There’s surely nothing debated more surrounding the Arizona Cardinals than the performance of the team’s offense this season. The hottest topics include the supposed regression of quarterback Kyler Murray along with the vocal words of the Kliff Kingsbury haters who link his play-calling to all the unit’s woes.
Those critics conveniently exhibit collective amnesia when it comes to the talking points. What is collective amnesia, you might be wondering?
Simple. It’s what is said prior to the season or games and then is quickly forgotten in the emotional reaction when it comes true.
Something tells me that heading into the 2022 season, most everyone looked at the Cardinals’ beginning schedule and knew there was potential trouble lurking, especially with the knowledge that wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins would be off the field for the first six games because of a six-game suspension.
That was certainly the case. And, coupled with a surprising league-wide trend that has many formerly potent offenses struggling with points and big plays reduced, the Cardinals haven’t been alone.
Of course, that didn’t stop the loud critics from blasting away even if the results were hardly unexpected.
Now, Hopkins has returned, Robbie Anderson has been added to the mix and a healthy Rondale Moore is able to be utilized the way the Cardinals envisioned.
It doesn’t mean the offense will suddenly be consistently explosive. However, they should show improvement as Kingsbury now has more bullets in his chambers to implement the offense as he sees it.
He alluded to that Wednesday when asked about the drop in Murray’s numbers, specifically in completion percentage. Of course, it’s important to note that his percentage was 69.2 in 2021, is now 65.5 for this season and it was 69.0 (20-for-29) against New Orleans.
As Kingsbury noted, “Like I’ve said all along, if you have a true No. 1 wideout and he goes away, the numbers are going to be affected I don’t care who you are in this league. You can look across the board when that happens; that scenario is going to be different. It’s going to look different, and I think a lot of that has to do with that. We’ll see if I’m right.”
He often talks about “staying on schedule” and reiterated, “We haven’t been good on third down and we’ve struggled to just consistently put drives together and make routine plays, which has put us behind. Then you become one-dimensional. But if we can stay in those games, stay on schedule and be able to call whatever we want, run or pass, I feel like we have a much better chance to be successful.”
Murray opened some eyes Wednesday when he was asked how the presence of Hopkins along with him being moved around in the formations creates more opportunity for others.
“Everybody,” he said, and then affirmed, “I think; I don’t think, I know we have one of the best receiving corps in the league for the depth that we have. The guys we’ve got in that room, the running backs, tight ends; I’m confident in everybody out there. The more we can move him around and make people worry about him, which is a given, other people are going to be open.”
It’s then up to Murray to find those open receivers and that, frankly, is on him rather than the play-call.
The decision to move Hopkins around wasn’t a result of what the offense looked like in the first six games. It was the plan all along.
“We were going to be very conscientious in doing it this year anyway,” Kingsbury said Wednesday. “After we did our self-study last year, and how things went, we wanted to make sure we utilized him as much as we can. So I think we’ll continue to do that based on matchups and game plans.
“This offseason we talked about just trying to maximize him. Looking at some of the other pieces where he would fit best, we’ve made a conscious effort to really try and move him around and do a better job with that. I think he has a better understanding of our offense now, and the complete scheme, not just what he does. I think that’s helped all of us. I’m excited to see what he can do the full week of practice. I think it was pretty remarkable him getting in there last week and having the production he did, so hopefully this week he can even take another step.”
Expounding on moving Hopkins around, Murray said, “I think it’s a necessity. I think his first year here he had 1,400 yards (specifically, it was 1,407 on 160 targets and 115 receptions). I don’t know how. He lined up on the left side of the field and we just kind of went to work. Every week it was, ‘Why are people allowing us to do this?’ I don’t know, but it happened. Then last year he was moving around a little bit more. He ended up getting hurt, but I think for us to just get him easy completions and get the ball in our best player’s hands, we’ve got to move him around for sure.”
As for Moore, Murray said he expects more opportunities in the coming weeks.
“With all the wide receivers, it’s hard to figure out where each guy goes and try to draw out plays for everybody,” Murray said. “But he’s a dynamic talent and we’ve got to continue to find ways to get the ball in his hands.”
Anderson could be the wild card. He played 12 snaps against New Orleans after being with the team for two days following the trade with Carolina that brought him to Arizona.
Kingsbury was coy when asked if Anderson would have a bigger role this week against the Vikings.
“I wouldn’t say much bigger,” he said. “We’re going to try and make sure whatever we have him doing, he feels confident and can execute at a high level, so we’ll see how the week goes.”
Murray was asked if he’s anxious to see the production that Anderson can bring to the offense.
He responded, “Am I anxious to see it? I wouldn’t say I’m anxious. I’m excited for him. This is his second week. I can tell he’s more comfortable talking, more and more vocal. Obviously, he’s got the ability, but we’ve got to build a rapport together, and we’ll do that with time. But yes, I’m excited to see him on the field more.”
Both Kingsbury and Murray gave their thoughts on the reality of what the first seven weeks have looked like in the NFL.
“I don’t have an answer on that,” Kingsbury said. “A couple of those guys are still putting up big numbers, but overall, I think offensively a lot of teams aren’t playing as well as they’d like and everybody’s trying to figure it out.”
Murray also first said, “I don’t know” if defenses are playing different, and then added, “I saw [Buccaneers quarterback] Tom Brady said something about there’s a lot of bad football being played or something like that. A lot of teams are 3-3, 3-4.”
Noting the offensive explosion last season in points and big plays, he said, “Maybe defenses are a lot of two-high, a lot of shell coverage and stuff like that. Making people check the ball down and take underneath stuff, which I know we’ve had to deal with that. I think I would do the same if I was a defensive coordinator.
“Kind of a bend but don’t break type of mentality. There are so many great athletes on offense, so many great players in today’s league, it’s so competitive that I think it’s tough to put guys in situations where they’re playing man or where they can get beat. I would probably do the same.”
Finally, Murray was asked if there might have been a way to avoid the early struggles this season.
He said candidly, “Of course, I would’ve loved to start the season how we did last year. But that’s not the case. I think having Hop back definitely helps. Just having him out there. His presence, his confidence, the ability, route-running to catch the ball; all that stuff.
“More than anything, me and him are just comfortable together and we’ve had those reps. I know where he’s going to be and what he’s going do. Same for him. It’s unfortunate to start the season like that, but I don’t think we could have done anything different.”
At a critical juncture of the season in the weeks ahead, we will begin to see how different it might be and whether the critics can be kept at bay.
If it isn’t, it will truly be open season and deservedly so.
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org