DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals need to refine dual-threat aspects of Kyler Murray’s game

Oct 7, 2020, 6:00 PM | Updated: 8:18 pm
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) walks off the field after throwing an interception d...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) walks off the field after throwing an interception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Kyler Murray is hard to defend. He’s hard to define. He’s hard to predict. He’s hard to project.

He carries yet another burden of proof into a pivotal game against the Jets this Sunday in New Jersey, a must-win proposition if the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs in 2020.

Is it just another hurdle for a diminutive quarterback on his path to stardom?

Or will it be further proof that Murray may never be fully comfortable leading a NFL team in the land of giants?

To wit:

Nineteen months ago, Murray switched majors from professional baseball to the NFL. He swore that football was his first love. Yet he does not embrace the physicality of the game or romanticize the violence like most who swoon over the sport.

Murray has electrified the NFL in flashes and spurts, mostly with his legs and the chaos he creates with his super-human quickness. He’s a quarterback that runs like Barry Sanders, and his ability to blow up a defense causes great anxiety across the league. Except Murray is also a reluctant rusher, where the act causes great anxiety for himself as well. He openly admits that he doesn’t want to get hit, and sometimes, his skittishness is on display for the entire world.

In 2019, he frequently sacked himself out of survival instinct; was flagged for unnecessary and frequent intentional grounding penalties; and could not execute a proper screen pass because he was not comfortable drawing a heavy rush into his personal space.

Yet Murray persevered better than most, fighting through failures and fears, forcing himself to play in Week 17, ultimately good enough to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. And after his successful debut season in Arizona, Murray penned an essay for all incoming rookies.

His first piece of advice was the following:

“You’re about to get hit harder than you ever have. This next year is going to be the longest, fastest year of your football career.”

Meanwhile, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Murray has unparalleled self-preservation instincts, traits sharpened considerably over his first 20 games in the NFL. And while his survival skills are getting better, his passing accuracy is getting worse.

Either way, it would be ideal if Kingsbury resets the offense and focuses on Murray’s comfort level first, not the discomfort his legs can cause a defense.

“There is a lot that goes through my mind when I take off (running),” Murray said earlier in the season.

Murray’s journey is unique and unpredictable because there’s never been a player like him. At the NFL Combine, coaches and GMs wondered aloud about his long-term commitment to football. And no other college player ever rocked the football world by measuring 5-foot-10 and one-eighth.

Murray has long dealt with critics, skeptics, trolls and disbelieving peers. He’s spent his entire football life being the best player on the field, even if he was the shortest guy in the huddle. But surely, he’s never felt this small, in a league that keeps getting bigger and faster every year.

So buckle up, Cardinals fans. Murray declared himself as a MVP candidate in the first two weeks of the season, following in the illustrious path of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. Two weeks later, he is one of the lowest-rated quarterbacks from the pocket. He owns two of the four lowest passing yardage performances in games with 24 or more completions since 1950.

Murray sounded agitated during a press conference with reporters on Wednesday when the subject turned to yards per completion. And that’s good. That means he understands the growing narrative and isn’t at all happy.

Detroit took away Murray’s legs, forcing him to win from the pocket. He failed. After a yucky loss to the Panthers, Kingsbury effectively blamed the dink-and-dunk routine on his quarterback, uncertain why his quarterback isn’t pursuing chunk plays. Murray knows the low-wattage offense makes a quarterback look scared, not dangerous. More like Matt Leinart and Sam Bradford, and less like Mahomes and Jackson.

For the record, I’m betting on Murray’s drive, focus, fire and dazzling talent. While he’ll never get any taller, I’m betting his intelligence will grow considerably, bringing his comfort level along for the ride.

But it’s no sure thing. Nothing ever is in the NFL

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