USA Today: Three theories why the offense is struggling

SoonerLou

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While Murray is right that the Cardinals were much better offensively in the first half of the season, I voiced my concern that their success was far too dependent on Murray’s creativity out of structure. His improvised production was masking underlying issues that would be exposed if defenses were able to contain him.

Well, over the last few weeks, defenses have figured out how to contain him. Over the last three games — all losses — Murray has run for just 61 yards. Heading into that losing streak, he was averaging 67.1 yards per game. The underlying issues have been exposed, and it’s time for Kliff Kingsbury to make some adjustments in order to take some pressure off his diminutive signal-caller.

It doesn’t take too much digging to figure out what those issues are. I found two big ones that have quietly been festering all season.

1. Too many screen passes to receivers
The biggest issue I found has been the early-down play calling. The Cardinals pass the ball enough, but too many of their passes aren’t going down the field. Look at their pass-run splits — on the surface, they look acceptable. They rank 16th in early-down pass rate, per RBSDM.com, and while they do run a bit more on first down than the analytics nerds would like, it’s not to a concerning point…

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via RBSDM.com

But in the age of the run-pass option (RPO), run-pass splits can be deceiving. And no team runs more RPOs than the Cardinals. So a decent chunk of the “pass” calls Kingsbury is making on first down are really just extended handoffs. And they’ve been just as efficient as a typical run play. So, not very efficient at all.

At least for the Cardinals, that is.

Murray has lost 13.3 expected points on RPO plays that result in a throw, per Sports Info Solutions. That number leads the league and it’s not even close. Daniel Jones is next up on the list at 3.7 expected points lost. The gap between Jones and Murray is larger than the gap between Jones and Matthew Stafford, who ranks 5th in expected points added.

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Data via Sports Info Solutions

So, why are the Cardinals so bad at RPOs? It has a lot to do with the type of RPOs they’re calling. While a team like the Chiefs prefers to attach a downfield route (usually a slant) to their run concepts…




Those shorter throws are just inherently inefficient and Kingsbury has Murray making a lot of them. Of the 31 RPO throws Murray has attempted this season, only nine have traveled past the line of scrimmage. Those seven plays may have been the only successful ones of the bunch. The passes behind the line of scrimmage have a success rate of approximately -4256.4%. OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but those plays haven’t been very productive…














While the passes haven’t been very successful, the threat of them has optimized the run game. Arizona is once again sporting a top-five run game despite its mediocre offensive line and a star-less group of running backs. So those inefficient throws are serving some purprose. I’m, by no means, advocating for fewer RPOs; I just believe those RPOs should focus on pushing the ball a little further downfield.

Now, Murray’s height could be a factor in how Kingsbury is calling these plays. His sightlines are not obstructed on those perimeter throws; but, in theory, it could be harder for him to find throwing lanes on a quick slant thrown over the defensive line. It makes sense in theory, but the Cardinals have thrown a couple of RPO slants and they’ve mostly resulted in good gains.

More of that, please!



















2. The third-down passing game stinks
Because the Cardinals had been doing a good job of avoiding third downs over the first half of the season, the third-down passing game wasn’t seen as a big issue, but it really hasn’t looked good all season. Murray currently ranks 28th in EPA per play on third down and 26th in success rate.

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via RBSDM.com

While Murray’s lack of comfort in the pocket has contributed to some of the problems, I’d put most of the blame on Kingsbury’s uninspired play-calling. I was one of the many analysts praising his creativity when the Cardinals hired him, but most of that creativity is limited to the run game. His passing scheme, though, leaves a lot to be desired, which isn’t a total surprise for a coach with Air Raid roots. The success of that system at the college level has not contingent on a voluminous playbook. It’s actually the opposite: The idea behind the Air Raid is that less volume leads to more precision.

I don’t have any fancy stats to back this up, but from watching the Cardinals over the last two years, it feels like Kingsbury calls plays as if his only goal is to gain just enough yards for a first down. Like every series of downs is its own drive and the first down marker is the goal line.

