Keim: Cardinals expect more play-action down final stretch of season

Dec 18, 2020, 3:16 PM
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, hands off to running back Kenyan Drake, right, du...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, hands off to running back Kenyan Drake, right, during the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim called his team’s victory against the New York Giants on Sunday one of the most complete games of the year in terms of complementary football.

It also featured refreshed offensive packages with emphasis on play-action passes, Keim pointed out while joining Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Friday.

With a nice pass-rush mix, Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury used quarterback Kyler Murray under center more often, leading to more of those opportunities.

Even in shotgun, the Cardinals used play-action and a true RPO (run-pass option) over the course of the win.

“To throw some wrinkles in and do different things — and certainly we got some of the play-action game going last Sunday — I think those are things you’ll continue to see moving forward,” Keim said. “Kliff moving guys around, Kliff moving different personnel packages and stuff like that to give defenses a tough time.”

The tighter packages were a changeup from the spread looks that have stuttered or thrived in 2020 depending on the day. The Cardinals’ use of Murray under center prioritized a reliance on the running game.

With Murray rushing 13 times for 47 yards, the running backs also got heavily involved as the Cardinals grinded away just to get 26 points.

Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds combined for 30 carries for 112 yards against a stout Giants defensive front. But a shrug-worthy 3.7 yards per carry average wore on New York — and set up the passing attack.

On a failed fourth-down play at the goal line to start the game last Sunday, Murray lined up under center, faked two handoffs and rolled out. He had a chance to hit receiver KeeSean Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown.

Later, play-action on with Murray under center again got tight end Maxx Williams involved for a near-score.

Ultimately, the efforts paid off for Murray’s top receiving target, too.

According to ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, 108 of 136 receiving yards by DeAndre Hopkins came off play-action.

Edmonds enters the Cardinals’ game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles banged up. His ankle swelled up on the plane ride back to Arizona, and Kingsbury said he will test his leg out Saturday.

If Edmonds can’t go, Drake expects to take on a bigger load.

His 23 carries last week were a season high.

A backup before being traded to Arizona last year, Drake only had taken 20 or more carries in a single game four times over the first four full years of his career. This season, he’s doubled that to eight heading into the Eagles game.

Sunday presents another opportunity to show, in a contract year, that he can take on the load of a bell-cow running back that he’d never been before this season.

“I feel like if you haven’t done something for somebody to see, it’s going to present questions,” he said.

Extra point

Should the Cardinals enter the game without Edmonds this week, they have options.

Maybe first up is the versatile D.J. Foster, who is on the practice squad.

Arizona already has rookie seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin and undrafted rookie Jonathan Ward on the 53-man roster. Ward got on the field briefly against the Giants for a single offensive snap, and he appears ahead of his fellow rookie in the pecking order.

“He’s definitely mature for his age,” Drake said of Ward. “You wouldn’t think he’s a rookie with his mannerisms and how he goes about his business. He’s definitely earned a lot of respect with his play on special teams.

“I feel like if we were required to rely on him to come in and play meaningful snaps in the running game or what have you in the backfield, we wouldn’t really blink an eye — that’s everyone in that room from me down to Eno, Jon, D.J., Chase. If we need (running backs coach James Saxon) to go out there and get a couple yards I feel like he’d be hard-nosed and fall forward for a couple of them to get that first down if we need them.”

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Keim: Cardinals expect more play-action down final stretch of season