Sacked leader: Cardinals want negative plays by QB Kyler Murray cleaned up

Dec 9, 2019, 5:42 PM | Updated: 10:21 pm
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the...
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It was important Kyler Murray reacted to his second rough game in a row by taking the blame for throwing key interceptions.

Eliminating turnovers is an obvious requirement if the rookie quarterback is going to pull the Arizona Cardinals out of a hole in the final three games of 2019. But his head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, believes Murray over the last two games has fallen into a trap that he avoided through the first 11 appearances as a pro.

“I think as a couple of these losses have stacked up, maybe (he’s) trying to do a little too much, trying to win it by himself,” Kingsbury said Monday after Arizona’s 23-17 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“He’s got to get back in that rhythm like he was prior to the bye, where, ‘Hey, you’re just doing your job, executing at a high level and not trying to do too much.’ We’ll work through that.”

Murray has taken 46 sacks through a 3-9-1 season so far, most among NFL quarterbacks.

By Pro Football Focus’ grading system, 21 of those have been blamed on the quarterback himself, and that’s already six sacks more than any other player’s season in the analytics website’s database, which dates back to 2006.

It’s not hard to see why Murray is to blame in some instances.

With the Cardinals at the Pittsburgh 4-yard line on Sunday and trailing 10-0, the ball was snapped to Murray with 12:05 left in the second quarter.

By the time Murray is being taken down, nearly seven seconds have elapsed, quite a long time for any offensive line to hold up, especially against one of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL.

That play on 3rd-and-goal eliminated the chance at a chip-shot field goal, as Murray was dropped for an eight-yard loss. Zane Gonzalez made the 30-yarder, but what if the Cardinals wanted to be aggressive and keep the offense out there on fourth down?

What if the field goal unit saw a flaw in the Pittsburgh coverage and could swing a fake play for seven points instead of three?

Against the Steelers, there were also moments of hesitation when Murray got outside the pocket.

Multiple times, he stuttered with his feet when deciding whether to take off or extend the play, allowing multiple tacklers to converge even if he had ended up beating the first defender with his legs.

“I think he’s been a little more hesitant in his decision making,” Kingsbury said. “For a while, he was in a good rhythm, and he was either going or he was throwing it away or he was getting it out of his hand. I don’t see as quick of decision making, and I have to do a better job play calling and make him more comfortable so he can just make a decision and play.”

Kingsbury said the goal is to find the “happy medium” of Murray playing it safe and picking his spots to be aggressive with his throws.

On Sunday, even Murray’s 24-yard touchdown dime to David Johnson had an element of luck to it. Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds read the play and mistimed his jump, and Johnson wasn’t in position to contest a high-point leap if Edmunds had judged the throw better.

Murray’s season and his periods of success and failure can be grouped together pretty easily by how many sacks he’s taken and how many interceptions he’s thrown.

In the first four games, it was 20 sacks with four interceptions.

Over the next six outings, Murray was sacked just 15 times with no turnovers.

And in the last two games, the rookie has 11 sacks taken in addition to four interceptions.

“He’s had his moments. I’ve said it all along: What he’s able to do as a rookie starter with no buildup or no warmup into it, just being thrown out there, has been really, really impressive,” Kingsbury said. “The negative plays have popped back up the last couple of weeks. We have to avoid sacks, and we can’t turn the ball over.

“I think those are the two things these last three weeks I’d like to see really finishing strong in that area.”

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