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Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake ‘hit some holes’ vs. Cowboys just as mom asked

Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals runs for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on October 19, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The tape showed that Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake was maybe thinking too much, possibly pressing too hard.

Especially in Arizona’s 31-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, the bellcow was stretching plays horizontally when he didn’t see holes. He was searching for a big play having not hit triple-digits in rushing yards to that point.

Arizona continued to lean on him in a 30-10 win over the New York Jets last week, but he was still averaging 3.7 yards per carry on the season. It was far from his 5.2 yards per tote in 2019.

Drake’s breakout came Monday with 20 carries for 164 yards and two touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys.

The 2020 breakout game wasn’t by accident, and Drake acknowledged that he’d worked through some early issues.

While Drake would expect running backs coach James Saxon to help him fix things, a comment from his mother jolted him into action. Usually concerned only about Drake’s health and happiness, the running back’s mom asked a blunt question to begin a phone conversation before the Cowboys game.

“The first thing she told me: ‘I’m your mom and everything, but you going to hit some holes today?'” Drake said Wednesday. “It kind of really hit home when your own mom is not really liking what she sees out there.

“I really just kind of had to buckle up, go out there and play ball. Go north and south, make them tackle me going forward.”

Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that he and Saxon had prior talks with Drake about his struggles in the first quarter of the season. The key to clearing Drake’s mental hurdles, Kingsbury said, came in “just acknowledging” that it was a problem.

“Coach Sax and myself just talked to him about, ‘Hey, you’re going to have those chunk plays if you just do what you’re supposed to do on every play,’” Kingsbury said. “And he took that to heart, and I thought he did a nice job of finishing runs downhill, was getting north and south from the first play on, and you see the dynamic speed when he gets in open space.

“But I was really proud of how he bounced back and finished that game.”

Drake credited Saxon for knowing when to push his players and when to listen. The latter helped Drake through the rough patch, when he admitted that he was losing sleep thinking about his struggles.

“He put his complete trust in me, understanding that I’m the type of back they want me to be here and play in this system and have success moving forward,” Drake said of Saxon. “That gave me a lot of confidence to really just put my head down, grind and go out there and play like I know I’m capable of.”

The regained confidence showed well against Dallas.

The Cardinals’ passing attack sputtered in the first quarter, and they had the opportunity to begin tiring the Cowboys thanks to two turnovers that gave Arizona extra first-half possessions.

With a 21-3 lead at halftime and quarterback Kyler Murray providing a handful of demoralizing unscripted runs of his own, finally, the dam in front of Drake broke.

“(The running game and turnovers) just kind of grinded on them and then second half came and at that point our O-line started leaning on them,” Murray said. “Kenyan was running great. Along with the ability for me to pull the ball, that just causes a lot of confusion, the eyes in the wrong place.”

Drake reached 22.11 miles per hour on his 69-yard touchdown run, which is the third-fastest recorded speed for a ball carrier in the NFL this season. What set it up, though, was the patience in Drake’s prior 19 carries and the trust that sticking to the game plan would pay off.

It did as the Arizona offensive line opened a gaping hole up the middle.

The score might not have mattered to the Cardinals, who took a 28-point lead with less than two minutes left. But it was an important moment for Drake, who could show his mom he was feeling like his usual, happy self.

“For her to kind of speak up on I guess the schematics and what she sees is glaring. I had to kind of, ‘Whatever mom says.’ I have to go out there and get that done,” he said.

Phillips Law Group

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