That really becomes apparent on third downs when so many of the Cardinals routes are run right at the sticks. That was certainly the case against the Rams last Sunday. I took screenshots of every third-down throw that Murray made in rhythm. It’s not hard to find a pattern here…

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Why is that an issue? Well, if the defense knows you’re targeting the sticks, they can jump routes that break at the sticks with more confidence…



Again, this is purely anecdotal and I could be way off here. That’s just the sense I get from watching their film.


3. Kingsbury needs to do a better job of using DeAndre Hopkins
A more tangible issue, and one that’s just as concerning, is Kingsbury’s use of DeAndre Hopkins.



Hopkins has rarely strayed from his spot out wide on the left, which makes it far easier for defenses to defend him. Mostly because they know exactly where he’s going to be and don’t have to adjust the structure of their defense or coverage to account for the different alignments. It’s a very collegiate approach to structuring the passing game. At the NFL level, taking advantage of matchups is the name of the game, and you create mismatches by moving your best players around. Kingsbury just isn’t doing a good enough job of using Hopkins right now, and it’s hurting the team on third down.

Hopkins should be getting a lion’s share of the targets in those “gotta have it” situations, but his target rate barely increases on third downs, jumping only 2.2% from early downs. Compare that to how the Packers force-feed Davante Adams the ball on third downs. Adams’ target rate jumps from 26.1% on early downs to 33.6% on third down.

Different defenses have different points of weakness. So it makes little sense to keep your best player in the same spot regardless of opponent, which is how the Cardinals have operated this season. Instead of having Christian Kirk attack that weak nickel, how about putting Hopkins in the slot and letting him do it? If the defense adjusts to help out that weak link, it creates issues elsewhere.


Will Kliff Kingsbury figure things out?
Kingsbury’s has been at this level for less than two seasons, but the early returns suggest he is fully capable of recognizing a problem and fixing it. For instance, the red zone passing game was a major issue for the Cardinals in 2019. They ranked 25th in pass DVOA inside their opponents’ 20-yard-line. This year, they’re up to third. Having Hopkins in the fold has led to some natural progression, but the play-calling has been far better and led to easier throws for Murray.

Now, if Kingsbury can figure out a way to spark a similar turnaround for the third-down passing game — or if, I dunno, he just lets his ultra-talented quarterback throw the ball downfield more often on early downs — the 2021 season could be the year this young Cardinals offense breaks out in the way we expected it to this season.
Cardinals: 3 reasons the offense is sputtering under Kliff Kingsbury (usatoday.com)
 

BritCard

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All of this is spot on. Including Kliff always calling passing plays to the sticks. I noticed it on Sunday several times including 4 WRs all running curls to the sticks.

All you have to do on 3rd is sit in zone at the line to gain.
 

BritCard

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Let's get this out in the open because it's been hinted at several hundred times without actually being said.

Is Kyler too short to properly succeed at QB?

There are clearly issues in the middle. Our offense is basically U shaped. At best is a skinny donut with a big hole in the middle.

Can any QB succeed with whole areas of the field out of the game plan?
 

dreamcastrocks

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Let's get this out in the open because it's been hinted at several hundred times without actually being said.

Is Kyler too short to properly succeed at QB?

There are clearly issues in the middle. Our offense is basically U shaped. At best is a skinny donut with a big hole in the middle.

Can any QB succeed with whole areas of the field out of the game plan?

Please tell me you are kidding... This has been discussed ad nauseum not only here but across the NFL at draft time.
 

football karma

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1. analysis agrees with what we have seen, especially third down
2. The last four games, it seems like the o-line is giving up more inside pressure than earlier. This is speeding up K1s clock
3. K1 often looks unsure of what he is seeing and as a result he is going with pre snap reads. The Rams (as an example) were playing that --- both on the TD to Arnold and the pick/six later.
 

daves

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The lack of downfield passing has been obvious lately and those images from the Rams game showing all the receivers near the line to gain are concerning.

But earlier in the season people who watched the all-22 were saying that there were routes being run and receivers open deeper, but Murray was choosing shorter throws.

Could webe seeing either (a) Kingsbury compensating for Murray's shoulder injury and limiting deep routes, or (b) Kingsbury recognizing that Murray isn't going to throw deep anyway and trying to at least give him more shorter options? (Or a combination of the two related issues?)

