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Like Last Year, Cardinals Searching For Offensive Identity After Week 4

Group hasn't picked up where it left off to end 2019

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray gestures during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.
QB Kyler Murray and the offense has not gotten off to the start expected of it in 2020.

Kliff Kingsbury let out a pained laugh after the question was presented.

The Cardinals threw a bevy of horizontal passes against the Panthers on Sunday, but they weren't very successful. Even though quarterback Kyler Murray completed 77 percent of his 31 attempts, he totaled only 133 passing yards, a meager 4.3 yards per attempt.

So why did the Cardinals coach stick with it?

"I'm not sure," Kingsbury said. "That's the only answer. We didn't have a good enough plan in place to make the plays down the field that we would have liked to, and that falls on me. I've got to call better plays when they're taking certain things away."

One year ago, the Cardinals completely transformed their offense after four weeks, morphing from the Air Raid to a more run-focused attack. It resulted in consistent success down the stretch, which paved the way for an offseason of excitement (especially after wideout DeAndre Hopkins was added to the fold).

Instead of building on that in Kingsbury and Murray's second season together, the Cardinals find themselves in the same place as 2019 – at a potential pivot point in their search for answers.

"We're trying to figure ourselves out, what we are, what our identity is," said Kingsbury, whose team is 22nd in the NFL in scoring at an average of 24.5 points per game. "We're still a work in progress, obviously, as you witnessed (Sunday). It wasn't our best day. We have to be a lot better."

Murray's legs have dazzled – he's averaging an NFL-best 8.3 yards per carry – and Hopkins has lived up to the billing as an All-Pro receiver, but the other skill players are almost universally underperforming expectations.

Christian Kirk has six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown in three games. Larry Fitzgerald has 88 receiving yards in four games, including four total receiving yards in the past two.

"(Fitzgerald) is a guy that gives us energy when he's making plays and getting the ball in his hands," Kingsbury said. "We all know that. I have to continue to script that way and find ways to get the ball in his hands."

Running backs Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds each averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry a season ago but are averaging a combined 3.8 yards per carry this season.

Drake was signed to the transition tag this offseason, as the Cardinals valued him among the better running backs in the NFL, but he has yet to resemble the runner who dominated in eight games last year.

"Kenyan, he's a dynamic back," Kingsbury said. "We know that. We have to get him opportunities in space where he can make people miss. We'll continue to work to do that."

Murray threw three interceptions against the Lions in the Week 3 loss, but the offense also moved the ball efficiently, as the Cardinals didn't punt until the fourth quarter. Kingsbury said those turnovers did not affect his play-calling or Murray's willingness to throw it downfield against the Panthers.

"You could feel me as a play-caller pressing, and him probably pressing a little bit as well to make some things happen, but I don't think it had anything to do with the previous game," Kingsbury said. "He's able to shed that pretty quickly."

The Cardinals returned the same coach, quarterback and offensive scheme from a season ago, as well as nearly every offensive player of consequence. They added Hopkins.

The lack of an offseason was expected to hurt teams with less cohesiveness, but instead, there has been a scoring explosion in the NFL this season and the Cardinals have been surprisingly left behind thus far.

"We have 12 games left, and it's time to figure it out," Kingsbury said. "I think we will."

DRAKE EXPECTED TO BE FINE

Drake injured his chest on a big hit in the fourth quarter against the Panthers and left the game, but it's not expected to keep him sidelined.

"I think Kenyan will be OK healthwise," Kingsbury said. "He took that shot late. We're still working through that, but I believe he will be OK."

The Cardinals would love to get starting safeties Budda Baker (thumb) and Jalen Thompson (ankle) back this week, and that is currently up in the air.

"Hopefully Budda will be back soon, and J.T. as well," Kingsbury said. "I'm not sure exactly when that will be, but hopefully on both guys, it's sooner than later."

Kingsbury said guard Justin Pugh had his leg rolled up on against Carolina, and the team will monitor the injury as the week progresses. Tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) could be back in about a month, Kingsbury said.

"I'm hopeful when we get around that bye week (Nov. 1) that he may be ready to go," Kingsbury said.

Images from the Week 4 matchup in Carolina

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