It was tough to tell what to expect from Kyler Murray against the Vikings. His first preseason appearance was short but sweet, while his second game was an unmitigated disaster. Which Kyler would show up in Minnesota?
I’m happy to report that it was neither of the above—we saw a new Kyler Murray, one hopefully closer to the dynamic weapon Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury had in mind when they drafted him. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but Saturday morning’s game was a tantalizing vision of the future of the Arizona Cardinals.
The numbers were good, not great—14/21 for 137 yards (6.5 YPA) and 4 carries for 9 yards. But the tape showed a few things he did well and a few things he needs to work on going into Week 1 against the Lions. Check it out for yourself below, then we’ll dive in.
Three Things I Liked
Kyler was on the run again against the Vikings, but it was more controlled chaos than running for his life like he was in the Raiders game. His first play from scrimmage is a perfect example. He drops back to pass, looks right, looks left, doesn’t see anything downfield, then decides to run. He dodges a pass rusher then darts left for a 3-yard gain, running out of bounds instead of taking a hit. It’s not a highlight reel play to be sure, but it seems like he’ll be able to take 3-4 yards whenever he wants it, even behind this ramshackle O-line. Oh, and he didn’t take a sack either—good to see after he took three in his first two appearances.
One of the only criticisms of Kyler’s first game was the lack of “Wow!” throws. Well, he quickly put those concerns to rest with his third pass of the game, a gorgeous rainbow throw down the sideline to a streaking Damiere Byrd. The throw itself was obviously impressive, but his delivery might have been even more so—he takes three steps back, sets his feet, and unleashes a dime with all the effort of your uncle tossing the pigskin in the backyard. He also uncorked a sensational back shoulder fade to KeeSean Johnson toward the end of the first quarter. Just a couple of absolutely professional throws. It looks like the raves about his arm over the summer were warranted.
If this were soccer, Kyler would be a helluva goalie—that’s three clean sheets in a row. Just like the first two games, Kyler was careful with the football. There were no picks, or even near misses, and no fumbles when he ran with the ball. Turnovers plagued the Redbirds last season (28, sixth-most in the league), so it’s encouraging that Kyler has taken care of the ball thus far. Let’s hope that translates to the regular season.
Three Things I Didn’t Like
There was a small yet vocal contingent of Cardinals fans who constantly brought up Kyler’s height all offseason. Well, it looks like they may have had a point—I counted at least a couple tipped passes from him on Saturday. One was even on a rollout designed to give him more space to throw, so this might just be a part of his game Cardinals fans will have to accept. Not ideal, but not a fatal flaw either (like some seemed to think it might be).
Lack of Chemistry with the Starters
At times this preseason, Kyler has shown great rapport with the likes of Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd, and KeeSean Johnson—with the latter two being his favorite targets on Saturday. But other than a couple nice screens to David Johnson, Kyler hasn’t shown the same level of chemistry with our starting skill position players thus far. Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and Charles Clay (when he has played) have been non-factors when Kyler has been on the field. Here are the total numbers from those four players against the Vikings: 11 targets, 7 receptions, 21 piddly yards. Murray was at least trying to get Kirk involved—he had six of those targets and they were just off on a couple plays, including one throw to the end zone. Of course, the preseason isn’t really important for veterans like these, but I’d feel a lot better if Kyler had been able to connect with them more on Saturday.
It’s nice to get Zane Gonzalez (and Andy Lee) some work, but it would have been even nicer to have gotten into the end zone. Just like Kyler has gone three starts without a turnover, he’s also gone three starts without a touchdown. He was able to move ball between the 20s pretty well, but things seemed to stall in the red zone, when the receivers had less space to work with. Perhaps Kingsbury will work bigger targets like Fitz and the tight ends more into his red zone plans moving forward. As much as I like Zane from his ASU days, I definitely don’t want him to be our main red zone threat in 2019.
Saturday was our final look at Kyler until September 8 when he takes the field against the Lions in Week 1. While the Raiders game was rough—and concerns about the O-line and how our offense will be officiated are still valid—the Vikings game was a bit of a redemption for Kyler, and Cardinals fans are likely feeling a lot better about their rookie QB going into the season. I know I am.
Your turn to weigh in. What did you like about Kyler’s performance on Saturday? What didn’t you like? Let us know in the comments.