With the first pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals drafted an exciting quarterback prospect out of Oklahoma named Kyler Murray. thus replacing their 2018 tenth overall pick, quarterback Josh Rosen. The Cardinals also took a gamble and hired a less than unproven head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury. Despite his college coaching resume, Kingsbury has done a respectable job thus far with the Cardinals. As the Cardinals offense has ranked 13th and 16th in scoring during his time.
After a solid 2019 season, Cardinals fans and the organization have had a huge sense of optimism, especially after the 2020 offseason. In the next offseason, the Cardinals went out and traded for superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins in a blockbuster trade. With this trade, and a coach/quarterback combo heading into their second year, expectations for 2020 were sky-high, with several analysts projecting the Cardinals would be playoff contenders (myself included). After a solid 6-3 start, the Cardinals would lose 5 of their last 7 games and finish with a (relatively) disappointing 8-8 season. To make matters worse, Murray was nursing a shoulder injury during the final weeks of the season which likely impacted his performance.
As a result, there are still some question marks for both hopeful franchise cornerstone Kyler Murray and coach Kingsbury that need to be answered. Let’s first look at why this is a pivotal season for Kyler Murray.
Ever since Kyler entered the league, he has been one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. His rocket launcher of an arm paired with his elite scrambling ability is a nightmare for opposing defenses. Murray is currently one of the best deep-ball passers in the league. On passes over 20 yards down field he threw 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions with a passer rating of 128.9. This is good for second in the NFL, above the likes of Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes, and 2020 MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Despite his success on deep balls, Murray has a glaring flaw in his game — his ability to be an accurate passer when targeting the middle of the field. As seen below, there is a significant drop off in Kyler Murray’s production when targeting the middle of the field.
Breaking Down the Graphic
As the graphic shows, when Kingsburry and Murray attempt to vertically push the ball down the field, Kyler is a much
better quarterback. Now I won’t say this is completely due to his height, as this trait has become common amongst young quarterbacks over recent years. They tend to struggle throwing over the middle of the field. As you can see, when Kyler throws between 10-19 yards he has 7 TD and 10 INT, with an abysmal passer rating of 72.0 which comes out to 24th out of 28 qualified quarterbacks.
I believe that Kyler can, and dare I say will, overcome these shortcomings. That’s just part of being a young quarterback in the NFL. The middle area of the field is where a lot of disguised coverages are utilized, which can confuse a younger, inexperienced quarterback. A prime example is Baker Mayfield, where in his second season (2019) he was one of the worst quarterbacks when targeting the middle of the field.
Forcing The Ball And How They Fixed It
Both Baker and Kyler had promising rookie seasons which led to high expectations leading into their sophomore campaigns. Both front offices of their respective teams were aggressive in adding weapons to help their young quarterback. However, for both quarterbacks, it was apparent that they would force the ball to their elite wide receiver. Baker in 2019 had an awful 4 TD and 7 INT with a passer rating of 70.2 to Odell Becham, which is well below average.
While Kyler certainly has a higher passer rating when targeting Hopkins, he does force him the ball unnecessarily when he shouldn’t, which, if not leading to interceptions, does stall out drives and puts the Cardinals behind the eight ball. I do expect Kyler to improve this facet of his game as he gets older. Unfortunately for the Cardinals a lot of the responsibility also lies on head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Kliff Kingsbury On The Hot Seat??
Kliff Kingsbury, as already mentioned, has done a serviceable job as a play caller. However, as a head coach, I feel he needs to adapt to his players and team personnel, both during in-week preparations, and in-game scenarios. My co-host Warner isn’t the biggest fan of Kingsbury, and rightfully so. Kingsbury’s situational play-calling is frequently subpar. Kingsbury also doesn’t galvanize the rest of his roster to buy in to the team’s goals. More importantly, when your quarterback is as dynamic as Kyler Murray, who clearly is a more accurate and better passer when pushing the ball down the field, you have to recognize his strengths and make the necessary adjustments. I propose that the Cardinals have more of an aerial passing attack. They should use weapons such as DeAndre Hopkins and explosive rookie Rondale Moore. This would stretch the opposing defenses and make Kyler Murray more comfortable.
I hope Kliff pans out for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, it is so very important for a team to win while their quarterback is on their rookie contract. If things don’t go well for the Cardinals this upcoming season, expect the Arizona Cardinals to have a head coaching vacancy in the offseason.