Maybe the hype was a little premature. Or maybe the overall strangeness and disjointedness of the 2020 season delayed the breakout campaign by a year. Whatever the case, the Cardinals team we saw bully the Titans in a 38-13 road win on Sunday finally looked like the one worthy of landing on all those lists of up-and-coming contenders last summer. The offense looked capable of producing an MVP winner in Kyler Murray. And Kliff Kingsbury’s play-calling looked more deserving of its Air Raid moniker.
The 38 points speak for themselves, but this performance was about more than the final score. The way the Cardinals offense hammered the Titans just felt different. It wasn’t overly reliant on Murray’s exceptional improvisational skills, and DeAndre Hopkins didn’t hog all of the targets in the passing game. This was a truly balanced performance by an offense that had been far too reliant on its two stars a season ago. Murray’s four touchdown passes were split evenly between Hopkins and Christian Kirk, who enjoyed a career day. Rookie receiver Rondale Moore made a play anytime he got his hands on the ball. Even 33-year-old A.J. Green made an impact. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the offense explode during Kingsbury’s time in Arizona, but it’s difficult to recall a more comprehensive and convincing showing.
It was just one game, though. And a Week 1 game at that. If the Cardinals fall off a cliff from here on out, it wouldn’t be the first time we were fooled by a one-game sample. So let’s just ask the question: Was this real? Are Kliff, Kyler, and the rest of this Arizona group on the verge of a breakthrough that might propel the team into the postseason for the first time since 2015? Or is this the same disjointed and uncreative passing attack we saw fade down the stretch in 2020?
After reviewing the film of Sunday’s game, the answer is … it’s complicated.
It’s complicated because Murray’s game is complicated. He is one of the league’s most physically gifted quarterbacks, but he’s also very small—at least relative to the giants who play in the NFL. I know we’re not supposed to care about a quarterback’s height these days—not after Drew Brees and Russell Wilson made teams look dumb for writing them off. But height does matter: In Murray’s case, because his stature makes him uncomfortable in tight pockets. Murray looks to bail as soon as he feels the walls start to close in on him. And that eagerness to abandon the structure of a play has to be factored into any evaluation of Kingsbury’s scheme.