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Film Study: Scouting Kyler Murray and the Cardinals

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The Giants take on the Cardinals (6-6) on Sunday. Arizona has a +36 point differential in a very competitive NFC West and is even in turnover ratio this season. No team has had more penalties accepted against it than the Cardinals (90). All advanced statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

When the Cardinals have the ball

* The Cardinals overall offensive ranks are very strong:

  • 6th in yards per game: 389.4
  • 9th in yards per play: 5.79
  • 1st in rush yards per play: 5.01 (this number is skewed by Kyler Murray's rushing yardage)
  • 20th in pass yards per play: 6.73
  • T13th in third down conversions: 42.95%
  • 8th in points per game: 25.5

* The Cardinals' offense, to no one's surprise, look very much like a college offense with Kliff Kingsbury running the show. Arizona will try and spread you out more than any team in the NFL. No team uses "10" personnel (one running back, four wide receivers) more often than Arizona's 22.5% of the time. The Cardinals also spend an NFL-high 82% of their plays in shotgun. They've run RPO's more frequently than only one team in the league. They also try to maintain a quick pace, with a league-leading 40% of their plays coming out of no-huddle. You will see motion at the snap to try and create some misdirection for opposing defenses.

* The Cardinals' offense contains a lot of vertical route combinations, but quarterback Kyler Murray has been very selective in how often he airs it out. Only 11% of Arizona's pass attempts travel at least 20 yards down the field, which is the 10th-lowest rate in the league, and just over 10% of their pass plays gain at least 15 yards (32nd). Murray has a strong passer rating of 129.8 on passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air.

* Murray has struggled on passes between 10-19 yards, especially in the middle of the field. On passes between the number in that intermediate range, he has only completed 24 of 44 throws for 420 yards with one touchdown and seven interceptions. His seven interceptions leads the league in that area of the field. Murray has the arm strength and the accuracy to make all the throws. Murray's placement is accurate on 61.5% of his throws, which is seventh for quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.

* The Cardinals' offense also uses a lot of quick game. Murray's 81 passes behind the line of scrimmage are the 11th-most in the NFL. If the ball does not come out early, Murray will hold it and use his slot receiver level athleticism to buy extra time or run with the ball. Arizona has the 5th-highest scramble rate in the league. Murray is too quick and fast for defensive linemen, linebackers or even safeties to track him down in space on their own. It needs to be a team effort.

* The Cardinals will use Murray on designed runs, whether they are read-options, or designed quarterbacks runs. He leads all quarterbacks with 665 rushing yards and is second with 10 rushing touchdowns. He has no rushing touchdowns over the past two weeks amidst reports he has an injured shoulder. Murray is adept at sliding at the end of his runs to avoid contact.

* The Cardinals have protected Murray well this season. The Cardinals have only allowed 20 sacks, which is the 9th-fewest in the NFL. Their 26% pressure rate allowed is the 6th-lowest. Left tackle DJ Humphries and left guard Justin Pugh have been impressive this season, allowing only four sacks and three quarterbacks hits between them. Pugh has been able to stay healthy this year and played in all but 40 snaps. Right tackle Kelvin Beachum has only allowed two sacks and three quarterback hits. Center Mason Cole and right guard JR Sweezy have been less consistent inside. Justin Murray has also rotated into the lineup at guard and he done well.

* DeAndre Hopkins ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards and third in receptions. His 11 contested catches is tied for 8th-most in the league. He is not a true burner but his route running, physicality and catch radius makes him a very difficult cover one-on-one. His 381 yards after the catch is 8th-most in the NFL. No one has more than his 57 catches that have gone for first downs. He has not been as productive in recent weeks with no more than 55 receiving yards in any of his last three games.

* Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, a large possession receiver with a huge wingspan, shows excellent hands and good route-running ability – he missed last week's game after landing on the COVID list. He indicated he lost nine pounds dealing with the virus. Despite that, he is still second on the team with 43 catches. Christian Kirk is a smaller receiver (5-11) with 35 catches for 498 yards and can do a little of everything. Andy Isabella is a vertical deep threat.

* Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake split the snaps at running back in a true two-headed monster scenario. Both have big-play ability. No team runs inside zone more frequently than the Cardinals with their 44% inside zone rush rate. Drake has 768 rushing yards on 4.3 yards per carry this season with eight rushing touchdowns. Edmonds has been a bigger threat a receiver with 42 catches for 326 yards.

* Arizona is a run-heavy team on 1st-and-10, rushing it 55% of the time in those situations which is the 6th-highest rate in the league. Overall, they are the 8th-heaviest run team in the NFL. The Cardinals are the 9th-most productive first down team in the league, averaging 6 yards per play.

* Thanks, in part, to Kyler Murray's ability to run the ball, the Cardinals are the top red zone offense in football, scoring TDs on 75.6% of their appearances in the red zone.

