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Kliff Kingsbury Seeks Balance Between Simple And Complex

Cardinals coach knows right mixture leads to offensive success

QB Josh Rosen looks downfield against the Lions as TE Ricky Seals-Jones (86) and WR J.J. Nelson run crossing routes
QB Josh Rosen looks downfield against the Lions as TE Ricky Seals-Jones (86) and WR J.J. Nelson run crossing routes

Kliff Kingsbury was not thinking about Albert Einstein on Tuesday morning, but in the midst of discussing his offense, the Cardinals coach channeled a philosophy attributed to the famous physicist.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

There is no doubt the play sheet Kingsbury had at Texas Tech pales in comparison to the voluminous chapters in most NFL offenses. Kingsbury's background suggests he will not look to reach that level of complexity, but he also realizes an overly simplistic approach will not work against NFL defenders.

"You want the players to play with confidence, play fast, not be thinking a whole lot so they can be the athlete that they are," Kingsbury said. "At the same time, you want to challenge the defense, because if you're just running the same plays over and over, they can get a read on it and obviously shut it down.

"There's that fine line you want to walk, and I feel like we've done a good job of that between our install and our game-planning, that the players can play fast and play physical, know what to do and still have that illusion of complexity."

The topic of simplicity naturally led to a discussion about Chip Kelly, the coach who built dominant offenses at Oregon but did not have the same success in his four-year NFL stint.

Kelly certainly started quickly, winning double-digit games in his first two years with the Eagles, but the offensive efficiency steadily decreased. From 2013 through 2016, Kelly watched his average yards per play drop from 6.3 to 5.6 to 5.3 to 4.9. His average points per drive went from 2.12 to 1.96 to 1.62 to 1.55.

Kelly's final team – the 2016 49ers – was notably bereft of talent, but by that point, the shine had worn off. Kelly was fired after one season with San Francisco and he eventually returned to the college ranks.

It's a path Kingsbury does not want to replicate, and on Tuesday he explained why Kelly's outcome does not signal a fait accompli when it comes to Kingsbury's own NFL tenure.

"It's kind of a misnomer because that first year they averaged a bunch of points and a bunch of yards and they had really good players," Kingsbury said. "Then they traded them away. When you don't have good players, no plays look good. So I think he gets a tough rap because he really had it rolling there for a while and then you get rid of DeSean Jackson and Shady McCoy. It's hard to replace guys like that. So I think it remains to be seen."

Kelly, of course, was responsible for the jettisoning of his stars, but it's a good reminder that scheme cannot completely overcome personnel shortcomings. General Manager Steve Keim is in control of the talent acquisition, and he hopes to stock Kingsbury with ample playmakers heading into 2019.

While Kingsbury may have a base set of principles that are less complicated than other teams, the key may be the wrinkles implemented on a weekly basis.

The lack of adjustment was something Kelly caught plenty of flak for, as several NFL players spoke of his predictability on offense as the years went on.

Kingsbury has been lauded for his creativity in the past, and it's something that could help decide if he's a success at the NFL level. While time will tell if he can outmaneuver defensive coordinators, Kingsbury is geeked for the opportunity.

"I love that," Kingsbury said. "That's the fun part. Try to make it challenging for the defense to stop us."

Images of Cardinals cheerleader Kiley during the 2018 season