Bruce Arians’ vertical passing attack was enjoyable for many – the quarterbacks who threw the deep bombs, the wideouts who sprinted to catch them and the fans who watched the high-risk, high-reward action.
It was not as fun for the Cardinals’ offensive linemen.
Arians’ philosophy was one of the most stressful in the NFL for pass-protectors. The deep shots meant plenty of slow-developing plays, which gave defenders more time to get after the quarterback. Chip blocks from running backs or tight ends were rare, as the Cardinals’ former coach preferred his skill guys begin their routes immediately. The blocking scheme was complicated, capable of changing on the fly depending on the number of blitzers.
When D.J. Humphries was asked about the switch from Arians’ system to new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s more line-friendly philosophy, it was like the left tackle transported to a mid-1990s movie set with Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, because he was waiting to exhale.
“Woooo,” Humphries said. “Oh, my. I’m here to do my job, and I’m going to do my job every time, but if I ain’t got to look at five people at the snap and I can focus on that (defensive) end? If I can just block that dude right there?
“It’s a lot different when I’ve got to look at this guy, that guy and that guy – and then if that guy moves then I’ve got to block that dude, but if he acts like he’s going to move and he doesn’t really come, then I’ve got to go back on that dude. That’s a whole bunch. Like, that is a lot, man. I’m pretty smart, but golly. I’m telling you, if I can just block the end, that’s a lot of stress off everybody.”
The offensive line responsibilities are clearly simpler, and the passing game is expected to feature more horizontal throws. Quarterback Sam Bradford generally gets the ball out quickly, which minimizes hits on him and allows the receivers more catch-and-run possibilities.
When intermediate or deep passes are dialed up, the tackles won’t be left on an island, with McCoy promising plenty of chip blocking from running backs, tight ends and wide receivers.
“You’re probably going to see (160-pound J.J. Nelson) try to blow up a defensive end from time to time,” McCoy deadpanned. “No, he’ll be there for presence. A physical presence.
“But, yeah, we’re going to give those tackles help.”
Free agent acquisition Justin Pugh did not play for Arians a season ago, so the change does not feel as dramatic to him. The right guard said McCoy may make some decisions to aid the offensive line, but the end goal will always be offensive efficiency.
“I don’t know if any offensive coordinator is going to come in and create an offensive-line-friendly offense,” Pugh said. “We’re in the new NFL where you are throwing the ball (a lot). Whatever we do best is what we’re going to do.”
McCoy has made that point as well. If the Cardinals need to run the ball 50 times to get a victory, they will do so. Conversely, if it takes 50 passes to get the upper hand, he won’t hesitate to fire away, no matter how much stress it puts on the offensive linemen.
But the standard protection plan is unquestionably more favorable to the blockers than in the past. When McCoy made that apparent in one of his first meetings, Humphries looked around the room to confirm he’d heard correctly.
Now he is reminded of it every time there is a helpful blocker next to him at training camp.
“Fullbacks, chips,” Humphries said. “We’re getting saucy with it.”
Images from the sixth workout of training camp, held outside.