Cardinals’ 4-WR Sets are Wearing Out Defenses

The Cardinals took it to the Browns in Week 6 with an impressive 37-14 win. Arizona is 6-0 because they are succeeding in all phases. Their defense has allowed the 2nd fewest points in the NFL. On offense, they’re 4th in the league in scoring, 9th in passing, and 5th in rushing. However, it’s their use of 4-wide receiver personnel packages that seems to be giving opponents the most trouble.

The Cardinals regularly deploy 4-WR looks featuring DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and rookie Rondale Moore. No team is even close to them in frequency of this personnel grouping, and Kyler Murray has distributed the ball fairly evenly to all 4. Just look at these numbers:

Screen Shot 2021-10-21 at 10.19.13 PM

The consistent use of 4 wide receivers creates matchup nightmares for defenses. How many teams have three good defensive backs that can match up to that group of pass catchers, let alone 4?

Maybe the biggest benefit of Arizona’s 4-wide receiver sets is that they give Murray so many options. The offense can attack downfield from anywhere, making it difficult for the defense to get a tell or anticipate where the most dangerous route combinations will originate from.

The Cardinals’ first touchdown against Cleveland was a great example. This was a scissors concept, run with Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore out of the slot:

Cardinals O vs Browns D Scissors1
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Browns actually did a decent job of recognizing the concept and passing off routes during the play. However, cornerback Troy Hill went with the in-breaking route just enough to allow Christian Kirk to get leverage on him to the outside.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

That route-combo being run out of the slot gave Cardinals receivers more room to maneuver and created more ground for Hill to account for on the outside. That gave Murray room to complete this pass even though he was late delivering this ball.

In the 4th quarter, the Cardinals all but wrapped up the win with a touchdown that again came from a 4-WR set. This time, Arizona was in a 3×1 with a trips bunch to the left. With the coverage pushed to that side, Murray knew pre-snap that he would have A.J. Green in a 1-on-1 matchup to his right. That’s where he attacked:

We also saw the Cardinals use this personnel grouping to manufacture open receivers underneath on 3rd down and help sustain drives.

On the below example, they did so out of a 4×1 formation with all four wide receivers to the offense’s left. Rondale Moore, the #4 inside receiver was running a burger route (In-N-Out). The three outside receivers released vertically. This created traffic and a natural rub for Moore’s man to fight through, which created enough separation:

First down.

The Cardinals also like to spread the defense out using their 4-WR sets, and that helped provide pre-snap indicators for Murray of where blitz pressure would be coming from. This enabled him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.

Below, Murray could see that it was highly probable that the Browns would be blitzing based on the stacked defenders over the #3 inside receiver:

2021Wk6ARIOCLED_3
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

On this next play, spreading the defense out again gave Murray a clear picture of where the pressure would be coming from. Here, the Browns actually wanted Murray to make a quick throw. This was 3rd-and-goal from the 13, so the idea was to force a short completion and rally to tackle well shy of the end zone. Only, DeAndre Hopkins made just about every Browns defender miss for the touchdown.

With each week, the Cardinals continue to impress, executing in ways that appear to be sustainable and very difficult for defenses to have answers against.

6-0 is no fluke.

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