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What areas did the coach struggle with in the 2019 season that could be polished up to learn from in the next season?
There’s not a lot to be said about the Cardinals’ 2019 defense. It was pretty bad.
If the team had a lead, you’d see tight end passes or running back screens drive the team down the field to retake the lead. It’s why the team invested so heavily in their defense.
That said, there’s another key area of improvement besides the defense and Kyler Murray that’s expected to take a big leap in 2020 given what we saw in 2019.
And it’s the management of their head coach, who now has a full NFL season under his belt, and saw the 2nd half of the 2019 season with a vastly improved offense, including a rushing attack that was downright lethal. But what does Kliff need to do in entering a presumable 2020 season?
#1. The Two-Minute Offense
Watch a few games and you see a pattern:
-Niners (game 2) ending
–Rams (game 2) ending
There’s a typical pattern that followed each and every scenario ending except for the KeeSean Johnson fumble…
When the endgame situation took place, the opposing defense would rush 4 players. And Kyler Murray would be under pressure almost immediately, bail the pocket and usually take a sack as there would be 7 DB’s covering 4 wide receivers and Kyler couldn’t find a guy who could separate and had to run to make a play only to get tackled. Happened vs. the Bucs, Ravens, Steelers.
Alternatively, the problem with the late Rams game? A checkdown versus a Hail Mary or max-protect type throw when the Rams blitzed him late-game and the player was tackled in-bounds. Heck, the Buccaneers game took a LONG time and needed a PI call in order to set up the final play of the game.
Vs. the Niners, on a crucial 3rd and 5 they ran a stunt play in which C A. Q. Shipley wasn’t able to block or hold his man from running around Justin Pugh to get a shot in at Kyler as he tried to break the pocket and scramble upfield (maybe could have tried a pancake from the side versus ensuring he didn’t trip over his own lineman after he disengaged but I digress, it was a great call by Saleh)
Overall, it seemed like teams understood a pattern:
-Blitz Kyler and he’ll check it down or (more likely) throw hot versus the pressure
-Rush more than 3 and the Cards OL, in late game, won’t be able to handle 4 rushers against their 5 OL and a running back.
To me, this is probably the biggest thing Kingsbury needs to improve on as he did a fine job in terms of clock management in ensuring that Arizona, most of the time, ended up with the ball in their hands with the game on the line. That said…it was rough watching Arizona’s offense melt down seemingly each week when the pass rushers could pin back their ears.
I’ll be curious if the team’s potential shifts, (at center and possibly at right tackle) and assuming no injuries, make a difference in terms of buying Murray more time or if Kliff just needs to design plays where he can roll out and get away from the pressure allowing his receivers to get downfield.
When in these short game situations, the Packers and Patriots both seem to be in complete control of the situations, and Kliff needs to take that step forward. Might be that they just simply need a tight end who can block AND be a linebacker mismatch over the field to the point where teams have to put a safety on them, freeing one-on-one coverage up on the outside.
Might be needed for what Kyler does as well, being able to adjust better to shifting protections at the line to where he can see opposing blitzes get picked up or bait 4 down linemen into plays and overextending.
…Or maybe simply having someone like DeAndre Hopkins who can beat man coverage consistently will be good enough to open up their entire offense.
#2. Red Zone Offense
This goes without saying after the slow start to the Cardinals’ offense in the year, finishing 29th in the NFL in scoring when they got inside the 20’s (and that’s not counting times drives stalled at the 21 or in enemy territory).
But there’s plenty to be encouraged by. Later in the season, Kingsbury was able to run the ball well with Kenyan Drake, scoring 8 touchdowns with him in 8 games, and several of his playcalls seemed to be far more effective in using Kyler Murray’s legs on the shrunken field.
In fact, the team’s last 3 games? They scored 75% of the time in the redzone, which was 12th in the NFL during that span.
Quite an improvement from their early efforts, and a big improvement over their season-total 45%. I think that with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins and a second year in the system for Fitzgerald, Kirk, Drake, Williams and more that this will be expected to be improved upon greatly, but it goes without saying that the coach will need to show that it wasn’t just a lucky streak against some “meh” run defenses as well.
#3. Fake out defenses more using Kyler’s Legs & the play-action game
We saw last year the Kliff Kingsbury wanted to feature Kyler as a pocket passer with occasional running.
I think that while admirable, we’ve seen that he can do both at a high level…meaning that there’s definitely more room for designed runs and read-options now that he’s gained a bit more experience in reading defenses at the next level.
I don’t think he should run the ball 10-12 times a game like Lamar does, but being able to keep defenses on their toes and “wake up” the Cards’ offense like he did against Tampa Bay and while he’s still young and has the mobility?
Yeah, do that.
It doesn’t have to just be the designed runs or scrambles either—the Cardinals also need to work in more of the bootlegs or even designed plays out of play-action with two tight ends.
Those plays later in the year were DEADLY as teams expected a run but the team was able to throw the ball to the tight ends (Hundley to Williams vs. Seattle and Kyler to Arnold in the Rams and Browns game, the latter for a TD).
That personnel grouping seems to be more favorable to mismatches than Kingsbury’s 10 personnel setup due to having better blockers in the run game.
I think if Kingsbury can design a few more plays where Murray’s legs take center stage and defenses and safeties have to respect it, then you’ll see more one-on-one plays to DeAndre Hopkins or even watch how open Larry Fitzgerald gets taking a team’s #3 defensive cover player rather than their #1 or #2.
If Kliff can do these 3 things in 2020? The Cardinals will be well on their way to having one of the best offenses in the NFL.