I can't imagine Kingsbury would castrate the offense by shortening all the routes without a good reason.

...dave
 

TheCardFan

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1. Too many screen passes to receivers
2. The third-down passing game stinks
3. Kingsbury needs to do a better job of using DeAndre Hopkins

Can't disagree with any of these.
 

Hoodhero

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We going to find out pretty early on this weekend if this team has found any answers on offense. The Giants basically executed the Anti Kyler game plan last week against Hawks. How much do they change it up this week? My guess not much if you managed to hold Russ & that offense to 10pts.
 

Krangodnzr

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I cringe every time I see a WR screen. Throwing to Fitzgerald or Hopkins there, just doesn't seem to work.

I'm still captain of Team Murray, and still believe in the kid, but I think they need to expand what they are doing more. I'm a big fan of running slants and the Cardinals seem to rarely run slants. I'd like to see more mesh plays too.
 

Dr. Jones

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I have been saying #'s 1 & 2 for 12 months now. Too many horizontal throws, and too many throws to the sticks.

No depth, no verticality, and little imagination to the routes our WR's run.

Kliff is going to get picked apart by the buzzards if we don't win in NY this weekend. If we then lose to Philly and San Fran........ I think he's toast.
 

Harry

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Fix 1 & 3 then 2 takes care of itself. To me the biggest problem is lousy first down calls. Lots of behind the line losses and 2 yard runs up the middle. They are perpetually behind the chains.

I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what that play is where AI runs a deep loop behind the QB. Then he stops and I guess jumps up and down?
 

FB94

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Very interesting read. I hope KK does some self scouting and decides to change play sequences with more vertical route layers or crossing routes both starting with pre snap movement. Move Dhop around to both sides. Past few weeks haven’t worked so nows the time to swing for he fences
 

SissyBoyFloyd

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I feel like I wrote that, since it is just what I have been saying for a week or so in different posts. Thus I agree wholeheartedly.
 

Ouchie-Z-Clown

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I couldn’t agree with this more :

“I don’t have any fancy stats to back this up, but from watching the Cardinals over the last two years, it feels like Kingsbury calls plays as if his only goal is to gain just enough yards for a first down. Like every series of downs is its own drive and the first down marker is the goal line.”

This EXACTLY what it feels like watching every drive.
 

BritCard

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Please tell me you are kidding... This has been discussed ad nauseum not only here but across the NFL at draft time.

No I'm not kidding. That's like saying, "we discussed what mattress to buy before we bought it. Let's never discuss how uncomfortable it is now we slept on it a year or two. We must stick with what we said before we used it".

Any discussions had during the draft process had nothing to do with NFL performance. It must be mentioned on here 20 times a week that we have no game down the middle of the field, without anyone actually saying "Is it because Kyler is short?". So let's say it.

Why don't we have any game down the middle of the field? Is it because Kyler is short?

The USA article above literally says we throw a bunch of screens and short, wide passes on RPO's because Kyler has trouble over the middle of the field.
 

BritCard

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I have been saying #'s 1 & 2 for 12 months now. Too many horizontal throws, and too many throws to the sticks.

No depth, no verticality, and little imagination to the routes our WR's run.

Kliff is going to get picked apart by the buzzards if we don't win in NY this weekend. If we then lose to Philly and San Fran........ I think he's toast.

Another thing I've noticed is that so many of our route are run in isolation. They are simple 1 on 1 matchups. The WR has to beat their guy straight up with no help.

No motion. No pick plays. No crossing routes. Even when they run out of stacks or bunches with trips to one side their routes don't cross or do anything to throw off the coverage.

For example, if you have trips to one side, it's common to see the outside guy run an inside crossing route against man coverage. That way the DB has to run through the traffic of the two other WR's and their coverage running up field.

It's basic stuff, and we never do it.
 

AsUpRoDiGy

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Doesn't take a genius to figure out KK is a fraud. Dude probably kills it in checkers though!
 

TaylorSwift

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Kliff horribly misusing RPO

How do you come from college and not know how to attack with the RPO as a head coach?
 

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