Behind Dominant Front Seven, Seahawks Stifle Kyler Murray, Cardinals
When the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as head coach, plenty across the NFL landscape wondered how his Air Raid offense would translate to the pro game.
Given how most in the NFL have also implemented more of a pass-heavy attack, some theorized that Kingsbury’s offense would carve up the league, especially given that the Cardinals drafted Kyler Murray No. 1 overall, a dynamic dual-threat thought to be the perfect point guard in this scheme.
Kingsbury boasted in the preseason that his scheme would test how many defensive backs NFL teams would employ at a time.
His quarterback was also confident, pointing out that so many of the defenses in college couldn’t slow down the scheme despite their experience against it.
“Honestly, we saw a lot of creative defenses in the Big 12, just because it’s tough to stop the offense and those coaches have been coaching it for a long time,” Murray said. “I don’t know if there is much more that you can possibly see, as far as defenses go. We saw a lot.”
What neither Kingsbury nor Murray saw very often in the Big 12, however, were defensive-minded head coaches like Pete Carroll and certainly few willing to leave their squad in base defense against Arizona’s three and four receiver sets.
That, however, was precisely the K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Stupid) strategy Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. used Sunday, fluttering the Cardinals with delayed blitzes from strongside linebacker Mychal Kendricks rather than substituting him for a defensive back.
Interestingly enough, Seattle switched to a nickel look on Arizona’s first third down of the game and Murray successfully slipped by a defender to complete a pass to move the sticks. The Seahawks switched back to the base 4-3 scheme that Carroll and Co. have been preaching all season long on the next third down to a rousing success.
As you can see in the reply below, Kendricks is out wide covering legendary Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. K.J. Wright hurried Murray’s attempted screen pass to running back David Johnson and Jadeveon Clowney used his long arms and remarkable athleticism to deliver a game-changing play.
With star middle linebacker Bobby Wagner spying Murray throughout the game – essentially daring the young quarterback to scramble – it allowed Seattle’s defensive line to focus on corralling the slippery runner rather than blindly rushing upfield only to create easy rushing lanes for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to exploit.
As noted by Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune, this was a strategy preached all week long by Seahawks’ assistant head coach and defensive line specialist Clint Hurtt.
Seahawks fans are eager for more sacks but harassing the quarterback does not necessarily mean a defense needs to hit the passer. In fact, in today’s game where quarterbacks are so protected that touching them at all risks a costly penalty, clouding their vision with long-armed defensive linemen is a smart strategy.
Just for the record, Clowney possesses 34.5” arms. Ziggy Ansah (who Corbin Smith noted in this week’s LockedonSeahawks podcast had a better debut than you might think) has virtual vines (35 1/8”) for arms. So too does first round pick L.J. Collier (34”), each of whom made splashy plays Sunday.
And I would argue that the most impressive pass rush of the day from Seattle actually came from Rasheem Greene – who has the audacity to “only” have 33 ¾-inch arms but certainly used them to great effectiveness in cleanly swallowing up the nimble Murray on this snap.
It is the nature of Kingsbury’s up-tempo attack that the Cardinals are going to put up eye-popping numbers. That has not (at least not yet) translated into victories, however. Perhaps in part because the speed and physicality is simply so much greater in the NFL than anything Kingsbury or his quarterback ever saw in the Big 12.