The Cardinals didn’t play well on offense or defense in the season-opening 24-6 loss to the Redskins. One bright spot was special teams. The highlight of the day was a 44-yard punt return by rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk, which he almost took back for a score. Kirk, linebacker Zeke Turner and safety Rudy Ford explained why the punt return worked so well in this week’s edition of Cardinals Film Room.
The situation: The Redskins had a fourth-and-4 from their 11, leading 24-6 with 4:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Ford clears out Washington gunner Danny Johnson: “I’m not going to be outran by too many guys. The guy is in the lead position. I used my speed to gain back on. I got on the back shoulder, came under, hooked him and was able to give Christian some space.”
Turner sets up against Washington linebacker Ryan Anderson: “That’s my guy, and I want to have this leverage on him. At first he had the leverage, so I had to slingshot to get back to the right, because it’s a right return. I ended up getting in the right position.”
As he catches the ball, Kirk sees the crease forming: “We just have leverage set up perfectly. These two guys (Turner and Trent Sherfield) wall it and we have two guys (Derrick Coleman and Dennis Gardeck) behind.”
Ford’s recovery allows Kirk to reach full speed quickly. Ford: “It’s always a key block. You get the gunner away and the returner can make a move and let them do what they do. Use their feet to beat other guys.”
Turner takes out two Redskins, blocking Anderson into safety Deshazor Everett: “I’m running with him, and I saw another guy coming, so I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and I gave him a shove. It comes up in a lot of special teams, where it’s kickoff return, punt return or even punt. You kind of want to knock guys into each other so they cause a big pile and spring free our runner.”
Kirk hits the jets: “From this view right here, I’m just taking it straight up the sidelines. Stick my foot in the ground and just get vertical.”
Kirk weighs his options: “Right here, when I break it to the sideline, you see my head turning, because I like to look inside to see anybody coming from inside out, just to see we’re there at. I see (punter Tress Way) coming. If he’s going to take an angle and try to come inside out on me, I’m just going to take it down the sideline. But he wrapped around and tried to hit my outside leg. It caused me to cut back.”
Turner turns to watch as Kirk zooms past him: “He’s really explosive. He can bend the edge or take it up the middle and explode out. He’s definitely a big part of our game.”
Kirk appreciates all the blocking that set up the big return: “They did a great job. When we practice it during the week, it looks the same way. It’s the best when you have guys that take pride in what they do."
Redskins safety Troy Apke does a nice job getting off a block to pursue Kirk: “I saw (Tre Boston) there, so I figured I had good leverage if I cut back. Things happen fast. You make a quick decision and you run with it. Obviously from here it looks like I can turn back (to the right), but those are milliseconds when you have to make that decision. There’s no room for error, and the biggest thing about punt return is that you can’t stutter your feet. You stutter your feet, you’ve got all these guys running full speed behind you and you don’t want them to catch you from behind.”
Kirk drags Apke but can’t elude his grasp: “I almost did. I was trying my hardest to. I almost slipped out of it. We’ll get there. You’ve just got to be patient and take (a touchdown) whenever it comes.”
The Cardinals took over at the Washington 26. Ford: “You always want to give your offense the best field position possible. That’s our motive and we take pride in that. We want to win the game, so any way we can help our team, that’s what we want to do.”
Turner and some of the other young players are playing exclusively special teams right now: “It’s really what we’re focused on, making our plays on special teams, going 100 percent. Just trying to make every play we can, because you never know when that play is going to come to you.”
Kirk believes there will be more big returns moving forward: “We know we can bring a spark and put the offense in a good position. In the future, we know when we go out there every time, there’s an opportunity for us to take it to the house.”
Cards Sequences: Christian Kirk's Punt Return
Images of the rookie wide receiver's 44-yard punt return in the Cardinals' 24-6 season-opening loss to Washington