points

— Keim said he is “encouraged” about the health of running back David Johnson’s back. The issue has kept Johnson out of practice through Thursday, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury has suggested Johnson might be a gametime decision even if he does not practice with the team Friday.

— The decision to cut second-year cornerback Chris Jones and add veteran Trevor Williams via the waiver-wire gives Arizona more experience at a depth-lacking position, Keim said. Williams has 37 games of experience with 27 starts for the Chargers over the last three seasons.

“This was an opportunity to claim a player who has started a number of games in the National Football League and we had good grades on in our pro system. (We) wanted to give him an opportunity. Corners are hard to find, especially ones with starting experience,” Keim said.

The general manager was unsure if Williams would be active Sunday against the Falcons. The cornerback was listed as limited with a hip problem on the Thursday injury report.

— Keim said signing linebacker Ramik Wilson this week was necessary because of a banged up group of linebackers. Starter Jordan Hicks missed practice Thursday for a non-injury-related reason, while sidekick Haason Reddick was limited with a shoulder problem. Backups Dennis Gardeck (DNP, ankle) and Zeke Turner (DNP, hamstring) potentially missing the game against Atlanta would leave Arizona without depth and core special teams bodies.

— Keim on missing cornerback Patrick Peterson one more week before he can rejoin the team Monday: “Like maybe at Sunday night at 12:01 I’ll drive to Scottsdale and pick Pat up.”

Doug & Wolf

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