Rex Ryan Says Cardinals Coach Must Retire ‘Air Raid’ to Win in NFL

Getty Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury watches from the sidelines during the second half of the NFL preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at State Farm Stadium on August 20, 2021, in Glendale, Arizona.

Former NFL coach Rex Ryan has some advice for Kliff Kingsbury as he enters his third season with the Arizona Cardinals: Retire the “air raid” offense.

Ryan, the former Jets and Bills coach who now works as an NFL analyst for ESPN, said the up-tempo, spread passing attack may rack up yardage, but it doesn’t translate into wins.

“Let’s face it, this air-raid system … that he implemented from college, you had the greatest player on the planet in Patrick Mahomes, and you were .500 as a head coach at Texas Tech,” Ryan said Thursday, September 2, on ESPN’s “Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin.” “Oh, and by the way, you had Baker Mayfield too. So it’s like, are you kidding me? This doesn’t win games.”

Statistics from Kingsbury’s six seasons as head coach of the Red Raiders back up Ryan’s claims. Kingsbury, who coached both Mahomes and Mayfield at Texas Tech, spearheaded a passing attack that ranked in the top 10 in the nation all six seasons of his tenure.

Kingsbury’s win-loss record over those six seasons, however, was 35-40.

“You, as a head coach, have got to rein back this air-raid thing and go back to a damn NFL offense, where you’re balanced, you’re able to run the football, you’re able to protect the quarterback,” Ryan said.

The analyst predicted back in 2019 that the “air-raid” offense would fall flat in the NFL, calling it “basketball on grass.”

“When Kliff Kingsbury came in the league, I was like, ‘Dude, it’s gonna get smoked.’ And quite honestly, it has,” Ryan reiterated this week on “Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin.”

The problem, the ex-coach says, is NFL teams don’t have the depth to play the fast-paced, no-huddle style, and the time of possession hurts the team on the defensive side of the ball.

“Look, in college football, you have 100-some kids on your roster … so you don’t care,” he said. “You can go as fast as you want, you can do all this type of stuff, and you’re going to wear out that defense. Well, you’re wearing out your own damn defense.”

Ryan said he’s seen Kingsbury improve over his first two seasons, as the Cardinals coach has adapted his pass-happy attack with a more traditional running game.

“We’ve seen him back off (the air raid offense), and quite honestly, he’s grown,” Ryan said. “He’s a better coach now than he was when he came in the league.”

The Cardinals’ offense has improved each season under Kingsbury. After ranking dead last in the league in total offense in 2018, the Cardinals climbed to 21st in 2019, Kingsbury’s first season, and then improved to sixth in 2020.

Arizona’s rushing attack has improved each year as well. The Cardinals averaged a league-worst 83.9 yards per game in 2018, climbed to 10th (124.4 yards per game) in Kingsbury’s first year in 2019, and ranked seventh in the league (139.8 yards per game) in 2020.

The Cardinals have seen their win totals climb each year as well, going from a dismal 3-13 in 2018 before Kingsbury arrived, to 5-10-1 in 2019, and then 8-8 last season.

“I think Kliff knows it now,” Ryan said. “It’s not about how many snaps we can get. It’s about winning football games.”

No Playoffs Again?

The next step for the Arizona Cardinals is to get back into the playoff picture for the first time since the 2015 season, when they defeated Green Bay in the divisional round before losing to Carolina in the NFC Championship.

According to Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic, that’s not likely to happen in 2020.

Kapadia is predicting that the Cardinals will be left out of the postseason mix in 2020, which “would have to be considered a massive disappointment. But this doesn’t look like a team that’s set up to take a significant step forward after last year’s 8-8 campaign,” Kapadia wrote on September 1.

Kapadia cited the Cardinals’ decision to target “older players like J.J. Watt and A.J. Green during the offseason,” as well as having “one of the league’s worst cornerback situations” as reasons Cardinals fans should be concerned this season. 

“Offensively, Kliff Kingsbury has to show he can find more ways to help (quarterback Kyler) Murray find answers,” Kapadia wrote. “There’s upside with this group because of the quarterback, but 2021 could be another season when the Cardinals hover around mediocrity.”

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