Short-yardage calls in loss to Dolphins burn Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury

Nov 8, 2020, 8:00 PM | Updated: Nov 9, 2020, 12:51 am

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury yells to his team prior to an NFL football game agains...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury yells to his team prior to an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — You knew when Zane Gonzalez’s 49-yard field goal attempt plunked on the turf in front of the goal posts that Kliff Kingsbury was about to take the brunt of it.

As he usually does, this time following a 34-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals head coach would accept blame for the play-calls and the decision to kick it at all.

“Had some bad calls late on 4th-and-1, 3rd-and-1, turned us over. They got it done and we didn’t,” Kingsbury said.

It was another bout of conservative decisions late in a close game from a head coach known for his ultra-aggressiveness at most other times.

Kingsbury elected to kick a field goal down 34-31 with two minutes left after the team had gone 2-of-3 on prior fourth-down conversions — the two successful tries came on Kyler Murray sneaks.

The Cardinals brought out the field goal unit. Like it went against the Seahawks two weeks ago, when in overtime Kingsbury elected to kick on second down with time remaining, Gonzalez didn’t make it.

“I know he didn’t get much of it,” Kingsbury said. “Just like a missed hit, but I haven’t got final word on that.”

Maybe the previous fourth-down play spooked Kingsbury.

After showing an array of exotic looks throughout the night, Kingsbury ran Chase Edmonds straight ahead for no gain on 4th-and-1.

The Miami stop led to the Dolphins’ go-ahead field goal on 4th-and-1 — it was an easier decision for coach Brian Flores to make. He didn’t want to put too much on a depth-less running back room or his rookie quarterback in his second start, Tua Tagovailoa.

It turned out well.

Yes, Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders just hit a 50-yarder when Gonzalez didn’t.

But without the context of Arizona’s offensive evening (Murray rushed 11 times for 106 yards) compared to Miami’s with a limited roster and young quarterback, the analytics of whether Arizona should have gone for it differ according to who’s asking who.

ESPN’s win probability model said Kingsbury made the right call, increasing the team’s odds to win by 8% when it pulled Murray off the field for Gonzalez.

EdjSports said the pre-snap win probability decreased by 20%.

Maybe the issue was the play-calls before it.

On the play before Gonzalez’s missed kick, Arizona had a 3rd-and-1 at the Dolphins 31-yard line. Murray sprinted right as a run threat and didn’t have enough juice to hit receiver Christian Kirk streaking the same direction and heading toward the sideline.

“It’s a tough throw on the run and with a short sideline like that, it’s just condensed space,” Kirk said, defending his quarterback but alluding to perhaps the wrong play at the wrong time.

“It may not look like it’s hard, but when you’re moving at that speed and got guys in your face and having to throw around defensive linemen, it can be hard.”

Maybe Kingsbury was worried after his previous fourth-down play-call with Edmonds indicated he’d already gone too deep into his short-yardage packages.

Maybe he felt that confident Gonzalez could get the team to overtime and the Dolphins’ defense would be gassed there.

Maybe he knew he’d already put Murray in positions to get hit too many times.

That said, Murray dazzled with a 28-yard gain on one early fourth down call and numerous other designed quarterback runs in short-yardage situations.

Ultimately, Kingsbury will continue to second-guess himself — and take the heat about when and how to be overly aggressive.

He was asked if the Cardinals considered keeping the ball in Murray’s hands on the final fourth-down play for Arizona’s offense.

“Yeah, definitely. We’d done it three or four times before,” he said.

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