There has been a lot of hot air expended the past several months, both by supporters and detractors of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
It’s time to see how hot the Air Raid can be.
The Cardinals’ new coach kept his scheme shrouded in secrecy throughout the preseason and will unveil it Sunday afternoon in the regular season opener against the Lions.
While Air Raid principles have become more common in the NFL in recent years, no one from the coaching tree of Mike Leach, Hal Mumme and Sonny Dykes has implemented it full-time at the professional level until now.
Kingsbury, who engineered prolific offenses in his six-year head coaching stint at Texas Tech, was asked why he’s confident the scheme can work in the NFL when nobody else has ever used it.
“Because it’s never been used before in the NFL,” Kingsbury said. “I know Chip (Kelly) did a version of what he does, but there’s only one way to find out.”
The Cardinals kept seven receivers on their active roster, strengthening the belief that Kingsbury will spread the field and throw often. But it’s unclear what kind of wrinkles will be employed following a vanilla preseason.
“There’s a lot of mystery behind some of the things that they’re doing,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
Kingsbury is quick to point out that many staples of the Air Raid have already flowed into the NFL. The Eagles used some concepts to win the Super Bowl two seasons ago, while the Chiefs and Browns have tailored their offenses around former Kingsbury quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield.
“Y’all talk about the ‘Air Raid, Air Raid’ or somebody from that tree coming to the NFL and installing that offense,” Kingsbury said. “Yeah, it’s the first time that I guess that’s happened, but those concepts are all over the NFL. There are incredibly innovative offensive minds. It just happens to be that I’m a guy that comes from an Air Raid background, if you will.”
Mahomes won the league MVP in 2018 and Mayfield had a fantastic rookie season. Kyler Murray is aiming to follow in those footsteps after the Cardinals took him No. 1 overall in the draft to fulfill Kingsbury’s ideal quarterback vision.
Murray showed impressive command of the offense in the preseason and Kingsbury said the full playbook will be available against Detroit.
“We’ll roll it out there and see what we’ve got,” Kingsbury said. “(Murray) has picked things up quick. Like has been talked about, everyone else has been kind of catching up to him, as far as the operation of things, what we’re looking for, how we want to play. So we’ll cut it loose on Sunday.”
Since entering the NFL coaching ranks in 2005, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has watched offenses evolve to feature more dual-threat quarterbacks, run-pass options and spread philosophies. He believes the Cardinals are on the right side of the inevitable shift.
“This game is driven by quarterback play, and what the college teams are giving us is what we’re seeing with the young quarterbacks,” Joseph said. “I don’t think it’s going away. It’ll probably become more what NFL offenses look like. That’s the product that we’re getting. You can’t draft these quarterbacks in the top-5, top-10 and totally change what you drafted them on.”
The Cardinals hope Kingsbury and Murray can take the league by storm, and while conclusions certainly won’t come Sunday, it will be the first glimpse after an offseason of anticipation.
The players have a quiet confidence about a turnaround from last year’s 3-13 campaign, but remain tight-lipped about its execution.
“We might throw it deep, we might throw it short,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “To the right and to the left, probably some over the middle.”
The guessing game ends soon.
“I know exactly what’s coming,” Fitzgerald said, “and you’ll see Sunday.”
Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center