Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate PHNX Sports Community!

Anatomy of big plays in cardinals victory

Howard Balzer Avatar
November 15, 2023

Yes, the Cardinals were penalized 11 times for 112 yards in Sunday’s victory over the Falcons and if truth be known, that would have been infinitely more scrutinized had the game ended in defeat.

Negatives are always more magnified after losses.

However, there is one other truth that has emerged following the highlight-reel plays that moved the team into position for the winning field goal: It was a penalty that didn’t happen on quarterback Kyler Murray’s 13-yard run for a first down that likely made the difference in the game.

Next Gen Stats had him covering 68.9 yards on the mad dash at a top speed of 20.17 mph, and while we tend to understandably marvel at what Murray did, we often don’t account for or consider the stress plays like that can put on other offensive players, especially linemen.

Rookie right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. had a birds-eye view of the play and was disciplined enough to ensure that he didn’t spoil things by adding another penalty to the ledger.

Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing had the same thought during the run, while thinking it was right guard Will Hernandez that might have been in harm’s way, although it’s possible both were in position to make a mistake.

When Petzing was asked Tuesday what his thoughts were as Murray began his scamper, he said,Probably just like a blank stare and a little bit of amazement and then certainly as he started to get the corner, the first thing as he got to the edge was, I think it was Will was running back towards the line of scrimmage, was don’t block because that’s a 15-yard penalty so what immediately crossed my mind was, ‘Oh no, here comes third-and-25.’”

A blindside block can often occur in those situations, which would have been disastrous.

As for Johnson, he realized Murray was heading toward him when he reversed field. Falcons safety Richie Grant, who was victimized shortly afterward on the 33-yard pass play to tight end Trey McBride, wasn’t far from Murray and was also going in Johnson’s direction.

So what did Johnson do to make sure he wouldn’t commit a penalty? He told the team website, “I ran at (Grant) and I started to scream. As I got closer, I screamed louder. I wanted him to think I would just crazily knock him out.”

Murray broke into the open field and Petzing related more of what was going through his mind after breathing a sigh of relief that there was no infraction.

He said, “I couldn’t tell if he got the first down or not. So on the headset from where I was standing, I’m like, ‘Did he get the first?’ because obviously if he didn’t, we’re in two-minute, it’s fourth down, we have to be on the ball, we can’t clock it, so it’s a big situation. Once (I knew) he got the first, there was definitely just like a moment of ‘Wow’ and then all right, we gotta get on the ball, we got to call the next play and make sure he (Murray) is ready to go.”

Outside linebacker BJ Ojulari, who had two sacks in the game and talked to the media Monday, described what he saw on the run.

“I was sitting down on the bench and all I see is him rolling to the left and then he hit the spin back,” Ojulari said. “You just see him turn on the jets and he’s going for like 30-40 yards and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s No. 1.’”

Asked the difference of having watched Murray in the past on television compared to seeing it in person, Ojulari said, “It’s way different seeing it up close and personal, because on TV it’s almost like he’s making it look like a video game. And when you’re in the moment on a big-time play that we needed in a big-time situation, it’s almost surreal.”

A man of sometimes few words, when coach Jonathan Gannon was asked Monday what his reaction was after seeing the play on tape, he said succinctly, Yeah. Wow.”

Perhaps that’s all that needed to be said.

The Conner fall-down

Gannon confirmed that running back James Conner purposely avoided scoring a touchdown on a 7-yard run to the 2-yard line that led to the Matt Prater 23-yard field goal that won the game as time expired.

Gannon said, “Our guys are situationally trained and when you need to execute things within the ball game, they’ve got know what to do and we try to put them in those situations and educate them. Each game plays out different with what you do, and I was proud of our guys and the execution there.”

Petzing was asked how the process worked that reminded the players of the strategy.

He said, “It comes in in the same sentence, but it’s the communication about the situation. That is, head coach to me, me to the quarterback and the quarterback to the huddle, so obviously in those high-leverage situations, being able to stay calm and communicate was good to see. I was excited we were able to execute that the way we needed to.”

The left hash

After Conner’s run to the 2, he then ran the ball to the left and on Murray’s kneeldown, he stayed there rather than set the ball up in the middle of the field.

Asked if that’s where Prater wanted it, Gannon said, “Ask him. That’s where he loves it. Left hash.”

Special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said it’s not always that simple.

“That can vary from game to game,” Rodgers asid. “We’re indoors, so the weather isn’t gonna factor in. The surface, whether it’s turf or it’s grass. Is it late in the year? There’s that one corner in Kansas City that doesn’t see sun from like November to March. All of those things kinda factor in.”

Rodgers then related something he was told by John Kasay, who kicked 21 years in the NFL, in 2010: “He said, ‘90 percent or 95 percent of my kicks always have been from a hash. I don’t ever want to kick from the middle in a must-get situation.’ That’s the attitude that a lot of guys have just because it’s more common. That started to show itself when the extra point moved back.

“Do you put it on the left hash, do you put it on the right hash? There’s games I’ve been in where he’ll say either hash and we might have had two injuries on one side of our field-goal team, so let’s put it (on the other side) because those guys have a better chance of executing because they’ve had more reps. So Matt’s gonna kick it from wherever. I’m sure he would have been fine with wherever it went.”

Also asked how comfortable he is with the length of Prater’s range, Rodgers said,It’s better than the alternative.”

So, what was the line Sunday?

With a smile, he said, “I’m not sure. We never found out.”

