Waiting to see the offensive philosophy

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2018 – 9:50 am

Within a month or two of Bruce Arians taking over as coach in 2013, he made known some very specific thoughts he had on the offense: He was going to take six shots or so downfield every game, he didn’t like having a fullback, tight end was more of a blocker in his offense. As the Cardinals transition into the Steve Wilks era, those are the questions that will be interesting to see play out.

To begin with, Wilks, with his defensive background, could very well lean on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s thoughts on whatever subject may come up. McCoy was actually asked specifically about a fullback during his press conference; he said if it fit what they were going to do with the offense, he’d have one. Ultimately, it feels like there are a lot of different ways this can go.

The reason, of course, is that the Cardinals need to find a quarterback, and that QB will help dictate the direction the Cardinals will be headed. The coaches also need to determine if, in the case of using a fullback at times, if that fits with what David Johnson can do well. Will a tight end be more involved in the passing game (or does the role Larry Fitzgerald has been playing serve as that tight end-esque spot — assuming Fitz is still used in the same way as the last few years?) These answers also could impact what kind of offensive linemen the Cardinals want to have in place.

One of the selling points the Cardinals used when looking for a new coaching staff was the ability to help figure out the next quarterback. When it comes to the offense, the QB is only the first domino.

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Score one — or 418 — for the Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 10, 2017 – 1:37 pm

The Cardinals’ offense was inconsistent much of the season, certainly compared to the previous season. And in light of 2015 — when the Cardinals smashed the franchise record for points in a season with 489 — most seasons were going to suffer in comparison. But as I look through the aftermath of this season (and look at some of the notes stat guru Mike Helm puts together), one of the stats that sticks out is the 418 points the Cardinals finished with for the season.


No, it’s not 489, but it’s not far off the 427 the 2008 Super Bowl-reaching team collected, a 427 that had been the franchise record before the 2015 squad came along. In fact, the 418 points the Cards scored this season was fourth all-time in team history. And it was mostly the offense that drove it — special teams did not score this season, and the defense accounted for 22 points (three return TDs, two safeties.)

The total was aided by a flourish of a finish, with 41, 34 and 44 points in the final three games. But even with all their troubles, the Cardinals were held to 20 points or less only five times (and appropriately went 0-4-1 in those games.) That was with what seemed like a rotating door on the offensive line, especially late when the scoring jumped, and with an underachieving wide receiving corps.

As Ron Wolfley likes to say, the ability to score provides hope. The Cardinals have had many years where that hope didn’t exist. The current version still allows for that hope.


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The Cardinals’ missing first quarter

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2016 – 12:13 pm

Last season, it was a breeze.

The very first game of 2015, the Cardinals marched 80 yards for a touchdown on their initial possession of the season, against the Saints. The next week, they didn’t even bother with a drive — David Johnson simply took the opening kickoff and raced 108 yards for a TD. In the third game, the offense didn’t score right away, but that was OK — Justin Bethel picked off a Colin Kaepernick pass on the 49ers’ first possession and ran it in for a touchdown. The Cards scored 86 points in the first quarter in 2015, 25 more than their opponent.

This year, after eight games, they have scored only seven points.

It’s a crazy stat, one that speaks to the Cards’ issues perhaps more than anything else. Last year, they played from ahead. Those seven points, by the way, came on a Johnson 58-yard touchdown run — meaning that in the first quarter, the Cardinals have yet to put together a drive that encompasses entering the red zone and then scoring. If you would’ve told me that this would be a thing halfway through the season, I’d never have believed it.

Worse, the Cards have given up 41 first-quarter points, meaning they are the ones playing from behind. The defense could use more first-quarter stops itself.

A game against the 49ers might help, although it’s fair to remember (albeit with Drew Stanton at QB) that the Cardinals would have been scoreless for the entire first half against the same struggling defense in San Francisco if it hadn’t been for a timely Chandler Jones tip/Calais Campbell interception right before halftime.


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The top offense in the NFL

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2015 – 11:40 am

The Cardinals have the No. 1 offense in the NFL.

Yes, the official measure is by yards, and yards don’t win games. But it’s usually a pretty good measure of effectiveness, and with their 421.1 yards-per-game average, the Cards are the tops in the league (the Patriots are second at 418.7.) If you want to measure by points, the Cards are second in the NFL, with their 302 just one behind New England. The point is, the Cards move the ball well, and the sample size is big enough to understand this is reality in 2015.

(A quick side note: It will be an interesting matchup Sunday against the Bengals. Yes, Cincy laid an egg against the Texans, but it only allowed 10 points, and the Bengals have given up only 10 points in each of their last three games.)

The Cardinals have gained at least 414 yards in each of the last four games. The have at least 400 yards in seven of nine games — after gaining at least 400 yards in a game just six times total from 2010 through 2014. They’ve rushed for at least 100 yards in all but one game. With the league’s third-ranked defense (316.1 yards a game), the Cardinals outgain their opponents by more than 100 yards a game.

