Cardinals offense finds legs in New York despite lack of red zone success

Dec 13, 2020, 5:41 PM | Updated: 6:34 pm
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)...
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Kyler Murray found his legs. More importantly, so did the Arizona Cardinals offense despite what looked like an underwhelming performance against the New York Giants.

Sure, head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s unit didn’t provide much for highlight reels.

It was their defense that set up a 26-7 win by making life tough on New York quarterback Daniel Jones, who, already hampered by a hamstring injury, took six sacks before getting pulled in the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals, who entered Sunday with the NFL’s best red zone offense (75.6% conversation rate), will take it.

Arizona (7-6) finished the day with only four penalties for 22 yards. By and large, Murray’s offense didn’t take negative plays on first and second downs.

The quarterback got receiver DeAndre Hopkins involved, rode the run game and, yes, Murray took off here and there.

While the Cardinals converted on third down only 7 of 18 times and went 2-for-7 in the red zone, they piled up 390 yards with 10 of 12 drives going fewer than 40 yards.

“I thought we executed better,” Murray said, speaking on the past two games. “We had a good week of practice, we adjusted to what they were doing, I had a lot more running lanes — you know, they were dropping eight at a time, dropping into coverage a lot.

“They were getting up the field too, so that made it easier for me to get up and get outside of the pocket or scramble up the middle. I thought we just did a great job today.”

Arizona needed kicker Mike Nugent, in his 2020 debut having replaced the injured Zane Gonzalez, to knock in all four field goal attempts inside 40 yards.

Knowing Gonzalez’s many misses of late and that the Giants had held their prior opponents to 16.5 points per game during a four-game winning streak, that too was a step forward for the Cardinals.

“I thought we protected the ball well,” Kingsbury said. “Had to get out a couple times on some runs but for the most part were efficient, ran the ball when we had to. It’s a good defense.”

After three failed red zone trips out of their first four drives to start the game, Arizona led 6-0 with 6:53 to play before halftime when one of five Giants fumbles gave Arizona possession.

When the Cardinals were 3rd-and-goal from the New York 7-yard line, three Giants rushed unimpeded in Murray’s face. The quarterback threw off his back foot, lofting a high pass to the back of the end zone, and tight end Dan Arnold broke the touchdown-less streak to help put Arizona up 13-0 at half.

“It’s just I think I tell Kyler every day in practice, ‘If you’re going to throw one in the end zone, just go up and throw it where you only know I can get it,'” Arnold said. “It’s always nice to be able to go out and reach for those balls and not deal with anybody else.

“I’m like, gosh, I’m just happy he got that one off. I’m really impressed with how he can extend plays and be able to make guys miss and still get the ball off.”

Murray, who looked more willing to rush against the Giants with the edges unaccounted for, took off 13 times for 47 yards. Most of those carries came on scrambles when he couldn’t find anything downfield. Small runs they usually were, but also key to keeping drives churning.

The quarterback completed 24 of 35 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over.

A key drive, in Kingsbury’s eyes, began the second half. The Cardinals moved 77 yards on 11 plays.

Running back Kenyan Drake, who had 80 yards on 23 carries, finished it with a leaping 1-yard score to put the Cardinals ahead 20-0. That allowed them more breathing room before New York answered with its lone score on the next possession.

By the end of the win, many of the boxes were checked for the Cardinals offense.

The offensive line gave Murray time against a talented front. Arizona’s rushing attack averaged 3.7 yards but wore on New York over 43 carries.

Murray clicked with Hopkins (nine catches, 136 yards) and also continued to build something with Arnold.

The tight end’s third touchdown in the last two games lurched the Cardinals into a more confident gear Sunday. That could pay off in the final three games.

“It’s huge to finally punch one in,” Arnold said of his touchdown. “It kind of gives you that momentum to start kind of getting a little more risky with your play-calls a little bit. You can kind of open up the playbook once you feel comfortable that, hey, we got that first one, let’s start attacking these guys and really go after them.”

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Cardinals offense finds legs in New York despite lack of red zone success