Kliff Kingsbury has made no secret of his desire to stay vanilla this preseason, and sometimes that means you get licked.
The Cardinals’ first-teamers played poorly in Thursday night’s 33-26 loss to the Raiders, as the defense gave up yards in bunches and the offense was discombobulated and inefficient.
The final image was quarterback Kyler Murray falling backward into his own end zone to avoid a hit early in the second quarter, giving the Raiders a safety and a 26-0 lead.
The big question coming out of it: do the exhibition struggles mean little because the Cardinals barely studied the Raiders, or are they an ominous foreshadowing of another disappointing season?
Both Kingsbury and Murray were unaffected by the poor outcome.
“We didn’t look as good we would like to look, but it’s the preseason, and this is why it’s the preseason,” said Murray, who finished the game 3-of-8 for 12 yards. “It’s tough because we’re not playing the whole game. I don’t want to say it’s not real, but it’s not the regular season, and we’re not doing everything that we’re going to do.”
If history is any guide, there will be no correlation between the Cardinals’ stinker and their regular season performance. However, a potentially significant development did arise from the game.
Murray was called for two false start penalties in the first quarter for clapping his hands without the ball being snapped. The officials deemed it an abrupt movement designed to draw the defense offside, which is illegal.
“To me, it’s like any other hard count,” Murray said. “It’s the defense’s job to watch the ball. So it really doesn’t make sense to me, but we’re trying to fix things out right now.”
The Cardinals have used a clap to snap the ball throughout training camp, and the inability to fake would make it easy for opposing defenses to time up the snap when Murray moves.
Kingsbury said he is confident the Cardinals can learn how to feign a snap without drawing a penalty and continue to use the method.
“It’s the first time for certain officials to see it,” Kingsbury said. “We’ve been in contact with the league and have had great conversations on it. We’re going to work through that and make sure everybody is on the same page. We want to be on the same page with them, and make sure we’re doing things that they deem legal.”
The Cardinals must work that out, and there will be plenty of other teachable moments arising from the contest. On the Raiders’ first touchdown, wide receiver Ryan Grant found himself wide open on a simple out route due to a miscommunication between linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Patrick Peterson.
The first-team offense gained an average of three yards per drive over their four possessions, looking nothing like the group from the preseason opener a week ago. In a microcosm of the night, its best play – a pretty back-shoulder completion form Murray to KeeSean Johnson – was called back for offensive pass interference.
The Cardinals were penalized 14 times for 108 yards in the contest.
“We did it to ourselves,” guard J.R. Sweezy said. “It’s a positive and a negative, because negatively you saw what we did tonight. Positively, we can fix it. It’s all on us.”
It is not apropos to say the Cardinals are going back to the drawing board, because Kingsbury did not sketch out a plan to win this game. But after a 3-13 campaign and a risky offseason, there was more angst than usual for a preseason contest.
Raider safety Lamarcus Joyner added some fuel to the fire on the ESPN broadcast during the game, calling the Cardinals offense "pretty boy football." Joyner got the sack on Murray to punctuate Oakland’s night, but Kingsbury is confident his ideas will work in the NFL when the real games begin.
“(Joyner) is a really good player and I have a ton of respect for him,” Kingsbury said, “and I’m very confident in our offense.”
Images from Thursday night's preseason game at State Farm Stadium