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Cardinals' Offense Still Has Room To Grow

Kyler Murray's dazzling runs masking some early-season shortcomings

QB Kyler Murray has been dynamic with his feet, but the Cardinals can improve in other areas offensively.
QB Kyler Murray has been dynamic with his feet, but the Cardinals can improve in other areas offensively.

In the first two games of the season, Kyler Murray has juked his way to stardom, proving to be one of the NFL's most headache-inducing matchups.

While the second-year quarterback's rushing ability gives the Cardinals' offense a high floor, the group hasn't yet neared its ceiling.

The Cardinals are No. 22 in Football Outsiders’ offensive efficiency rankings and No. 19 in yards per play through two weeks, as it has been the defensive side of the ball that has sparked the 2-0 start.

"We left a lot out there," Murray said of the offensive performance against Washington. "I think that was pretty evident to see. It's frustrating at times, but at the same time you have to understand this is Week 2. We're not where we hope to be at the end of this thing. We got the win, and that's really all that matters, but yes, I feel like we could definitely be better."

After Sunday's spectacular showing with his legs, Murray leads the NFL with 7.5 yards per carry, and Kliff Kingsbury believes he can continue to be hyper-efficient as the year moves along. But the Cardinals' coach said Monday that the offense must drastically reduce negative plays in order to fire on all cylinders.

"Both of those were called quarterback runs, the touchdown runs, so that's part of his game," Kingsbury said. "It's part of what makes him great, and the MVP last year (Lamar Jackson) had a ton of quarterback runs and he did alright. So I don't think that's not sustainable.

"What's not sustainable is continuing to win games when you have that many penalties and when you shoot yourself in the foot over and over to stop drives. That's what will hold us back."

The Cardinals finished No. 13 in offensive efficiency last season, and with marquee offseason addition DeAndre Hopkins already playing a starring role, the upside for the group is large.

Beyond the penalties – 15 for 133 yards on offense in the two games -- the Cardinals have a couple areas that will likely improve.

Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds both averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry last season but sit at a combined 3.9 yards per tote in 2020. In the passing game, Murray is only averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, a lower figure than his rookie season.

Even though the running backs weren't difference-makers early against Washington, Drake did finish the game strong and helped seal the win by churning out first downs.

"Obviously we'd like to have some bigger runs in the run game early, but it's worked out the last couple of weeks that he's had the ball in his hands late and done a great job of putting those games away," Kingsbury said.

While the overall passing numbers weren't great, Murray showed off his arm talent against Washington. Andy Isabella caught a 54-yard bomb and Christian Kirk hauled in a 49-yarder in the first half.

"I'm not sure how essential (the deep ball is to the offense), but when it's there, we definitely want to take advantage of it," Kingsbury said. "Those were two huge completions in the game. Kyler really throws one of the better deep balls I've been around – touch, anticipation, things like that. Both guys did a great job separating and finishing those plays."

The Cardinals have shown spurts of offensive explosiveness this season, but prolonged success has been missing. Some of that has to do with the quality of competition faced, as Washington and San Francisco have two of the more talented defenses in the NFL.

The Cardinals navigated through those games 2-0, and if the offense takes a step forward, more victories will be on the horizon.

"Our players understand that we have to take what we're seeing on the practice field and practicing on the practice field and transition it to games," Kingsbury said. "Just execute at a higher level. Hopefully that happens soon."

Images from the Week 2 contest at State Farm Stadium