CARDINALS CORNER

How Cardinals QB Kyler Murray can make good on his contract extension

Jul 22, 2022, 9:35 AM
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) passes against the Los Angeles Rams during the first...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) passes against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Inglewood, Calif., Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

After a rocky offseason, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray finally got the contract extension his camp highly sought after.

Murray has showed he can change a game with a flick of the wrist or behind his blazing speed.

With the ink now dry on a new deal, it’s on Murray to continue his NFL progression and make good on his end of the agreement.

A look at the areas of Murray’s game that must take a step forward to warrant the big payday he just landed:

Get the playoff W

Playoffs?! Yes, we are talking about playoffs.

Murray helped break Arizona’s postseason streak last season, but fell flat in the NFC Wild Card matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

It was a Wild Card to forget for Murray, who completed 19 of his 34 passes (55.9%) for 137 yards and two interceptions in his first-ever playoff appearance. His play can be largely summed up by his second-quarter pick-six from out of the end zone.

Any sort of momentum the Cardinals may have still had was certainly rocked at that point.

For a team that hasn’t picked up a playoff win since 2015, Murray not only leading his team back to the postseason but securing a victory must happen sooner rather than later.

Finish strong

It’s no secret the Cardinals have struggled in the second half of seasons since the arrival of Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

And while the losses and overall downturn in play isn’t solely on the signal caller, he certainly hasn’t helped matters.

Over the course of the first two months of the season, Murray has compiled a 15-8-1 record to go along with 6,352 yards and 39 touchdowns to 18 picks on 67.6% passing since 2019. He has also added 170 rushing attempts for 897 yards and 12 scores.

But in the final three months of the season, Murray’s numbers take a dip, highlighted by his 7-15 record as a starter.

In the 22 games played from November-January, Murray has recorded 5,128 yards and 31 touchdowns to 16 interceptions on 66% passing. He chipped in an additional 889 yards and eight scores on 144 carries.

Looking deeper into Murray’s trends over the past two seasons, the QB was ninth in league in expected points added per play with 0.216 in Weeks 1-7 from 2020-21, per rbsdm.com.

But look at Weeks 8-18 over that same span and Murray nearly falls out of the top 20 with an EPA of 0.067, behind New Orleans Saints gadget QB Taysom Hill (0.085) and just ahead of new Seattle Seahawks signal caller and former Denver Bronco Drew Lock (0.065).

For Murray to make good on his extension, he has to find that consistency he’s built up in the first half of the season.

It doesn’t matter how good you perform in the beginning of the year if you can’t finish.

Spread the wealth

Missing No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a good portion of the second half of the season did not help matters for Murray or the team last year.

When Hopkins was on the field, the offense gelled, with the wide receiver reeling in a team-high eight touchdowns before ankle and knee issues put a damper on things.

But without the perennial receiving threat for most of the second-half of the season, Arizona’s offense looked out of sorts to say the least.

This about sums it up:

Again, it’s not squarely on Murray with Kingsbury running the show from the sidelines, but spreading out the love only helps boost the offense. Especially over the course of the first six weeks of the season, the timeframe the team will be without Hopkins as he serves his six-game suspension.

And with Murray’s favorite college target Hollywood Brown now in the fold, there is another pair of trusted hands for the QB to turn to.

Hanging in the pocket

Murray’s ability to escape a rush and make things happen on the fly is one of the intangibles that makes him who he is as an NFL QB.

But at times last season, Murray appeared too quick in his decision to burst out of the pocket instead of hanging in and letting plays unfold.

He did, however, improve on his play from the pocket this past season, posting an EPA per dropback of 0.21 against zone coverages, good enough for fourth among qualifying quarterbacks. It was a big step up from 2020 when he posted an EPA per dropback of 0.02 (36th), per The Athletic’s Nate Tice.

Murray’s EPA per dropback numbers against the blitz (at least five pass rushers) also saw a significant jump, moving from 0.04 (33rd) in 2020 to 0.32 (fourth) in 2021.

That trend must continue.

Don’t shy away from running the rock

Murray’s dual-threat abilities are what separates him from a plethora of NFL quarterbacks.

He and the offense are at their best when Murray throws the added wrinkle of running the football.

But with the added carries come the increased potential of getting rocked or suffering an injury.

In 2020, Murray was among the top 10 NFL rushers in terms of touchdowns with 11 to go along with 819 yards on 133 carries. He averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per attempt.

This past season, however, saw a steep decline in the run game, with Murray recording 423 yards and five touchdowns on 88 carries, a career low.

Across his three-year career, the Cardinals are 14-4 when he records at least eight rushing attempts. Arizona is 8-19 when Murray has less than eight carries.

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