Last season, more times than not, those tuning into Arizona Cardinals games saw then-rookie quarterback Kyler Murray getting up off the turf.
But comparing last season’s sack total through five games to this year’s, there’s a drastic change in the trenches.
After getting sacked 21 times in the first five games of his career, including five in the season opener and eight in Week 3, Murray has seen his total fall to just eight over the same span in 2020. The QB was sacked just once in Sunday’s win over the New York Jets. He’s taken 13 QB hits, second in the league to only the Green Bay Packers (9).
The play along the offensive line has greatly improved in keeping Murray upright, but the linemen tasked with protecting the second-year QB aren’t quite satisfied.
“It was solid, but we know we can still do some things better,” offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said of the line’s job on Sunday via Zoom on Tuesday. “I’m excited to go back out this upcoming week knowing we have a much better front, much better edge rushers, both interior and exterior, that we have to take care of.
“Week in and week out the goal is really to protect him as best we can. We did a solid job, still had one sack in the game, allowed a hit. I don’t think as an offensive line we’ve played a complete game yet, so we still have some things we need to work on.”
Compared to the Jets, the Cowboys have more playmakers among the defense. Through five games, Dallas has six players with at least a sack to their name. Defensive end Aldon Smith leads all Cowboys with 4.5 sacks in his 2020 revival.
“I think our standard is high and it should be high,” Beachum said. “This is a very potent offense and if one of the key factors in our offense is making sure our quarterback is clean, we need to make sure our quarterback is clean. In that regard, we still have some work to do. Excited for what we’ve done but … nowhere near satisfied with what we’ve done.”
Even though Beachum and the offensive line have seen an uptick in their protection of Murray, there is one self-inflicted QB hit that didn’t make the statsheet on Sunday.
Unfortunately for Beachum, just about everyone still saw it.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 11, 2020
“The thing with Kyler is he’s a sturdy little dude so I thought there was going to be some slight contact and it was going be a great celebration,” Beachum said. “I figure that’ll be on Monday Night Football for the wrong reasons. It is what it is. When you’re having fun things like that happen and I think that’s a great thing to do to be able to celebrate with your quarterback. But I do have to take much better care of him in that particular regard.”
While the numbers in the passing game are head and shoulders above last season’s, for the O-line to fully reach that complete-game status it must improve in the team’s running attack.
So far, the Cardinals have yet to produce a 100-yard rusher. Murray came the closest out of the team’s rushers with 91 yards in Week 1.
Only starting tackle D.J. Humphries has a PFF run-blocking grade above 75 (17th among NFL tackles), while the next closest lineman is Beachum at 66.9 (33rd). Outside of those two, the trio of J.R. Sweezy, Justin Pugh and Mason Cole have grades of 60.5 or lower in the same category.
Starting running back Kenyan Drake has faced tough sledding this season, recording just 254 yards on 67 carries (3.8 yards per attempt). His only score of the season came last week in the win over the Jets. Fellow running back Chase Edmonds has seen just 16 carries for 59 yards and no scores.
“I think the group has a very high ceiling,” Beachum said. “We still haven’t had one of our running backs to rush over 100 yards. That’s an issue we need to get corrected. We need to find a way to get Kenyan over 100, we got find a way to get Chase over 100. It’s great that K1 is doing it but we got to make sure we’re providing that same level of explosion for our running backs as well.”