DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals need to unleash Kyler Murray’s legs in playoffs

Jan 12, 2022, 5:34 PM | Updated: 7:11 pm
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball during the third quarter against the Dall...
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The NFL postseason is a mad dash for America’s most valuable trophy. It’s a perfect time for the Cardinals to unveil and unleash a secret weapon: 

Playoff Kyler. A dual-threat quarterback who can devastate with his arm and demoralize with his legs. The kind of weapon that can win three games at SoFi Stadium in a single season, two against the Rams and another in the Super Bowl. 

Playoff Kyler differs from the normal Kyler Murray in a few ways. Playoff Kyler ascends, energized by the moment and the adrenaline rush of postseason football. He is now playing for a championship, where he believes he belongs, where every moment matters, where every stage is an elimination game.   

Playoff Kyler isn’t reckless. He does not break tackles or stockpile yards after contract. He does not abandon his elite self-preservation skills or his reputation as the Floyd Mayweather of the NFL, another champion who simply refused to get hit.

But Playoff Kyler shoulders a heavier workload because he carries the football 10 times a game, minimum.   

Ten times in 46 career games, Murray has carried the ball 10 or more times. The Cardinals are 9-1 in those games. The lone blemish was hardly Murray’s fault, a 34-31 loss to the Dolphins when he passed for 283 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 106 yards. Murray posted the highest quarterback rating of his career in that loss (150.5). 

With James Conner and Chase Edmonds banged up and battling injuries, Playoff Kyler is something of a necessity. And think of the damage he might inflict in the open field, escaping the pocket on plays when Kingsbury sends all his receivers deep. 

Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have rushed for over 100 yards in a playoff game: Lamar Jackson (twice), Colin Kaepernick (twice), Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.  Playoff Kyler could conceivably join an elite fraternity. 

It’s notable that two of Murray’s lowest single-game rushing totals have come against the Rams in Los Angeles. He carried twice for zero yards in the 2019 season finale, when Murray was less than 100%. He carried twice for three yards before leaving the game with an injury in 2021.  

But Murray is relatively healthy. He was clocked at nearly 21 miles per hour on a 57-yard gain against the Colts on Christmas Day. And a victory against the Rams earlier in the season seemed to turn on a pivotal 3rd-and-16, when Murray broke containment and took off with the football. 

A dual-threat quarterback can crush an opponent’s soul. A defense can do everything right and still lose the play. The psychological effects are even more extreme in the playoffs, where everything is magnified, where momentum is very real. 

Murray has taken big strides in his third season as a NFL quarterback. He’s become more dangerous as a passer. He was a legitimate MVP candidate before spraining his ankle. He made it clear entering the season that he did not want to be overexposed in the running attack, which had become something of crutch in Kliff Kingsbury’s play-calling in 2020, where he gained 50 or more yards in eight of his 16 games. He’s been much more selective as a runner in 2021. 

But now, it’s Showtime. Murray lost his MVP candidacy to injury and ragged play down the stretch, but there is still time to be MVP of the postseason. It’s a tall ask for a quarterback entering his very first playoff game, against a Rams defense that features three Hall of Fame performers (Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller), in a NFC playoff field featuring Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. 

But with Playoff Kyler, anything is possible. Because this is where the legend truly begins. 

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