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Murray shows accountability in cardinals loss; coaches notice

Howard Balzer Avatar
November 23, 2023

As the Cardinals prepare for their second game against the Rams, it’s always fascinating taking a peek behind the curtains at what happened only a few days ago and hear the whys of decisions that were made and explanations of why they failed.

That was surely the case early in the fourth quarter last Sunday when the Cardinals trailed 21-16 and faced a fourth-and-3 play from the Texans 23-yard line.

A 41-yard field goal by Matt Prater would have cut the lead to two points and potentially put the Cardinals in position to win the game in their final possession when instead they needed a touchdown.

Those aren’t snap decisions and many factors are considered. While analytics are a big part of it, there’s much more involved including instinct.

As offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said, “It’s a huge combination of both of those things. I think analytics plays a big role, of understanding the numbers, the mindset, where we are on the field, time on the clock, score, all of that. There’s a decision that’s made based on those numbers. Flow of the game, where we’re at, who’s got the ball in their hand, how we’ve been up to that point.

“I think JG (coach Jonathan Gannon) and the entire staff do a great job of communicating that throughout a drive helping me be ready. So it’s something that’s being communicated on first, second and third down because it affects all the calls that are made before that, knowing that you may have four downs if you get here. All those little things get communicated.”

As Gannon told ArizonaSports 98.7, “That’s a call I look back on and you think about if you would have done something different, would the game have been different at the end, but our process that we use for this decisions I feel really good about. We educate our guys on those and you take into consideration the time, the score, what your defense and offense are doing, what their offense and defense are doing and I felt really good about going for it there.

“So you gotta be OK if those things don’t work out, the repercussions of that, but felt good about it and they made the play and we didn’t, so we’ll learn from it and move on.”

As for going with his gut or analytics, Gannon said, “Always a little bit of both. That’s what the numbers say, but sometimes I listen to the numbers, sometimes I don’t. And that comes from prep work throughout the week, throughout however long I’ve been on the job with the people that we have in place for that. Our team prepped for that so it’s not a shocker when they come up of what we’re doing.

“But not every game is the same, so I always tell our guys, ‘I’m not ever going to be always or never.’ A wise man avoids all extremes, so it’s somewhere in there. With saying that, we have a process that we kind of use and stick to, and that’s comforting too for me. If you’re not results driven, then it’s comforting to know, and you don’t really second-guess yourself. I’ve (gone) for it on fourth downs, and they work out, but if they don’t, you’ve got to be OK with it too.”

Petzing emphasized that every decision is based on having the best chance to win the game, “period, end of story. So that could be 51-49. And if we feel like it’s a 51-percent chance to win the game by doing it one way, we’re gonna go that way every time. I think that’s the biggest part of the analytics is when it’s really close of having some instinct and feel and flow of the game because sometimes those numbers can switch a little bit. It’s always about when we do this, we all believe this is the best chance for us to win the game.”

When it was mentioned that even with a success on fourth down, there’s no guarantee a touchdown will follow at some point, he said, “It’s a big part of it. The other point is you might not get down there again. So there’s that balance of ‘Hey we’re down here, we’ve got a chance to get seven and that takes the lead. Three, we’re still behind and we might not get down there again.’ So all of that gets communicated. Part of it is already functioned into the analytics of possessions left in the game, all those little details. There’s so much communication and information that goes into those decisions.”

The play

The discussion about the decision somewhat overlooked how close it was to a first down. Quarterback Kyler Murray threw to wide receiver Greg Dortch, who was at the line to gain, but came back for the ball and was stopped a yard short.

Petzing noted it wasn’t only about how far Dortch ran his route, saying, “Certainly, you want those routes to get behind the sticks. So when they catch the ball, even if they get tackled right on the spot, we’re converting.”

He then added, “Just from a progression standpoint, wish Kyler had gotten the ball there a little quicker, because at one point, (Dortch)) was just past the sticks. So I think it’s a combination of both. And when both happen a little bit incorrect, in a big situation, you end up short.”

Gannon did have some fun with the situation when he was asked about the postgame routine with his family and if football is put on the back burner.

He smiled and to laughter from the media corps said,The kids (said), ‘Dad just kick three field goals and you win.’ I got it, I got it, Rocco (his son). Could you imagine that if (daughter) Lola says, ‘Dad, you need a new strategy.’ I got it.”

Another fourth-down miss

With 7:22 remaining in the game, on fourth-and-4 from the Houston 45-yard line, Murray misfired low and behind tight end Trey McBride.

That was one of his most frustrating moments and led to him sitting at his locker in full uniform for nearly 30 minutes after the game ended. Following the game, Murray said the issue was with his feet and Wednesday described it as “the first missed throw in the past two weeks. Missed throw as far as like just actually missing the throw whether or not it was complete. Some throws in the first game I didn’t feel great about, but we still completed them.

