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Kyler Murray’s legs, designed runs provide Cardinals offense leeway

Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray celebrates running the ball for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

What makes Kyler Murray special for the Arizona Cardinals is his game-changing ability at quarterback, particularly as a runner.

The Arizona offense can be lethargic, and then all it takes is one play made by Murray to completely swing the momentum of the game. The NFL doesn’t have many signal callers who can do that at the snap of a finger.

Monday’s win over the Dallas Cowboys was evidence of that, as Murray was 9-of-24 through the air but still made plays with his feet to produce a commanding 38-point offensive performance

“Kyler Murray’s a guy that plays above the Xs and Os,” FOX NFL analyst Mark Schlereth told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta Wednesday.

“He was late with a couple of balls, he was inaccurate with some of his balls, but he’s so dynamic (as) a player. He’s just that guy that, ‘OK, so this isn’t working well, this isn’t working well — well I can beat you with this.’

“And I love that about him.”

Schlereth described Murray’s game as a “mile a minute,” noting the second-year quarterback’s elite foot speed.

The thing is, the Cardinals don’t need to rely solely on Murray’s improvisational skills when passes down the field aren’t there in order to get something out of it.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury opened up his playbook more in Week 6 with an increase in designed run calls for Murray. It paid off, big time.

Putting Murray in positions like the one below where all he has to do is beat one defender 1-on-1 is the key. He’s far too agile for any defender to be able to wrap him up once he gets downhill.

Murray rushed the ball 10 times for 74 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, and 51 of those 74 yards came off designed runs.

Throw in his scrambling ability and Murray can produce a touchdown drive that only a handful of quarterbacks in league history are capable of.

“The playbook is really limitless,” Kingsbury said Tuesday on Bickley & Marotta.

Here in the late first quarter on third down with the offense continuing to stagnate in a scoreless game, Murray picks up a critical first down when nothing’s open.

“When things aren’t going his way, he’ll find a way to make plays,” Schlereth said.

Later in that same drive, it was back to designed keepers.

Kingsbury’s constant misdirections benefit Murray’s single greatest skill, which is the rapid acceleration that Schlereth loves.

In the below clip, Murray gets to the edge so quickly that there’s really no way to defend this. Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (No. 54) is screwed because safety Donovan Wilson (No. 37) falls for the fake, leaving Smith to cover the hole and the run to the outside.

That’s an impossible task against Murray.

If you’re looking for signs of where Kingsbury’s “offensive guru” label shows, that is where we’ve been seeing it the most.

That drive produced the Cardinals’ first touchdown of a 38-10 shellacking, a game that could have been entirely different if not for Murray scampering a few times to have Arizona deal the first blow.

Murray is 13th in the NFL in rushing yards with 370, which leads all quarterbacks, and his six rushing touchdowns are tied for second.

Eight of his 51 carries have gone at least 15 yards, tied with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson for the most in the NFL.

Murray ranks second in Pro Football Focus’ rushing grade, meaning he’s essentially been one of the most effective runners in the league this season.

There was, rightfully so, a focus for the Cardinals in Murray’s rookie year to have him pick up the NFL game by keeping him in the pocket as much as possible. Even Murray himself was tentative to really break a run open when he scrambled, electing for the safer options at times like the sideline or slide.

As Murray has shown to start the season, despite his ability to make A-plus-level throws, the consistency of his accuracy and reads still need work. The spotlight on Murray’s development as a passer should continue because he’s capable of being great on his throws alone.

But Kingsbury’s willingness to design more of his offense around Murray’s running ability should continue too. Murray looks far more confident as a runner in 2020 and has already shown how he can change games as one.

There’s obviously some sort of divide here. In a poll on this website, 88.6% of voters voted the Cardinals should prioritize Murray’s passing over his rushing. That’s not necessarily flawed thinking, as again, Murray needs to improve as a passer, and the steps he takes there will determine how special of a quarterback he can be.

With that in mind, though, there’s no shame in currently getting the most out of what Murray is best at, and even admitting that as the case. It’s a delicate balance of letting him further progress as a passer while not restricting his signature trait, and in effect, not holding the team back as a whole in the process.

That’s something the Cardinals are clearly still figuring out.

Phillips Law Group

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