They say your failures eventually contribute to your success. That couldn’t be more true in the case of the Arizona Cardinals.
Three-and-a-half years ago, the Cardinals spent the 10th overall pick on quarterback Josh Rosen and general manager Steve Keim declared him the “best thrower in the 2018 draft.” However, Rosen underwhelmed, proving that he was yet another miss at the quarterback position for Keim. In fact, the 2018 season was so atrocious that the Cardinals fired their head coach Steve Wilks after just one season while earning themselves the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
With Keim firmly on the hot seat and nothing left to lose, he hired Kliff Kingsbury—who had just been fired as head coach at Texas Tech (his alma mater) and had recently taken the offensive coordinator job at USC—to be Arizona’s next head coach. Kingsbury brought his air raid offense to the Valley and had lobbied to draft the player he had known since his prep days in Texas. Kingsbury made a convincing enough argument that the Cardinals selected quarterback Kyler Murray No. 1 overall just a year after taking Rosen.
There was skepticism surrounding both the Kingsbury hire and the selection of Murray. Kingsbury had just been fired and had a losing record in college even though he had future NFL players Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, and NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Murray had only started one year in college and Keim’s previous draft record in the first round had been abysmal. There was legitimate caution when the duo arrived in the Valley.
Fast forward to two weeks into the 2021 regular season, the caution has officially been replaced with genuine excitement. The marriage of Kingsbury and Murray has turned Arizona’s offense into one of the best units in the NFL.
In his rookie season (2019), Murray showed his dynamic ability at the quarterback position. With his escapability, supreme confidence, and cannon arm on full display, he went on to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. As a rookie, he passed for 3,722 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He also added 544 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on 93 carries and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.
Murray got even better last season and began to etch his name in the Cardinals’ history books. Against the Buffalo Bills, he engineered a drive down to the Bills’ 43-yard line as time ticked away with only 11 seconds to go. He escaped the pocket and hurled it into the end zone where DeAndre Hopkins rose over three defenders to secure the game-winning catch. This play would be nicknamed the “Hail Murray” and is easily one of the best plays in Cardinal history.
Murray finished the 2020 season better in every statistical category than the year before. He completed 67% of his passes for 3,971 yards, 26 passing touchdowns, and 12 interceptions while rushing for 819 yards and 11 scores on the ground. He was named to the Pro Bowl.
His 2021 is already starting off with a bang. The maturation of his game is one of the many reasons fans in Arizona are genuinely excited about the prospects of their team.
In Arizona’s Week 2 game, the Minnesota Vikings jumped out on them early. The Cardinals were down 20-7 in the first half. However, with Arizona’s offense, no lead is safe.
Murray brings “Steph Curry-like” anticipation. When he has the ball you can feel the people in the stadium on the edge of their seats, eager to see what his next big play will be. When he breaks the pocket is when he’s the most dangerous. His touchdown throw to Hopkins on a 3rd-and-long was vintage Murray. He broke the pocket, allowed Hopkins to improvise, and found him in the end zone for a touchdown.
Before the first half ended and the Cardinals were down six, he broke the pocket again, scrambled to his left, threw across his body, and found rookie Rondale Moore for a 77-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals ended up taking a lead into the halftime locker room and eventually won the game to improve to 2-0.
As an onlooker, you never feel the Cardinals are out of a game with Murray pulling the trigger. He causes supreme frustration for defenses, particularly on third downs. Even when you’re in the right coverage and every receiver is covered, he can tuck it and run 20 yards for a back-breaking first down—there is nothing more demoralizing for a defense. Murray’s game has also matured to the point where he no longer takes unnecessary, clean hits from defenders. He has learned when to get down, when to get out of bounds, and when the appropriate time is to take a risk.
What’s scary is there is still room for improvement.
Oftentimes, players with otherworldly ability become victims to that ability by taking chances and relying on their talent to bail them out. Case in point, Murray is on pace to throw 25.5 interceptions. Taking care of the football and the Cardinals’ offense becoming more balanced by establishing the run will only make this team more dangerous. If they secure a playoff berth and Murray continues to play the way he has thus far, Murray will finish top three in the MVP race.
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