Meanwhile, Prater is now 17-for-17 in his career on game-winning field goals with under two minutes remaining in regulation (12) or in overtime (five). His last one in 2020 was also in Week 10 when he blasted a 59-yarder to lead the Lions over Washington, 30-27.

Dortch called his shot . . . sort of

Rodgers revealed that Greg Dortch did more than simply gain 49 yards on a crucial punt return to the 21-yard line with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter that led to the touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 22-17 lead.

The punt came on the play after Ojulari registered his second sack of the quarter on third-and-9.

Rodgers said Tuesday,About a week ago, about now, he texted me and said, ‘Can we put in this return?’ He saw something on tape and generally speaking when a guy’s like, ‘Hey, I see this, can we put it in . . . we weren’t quite done with the game plan at that point. We kinda flipped some stuff around, but yeah, he had the right idea. It was a good play for us.”

Asked how often players do that, Rodgers said, “It happens usually on a weekly basis in some aspect of it. Maybe it’s a return. Maybe it’s how somebody on our rush team wants to attack a block. I’ve gotten some wild suggestions over the years. You don’t implement them all, but the good thing is that guys are doing their preparation stuff and when they’re invested like that, generally speaking, you’re gonna get better results.”

Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)

*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams

OFFENSE (65 snaps, 18 players)

Quarterbacks: Kyler Murray (63/97), Clayton Tune (2/3)

Practice squad: Jeff Driskel

Running backs: James Conner (41/63), Keaontay Ingram (14/22), Tony Jones Jr. (7/11; elevated from practice squad)

Practice squad: Corey Clement

Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (65/100), Michael Wilson (58/89), Rondale Moore (42/65), Zach Pascal (3/5), Greg Dortch (1/2)

Inactive: Michael Wilson (injured)

Practice squad: Andre Baccellia, Davion Davis, Kaden Davis

Tight ends: Trey McBride (50/77), Geoff Swaim (32/49), Elijah Higgins (12/18)

Inactive: Blake Whiteheart

Practice squad: Bernhard Seikovits (international exemption)

Reserve/injured: TE Zach Ertz (eligible to return after Week 11)

Offensive linemen: LT Kelvin Beachum (65/100), LG Carter O’Donnell (65/100), C Hjalte Froholdt (65/100), RG Will Hernandez (65/100), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (65/100)

Did not play: T Jackson Barton (elevated from practice squad), G *Dennis Daley, C/G *Keith Ismael

Inactive: LT D.J. Humphries (injured), LG Trystan Colon (injured), C/G Doug Kramer Jr.

Practice squad: Marquis Hayes, Austen Pleasants, Hayden Howerton (injured)

Reserve/injured: G Elijah Wilkinson (eligible to return after Week 11)

DEFENSE (71 snaps, 20 players)

Defensive linemen: DE Jonathan Ledbetter (42/59), DE Dante Stills (41/58), DE Kevin Strong (38/54), DE Roy Lopez (34/48), NT Leki Fotu (28/39)

Practice squad: Phil Hoskins, Naquan Jones, Ben Stille, Kendal Vickers

Reserve/injured: DE L.J. Collier (eligible to return), DE Carlos Watkins (eligible to return)

Linebackers: ILB Kyzir White (71/100), OLB BJ Ojulari (37/52), OLB Zaven Collins (37/52), OLB Dennis Gardeck (35/49), ILB Josh Woods (33/46), OLB Victor Dimukeje (24/34), OLB Cameron Thomas (15/21), LB Jesse Luketa (7/10)

Did not play: ILB *Krys Barnes, ILB *Owen Pappoe

Inactive: ILB Ezekiel Turner (injured)

Practice squad: ILB Tyreek Maddox-Williams

Defensive backs: S Budda Baker (71/100), S Jalen Thompson (71/100), CB Marco Wilson (54/76), S/CB Garrett Williams (52/73), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (52/73), CB Starling Thomas V (36/51), S Andre Chachere (3/4)

Did not play: S *Joey Blount, CB *Kei’Trel Clark

Inactive: S Qwuantrezz Knight

Practice squad: CB Quavian White, CB Divaad Wilson

Reserve/injured: CB Bobby Price (eligible to return after Week 13)

SPECIAL TEAMS (26 snaps, 31 players)

LB Krys Barnes (21/81), LB Owen Pappoe (18/69), LB Victor Dimukeje (18/69), S Andre Chachere (18/69), WR Zach Pascal (17/65), LB Jesse Luketa (17/65), S Joey Blount (17/65), CB Kei’Trel Clark (14/54), LB Cameron Thomas (12/46), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (12/46), K Matt Prater (11/42), WR/RS Greg Dortch (10/38), CB Starling Thomas V (10/38), TE Elijah Higgins (9/35), TE Geoff Swaim (8/31), P Blake Gillikin (8/31), LS Aaron Brewer (8/31), NT Leki Fotu (8/31), LB Dennis Gardeck (6/23), T Kelvin Beachum (5/19), T Paris Johnson Jr. (5/19), C Hjalte Froholdt (5/19), G Dennis Daley (5/19), C/G Keith Ismael (5/19), TE Trey McBride (5/19), RB Tony Jones Jr. (5/19), LB BJ Ojulari (3/12), LB Josh Woods (2/8), DE Dante Stills (2/8), DE Roy Lopez (1/4), CB/S Garrett Williams (1/4)

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

Readers can also receive a free weekly newsletter on any team(s) of interest. The Cardinals day is Saturday. Just go to

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?