DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals organized, empowered vs. Rams without Kyler Murray at QB

Nov 13, 2022, 6:25 PM | Updated: Nov 14, 2022, 12:26 pm

The NFL does not like battles between backup quarterbacks. It’s bad television. It’s bad for advertisers. It’s bad for business.

On Sunday, it’s exactly what Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury needed.

On a day when style points mattered not, the Cardinals provided plenty of them in a 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Their offense operated on time and in rhythm. Their backup quarterback, Colt McCoy, delivered in ways that Kyler Murray does not. A.J. Green looked better than he has in years.

The entire operation seemed organized and on schedule, empowered without their franchise quarterback.

The implications are staggering, especially if you saw how comfortable Kingsbury seemed on the sidelines when interacting with McCoy, and how contentious it often seems with their $230 million quarterback.

To be fair, the Rams were spiraling the drain long before Matthew Stafford missed Sunday’s game in concussion protocol. Los Angeles is not a good team. It is a team taking too much solace in its championship ring, a team with a serious Super Bowl hangover.

But road wins are not to be questioned in the NFL. And this one sparks a new debate, maybe even laying the seeds for a quarterback controversy in the very near future.

At the root of Arizona’s offensive dysfunction in 2022 is a central question: Is Kingsbury in hopelessly over his head as an NFL head coach? Or are the design failures of his offense and his erratic play calling also the handiwork of Murray, a quarterback who can be occasionally skittish and limited in his field of vision?

The issue took a new twist during a Week 9 loss to the Seahawks, following a sideline spat between Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. In real time, it appeared Murray was frustrated and aggrieved, and that Hopkins must’ve been the one to blame. But HBO cameras delivered audio and clarity, revealing a wide receiver incredulous that Murray didn’t see him running free in open space.

McCoy’s spot start on Sunday gave Kingsbury a chance to provide some clarity, maybe even hope for the future. And for the third time in four starts spanning two seasons, the combination of Kingsbury and McCoy delivered a sturdy victory.

It’s a fascinating development because Kingsbury seemed oddly emboldened on Sunday, throwing 11 consecutive passes to start the game, scripting an opening drive with the kind of success he rarely sees with Murray behind center. He seemed to thumb his nose to critics who say he needs more balance and rushing attempts in his offensive approach.

It’s fascinating because no one is lamenting why Murray didn’t play through a moderate injury in a must-win game on Sunday, the way Josh Allen fought through an elbow injury, on a day when four different quarterbacks took the field at SoFi Stadium. Because no one seemed to miss him.

It’s fascinating because, ultimately, Kingsbury needs to succeed with Murray the way he flourishes with McCoy. But how?

Great question. For now, they all live to fight another day.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

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