Maxx Williams rumbled for a 20-yard touchdown last week, a play that signified the kind of ideas Kliff Kingsbury is bringing to his playbook.
It also underscored the role Williams and the Cardinals tight ends have had recently, just about the time Kingsbury’s offense has found its footing.
“Really, if you look in the first four weeks, we were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Williams said. “It didn’t matter who was in the game. The last couple weeks, that’s what has helped us. I wouldn’t say it’s who was out there or what we’re running, I think it’s more we’re just executing better.”
Perhaps. But there is little question that the shift the Cardinals underwent – not coincidentally after wide receiver Christian Kirk was sidelined with an ankle injury, and injury that leaves Kirk’s status in doubt once again this weekend – has impacted Williams and fellow tight end Charles Clay.
Williams has played 83 offensive snaps the past two games, after seeing the field for only 71 offensive snaps the first four games combined. Clay has played 75 offensive snaps the last two games, after a total of 71 snaps the first four games.
The base offense, passing game coordinator Tom Clements said, was “10” personnel – one running back and no tight ends, with four wide receivers.
“We try to utilize everybody,” Clements said. “Then we got some injuries so we had to emphasize (tight ends) more and had some success. So now we’re trying to figure out how to best use all our people.”
Kingsbury said the personnel groupings have been dictated with how games go. Kingsbury added the Cardinals will use more 10 personnel than everyone else in the NFL, but “not to the extent, hopefully, that we did the first three weeks.”
On the season, Williams has been targeted seven times, catching every one for 98 yards. Clay also has seven catches on nine targets, for 58 yards. Clay was seen as the prototypical tight end to drop into Kingsbury’s offense, with receiving as his strength. What Williams brings as a blocker has been crucial, especially as the Cardinals use more 11 personnel (one tight end, one back, three receivers, which was half the snaps against the Falcons) and try to balance with the run.
Williams, a former second-round pick of the Ravens, suffered injuries and eventually Baltimore chose to move on. Williams didn’t even get signed until after the draft – not ideal for a player, because teams fill needs with draft picks – but has enjoyed his time in Arizona.
He also constantly says he’ll do whatever the offense needs, knowing that the tight end might not always be featured.
“I knew coach’s history and stuff but I knew it was a fresh opportunity for me,” Williams said. “That’s how I took it.”
DAVID JOHNSON A GAME-DAY DECISION WITH RUNNING BACK GROWING THIN
Not unexpectedly, both running back David Johnson (ankle) and wide receiver Christian Kirk (ankle) are game-day decisions, Kingsbury said. But Kingsbury did say that had the Cardinals needed to play Friday, Johnson would not have been able to play.
“We’ll see where that goes,” Kingsbury said.
Johnson said he was “feeling good,” and that “hopefully I can play on Sunday.”
The problem is exacerbated by the absence of running back D.J. Foster (hamstring), who didn't practice and was ruled out. If Johnson also can't go, Kingsbury said there was an “emergency plan” if Chase Edmonds was the only available running back. The Cardinals would have to make a roster move by Saturday to add anyone to the roster that can play Sunday.
As for Kirk, he’s knows it’s wait-and-see.
“If they want me out there, I’ll get out there," Kirk said. "If not, I’ll be ready as fast as I can. My leg could be cut off and I’m going to say I’m ready. “
Ruled out were defensive lineman Zach Allen (shoulder) and offensive lineman Brett Toth (illness). Joining Johnson and Kirk as questionable are linebacker Dennis Gardeck (ankle), defensive lineman Zach Kerr (ankle), punter Andy Lee (hip), offensive lineman Joshua Miles (illness), linebacker Ezekiel Turner (hamstring), safety Charles Washington (shoulder) and tight end Maxx Williams (ankle).
For the Giants, as expected, running back Saquon Barkley (knee) and tight end Evan Engram (knee) are cleared to play. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard and cornerback Corey Ballentine have both been ruled out with concussions.
KYLER MURRAY’S ABILITY TO CHANGE PLAYS AT THE LINE
Kyler Murray is a rookie quarterback, and Kingsbury acknowledges giving a rookie the ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage – most plays have a run/pass way they can go, depending on the defensive look – doesn’t always happen in the NFL. But he trusts Murray to make those decisions, and Murray believes it’s necessary for success.
“If it needs to be done, it needs to be done, but I wouldn’t say I’m up there check-happy or anything like that,” Murray said. “For the most part, I trust what (Kingsbury) is calling. If I see something, I’ll attack it, but other than that, if he calls it, I’m pretty confident in it.”
Murray’s freedom to change runs from “end zone to end zone,” Kingsbury said. Murray can also completely change a play, Kingsbury added, although he’d want a good reason to do it and have it be something the two had already discussed during the week.
And if it turns out poorly?
“Usually he knows already, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I know you’re going to be mad at me, but this is what I was thinking,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t really get mad at you, so let’s just get it right,’ ” Kingsbury said. “Like I said, I’ve coached young players that we’ve given them that freedom, and that’s the only way you can get good at it, is to learn from your mistakes. And if you want to play with that type of mentality, then you’ve got to give them that freedom.”