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Kingsbury’s play-calling, RBs shine as Cardinals spread out Falcons

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury makes a call during the first half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — You could imagine Oprah calling the Arizona Cardinals offense wearing a headset, black skinny joggers and no socks along the sidelines on Sunday.

You get a screen pass.

You get a snap out of a Wildcat formation.

You catch the longest pass of your career.

You score an easy touchdown with a field wide open.

The Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-33 behind the strongest performance of head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s career on Sunday, moving Arizona to 2-3-1 on the year. Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray got his, completing 27 of 37 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

Murray didn’t take a sack and didn’t turn it over, and while a win over a reeling Falcons team that is 1-5 isn’t time to nominate Arizona as a Super Bowl contender as one fan sarcastically did in the stairway of State Farm Stadium, the game was a grand success for its rookie coach.

“I think it was just a great game that coach called,” said tight end Maxx Williams, whose third-quarter touchdown put the Cardinals ahead, 27-10.

“He gave us opportunities to make plays, he put us in good positions to go out there and perform.”

It was about diversity in the play-calls, the personnel sets and how each player was used.

Nine different Cardinals (five WRs, two TEs and two WRs) caught a Murray pass.

A career-long 58-yard reception by Damiere Byrd put Arizona a yard from the goal line in the middle of the second quarter, leading to running back Chase Edmonds’ touchdown reception that gave his Cardinals a 10-7 lead.

Right there, and on the next drive, it became even more apparent that Kingsbury would again turn to heavy doses of his running backs.

The third drive for Arizona began with a 17-yard rush by David Johnson. His easy catch-and-run for 30 yards followed, and it was made possible by the speedy Andy Isabella, who ran a deep route on the same side of the field as Johnson, pulling the defense with him.

The next play, Edmonds took a screen pass for 31 yards to the one-yard line before Johnson punched in a one-yard touchdown.

“We’re starting to use a lot of motions and really trick people with our eyes,” Edmonds said. “We have people that can run jet sweeps and with the crosser that we’ve been hitting, (Kingsbury) is just doing a great job.

“He’s always told you guys he’s the biggest copycat in the league. He takes some of that identity from (Rams head coach Sean McVay) and he puts his own wrinkle to it. It’s been phenomenal so far these last two weeks.”

The Cardinals scored on their first five drives against Atlanta, the first time they’d done so since Nov. 8, 2009, against the Bears.

To end their fifth drive, another misdirection play involving Isabella led to a 20-yard touchdown for Williams.

Oddly enough, the rookie Isabella was the only receiver who did not earn a target or a catch against the Falcons.

 

For the second week in a row, and second win in a row, Arizona’s balance came in the form of its running backs. Johnson and Edmonds combined for 101 receiving yards, plus 68 rushing yards on 17 carries.

“Great duo, man. Me and Chase, we bounce off each other’s energy really well,” Johnson said.

“It’s going to be tough for defenses to try to scheme against us. They don’t know what we’re going to pull out of the bag each week.”

Johnson made the go-ahead touchdown catch with five minutes to go in the game when he beat a linebacker out of the slot and adjusted to make a 14-yard catch on a touch throw by Murray — Johnson even coerced a pass-interference call out of it.

Eight of Arizona’s players made multiple receptions, while six tallied more than 30 yards through the air.

The Cardinals also got the red zone monkey off their backs, scoring a touchdown on three of four trips inside the 20-yard line.

Might they have found that little something called an identity?

“I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet,” Kingsbury said of the offense. “We’re getting there. It’s a work-in-progress but you’ve definitely seen, as a unit, us understand what we want to be and who we want to be when we stay on schedule.”

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