ESPN’s Rex Ryan advises Cardinals to stop running ‘Air Raid’ Offense

Sep 2, 2021, 4:27 PM
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals participates in an off-season workout at Dignit...
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals participates in an off-season workout at Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on June 02, 2021 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Former NFL coach and ESPN analyst Rex Ryan was critical of Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive system when the latter was hired. He called the “Air Raid” schemes “basketball on grass” and said it would not lead to winning back in 2019.

Two years later, Ryan feels vindicated.

“When Kliff Kingsbury came into the league, I was like ‘Dude is going to get smoked’,” Ryan said on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin Thursday. “And quite honestly it has because in college football, you have 100 kids on your roster. So, you don’t care, you can go as fast as you want and you’re going to wear out that defense. Well, you’re wearing out your own damn defense.”

Kingsbury’s system involves going up-tempo, utilizing four-receiver sets, calling run-pass options and giving receivers options based on coverage. The idea is to spread out the defense to create openings.

Ryan said that the “Air Raid” results in a lot of yards but not wins, and he brought up Kingsbury’s sub-.500 record when coaching future NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech.

“I was criticized beyond belief about, ‘See there you go, he’s Neanderthal football,'” Ryan said. “Well Neanderthal football still wins.”

The Cardinals had the sixth-most yards in the league last year but finished 14th in points. The offense finished 19th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), below average.

But, the Cardinals offense was not built quite like Texas Tech’s. They were both fast, but Mahomes consistently threw the ball 45-55 times per game. Arizona ran at the sixth-highest percentage in the league. Plus, Arizona finished 8-8 two years removed from a 3-13 season.

However, the Cardinals started the season 6-3 and in solid position to make the playoffs. But, quarterback Kyler Murray took a shot in Week 11 that injured his shoulder. He did not miss a game, but he ran much less frequently down the stretch. This hurt the Cardinals run game, as Murray said this offseason that he felt the offense was too heavily reliant on him running and did not adjust.

Maybe it’s not an “Air Raid” issue specifically, but Ryan is right that the Cardinals need to improve.

“When you need to run the football to be able to close out games, you better be able to do it,” Ryan said.

Ryan called Murray and lead receiver DeAndre Hopkins “special” players who raise the floor of the offense on their own. He finished by saying that ditching the “Air Raid” system for a more traditional NFL offense would allow them to be more productive.

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ESPN’s Rex Ryan advises Cardinals to stop running ‘Air Raid’ Offense