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What can Cardinals O-line improve? Fewer flags, more bread and butter

Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals looks toward the side line from the huddle for the play call against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

At this moment in time, it’s not easy to find red flags while analyzing the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line.

If you’re nitpicking as a 5-2 team sits out for a Week 8 bye, well, so too are the actual Cardinals offensive linemen.

ESPN grades Arizona with the best pass-block win rate and the second-best run-block win rate in the NFL. The Cardinals are third by averaging 5.2 yards per carry as a team, and quarterback Kyler Murray is pressured on 15.7% of his drop-backs, per Pro-Football-Reference, a fifth-best mark in the league.

As a team, the Cardinals have 478 rushing yards before contact this season, best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s 220 yards better than the NFL average. Granted, Murray accounts for 272 of those yards before being touched.

Yet credit for most of those statistics begins with the offensive line.

So what can get better?

“We still are trying to figure out our bread and butter runs, and the things that we do the best,” left tackle D.J. Humphries told Ron Wolfley and Paul Calvisi during Thursday’s Big Red Rage on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

“As of late, we have kind of been a team — we have a dose of the day. We’re going to do this today, we’re going to do that today. We still haven’t quite figured out the one thing you hang your hat on … and I think we’re starting to.”

Offensive guard Justin Pugh, who leads the Cardinals with five penalties this year, said that the Cardinals can obviously clean up the flags. Communication between the linemen can always improve, too.

Pugh last year railed against PFF’s poor grades given to Arizona’s productive offensive linemen, but he’s also dismissing all the good-looking stats this year.

“When I look at all these metrics and these people, they don’t know our scheme, they don’t know the play-call, they don’t know our blocking assignments,” he said two weeks ago. “I don’t want to hear from anyone about our offensive line.”

But even Pugh can’t deny that they’re grooving as a unit.

They’ve found great comfort under offensive line coach Sean Kugler. GM Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury have dolled out credit to Kugler for helping with play design.

Opposing coaches have pointed out that Arizona just does things different, from their pulling techniques down to the linemen’s stances.

Players like Humphries credit Kugler for holding them accountable while asking for their best. At present, they believe they haven’t reached their full potential.

“It’s kind of hard to sit back and relish on all the good things we’ve done so far. We’re still locked in on ironing out the kinks,” Humphries said on the Big Red Rage.

Familiarity with one another in Kingsbury’s second year is important, but development in the offensive line room has played its major role, too.

Keim has put an emphasis on building a two-deep rotation since the 2019 draft. He selected center Mason Cole (2018) and tackle Josh Jones (2020) in higher rounds, and put effort in developing center Lamont Gaillard (2019) and tackle Josh Miles (2019) after selecting them in later rounds.

Signing backup guard Max Garcia coming off a serious injury last year and veteran tackle Kelvin Beachum just before training camp in 2020 have panned out.

The biggest pickup of all, a waiver-wire grab of Justin Murray before the 2019 opener, solidified right tackle last year and right guard this year.

Gaillard and Murray have both started this year, while Garcia and Jones have found themselves on the field in competitive games. Pugh knows the team success goes beyond the starters who are making big money.

“I think we have 10 guys who can be starters in the NFL,” he said. “That starts off with Coach Kugler getting us ready, Coach (Brian) Natkin, our assistant line coach, who doesn’t get enough love.

“When you write the article make sure you mention the whole group, the whole room.”


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