This is about balance. This is about an abundance of weapons (The Seahawks shut out John Brown and Michael Floyd got hurt and suddenly Jaron Brown stepped up.) It’s about good health, of course. It’s also about a quarterback who has been pretty magnificent thus far.

Of the seven defenses left on the schedule, four are top 11: Bengals (11th), Vikings (9th), Rams (6th) and Seahawks (2nd.) Of course, the Cardinals just lit up Seattle’s defense for 39 points and 451 yards. Assuming no major injuries, the Cards have shown they can move the ball on anyone.



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Missing Jaron: Offensive issues in a nutshell

Posted by Darren Urban on October 14, 2014 – 10:42 am

On the season, Jaron Brown has one reception for six yards, and given the weapons ahead of him — Fitzgerald, Floyd, Ellington, Smokey Brown, even John Carlson — that’s not a surprise. But Jaron is, through no fault of his own, the tangible proof for coach Bruce Arians that the Cardinals’ offense isn’t playing well enough.

Talking about his frustration and inability for the Cards to score more touchdowns — it’s nice Chandler Catanzaro is 14-for-14 on field goals, but still — Arians said the first thing he thinks of is two targets of Jaron Brown.

“That’s 100 yards and two touchdowns in just two plays we’re leaving on the field,” Arians said. “We’ve got to start hitting those plays, and it’s not just him.”

It wasn’t quite 100 yards Brown would have had, but it was certainly two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter against the 49ers, Brown was wide open behind the defender on a 45-yard bomb, and quarterback Drew Stanton simply led Brown too far (as you can see below). Against Washington last weekend, Carson Palmer again had Brown open deep on what would have been a 35-yard score in the fourth quarter. The pass was pretty much on target — although a little longer throw might have done the trick — as defensive back E.J. Biggers barely knocked it away. In both cases, touchdowns would have crushed the opponent. In both cases, the games remained close. Certainly, Brown wouldn’t mind an extra 2-80-2 on the stat line.

“We haven’t even begun to scratch how good we can be,” Arians said. “Again, Carson being off a month, the timing … there are a lot of excuses you can make. None are accepted.”


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Take offense? Or get defensive?

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2014 – 12:47 pm

When the Super Bowl is played Sunday, it will feature the best offense in the NFL — Denver scored 606 points this season, an incredible 37.9 per game — against the best defense in the NFL — Seattle not only allowed the fewest yards, but also the fewest points this season. A tangible example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It’s hard not to see it as the answer about that “defense wins championships” cliché that floats out there.

It also got me thinking about the Cardinals, and their better recent teams.

The 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl after scoring 427 regular-season points (26.7 points a game) and followed up in the playoffs with 30, 33 and 32 points before scoring 23 in the Super Bowl. Of course, that team allowed 426 points, which is why they eeked out a 9-7 record. It was a potent offense. This season, the Cardinals put together 10 wins in large part because of the defense. The Cards were tops in the league in run defense, sixth overall and seventh in scoring defense. It would be interesting to consider that 2008 offense — Kurt Warner, Fitz in his prime, Anquan Boldin, 1,000-yard Steve Breaston and the Edge/Hightower RB tag-team going against the 2013 Cardinals defense.

Which is the better path to take? It’s hard not to think that defense wins titles. It’d be good to see Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl, but I’m not totally sure why the Seahawks aren’t favored in this game, at least a little. Maybe it’s because of last year’s Super Bowl, when a couple of defensive-dominant teams ended up playing in a scorefest. That was in the climate-controlled Superdome, though, and Manning won’t have that advantage Sunday.

As far as the score-first Cardinals versus the defense-first Cards? There’s a reason why Kurt Warner has said this year’s Cardinals team was better than his 2008 version. Part of that was that this year’s team could score a little bit too — with 379 points (23.7 a game) it wasn’t like the Cardinals couldn’t find their way into the end zone. I’d argue that Andre Ellington gave the offense an explosive element that 2008 offense didn’t really have either. Nevertheless, it’s a great debate to have.


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What a difference a year makes, stat version

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2013 – 10:53 am

Bruce Arians called it a beginning, and his players all talked about the optimism they have going forward into 2014 after a 10-6 record in 2013. The tangible proof in the improvement, however, goes beyond the five-victory rise from 2012. Many of the other numbers on both offense and defense also underscore the Cards’ change this season.

Offensively, there was nowhere to go but up after the disaster of 2012. That started with the play of quarterback Carson Palmer, especially after the unit started to grasp Arians’ scheme. Palmer threw too many interceptions — with 22, the Cardinals actually threw one more than the QB group did in 2012 — but all the other numbers were much better, including the overall rank (the Cards were 12th in the NFL, after being dead last in ’12) and points scored (the Cardinals increased their per game average by more than eight points a game.)

