Who benefits most from Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray’s return
Nov 8, 2023, 5:35 PM | Updated: Nov 9, 2023, 11:53 am
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
TEMPE — It’s a big week in the desert for quarterback Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals.
If all goes well at practice, Murray will make his 2023 debut against the Atlanta Falcons nearly 11 months removed from tearing his ACL last December.
There’s bound to be rust, but at the end of the day, the QB should put the Cardinals in a better spot to compete following a 1-8 start.
A look at the players, coaches and areas of the Xs and Os that benefit the most from Murray getting back in the saddle:
Hello, old friend
Cardinals No. 1 wide receiver Hollywood Brown has quietly put together a strong 2023 campaign despite the evident inconsistencies at quarterback nine weeks into the season.
Overthrows and misreads on wide-open looks have seemingly been a weekly occurrence for the wideout, though Brown still paces Arizona’s pass catchers in receiving yards (440), catches (42) and touchdowns (four).
Getting his best friend in Murray back in the fold should only help Brown’s production and consistency moving forward in a contract year.
“I feel like with him getting back, it’s a chance to see what we got, what we can do and as an offense keep growing, keep learning each other,” Brown said Wednesday.
#AZCardinals WR Hollywood Brown on getting his friend and QB Kyler Murray back in the mix for the second half of the season:
“I feel like with him getting back, it’s a chance to see what we got, what we can do and as an offense keep growing, keep learning each other.” pic.twitter.com/cZsQzaL4S3
— Tyler Drake (@Tdrake4sports) November 8, 2023
While they only got seven full games together last season, the duo still linked up for 531 yards and three scores on 49 receptions (72 targets).
If not for injuries to both Brown and Murray, the wideout was well on his way to his second 1,000-yard season.
And although he’s got some ground to make up to hit that mark in 2023, Murray’s return makes it that much more doable for the impending free agent.
Murray’s return, rusty or not, is expected to boost Arizona’s offense.
But not talked about as much is the defensive benefits of having the franchise QB back in the mix.
Time and time again this season, the Cardinals defense has visibly outplayed the offense in most meetings only to run out of gas at some point or another.
Take last week’s 27-0 loss against the Cleveland Browns for example. The Cardinals defense held a dominant rushing offense in check, allowing just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground.
With the offense producing an ugly 58 total yards and recording nearly as many punts (seven) as first downs (nine), however, the unit did little favors for the defense, especially when looking at time of possession.
When the dust settled in Week 9, Cleveland had the ball for 36:25 compared to Arizona at 23:35.
Even for a unit built around rotations, that’s a lot of time on the field.
The jury is still out when it comes to just how much Murray is expected to run the rock under the new regime.
But no matter the amount of rushing attempts the QB amasses through the final nine games of the season, his presence alone should make defenses alter the way they play the Cardinals.
Just take a look at his 2,204 yards and 23 touchdowns on 381 carries across 57 career games if you need a refresher.
Even in 11 games last season before the injury, Murray still made a dent in the run game production behind 418 yards and three scores on 67 attempts.
There’s a real debate over how much Murray is going to run the rock fresh off his return from a torn ACL, though offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said Tuesday that if the QB is out there playing, he’s ready to go.
#AZCardinals OC Drew Petzing on if there is going to be a limit on Kyler Murray’s contributions in the run game right out of the gates:
“Ultimately, no. … He’s going to do what’s going to put us in the best position to win the game.” pic.twitter.com/u68ZEHAl3I
— Tyler Drake (@Tdrake4sports) November 7, 2023
But at the end of the day, his ability on the ground is a big part of what makes him dynamic.
We’ve already seen Joshua Dobbs and Clayton Tune lead the run game at different points this season, whether on designed runs or scrambles.
The opportunities are going to be there, it’s just a matter of Murray seizing them.
With tight end Zach Ertz currently two games into his injured reserve stint due to a quad issue, the door has opened up that much more for Trey McBride in the pass-catching department.
His 10-catch, 95-yard effort against the Baltimore Ravens — the first game Ertz missed with the injury — was proof of that.
But much like Brown (and others), McBride was on the other end of quite a few misfires in recent weeks.
And from what we’ve seen from Murray, he has no problem getting his tight ends involved.
In 17 games across the past two seasons, Ertz has linked up with the QB 87 times for 807 yards and four touchdowns.
Before both dealt with their respective season-ending knee injuries, Ertz was among Arizona’s top pass catchers with Murray at the helm.
He’s not as seasoned as his counterpart, but McBride should slide into a similar role with Murray as the signal caller finds his rhythm in a new offense.
“I feel more energy but it’s another week of going in there and trying to win this game, do everything we can to win this game,” McBride said Wednesday. “Obviously, with Kyler back and (James Conner) back, guys like that, there is a little more juice, a little more energy but at the same time, it’s just another week.”
Trey McBride on the added juice the #AZCardinals are bringing to practice this week with the expectation that both Kyler Murray and James Conner will be back in the lineup vs. the Falcons: pic.twitter.com/a1CAWEoHxq
— Tyler Drake (@Tdrake4sports) November 8, 2023
For the first time this season, Petzing will finally get to see what his offense looks like with Murray running the show.
It’s a long time coming for the coordinator, who has had to deal with injury issues and inconsistencies throughout the offense since the jump.
Murray’s return couldn’t come at a better time, either, given the offensive showing in Cleveland last week.
Petzing says he hasn’t held any plays back from when Murray returns but is for sure going to implement what works best given the QB’s skillset.
“If there’s something that he does better than the other guys, there’s certainly a, ‘I like this play, I’m going to wait until he’s there because it fits his skillset better,'” Petzing said Tuesday. “But I wouldn’t say there’s anything we held.
“At the end of the day, every play we call, we’re hoping to be successful. Certainly, there’s things that he just does at a high level that maybe didn’t fit a different player or they didn’t like it as much that when he’s out there, we’re going to let go.”
The powers that be
Sure, getting a full season of tape to digest would have been nice for general manager Monti Ossenfort and the new regime.
But an eight-game sample size isn’t a terrible consolation.
A lot is going to be learned in the back half of the season that will have major implications as to what this offense — and Arizona’s QB — look like in 2024 and beyond.