Home » Blog » What to Watch for as Arizona Cardinals Evaluate Kyler Murray’s Final 4 Games
Arizona News Sports

What to Watch for as Arizona Cardinals Evaluate Kyler Murray’s Final 4 Games

Like the majority of his NFL peers, Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon is right when he constantly reminds everyone listening that during a season, “It’s never just about one guy.” That doesn’t mean that all eyes won’t be glued on quarterback Kyler Murray, of course.

As the Cardinals (3-10) emerge from their off week and prepare for the final four games of the regular season, their future could depend on how Murray navigates his way against the 49ers at home next Sunday, in a road game against the Bears after that, followed by a trip to Philadelphia to face the Eagles and, finally, the season finale at home against the Seahawks.

It’s the “second half” of his critical, eight-week evaluation period and it could go a long way in determining if he’s still the franchise quarterback they hope he is, or whether it’s time to move on from Murray and roll the dice in a quarterback-rich 2024 NFL draft.

Armed with two first-round picks and six within the top 82 selections overall, General Manager Monti Ossenfort has enough draft capital to do all kinds of things. He could build around Murray or start over at quarterback and keep adding more talent to the roster.

It’s possible that Ossenfort, along with team owner Michael Bidwill and Gannon, have already made their decision about Murray. If that’s true, it probably means they have no intention of trying to trade him after this season. Why would coaches spend so much time helping him overhaul his footwork and changing other parts of his game if they were planning on a divorce?

Maybe the plan all along was for the Cardinals to give Murray more time to prove himself and show he can thrive in this new offense. After all, he didn’t have the benefit of a regular offseason or training camp because of his lengthy rehab from a torn ACL. How can a GM and head coach who didn’t draft Murray make a fair and honest assessment of him without giving him a chance to be at his best?

“Every time I touch the field I expect to win,” Murray said after improving to 2-2 in his return following the Cardinals’ 24-10 victory at the Steelers on Thursday night. “Obviously, I’m still frustrated with the two losses, and me playing and dealing with those losses, but I was talking to ‘Is’ (quarterbacks coach Israel Woolfork) and this is technically preseason for me, four weeks into the season.

“I told him it was starting to slow down for me and getting more comfortable, and I just feel better out there right now. Hopefully, we can keep getting better and keep continuing to grow.

Murray’s numbers have been modest thus far. He’s completing 60.8 percent of his passes for an average of 216 yards per game. He’s thrown three touchdowns to two interceptions and has scored three rushing touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards on 23 total designed runs or scrambles.

He was better than expected in his initial return, a solid win over the Falcons. He took a step back during a winnable game at Houston. Nothing seemed to work during a miserable rout by the Rams. But then Murray bounced back with a great effort in the win at Pittsburgh, which included a 99-yard touchdown drive and then, despite two separate weather delays, engineering two more TD drives to stun the Steelers.

Another encouraging aspect from that game, according to Gannon, was Murray recognizing how to become better adjusted to the new footwork techniques he’s being taught.

“His feet are so good and so fast, I think sometimes he gets sped up a little bit and he’s aware of that,” Gannon said. “Maybe when he’s ready to hitch and throw, the routes aren’t developed or his eyes aren’t getting to the right progression, but he’s doing a good job with that. “He actually told me that when he came off, I think after the third or fourth series. He goes, ‘I’m settled in.’ He felt really good about what we were doing. As his process continues of playing in the offense versus different defenses — it was his second time on the road — so that’ll continue to get better.”

Meanwhile, Murray has made strides elsewhere from a leadership and maturity standpoint. He’s no longer the standoffish, brooding loner he so often appeared to be during his four first NFL seasons. He’s been fully engaged, far more responsive and thoughtful in his media sessions and, most importantly, has completely bought into the brand of football Ossenfort and Gannon have established.

“We’re being coached well,” Murray said, adding, “I love the scheme. I love what we’re doing and the attention to detail is really what I love the most.”

But now comes the hard part.

It starts next Sunday against the NFC West rival 49ers (9-3), who have crushed the Cardinals in the past three meetings by an average score of 37-13. Things might be a little easier against the Bears, but there’s no telling what the field conditions could be like at windy and cold Soldier Field on Christmas Eve. Meeting the Eagles in Philly will be no treat, and the Seahawks always seem to play well when they visit Glendale.

What if Murray falls on his face? What happens if he regresses coming out of the bye and can’t build off the momentum he found in Pittsburgh? Whatever the Cardinals’ true plans are for Murray, this is still seen as an ongoing evaluation and how Murray plays will factor into the final equation overall. How can he avoid a possible meltdown?

First, it’s important to remember that wins and losses are a team stat and Murray shouldn’t be judged solely by Arizona’s record in these final four games. It would help if Arizona can cut down on the penalties. The Cardinals’ offense alone has been flagged 59 times, the most in the entire league. How well the defense plays will also have an effect on Murray, especially as it relates to field position.

The good news is the Cardinals should be getting some injured players back on the field, the running game is already operating efficiently and Murray has a sure-handed pass catcher in second-year tight end Trey McBride, who is an emerging NFL star.

But Murray can help himself in other ways, such as by re-igniting his connection with wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, who didn’t catch a single pass in the Steelers’ game and has yet to really find a groove with his good friend. Murray must also not be afraid to tuck the ball and run. It’s no secret the Cardinals are a better team when he’s the dual-threat quarterback of old. When he runs 10 or more times, Arizona is 10-2.

It will also be interesting to see how many times Murray operates the offense under center, something he did 24 times during the win at Pittsburgh. Granted, some of those snaps might have been exclusive because of the weather and because the team was trying to milk the clock after taking a 10-3 halftime lead. Still, the under-center approach opens more options in the playbook for coordinator Drew Petzing and Murray alike.

Now, it’s time to sit back and take notice of how it all plays out. Like Gannon always says, “It’s never just about one guy” — until it is. In this case, it’s Kyler Murray and the “second half” of his eight-week audition, assuming this ever was an audition in the first place.

Source: AZCentral