NFL

Murray, Cardinals still seeking improvement amid unbeaten start

By Sports Desk October 24, 2021

It says a lot about how far the flawless Arizona Cardinals have come that they found plenty to critique even after a 31-5 victory over the Houston Texans.

At 7-0 after routing the Texans on Sunday, the Cardinals are the NFL's lone unbeaten team and are off to their best start since 1974. 

For a team that have not won more than eight games in a season since their last trip to the playoffs in 2015, the Cardinals are brimming with confidence heading into a Thursday game against the 6-1 Green Bay Packers.

While quarterback Kyler Murray said he "wasn't too concerned" when the Cardinals came up empty on their first three offensive possessions – which included Arizona star being caught in the end zone for a safety – he noted they cannot make a habit of it. 

"I don't know why, maybe came out a little lax," Murray told a news conference. "I just know we've got to be better, because you get beat if you come out too slow. Sometimes you may not be able to catch up.

"So for us, I know we're better than what we put out there today. We kind of clicked, for the most part, during the middle of game but [Houston] got after us today. I don't want to take anything away from them. Obviously we won by large lead but for the most part offensively, I think, we can be a lot better."

Murray followed up that safety by leading a 14-play touchdown drive that got the Cardinals on the scoreboard and they did not look back from there, leading 17-5 at the half before tacking on two more TDs after the interval. 

Arizona's slow start may also have been attributable to head coach Kliff Kingsbury's return to the sidelines after missing the previous game against the Cleveland Browns following a positive COVID-19 test. 

While the Cardinals had no trouble in that 37-14 blowout, Kingsbury said it took him a while to find his rhythm against the Texans after missing the entire week of practice before he was cleared to coach in the game on Sunday. 

"I felt a little disconnected," he said. "I didn't feel as into the game as I usually am, just showing up on game day, but the players are awesome, great energy and made me feel very welcome to be back."

Murray said he did not pick up on his coach's discomfort but noted that it did not seem to be detrimental. 

"I'm sure he probably felt a little bit off, but we put up 31 today, defence played great," Murray said. "It was a great team win so for him to feel awkward or whatever and then we still put up 31 is a good job and you know we've got to keep it going because the Packers are coming in as a great team."

In his first game with the Cardinals after being acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles, Zach Ertz caught a 47-yard touchdown from Murray – his longest TD of his career.

Ertz also became the first player in NFL history with a receiving touchdown in consecutive weeks for two different teams.

Related items

  • Guardiola hails Grealish's 'perfect start' ahead of possible Villa reunion Guardiola hails Grealish's 'perfect start' ahead of possible Villa reunion

    Pep Guardiola praised Jack Grealish for "starting perfectly" at Manchester City but is unsure if the playmaker will be fit to feature against former club Aston Villa on Wednesday,

    Grealish has featured in 15 of City's 21 matches since joining the club from Villa in a £100m British record transfer from Aston Villa in August, starting 13 of those.

    The 26-year-old was an unused substitute for the derby win over Manchester United on November 6 and has not played since due to a knock sustained on England duty.

    He returned to training on Monday and will be monitored ahead of Wednesday's clash at Villa Park, where he spent 20 years – seven as a first-team regular – prior to joining City.

    Grealish has a lot of work to do in order to repay his hefty price tag, but Guardiola has been pleased with the attacking midfielder's impact thus far when fit and available.

    "He has started perfectly," Guardiola said of Grealish at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. 

    "It's easy because of our English players and the other guys here are nice people. He's played good but needs more time to settle." 

    Grealish has scored two goals and assisted three more this term, while his tally of seven big chances created is the joint-most of any City player alongside Joao Cancelo.

    However, the 3.15 chances Grealish has created per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season is down on the 3.34 managed in his final campaign with Villa.

    He is also attempting fewer dribbles (3.39 compared to 4.53) for City and is being fouled less frequently (down from 4.53 to 2.66), a sign that he is getting at opponents less.

    Guardiola puts down that down to the contrasting styles of City and next opponents Villa.

    "If you analyse games, he hasn't played badly. The way we play and our expectations are different to Villa," Guardiola said.

    "He did incredibly well at Villa. His commitment to the club to stay and get promoted was amazing. 

    "Now he has come back from the international break injured. Hopefully he comes back and step by step finds his form. 

    "We have six, seven months ahead of us. I don't think we will have to wait until next season to see the best Jack Grealish – I'm thinking this season."

    Providing an update on City's other recent absentees, Guardiola confirmed Kevin De Bruyne has returned a negative coronavirus test but has yet to train.

    Phil Foden remains doubtful having trained only once, while Ferran Torres is a long-term absentee and Aymeric Laporte is suspended.

    "All the people who have had coronavirus say it drains them and Kevin needs time to show his form," Guardiola said. 

    "Phil and Jack are still in the same situation. Maybe tomorrow they can play but not a lot of minutes – we're going to see after they train today.

    "The rest, we have just 14 or 15 players. But I trust this squad a lot. If one is out, another comes in.

    "December is the toughest month of the year for us and we are in trouble because we have so few players available."

    Wednesday's match at Villa Park will be the first managerial encounter between Guardiola and new Villa boss Steven Gerrard.

    Guardiola has lost just three of his 64 Premier League games against English managers, coming against Roy Hodgson (December 2018), Frank Lampard (June 2020) and Graham Potter (May 2021).

    Gerrard has won his first two Villa games since arriving from Rangers – no manager in the club's history has won their first three matches – and Guardiola is expecting a tough test in the Midlands.

