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Kyler Murray Brings Potent Potential To Red Zone

QB Kyler Murray takes a red zone snap in training camp
QB Kyler Murray takes a red zone snap in training camp

There is a macro feel to Cardinals’ training camp, as everyone waits anxiously to see if the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray pairing works as well as envisioned.

A micro-level factor could help push their maiden season in the right direction.

In the NFL, many games come down to one possession, and a team’s efficiency in the red zone can be the difference between a win and a loss. (A study by footballperspective.com believes red zone performance is responsible for about 19 percent of a team’s record.)

The Cardinals could be in good shape there in 2019 due to multiple factors. The main one is Murray, whose dual-threat abilities stress a defense and give Kingsbury a variety of play-calling options near the goal-line.

“You ask any offensive coach – if you have that ability to run down there with your QB, it helps as the field condenses,” Kingsbury said. “It adds a hat (the defense must account for) in that offensive strategy. There’s no question he’s a red-zone threat.”

Oklahoma was eighth in college football red-zone efficiency last season, scoring on 62 of their 68 trips, including 45 touchdowns. (Despite their overall struggles, the Cardinals were solid in the red zone in 2018, finishing eighth in the NFL with a 64.3 touchdown percentage, although they were last in attempts.)

The Cardinals have played Panthers quarterback Cam Newton many times in recent years, and he has been a thorn in their sides near the goalline. The Seahawks have posed similar problems twice a year.

“We have seen enough of Russell Wilson to know any time there is a possibility he can run it himself, you have linebackers backside who play a little tighter, you have guys who have to worry about where their eyes are on defense,” General Manager Steve Keim said. “Frankly, it gives you the ability to spread people out a little more and make that short area not as condensed.”

While Murray may be the master key, other aspects also point toward red zone success. Running back David Johnson can be a power back or a receiver on any particular play, while the speed of Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella coupled with the size of Larry Fitzgerald gives Murray options.

“(Defenses) have to be on alert and pay attention to everyone on the field,” Murray said.

Additionally, the quick passing game style of the Air Raid isn’t as compromised in compressed areas.

“I feel like our playbook is completely open down there,” guard J.R. Sweezy said. “Nothing really changes that much. We’ve got threats everywhere, and I think it’s going to be very beneficial for us.”

If the Cardinals prove to be effective near the goalline, it could be the impetus for Kingsbury to push the envelope with two-point conversions. Now that extra-point attempts are from the 25-yard-line, a riskier approach following touchdowns makes mathematical sense.

“We’ll see how that plays out,” Kingsbury said. “We’re going to be aggressive, and if we have schemes we think are going to work, then we’ll cut it loose.”

The efficiency of the red-zone offense in the regular season is hypothetical right now, but second-year running back Chase Edmonds said he’s already seen the proof.

“It’s already working, man,” Edmonds said. “When we’ve had our red-zone periods, we’ve had a lot of success.”

The Cardinals must improve in many areas to put last year’s meager offensive showing behind them. Capitalizing on red-zone opportunities is one of the most important.

“It’s the difference between winning and losing in this league,” Sweezy said. “When you get in the red zone, you’ve got to score.”

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