Getting Kenyan Drake, Cardinals run game going is ‘top of the checklist’

Oct 5, 2020, 2:50 PM | Updated: 3:12 pm
Myles Hartsfield #38 of the Carolina Panthers tackles Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals dur...
Myles Hartsfield #38 of the Carolina Panthers tackles Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 04, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers won 31-21. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Kliff Kingsbury can keep accepting most of the blame. Players deserve their fair share as well.

The Arizona Cardinals have fallen flat in their two games following a 2-0 start to the season, and the issues are numerous. A very general belief is that the 2-2 Cardinals should be better than what they are, especially after a 31-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 4.

Offensively, it’s clear that the lack of a traditional rushing attack is holding back an offense that in long stretches can’t get much going down the field. After all, play-action doesn’t work if defenses aren’t feeling threatened by the run.

Running back Kenyan Drake on Sunday rushed 13 times for 35 yards before leaving due to taking a hit in the chest. Kingsbury said Monday he expects Drake will be fine health-wise, but getting the running back going is a top priority.

“It’s something I think we’re sorting through,” Kingsbury told Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports. “We know he’s a tremendous player, we know what he can do when we’re rolling in the right direction. He’s very dynamic in space and he’s not afraid to stick it up in there as well.

“That’s kind of the top of the checklist is how do we get him going over the next 12 games?”

The Cardinals have been relatively balanced this season, but the results aren’t what they were in 2019, when the team set a franchise record with 5.03 yards per carry.

It’s 4.9 yards per carry this year, and Arizona ranks sixth in rushing yards per game.

Obviously, quarterback Kyler Murray has been leaned on even more as a rusher. But as explosive as he’s been at 8.3 yards a carry, running backs Drake and Chase Edmonds have struggled to shake loose. They are collectively averaging 3.8 yards per carry.

More red flags popped up against the Panthers when Drake bounced outside seemingly too often. A Carolina defense led by versatile rookie safety/linebacker Jeremy Chinn’s eight tackles was often able to contain the edges and chase down the running backs horizontally. Before throwing David Johnson comparisons at Drake, consider this: Maybe he had no choice.

Drake and Edmonds recorded 36 of their 51 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus, a sign they are finding themselves in traffic often.

Multiple times, Drake bounced outside on designed plays with dual tight end sets. Dan Arnold and Darrell Daniels ended up blocking the same player or whiffing entirely.

It put a microscope on how much Arizona has missed run-blocking tight end Maxx Williams this year. He played in Week 1 on an injured ankle that caused him to miss a good deal of training camp and has since been sidelined.

Kingsbury said Monday that Williams’ injury could keep him out until somewhere around the bye week, which would cost him three more games.

What about running between the tackles? Well, Arizona has been struggling to get things going there, too. Notably, Panthers rookie first-round pick Derrick Brown blew up two Drake up-the-gut runs during the loss Sunday.

Going into the game, Arizona was 27th in the NFL with an average of 3.68 adjusted line yards (ALY) when rushing up the middle or around the guard, yet the Cardinals rush up the middle at the fourth-highest rate of 67% of the time, according to Football Outsiders.

Is doing something they’re not good at about scheme or player performance? Kingsbury didn’t throw his offensive line under the bus on Bickley & Marotta.

“I think they’ve done a nice job,” Kingsbury said. “We haven’t had the success in the run that we would’ve liked … a lot of that had to do with some really good fronts we played, but at times we’ve needed to close out games and win games, they’ve done a nice job.”

At Carolina, Drake couldn’t get going and deep passing opportunities hardly appeared other than misses from Murray to Larry Fitzgerald and Andy Isabella.

“I thought we had some opportunities, but got to give them a lot of credit. They have a very athletic, fast defense. Had a good plan and executed it at a high level, and they got after us,” Kingsbury said.

While leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins put together massive games because of quick screen passes in Weeks 1-3, the Panthers were on top of him Sunday, holding the X receiver to seven catches for 41 yards.

Why did the Cardinals attempt to stretch the field horizontally with Carolina DBs continuing to run down those plays?

“I’m not sure. That’s the only answer,” Kingsbury said Monday. “We didn’t have a good enough plan in place to make the plays down the field that we’d like to. That falls on me.”

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Getting Kenyan Drake, Cardinals run game going is ‘top of the checklist’