The Arizona Cardinals offense will be one of the most exciting units to watch in the upcoming 2021 season.
James Conner, A.J. Green, and Rondale Moore were added to Kyler Murray’s arsenal of weapons that already included DeAndre Hopkins, Chase Edmonds, and Christian Kirk. The protection was upgraded with the addition of All-Pro center Rodney Hudson. Depth got better with veteran Brian Winters and seventh-round pick Michael Menet.
If Kyler Murray can continue to progress as he did last season compared to his rookie year in 2019, the Cardinals will no doubt be a playoff team. But until the regular season begins, we really do not know what to expect from them.
Will Kyler Murray continue to make strides in his game to help this Cardinals team clinch a playoff berth or win the NFC West?
He certainly has the ability to do so and I believe he can. His 7,693 passing yards, 1,363 rushing yards, and 61 total touchdowns in his NFL career so far is beyond phenomenal.
As we all know, this is not a one-man show. Every person in this organization starting from the players all the way to the coaching staff will need to be at their A game if the Cardinals want to reach their goals this year.
At the end of the day, the quarterback is the one that leads and elevates their football team. Expectations are very high for the Oklahoma product and they have been since he entered the league.
Let’s take a look at the Cardinals’ franchise quarterback. There has been so much good and some bad but lots of things to be excited for in year three with Kyler Murray.
Kyler Murray is a fantastic deep ball passer but had some bumps on the way
Week 6 (@ Dallas): Kyler Murray deep right to Christian Kirk for an 80-yard touchdown at 4:53 in the 2nd quarter
Kyler Murray is not only an athletic force of nature but he is also a very solid passer. If a play is designed for the deep pass, Murray will uncork it and let the ball fly. And as we have seen throughout the 2020 season, he loves to throw it deep down field.
On this play in the second quarter, Murray fakes the handoff to Kenyan Drake (#41) and hits a wide open Christian Kirk (#13) in stride on a go route for an 80-yard touchdown after a double move on Daryl Worley (#28). He found the open receiver quickly and got the ball out of his hands as soon as possible.
If you want to see more of his 2020 passes, check this out:
Some of #AZCardinals Kyler Murray's best deep throws in 2020. Would have put more but Twitter limits Enjoy #RedSea— Andy Kwong (@akwong31) May 19, 2021
P.S. I saved the best for last pic.twitter.com/kjbroM8zaH
Although Kyler Murray thrived when throwing in the direction of Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins (over 100 passer rating when targeted), the same cannot be said with Andy Isabella. Murray’s chemistry with the UMass product was not on point last year. Evidence is in the video below. A combination of miscommunication and inaccuracies could not get this connection going last season with a 63.8 passer rating when targeted.
Deep attempts (according to Next Gen Stats): 23-of-58, 874 yards, 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 126.8 passer rating.
Sometimes he just did not have enough time...
Week 16 (vs. 49ers): Kyler Murray sacked by Kerry Hyder with 8:24 in the 2nd quarter
There have been so many plays in the NFL last season that could not be made by the Cardinals offense because of the pressures allowed by the offensive line. Kelvin Beachum (#68) was solid throughout the 2020 season but here, he got beat by 49ers’ Kerry Hyder (#92).
This was an empty backfield formation with Kenyan Drake (#41) lined up out wide motioning to the right side of the field before the snap. On this play, Christian Kirk (#13) was wide open on what looked like a go route. Not sure what Ahkello Witherspoon (#23) was doing on this play leaving him open like that even if he was expecting safety help. This could have been a 75-yard touchdown but instead, Murray ended up getting sacked for a loss of two. However, there are some things that I like about this play. For one, Kirk got open. Second, Murray stepped up in the pocket and was seconds away from throwing it deep down field.
The protection by the offensive line last season was very respectable but can still be improved. If Kyler Murray is better protected, no doubt in mind plays like this and many others would have been completed.
There has been some “What Are You Doing?” moments with K1
Week 15 (vs. Eagles): Kyler Murray’s pass short middle intended for Christian Kirk interception by Marcus Epps in the endzone with 4:53 remaining in the 3rd quarter
No quarterback in the NFL is perfect. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and all of the great quarterbacks in NFL history have made mistakes on the football field in their respective careers. And it is part of the growing pains in the NFL.
