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Cardinals Look To Remain In Rare Air Against 49ers

More passing game success would be big boost down the stretch

WR Kyler Murray averaged a gaudy 11.3 yards per pass attempt against the Eagles.
WR Kyler Murray averaged a gaudy 11.3 yards per pass attempt against the Eagles.

The Cardinals struggled in several key areas against the Eagles on Sunday.

They lost the turnover margin by three, gave up multiple first downs after third-and-unfathomably-long and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.

But the passing game was clicking – Kyler Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards -- and when that happens in the NFL, it cures many ills.

"You can watch a bunch of games where teams are rushing for 160, 170, 180 and only have 17 points, but if you throw for 400 yards in this league, that adds up very fast," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "The mindset for most of us on our staff is changing. You manage the run game, but keep the pass game from killing you. … If a team wants to hand it off 30 times, be my guest."

The Cardinals (8-6) have a chance to clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they can knock off the 49ers on Saturday and get a Jaguars upset of the Bears on Sunday. While they have shown a multitude of ways to win this season, the most predictive path will always be through air efficiency.

Murray is averaging 8.03 yards per passing attempt in the eight wins this season and only 6.27 yards per attempt in losses. To Joseph's point, Murray's rushing average is nearly 2.0 yards per attempt better in losses than wins.

It has been an uneven year through the air for the Cardinals, but more showings like that against Philadelphia would make them a tough out in the final two games of the regular season and any playoff run.

"When (Murray) is clicking and making those throws, the whole offense is on point," wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury cautions that every week is its own animal, and a great passing performance does not necessarily beget another one. If that is the case, other facets will need to help carry the load.

"I think the Packers threw for 140 yards last week with Aaron (Rodgers)," Kingsbury said.

The Cardinals hope their pass-rush continues to make life tough on opposing quarterbacks, as it has accumulated 14 sacks in the past two games and will face third-stringer C.J. Beathard on Saturday. Haason Reddick is leading the way, as he's in the top-5 in the NFL in sacks (11), forced fumbles (5) and tackles for loss (19).

The group will have to do it without Dennis Gardeck, who had seven sacks in only 93 defensive snaps this season but is done for the year with a knee injury.

Gardeck is the fourth prominent player on the defensive front to be placed on season-ending injured reserve – joining Chandler Jones, Jordan Phillips and Corey Peters – but the uptick in play from youngsters Zach Allen, Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu has helped cushion the blow.

"I told our staff and our defense a couple months ago: when Zach Allen, and Leki, and Rashard Lawrence and Dennis Gardeck and those young players start playing well for us, this defense will go to the next level," Joseph said. "It's happening."

A good passing attack is the prettiest way to win in the NFL, but the Cardinals will take any type of victory against San Francisco. If they capture the final two games against the 49ers and Rams, the playoffs are guaranteed.

While the Cardinals know they control their own destiny, the postseason has not been a point of focus this week.

"That word hasn't even been said in a team meeting setting," Kingsbury said. "Our focus has been short-term since I got here, and it will continue to be. Continue to make progress and all those others things usually take care of themselves."

Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders during the Week 15 victory over Philadelphia at State Farm Stadium.