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Sunday’s game is the biggest test yet for Kyler Murray this season

Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals take on the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense on Sunday. This will easily be the toughest defense Kyler has faced since coming back from injury. Is he up to the test?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray was hit all day against the Rams last week. Will things be any better against the Steelers on Sunday?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Murray’s 2023 Arizona Cardinals debut almost couldn’t have gone better—he looked healthy and rejuvenated in leading the team to a comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons in front of the home crowd. It was a real glimmer of hope in what had been a frustrating season.

Things have gone nowhere but downhill since then. Kyler looked okay the next week in a road loss to the Houston Texans. The offense largely sputtered after a lightning-quick opening drive TD, and the offense turned the ball over on downs on three consecutive drives in the second half to fall just short in a very winnable game.

Things bottomed out last week in a bad home loss to a mediocre Los Angeles Rams team. Kyler was responsible for the team’s only two TDs and didn’t turn the ball over, but he was harried (4 sacks) and inaccurate (27/45) all day. No, Kyler can’t play defense (MAN were we gouged on the ground), but we needed Kyler to be better than he was. The offense got another opening drive TD but then got zero points on eight consecutive drives before a meaningless garbage time TD.

Things only get tougher on Sunday as the Cardinals travel east to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. This will easily be the toughest defense Kyler has faced in his return. The Falcons, Texans, and Rams all have middle-of-the-pack defensive units, but the Steelers defense is among the league’s best. Epitomizing bend but don’t break, they rank just ahead of the Cardinals at #25 in yards against per game (354.4), but they’re the #5 scoring defense, giving up just 18.6 points per game. OLB T.J. Watt has been unstoppable at times and is having a DPOY season.

The Steelers also probably have the advantage in just about every other phase of the game besides defense—offensive line, skill position talent, special teams (with the possible exception of kicker), coaching. But there’s one key position where the Cardinals have a clear advantage: quarterback. That’s why this is such a big game for Kyler.

Kenny Pickett has been among the worst starters in the league this season, severely limiting the Steelers offense despite prolific talent at WR/TE (Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth; even Jaylen Warren is a good pass-catching RB). He’s #21 per PFF grading and #27 in QBR. He has thrown for multiple TD passes exactly once in his career, and he has more games with zero touchdown passes this season (6) than games with a TD pass (5).

Granted, Kyler’s metrics aren’t much better, but he’s only played three games as he returns to form from an ACL tear. We can give him the benefit of the doubt. Kyler Murray is a better—MUCH better—NFL QB than Kenny Pickett. Full stop.

So this game—where the Cardinals are underdogs on the road (PIT -5.5) to a playoff contender and outmanned just about everywhere on the field—will be a very interesting test for Kyler. If you look at the Steelers’s season, they’ve struggled a bit when they are at a QB disadvantage. That’s par for the course for NFL teams, obviously, but even an elite scoring/takeaway (20 takeaways, tied for #3 in the league) defense like the Steelers can’t always overcome a QB deficiency.

In Week 1, they were housed 30-7 by Brock Purdy and the 49ers. They lost 30-6 to the rookie phenom C.J. Stroud and the Texans in Week 4. They lost 20-10 to Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars two weeks later. The DID beat Lamar Jackson and the Ravens 17-10 in Week 5 and Matt Stafford and the Rams 24-17 in their next game, but they needed miracle 14-point comebacks in the 4th quarter in both games to get the win. Here are the other QBs the Steelers have beaten this season: a possibly washed Deshaun Watson, a definitely washed Jimmy Garoppolo, rookie Will Levis, basically a rookie Jordan Love, and something called a “Jake Browning.”

So the Cardinals have a shot on Sunday if they can get a good game from Kyler. He’s had three games to shake the rust off and acclimate to the new offensive system. Now it’s time for him to deliver in a harsh environment against a tough defense and show he’s clearly the best quarterback on the field… and the best quarterback for the Cardinals moving forward. All eyes will be on him on Sunday—fans, observers, analysts… and especially Monti Ossenfort and Michael Bidwill.

Can Kyler pass the test? Vote in the poll below and say your piece in the comments.

Poll

What are you expecting from Kyler Murray and the Cardinals against the Steelers on Sunday?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Kyler has a big game and the Cardinals win
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Kyler doesn’t play well but the Cardinals win anyway
    (2 votes)
  • 39%
    Kyler plays well but the Cardinals still lose
    (73 votes)
  • 50%
    Kyler doesn’t play well and the Cardinals lose
    (93 votes)
183 votes total Vote Now