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Previewing the Arizona Cardinals offense beyond traditional stats

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Los Angeles Chargers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. That’s the most pertinent info at all. Now some more info.

This season, Pro-Football-Reference.com has added advanced stats to their database. There will be some disagreement on the “validity” of some of these stats because they tend to vary site to site, but I think it’s mostly safe. The differences site-to-site should be somewhat negligible and I believe the numbers are mostly accurate. If new info comes across that disputes the exactness of these stats, I’m happy to consider that.

I want to focus on the air raid offense of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and examine, beyond traditional stats, how the first three games have gone. At least in terms of efficient productivity and how the Cardinals rank league-wide.

Advanced Passing

Kyler Murray is 84-of-137, 830 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, 6.1 Y/A, passer rating of 79, and he’s been sacked 16 times. The numbers are actually not terrible in the context of a QB being in his first three games — his stats are fairly par when compared against the starts of Baker Mayfield, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton. He runs into a bigger issue at his 6.06 Y/A, which comps favorably to Ryan Tannehill, but also Carson Palmer.

In fact, his first three games are also pretty close to those of Deshaun Watson — their 5.6 adjusted Y/A is exactly the same.

Below the regular stats though, Murray is averaging 5.9 air yards per completion (ranked 25th) and 3.6 air yards per attempt (27th). His average depth of target of 8.3 yards is tied with Aaron Rodgers for 17th. Consider that last week they faced Teddy Bridgewater and his NFL-low 5.1 average depth of target and you see how extreme the competition was for Seattle last week. Murray’s gonna push it farther downfield than Bridgewater, but Arizona is likely to keep the passes as quick as possible, especially given the 16 sacks allowed in three games.

Pro-Football-Reference has also credited Murray with 27 “bad throws” which is the 2nd-most in the NFL after Carson Wentz, but his bad throw% of 19.7% ranks 10th. Murray has also carried the ball 14 times for 86 yards, with four of those being scrambles that picked up an average of 8.8 yards per scramble.

Advanced Rushing

David Johnson’s strange career: a third round pick in 2015, led the NFL in touches, yards, and touchdowns in 2016, missed virtually all of 2017, paid like a top-3 running back in 2018 and he couldn’t provide any value on the league’s worst offense, and now he has to adjust his entire game for an air raid offense while still paying him $10 million.

(And $14.25 million in 2020 that they won’t be able to get off the books.)

Johnson’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry and he’s caught 13 passes for 83 yards. The Cardinals are paying him all this money and not giving him an offensive line or a system in which to be successful. But what team is going to trade for a $14 million running back?

Johnson is averaging just 1.7 yards per carry before contact, tied with Miles Sanders and Kenyan Drake for 29th in the league. He’s averaging 2.0 yards after contact, which ranks 31st. That’s because he has just two broken tackles on 36 attempts.

Advanced Receiving

Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are both top-10 in targets because Arizona throws it a lot and Murray doesn’t have many more options than these two. But they are catching balls in much different positions.

Kirk’s average 4.4 yards before catch is a tight end-like figure, tying him with George Kittle this season and right around the numbers for Darren Waller, Jason Witten, and Vernon Davis. Murray’s gonna hit Kirk quick and hope for more after but his 5.9 average after catch ranks 44th. It’s fine maybe, but he’s not been breaking off a lot of long runs after.

Fitzgerald is averaging 10.1 yards before catch, ranking 40th overall, with 4.0 yards after catch. Kirk has one drop while Fitzgerald, of course, has zero. As a team, the Cards have five total drops.

Damiere Byrd, David Johnson, and KeeSean Johnson are the other players to average more than two targets per game but none of them have had such an impact as to even be able to guess how they’ll impact the next one. Kirk and Fitzgerald represent 50% of Murray’s targets and anyone besides them being the main concern in the passing game would be surprising.

Rookie second round pick Andy Isabella has been a healthy scratch.