ARIZONA CARDINALS

Kyler Murray senses urgency, but Cardinals’ deep passing still lacking

Oct 7, 2020, 3:08 PM

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers during th...

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter of their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 04, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Kyler Murray sensed an urgency at Arizona Cardinals practice on Wednesday. He hadn’t felt it since Week 1.

“Going into that game, you could tell there was a different vibe,” Murray said of a season-opening road win against the reigning NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.

In a way, it was an admission that the Cardinals were more complacent after their unsatisfying win over Washington and loss to the winless Lions than they previously admitted.

The vibes this week, the Cardinals hope, translate better against the New York Jets after the Carolina Panthers jumped on Arizona last Sunday.

While head coach Kliff Kingsbury has taken blame for the lack of rhythm in the offense, his players have put it on themselves. Murray said Wednesday the Panthers “played harder than us” and “wanted it more than us.”

The quarterback added the Cardinals offense doesn’t need a better rhythm but needs to be more physical.

“For us, I don’t think it’s about moving the ball,” he said. “We can move the ball. I think for us as a team it’s more about complementary football. We got to do that better. The defense will get a stop, we’ll go three-and-out. We’ll score and we’ll give up a touchdown.

“We got to be on the same accord, we got to play complementary football.”

Murray is also not worried about the lack of a deep passing game after he completed 24 of 31 throws for just 133 yards and three touchdowns last week. He sees it as a one-off.

But Arizona’s offense has stuttered at other points this year. Why?

The rushing attack — be it the backs or the blocking — has been average instead of elite, Murray aside. The Cardinals have been over-reliant on newcomer DeAndre Hopkins, who primarily lines up on the left side of the field and feeds off screen passes. A clear No. 2 receiver hasn’t stepped forward between Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk or Andy Isabella.

So that leaves a lot to wonder about, and the second-year quarterback and second-year head coach are first on a list of guys who can fix things.

Dan Pizzuta of Sharp Football Analysis dove into the statistics to find trends clarifying how limited the Cardinals’ passing attack has been.

Arizona is taking deep shots of 20 or more air yards at about the same rate as a year ago — 10% of the time compared to 11% of the time in 2019 — but Murray isn’t hitting on them compared to his rookie year.

The quarterback is completing 27% of those passes compared to 42% last year, and he ranks 30th in completed air yards per completion, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.

A few more numbers from Sharp Football Analysis stand out:

  • The Cardinals were one of few teams (last year) to have positive EPA (expected points added) on wide receiver screens (0.15 EPA per attempt and 55.4% positive play rate) but that hasn’t been the case this season. Arizona again leads the league in wide receiver screens and while the production is technically positive, the EPA (0.05 EPA per play) the success rate has significantly dipped to 43.8%.

  • … the Cardinals are 25th in offensive DVOA (defensive value over average), 22nd in yards per drive, and 20th in points per drive.

  • The limited passing game there has taken away from how often the Cardinals can spread to run, where they’ve been highly successful though on a small sample of just 12 rushing attempts from 10 (personnel).

  • Hopkins isn’t a deep threat, per se, but it’s a red flag that just two of his targets have been beyond 20 yards.

While Murray pushed back on the notion of the deep shots not being there (he’s correct in the rate at which he’s throwing downfield), Kingsbury took the blame for his play-calling Sunday. The Panthers defensive backs and linebackers gang-tackled well against outside rushes and the screen pass game.

Kingsbury was asked why the Cardinals kept going to it.

“I’m not sure. That’s the only answer,” the head coach 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.”

Kingsbury of course won’t blurt out that the Cardinals will or will not attempt more deep balls heading into the Jets game. But it’s fair to ask if he will.

Meanwhile, as it is with these things, the players will keep their heads down focused on their roles.

“Everyone in this locker room and everyone I’m pretty sure in this building respects that, a head coach is going out and saying that they need to do better,” Hopkins said. “Also, us as players, myself included, everyone needs to do better. Losing two games isn’t fun.”

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Kyler Murray senses urgency, but Cardinals’ deep passing still lacking