Cardinals Fantasy Combustion Part 1
Nobody's Nerfect! Every season we make mistakes and last year I couldn't have been further off the mark when it comes to the Cardinals play volume. If I whine too much though it could be construed as greed because the Cardinals offense and play volume still managed to go from the basement to the foyer in 2019, from Josh Rosen and whats-his-face? To the fantasy conducive duo of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury.
Plays from scrimmage is an underrated statistic in the fantasy community. A complex encapsulated within projections for fantasy football is that everything trickles down. We quickly realize subjectivity is often exercised to arrive at figures that drive entire teams offenses. If we whiff on how many plays from scrimmage a team will run we can over or under estimate the skill groups volume. And volume is king.
BUFFET OF POSITIVE REGRESSION
PLAY VOLUME/ PASSING VOLUME/ RED ZONE EFFICIENCY
Process over results though. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury came from Texas Tech where his offenses play volume ranked top 10 among all FBS schools in 5 of 6 seasons (In 2018 Texas Tech's 82 plays/ game was the most) Now KK is in the big leagues and looking down the telescope we see nuance surrounding the Cardinals play volume and the avenue for improvement. Arizona was the 3rd fastest team (26 seconds/ play) Yet their offense ran the 10th fewest total plays? Aside from the safe play and lack of killer instinct from the Cardinals there's a clear driver for the disappointing play volume. Defense. When opposing offenses were able to walk through your defense and take their time doing it, that caps your offense along with the fantasy pieces. Arizona needs to not finish 2nd worst in time of possession and they need to not allow the most yards to opposing offenses before we can entertain the 1100 plays from scrimmage pedestal.
The anticipation was also propped up by the unique offense and our assumption that Kingsbury's schemes would lend to pace. We did see the unique offense put on display! Arizona ran 86% of their plays from shotgun behind just Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens. The hype for the Cardinals offense circled around the 3 and 4 wide receiver sets we hoped to see and they delivered on that front, running 10 personnel 31% of the time! No other team ran more than 8% of their plays from 10 personnel and the wide receiver group in the desert reaped the rewards (Sort of) The Cardinals finished 1st in the NFL with 70% of their pass attempts going to the wide receiver position. What's concerning but at the same time an area of improvement heading into 2020 are the peripherals. When targeting the wide receivers Arizona averaged 7 yards per attempt (29th) And inside the red zone their #1 market share slides to bottom 5 in the NFL according to sharpfootball.
Red zone woes contributed to their mediocrity as the Cardinals drives stalled and they failed to score. Arizona reached their opponents red zone 53 times last season the 13th most in the NFL. Unfortunately they scored just 24 times which equates to a 45.3% touchdown conversion rate and that was 29th in the NFL (4th worst) The wide receiver's and their ineptitude in close is the correction we can infer gets made in 2020 based on how their depth chart is shaking out (And we can elaborate on that in part 2)
Beyond the play volume there's a couple other aspects to this offense that caught us off guard. The pass to rush ratio and the path in how the Cardinals succeeded on offense perplexed in 2019. Back to projections; once we can obtain a grasp on expected plays, next we distribute that play volume to the run or pass game right? The emanating debate from that task in Arizona becomes the duality in tendencies. The divergence between our expectations and what actually transpired in Kliff Kingsbury's inaugural year.
The first 3 games of his tenure were on par with expectations. They led the NFL with 50 passes/ game, exceeding 70% pass to rush ratio in all 3. Arizona proceeded to eclipse 70% pass to rush ratio just 3 times in the following 13 games! If we split 2019 in two; the Cardinals ranked 8th in the NFL in pass attempts in the first half, 26th in the second half of 2019. There's trends in the play volume that jump out too. Arizona were more than content running the ball and that escalated as the season progressed. Inside the red zone they passed just 56% of the time however when trailing they passed the ball almost 70% of the time (Top 10) One overarching narrative emerges though. The wide receivers were not able to accommodate the volume.
RUN GAME RULED IN THE DESERT
Arizona leaned heavily on the run game and it's not hard to see why after diving into the wide receivers and their efficiency (Or lack thereof) The trade for Drake and ability to keep teams off balance made for a potent ground attack nobody saw coming. Arizona was a top 5 run game and a significant portion of the Cardinals explosive plays came in that facet of the game in 2019. The determination to feed the pass catchers early on left the Cardinals 19th in rush attempts as a team but the volume is not what's makes us salivate. It's the huge efficiency. Almost 2000 yards rushing as a team and 18 rushing touchdowns. They produced the 2nd most runs of 20 yards (16) Alongside their 2nd best explosive run rate (Percent of team carries to go for 10+ yards) All culminating in Arizona being 1 of just 3 teams to hit 5.0 yards per carry. Buy Kenyan Drake and "Chase" the RB 2 in the desert for fantasy.
