There are parallels here to Kliff Kingsbury’s first year on the job.
Four games into 2019, the Arizona Cardinals head coach had attacked defenses with heavy 10 personnel sets of four wide receivers before he tweaked his formula, putting more tight ends on the field to benefit the running game.
In 2020, the addition of DeAndre Hopkins didn’t reveal itself as 10 personnel sets, but the quick screen game involving Hopkins sure looked like a college Air Raid offense to the detriment of finding explosive plays.
For Arizona’s Week 5 win against the New York Jets, a clear commitment to the running game — no matter how successful — helped Arizona to a 30-10 win.
Running back Kenyan Drake took carries on the first two Cardinals plays to set the tone, Chase Edmonds rushed for a 29-yard score midway through the first quarter to put Arizona up 7-0 and the pounding run game set up an explosive deep passing attack in the second half.
It reminded of Arizona’s Week 5 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last season, when quarterback Kyler Murray plus running backs David Johnson and Edmonds carried the ball 38 times for 266 yards to give Kingsbury his first win as an NFL head coach.
This Sunday, Drake struggled to find holes for much of the game, but he still took 18 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown.
He came through when the Cardinals needed it most. With Arizona leading just 17-10 late in the third quarter, Kingsbury and Murray went to running backs on eight plays during a 10-play drive. Drake, after failing to successfully bounce outside on two occasions, went up the middle for the final three plays of the possession.
His final run, a 1-yard touchdown, was a statement that paid off even if chunk yardage wasn’t there.
“Obviously, they kind of started to kind of pack the box in,” Murray said of the Jets defense in the fourth quarter. “That’s when it was just like, we got to take our shots if they’re going to play up like that. We got guys (in the receiver group) … we feel very confident in.
“We obviously forced them to kind of do that with the run game.”
The very next possession, the Cardinals attacked man coverage and a single high safety with two deep shots to receiver DeAndre Hopkins that accounted for 82 yards and a touchdown.
By the end of it, Edmonds had three carries for 36 yards, but most devastating for the Jets, he added five catches for 56 yards as he was often split out as a slot receiver.
Some of those looks included Edmonds and Drake on the field at the same time.
“K.D. has his role for the team, I have my role for the team,” Edmonds said. “It’s a little bit of a difficult mismatch for the defense because usually when you play 20 personnel, meaning two running backs, you kind of have to play in base, so they’ll be in three linebacker sets. That gives us the ability to split me out wide, sometimes on a linebacker, and it lightens up the box for K.D. as well.”
Ultimately, the rushing figures looked so-so.
Arizona ran 30 times for 127 yards and a 4.2 yards-per-carry average. Murray accounted for 36 of those. The Jets outdid the Cardinals there, taking 28 carries for 123 yards.
But the commitment to the rushing attack and the interchanging of Drake and Edmonds could be a turning point for Arizona this year. Edmonds’ involvement, specifically, could give Arizona a new look as it heads to Dallas for a Monday Night Football matchup in Week 6.
“He’s a dynamic player and great in the passing game, can run it, fun to watch,” Kingsbury said of Edmonds. “He’s got real juice … we’ve got to find ways to get him the ball.”
Added Murray: “He can do it all. He can run the ball, he can catch out of the backfield, he can block. He’s a smart football player, he loves the game. I can’t say enough about Chase to be honest. He’s a great football player.”