    "He's managing in the Premier League, so he is already a good manager," Guardiola said. "I don't believe there's a manager in the Premier League, even the Championship, who isn't good. 

    "They can train good players in good clubs to punch for the titles. There are incredible managers in all aspects and maybe they win titles because they are lucky to train a good team.

    "I can imagine with a new manager everybody steps forward for training sessions and methodology to convince the manager. 

    "They have had two good results against tough teams like Brighton and Crystal Palace. It will be the toughest game possible tomorrow."

  • Ballon d'Or: Messi deserved the crown – Pochettino Ballon d'Or: Messi deserved the crown – Pochettino

    Lionel Messi "completely deserved" his record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, according to Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

    The PSG star has endured something of a slow start to the Ligue 1 season, scoring just once in seven games, but his prior exploits with Barcelona and Argentina were enough to secure another accolade.

    The 34-year-old's performances for Argentina at the Copa America, helping his country to a first major trophy in 28 years, were likely what gave him the edge over Robert Lewandowski.

    Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, who Messi claimed should have been awarded the cancelled 2020 Ballon d'Or, was once again in the running after breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

    But Pochettino insists his Argentinian compatriot was the most deserving of the award for yet another outstanding year in which he has also managed 32 goals and 12 assists across 40 club appearances.

    "Firstly, I want to publicly congratulate Leo and his family," Pochettino told reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference ahead of the visit of Nice. 

    "Winning seven Ballons d'Or is an extraordinary achievement. I hope he takes advantage of it and that it's the first day to work on getting the eighth.

    "To have players with six and seven Ballon d'Or is something extraordinary and we are delighted to have him here every day. 

    "We hope at the end of the year to also have collective trophies beyond the individual trophies."

    Asked about the criticism of the Argentina international's victory, Pochettino responded: "Messi completely deserved it and there is no debate. 

    "Of course, in other countries there may be criticism, but he completely deserved it."

    Ahead of Wednesday's clash with Nice, PSG lead Ligue 1 by 12 points after winning 13 of their opening 15 games, a total surpassed only once at this stage in the competition by PSG themselves in 2018-19 (14/15).

    The league leaders may be without Messi for the clash at Parc des Princes, though, after the former Barcelona forward, along with Leandro Paredes, did not train on Tuesday due to a stomach bug.

    PSG will decide on the fitness of the pair on the morning of the Nice game, while they will definitely be without Neymar, who is expected to be out for six to eight weeks due to an ankle injury sustained against Saint-Etienne.

  • Ballon d'Or: Ancelotti congratulates Messi and tips Benzema for future success Ballon d'Or: Ancelotti congratulates Messi and tips Benzema for future success

    Karim Benzema will be extra motivated to win the 2022 Ballon d'Or after finishing fourth in this year's voting, according to Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

    The 33-year-old has scored 34 goals for Madrid this calendar year and was recalled to the France squad in May after a six-year exile.

    Benzema's combined 46 goals and assists in 2021 has been bettered only by Erling Haaland (48), Kylian Mbappe (51) and Robert Lewandowski (59) from Europe's top five leagues when taking all club competitions into account.

    The Madrid striker finished behind Euro 2020 winner Jorginho, Lewandowski and record seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony, with N'Golo Kante completing the top five.

    Benzema's Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos has argued the Frenchman did more than Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year to win the award.

    But Ancelotti accepts the decision, determined by journalists from across the world, and insists Benzema will not be fazed by finishing outside the top three.

    "We have to give fair value to the classification," he said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's LaLiga contest with Athletic Bilbao.

    "Messi has won and we must congratulate him. The individual awards are important but if they do not win it is not a catastrophe. I hope next year a Madrid player will win it.

    "Benzema has had a great season and finished fourth. He will continue to be motivated to try to be first next time.

    "If I had a vote, I would not choose any player outside of my own team. I'd have voted Benzema first, Vinicius [Junior] second, [Thibaut] Courtois third, Casemiro fourth.

    "But you have to respect and congratulate Messi on winning."

    Madrid-linked forward Kylian Mbappe finished ninth, but Ancelotti does not believe leaving Paris Saint-Germain will necessarily enhance his chances of winning the coveted crown.

    "Playing for a great club can help you, but it is still an individual prize," Ancelotti said when asked specifically about Mbappe.

    "These players will not cry because they have not won the award. The likes of Benzema and Courtois will accept it without a problem."

    Benzema and Vinicius are in contention to start Wednesday's clash with Athletic as Madrid aim to make it five league wins in a row and maintain a four-point lead at the top.

    Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 LaLiga games against Athletic (W8 D4), one short of their best unbeaten run against the Basque club in the top flight.

    Ancelotti, who has lost only one of his four LaLiga games against Athletic, is prepared to make changes to Madrid's line-up three days on from their 2-1 win against Sevilla.

    "It's an evaluation I make every day," he said. "The dynamics of the team right now are very good. I won't rotate for the sake of it, but if we have any risks then of course we will do it.

    "We are facing a well organised team at the back. Marcelino trains all his teams very well, especially in a defensive sense.

    "This game will demand a lot from us and we need some offensive clarity. They are also a team that attacks vertically, so we must show good balance."

    Despite having to contend with injury problems and a congested schedule, Ancelotti reiterated Madrid are not likely to bring in any new players in January.

    "You have the summer to improve the squad," he said. "I don't like using January to adjust as that means something must have gone wrong in the summer.

    "If players are not happy then we'll think about it, but we are not looking to sign. The squad is fine and will compete until the end."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.