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Preview: Arizona Cardinals Offense

Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals offense look to improve on their 19th-place finish in DVOA last season.

"Everyone's healthy, we're excited and you guys are going to see the Arizona Cardinals offense, and they're definitely explosive," safety Budda Baker exclaimed after practice Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season begins Sunday for the Cardinals as they travel to Tennessee to face the Titans.

The last time Arizona's offense took the field in the regular season, it scored just seven points in a do-or-die game to miss the 2020 playoffs. 

Pro Bowl quarterback Kyler Murray missed most of it due to injury, and Arizona was thin at wide receiver. But the game capped off a decline in offensive production, something the Cardinals experienced throughout the final stretch of the season. 

Kliff Kingsbury took over as head coach in 2019 as the Cardinals attempted to revamp the worst scoring unit in the NFL with an up-tempo, college-style scheme.

Arizona had moments of awe with the ball last year, but they could not keep up a hot first-half pace through Week 17. 

Kingsbury will be further tested as an NFL play-caller in Year 3 while the offense looks to improve on its 19th-place finish in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). 

Key Additions/Losses

Key Additions

PositionPlayerAcquired Via

Center

Rodney Hudson

Trade with Raiders

Wide Receiver

A.J. Green

Free Agent

Guard

Brian Winters

Free Agent

Quarterback

Colt McCoy

Free Agent

Halfback

James Conner

Free Agent

Wide Receiver

Rondale Moore

NFL Draft

Key Losses

PositionPlayerLost Via

WR

Larry Fitzgerald 

Urge to play...for now

TE

Dan Arnold

Free agency (Carolina)

RB

Kenyan Drake

Free agency (Las Vegas)

Depth Chart

Offensive Depth Chart

PositionStarterSecond StringThird String

WR

DeAndre Hopkins

Antoine Wesley 

WR

Christian Kirk

Rondale Moore

LT

D.J. Humphries 

Josh Miles

LG

Justin Pugh

Brian Winters

C

Rodney Hudson

Max Garcia 

RG

Josh Jones

Brian Winters 

RT

Kelvin Beachum

Justin Murray

TE

Maxx Williams

Demetrius Harris

Darrell Daniels

WR

A.J. Green

Andy Isabella

QB

Kyler Murray

Colt McCoy

Chris Streveler

RB

Chase Edmonds

James Conner

Jonathan Ward

The Cardinals have a similar starting unit from last year. 

Right guard Josh Jones is the only new starter on the offensive line, Chase Edmonds slides up into the top running back spot and A.J. Green steps in for Larry Fitzgerald. 

What Happened in 2020?

There were several visible reasons why the Cardinals offense did not take a substantial leap forward in 2020.

One is health. Murray took a brutal shot to his shoulder against the Seahawks in Week 11 and his performance took a dip. 

After Murray's injury, he ran less often. This cut production considerably, as his ability to scramble and keep the ball on run-pass options made the offense go in several matchups. 

In-season adjustments were a major flaw for Arizona.

The Cardinals did not utilize the intermediate passing game, so when deep throws failed to connect, receivers did not get space on screens or ball carriers got stuffed, the offense struggled to move.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs for a touchdown against Dallas Cowboys free safety Xavier Woods (25) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium.

"We just didn't play very well and coach very well collectively," Kingsbury said Wednesday of what went wrong down the stretch. 

The Cardinals were scoring 29.6 points per game in the first 10 weeks capped off by the famed "Hail Murray." Following Week 11, Arizona's weekly points average dropped to a dismal 20.5.

Finally, personnel. 

Run-blocking became a major issue. So, the Cardinals traded for veteran center Rodney Hudson to replace Mason Cole this offseason. 

Arizona also needed more receiving help aside from DeAndre Hopkins, who had another All-Pro season. 

What the Cardinals Could Look Like in 2021

Arizona ran the fastest 2020 offense in the league in neutral situations, over three seconds quicker than the league average, per Football Outsiders. Kingsbury said Wednesday that Hudson has been impressive at adapting to the pace, a tell that the Cardinals are not slowing down.

They also ran 10-personnel more often than any other team. 

This offseason, Arizona lost top pass-catching tight end Dan Arnold to free agency and brought in more receiving help with Green and rookie Rondale Moore, so that formation trend could continue. 

RPO's (Run-Pass Options) were a staple last year. Murray led the league in pass attempts from RPOs by a wide margin and was second in runs behind Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. 

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws a pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half at State Farm Stadium.

This could be a prominent element of the offense again, but, if Murray wants to run less and throw more, the Cardinals could add more play-action. 

Arizona was a strong team out of play-action last year, and teams could struggle to prepare for Kingsbury's offense if it consistently moves the ball using both play-action and RPOs.

Passing game

The Cardinals finished 20th in intended air yards per pass last year. But, they are equipped to expand. 

The pass protection was one of the best in the NFL last season, finishing third in pass-block win rate and second in fewest pressures, per Pro Football Reference. 

DeAndre Hopkins had one of the greatest receiving seasons in franchise history with 115 catches, but the supporting cast struggled to get open.

The Cardinals addressed this by adding Green for outside help and in the middle of the field, and Moore, who could be a spark in the slot.

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Moore especially provides a unique weapon that the Cardinals could use in the middle of the field and gadget plays like jet sweeps. 

He could be a yards after the catch darling.

Murray was the 11th-most accurate quarterback in the league last year by his 67.3% completion percentage. His deep balls have impressive touch, and adding more weapons can help him find more success in the 10-20-yard range.

"I expect him to play at a high level," Kingsbury said. "Last year, he took a big step and I expect him to take another big one this season."

Run game

Arizona was 17th in rush DVOA last year, boosted by Murray, who was second in the NFL in yards per carry behind Jackson.

Murray has said this offseason that he wants his running to be more of a luxury than a necessity. That's not to say that he won't still use his legs as a dangerous weapon. 

Having two running backs with different looks could create more versatility.

Conner comes in as a much bigger player than Kenyan Drake, who could prove valuable on third-and-short situations and on the goal line. 

The Cardinals run blocking finished with the fifth-highest stuff rate and third-fewest adjusted line yards last year. 

General overall view of the line of scrimmage as Oakland Raiders center Rodney Hudson (61) snaps the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during an NFL football game. The Raiders defeated the Cardinals 33-26.

Hudson should help the offense in a lot of ways, whether that be calling out coverages or run blocking. The Raiders were one of the better teams in adjusted line yards while he was there. 

Penalties 

"I think the sky's the limit as long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, earn it throughout the week and put it out there on Sundays," Murray said Wednesday.

Murray used that phrase a lot last season, as the Cardinals were penalized more than any team in the NFL. 

They had the most false starts in the league and were ninth in holding calls. 

The Cardinals have a tricky schedule with nine games against 2020 playoff teams. In tight games, flags can be an unfortunate difference maker. 

Final Evaluation

This season is critical for Kingsbury and Arizona. The Cardinals went in on veterans to try to pry open a contention window. 

"It's a team that was put together to win now, there's no doubt," Kingsbury said. "There's a lot of guys in that locker room that are getting up in age, can still play at a high level, but they have a sense of urgency to try and have a successful season."

If the scoring production booms to a level at or better than the first half of last season, then the case for Arizona to contend will stem from having an elite offense. 

If Kingsbury's unit falls flat, again finishing in the 13th-19th range in the league metrically, then there could be too many obstacles in the way for Arizona to break its playoffs-less streak.