After firing Steve Wilks after one season, Arizona made a bold hire by naming Kliff Kingsbury as the new head coach.
Kingsbury, who had a losing record in college, had something more valuable than gold. He brought along with him the Air Raid offense and with the No. 1 overall pick, the Cardinals selected quarterback Kyler Murray to run the offense.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday. “No. 1, you know he can rip it.”
Murray guided the Cardinals to their first victory, a 26-23 win over the Bengals last Sunday. He rushed 10 times for 93 yards and passed for 253 yards.
“You see him in the pocket, and he can make all of the throws,” Quinn said. “The designed runs that happen, not just in the last game, but some other ones as well, he’s run for touchdowns on quarterbacks draws. He’s gotten first downs on designed runs.
“Then of course on a scramble play where it starts off as one play and then the second one begins with that. We’ve got our work cut out for us for sure, but that’s part of what this week is about, to make sure that part of our game is really intact.”
The Falcons are coming off a woeful performance against Houston’s Deshaun Watson, who amassed 592 total yards in a 53-32 rout Sunday.
After that debacle, Quinn has everyone’s attention as they get ready for the Arizona’s Air Raid offense.
“For sure, there are parts of the game that they really can play quickly,” Quinn said. “They’ll go in between different personnel groups and go with four wide receivers. So, often you’ll see that with empty and spread sets where they can make quick decisions to get the ball out.”
The Cardinals’ attack also infuses some traditional pro concepts.
“Three receivers and a tight end,” Quinn said. “Two receivers and two tight ends. We saw that some last week. It’s not just all the way wide open for every snap. It’s a mix of wide open sets and traditional sets as well.”
Murray has rushed 28 times for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
“It looked like it came to life more this past game,” Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. “Maybe a little bit more offensive success than they’ve had in the past. We have to be prepared for both versions of that offense, when he drops back and is traditional and the times where they do have the designed runs, we have to account for that as well.”
Murray is a threat off read-option plays, too.
“It’s really a challenge to see some of the unique things that he brings based on his feet,” Quinn said. “A lot of people can run a read-option, but it’s definitely different when somebody who has real (speed) is back there.”
The Falcons have just five sacks on the season, which is tied for last in the NFL. The Cardinals have given up 21 sacks, which is third most in the league behind the Jets (23) and Titans (21).
“Our lack of it has been a combination of all of the things that we are doing,” Ulbrich said. “We have to tighten up our coverage. The pass rush has to improve. The way we coach it. The way we define it. The way we will drill it. I look forward to our guys having an opportunity to go out there and show who they really are.”
Murray has leaned heavily on dynamic wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who leads the Cardinals with 29 catches for 358 yards and two touchdowns.
Also, running backs David Johnson and Chase Edmunds are dangerous.
“Both of them are almost in similar roles,” Quinn said. “Both of them can catch out of the backfield. We’ve always been impressed by Johnson. Not just in the short game, but if they get a matchup that they like, they’ll certainly take that shot to him.
“Larry is still the catalyst for it, in terms of receiver. (Christian) Kirk has always been a factor there, in the slot he can make a difference there.”
Quinn would also like to see the Falcons ramp up the pressure on Murray.
“It’s a huge emphasis to make sure that we rush, pressure, the whole thing, that we can affect the quarterback,” Quinn said. “Sometimes that’s with four, sometimes that’s with five or six. However many it takes, it has to happen. That will definitely be part of our mindset heading into this game for sure.”
Another signature feature of the Cardinals’ offense is how they spread out the field.
“They make you tackle in space,” Quinn said. “Because they can create space with splits and alignments and then getting the ball out to their playmakers quickly.”
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