The only player who failed to see the impact Kenyan Drake had in his Cardinals debut was clearly Richard Sherman on this play.
SQUARE BLOCKS FOR SQUARE HOLES
The hotness in the land of hotness is Nuk Hopkins. Before taking the exit on to passing game lane there's an understated reverberation attached to the acquisition of Hopkins; Arizona is all but certain to draft an offensive tackle top 10 in the NFL draft.
The Nuk addition is palpable because the implications are so far reaching. The wide receivers can fall down the depth chart, landing in their ideal slots and the defensive match ups shouldn't overwhelm. Last year was square blocks in rounds holes and the absence of substance for fantasy owners shows that. In the last 10 years 80% of wide receivers with 100+ targets have finished as a WR 3 or better in fantasy (Top 36 in PPR) Last seasons only 3 dudes met that 100 target criteria but finished outside that modest top 36 wide receiver mark. Dede Westbrook, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk (This is where I callback to the 7 YPA and red zone TD %)
Honing in on Hopkins is what we can expect from Kyler Murray. His presence alone will improve the volume, YPA, red zone deficiency, passer ratings delivered and success rates when targeting the WR position. The field opens up even more so than Kingsbury's scheme is designed to do and all of this protects against the run game experiencing regression and allows for the increase in expected efficiency (In concert with Kyler and the upside presented to a running back behind a QB who's so dangerous with his legs) If the YPC drops or the big plays evaporate there is still a category the Cardinals fall into for positive regression. The Cardinals running backs were 27th in red zone carries last year.
A CONFLUENCE OF POSITIVE EVENTS
With all the excitement. The numerous areas to spot positive regression in the Cardinals offense. It's easy to lose sight of how important Kyler Murray and Kliff Kinsgbury's growth will be. Both entering their sophomore seasons we should expect natural ascent to carry more weight than any statistic we could point to.
Remember another fairly recent outside of the box head coaching hire in Doug Peterson stepped into his sophomore season alongside a budding quarterback... Wentz upon a time, we how that turned out. I'm not proposing the Cardinals are championship bound (If they were Kyler would be the catalyst opposed to Wentz who was injured) But the relationship and continuity Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are cultivating can't be understated.
Lets finish up here by speculating where Arizona as a team will improve the most and a stat or two we can expect them to experience regression. If this wasn't your cup of tea so far as content stay glued! In part 2 we'll examine the skill players. Kyler Murray, Nuk Hopkins and Kenyan Drake are all building blocks right now according to dynasty ADP. Meanwhile the Christian Kirk 3rd year breakout is a contentious topic and Larry Fitzgerald's swan song is a go! Can he maintain his volume and along the same lines are we going to continue devaluing the tight end position in this offense? Til' then...
Areas to expect positive regression in Arizona (2019 Totals)
*Verdict: 1 to 3 scale
Plays from scrimmage (1000)
How: Sustained drives (Improvement on their 20th ranked 3rd down %) Efficiency and red zone spikes. However T.O.P. and team defense remains a concern.
Yards on offence/ game (341.7)
Points per game (22.6) / Touchdowns on offense (38)
Red zone TD % (45.3%)
Pass attempts/ completions/ deep passing/ Touchdowns
Yards per reception/ 1st down % and explosive play %
How: Kyler and the Cardinals were below average in every category. The TD rate was atrocious along with the tendency for Kyler to be unleashed down the field.
Running Back targets (104)
How: The Kingsbury offense was supposed to come with pass catching upside attached to the RB position. If the play volume increases all we need is the market share to stay the same. Just under 20% of the targets went to the backs in Arizona last year and while that isn't absorbent- it's a good start.
Red Zone carries (41)
How: That figure is for RB red zone carries. Despite Arizona dominating in the run game, it didn't translate to the red zone. Their running backs combined to have the 27th most carries in the red zone as a team regardless of the fact Arizona was above average in trips to the red zone.
Rushing yards/ Yards per carry/ 1st down % and 20+ yard runs
How: The cardinals were top 3 in all those categories besides rushing yards. Their 1990 yards on the ground as a team was the 10th most. The offense will remain a threat in the rushing department. The big plays and explosive runs should continue we just can't expect them at the frequency we experience last year. The question is can the play volume increase? Can the red zone regression to the mean compensate.