CARDINALS CORNER

The questions surrounding Cardinals QB Kyler Murray upon his return

Nov 6, 2023, 5:23 PM | Updated: Nov 9, 2023, 11:55 am

TEMPE — After nearly 11 months of waiting, the time has finally arrived: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is expected to start in the team’s Week 10 tilt against the Atlanta Falcons.

Murray’s expected return to action — he still has to put together a strong week of practice — couldn’t have come at a better time following the Cardinals’ dismal performance in a 27-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

That’s not to say there are questions surrounding the QB and his re-taking of the reins, though.

Let’s take a closer look:

The rust factor

Just because Murray is back playing, doesn’t mean he’s going to be his normal self right out of the gates.

No matter how regimented the rehab was or the amount of dedication he showed, getting back into game shape is a real thing that must be taken into account by the Cardinals and Murray.

“To get him all the reps with the 1s, I think that’s kind of the last step and then playing in a game is another step in the process of coming back from a major injury and not playing football for awhile,” head coach Jonathan Gannon said Monday.

“We got to be willing to understand that it might not look like Kyler (right away) and I think he’s got a good expectation of that, the coaches have a good expectation of that. But I know this, he’s going to come out there and play his game and help us win.”

What we know: There’s going to be a feeling out process for Murray and Co.

What we don’t know: Just how long it takes for K1 to feel like his new normal self on the football field.

Don’t rule out a slow rollout of the playbook, especially when it comes to QB-designed runs, early into Murray’s return.

Gun shy on the ground?

Murray has always done a good job of taking what he can get on the ground without piling on the hits.

After going through the long road back from the season-ending knee injury, just how willing is he going to be when it comes to running the rock?

Murray’s ability on the ground is a big part of what makes him an offensive threat. Second guessing on the football field never translates to much success, especially when it comes to the quarterback position.

But if the signal caller can find his traction early on, it’ll provide a big boost to an offensive built around the ground attack.

Murray was well on his way to posting one of his best seasons on the ground last year before going down with the knee injury, totaling 418 yards and three touchdowns on 67 attempts in 11 games played. He tied his career mark of 6.2 yards per carry.

And as we’ve already seen under offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, Cardinals QBs are expected to run.

Despite quarterback Joshua Dobbs getting dealt this past week to the Minnesota Vikings, he still sits tied for first among Cardinals runners in touchdowns (five), is second in yards (258) and third in attempts (47).

Even in Clayton Tune’s one-game sample size, the rookie paced the ground game with 28 yards on five carries.

Outside of James Conner, Murray is arguably the top rushing threat on the team. He’s going to be counted on in the run game. Maybe not his 2020 workload of 133 carries for 819 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Sometimes all it takes is that first hit to calm the nerves. Other times it takes a few runs under the belt.

It’ll be interesting to see which side of the coin Murray lands on.

The deep ball

One massive part of Arizona’s offense that’s been missing is the ability to push the ball down the field with the long ball, as made evident in Sunday’s showing.

Tune’s longest completion of the afternoon was a 14-yard catch by Hollywood Brown in the second half as the rookie stuck to screens and short passes throughout the loss. Outside of that and a 12-yard catch-and-run from tight end Trey McBride, there weren’t many more plays that went for double digit yardage.

And before Tune, quarterback Joshua Dobbs didn’t fare much better when looking to stretch the field, completing just 36.7% of his passes of more than 20 yards for 328 yards and two touchdowns.

Luckily for offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, Murray brings another level of play when it comes to the long ball.

Aside from his injured-riddled 2022 season — 26.7% passing for 301 yards and one touchdown to five interceptions — the quarterback had put together an impressive resume when it came to airing it out.

From 2019-21, Murray steadily improved his long ball numbers, completing 49.3% of his throws for 1,125 yards and nine touchdowns to three interceptions on his way to a 99.3 passing grade from Pro Football Focus.

Trust in the system

When Murray regains his spot in the starting lineup, he’ll be taking over a new offense really for the first time in his NFL career.

Unlike Kliff Kingsbury’s college-like air raid offense Murray grew accustomed to, he’s now in a much more tradition NFL offense built around running the football.

Among the biggest changes Murray will face under Petzing is added emphasis to operate under center.

While the majority of his production throughout the course of Murray’s career has come out of the shotgun, the QB has seen just 152 play-action snaps in four seasons. Given the limited reps, it’s far and away his least productive play type, though Murray has found the end zone 11 times compared to just two interceptions.

For comparison, Murray’s biggest workload of 56 snaps from under center came in 2020. In the first eight games of this season, Dobbs had racked up 68 such plays with a 61.7% completion rate, two touchdowns and an interception.

If Murray can find his groove early, it could go a long way in remedying the offensive issues of late.

Kyler Murray’s expected return against the Falcons in Week 10 will air at 2:05 p.m. over on the Arizona Sports app, 98.7 or ArizonaSports.com.

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