Keys for the Giants defense

  • Do not let Kyler Murray beat you as a runner, especially in the red zone
  • Tackle well against the run game and short completions
  • Prevent DeAndre Hopkins from wrecking the game with big plays

When the Giants have the ball

* The Cardinals have been a near league-average defense for most of the year. Here are some of their basic rankings:

  • 18th in yards per game: 359.9
  • 13th in yards per play: 5.39
  • 22nd in rush yards per game: 123
  • 21st in rush yards per play: 4.47
  • 16th in pass yards per game: 236.9
  • 7th in pass yards per play: 7th
  • 20th in 3rd down conversions: 42.6%
  • 14th in points allowed per game: 24.7
  • T19th in takeaways: 15 (10 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries)

* The Cardinals use a combination of press coverage, man-to-man defense, and a heavy blitz package to keep opposing offenses uncomfortable. They play tight man-to-man coverage, primarily in single-high safety alignments. They run "Cover-1" (man-to-man with a single-high safety) at the 3rd-highest rate in the NFL (38%). They also mix in "Cover 0" (man-to-man to no high safety) at the 8th-highest rate (5.2%). When they play zone, they mix in a combination of "Cover 3" (three deep) and "Cover 4" (four deep).

* The Cardinals line up their cornerbacks in press-man 66.5% of the time, which is the 8th-highest rate in the league. Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick are their two outside cornerbacks. Peterson is not the same coverage player he was a few years ago. He has allowed 43 catches on 65 targets for 618 yards and four touchdowns this season. He has three interceptions. Kirkpatrick, an off-season addition from the Bengals, has allowed 48 catches on 71 targets for 558 yards and two touchdowns. He also has three interceptions.

* Byron Murphy, the first pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, is their third cornerback. He has allowed 43 catches for 425 yards and a touchdown on 68 targets. He normally lines up as their nickel.

* Budda Baker is the Cardinals' best defensive back. He has developed into their replacement for Tyrann Mathieu, as a do-everything player who can line up in the slot or at either safety position. He plays with range (two interceptions) and often plays in the middle of the field and reads what the quarterback is trying to do. He anticipates and is quick to break on the ball. Baker is the most dangerous player on the Cardinals defense and leads them in tackles with 94.

* The Cardinals try to help their secondary in man-to-man coverage by blitzing often. They have the second-highest blitz rate in the NFL (44.2%) and often send defensive backs to get to the quarterback. Their blitzes are effective in holding opposing quarterbacks to a 89.6 quarterback rating. They have also been effective in creating 318 yards worth of negative plays, which is the 7th-most in the NFL. The Cardinals will often line up a lot of players at the line of scrimmage and make the offense figure out pre-snap who is blitzing and who isn't to create confusion.

* Despite playing a very aggressive defense, the Cardinals have also managed to prevent big plays down the field. They've only allowed 32 passes of 20+ yards, which is tied for the 6th-fewest in the NFL. Teams rarely even attempt passes down the field. Only seven teams have had a smaller percentage of pass attempts at least 20 yards down the field than the Cardinals. Along with Baker, Chris Banjo and Deionte Thompson take free safety snaps.

* Despite their heavy blitz rate, the Cardinals have not been able to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Cardinals have 29 sacks, which is the 14th-most in the league. They only pressure opposing quarterbacks on 29% of their dropbacks, which ranks 24th.

* Hasson Reddick has been the Cardinals' most productive pass rusher with five sacks, nine quarterback hits and 32 overall pressures. Markus Golden has only been with the Cardinals for five games, but he has managed a sack, eight quarterback hits and 21 total pressures. Former Giant Devon Kennard has two sacks, six quarterback hits, and 16 pressures. Reddick and Golden have emerged as the team's primary pass rushers. Reddick often lines up over opposing right tackles, opposite Golden.

* Jordan Hicks is the Cardinals' every-down inside linebacker. He is second on the team in tackles with 93 to go along with nine tackles for loss and two passes defended. Fellow inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell also rarely leaves the field, and has two passes defended to go along with two sacks. Rookie Isaiah Simmons has gotten more snaps at linebacker the second half of the season. After never playing 30 snaps in a game the first seven games of the year, he has topped 30 in four of his last five games. He has primarily been used in passing situations in coverage or as a blitzer.

* The Cardinals have exhibited a league-average run defense for most of the year. They have allowed 42 rushes of 10 or more yards, which is tied for 22nd-fewest in the NFL. They have allowed an average of five yards per carry on runs up the middle and over right guard and right tackle.

* Much like on offense, the Cardinals have been very strong in the red zone. They are 4th-best in the league allowing opponents to score touchdowns on only 52% of their red zone trips. No team is better than Arizona preventing touchdowns in goal-to-go situations, holding opponents to a 50.9% rate.

* Arizona is coming off its second-worst defensive performance of the season, giving up 38 points and 463 total yards to the Rams. The Rams used their play-action passing attack well in that game.

* Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds are dynamic returners on special teams.

Keys for the Giants offense

  • Do not get put off-kilter by the Cardinals' blitz
  • Be aware of where Budda Baker is at all times
  • Run the ball consistently

View rare photos from the all-time series between the Giants and Cardinals, which dates back to 1926.

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