NFL

5 things to know about the Arizona Cardinals, who lead the NFL in yards per game

Kyler Murray has established himself as one of the league's elite dual-threat quarterbacks.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray passes against the Seattle Seahawks. Lindsey Wasson/AP Photo

A week after struggling mightily against an explosive dual-threat quarterback in Deshaun Watson, the Patriots will get a crack at Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

The Cardinals lead the National Football League with 414.3 yards per game and have established themselves as one of the more dangerous offensive teams in football.

Kliff Kingsbury, 41 – who is widely regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in the game – has the Cardinals at 6-4 and in the mix for a spot in the playoffs and potentially an NFC West division title. The Patriots drafted Kingsbury, a former QB, in the sixth round in 2003. He earned a Super Bowl ring when the Patriots beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXVIII despite not playing a game and spending all season on injured reserve.

Advertisement:

He said Bill Belichick taught him how to prepare for any possible situation, and he noted that he benefited greatly from his time in New England.

“I learned more football than probably anywhere in my life there,” Kingsbury said.

Now he’s leading a team on the rise looking for a key win at the stadium he once called home.

Kyler Murray “can ball.”

Murray was listed as a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday but was a full participant Friday. With Murray out there, it’s clear the Patriots will have a daunting challenge ahead of them.

“He can ball,” Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said. “I mean, he was the No. 1 pick for a reason.”

Advertisement:

Murray, who became the first athlete ever to be selected in the first round of both the NFL and MLB drafts, played baseball for the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2017.

He then won the Heisman Trophy with Oklahoma in 2018 and elected to pursue football professionally. The 5-foot-10 Murray was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he’s taken another major step in his second season. 

This year, he’s completed 68.3 percent of his passes, thrown 19 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions, and has rushed for 10 touchdowns as well. He’s established himself as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL and as a dark horse MVP candidate.

Advertisement:

Murray has powered the Cardinals to wins over the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills, among other teams. He’s garnered praise from many teammates and opposing players along the way, including Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.

“Kyler is a person who is electric,” Newton said Wednesday. “I’ve had the opportunity to see Lamar (Jackson). I’ve obviously had the opportunity to play against Deshaun (Watson) last week. Those guys, and Kyler this week, it’s just fun to play against a guy like that, as well as knowing that the game is kind of turning to that style of quarterback.”

They have one of the NFL’s most explosive rushing attacks.

After facing a Houston Texans team that was second-to-last in rushing yards per game (87.9), the Patriots will be up against a Cardinals team that’s second in the NFL in that category (157.7). 

Advertisement:

The Cardinals have more rushing touchdowns (16) than any other team, and they also average the most yards per carry (5.2) in the league. In addition to Murray’s playmaking ability, Kenyan Drake has 641 rushing yards and five touchdowns, while Chase Edmonds is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the season.

Belichick called the Cardinals an “explosive” football team and said they excel on third down and in short-yardage situations. He noted that the Patriots aren’t as familiar with them as they are with some other teams – their last meeting came in 2016, and the series is tied 7-7 overall – but he’s tried to zero in on their tendencies this week.

Advertisement:

He said the zone read is a big play for Arizona, where Murray either gives the ball to the back or keeps it himself. Belichick made it clear it’s not just Murray who can make plays happen with his legs, as Drake and Edmonds are both dependable options.

“They are both very good with the ball in their hands,” Belichick said. “It’s two excellent backs who can do a lot of different things.”

The difficult part, of course, is that Murray can also throw the ball effectively.

They’ll be without Larry Fitzgerald.

Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Trent Sherfield were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday and will miss Sunday’s game.

Advertisement:

Fitzgerald, who is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame, is second all-time in both receptions (1,421) and receiving yards (17,419), behind only Jerry Rice. This season, Fitzgerald has 43 catches for 336 yards and is second on the team in receptions and targets, trailing just DeAndre Hopkins.

He’s missed only six games to this point in his 17-year career, and the 37-year-old standout hasn’t sat out in over five seasons.

Belichick credited Fitzgerald for his knowledge and dedication to his craft.

“He’s, I would say, to receivers what Peyton Manning was to quarterbacks in terms of that type of total obsession of knowing everything about the position and how to do things and how to convey those to his teammates,” Belichick said.

He called his longevity “remarkable” and said he has tremendous hands, concentration, and ability to make clutch plays. Belichick highlighted Fitzgerald’s durability and production over the course of his career.

Sherfield has just one reception for six yards this season.

Fellow wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins missed Wednesday’s practice with an unspecified illness, but he was a full participant Thursday. With Fitzgerald and Sherfield out, the Cardinals will rely on Hopkins – the NFL’s leader in receiving yards – Christian Kirk, and UMass product Andy Isabella.

Their defense is inconsistent, but rookie Isaiah Simmons has been a catalyst.

One player to watch on defense is 2020 No. 8 pick Isaiah Simmons, who registered a crucial interception in overtime against the Seahawks in Week 7. Simmons, a linebacker, has improved considerably as the season has progressed.

“He was drafted to be a Swiss Army knife for us, and he’s becoming that,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters. “It just took a little longer.”

As a whole, though, Arizona’s defense hasn’t stood out this season. The Cardinals have given up 28 or more points in each of their last four games after doing so only once in their first six. Granted, their schedule has gotten progressively more difficult, but they’ve struggled of late to keep other teams out of the end zone.

They’re toward the bottom of the league in yards per game (19th, 367.7), passing yards per game (18th, 237.5), and rushing yards (23rd, 124.7), and they’ve allowed 23.8 points per game – which is 14th in the NFL and happens to be the exact same number as the Patriots.

The Patriots have a stark advantage in one specific area.

The Patriots don’t have many clear-cut advantages in this matchup, but they do have one that could go a long way in helping their odds.

New England is currently committing only 3.6 accepted penalties per game, which is by far the fewest in the NFL. Arizona, meanwhile, has by far the most per game at 7.9.

In their 28-21 loss to division rival Seattle, the Cardinals were penalized 10 times for 115 yards – and at key moments. They were also called for four false start penalties with no fans in the stands. 

In total, they’ve had 24 drives this season that have been stalled in part due to penalties. 

“It’s unacceptable to have that many,” Kingsbury said.

Get Boston.com's browser alerts:

Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com