“This one was, for me, the most frustrating in the past two weeks because of it being fourth down and having a chance to go down and score, and I think if we complete that pass, the game’s a little different. As far as mechanics and stuff like that, I feel good.”

The mechanics point was related to changing his footwork from right foot up to left foot up and he acknowledged it has been “awkward.”

Murray said, “I’ve been doing that for 15 plus years, (having my) right foot up and then having to switch. Luckily, I’m coordinated enough to get it down and do it, but it’s kind of a mind trick in my head and feet with the drops that I’ve been doing my whole life having to time I’m up now to what they’re wanting. It’s been good so far.”

Gannon said, “The more snaps he can get with the play types, (he’ll) understand how the pocket’s affecting that too. Kyler’s a guy that can play with, as Drew would say, some dirty feet at times and make it happen. But I think when he’s really humming, his feet are clean and that’s something he works on every day.”

“I would not say he’s struggled with it,” Petzing said. “He’s picked it up as fast if not faster than most of the guys I’ve seen make the transition.”

The big play

That was a 48-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rondale Moore on the third offensive play of the game.

Murray pumped his arms in delight while the usually stoic Gannon showed instant excitement.

“We ended up losing the game, so none of it really matters, but it was a good moment for us as far as confidence in moving forward,” Murray said. “It was good. You want to see progress as far as our performance and how we get better each and every week. Trying to create explosives. That’s a winning stat and I think that’s something that we haven’t really done this season is create explosives in the pass game. We’ve done a great job running the ball, but I think he wants to see more explosives in the pass game, for sure.”

The reality is that Murray passed for only 153 yards on 18 completions (8.5 per catch) for the remainder of the game.

Asked about the emotion he showed, Gannon said, “I thought it was a really good play to start the game. Throwing it over their head a little bit. I thought it was good protection and a really good throw and catch. What was cool is as the play was going on, I heard Drew in real time say, ‘Throw the post.’ He let it rip and hit him right in stride, and it was just cool to see that. I saw emotion out of Kyler too. For the team to start the game with an explosive pass like that to score, I was excited for him.”

Being accountable

Murray has done that and it’s fair to say that the relationship he has developed with Gannon is a large factor.

Gannon noted that Murray has been calling him on the way home after games.

“I’m glad I have Bluetooth,” Gannon said. “Then I couldn’t get my gate open, so I’m like, ‘I’ve got to go.’ He watches the tape with Iz (quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork), then he watches it with Drew and then he comes back to me and then he wants to talk about it more. He’s got fire in his gut and that’s cool.”

Murray said, “It’s the relationship we’ve got, man. Anytime. If I’m watching the game or if he’s watching the game or if he’s got something on his mind about something he wants to run by me. I love the fact that he feels – he doesn’t have to tell me anything – the fact that he comes to me and just thinks that my opinion matters means a lot. It’s a relationship that we’ve built. He trusts me and I trust him, so it’s been great.”

Asked about moving on from last week’s game after he said, “Let the team down. That’s how I feel,” Murray said, “Monday morning you come back in and you watch it again, basically. Then it kind of just reaggravates you and you get frustrated with how did this happen? How did we end up in that situation? You go over all the mistakes and where we can get better at. Then obviously, Tuesday you get a day off to get a head start on the next team, so that’s kind of when you’ve got to get over it because in this league you’ve got a new opponent every Sunday, and it’s tough.”

Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs with the ball on a two-point conversion attempt as Houston Texans safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (30) attempts to make a tackle during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While respecting Murray accepting responsibility, Gannon said, “There are some plays in that game that he made that was the reason why we’re in the game, and then there’s some plays that he’s very critical of himself. He takes the arrow in the forehead. He’s wearing me out on the plane, at night driving home and this morning. I’m sure he wants to play today, but it’s about understanding that it’s not about one guy. It never is, but what I’ve learned is he’s ultra-competitive and he wants to do everything that he can to help our team win. And I appreciate that. The type of accountability that he has bleeds onto the rest of the team and our team’s been great about it.

“They’re always good on Mondays about that, understanding that we’re not where we want to be. We didn’t make enough plays to get it done and we show them, ‘Here are things that we’ve got to improve. These are plays that we need to make, and we’ve got to practice a little bit better. These couple things.’ Our process though, I think is correct. We’ve just got to continue to grow and perfect that process. As it relates to Kyler and just like I said, I mean he is the ultimate pro. He takes huge accountability and it’s why he is who he is.”

Petzing said the obvious is how important it is for players and coaches to deal with the inevitable highs and lows of a season and had high praise for Murray.

