Perfect? Far from it.
Pretty? Definitely not.
Coming out with a season-opening win over the NFC champs from 2019 leaves little room for complaints by the Arizona Cardinals. Still, there were hiccups in a 24-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that had to do with their second-year head coach and second-year quarterback.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury admitted he was “rusty” with his play-calling in the first quarter Sunday, and finding a rhythm with quarterback Kyler Murray took some time.
By the end, Murray completed 26 of 40 passes (65%) for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
He also rushed for 91 yards on 13 attempts, including a touchdown scamper. And there appeared to be so much more room for improvement — even though Kingsbury said Sunday night that it was the “most proud” he’s been of Murray.
“First game type stuff,” Kingsbury said Monday of what he saw from the film. “Made some tremendous plays like he always does and there’s some things he’d like to have back.
“That was kind of to be expected without a preseason, without a lot of live action. And then you’re going against one of the best defenses in the league and one of the best fronts in the league. Proud of the way he battled, but we’ll definitely get better from that.”
The box score indicated balance. Murray threw 12 passing first downs and the Cardinals added 13 more on the ground. They went 7-of-14 on third downs and 2-for-2 in the red zone.
It just looked sluggish to start and underwhelming with dink-and-dunk passes as Arizona found a rhythm. Murray averaged a mere 5.6 yards of depth per targeted pass, according to Pro Football Focus, and many of his 14 connections with receiver DeAndre Hopkins were on quick slant patterns, a staple of an Air Raid offense that might come across as limiting.
Kingsbury sees it as necessary.
He wanted to stretch the defensive front horizontally early on to set up a north-south rushing attack later. The quick hits prevented a physical defensive front from getting on top of Murray, who was sacked twice for minimal losses.
“They played a lot of two high-safety looks, and we tried to be efficient as the game went on — and we started slowly,” Kingsbury said. “We’re always looking for chances to push it down the field, but we want to get first downs and do what is working.”
Arizona wanted to tempo the 49ers early, a reason why Kingsbury didn’t call a run play over eight plays in the first two series — a running misdirection play that Kingsbury stole from Tennessee got Arizona on the board with a Chase Edmonds touchdown following a blocked punt and recovery.
Maybe because most of Murray’s runs were not called in by his head coach, the Cardinals appeared to have balance with 36 rushing attempts and 180 yards to 40 passes for 224 yards. They’re just satisfied the second-year quarterback had the decisiveness and feel to make winning plays out of broken ones.
“I don’t think it was a part of the game plan,” Murray said. “The guys that they have over there getting up field have a tendency to sometimes get out of rush lanes, get tired. That’s when the offseason work, the conditioning, that’s when it kicks in for me and I do whatever it takes to win. Those plays weren’t meant for me to take off, but whatever I got to do to get the win, I’m going to do.”