The Disappearing Arizona Cardinals Offense

Has Kliff Kingsbury’s once-vaunted Arizona Cardinal offense become little more than a mirage in the desert?

Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona Cardinal offense with Kyler Murray under center is sputtering. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Over the past eight games, including a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams last season, the Cardinals passing game has become one of the worst in the NFL. During a 1-2 start this season, the Cardinals rank as the third-worst passing attack based on net yards per attempt. That is the average of all yards on pass plays, including a deduction for yards lost on sacks.

So far this season, the Arizona Cardinals are averaging only 4.9 yards per attempt. Only the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears are worse. The big difference is that neither the Giants nor the Bears have a quarterback like Kyler Murray, who was signed this offseason to a $230.5 million contract, including $160 million guaranteed.

KYLER MURRAY’S BIG CONTRACT DRAWS ATTENTION

Dating to last season, the numbers are worse. The Arizona Cardinals are averaging only 4.7 net yards per attempt over their last 8 games, a 2-6 stretch. This coincides with the team losing wide receiver Deandre Hopkins to injury last season and then to suspension this season.

Hopkins is obviously a great player who impacts the overall offense. But …

Three NFC Defensive Coordinators Break down the Issues With Kliff Kingsbury’s Attack

  • The offense has a fundamental problem in the running game. It is completely dependent on spacing and outside matchups. So far this season, running back James Conner has averaged only 3.0 yards per carry and his play fell off at the end of last season, although that had a lot to do with injuries. In the first half of last season, Conner averaged over 4.0 yards per carry.
  • Murray has declined as a running threat. Through three games, Murray has 12 carries. Last season, he ran less than five times a game over the final five contests, although that had much to do with injuries. Over the first nine games of the 2021 season, he ran nearly seven times a game and averaged 8.1 carries in 2020. That has allowed defenses to drop more players into coverage and cut down opportunities after the catch.
  • There is no explosiveness in the passing game. Losing Hopkins is part of the problem, but the departure of Christian Kirk in free agency and the continuing decline of A.J. Green has left the Arizona Cardinals with little in the way of impact. This is the main reason why Murray is averaging a career-low 5.5 yards per pass attempt.
  • The play calling is ordinary. Over the first two seasons, Kliff Kingsbury had a lot of answers for what teams would try to do to his offense. This was a key to Arizona’s 8-1 start last season. However, Kingsbury hasn’t found ways to evolve, two of the three defensive coordinators said. While the play calling isn’t as simplistic as what Chip Kelly did out of his spread offense, Kingsbury isn’t much more advanced.
Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals need Kyler Murray to stay upright and help get the offense back on track (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Can Kliff Kingsbury Right The Ship

All three defensive coordinators wonder if the Arizona Cardinals will return to more effective play with the return of Hopkins. They also believe that the offense needs a serious infusion of talent. But there’s still the question of whether Kingsbury will find answers to make the offense work long-term without an effective running game.

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.

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