“It’s a big part of playing in the NFL,” he said. “I think the last NFL undefeated team was probably before I was born. So it’s likely that you’re going to go through these games. Certainly, I think the way he owned it and the way he reacted after the game is a very appropriate reaction. You react the way you react. But as you process, I think that’s where the important part comes in. I thought he did a really nice job of being honest with himself, his teammates, with me. About, ‘Hey, here’s where I could have done better, here’s where I feel I excelled. Here’s what we need to do moving forward.

“Those conversations are gonna continue and the No. 1 thing is he cares. He’s really into it. He’s been that way the whole time and it does eat at you. If you’re in a locker room with a guy it doesn’t bother, you’re probably in the locker room with the wrong guys.”

Gannon believes the locker room is made up of the right guys.

He said, “I told them today (Monday), you see certain things go on in the NFL and we’re not concerned about that. My concern is, are we doing the right things on a daily basis? They take ultimate accountability, they stay aligned and they’re on the same page with what needs to be done as we move forward. It’s just good.

“It’s really because of the leadership in the locker room, truthfully. From the captains right on down to everybody, and as long as that stays consistent, you’ll have a chance to win. But if that’s not consistent, you won’t. They understand that.”

The wayward punt

It turned out to be a non-factor because a Cardinals subsequent interception provided better field position, but there was mass confusion on a Texans punt that was short of returner Greg Dortch appeared to hit Houston coverage man D’Angelo Ross, who was being blocked by Antonio Hamilton Sr. Ka’Dar Hollman of the Texans recovered the ball and the officials ruled it hit Hamilton and Houston was given the ball. Replay review failed to provide enough evidence to overturn it.

Cardinals cornerback Starling Thomas V had a clear path to the recovery, but didn’t make an attempt.

Asked about the play Tuesday, special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said, “I think any time that it’s left up to the official’s interpretation, things can get a little bit messy. My specific thoughts on the matter probably need to be kept to myself, but it’s an unfortunate situation.”

Rodgers then explained, “We talked about this extensively in our meeting yesterday about the different situations that can come up. Are we the return team or are we the coverage team? In that situation, it clearly hit somebody. Now somebody might say that Star had as good a vantage point at who hit as anybody else. If it hits one of their players, there’s a very unlikely scenario that we would lose possession of the ball. At worst, it’s going to go back to that spot where it hit their guy.

“Or it could’ve hit our player. In that case, it’s a live ball. As the return team in that situation, we’d like to have him get on the ball there and secure it, but it’s a rare instance that stuff happens, but it does happen and it provided an opportunity for us to educate our guys in a number of situations.”

Snap chat

Linebacker Kyzir White had played every snap this season until he suffered a torn biceps on the third defensive possession of the game. He was placed on reserve/injured Tuesday. Gannon said White played five or six snaps after suffering the injury, “which was actually kind of gut wrenching to watch because I didn’t know he tore his biceps, and he is out there playing with one arm. That’s why he is who he is, a captain.” White was on the field Wednesday watching his teammates practice. Krys Barnes played 33 percent of the snaps with White out and Josh Woods relayed the defensive calls.

Rookie defensive lineman Dante Stills played 82 percent of the snaps after Leki Fotu played only 18 percent before injuring his hand. Fotu was also placed on reserve/injured Tuesday. Roy Lopez played a season-high 60 percent, while Phil Hoskins, who was elevated from the practice squad for the game, played 49 percent. Jonathan Ledbetter was inactive because of a shoulder injury and Kevin Strong played only 31 percent because of a knee injury. He did not practice Wednesday. Ledbetter returned to practice Wednesday and was limited.

In the game against Houston, Fotu’s 12 snaps produced four unassisted tackles including two for loss and a sack for minus-10 yards. Lopez had five tackles (three unassisted, while Stills and Hoskins each had four tackles with two unassisted. Stills added a sack for minus-10 yards and a tackle for loss.

Of Stills, Gannon said, “If you want to talk about improvement to when he got here as a rookie to where he is now, I don’t know if there’s a guy that’s made a bigger jump than him out of our rookie class. (With) where he started, he started being down (inactive) and then he started being up. What he’s done for us since he’s been playing has been critical to us playing pretty good defense at times. He’s really taken steps every week to improve his game and he’s very mindful of that too. The things that we talk to him about and ask him, ‘Hey, you got to work on this. You got to work on this.’ He’s very mindful through practice and then it shows up in the game. He’s doing a really good job.”

Hoskins was signed to the practice squad Oct. 3 and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said, “I was very pleased. Like Krys, (it’s) how he prepares like he’s been starting even when he wasn’t or even active. I was very pleased with how Phil came in. I thought he played really well. Played good in the run game. Was stout, two-gapped some guys and then in the pass rush, you don’t necessarily see it on the stat sheet, but he was pushing the pocket very well and that affects the quarterback.

