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Cardinals Now Red Hot In Red Zone

Murray's running ability ups offense's options

When the Cardinals get close, they are getting touchdowns, and that has helped them get to 4-2 this season -- and it's a good trend, given that the red zone was such an issue last season.

The Cardinals are currently operating at an impressive 80 percent in the red zone -- 16 touchdowns in 20 RZ trips -- which is second in the NFL. (First place? This weekend's opponent Seattle, which is at 88.9 percent.) The Cardinals kicked field goals the other four times, so they have yet to fail to score. The lone misfire in the red zone at Dallas came only after the play worked to get Larry Fitzgerald open in the end zone, only to have Kyler Murray overthrow him.

(By comparison, the Cardinals' defense has only allowed 10 touchdowns in 24 RZ trips, an impressive 41.9 percent clip.)

Last season, the Cards were 29th in the league in red-zone offense at 45.3 percent. The Cardinals were 24-of-53, and had as many field-goal tries as touchdowns. It was most apparent early in the season, particularly a close loss in Baltimore when the Cardinals kicked three field goals inside the 5-yard line.

It was an area that pained coach Kliff Kingsbury last year. Part of the issue early in 2019 was that Murray had yet to find his bearings as a runner on the professional level. The quarterback has become much more efficient, and the danger in the red zone that he will keep the ball has made it nearly impossible for teams to defend. Murray ran it in on a perfect zone-read bootleg in Dallas, and another designed Murray run got the ball down from the 16 to the 1, where Kenyan Drake got an easy score on the next play.

"Practice, Year 2, everybody is more comfortable, attention to detail, all those things (help in the red zone)," Murray said. "Last year we were learning on the (fly.) ... This year, we've had plenty of time to see it in meetings, on Zoom, go out and run it, walkthrough it. When you get the reps in, its hard not to execute."

Kingsbury also has other things he has dialed up, like the inches-pass to a motioning Christian Kirk, who was able to get the corner for a 6-yard TD "catch."

"I do think the emphasis we put on it after really struggling there last year – we thought it cost us games last year not being able to convert touchdowns – so that was a heavy emphasis all through training camp, all through the offseason, the virtual training we did," Kingsbury said. "And then Kyler is making plays, and he's not taking negative plays. There're not any sacks in the red zone. We're staying on schedule, and guys are locking in and executing at a high level when we get down there."

QB Kyler Murray reaches out over the goal line for a TD run against the Cowboys in Dallas in 2020