Inconsistent Offense Puts Cardinals’ Season in Jeopardy

Teams have shied away from blitzing Kyler Murray for the most part in 2020. However, the 49ers threw caution to the wind on Saturday and brought lots of pressure. Their blitzes disrupted the Cardinals Offense several times throughout the day, forced multiple sacks, and led to a critical 4th-quarter interception. Murray and the Cardinals are great at generating big chunks of yards but often lack consistency, and the negative plays brought on by San Fran’s blitz schemes didn’t help their cause.

How do you attack Kyler Murray? With speed. And that’s exactly what the 49ers did in Week 16, as you can see on this 2nd-and-11. Focus on cornerback K’Waun Williams (#24) coming from the left side of the screen.

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The 49ers did a good job here of scheming a free rusher, splitting the right guard and tackle to create a path for Williams.

On this 1st-and-15, the 49ers attacked Arizona’s empty formation, a staple of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Empty formations mean 5-man protections, which give the defense the ability to more easily design pressures that hit home – if they can get there in time. Hence the use of a cornerback to blitz.

Here, watch the path of defensive tackle D.J. Jones (#93). He took the center with him and ensured the Cardinals would only have 2 offensive linemen to protect against 3 pass rushers to the right side where cornerback K’Waun Williams (#24) was again coming from.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass
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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Jones’ path also prevented Murray from finding any escape lanes to the opposite side of the blitz.

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It was clear that the 49ers wanted to bring blitzes from Murray’s right side to ensure that he would have to move to his left if he did scramble. Forcing a right-handed quarterback to scramble to his left eliminates some of his ability to attack as much of the field while throwing on the run. This makes handling a dual threat like Murray just a little bit easier.

Looking at the above play from the sideline angle, you can see one of the issues that has gotten Arizona in trouble throughout the season. Instead of staying on schedule on 1st down by quickly finding DeAndre Hopkins (slot left) and cutting the down-and-distance in half, Murray looked to run when he saw the pressure. The result was a sack that set up 2nd-and-23.

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Arizona got away with it this time, as Murray found KeeSean Johnson for 45 yards on the very next play. They wouldn’t get away with Murray’s mistake in the 4th quarter, though.

Below, you can see that the 49ers again brought pressure from Murray’s right side. This time, it got him to react quickly from the pocket. Overreact I should say. Murray made an unnecessary off-balanced throw that resulted in a bad interception and all but ended Arizona’s hopes.

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Murray is an exciting player. He’s a natural thrower and runs like he’s shot out of a cannon. Unfortunately, he’s been inconsistent enough that Arizona still needs to win in Week 17 against a tough Rams team to get into the playoffs.

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