Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury looks to continue evolving offense in 3rd year
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals are going into the 2021 season with a slightly different looking offense.
With the departure of running back Kenyan Drake, the additions of wide receiver A.J. Green, RB James Conner and center Rodney Hudson — plus the uncertainty of WR Larry Fitzgerald — expectations are starting to rise for the potency of this offensive unit.
And after an 8-8 season that saw the Cardinals miss out on the postseason due to a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the season finale, expectations among players is to at least make the playoffs.
“I think we’re all excited to see what this team can do,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said prior to training camp practice on Wednesday. “I don’t mind them having that expectation. Obviously the progression we’ve made — five wins, eight wins — we’d like to keep that going and see where it takes us.”
The Cardinals head coach added that he addressed how last season ended in a team meeting. And although there are some new faces on the team who weren’t part of the loss to the Rams last season, Kingsbury said there are a lot of highly motivated players in the Arizona locker room.
One of the biggest improvements the Cardinals will have to make in 2021 in order to achieve their goal of the postseason in a stacked NFC West division is limiting penalties on offense.
“Offensively, we led the league in stalled drives due to penalty,” Kingsbury said. “I think we were a top-six offense and had we not done that, who knows what we could’ve been. That’s a lot of drives to give up over throughout an NFL season within the possession. There’s no question, there are little things every day that we have to get better at.”
Another area Kingsbury is looking to improve on is his own play-calling and the evolution of his offense as he goes into just his third year as an NFL head coach.
“I’ll be the first one to take accountability on play calls and things of that nature. … You just evolve each year,” he said. “That’s what the offseason is for: study a lot of tape, see what’s out there, see how you can get better and maximize your personnel.”
“It’ll just continue to evolve based on the personnel and we’ll try to get better,” Kingsbury added. “I think you saw some big steps last year in what we were able to do and I expect to see more improvement this year.”
Two key additions to the offensive personnel are the aforementioned Conner and Green.
When it comes to running backs Chase Edmonds and Conner — who offer different skillsets out of the backfield — Kingsbury will look to utilize each of their respective talents depending on what the flow of the game calls for.
“We’ll play to their strengths,” he said. “James is obviously a bigger back. Chase, when he got an opportunity, did some great things. We want to make sure that we’re calling plays that both those guys are comfortable with when they’re in and kind of tailored it to them.”
But Kingsbury’s bread and butter as an offensive mind comes in the form of an air-raid passing attack.
Going into his third season with quarterback Kyler Murray, the head coach expects to see improvement from both his signal-caller and coaching staff if they can stay consistent.
“I think more than anything just consistency in everything we do,” he said. “Obviously he got banged up a little bit last year and that was tough and he battled through. I just think all of us as an offense, coaching staff have to continue to be consistent in everything we do and if he does that, he’ll continue to get better.”
And given that this is the first real offseason and training camp Murray had with No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kingsbury expects the duo’s rapport to be even stronger than it was in 2020.
“It was limited obviously but it beats what we had last year and last year Hop didn’t practice much during camp either,” Kingsbury said. “So by the first week, it wasn’t a lot of time on task. They definitely have a much better bond, much better chemistry and I expect them to kind of pick up where they left off last year.”
Hopkins has been known to not participate in every practice during training camp and the regular season, but still manages to produce at the highest level from the wide receiver position.
“We’re going to do what’s best for him to maximize him when he gets out there,” Kingsbury said. “Like I said last year, he knows his body, he knows how to prepare for these games and play at a high level. So we’ll continue to work with him and see where that goes.”
When it comes to Green — who has been a No. 1 receiver most of his career — there will have to be a slight adjustment period for the former Georgia Bulldog. But the new Cardinals wideout isn’t shying away from the challenge of proving he still has what made him a seven-time Pro Bowler at 32 years old.
“We have to get A.J. going as well,” Kingsbury said. “I think he’s a guy who is excited to kind of show what he still has and can do and I think having both those guys on the field is going to be great.”
“He definitely was excited about that,” Kingsbury said of Green not being the Cardinals No. 1 WR. “He’s always drawn the doubles, the coverage over the top and the best corner. He’s looked great so I know he’s excited about this opportunity.”