DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals, Kyler Murray are encouraging despite Sunday’s loss

Sep 15, 2019, 2:03 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2019, 10:00 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray sits on the Cardinals sideline in the second half of an ...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray sits on the Cardinals sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The Cardinals are winless through two games. Their September ambush has failed.

But that’s about the only thing wrong with the big picture.

Here’s what we learned from a mostly-encouraging 23-17 loss to the Ravens on Sunday, the first road game in Kyler Murray’s career.

The Cardinals had two chances to win the game. Their offensive line imploded both times, unnerved by the crowd, communication issues and dreadful execution on first down. Bottom line: They are not ready to win just yet. The offensive line continues to represent Steve Keim’s greatest failure.

But no one is accusing Arizona of Pretty Boy Football anymore.

The Cardinals are close to winning games. Their defense is much better than anticipated. Their secondary isn’t paralyzed without Patrick Peterson. They are not getting destroyed by opposing running backs. The injection of swagger and attitude is making a difference. And for a guy who was vilified in Denver, Vance Joseph seems to be way more competent than the last defensive guy hired by the organization, and the perfect complement for Kliff Kingsbury.

It might be time to trade Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowler, for a stud offensive lineman.

Elite quarterbacks can lift bad teams, and Murray is as special as advertised. He’s tough. He competes hard. He’s fearless in the clutch, with a pair of two-point, fourth-quarter conversions in his first two games. He’s been under duress for most of his early NFL career and has kept his composure. He’s already a better passer than the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, who is an early MVP candidate in 2019.

You need touchdowns to win on the road, not field goals. That was part of the Cardinals’ downfall in Baltimore. But Kingsbury has helped direct consecutive second-half comebacks in his first two NFL games. That’s the sign of an astute play-caller who can think on his feet, who knows how to adjust during the course of a game. And that’s a huge asset for Kingsbury and his growing confidence.

Chase Edmonds needs more playing time. He runs harder than David Johnson, who doesn’t even think about breaking ankle tackles anymore.

If Johnson is going to continue to average two yards per carry in the NFL, then Murray will have to shoulder a chunk of the running game, as well. Nobody wants the diminutive Murray to get hurt or expose himself to unnecessary risk. But in the span of 24 hours, Baltimore’s Jackson and ASU’s Jayden Daniels put on a clinic in how to balance an offense with quarterback rushes that end safely out of bounds.

Murray is proving to be something of a reluctant runner. He runs to escape trouble, not to gouge defenses. But a few big gains might help this offense find a spark earlier in games, where they’ve struggled to sustain rhythm.

Kingsbury and Murray learn fast. Unlike previous regimes, they only needed one game to understand the energy that Larry Fitzgerald provides between the lines. Fitzgerald has been targeted 24 times in two games, exceeding 100 yards receiving both times. This new direction might keep Fitzgerald interested in football for years to come. It might even make Jerry Rice extremely uncomfortable.

The NFL opened Pandora’s Box by allowing teams to challenge pass interference calls in 2019. The Cardinals survived replay review of a close no-call on Byron Murphy in the fourth quarter. But this is dangerous subjective territory, and the league is going to pay the price at some point this season, along with some unlucky fan base.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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