Christian Kirk playing with more confidence in slot for Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk told the media on Tuesday that he is in the best place mentally since he arrived in 2018.
“I’ve been through a lot through the injuries and just missing games and questioning a lot of different things,” Kirk said. “Playing this sport, there’s a lot you have to go through and battle mentally. It may not seem like that from the outside in, but but there is.”
Kirk missed at least two games in each of his first three NFL seasons. Last year, he had to watch the Cardinals from afar in Week 17 as he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
But, Kirk came into the 2021 season healthy and ready to contribute from a spot he is more comfortable in.
Since the Cardinals signed free agent wide receiver A.J. Green this offseason to line up outside, the plan was the move Kirk inside, where he played in college at Texas A&M.
Through two games, 69 of his 77 snaps have been from the slot, per Pro Football Focus. He leads the team in yards per catch with 16.9, which is seventh-highest in the NFL among receivers with at least eight catches.
He said he is questioning himself less and more focused on the task in front of him.
“It’s good playing back in the in the slot,” Kirk said. “It’s just one of those things I know like the back of my hand and it just feels natural. I don’t really have to think in there. I understand the concepts, understand what’s trying to be done and how to manipulate different coverages and zones and so it’s just easy for me in there.”
Kirk had three grabs on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, two of which put the Cardinals in positions to score.
The first was on third-and-16 in the second quarter. He caught the ball over the middle beyond the first-down marker and held on despite taking hits from two Vikings. The Cardinals scored a touchdown three plays later.
In the fourth quarter, the Cardinals trailed 33-31.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury elected to go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Vikings 41-yard line. Quarterback Kyler Murray dropped back 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage as the cover zero blitz came after him. He launched the ball off of his back foot, similar to a play in Week 1, to Kirk who had his defender beat. The gain of 35 yards set up the eventual game-winning field goal.
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) September 19, 2021
Both plays were made from the slot.
“I just think he feels healthy and he feels confident,” Kingsbury said Monday. “We’ve been able to play him more inside which is where I’ve always felt like he excelled even when he was a Texas A&M you know he was more of a slot receiver and can do a lot of damage in there. He’s more than capable of playing outside and can play at a high level outside. But he just looks really confident playing inside and had two huge catches yesterday that really helped win the game for us.”
Kirk credited the receiver corps as having players with unique and complementing skillsets.
He and rookie Rondale Moore primarily line up inside with DeAndre Hopkins and Green outside, and none of the four are similar to each other. This has led to a balanced attack through two games, as six Cardinals have at least eight targets, including tight end Maxx Williams and running back Chase Edmonds.
Having this many different weapons is another boost for Kirk, who has more reign to play to his own strengths.
“The goal in this in this business is to cater to player strengths,” general manager Steve Keim told Burns and Gambo on Friday. “Both of those players (Kirk and Moore), whether it’s their size and their movement skills and their ability to run routes with explosiveness, you’d like to have them inside and that’s where they can flourish.”
Kirk is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Scottsdale native said he will always live in Arizona, but he would love to be back with the Cardinals.
However, he said that is not his current focus.
“It is just one of those things where I’m taking one game at a time and just trying to keep it as one of those things that I focus on after the season,” Kirk said.