Then and now: Kyler Murray, QBs a year older in Cardinals offense
The Arizona Cardinals believe they’ve plugged holes and built depth. On paper they look improved, though they’ve yet to hit the practice field due to the coronavirus.
They speak about flashes of offensive brilliance last year, the growth of quarterback Kyler Murray and a thinly manned defense’s improvements to end 2019 as reasons to be optimistic about 2020.
But the biggest reason for optimism is the upgraded roster. How different does this 2020 roster really look compared to the one that began the first training camp under head coach Kliff Kingsbury?
By position, here’s a then-and-now comparison of the roster last offseason next to the current 2020 Cardinals team based on our 2019 July preview series leading into 2019 training camp.
2019 projected starter
Brett Hundley, Charles Kanoff, Drew Anderson
Biggest storyline: The Kyler-Kliff era begins
X-factor: Hundley returns home
2020 projected starter
Brett Hundley, Christ Streveler, Drew Anderson
Captain Obvious, here: Kyler Murray having an offseason of film work to look over after his rookie year leads most of us down a path of expecting bigger things in Year 2 — remote offseason or not.
Murray improved throughout 2019, learning how to avoid negative plays and growing as a running threat. Around him, the Cardinals found an offensive identity as the offensive line grew comfortable and head coach Kliff Kingsbury adapted to the NFL way of life as a play-caller.
Without evidence of OTAs, we do know this about Murray this offseason: The tape and all the reviewing of it during remote meetings bothered him. It’s a good thing.
“Whether we’re out on the field or watching it, I’m still watching it … Sometimes it sucks watching it because we looked so bad sometimes,” he said this offseason.
Murray completed 64% of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions a year ago. He reduced the sacks taken as Kingsbury reiterated all year the importance of taking the loss of down by throwing it away.
In carefully-selected scenarios, the Cardinals deployed Murray as a rushing weapon, but they mostly used the threat of his legs to keep teams guessing as Kenyan Drake gave the running game a shot in the arm and the passing game succeeded around around more 11- and 12-personnel groupings.
It should help the Cardinals that the same offensive line, for the most part, and Drake return for 2020. It’ll help that DeAndre Hopkins gives Murray a No. 1 receiver target and that the youngsters in that room are a little bit older. It should help that picking up tight end Dan Arnold mid-year gave Murray a favorite red zone target, too.
Don’t expect the Cardinals to put Murray into too many more running situations. He is their franchise quarterback, after all.
Expect him to improve in the drop-back game.
Murray is quiet, but it’s clear he’s confident in himself. It’s also clear he is putting the missed reads, sacks taken and interceptions thrown last season on himself.
The hopes for 2020 hinge on the simple fact that Murray can see the game more clearly, more slowly and with more confidence having all that experience from his rookie year.
Even though his knowledge of the offense and his arm were already confirmed promising a year ago at this point, nobody can discount the value in a full regular season’s worth of NFL experience.
“Beginning of the year, (I was) kind of winging it,” Murray admitted. “Things were moving a lot faster than before. Toward the end of the season, I could dissect, diagnose things before they happened.”
The Cardinals re-signed second-string quarterback Brett Hundley, who proved his value as a scheme-fitting backup. In Week 16 he finished out the biggest win of the year in Seattle after Murray went down with an injury.
Yet the most intriguing X-factor in the quarterback room is Chris Streveler, the former Canadian Football League star. He could give Arizona a unique offensive package similar to what backup quarterback Taysom Hill gives the New Orleans Saints.
With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last year, Streveler completed 67% of his passes for 1,564 yards, eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He added 726 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 12 rushing touchdowns.
He even caught a 13-yard touchdown pass and threw for another in the Grey Cup, the CFL’s title game, last season.
Streveler has thrown with Cardinals receivers this offseason in Arizona and could challenge for a roster spot if he can carve out a role in a special package. What that package might look like has our attention.