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No Pressure: After Nice Start, Offensive Line Gets Another Test

Notes: Maxx Williams, Mason Cole won't play Sunday; Shotgun kneeldown explanation

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers on September 13, 2020.
Quarterback Kyler Murray often had a clean pocket to throw from against the 49ers.

Justin Pugh is eminently correct in that sack totals are a flawed way to measure pass protection.

On Sunday, for example, Kyler Murray's two sacks came first on a rollout where he could have thrown the ball away and then when he slid one yard behind the line of scrimmage on a scramble.

There were also times when the second-year quarterback bailed the offensive line out, evading pressure by throwing the ball or scampering away from defenders.

"Kyler is going to get us out of some traditional sacks that probably most quarterbacks couldn't, and sometimes things are going to happen and he slides down on a play," said Pugh, who earned the second-best pass-blocking grade in the NFL from Pro Football Focus in Week 1. "It doesn't really matter. We're not going to look at that."

A better judgment may be ESPN's pass-block win-rate metric, which calculates how often a blocker keeps a pass-rusher at bay for 2.5 seconds.

The Cardinals fared exceedingly well in that regard in Sunday's upset of the 49ers, finishing with the third-best win-rate of any NFL team at 74.1 percent despite facing one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the NFL.

The offensive line will face a second straight tough test in Week 2 against Washington. Even though its pass-rush win-rate numbers didn’t stand out – 32.4 percent, 26th in the NFL – Washington made Carson Wentz pay for holding onto the ball too long on Sunday by accumulating eight sacks and three forced fumbles, sparking an upset win.

No. 2 overall pick Chase Young and veteran Ryan Kerrigan are among several players with pedigree on the Washington defensive line.

"They have a great front, there's no doubt," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "It was pretty nerve-wracking watching their film."

The Cardinals neutralized San Francisco's pass-rush in a few ways. Kingsbury called plenty of quick passes, especially early when the 49ers were fresh. The game was always close, so the offense was rarely predictable. And when Nick Bosa or another pass-rusher did break through, Murray put on his cape.

"Kyler is very special, so I know that if we don't let anybody come at him head-on, he's going to make that first guy miss," Pugh said. "Not many people can go zero to 100 like him, and there's not a D-lineman that can catch him if he's at full speed."

MAXX WILLIAMS, MASON COLE WON'T PLAY ON SUNDAY

Tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) and center Mason Cole (hamstring) will miss the contest against Washington, Kingsbury said.

Lamont Gaillard will start the game at center after filling in for Cole against San Francisco, while Dan Arnold is expected to see the majority of the action at tight end after splitting time with Williams in the opener.

Arnold does not have the same blocking ability as Williams but Kingsbury believes he can fill in capably in that regard.

"He's a dynamic receiver but he's really worked hard at the blocking aspect of it, so he will take on some of that load, as Darrell (Daniels) will as well," Kingsbury said.

Outside linebacker Kylie Fitts (wrist) and tackle Josh Jones (ankle) are questionable. For Washington, top cornerback Kendall Fuller (knee) and linebacker Thomas Davis (calf) are questionable. Linebacker Cole Holcomb (knee) is out.

EXPLAINING THE SHOTGUN KNEELDOWNS

The Cardinals play out of shotgun the majority of the time, but last season's end-of-game kneeldowns were under center. The win over San Francisco ended with Murray taking the final two kneeldowns from shotgun, which had to do with Gaillard's replacement of Cole at center.

"It was just the comfort level with the center-quarterback exchange at that point," Kingsbury said.

The final two plays cost Murray a shot at his first career 100-yard rushing day and sliced his yards per carry from 9.1 to 7.0. Kingsbury intimated the kneeldowns will be from under center moving forward, but not for statistical purposes.

"We didn't mind losing 12 yards or whatever offensively," Kingsbury said. "We just wanted to win the game."

Images of Thursday's practice from the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.

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