“A couple of those throws that got intercepted, the pocket was getting pushed and he did a good job of getting in the quarterback’s lap. I wasn’t that surprised because he practices that way. It’s not like what he did on the game field is something we hadn’t seen in practice. That’s why we were comfortable with him being able to step into that role.”

Nov 19, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Arizona Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson (34) reacts after making an interception during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Cardinals signed defensive lineman Ben Stille from the practice squad Tuesday as Hoskins remained on the practice group.

Running back Tony Jones Jr. played 26 percent of the offensive and Keaontay Ingram did not play, even on special teams. Michael Carter was inactive after being claimed on waivers by the Jets, but will have a full practice load this week.

Wide receiver Michael Wilson was inactive one week after returning from a shoulder injury. He did not practice Wednesday. When asked if Wilson’s injury was an aggravation of the previous injury or something new, Gannon said, “I don’t want to say a little bit of both. It’s kind of a new deal, truthfully. Right around that same area.”

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

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

OFFENSE (61 snaps, 15 players)

Quarterbacks: Kyler Murray (61/100)

Did not play:Clayton Tune

Practice squad: Jeff Driskel

Running backs: James Conner (42/69), Tony Jones Jr. (16/26, (elevated from practice squad)

Did not play: Keaontay Ingram

Inactive: Emari Demercado (injured), Michael Carter

Practice squad: Corey Clement

Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (58/95), Greg Dortch (46/75), Rondale Moore (44/72), Andre Baccellia (5/8)

Inactive: Michael Wilson (injured), Zach Pascal (injured)

Practice squad: Davion Davis, Kaden Davis

Tight ends: Trey McBride (61/100), Geoff Swaim (24/39), Elijah Higgins (9/15)

Did not play: *Blake Whiteheart

Practice squad: Bernhard Seikovits (international exemption)

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

Offensive linemen: LT D.J. Humphries (61/100), LG Carter O’Donnell (61/100), C Hjalte Froholdt (61/100), RG Will Hernandez (61/100), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (61/100)

Did not play: T *Kelvin Beachum, C/G *Keith Ismael, G/C Trystan Colon,

Inactive: G Dennis Daley

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

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

DEFENSE (67 snaps, 20 players)

Defensive linemen: DE Dante Stills (55/82), DE Roy Lopez (40/60), Phil Hoskins (33/49, elevated from practice practice squad), DE Kevin Strong (21/31), NT Leki Fotu (12/18, injured)

Inactive: DE Jonathan Ledbetter (injured)

Practice squad: Naquan Jones, Ben Stille, Kendal Vickers

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

Linebackers: ILB Josh Woods (55/82), OLB Zaven Collins (36/54), ILB Kyzir White (26/39, injured), OLB BJ Ojulari (35/52), OLB Dennis Gardeck (31/46), OLB Victor Dimukeje (27/40), ILB Krys Barnes (22/33), OLB Cameron Thomas (22/33)

Did not play: OLB *Jesse Luketa, ILB *Owen Pappoe, ILB *Ezekiel Turner

Practice squad: ILB Tyreek Maddox-Williams

Defensive backs: S Budda Baker (67/100), S Jalen Thompson (67/100), S/CB Garrett Williams (52/78), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (51/76, injured), CB Marco Wilson (50/75), CB Starling Thomas V (33/49), S Andre Chachere (2/3)

Inactive: S Joey Blount

Practice squad: CB Quavian White, CB Divaad Wilson

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

SPECIAL TEAMS (18 snaps, 34 players)

LB Ezekiel Turner (15/83), S Andre Chachere (15/83), LB Krys Barnes (14/78), LB Jesse Luketa (14/78), LB Victor Dimukeje (12/67), LB Owen Pappoe (11/61), LB Dennis Gardeck (9/50), CB Kei’Trel Clark (9/50), TE Geoff Swaim (8/44), LB Cameron Thomas (8/44), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (7/39), K Matt Prater (6/33), WR/RS Greg Dortch (6/33), CB Starling Thomas V (6/33), TE Elijah Higgins (5/28), TE Blake Whiteheart (5/28), DE Dante Stills (5/28), P Blake Gillikin (4/22), LS Aaron Brewer (4/22), RB Tony Jones Jr. (4/22), NT Leki Fotu (4/22), LB BJ Ojulari (4/22), CB/S Garrett Williams (4/22), DL Phil Hoskins (3/17), T Kelvin Beachum (2/11), T Paris Johnson Jr. (2/11), C Hjalte Froholdt (2/11), C/G Keith Ismael (2/11), G Will Hernandez (2/11), TE Trey McBride (2/11), DE Roy Lopez (1/6), LB Josh Woods (1/6), CB Marco Wilson (1/6), S Budda Baker (1/6)

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

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