The 5-7 New York Giants host the 6-6 Arizona Cardinals this Sunday in an important Week 14 matchup for both teams. The Giants are coming off arguably the biggest upset of the 2020 season; they traveled to Seattle and defeated the Seahawks without Daniel Jones. It’s still a bit undetermined if Jones will be available against the Cardinals. Arizona is reeling after a 38-28 division loss to the Rams. If the Cardinals want any shot at securing a wild card spot, they must beat the Giants on Sunday.
Second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury implemented a less than common offense that fits quarterback Kyler Murray’s skill set excellently. Sure, a ton of NFL teams run a lot of different Air Raid concepts, and Kingsbury isn’t exclusively an Air Raid team, but he’s carried over a lot of the same concepts that he ran at Texas Tech.
What is the Air Raid?
The Air Raid is a common football philosophy that is primarily seen on Saturdays from coaches like Mike Leach and Mike Gundy. Hal Mumme is considered one of the main founders of the offense. Mike Leach, who is now the coach at Mississippi State, was coaching at Texas Tech from 2000-2009, before departing to Washington State. One of Leach’s quarterbacks for the Red Raiders was the current Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Kingsbury has implemented a ton of Air Raid concepts in Arizona. The offense is predicated on spreading the ball to different receivers with lighter personnel packages while airing the ball downfield. Base concepts include four verticals, curls, smash, stick and corner, shallow cross, sail, quick bubble screens, screens in general, and of course the mesh concept. Y-Cross is another common play that stretches the defense vertically and horizontally. Throwing the football is commonplace in an Air Raid offense, and dual-threat quarterbacks, like Kyler Murray, pose nightmares for defenses.
The Cardinals are a shotgun team that utilizes a ton of zone-read type of rushing plays to keep backside pursuit defenders at bay. Kingsbury incorporate power/gap concepts with play side pullers to the field. The Cardinals will run this play with an H-Back to the play side creating three pullers. These types of formations, and many others, are established with pre-snap motion and movements to create confusion and advantageous mismatches are a common sight. Arizona had success with an orbit motion and a Yankee concept that left tight end Dan Arnold wide open for an opening touchdown.
The designed quarterback runs haven’t been as prevalent since the Murray shoulder injury, but his legs are a vital piece to the offense. He extemporizes plays very well and the receivers do a good job getting open. The Air Raid route concepts are common on tape. Arizona uses a lot of 10 personnel, 2x2 sets, but will go into 11 with Arnold split out wide, or sometimes Edmonds in the slot. 3x1, 1x3 (with a nub TE as the lone receiver), and wide 2x2 will be a common sight. The nub with the running back offset stresses the defense because the running threat is strong on that side, and Murray’s legs should keep that backside defender in place. Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins also lines up on the backside of the 3x1 set.
Second-year quarterback Kyler Murray lit the league on fire in the first half of the 2020 season. He was in the MVP conversations when Arizona was 6-3, but then he suffered a slight shoulder injury in the 28-21 Thursday Night Football loss to Seattle. Since then, he’s rushed for only 61 yards. In the previous game against the Bills, the “Hail Mary” victory, he had 61 yards on the ground alone.
Murray’s shoulder still seems to be bothering him. Arizona is averaging 238 passing yards on the year, but since the injury the Cardinals only average 185 passing yards per game. When healthy, Murray has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. He’s diminutive in size, but that doesn’t hinder his ability to throw downfield. His size does lead to quite a few batted passes at the line of scrimmage (10 on the season).
Murray is a very talented thrower of the football, but he’s also more than adept with his legs. He has 665 yards on the ground and 10 rushing touchdowns to go with his 22-10 touchdown to interception ratio. Murray is excellent at extending drives and picking up first downs with his legs; he has 42 first downs on the ground, but only three since the shoulder injury. Murray is a dangerous weapon that fits perfectly in Kingsbury’s offense. He’s been struggling, but the Giants will still have their hands filled on Sunday.
The Cardinals have two running backs that they use often, sometimes together in 20 personnel packages. The team averages 150 rushing yards per game, but that includes Murray. Kenyan Drake is the lead back; he has 768 yards on the ground, 8 touchdowns, and 19 runs over 10 yards. Since the second Seattle game, he’s been used more as a receiver. He has 10 of his 21 targets since that Murray shoulder injury.
Drake is still explosive and has played good football down the stretch, and since recovering from an ankle injury suffered in mid-October. The other running back is Chase Edmonds, who Giants fans should, sadly, remember from last year’s game. Edmonds ran for 126 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns to boot. In one of my first pieces with Big Blue View, I detailed the Giants’ debacle.
