The Arizona Cardinals didn’t meet their own expectations in 2020.
Offensively, there are myriad reasons why things felt clunky all year. The Cardinals’ rushing attack couldn’t string together multiple solid games, while the passing attack didn’t meet expectations beyond DeAndre Hopkins’ individual numbers.
Quarterback Kyler Murray made a big leap in his second year, looking more comfortable about how to use his unique abilities. He also took fewer sacks. But in some games, Murray’s best asset, his dual-threat capabilities, mostly disappeared.
And on the offensive line, well, it certainly has been worse (Hi, 2018). The Cardinals protected Murray well and gave their backs a chance. They remained relatively healthy and survived using a relatively deep rotation of players.
They were generally pretty effective. To what level?
Here’s a look at the numbers behind the offensive line’s play this year.
Cardinals guard Justin Pugh has made it clear that he’s no fan of Pro Football Focus’ ratings of the offensive line. With that asterisk known, Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey writes that the Cardinals graded out as the 12th-best offensive line by their standards.
Linsey focused on writing about Arizona’s two starting tackles in his summary:
The tackle duo of D.J. Humphries at left tackle and Kelvin Beachum on the right side held up well in pass protection throughout the year, with both players recording pass-blocking grades north of 75.0. In particular, Humphries justified the big extension the Cardinals gave him this offseason with an 88.3 overall grade that paired the improvement he showed in pass protection in 2019 with the stronger run blocking that he showcased earlier in his career. He joined Trent Williams as one of two left tackles to post a run-blocking grade above 90.0 this season (90.9).
Beachum, who signed with the Cardinals just before training camp, turned out to be a savior for Arizona after expected starter Marcus Gilbert opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns.
Beachum ranked fourth among offensive linemen with 41 total points added (TPA), per Sports Info Solutions. Left guard Justin Pugh ranked ninth with a TPA of 35.
The Cardinals ranked No. 3 with a pass-block win rate of 67%, according to ESPN’s analytics.
Quarterbacks Murray and Chris Streveler were sacked 29 times in 2020, good for the 11th lowest total in the league this year. Considering the number of possessions, the Cardinals were eighth in terms of sack percentage (4.8%).
Part of that is because the Cardinals were blitzed 160 times on the year, according to Pro-Football-Reference, the fifth lowest total. That is likely because of teams often dropping a good deal of players in coverage, wanting Murray to beat them down the field with his arm.
By allowing 109 pressures over 16 games (6.8 per game), Arizona ranked seventh in the NFL.
The rate of pressures (16.7%) ranked third lowest, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. For context, the league-worst New York Giants saw their quarterbacks see pressure on 29% of passing downs.
If there was an obvious complaint about the offensive line this year, it was the drive-murdering penalties. The starting five collected 29 between them, according to Sports Info Solutions, with Pugh responsible for nine of those.
Arizona ranked sixth in the NFL with a 72% run block win rate, according to ESPN.
The Cardinals tied for second by averaging 3.1 rushing yards before contact, per Pro-Football-Reference, but that was likely made possible because of Murray’s 819 rushing yards on 6.2 yards per carry. Nonetheless, it’s a good place to be.