Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Growing Pains

Kyler Murray under pressure
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Cardinals fell to the Panthers 38-20 at home this past Sunday. Kliff Kinsgbury and crew are still looking for their first win of the season. The Arizona offense moved the ball OK, but dropped a couple of potential deep passes and struggled to create explosive plays. That made it difficult to keep pace with a Carolina offense that was rolling.

Most alarmingly from a boxscore standpoint is that first overall draft pick Kyler Murray was sacked eight times. I don't want to look at all eight here, but I did want to review a few and see how something like that happens.

The Cardinals offensive line had some problems with twists and games on Sunday. First, I do want to say that it's tough to block those games in five-man protection schemes. It's why some defenses have automatic checks to line stunts when the offense comes out in empty formations.

Here, D.J. Humphries at left tackle (74) doesn't take a set to put himself in a good position to pass the game off. He's too flat with it, and that lets the stand-up defensive lineman get into his hip. If he gets some depth it makes passing off this type of stunt much easier. Maybe guard Justin Pugh (67) can do a better job widening the penetrator with a better punch, but he's not terrible here. Humphries has to be more aware of a potential line game, particularly with a 3-technique playing that wide. Usually a 3-technique is lined up on the outside half of the guard, here he's lined up all the way in the gap.

At right tackle Jordan Mills (79) isn't very good, but he technically doesn't get beaten quick enough to affect the play. He doesn't gain much ground on his initial set, he basically puts his outside foot down right where he picked it up from, and from there he's just flailing and trying not to drown. This is bad because flailing implies a lack of technique, and as an offensive lineman if you don't have technique on your side, well, you're not going to be a better athlete than an NFL edge rusher.

This is another twist, but this time it's on the interior. I think center A.Q. Shipley (53) is too aggressive on the nose tackle. He knows he has help from the left guard, there's no need to lunge and put your facemask on the guy. That causes him to see the 3-technique slanting later than he should, so he can't help right guard J.R. Sweezy (64) who probably feels like he's already beat by the time Shipley steps in. Sweezy is also burying his face in his man so he can't see the looper coming around. Too many guys blocking with their facemasks.

I will say that Kyler Murray needs to learn that he's allowed to throw it away. He gets outside of the pocket and he could have easily taken an incompletion instead of a 2-yard loss. Murray certainly didn't do the offensive line any favors on Sunday when it came to sack totals.

This one is pretty much entirely on Murray. He seems to be a guy who is either in throwing mode or running/escaping mode, and those don't intersect. Once he moves off his spot, he's looking to move away from any danger before he thinks about throwing it again. The result is that there is no subtle pocket movement. It's all big frenetic shifts. Here, the left side of the line is getting bull-rushed a bit, but there's still room in the pocket if Murray slides to his right. But he's looking to pull it down to run and he slips as a result.

Again, Murray is basically sacking himself here. There's no need to pull the ball down. But he's looking to drop his eyes and run almost as soon as he gets the snap. That's a clean NFL pocket, and if the Cardinals are going to drop back to 8 or 9 yards behind center on 75% of their snaps, they need a quarterback who is going to be comfortable operating from tight quarters back there.

There were more sacks, including one where Jordan Mills was so thoroughly juked and beaten that I saw the highlight 30 times on Twitter before the game was posted on Game Pass. I honestly don't feel the need to show it here because you've probably already seen it and there's not much to say except "do better."

If the Cardinals are going to throw it 50 times a game, they have to be better at avoiding sacks. That means blocking better, getting rid of the ball more quickly (even if it's throwing it away), and not being so jittery and running yourself into trouble.

I don't want to make this all about pass-blocking, though, because Arizona did have a run scheme I wanted to look at. It was a fun concept that was well blocked both times they ran it and resulted in gains of 8 and 10 yards.

This is an outside zone scheme with a guard/center pin-and-pull to handle the nose better. The Cardinals have added a little window dressing to it, though, by faking the triple option on the back side. Look at what that does to the linebackers. Even with the center pulling right to the hole, both linebackers fly to the back side. Poor Shipley has no one to block.

Humphries does a nice job of widening his guy to create a hole. Look at him roll his hips on contact to generate movement. That's what all those power cleans in the gym are for. Larry Fitzgerald also does good work to cover up the corner.

Now, you may notice the center isn't pulling here, but it's the same play. The center isn't pulling because the nose tackle is lined up a little tighter than he was on the first play, and the Cardinals must feel like their center can reach a shaded nose as long as his hand is in Shipley's frame. In the first GIF the nose tackle's down hand is just outside Shipley's foot and Pugh signals to the back (notice the hip tap) that they're going to pin-and-pull it. Here, the down hand is right on the foot, so they don't pull Shipley. Maybe they should have, though, since Shipley got flagged for a weak holding call here.

Still, discounting the soft call, this was another well blocked play. Once again Humphries does a good job at the point of attack to widen the hole. And Pugh gets up to the second level to hold off Luke Kuechly. Now, I'm anxious to see Murray keep it and run the option off this look.


3 comments, Last at 28 Sep 2019, 5:16pm

1 Details

I would never have noticed that hip tap if you don't mention it. That's a big reason I love these articles.
I also agree that they prob. should have run the "pin-and-pull" again. Although maybe they would worry about the NT slanting inside to the offense's right, which might make it hard on the LG to execute the block and risk having it blown up in the backfield.

2 Another excellent analysis

Thanks again, Ben -

Your weekly breakdown of line play is consistently one of my favorite columns on this site.