ARIZONA CARDINALS

Cardinals’ Kyler Murray enjoys not having to ‘be Superman,’ taking snaps under center

Jun 6, 2024, 2:54 PM

Kyler Murray is fighting an uphill battle to change the perception of his leadership qualities. The Arizona Cardinals quarterback admitted Wednesday there’s a natural maturation curve he’s felt this year more than ever.

His evolution has followed that of his team.

“You look around the league and how they talk about the Cardinals, it flipped from maybe a talented team that doesn’t play hard and isn’t well-coached or doesn’t play smart to, ‘Oh, these guys, they might not be as talented but nobody wants to play them because they play hard as hell,'” Murray told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Thursday. “The narrative just flipped.”

But how he’s utilized on the field has also changed playing for head coach Jonathan Gannon.

Kyler Murray compares the Kliff Kingsbury offense to his role under Jonathan Gannon

Under former head coach Kliff Kingsbury, it was viewed this way: Murray was pandered to by entering the league to play in a similar offensive system as he deployed at Oklahoma. It was all about shotgun formations. And even though the Cardinals in the front half of 2020 were among the NFL’s best rushing attacks — Arizona finished as a top-10 rushing team — balance was never a label assigned to Arizona.

The Cardinals were instead called a streetball team that ran a rudimentary offense.

All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins stuck to a single side on the field for an entire season. Everything was about targeting matchups and requiring talent to take over from there.

To juxtapose that identity to the one formed in 2023, Murray’s optimism about his second year under Gannon and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing starts with how he’s utilized.

“When you can be yourself and not have to be Superman all the time, you know, be able to hand the ball off to JC (James Conner), hand the ball off to Emari (Demercado), Mike (Carter). Obviously, the new guys we added. When we can do that and let the freaky stuff happen on accident, that’s the way we want to play,” Murray told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke.

“We don’t want to be out there forcing and feeling like I have to make a play for us to win a game. That’s not sustainable and that’s how it was when it came to me for the first four, five years.”

Arizona finished second in rushing average (5.0 yards) and fourth in rushing yards per game (139.1) in 2023. Of course, Murray only played eight games as he was recovering from an ACL tear the year prior.

But it set up his role as a confident game manager with a wicked-fast release, deep ball and the ability to — in his words — “let the freaky stuff happen.”

Working under the center meshed with the rushing identity.

According to NFLSavant.com, 41% of the Cardinals’ plays last season were under center. Under Kingsbury in the 2021 season that ended with an 11-6 record and Wild Card blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona snapped it under center just 17% of the time.

The easy narrative then was that Murray wanted to be taking snaps out of shotgun. But he told Wolf & Luke that wasn’t the case.

“First couple of years, I asked to do a little bit more of it,” Murray said. “I feel like we had tendencies, and obviously with the former regime, it was a lot of shotgun, quote-on-quote Air Raid, stuff like that. Teams could kind of go off tendencies. When you go under center, you got to respect the run, you got to respect the outside zone, you got to respect the play-action. You can’t see the ball at certain times.

“This is a new-age of game and people are throwing it around, but to be able to do both and be as versatile as possible is what I’d like to be and what Drew and everyone else wants to be. Not be predictable.”

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