Browns’ defense hopes to contain ‘roadrunner’ Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

Oct 16, 2021, 7:30 AM
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns dur...
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of the NFL football game at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

Over the course of his career, Kyler Murray has been compared by opponents to a squirrel, a jackrabbit and a jitterbug.

Add a new comp for the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, courtesy of Cleveland Browns safety John Johnson:

“I mean, he’s a roadrunner, so quick, so fast,” Johnson said Thursday. “I was talking to (backup quarterback) Case Keenum, and he was like, (sending) free rushers at him is kind of like what he wants. He just dances around people. You got to tempo your rush and try to keep him in the pocket — he’s a shorter-statured guy, so make it hard for him to see.

“You can’t just try to blow off the ball and beat the guy in front of you.”

Johnson knows Murray’s speed well, having played for the Los Angeles Rams the past two years.

The safety is now part of a defense that’s second to the Rams in total quarterback pressures this year, per Pro Football Focus, yet in the bottom-eight in blitz percentage. How the Browns’ front-seven will adjust to contain Murray in the pocket will be a thing to watch Sunday for a Week 6 battle.

Cleveland’s defense ranks 12th in DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and its front-seven is its strength.

Defensive end Myles Garrett leads the NFL with 7.0 sacks, while he’s complimented on the other side by offseason pickup Jadeveon Clowney — that’s not to mention 2017 first-round pick Takkarist McKinley is a backup for Cleveland.

The pass-rushers are bolstered on the inside by defensive tackles Malik McDowell and Malik Jackson.

McDowell (elbow/foot/neck) and Jackson (knee) enter Week 6 banged up, and the same goes for Browns cornerbacks Denzel Ward (neck) and Greg Newsome II (calf).

All that talent aside, the revelation for Cleveland this year — and a reason why they might believe they can match up decently well with Arizona’s spread — is the addition of rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

The Notre Dame prospect fell to the second round but was widely regarded as a first-round prospect in the draft. While the Cardinals went with the larger MIKE linebacker in Zaven Collin with their No. 16 pick, Owusu-Koramoah plays the WILL position similarly to Arizona’s Isaiah Simmons.

There, Owusu-Koramoah has thrived. The rookie leads the Browns with 21 tackles and has added 0.5 sacks, three passes defensed and a forced fumble. He made Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro First Team for the first quarter of the year.

Altogether, Cleveland’s defense has been hot and cold this year.

It has given up 33 points to the Kansas City Chiefs and 47 to the Los Angeles Chargers, both understandable results. It has also allowed 21 (Houston), six (Chicago) and seven (Minnesota) points to less-than-stellar offenses.

The Cardinals figure to be included in the former, but coach Kliff Kingsbury is quite aware that the Browns are a threat. They pop on film.

“They’ve done a great job building that roster with great athletes, and they fly around,” Kingsbury said. “They’re physical, great front, linebackers that can really run and then a super athletic secondary.

“It’s going to be definitely one of the most talented rosters that we’ve seen this season. They’re playing at a high-level.”

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