Kyler Murray’s growth coincides with that of Kingsbury, teammates
TEMPE, Ariz. — Once Kyler Murray made a public commitment to entering the NFL Draft, his future and that of newly-hired Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury were viewed as connected.
Arizona general manager Steve Keim indeed decided to hitch his own future on pairing Kingsbury with Murray, who went No. 1 overall.
So far, those decisions in concert with one another appear to be good ones.
Murray won the NFC Offensive Player of the Year award on Wednesday for his performance last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Unsurprisingly, the mild-mannered quarterback shrugged off what was a fairly significant honor as he became just the second Arizona rookie to win the honor.
“I mean, it’s obviously a cool deal, but I think it just speaks volumes of the growth of how we’ve been playing, attacking every week, just trying to get better each and every day,” Murray said.
Generally speaking, Murray’s completion percentages have risen significantly from Week 1 to Week 6. His sacks and turnovers have decreased.
The Cardinals have established the rookie as a threat in the ground game, and Murray has looked not only effective but safe in using his legs to get things done.
Murray is completing 64% of his passes. He’s got 1,664 yards through the air and 238 more on the ground.
His adjusted quarterback rating, per ESPN, is 56.6. That’s a middle-rung mark but wedged between the Patriots’ Tom Brady and the 49ers’ Jimmy Garappolo.
He’s doing just fine and getting better — and that is pretty darn good for a rookie.
“Just progress,” Kingsbury said when asked to evaluate Murray’s season thus far. “That’s what we’ve wanted from Week 1 until now. Even the engagement — understanding his teammates, understanding his coaches, understanding what it means to be the face of the organization, day in, day out.
“You can’t have a bad day. You’re kind of the pulse of this place. You come in, you have a bad attitude or a bad day, it rubs off on everybody. You can see he’s definitely matured over the first month and a half.”
Running back Chase Edmonds said Murray, like any rookie, has opened up to his teammates as the year has gone on.
But what’s happening around Murray has helped the rookie, too. Remember, he was the player who in one spring practice checked into a play that hadn’t been taught to his teammates to that point.
“I think just offensively as a unit, as a group, we’re figuring each other out,” Kingsbury said Monday. “Week to week as a staff, guys are coming up with good plays, good designs.”
The well-criticized offensive line has quietly held its own despite losing starter Marcus Gilbert before the season began. Arizona is tied for fifth by averaging 5.0 yards per rush, and Murray didn’t get sacked once last week against Atlanta.
Roles for the skills players looked solidly established during Murray’s 340-yard, three-touchdown passing performance on Sunday.
But this all goes back to the quarterback-coach relationship.
Kingsbury has joked that finding out what Murray likes is like pulling teeth. The quarterback wants to get everything right, but his coach just wants to know what plays and what situations make him most comfortable.
Because Kingsbury’s offense is so similar to what Murray ran at Oklahoma under fellow Air Raid disciple Lincoln Riley, the quarterback has been allowed the freedom to do what he wants at the line of scrimmage. That’s how Kingsbury learned how to quarterback himself.
“He can change the play completely if he has reason to check it. He has that freedom end zone to end zone,” the head coach said.
“There’ve been some (times) where I’ve asked for an answer as to why he did that,” Kingsbury added. “Usually he knows already and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I know you’re going to be mad at me but this is what I’m thinking.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t really get mad at you but let’s get it right.'”
Murray said Wednesday that he’s not check-happy. He trusts what Kingsbury calls, he said.
Murray, now that he’s adjusted to the speed of the NFL, appears to be growing as a game manager, a term that often comes with negative connotations of a non-talented, play-it-safe type of quarterback.
That is not Murray. Game managers don’t tend to win player of the week honors six games into their rookie seasons.
“When you have a skillset like he has, you should shoot for the moon, and he does,” Kingsbury said.
“He truly just wants to win games. That’s what he’s passionate about.”
— David Johnson, who did not practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury, is still sore in the back. Kingsbury said that issue will linger.
— Kingsbury would not commit with certainty that cornerback Robert Alford will return this year after suffering a broken leg late in training camp. The projected starter has, however, begun running.
— Receiver Christian Kirk is closer to playing than he was last week but must be able to cut on his high ankle sprain suffered three weeks ago.