After a tough offseason, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has finally been granted his much-wanted side’s contract extension.
Murray has shown he can change a game with a flick of the wrist or behind his blistering speed.
With the ink now dry on a new deal, it’s up to Murray to continue his progression in the NFL and live up to his end of the deal.
A look at the areas of Murray’s game that need to step up to justify the big payday he just picked up:
Get the W playoffs
Playoffs?! Yes, we are talking about playoffs.
Murray helped break Arizona’s postseason streak last season, but fell flat in the NFC Wild Card game against the Los Angeles Rams.
It was a Wild Card to forget for Murray, who completed 19 of 34 passes (55.9%) for 137 yards and two interceptions in his first-ever playoff appearance. His game can be largely summed up by his choice of six in the second quarter out of the end zone.
Kyler Murray… wut
– PFF (@PFF) January 18, 2022
Any sort of momentum the Cardinals might still have had was certainly shaken at that point.
For a team that hasn’t had a playoff win since 2015, Murray not only got his team back into the playoffs, but got a win as soon as possible.
It’s no secret that the Cardinals have struggled in the second half of the seasons since the arrival of Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
And while the losses and general slowdown in play weren’t solely down to the caller, he certainly didn’t help matters.
In the first two months of the season, Murray compiled a 15-8-1 record to go with 6,352 yards and 39 touchdowns on 18 picks on 67.6% passing since 2019. He also added 170 rushing attempts for 897 yards and 12 scores.
But in the final three months of the season, Murray’s numbers have plummeted, highlighted by his 7-15 record as a starter.
In 22 games played from November through January, Murray recorded 5,128 yards and 31 touchdowns on 16 interceptions on 66 percent passing. He added 889 extra yards and eight scores on 144 carries.
Looking deeper into Murray’s trends over the past two seasons, the QB was ninth in the league in expected points added per game with 0.216 in Weeks 1-7 of 2020-21, according to rbsdm.com.
But look at weeks 8-18 over the same span and Murray falls nearly out of the top 20 with an EPA of 0.067, behind New Orleans Saints QB gimmick Taysom Hill (0.085) and just ahead of Seattle Seahawks new caller and former Denver Broncos. Drew Lock (0.065).
For Murray to succeed in overtime, he needs to find that consistency he built up in the first half of the season.
It doesn’t matter how well you perform at the start of the year if you can’t finish.
Distribute the wealth
The absence of No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins for much of the second half of the season didn’t help matters for Murray or the team last year.
When Hopkins was on the field, the offense gelled, with the wide receiver shaking off a team-high eight touchdowns before ankle and knee issues put a damper on things.
But without the perennial receiving threat for much of the second half of the season, Arizona’s offense looked out of order to say the least.
This pretty much sums it up:
—Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) July 22, 2022
Again, it’s not squarely on Murray with Kingsbury running the show from the sidelines, but spreading the love only strengthens the offense. Especially in the first six weeks of the season, the time the team will be without Hopkins as he serves his six-game suspension.
And with Murray’s favorite college target, Hollywood Brown, now in the fold, there’s another pair of trusted hands the QB can turn to.
hanging in the pocket
Murray’s ability to escape the rush and make things happen on the fly is one of the intangibles that makes him who he is as an NFL QB.
But at times last season Murray seemed too quick in his decision to come out of the pocket instead of hanging on and letting the plays roll.
He improved his pocket game last season, though, posting a 0.21 EPA per drop against zone covers, good enough for fourth among qualified quarterbacks. It was a big step up from 2020 when he posted an EPA per setback of 0.02 (36th), according to Nate Tice of The Athletic.
Murray’s EPA by number of drops against the blitz (at least five passers) also saw a significant jump, from 0.04 (33rd) in 2020 to 0.32 (fourth) in 2021.
This trend must continue.
Don’t hesitate to run the rock
Murray’s dual-threat abilities are what separate him from a plethora of NFL quarterbacks.
He and the offense are at their best when Murray throws in the extra wrinkle of directing football.
But with the extra lifts, there is an increased risk of getting jerked around or hurting yourself.
In 2020, Murray was among the NFL’s top 10 rushers in touchdowns with 11 to go with 819 yards on 133 carries. He averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per attempt.
Last season, however, saw a sharp decline in rushing play, with Murray recording 423 yards and five touchdowns on 88 carries, a career low.
Over his three-year career, the Cardinals are 14-4 when he records at least eight rushing attempts. Arizona is 8-19 while Murray is under eight carries.