The Arizona Cardinals are waiting to reap the benefits of a successful coach-quarterback marriage. When they hired Kliff Kingsbury, a coach with a less than .500 winning percentage in college, and turned heads by using their second consecutive top-10 draft pick on a passer, there were high hopes the Cardinals would no longer be bottom dwellers in the NFC West. That didn’t come to fruition in 2019; Arizona finished 5-10-1 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
But amid another losing season, Kyler Murray earned top honors. After a 3,722-yard, 20-touchdown campaign, Murray was awarded Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Cardinals got some return on their investment, and hope for the future of the franchise was restored.
Arizona has continued to bolster its offense. It traded for one of the NFL’s top wide receivers, DeAndre Hopkins, and drafted running back Eno Benjamin out of Arizona State. Kenyan Drake will be the team’s RB1 after coming to the Valley midseason and posting some of the best numbers in his four-year career. This will all help Murray the passer. However, what made his rookie season so electric and captivating in a middling offensive attack—Arizona ranked 18th in touchdowns and 17th in points per game (22.6)—was his ability to produce on the ground.
Murray was in rare company after his rookie year when he became the third first-year passer to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 500 yards in the same season; he joined Cam Newton (2011) and Robert Griffin III (2012). Murray finished 2019 with the second-most rushing yards of any quarterback. His 544 yards followed only Lamar Jackson (1,206). Murray also had four rushing touchdowns.
What will Murray’s rushing yards look like in 2020? DraftKings has his total rushing yards prop set at 475.5 (over -110; under -110).
All of this was to say, he’ll still be running—a lot. While Kingsbury would rather continue his Air Raid approach and see Murray pound the ground far less often, part of Murray’s game, of his magic, is to do just that.
If Murray improves in the passing game—hitting 3,950.5 (over -150; under +110) yards and 24.5 (over -165; under +125) set by MyBookie.ag—it will likely result in a decrease to his rushing yards. However, he can still improve on his 2019 rushing statistics (544 yards, four touchdowns) now that he’s used to the NFL speed and poor offensive line he’s working behind. This can also allow Kingsbury to build a better offense around the dual-threat passer; one that is less conservative, especially in the red zone, and implements the new style rushing quarterbacks bring with a traditional spread offense.
The Cardinals’ run by committee approach last season resulted in Drake getting a bulk of the carries. Drake’s prop bet is set at 1050.5 rushing yards (over -115; under -125), according to MyBookie.ag, but he’s never played and started a full season. Even with a healthy Chase Edmonds and productive first year from Benjamin on top of Drake’s usage, Murray will still need to help open up this offense with his legs.
The Cardinals were better in pass protection as the 2019 season continued, but Murray was sacked a league-high (tied) 48 times—Pro Football Focus blamed Murray for 23 of them. He was sacked 20 times through the first four games and 28 times the remainder of the year.
Murray’s presence in Arizona’s rushing attack is just as important as his powerful arm; his run rating was 13.4, behind Jackson (39.1), Deshaun Watson (19.8), and Patrick Mahomes (14.3). Murray’s passer rating was 37.3, ranking 19th-best. The team would be wise to continue to utilize Murray’s legs; similar to how the Seattle Seahawks use Russell Wilson but hopefully with less pressure and a better overall offense.
Wilson, behind a horrible offensive line in Seattle, improved on his rushing yards since joining the NFL in 2012 until he topped out at 849 in 2014. The Seahawks have unfairly placed too much of the weight on Wilson, something the Cardinals would be wise to avoid—and something they can avoid if Kingsbury remains adaptable.
The parallels between Wilson and Seattle’s offense and Murray in Arizona’s stretch beyond the first couple years of Wilson’s career. Last season, the Cardinals ran 10 personnel sets—one running back, no tight end, and four wide receivers—on 59% of their plays through the first four weeks, according to Sharp Football Stats. The Seahawks had the second-highest percentage (11%). Murray wasn’t aided by these sets and began to make things happen for himself much later in the season.
Murray the passer will be on full display in 2020 with the influx of star power in Arizona while the stability of the backfield will impact how much, and how far, Murray runs. I don’t have a lot of faith in Arizona’s committee. I would bet over 475.5 yards (-110). Murray won’t have to carry the Cardinals alone, but it isn’t wise to think his rushing yards would decrease significantly below his first year’s output.
- Dec 08, 2022
- Dec 08, 2022