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The Art Of The Mismatch

Cardinals' four wide receiver personnel usage a new wrinkle in the NFL

WR Christian Kirk catches the ball against Lions safety Tracy Walker.
WR Christian Kirk catches the ball against Lions safety Tracy Walker.

The Cardinals used more '10' personnel in Week 1 – four wide receivers and one running back – than the rest of the NFL combined, according to analyst Warren Sharp.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury called the 67 percent usage rate an anomaly necessitated by the big second-half deficit, and doesn't anticipate it to be that high moving forward. While that may be true, '10' personnel still figures to be an offensive staple for the Cardinals in 2019.

The formation has its downsides, as the lack of a tight end on the field makes the edge vulnerable, but when it's working, the bevy of wideouts can make life tough on defenses.

Coaches who counter four wide with dime packages will have a fourth cornerback on the field who rarely plays otherwise. Those that stay with their starters could have a disadvantage against slot receivers Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald.

"When you get inside and become the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, you experience linebackers and safeties that aren't used to covering as much as guys that play on the outside," Kirk said. "They're usually lined up seeing tight ends in the middle of the field running curl routes. I think that's the kind of stuff we are looking for matchup-wise, to get those mismatches."

Every team looks for mismatches in the passing game.

The Lions found one against the Cardinals defense on Sunday as rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson regularly beat the team's linebackers in space. Running back David Johnson is a versatile piece that Kingsbury is expected to use often down the field.

But flooding the field with four wide receivers in the NFL is "rare," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

"(Kingsbury is doing it) way, way more than anyone else has run that personnel group," Harbaugh said.

There have already been vocal critics of the personnel, with Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner and former NFL coach Rex Ryan leading the charge.

As time goes on, it will be determined if Kingsbury's Air Raid principles work in the NFL. Chief among them is '10' personnel, which Harbaugh is busy preparing for this week.

"You have receivers all over the field everywhere, and you have to be able to match it up with all your different coverages," Harbaugh said. "It's kind of a different pace of routes and things like that."

Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders during the regular season opener on Sunday