by Ben Muth
The Cardinals have been flying high since we last checked in on them. They've won three straight games to get back to .500 (and they're extra .500 because they even have a tie). Last Sunday they beat the New York Giants, and they did it by getting a huge day from a backup running back.
I was a little surprised by how the offense looked. They still ran everything from the shotgun and went a lot of no-huddle, but they weren't really going uptempo from the no-huddle often. It was a ball control no-huddle, if that makes sense. They ran it more than they passed it, in fact, which is not something most people were expecting from a Kliff Kingsbury offense.
The Cardinals did most of their damage on the ground on their three long touchdown runs. All three went for 20 yards or more and we're going to look at all of them here in order.
It doesn't get much more well blocked than that. This isn't a revolutionary scheme or anything. It's just well executed, and the Giants' run fits are a mess. The defensive end on the play side (Oshane Ximines, 53) is getting hooked if he's supposed to two-gap (play down the middle of the tight end and be responsible for the gaps on either side), but I don't think he's two-gapping here. He looks like he's playing the one gap he's supposed to. Assuming he's right, then one of the two defensive backs on the edge needs to play this much more aggressively after the wide receiver motion.
This is a run look all the way from Arizona, and both defensive backs (Deandre Baker, 27, and Michael Thomas, 31) allow too much space in between the tight end and where they try to fill. I know they're taking on a guard and center that outweigh them by 100-plus pounds apiece, but that makes it all the more important that you engage them as close to that tight end's hip as possible. When you don't engage them until 4 yards outside of that, there's a 4-yard hole even if you hold your ground. Justin Pugh (67) and A.Q. Shipley (53) easily handle their much smaller defenders. Of course, even if one of them (whoever is supposed to be a force player) was good, it may not have mattered since Jabrill Peppers (21) playing as a sub-linebacker is so bad here he can't get close to making a play even though he's unblocked.
One thing that didn't really factor into the play but is worth pointing out is what right tackle Justin Murray (71) does. He's responsible for the backside linebacker (Alec Ogletree, 47), but when Ogletree exchanges gaps with the defensive end (Lorenzo Carter, 59) to take away the read option, Murray pumps the brakes and wheels back around on Carter. Again, the front side of the play is so good that the Cardinals probably didn't need to touch a soul past the center, but it's always good to see guys do the right thing back there.
This is just a lead draw play, something has been Day 1 install for two-back teams since forever. The Cardinals are just running it from the pistol instead of from under center. The other changeup is that rather than double-teaming with the right guard up to the middle linebacker, they decide to slip the center (Shipley) out and just down-block on the nose tackle (Dexter Lawrence, 97). J.R. Sweezy (64) does a great job of washing Lawrence down and creating a huge hole.
If you're under center, you probably can't get away with that because the middle linebacker will read the lead too quickly and beat the center to the hole. Here, the middle linebacker is actually a safety (Peppers) so he's not as keyed into run reads and reacts a little slower so Shipley has enough time to get up to him and cover him up. Peppers tries to hop around the block, but Chase Edmonds makes him pay for guessing and runs where Peppers ain't. Combine all that with a nice lead block by H-back Charles Clay (85) and a missed tackle and you have another easy touchdown.
This is a nice G concept (play-side guard kicks out the play-side defensive end) where gameplanning clearly paid off for the Cardinals. I don't know how they know, whether it was tendencies or alignment that tipped them off, but the Cardinals know that the Giants defensive lean is slanting toward the tight end here. Because they know that, they block this play differently than you usually see it.
Typically the center (Shipley) would try to reach the shaded nose (Lawrence) and the left tackle (D.J. Humphries, 74) would be responsible for the linebacker (David Mayo, 55). But the Cardinals knew something was up, so they have Humphries block down and seal off the nose and let Shipley pull into the alley for Mayo. Again, there could be any number of ways Arizona picked up that the Giants weren't staying put, but they definitely knew it, they weren't guessing. Otherwise they wouldn't ask the tackle to down-block on someone two gaps inside. Plus, look at Humphries' footwork -- he's not stepping like a guy scared of getting beat upfield even though he's blocking a guy that far inside. He's stepping like a guy trying not to get beat across his face.
And finally on this play, notice the backside again. This time Murray doesn't wheel back around to block the defensive end on the scrape exchange and the defensive end (Markus Golden, 44) almost makes the play. I don't blame Murray for not doing it this time -- unlike the first play, he's not just responsible for an off-ball linebacker. Here, he and Sweezy have a combo on a 3-technique (Dalvin Tomlinson, 94) to the linebacker. He has his eyes on the 3-technique and can't see the linebacker scraping outside. You'd like to see Sweezy slow down and stop Tomlinson, and then Murray would know he could wheel back too. Luckily it was once again blocked so well on the front side that it didn't matter, but it was close.
It's funny -- outside of those three runs the Cardinals were just OK in the run game. They were solid, but it wasn't as huge of a game as you might've guessed if you were watching it live. In fact, you could argue their pass-blocking was actually better than their run-blocking. They only gave up two sacks all game (and very few pressures in general) and neither was their fault at all.
Kyler Murray has done some very nice things this year, but this play hurts me in my soul. First Murray tries to escape a perfectly clean pocket. Then he realizes he's in trouble, and he turns around and retreats deep into the backfield where he can't even see any receivers. You never want to be facing your own end zone. But he does create enough distance to get outside the pocket where he can throw it away. But he doesn't do that, and instead eats a 15-yard sack. This was a bad football play.
Here's the other sack. I think this was an RPO where the run part of the option was a QB draw (Edmonds certainly looks like a lead blocker) and the pass part was a bubble screen. For whatever reason Murray looked like he wanted to throw it at first but then changed his mind. I do applaud him for not throwing it after he kept it initially even though he got outside the tackle box since Shipley would've been called for being illegally downfield (which is technically illegal even though it's never called).
And that was it as far as sacks go for Arizona. It was a very clean game in pass protection from a group that has taken some heat this year.