No prospect is a perfect prospect.
Even if it might look that way according to Pro Football Focus and their analytics:
When it comes to looking at quarterbacks, Kyler Murray broke the mold in many ways, given his excellent arm talent, accuracy, efficiency and then the incredible running and scrambling ability he showcased in college.
But Kyler’s far from a finished product and will have some issues and struggles at the next level that he will need to overcome.
So what are the three biggest weaknesses that Kyler has that teams will seek to exploit?
Weakness #1: Reading underneath coverage
While Murray rarely threw an interception last year, the greatest opportunity for him to do so comes where it does for many quarterbacks...in throwing late over the middle.
Murray’s biggest strengths as a passer came in the short game and deep ball.
Interestingly enough, his “weakest” passing numbers came in the 11-19 range and when looking at the tough throws over the middle of the field, that’s where Murray’s interceptions usually came from. See in the video below at 15:07:
Murray threw two picks in this game, this being the first.
Here’s what happened...
Below, the linebacker seems to act like he’s about to blitz and then backs off and Murray never reads or sees the linebacker and the window closes and he throws it right to him.
For the most part in Murray’s career, he does a good job in hitting these guys and keeping the ball away from opposing defenses but Texas Tech was able to fool him twice by mixing up their blitzes and putting more men in coverage WHILE keeping their containment lanes on Murray.
Normally, teams can’t afford to play Murray that way as he can escape and burn them. Or they blitz to bring pressure and he can beat that by run or the pass.
So here instead was a similar game-plan that the Arizona Cardinals did to Russell Wilson in 2013 when he was a 2nd year player in Seattle in that classic 17-10 victory.
TTU gameplanned to take away the deep throws and mix up their coverages by faking the blitz and managed to get a few turnovers.
Wasn’t enough to slow Murray down for long, however....as OU won the game with a combination of a strong rushing attack that took enough off of Murray’s plate that his reads were simpler and they stormed back into the game, taking away Kliff Kingsbury’s shot at an upset despite the fact his starting QB was hurt during the game.
Murray’s best way to progress here is time and experience. He hasn’t even started 20 games yet and while the offense he will have with Kliff Kingsbury might not as as much of this from him, it’ll take repeated learning and having the vision to understand when a coverage underneath is trying to bait throws right to coverage following the quarterback’s eyes.
A simple look off of the player here and Murray’s got the linebacker unable to drift into the spot throw.
Weakness #2: Tight window throws in traffic over the middle of the field
In an article written by Pro Football Focus, (which we’ve mentioned already) they detailed this weakness explicitly:
Whenever there is traffic around, Murray has a habit of missing guys, as we saw often in the Alabama game with a few passes that were batted in the air like the play below.
This is a case that I would call “Hero ball” which we even saw at times from Josh Rosen last year. Murray forces a difficult throw into traffic, trusting his arm and while it’s a difficult play, CeeDee Lamb throws his hands up looking back at Murray because...he had one-on-one coverage and Murray threw to four bodies instead. Josh Rosen did this all the time last year, partially because he trusted his arm but also due to lack of separation.
If his receivers can’t separate, Murray isn’t able to “throw open” his guys all the time. So he’ll have to take some chances or up his velocity to fit the ball in.
This leads to the second issue with throwing into traffic or into these “window” throws.
Kyler Murray, from what I’ve seen, throws SUCH a catchable ball that sometimes...it’s “too catchable”. Meaning he needs to rifle it into a spot versus having it be lower velocity but the wide receiver has more of a chance to catch it.
This video is a good example of a ball that needs a bit more “juice” or “velocity” on it:
Murray made the right move on 3rd and 7 given that his receiver fell down, the other one is double covered and his checkdown is short of the line to gain.
But look at the safety in the middle of the screen.
He’s baited to the right momentarily but then is able to come back to ALMOST made a hit to lay out receiver CeeDee Lamb.
If Murray doesn’t pump and throws the ball sooner, complete with continuing to look off the safety, the defender doesn’t have time to close the gap. It’s still a high-risk throw given that Lamb is covered, and while Murray’s placement avoids his receiver getting laid out, the timing is just off.
In the NFL, you can’t get away with that forever, especially against a team like New England.
If he takes an outside shot out of bounds or where it’s ONLY catchable by CeeDee Lamb, he can live to fight another down and avoid turnovers better in the pros. That type of coaching up Murray that he doesn’t have to be the hero on EVERY play will help him a ton to avoid turnovers from occurring.
