Kyler Murray focused on breaking old habits as he works to perfect Cardinals offense
Nov 29, 2023, 4:00 PM
TEMPE — Three weeks down, five to go in quarterback Kyler Murray’s eight-game audition for the Arizona Cardinals’ new regime since making his return from a torn ACL suffered last December.
Through three games, it’s been a mixed bag at best, with the signal-caller sporting a 1-2 record filled with some of the jaw-dropping plays we’ve come to expect from Murray combined with visible inconsistencies.
Those inconsistencies, whether they’re misreads, misthrows, off timing, footwork or overall decision-making, were bound to creep up for Murray, especially given the long layoff due to injury.
“I just think there’s a feel aspect of it all, it’s something you can’t really put your finger on, but after you’ve been in a system for so long and the guys have been in it and we all know each other’s thinking and stuff like that and you get into a new one, you got to break old habits,” Murray said Wednesday.
“We’re learning as the weeks go on and trying to execute at the highest level as we possibly can. I think that’s part of being in a new system. I haven’t been in very many new systems, but being in this one, I don’t think we’ve reached our maximum level of what we’re going to be eventually.”
In Murray’s first game back, the offense looked close to reaching that potential. The games since have harbored anything but those good feelings, though, with Arizona out of sorts and outscored 58-30 in the two weeks combined.
The QB’s stat line through the air has done little to invoke much reassurance, too, with Murray completing 61.7% of his passes for 719 yards and two touchdowns to two interceptions for a QBR of 47.5.
Translation: A lot is being left out on the football field and Murray knows it.
But given all the variables surrounding his return — rust, different footwork, not having a training camp and new scheme and coaching staff being chief among them — offensive coordinator Drew Petzing remains confident in the progress Murray continues to make in 2023 while staying realistic on what the tape has revealed so far.
“I think he’s done a nice job. I think you’ve seen him really embrace both sides of the offense, the run, the pass, just handling the operation,” Petzing said Tuesday. “Certainly, there are going to be things even when you’re in Year 5, 6, 7 of an offense that you’re always going to be working on, tweaking and changing, but I think he’s made really nice progress.
“Has it been perfect? No, and he would be the first to admit that. But I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with what he’s doing, what we’re asking him to do and certainly need that to continue as we move through the rest of the season.”
Cardinals OC Drew Petzing on his assessment of Kyler Murray three games into the QB’s return:
“I think he’s made really nice progress. Has it been perfect? No, and he would be the first to admit that, but I think he’s getting more and more comfortable.”
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) November 28, 2023
Aside from the new regime and offensive philosophy, one of the biggest changes Murray has had to undertake this year is switching up his foot placement, parking his left foot ahead of his right.
Before this season, it had always been the right foot before the left for all of Murray’s football career.
And while he’s been onboard with the change Petzing and quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork have implemented, old habits still tend to creep in.
At times, Murray can make up for the altered timing that comes with what head coach Jonathan Gannon calls “dirty feet,” but that doesn’t mean it’s something the QB can get away with regularly moving forward if he really wants to nail down this new offense.
“Some of it is not the memorization, it’s the pass rush or the perceived pass rush, so you do get sped up at times in the pocket,” Petzing said.
“I think every week we’re going to talk to him, ‘Hey, you were really good with the footwork and you can see why it worked. Sometimes you got away with it and other times it got you, because you weren’t quite in rhythm or you were a little sped up and it affected your progression and things like that.'”
Stick with what works
In the first two weeks of Murray’s return, his usage on the ground was a pleasant surprise, with the QB running 13 times for 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The 13 carries weren’t all designed QB runs, but still showed Murray’s willingness to create with his legs. If anything, it proved he trusted the knee 100%.
Then came last week, when Murray ran the rock just one time — albeit for a touchdown — in a lopsided 37-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 12.
That kind of split cannot happen moving forward.
As history has shown us all since Murray arrived in the desert as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, when the QB turns and burns, good things tend to happen.
In the 12 games Murray has carried the football at least 10 times, the QB and the Cardinals sports a 10-2 record.
Widen that metric to at least five totes per game for Murray and Arizona is still over .500 at 26-20.
That’s still way better than the alternative, with the Cardinals staring at a 0-13-1 mark when Murray runs fewer than five times.
Not sure much more needs to be said here.
Top of the to-do list
As far as what is at the top of Murray’s brain entering the week?
“When we get into the red zone, we got to put the ball in the end zone,” Murray said Wednesday. “We haven’t had an issue moving the ball … again, it’s the third week, growing pains of it all but the main thing is just getting better each and every week. That’s what we want to see. I think this week is a huge step for us against a good opponent and I think we’ll rise to the occasion.”
Through 12 games played, Arizona has scored a red zone touchdown 57.1% in 28 attempts. For comparison, the Cardinals’ opponents have found the end zone 59.3% of the time in 54 tries.
Another focus should be on extending drives.
Entering Week 13, the Cardinals are sporting a 35.3% conversion rate (54-of-153) on third down, which is among the 10 worst marks in the NFL.
As we saw last week (6-of-17 on third down), it’s that much harder to score when you only have a handful of plays to work with on a given possession.