Cardinals, Kyler Murray looking for answers in NFL-wide offensive struggle
Oct 26, 2022, 8:00 PM
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a Thursday Night Football-produced mini bye looking to find ways to maneuver through a lower-scoring NFL environment.
League-wide, points and yards are down after the last half-decade offensive boom as defenses are adapting to limit chunk plays and make teams go underneath.
Offenses are scoring an average of 20.76 points per game this season, the lowest number since 2017.
“Overall, I think offensively a lot of teams aren’t playing as well as they’d like and everybody’s trying to figure it out,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
The Cardinals through seven games are scoring nearly 10 points fewer per contest than they had at this point last year — 22.3 to 32.1.
Quarterback Kyler Murray said defenses are playing more two-high shell coverages to keep plays in front of them.
Murray completed 46.1% of throws over 20 yards downfield last season, which ranked No. 6 among quarterbacks with more than six attempts. This season, he is 8-for-32 (25%).
“Making people check the ball down … which I know we’ve had to deal with that,” Murray said. “I think I would do the same if I were a defensive coordinator.
“Kind of a bend but don’t break type of mentality. There’s so many great athletes on offense, so many great players in today’s league, so competitive. I think it’s tough to put guys in situations where they’re playing man or where they can get beat. I would probably do the same.”
With teams forcing the opponents to go underneath, the Cardinals have found themselves in a lot of third downs, which, as Kingsbury admitted have been a weak point this year.
The Cardinals rank No. 28 in the NFL on third downs, converting 33.67% of them.
“We’ve struggled to just consistently put drives together, make routine plays, which has put us behind and then you become one-dimensional,” Kingsbury said. “But if we can stay in those games, stay on schedule and be able to call whatever we want, run or pass, I feel like we have a much better chance to be successful.”
Kingsbury said having a more complete group of weapons will help Murray and the Cardinals move more effectively on offense.
DeAndre Hopkins had a promising first game back from suspension with 10 catches last week. Kingsbury moved Hopkins around the line of scrimmage to vary looks, which proved effective. Newly acquired receiver Robbie Anderson gives Arizona a big target on the outside and is working through the playbook.
“I think as we get going with Hop and get Robbie adjusted and get some of these other pieces back that we have a chance to hit our stride, and I’m excited to see how it plays out,” Kingsbury said.
“I think, like I’ve said all along, if you have a true No. 1 wideout and he goes away, numbers are going to be affected,” Kingsbury added. “I don’t care who you are in this league, you can look across the board. When that happens, that scenario, it’s gonna be different, it’s gonna look different. And I think a lot of that has to do with that. And we’ll see if I’m right.”
Kingsbury also feels that Murray is finding his stride after having to grind through the early slate.
Murray missed time in training camp due to COVID-19 and wrist soreness, and his early-season production has wavered. His quarterback rating is 83.7, down from 100.6 last year. But Murray’s most recent outing on TNF against the New Orleans Saints resembled a return to form, with a quarterback rating of 100.4.
“I think the beginning of the season, (he’s been) getting rhythm back after not doing a ton in training camp for a number of reasons,” Kingsbury said. “He’s battled, I think he’s fought and had us in every game except the first one, which is all you can ask as a quarterback.”
Murray called the start to the season unfortunate, especially compared to how dominant the offense started the 2021 campaign.
But with the Cardinals in the thick of the division race at just one game back, they feel a healthier offense that limits mistakes can maneuver the current landscape teams are facing.
How they execute will determine that.