Here in the shotgun formation on a 2nd and goal situation, Christian Kirk (#13) is running in what looks to be a post route. One issue I see with Kyler Murray right here and in some instances throughout the season is him staring down his intended target. Not only is Kirk not open on this play, DeAndre Hopkins (#10) was open for a split second or two on that drive/drag route if Kyler simply looked his way.
To Murray’s defense, the pocket was collapsing and it did in fact look like he was trying to pull the ball back from leaving his hands. However, going through his progressions when there is time in the pocket is something he must continue to improve on. But he is getting better. Murray’s sophomore season was much better than his rookie year in 2019.
Speaking of this....
Murray must continue to make strides in reading defenses and going through with his progressions
Week 3 (vs. Lions): Kyler Murray’s pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald intercepted by Jamie Collins
In this play here, I already see two wide receivers that are open. On the top of the screen, DeAndre Hopkins is running an out route. On the bottom, we see Keesean Johnson (#19) open on a curl. Though Murray had time, he forced the ball to Larry Fitzgerald (#11) in the slot who was covered by linebacker Jamie Collins (#58) and cornerback Darryl Roberts (#29).
Sometimes, it is just best to make the easy completion over trying to make a big play with a specific target in mind in tight coverage. This Lions game was among one of Murray’s worst performances in the NFL as he threw three picks to a team that did not force turnovers up to that point that season.
Make reads, identify coverages, and go through with the progressions. Improve here and watch out.
Kyler Murray knows how to fool a defense and make them pay with his turbo speed
Week 9 (vs. Dolphins): Kyler Murray left end for a 12-yard touchdown run with 2:33 remaining in the 3rd quarter
Kyler Murray, without question, is one of the fastest quarterbacks in the NFL. It is one thing to be just athletic but it also another to use that athletic ability to its fullest potential. And it is on full display here.
This is a designed run play for the quarterback in a read-option (shotgun) formation. Murray motions Christian Kirk (#13) to the left side, fakes the handoff to Chase Edmonds (#29), and runs it in for the score. First off, Emmanuel Ogbah (#91) was completely fooled here as he went to tackle Edmonds. This paved the way for Kirk’s block on Jerome Baker (#55) and Maxx Williams (#87) with the chop block on Bobby McCain (#28) near the endzone.
Both Ogbah and Baker fell for the Cardinals’ trap believing Edmonds had the ball. You have to sell to the defense that the running back is getting the ball and Murray did just that. Murray’s patience and calmness were key.
Murray finds a way to make guys miss even if the defense is not faked out
Week 9 (vs. Dolphins): Kyler Murray up the middle for 28 yards with 5:22 remaining in the 3rd quarter
Sometimes the read option plays will not fake everyone out. Dolphins’ linebacker Kyle Van Noy (#53) knew exactly what was going to happen and had his eyes on Kyler Murray the entire time. But knowing the play that is called does not necessary mean it will be stopped.
Van Noy made an attempt to tackle him but Kyler Murray evaded it and proceeded to run for a huge 28-yard gain. Murray just knows how to make guys miss and is one of the most difficult players to tackle for a reason. He is slippery, fast, and agile. Not many quarterbacks in the NFL can do what he does.
The unique abilities of Murray is what makes the Cardinals offense so fun to watch.
And he knows how to protect himself too while making the big plays
Week 4 (@ Panthers): Kyler Murray scrambles left end for 48 yards with 5:26 remaining in the 3rd quarter
A part of being a quarterback is also knowing your limits. Not just how far you can throw a ball or how long you can extend a play but knowing when to throw the ball away, running out of bounds, or sliding to prevent any unnecessary hits.
In this highlight, offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (#64) gets beat by Zach Kerr (#92) in the interior forcing Kyler Murray to scramble out of the pocket and runs full speed down field for a 48-yard gain. What I love here is not only the big gain but Murray sliding at the end of the play to avoid getting hit. He understood that he was slowing down and that the defenders were right behind him ready to make the tackle. Murray evaluated his surroundings and made the smart decision to protect himself with the slide.
Throughout the 2020 season, Murray did a really good job when it came to protecting himself. He slid quite a lot, threw the ball away (though he did a better job at that in 2019 in my opinion), and did everything he could to stay healthy.
Kyler Murray’s future is very bright in the desert. He is a really good deep ball passer with respectable pocket awareness and can do plenty of damage with his speed. All eyes will be on him making the necessary reads and going through with his progressions to truly take flight as the franchise quarterback of this organization.
Cardinals mandatory minicamp will take place on June 8-10 so more content to come. If I am calling anything, 2021 will be his best season yet.