The Giants’ defense seems miles better from what they displayed in that affair, but Edmonds is still a player to worry about. He’s a good receiving running back who does line up in the slot. He has 42 catches on 50 targets for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 327 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The Fordham product is smart, quick, and he packs a punch. His snap counts have been declining, but he’ll still be on the field enough.
Cardinal fans praise the ineptitude of Bill O’Brien every day because of the illogical offseason trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. Hopkins is a top three wide receiver in the NFL, but he’s been quelled the last couple of games. On the season, he has 85 catches on 110 targets for 1,019 yards and 5 touchdowns. Through the last three weeks, he has 28 targets, 18 catches, 158 yards, and one touchdown.
Hopkins isn’t a speed threat, but he is one of the best contested-catch wide receivers you’ll find. He’s so good at contorting his body, securing difficult passes, and his balance is great. For the second straight week, James Bradberry will draw a difficult assignment. Stopping Hopkins/Murray isn’t easy, but Patrick Graham has done well in difficult situations.
Christian Kirk is the No. 2 wide receiver for the offense. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound, quick receiver operates in the slot, but mostly as the right wide receiver. He is healthy now and has seen 56 targets, securing 35 of them for 498 yards and 6 touchdowns. Like Hopkins, he’s been contained the last few games, but he’s no slouch. Kingsbury has taken several deep shots to Kirk throughout the year.
Larry Fitzgerald came off the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Fitzgerald is the primary slot receiver and continues to be a sure-handed option for Kyler Murray. He has 43 catches on 57 targets for 336 yards and no scores. He’s 37 years old and doesn’t have the juice anymore, but his savvy leadership can’t be understated.
The Cardinals have been using more two-tight end sets and incorporating backup Maxx Williams to give the offense a spark in the rushing game. The starter is Dan Arnold who is more of a receiving threat, and he’s coming off his best game of the year. He had 2 catches for 61 yards and 2 touchdowns. Arnold is a 6-6, 220-pound tight end who doesn’t offer much as a run blocker.
Maxx Williams is a completely different type of tight end. He’s a big 6’4, 252 pounds, and he imposes his will as a run blocker. He plays the majority of his snaps on running downs. He has five catches on the year for 43 yards and two touchdowns. The former Ozzie Newsome 2nd round pick is going to have his hands filled trying to establish the point of attack against the majority of these Giants players.
The Air Raid system assists the offensive line because the splits are typically a bit wider and it’s designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries has developed nicely as a professional, after struggling early in his career. He’s only allowed 19 pressures and 3 sacks this season. He currently ranks 6th among tackles in overall offense, according to Pro Football Focus, and he ranks first as a run blocker.
The right tackle is Kelvin Beachum who has only allowed one sack on the year, and 18 pressures. He’s got solid feet and is a better pass protector than he is a run blocker. Pro Football Focus has him graded as the 43rd best overall offensive tackle. These tackles have played well in this Kliff Kingsbury offense.
Justin Pugh holds down the left guard position and he’s been solid. He’s allowed one sack and 10 pressures on the year. Giants fans are quite familiar with Pugh, who is an average starting offensive lineman with versatility. The Giants’ defensive line can certainly win this matchup. Pugh is the 45th-ranked guard in overall offense, according to Pro Football Focus.
The right guard spot is a bit more complicated. J.R. Sweezy is the starter but was injured against the Jets. He came off injured reserve in week 10 and started at right guard through last week. From week 6-9, Justin Murray started and played adequate football; he was serviceable. Murray didn’t see the field since the return of Sweezy until last week. Murray played 39 snaps and Sweezy played 42, and the former also played some snaps at left guard. It seems like the Cardinals are doing a slight rotation with their offensive lineman a la Joe Judge.
Sweezy is a 31-year-old, long-time Seattle Seahawk who struggled last week against Aaron Donald in the Rams. Safe to say the rotation is caused by the dominant force known as Aaron Donald, but I’m not certain which guard will be starting against the Giants. Murray is a 2016 undrafted player. I wouldn’t be shocked to see either struggle against Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, and B.J. Hill.
Mason Cole, a 24-year-old, former Michigan Wolverine, le has been an adequate starting center for the Cardinals. He’s surrendered 16 pressures and one sack. He ranks 26th in overall offense. He typically plays well against power for a lighter center, but his short arms could pose a problem if the Giants line up the length of Leonard Williams at 1-Technique. The Giants can win this battle on the line of scrimmage.
Arizona has been struggling and Kyler Murray hasn’t looked great, but this is still a dangerous team. The Giants are coming off one of their best wins in recent memory, and they must ride the momentum through another NFC West opponent. It’s a winnable game, but they must play sound, disciplined football.