Gameday leftovers: Cardinals’ Kyler Murray puts preseason doubt to rest

Sep 13, 2021, 2:58 PM | Updated: 2:59 pm
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball during the game against the Tennessee Tit...
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray didn’t take very many snaps this preseason. Nine to be exact.

The three drives he saw in his only exhibition showing resulted in three three-and-outs and 10 total yards for the signal caller, leaving many to question his readiness for the regular season.

Murray let his play speak for itself Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

The quarterback tossed four touchdowns (a career high) and added another on the ground in the 38-13 win. Murray became the sixth player in NFL history to record at least four passing touchdowns and a rushing score in a season opener.

He also made arguably one of the top plays of Week 1.

Murray scrambled for 43.5 yards on the play before finding an open Rondale Moore for the 18-yard completion. It’s the second-most scramble yards on a completion since 2019, per Next Gen Stats.

But it was another highlight-reel play that happened later in the third quarter stood out to head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

After Murray watched the Titans turn his only interception into points, the quarterback responded with a touchdown of his own in the form of a 26-yarder to wide receiver Christian Kirk.

Just how Kingsbury and Co. drew it up.

“It’s just something we talked about, you get in that situation, you get man coverage. Being able to drift back, buy yourself time versus cover zero and throw it up and let him run under it,” Kingsbury said.

“He executed it perfectly. He checked the play, he did it all on his own. Any time you see that come to fruition something you’ve worked on and emphasized throughout camp it really is fun to watch.”

Per Next Gen Stats, Murray’s touchdown pass had a 39.2% completion probability and was the fifth toughest completion of the day for the signal caller.

Cardinals corners rise to the occasion

The Titans entered Week 1 with a two-headed monster through the air in Julio Jones and A.J. Brown.

Tennessee’s addition of Jones this offseason was one of the major splashes around the NFL. The move seemed like it would boost a Titans team that was the fourth-ranked scoring offense in 2020.

That was not the case Sunday with Arizona’s secondary holding up well against Tennessee’s aerial attack. Just one touchdown was scored through the air. Only five times last season Tannehill failed to toss one or more scores.

Rookie Marco Wilson and Byron Murphy saw the most time on the field among Arizona’s cornerbacks room, seeing 91% of the defensive snaps in Tennessee. Both Jones and Brown were held to under 50 yards, with the latter scoring the only receiving touchdown of the game for the Titans.

“The moment definitely didn’t seem too big for him, having to guard two of the premier wideouts in the league,” Kingsbury said of Wilson. “He stepped up, he was game and took on the challenge and had his moments.

“I think going against the guys he goes against in practice every day has really helped him. Dealing with A.J. Green, Hop, C-Kirk day in and day out, it definitely helps you on Sundays.”

Murphy finished with four tackles and three pass deflections, while Wilson and fellow corner Robert Alford added three tackles each.

Alford and Murphy picked up Pro Football Focus grades of 76.1 and 76.3, respectively.

Cardinals rushing attack makes most of touches

While the passing game was the talk of the town offensively for Arizona on Sunday, the Cardinals’ running game quietly had an effective day.

The trio of Chase Edmonds, James Conner and Murray combined for 136 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. Edmonds averaged 5.3 yards per carry on his way to 63 yards on 12 attempts.

“I thought Chase and James tucked it in there, protected the ball well and our O-line came off and moved a really physical defensive line when they knew we were gonna run the ball,” Kingsbury told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Monday.

The same couldn’t be said for All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, however, who averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and couldn’t get much of anything going against a stout Cardinals defense.

Isaiah Simmons on the move

Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones undoubtedly stole the show against the Titans with his five-sack effort.

But he wasn’t Arizona’s only linebacker to make a big impact. Playing the third most snaps among Cardinals defenders (91%), second-year pro Isaiah Simmons was all over the field.

After the game he told Cardinals reporter Paul Calvisi on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station he probably played four positions over the course of the matchup.

Not only did he lead the team in tackles (9), Simmons recorded two pass deflections and Arizona’s first interception of the year.

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