Robert Griffin III knows the Air Raid offense. He also knows not to call every version of it the “Air Raid.”
When Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury was hired in Arizona, team’s intention was clear: Bring the “Air Raid,” or at least its concepts, to the NFL full-time. The team picked quarterback Kyler Murray No. 1 overall to lead the offense, committing to the system full bore.
Whatever you call it, the offense is going to test the Ravens defense — specifically the secondary — Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Everybody has their own style,” Griffin said. “The foundation of the offense, of spreading people out, of trying to get easy completions, throwing the ball, it’s something that can translate to the NFL. I think our defense has a good grasp of what they’re going to be able to do, and what they can do.”
According to Sharpfootballstats.com, the Cardinals lined up with four wide receivers on 55 of their 82 offensive plays. They also lined up with three wide receivers on 15 plays and two wide receivers on nine plays. They never lined up with one or zero receivers.
Murray threw the ball 54 times in the game, which went to overtime, as the Cardinals found their groove late in a 27-27 tie.
But while the Cardinals are spreading things out, more so than any other NFL team, the concepts and route combinations aren’t foreign to the rest of the NFL.
“The thing of it is with Kliff’s offense, the offensive guys in this league have been stealing plays from him for years from Texas Tech,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “We’re just getting the full monty, if you will, of the Air Raid offense. History has a way of repeating itself in this league.”
The opportunity exists, though, for the secondary to have a big day.
“But I love these type of games, as a DB you’ve got to love these type of games,” safety Earl Thomas said. “These are two-pick games right here. You’ve gotta love it.”
Anticipating many four-wide sets from the Cardinals, the Ravens already made a move by promoting cornerback Maurice Canady from the practice squad. With Jimmy Smith’s MCL sprain, the move will add some depth to the secondary on a day when they’ll need it most.
The Ravens will have to dictate much of their defensive strategy to stopping the offensive attack, but they’re not trying to change their defense too much.
“We have safeties that can cover receivers as well in zone and man coverage, so we’ll be in different kinds of personnel groups, just like we always are, just in terms of how we want to game-plan and match those guys,” coach John Harbaugh explained. “We have a plan for that, obviously...but it’s a challenge. They’re spread out way more than anybody else.”
While the Ravens try to slow down Kingsbury’s attack, the long term sustainability of the offense remains a question to the rest of the league.
Griffin doesn’t have any concerns.
“Just look at it this way: Almost anything is sustainable, as long as you’re committed to it,” Griffin said. “I had a coach tell me one time, ‘If you believe in something, then you have to go forth and do that thing consistently.’ That’s what they’re doing. They’re not partially doing the Air Raid, they’re fully committed to it.”
A full commitment to the offense, however, still means pulling from the rest of the league.
The Cardinals don’t have an offensive coordinator, but Tom Clements is the team’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. He was with the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2016.
The concepts that the Cardinals are using have been around the NFL for years. Now it's being fully implemented, and it's just a matter of keeping opposing defenses on their toes.
“Well, that’s no different from any other offense in the NFL, you have to keep evolving,” Griffin said. “If you don’t evolve, yes, you can be extinguished. But if you keep evolving the offense and keep evolving how you run the offense, yeah, it’s sustainable.”
Long-term viability aside, the only evolution the Ravens are concerned with is how the Cardinals will change from week one to week two. And even that can be a mystery.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s four-wide or four tight ends,” Martindale began. “I have angst every Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see if they stay heavy with that (four wide receiver) package, because they have other packages as well, and they can still do all of the same things out of it. So, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
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