Coach Kliff Kingsbury has handed the keys to his quarterback, content to ride shotgun as Murray leads the Cardinals in their quest to end a five-year playoff drought.
“He’s just taken ownership of this team,” Kingsbury told reporters Monday, September 13. “It’s his team, and he knows we’re going to go as far as he takes us.”
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Now in his third season, Murray has looked much more comfortable in the leadership role. The 24-year-old quarterback’s growth was evident throughout training camp, where he emerged as a more vocal leader than his first two NFL seasons.
He’s confident when changing plays at the line of scrimmage when he sees something he likes — or doesn’t — from the defense. And he doesn’t hesitate to get after teammates when they don’t do their jobs correctly, as he did on the sidelines more than once during the Cardinals’ 38-13 road win over the Tennessee Titans in Week 1.
He’ll even throw shade at the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
“He’s a really unorthodox guy,” Murray said while chatting with reporters about teammate Chandler Jones on Wednesday, September 14. “He takes his shirt off and he doesn’t look too good. He makes plays though on Sunday.”
Jones responded to the playful jab with one of his own on Twitter: “Somebody tell baby yoda the truth about his new hairdo.”
Kyler Murray: ‘They Drafted Me for a Reason’
The Cardinals essentially anointed Murray as the “Chosen One” to lead the team back to the playoffs when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“I know they drafted me for a reason,” he said. “When they drafted me, I knew what it was. I knew the direction we were going.”
Murray certainly looked comfortable leading the Cardinals’ offense against the Titans. He threw a career-high four touchdown passes and rushed for another TD in a season debut that oddsmakers say makes him second-most likely to win the NFL MVP behind Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Murray said having two full seasons in Kingsbury’s offense and now 33 games against NFL defenses have made him more more comfortable recognizing what opponents are trying to do and how to combat that.
The quarterback said he has the green light to change plays based on what he sees on the field.
“Usually if I do, I know it’s going to work,” he said.
His third touchdown pass against the Titans — a 26-yard lob into the end zone to Christian Kirk — was the result of Murray recognizing the blitz and checking to the play at the line of scrimmage.
“On the sideline, Kliff may not have been too happy with what I was doing, but it ended up working,” he said.
‘Getting to the Top of the Mountain’
Kingsbury said Murray not only understands that how much success the Cardinals have this season rests squarely on his 5-foot-10, 207-pound frame, but the quarterback welcomes the challenge.
“He’s embraced that role, and you can see the passion coming out,” Kingsbury said.
When asked about ending the Cardinals’ playoff drought, Murray has been careful not to make any guarantees while also not limiting what they can accomplish this season.
“But as far as us getting to the top of the mountain, being as good as we can be, I’ll say we’re on the way to that,” he said. “I feel like we’re very capable of that. The potential’s there. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.”
The Cardinals certainly showed that potential in Week 1 against the Titans. Murray completed 21-of-32 passes for 289 yards and made impressive and sometimes improbable throws on his four touchdowns.
In addition to making a leaping catch along the back of the end zone and coming down with his feet inbounds, Hopkins created separation with a little magic of his own.
“On the first touchdown, (Hopkins) paused in the back of the end zone, had the guy run into him, and then it accelerated him forward to create separation,” Kingsbury said. “It’s just like some Jedi-type stuff. He just has a great feel for getting open.”
Murray, who made the throw while on the run, said he didn’t see how Hopkins got open until watching film of the game.
“That was crazy,” he said. “I didn’t see that on the field, but once I watched it, it was pretty smart.”
A ‘Josh Allen-esque Breakout’ for Kyler Murray?
When it coms to Murray, Pro Football Focus analyst Anthony Treash is buying into the hype. In his story about buying or selling the biggest overreations of Week 1, Treash advises to “buy” the theory that Murray will have a “Josh Allen-esque breakout” in his third season.
Treash said the Cardinals QB “took a big step forward with his pocket passing a season ago, but the mistakes he made while trying to create something outside of structure always capped his ceiling.” He continued:
While Murray did have one such interception in Week 1, he made up for it with no fewer than six big-time throws, which led all quarterbacks for the week and topped his career-high by two. He wasn’t forcing the ball as much and did a fantastic job attacking the receiver’s leverage.
Only time will tell whether or not this is a new Murray that will take that next step throughout this season, but there’s plenty of reason to buy into the idea that he learned from his past mistakes.