Weakness #3: Recognizing pre-snap coverage better to adjust plays at the line and force proper mismatches
For another example of this coverage recognition, observe the following play, something that MOST all young quarterbacks deal with in separating pre-snap reads and blitz recognition from the coverage reads and how best to deal with it.
Here’s the second interception from Murray in the Texas Tech game at 16:32:
Why did he throw it right to him?
A lot of things broke down for Murray on this play.
Texas Tech is showing that they’re rushing five (one is hiding off the edge at the bottom of the circle), with a linebacker having his eyes on the quarterback as a spy or potentially covering the running back out of the backfield if he’s faking the blitz on 3rd and 5.
Essentially seems like a basic “Cover Two” sort of look, right? That’s when it gets tricky, as the two rushers BOTH bail at the snap, rushing only three players and dropping 8 into coverage, and Murray gets flustered.
Why? Because it’s now 4 men with 7 in coverage and with the running back staying in to protect, it’s a numbers game. Texas Tech keeps their gaps so Murray can’t scramble and there’s even a spy mirroring him so that he’ll have to take an angle right into one of the other underneath defenders.
Normally that’s not an issue but look at the mistake that Murray makes while confused:
At the bottom of the screen, Hollywood Brown has his hand up, running free with no safety over the top.
But he middle of the field between two defenders is where Murray aims, but he sails the pass with poor mechanics. (See in the video how the ball is released with him falling away versus stepping into the throw) His body in this shot should NOT be straight up like this rather than driving into the throw, and he sails it.
Normally Murray’s good enough to throw off different platforms and angles, but the ball floats here and there’s clearly a breakdown in mechanics.
It’s definitely a poor, almost lazy, throw, and it’s overshot and picked off.
So what’s.....The Fix?
Easy: Recognizing leverage better. Look at this photo again of the pre-snap read.
A blitz from the right-hand size means that the best option is to throw into the blitz with the RB blocking.
If the blitzer backs off, there’s still only two defenders in the area to cover his receivers.
This makes it a pretty simple read from right to left.
First, it’s unlikely the safety will be able to get over in time to defend the route at the bottom of the screen based on where they’re playing so that’s a one-on-one shot to Hollywood Brown. And that’s a mismatch I’m taking given there’s going to be three defenders for three players and OU’s going to either be able to see Brown get open or have their tight end find a soft spot if it’s zone.
To finish off, let’s say that everyone drops back into coverage AND the safety bails to help cover Hollywood Brown deep. That, too, should be easy post snap. Look at the top of the screen and you’ll see CeeDee Lamb in man.
TTU is going to have to either double Lamb or double Hollywood, because they can’t stop both. And that’s a matchup that either should win every day.
INSTEAD, when Texas Tech bails unexpectedly, Murray gets flustered and seems to want the play to be over versus recognizing he had a wide open Brown at the bottom of the screen
Often, Kyler DID see this and burn teams, but his post-snap and pre-snap didn’t line up and for whatever reason he seemed to not have a backup plan...for him to progress, the next step will be learning to see that mismatch from the start and changing the play call to keep the pass pro and take a shot to Hollywood or Lamb given the alignment, knowing that even if Texas Tech bails he has the leverage on the play on either side.
To me, this is one of the things that Patrick Mahomes was killer at in college under Kliff Kingsbury:
Versus Oklahoma, he recognized that they were bringing blitzes and isolating linebackers on him to avoid him running or scrambling that they left one-on-one matchups open outside and he abused the Sooners.
And the game plan with Kliff also saw this and schematically, it didn’t matter if Oklahoma ran zone or bailed out because Mahomes could change the play on the fly to adjust and take a shot if they tried to take away the underneath and easier throws in thmiddle of the field.
Yep, you read it
The coach who developed and helped Mahomes with that leverage and taking those throws happens to be Kyler Murray’s current coach right now in Kliff Kingsbury.
If Kingsbury can take his own offensive ideology and give Murray a quicker response and reaction to different coverages and looks, you won’t be seeing plays going to the other side of the blitz, or missing opportunities like this very much.
While I think these issues can have fixes for them, it’s possible that Murray doesn’t ever see them become true strengths, and clearly he will be relying a lot on Kliff Kingsbury as a rookie in order to see Kliff either give him easy calls to change the play or give flexibility so that if things don’t go according to plan, Murray can buy time scrambling and deliver a throw while he progresses as an NFL quarterback.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Murray has other issues or are they fixable?
Sound off in the comments!