Cardinals credit Rams’ plan, continue searching for offensive identity

Dec 6, 2020, 8:17 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2020, 11:25 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws against the Los Angeles Rams during the secon...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Rams won 38-28. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Two minutes into the game, they hit the talented Los Angeles Rams defensive backfield with the only explosive passing play its allowed this season.

They scored three second-half offensive touchdowns against the Rams, matching the total that Los Angeles had given up to its 11 prior opponents this year.

When it was all said and done, the Arizona Cardinals fell 38-28 in a game that, despite them coming within three points of the Rams twice in the second half, didn’t feel especially close.

The offense, for all the surprising things it did against a top-five Rams defense, appeared to be the main culprit in the Arizona loss.

“I’ve got to give them credit. They had a good plan and executed it well,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the Rams. “We couldn’t get anything going and kept our defense on the field a lot and on a lot of plays. As the game went on, it wore on those guys, which is tough.

“We have to be better, more efficient offensively, and not keep those guys on the field so much.”

Quarterback Kyler Murray admitted he feels like the offense has “hit a wall.”

He hit tight end Dan Arnold for a 59-yard score on the first possession of the game, but the drive was only still alive at that point because of a third-down face-mask penalty against the Rams.

The Arizona offense followed that Arnold score with four consecutive three-and-outs.

“We got too much talent to do that,” offensive tackle D.J. Humphries said.

Finally, with 51 seconds left in the first half, the Cardinals had a little life. They got 25 yards in the final first-half drive from a DeAndre Hopkins-drawn pass interference before Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yard field goal, extending his stretch of concerning whiffs.

Yet Arizona trailed only 14-7 at halftime, and it appeared to trash the offensive gameplan that wasn’t working.

The Cardinals reverted to a quick-hit, perimeter passing attack with tempo to get Murray in a groove.

“We felt like with how things were going, we needed to create a spark somehow,” Kingsbury said. “Probably could’ve gotten to it sooner, obviously, looking back, but I thought (Murray) came out, like I said, and handled it well. He got us back in the ball game and unfortunately, we weren’t able to kind of close it out.”

Murray had just one completion through the first 29 minutes of the game and finished 21-of-39 for 173 yards, three touchdowns, a pick-six thrown and a lost fumble. The quarterback rushed just five times for 15 yards.

It was yet another game where the Cardinals couldn’t unlock their cheat code of a rushing quarterback, instead watching him struggle to get much going down the field in the passing game.

Murray completed just two passes beyond 10 air yards.

“We just couldn’t get in a rhythm, couldn’t make anything shake,” Murray said. “We just couldn’t figure it out.

“I think you saw we started kind of pushing the tempo. I think obviously that worked, but again, when you’re down and you’re forced to throw the ball every down, they got guys you can pin your ears back and get after the quarterback, it’s tough.”

The relative success the Cardinals offense found in the second half brings up the question about why, 12 games into the season, their offensive identity remains convoluted.

Are they reliant on Hopkins that much? He went catchless in the first half but had eight grabs for 52 yards and a score in the second half.

Do the Cardinals need to get back to the bullying rushing attack that defined the back half of their 2019 season?

Humphries was asked if the Cardinals have yet to find their bread and butter in the run game after Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds took 16 carries for a combined 72 yards (4.5 yards per carry) — obviously the volume was about Murray throwing it so often while playing catch-up.

“That’s one of those evolving things. You play a lot of defenses, certain defenses are built for certain runs,” Humphries said. “I just think that’s something we’re still ironing out.”

Maybe it’s more simple, that the Cardinals’ failures in 2020 come down to limiting mistakes.

“Just not on the same page as a unit,” Humphries said. “Guys would get their stuff right on the outside and then we’ll have pressure in the pocket — just perfect storm on a lot of things.”

On Sunday, once the Cardinals went to an up-tempo passing game to start the third quarter, their defense began to break down. Los Angeles held the ball for 38:28 of the game, with Arizona’s offense in control just 21:07.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson didn’t want to use the offensive ineptitude as an excuse for the defense giving up 24 second-half points.

“No, not at all. They did a great job of keeping our eyes busy, misdirection, boots, screen passes, screens to the running back, the tight end, receiver,” the cornerback said.

Just as the Cardinals offense finally got it going, the Rams hit Arizona frequently in the second half with short misdirection plays, rolling quarterback Jared Goff out to buy more time. He finished completing 37-of-47 passes for 351 yards.

So much for complementary football on Arizona’s side.

“We’ve been in those games (over a 1-4 stretch since the start of November),” Murray said. “We have to find a way to execute when we have to. That’s honestly the difference.

“In the NFL there’s going to be one-score games, and whoever usually finds a way to make that one play, when it’s crucial, when it’s crunch time, they win the game.”

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Cardinals credit Rams’ plan, continue searching for offensive identity