Cardinals’ Fitzgerald: We’re going to keep building around Kyler Murray
The year 2020 has completely turned the norm of the sports world on its head.
The same could be said about the NFL and Arizona Cardinals.
For the first time in his 17-year career, WR Larry Fitzgerald has a Rookie of the Year throwing him the ball in Kyler Murray and an All-Pro receiver lining up next to him in DeAndre Hopkins.
But despite Murray’s 283 passing yards for three scores and 106 rushing yards for one score, the Cardinals still managed to fall to the Miami Dolphins 34-31 at State Farm Stadium in Week 9 coming off a bye.
“Obviously (Sunday) was tough. Any time you lose at home in a game that you felt like you should win, it’s tough to stomach,” Fitzgerald told The SiriusXM Blitz with Brett Favre and Bruce Murray on Monday. “We have a lot that we can build on.
“Obviously the performance of our quarterback is magnificent [with] what he was able to do with his arm and his legs. He’s continued to get better every single week. It’s a real joy to be able to work with him and see him just maturing on every level daily. We’re going to keep continuing to build around him. We have to do a better job of being able to close out games late in games and it’s just something we’ll learn from.”
Murray is now the only player in NFL history to throw for 5,000+ yards and 30+ touchdown passes, while also rushing for 1,000+ yards and 10+ ground scores in the first 24 games of a career.
Then there’s Hopkins, who one could argue is just a shorter and younger version of the former Pittsburgh Panther and is only eight catches away from breaking Fitzgerald’s record for the youngest wideout to reach the 700 career receptions mark.
“He’s so dynamic in his skillset and what he can do. Just how explosive he is out of his breaks and his run after the catch is so underrated,” Fitzgerald said of Hopkins.
“If the ball is anywhere in his vicinity, his catch radius is out of this world. He plays with extreme confidence, he’s a willing participant in the run game. You can move him around, do whatever you want to do with him and he’s going to excel.”
Fitzgerald added that although the former Clemson Tiger’s numbers weren’t great in Sunday’s loss to Miami (three catches for 30 yards), Hopkins was still able to have an impact on the game by having five defensive pass interference calls against him.
“If you’re looking at the hidden yardages in the game, you’re talking 80-90 yards — that’s 8-9 first downs that he’s able to do in just his presence and how physically dominant he is, especially in press coverage,” Fitzgerald explained.
“It’s very difficult for guys to get up there and do it legally, so whenever you throw the ball in his direction, his numbers have shown that his catch percentage is very high and we have to continue to do a good job of finding ways to get him involved and keep him involved throughout the course of games.”
And in an offensive system like head coach Kliff Kingbury’s, stalk blocking is of paramount importance on the outside and in the second and third levels in order to give the likes of Murray and running back Chase Edmonds a chance to break runs for massive gains.
It should come as no surprise then that the Cardinals are second in the NFL behind the Baltimore Ravens in rushing yards per game at 162.9 and tied for second in the league with 13 rushing touchdowns.
“I remember when I was younger, it wasn’t always something I was passionate about doing in terms of blocking,” Fitzgerald said. “But you look at those seven-man protections, those running backs are stepping up there and hitting those linebackers, protecting you so you can get down the field and make plays.
“I started thinking if I took the same level of pride into my blocking for those guys that they do with me, what kind of team can we be? I started seeing the results of it and I love being able to spring those runs for those backs to get them on the second and third levels and being able to put those guys in space.”
“It really helps our team and most importantly, it opens up the passing game,” Fitzgerald added. “It gets teams into more single-high looks where you can get some one-on-one matchups and you can start somewhat exploiting some of those looks.”