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Spreading The Wealth: Cardinals' Passing Game An Inclusive Affair

Top six pass catchers all have between 11 and 18 targets this season

Wide receiver A.J. Green had his first 100-yard game with the Cardinals against the Jaguars last weekend. Green has a team-leading 18 targets but six players are in double digits.
Wide receiver A.J. Green had his first 100-yard game with the Cardinals against the Jaguars last weekend. Green has a team-leading 18 targets but six players are in double digits.

The Cardinals' final touchdown drive in Jacksonville featured five passes to three different receivers – and neither were the team's top two pass catchers.

Two players crossed the 100-yard mark receiving – and neither was DeAndre Hopkins.

And as the Cardinals go into their NFC West showdown with the also-undefeated Rams Sunday, they have proven thus far that Kyler Murray will spread the ball around – not a bad trait against a team with superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

"I think it's definitely an area where we have evolved most as an offense," said Christian Kirk, who had one of the 100-yard games, and who, along with Hopkins, was not targeted on that final drive.

Hopkins, dealing with a ribs injury, didn't catch a touchdown for the first time this season, but A.J. Green had a seven-catch, 122-yard outing after not doing a lot the first two games. Rondale Moore was silenced a week after his huge game against the Vikings, but Kirk provided his 7-104 day.

"It's just going to the right spot with the ball every time," Murray said. "At least (I'm) trying to. Sometimes a guy may get missed here and there, (because) I may have to move a certain way, I may not see a guy, but for the most part at this part of the season I feel like I've been pretty good with my reads and my progressions and delivering the ball. It's not like last year where D-Hop may have had all the touches and you are trying to get everyone else involved."

Last year, Hopkins set a franchise record with 115 catches, for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns. He remains a priority target, and coach Kliff Kingsbury continued to say Wednesday the Cardinals are working on getting him the ball more often.

But so far, what the Cardinals have done has worked. They have not lost, Kirk is off to the best start of his career, and Murray is an early-season MVP candidate in part because he is well ahead of his career completion percentage.

"We know we have a dynamic group of receivers," Kingsbury said. "When we are scripting during the week we try to account for that and make sure guys are getting touches and trying to maximize what they do best."

Table inside Article
Name Targets Catches Yards TDs
Edmonds 17 16 121 0
Kirk 17 15 239 2
Moore 15 13 184 1
Hopkins 16 13 158 3
Green 18 10 181 1
M. Williams 11 10 113 0

Surprisingly, it is Green with the most targets so far, even as he integrates himself in the offense – "It's a learning curve for me," Green said – although the top six pass catchers (including tight end Maxx Williams) are all between 11 and 18 targets thus far.

By comparison, Hopkins was targeted 37 times through three games last season when the distribution was much different. Larry Fitzgerald was second with 15 targets.

"One game a guy may eat and another guy may not," Murray said. "But that's part of buying into what we are doing as a team and loving each and every one of your guys, and in the receiver room not being selfish and being happy for whoever is shining that day."

Kirk said in walkthroughs, Murray shows where he will be going with the ball on a given play. But as the week unfolds, Murray also sees different pass-catchers, and by the end of the week, Murray might even deliver the ball to the play's last read.

"Even if that's probably not a possibility, (he is) giving everyone the sense you may get the ball and you're not just running a route to just get another guy open or you're just lifting the coverage," Kirk said. "Everybody knows, 'I have a chance on this' "

A passing game tends to ebb and flow over a season, and the Cardinals' distribution can morph depending on opponent and injury. But Murray, a quarterback his whole life, knows how wide receivers can be about getting the ball.

"I would love to have everyone smiling after the game," Murray said. "I know how it is. I understand you put a lot of work in individually and you want to have the numbers at the end of the Sunday, but sometimes it just doesn't go that way.

"I think as of right now, everyone is getting the ball, they all know that, there's no favoritism. Whoever is open they are getting the ball. It's been pretty good so far."