Year 1st downs Points Yds Yds rushing Yds Passing Sacks allowed Comp pct TD INT NFL rank
2013 329 379 5542 422-1540 4291 41 63.2 24 22 12
2012 246 250 4209 352-1204 3383 58 55.4 11 21 32

We all know the Cardinals’ defense was pretty good in 2012, finishing 12th in the league. Then Todd Bowles came in as defensive coordinator, there was much hand wringing, and then the Cards ended up a fantastic unit. They ended up sixth in the NFL, best against the run (after finishing 28th last year) and were the main reason the Cardinals became a factor in the NFC West and the NFC overall. Now we see how many interviews Bowles gets to be a head coach and whether the Cardinals can keep their DC for at least another season.

Year Points allowed Rush yds per game Rush D NFL rank Yds per game TDs allowed Sacks INT INT TDs NFL rank
2013 324 84.4 1 317.4 35 47 20 4 6
2012 357 137.0 28 337.8 40 38 22 2 12

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Here come the points

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2013 – 12:42 pm

It only makes sense, as the offense rounds to form, that the points are starting to come for the Cardinals. At this point, the Cards have 254 points scored this season after 11 games. All of last season, the Cardinals scored 250. (And a h/t to Kent Somers for pointing it out.) But the points are coming in many ways that are new. The mere fact that the Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in seven straight games is nice, since last year, the Cardinals reached 20 points exactly once in their final 12 games of the season.

As was mentioned Sunday, the 40 points against the Colts was the most the Cards had scored since beating Denver, 43-13 — I like to refer to it as Jay Feely’s Fantastic Show — in December of 2010. It was also the fourth straight game the Cardinals scored at least 25 points. The last time that happened? Back in Weeks 3 through 6 of 1988, the Cards’ inaugural season in Arizona, when Neil Lomax and company scored at least 30 in beating the Bucs, Redskins, Rams and Steelers.

It isn’t as if the Cards are scorching the scoreboard. They are on pace for a respectable 369 points, although that falls short of the 400-plus points the Cardinals scored in 2007 and 2008. They are still only 18th in the league in points. But after last year, when they were next-to-last in points (to the Chiefs), the trend is encouraging. And pointed up.

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Getting offensive: After 8 vs. after 8

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2013 – 9:15 am

The Cardinals have a whole new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new offensive system. At this point, the offense has not been as crisp or productive as the Cards have hoped. But it does seem like it is better than last season at this point.

Generally, the numbers bear it out.

Year 1st downs 3rd-down Pct Yds Yds rushing Yds Passing Sacks allowed Att Comp TD INT
2013 156 31-98 (31.6) 2516 184-745 1930 23 285 175 10 14
2012 146 36-118 (30.5) 2319 183-632 1915 39 309 182 9 7

As you can see, there isn’t a giant discrepancy. There is a pretty healthy difference in the running game — more than 100 yards — and the arrow would seem to point up for the Cardinals heading forward with the way Andre Ellington and now Stepfan Taylor have looked. The third-down conversions aren’t much better, and the fewer third-down chances says to me more about the Cards getting some yards on first- and second-down rather than shorter drives. As long as Carson Palmer stays healthy too, I think the offense creates a bigger gap between now and 2012 too, both with the schedule coming and the recollection that the Cards’ offense got worse — much worse — in the second half of the season last year. Sacks are way down too, believe it or not. Palmer better figure out the interception problem, however. That’s the glaring error of 2013.


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Nothing new for Miller, and some sack changes

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2012 – 9:23 am

There’s been a lot of talk about the Cardinals adjusting their playcalling to fit with what seems to be a transitioning philosophy on offense — a little more deliberate, sticking with the run, etc. But offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing really has changed in what he has been dialing up on game days.

“It feels pretty much the same,” Miller said. “I haven’t really done anything differently. We’ve made adjustments in-game that come up specific to that opponent. But as far as the way we call it, I mean, we ran no-huddle in the Seattle game, mixed it up in the New England game. It’s been ‘up’ we just haven’t called it.”

Through three games, the Cardinals are fairly balanced, although not 50-50. The Cardinals have 87 pass attempts and been sacked five times, and nine of the 12 quarterback runs have been scrambles from a passing play, for 101 pass plays. With the three intentional quarterback runs, they have had 78 rushing plays. Interestingly, even though the offense needs to generate more yards and have been outgained, the Cardinals have almost even time of possession with opponents (29:46 to 30:14) and the Cardinals are one of only six teams in the NFL to score at least 20 points in each of their three games.

(They are the only team in the NFL to allow less than 20 points in each game too.)

— There were a couple of statistical changes from the Philadelphia game, affecting the sack totals of a couple of linebackers. Sam Acho had previously been credited with a tackle after a Michael Vick one-yard scramble in the second quarter, but after further review it was deemed Vick only got back to the line of scrimmage — which by definition gives Acho a sack. In the third quarter, Daryl Washington had been credited with a 12-yard sack of Vick on a first down play, but after further review it was decided Vick was a runner when Washington got to him, so instead of a sack it became a 12-yard tackle-for-loss. It means Washington now only has two sacks this season and Acho now has two himself.

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