Word of Muth: Mad Scientist
The Cardinals lost to the Buccaneers last Sunday in a game that felt like they should've won. It was a frustrating game to watch as a fan, and their third-straight loss. At this point they aren't going to make the playoffs this year, so from here on out it will mostly be about 2020 and beyond.
Up front I thought the Cardinals played OK. They did a decent job creating space in the run game and held up fairly well in pass protection. When they did give up pressure it mostly came from the edges.
Justin Pugh (67) slid outside due to injuries and struggled at times on Sunday. Pugh has played a good amount of offensive tackle in the past, but certainly showed some rust and really had his hands full with Shaq Barrett (58). His set is too flat here and it's clear he's used to kick-sliding as a guard and not a tackle. There's just not enough vertical depth on his kick. On top of that he doesn't punch so much as he absorbs Barrett when he does make contact. He does absolutely nothing to jar Barrett from his course so Barrett can just run around the hoop like it's a drill. That's an easy sack for a guy who has had a lot of them this year.
This time Kyler Murray is able to throw it away, but Pugh isn't any better. He's trying to jump-set here, and as we've mentioned before in this space, if you're going to jump-set, you have to widen the defender with your punch. Pugh is looping with his hands here and ends up grabbing air. He barely touches him. If you jump-step and miss with your hands, there's no way to recover.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries (74) was better than Pugh but also had his struggles. Offensive tackle has really been an issue for Arizona all year. The line has gotten a lot better as the season has progressed and is no longer the disaster it was throughout last year and early on in 2019, but the tackle play still has a ways to go.
Moving on, I wanted to address something that has stood out to me all year that I just haven't written about: J.R. Sweezy's posture. It's absurd. As an offensive lineman you want to play with an upward arch in your back for power/leverage purposes (just like when you squat). But Sweezy takes it to a level I've never seen. I know he has had back issues in the past, so maybe he's just incredibly careful about it now, but his back is so flat that it just looks overly stiff at this point.
That's Sweezy (64) at right guard, and even in his stance you can tell something is up. That is some strong posture. The issue is that it seems to make him immobile laterally. He plays with good power, but when he has to change directions, like he does here, he ends up looking like Frankenstein's Monster at times. He's probably the Cardinals' best offensive lineman, or at least he's having the best season, but it's something that's really stuck out to me.
Before we leave, I wanted to highlight a couple of cool concepts/good calls from "Coach Bro" Kliff Kingsbury. The Cardinals aren't going to make the playoffs, and their offense hasn't exploded and taken the league by storm. But this unit is so much better than last year and they do run some really unique stuff every week.
This is a funky halfback draw? Counter? Sweep? I don't know what to call it, but it's unique and it went for 10 yards so I'm a fan. It starts off strange before the snap with both backs lined up right next to the quarterback on the same side. Then Murray fakes to David Johnson (31), fakes a wide receiver screen back to his left, and hands it off to Kenyan Drake (41), who's doubling back almost like it's a reverse.
The start of the play is wacky, but from here it's just basic sweep/toss principles. Crack on the edge (from a wide receiver in this case), kick out the force defender (Pugh at right tackle takes a couple steps inside before getting flat and going to kick the defensive back), and lead through the alley (after the initial fake, Johnson turns into the lead blocker). Pugh misses his block because the Cardinals offensive line isn't great in space; it's why their screen plays are shockingly ineffective considering how much they throw the ball. But this is still a very fundamentally sound scheme. It's how the Cardinals get to that scheme that's the cool stuff. This is what offensive coaching is.
The other play I loved from Kingsbury (aside from a sweet wide receiver reverse flea flicker fake punt that worked) was a failed fourth-and-1 call.
I will say that I do not like fourth-down calls where there's only one real receiving option. In those cases all it takes is one guy on defense to sniff it out and your play is tanked. That being said, my goodness was this a brilliant call. You cannot get a guy more open in the NFL than Maxx Williams is here. He should have to change his name to Maxxx because that drop shouldn't be shown to children under 18.
This play didn't have anything to do with the offensive line (though it was well-protected and they sold the run convincingly), but I had to include it as a Cardinals fan to share my suffering with more people.
Speaking of suffering, be sure to check in next week when I'll probably be reviewing Jets-Redskins.