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Offensive Potential Coming Into Focus For Cardinals

First year for Kingsbury, Murray shows promise for 2020

Wide receiver Damiere Byrd runs during his 51-yard reception Sunday during the Cardinals' win over the Browns.
Wide receiver Damiere Byrd runs during his 51-yard reception Sunday during the Cardinals' win over the Browns.

Offensively, the Cardinals were adrift on offense in 2018. It's why they hired Kliff Kingsbury. It's why they drafted Kyler Murray.

The improvements haven't translated to victories – with four, the Cards have one more than last season, with two difficult road games left – but the offense has been pretty good.

Their 445 yards Sunday was the fourth time this season they have reached 400 yards in a game, a total they reached just once in 2017 and 2018 combined. The 226 rushing yards against Cleveland was the second time they eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark, the first time since 1990 the Cards have had more than one 200-yard rushing game in a season. The Cardinals have 60 scoring drives this season in 14 games, after 39 such drives in the 16 games of 2018, and have scored at least 25 points eight times.

A promising start for Kingsbury, Murray and the Cardinals, although the coach isn't necessarily sitting in his office waiting to make further changes after the season.

"You try to make those adjustments weekly," Kingsbury said Monday, a day after the Cardinals scored a season-high 38 points in a win over the Browns. "There is, I guess, an overall perspective on it where you take some notes on things you want to do in the offseason that you think can help. But week-to-week you try to tweak things and make it better, making improvements moving forward."

The offense found consistency Sunday that it must have weekly next season to have improvement in the standings. With those two games left, here's a look at some of the offensive components thus far, and what might need to be considered for a 2020 jump:

The QB is in a great spot going forward

Murray has been mostly excellent this season, everything the Cardinals could have hoped in taking him No. 1 overall. He's the first player in franchise history with 3,000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing, not a surprise given his skillset. More impressively, Murray has six games this season of at least a 90 passer rating. Only two other QBs in franchise history have done that previously: Carson Palmer and Kurt Warner.

Murray's climb of his learning curve has been important. He took a step back against the Rams and Steelers with negative plays, both in turnovers and taking sacks. That improved Sunday – albeit against a weaker Cleveland defense – with no sacks and a single interception.

"I think if I take care of the ball, that just allows us to be in a great position," Murray said.

Kingsbury said Murray's big jump has come in his leadership and his negotiating his role atop an NFL team. That's where he's going to get such a big head start going into Year Two. Even without the wins, the year will be invaluable to him.

"This franchise goes as he goes, whether it is in a meeting or practice or a game," Kingsbury said. "He's growing into that."

Could be an answer at running back, but a need for running back answers

Kingsbury hasn't dismissed the idea of working all three running backs, but "I just don't want to force it." Still, you hear how Kingsbury talks about Kenyan Drake, who had 137 yards rushing and four touchdowns, and it aligns with what has been happening in the games – like Sunday, when Drake had 23 touches, David Johnson 3 and Chase Edmonds none (and didn't play an offensive snap.)

"The explosiveness in short spaces, to be able to get him the ball whether it is a swing pass or a screen and for him to be able to stick his foot in the ground and get vertical, that definitely is a plus," Kingsbury said of Drake.

Kingsbury said GM Steve Keim was "fired up" about the potential Drake trade back when it went down, the Cardinals stuck in a bad place with injuries to both Johnson and Edmonds. "I'm not sure what would've happened if Chase had not gotten hurt," Kingsbury said. "Kenyan was out there and we felt like he was a phenomenal fit."

It seems inevitable now the Cardinals will at least try to re-sign Drake, an unrestricted free agent-to-be. "I would say (Sunday) was a pretty good game for the timing of it," Kingsbury said of Drake's contract push. What they do with Johnson, who is guaranteed his $10.2 million salary for next season, remains something the front office must figure out.

Interestingly, Kingsbury, on 98.7, Arizona's Sports Station, said Johnson was the one who came to the Cardinals asking to return kickoffs as he did Sunday for the first time since his rookie season.

On the line

Kingsbury said Mason Cole – who got 21 offensive snaps Sunday as a sixth lineman – has been used lately because starting guards Justin Pugh (back) and J.R. Sweezy (ankle) have been banged up. He also saw time as a jumbo tight end a couple of times. But what the Cardinals decide to do along the offensive line is interesting, especially since there has been improvement because of both overall health and as the unit has gotten used to Kingsbury's offense.

What role might Cole have next season? Do they bring back center A.Q. Shipley? And what about left tackle D.J. Humphries, a free-agent-to-be who could get paid on the open market? The evaluation of the entire line means a lot to what this offense can do in 2020.

Out wide or in tight, guys who catch the ball

The Cardinals are hopeful they found a tight end piece in Dan Arnold, who used his 6-foot-6 frame to catch a touchdown pass Sunday and who has flashed at practice since being acquired on waivers. Maxx Williams already has signed a contract extension. Tight end might be set – especially as Kingsbury has worked the position more into the offense.

Wide receiver, however, has a lot in question going into the season. Larry Fitzgerald may or may not return. And what of the rookie receivers, or even the other vets. Kingsbury said after the game he had wanted to get Damiere Byrd more involved (Byrd had six catches for a career-best 86 yards), but Byrd has also been inactive a few games.

"I just wanted to show everybody I could play," Byrd said.

Byrd in the lineup means rookie KeeSean Johnson has been inactive. Hakeem Butler has missed all season on IR. Andy Isabella got 15 offensive snaps Sunday, but he has been rarely targeted beyond the line of scrimmage. Those are the three drafted receivers the Cardinals have to hope can make a big step forward in the offseason. The draft is loaded with wide receiver prospects. The Cardinals have a lot of other needs too, particularly on defense, but adding a name here might be tempting for an offense that has a chance to be explosive in 2020.

EXTRA POINTS

Kingsbury said linebackers Haason Reddick (groin) and Tanner Vallejo (ribs) are day-to-day.

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