Cardinals’ backup QB decision follows Kliff Kingsbury into offseason
Kliff Kingsbury’s in-game decisions have received their fair share of criticism during his second year as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
Running a speed option on a 3rd-and-18 with a one-legged quarterback and then punting it down 18-7 with 4:21 left in a playoff-disqualifying loss to the Los Angeles Rams added to the list of questionable calls.
But a decision Kingsbury made before the season began got put under the microscope as Arizona’s 2020 season was effectively ended on Sunday.
Starting quarterback Kyler Murray went down early in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium and didn’t return until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Backup quarterback Chris Streveler spelled him, but the offense sputtered as the former Canadian Football League quarterback — in his first extensive NFL action — went 11-of-16 for 105 yards, a touchdown and an 84-yard interception-turned-score.
“Obviously, it didn’t go the way that I would have hoped for it to go or anyone would have hoped for it to go,” Streveler said. “For me, I’m just going to use this experience, learn from it, use it to motivate me through the offseason and come back a better player because of it.”
Streveler said he came into the game prepared.
But the fact of the matter is he had limited run with the first team, went through an abbreviated training camp and had two whole offensive snaps before Sunday.
Streveler won the backup job before the first game of 2020 by beating out Brett Hundley, who has 18 games of NFL experience and served in Murray’s single absence last year.
Kingsbury said Streveler “just made plays, handled himself really well” to win it.
Through the first few games, it was apparent the Cardinals wanted to use Streveler, the physical runner, as a tool on short-yardage gadget plays.
As the main quarterback Sunday, Streveler was mainly a pocket passer, though he rushed three times for 12 yards.
Streveler completed his first two passes to help Arizona take a 7-0 lead. He was credited for a touchdown on a pitch to undrafted rookie running back Jonathan Ward with 10:05 left in the first quarter.
As Rams backup quarterback John Wolford made his NFL debut, helping Los Angeles outgain Arizona 333-214 by the end of the night, the Cardinals scuffled on offense from then on.
Arizona held strong defensively and led 7-5 late in the second quarter, but with 20 seconds left before halftime and the Cardinals driving, Streveler thought he had a free play on an offsides penalty. Instead, he fired a ball into a mass of Rams, and defensive back Troy Hill went 84 yards the other way to give Los Angeles the lead for good.
“Had a hard count, thought we got them to jump, thought we had a free play,” Streveler said.
Kingsbury was asked if he regretted not having Hundley, with his NFL experience, active considering the stakes of Arizona needing a win to make the playoffs.
“Not at all,” Kingsbury said, having previously noted Hundley had been the third quarterback all season.
Still, the coach admitted — to some degree — that Streveler wasn’t put in a great position to succeed.
“It’s a tough spot to be thrown into the game, obviously, without ever having preseason football, not getting reps throughout the season and not getting any game reps,” the head coach said.
Murray, who entered the game healthy after suffering a different leg injury last Sunday, eventually got his ankle feeling good enough to play.
Kingsbury said it was the starter’s call when to return as he went back and forth from the locker room, injury tent and sidelines through the first three quarters. Murray eventually got his ankle to loosen up after his coach said he couldn’t push off on it.
“I wish I could have came in earlier,” Murray said. “Right now, it really doesn’t matter how my ankle feels. I don’t have anything to look forward to as far as moving around on it.
“I wasn’t going to go in … if I was hurting myself or hurting the team by going in because I couldn’t move. Had to let some things kick in and once they did that’s when I decided to go in.”
The offense felt a jolt.
Murray completed 7-of-9 passes for 80 yards in the fourth quarter after returning, but it was clear he couldn’t move well or put much pressure on his right leg.
The Cardinals had a 37-yard Mike Nugent field goal blocked and then had one final Murray-led possession sputter with a penalty, incomplete passes, a loss on a run and Murray’s quarterback option pitch to running back Chase Edmonds on the 3rd-and-18 play.
Following the Cardinals’ punt, the Rams burned 4:05 off the clock with Arizona using their last timeout before punting.
Streveler was sent out as a white flag.
And the Cardinals were sent home with an 8-8 record and — to various degrees — regrets.
“I know we’re a playoff team, I know what we’re capable of, but again, that’s what kept holding us back all year, us hurting ourselves,” Murray said. “It came back to bite us, for sure.”