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How Kyler Murray is progressing in his rookie year with the Cardinals

Kliff Kingsbury’s offense will take time to mature and Murray needs some help, but early returns are positive for the struggling Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are a pairing that makes sense. Murray is a raw, versatile quarterback who can beat you with his arm or his legs, and Kingsbury is a young coach trying to bring his version of the air raid to the NFL.

In their first year together in Arizona, that offense was never going to have all its gears spinning right away, even if Murray was expected to hit the ground running (literally). The Cardinals are building for the future, and the most interesting thing about them right now is whether we can catch glimpses of that future in Murray’s play as a rookie.

Through five games, the results are both encouraging and unsurprising. He’s been putting up good numbers, with 1,324 yards in the air, 206 on the ground, and six total touchdowns. He has also provided some late-game heroics in a win against the Bengals and a comeback tie against the Lions.

But the Cardinals are still 1-3-1, and Murray hasn’t been consistently electric in either the passing or running game. While the explosiveness is there, it hasn’t resulted in a jaw-dropping performance as of yet.

The good news is Murray is a competitor who tries to make plays wherever he can, and fortunately for Kingsbury, he can make them pretty much anywhere. In trying to figure out how far along the No. 1 pick is, I watched film from all five Cardinals games this season. However, the focus of my breakdown will be on his top plays from Week 5 against the Bengals, the first win of the Kingsbury-Murray era.

Let’s dive into what Murray has been doing well and what that means for Arizona going forward.

Murray’s running ability isn’t a gimmick

The first question I wanted answered was simple: is Murray running a lot because it’s the right thing to do, or is he falling back on it as means of escape from pressure? The Cardinals are teeing up plenty of designed runs for him, but what I’ve found is a pretty good sign: Murray is choosing to run at the right times, for the most part.

The play above came late in the first half, with the Cardinals holding a one-score lead. Murray dropped back to pass, looked to his right-side read, then had pressure in his face. He immediately took off and picked up 19 yards. He also managed to get back to the line and spike the ball to set up a field goal. Most quarterbacks would probably not be that quick, and wouldn’t have the time to spike the ball after going down in-bounds.

How about something with a lot more on the line?

The stakes were much higher on this play, as the Cardinals were tied with under a minute to go. On second-and-6, Murray made the decision to abandon the pass and run for it. His speed and quickness were unmatched on the field, and he gained 24 yards. That easily put his team in position to kick the game-winning field goal two plays later.

Designed runs are also pretty effective, or at least they can be. Thus far, the Cardinals seem to be calling designed runs 3-4 times per game.

This was one that the Bengals almost stopped short of a touchdown, before a late double move by Murray made the defensive back stumble. Murray got the extra 2 yards he needed for the touchdown, and the Cardinals took a lead into the second quarter as a result.

Murray can put the ball where it needs to be

Cards on the table: there wasn’t a ton I knew about Murray coming out of college. Before he entered the NFL, I didn’t have much experience watching him actually throw the ball. After spending the time with his film, though, I’m pretty satisfied that he can make all the throws.

His placement on a pair of passes to David Johnson illustrate the point very well. The first is a back-shoulder throw down the sideline.

That right there is a beauty of a pass. Murray also clearly checked his reads in the middle of the field before settling on the back-shoulder throw to Johnson, one of his favorite targets. Johnson made a great play on the ball, which was placed where only he could catch it.

Murray connected with Johnson again for another big play against the Bengals, this time throwing ahead and not behind.

Murray didn’t look to his right much, because he knew Johnson was in a one-on-one matchup that he could win.

Johnson bobbled this pass, which came when Murray was dealing with pressure in his face. While Johnson took a hit on the play, he made the catch and the Cardinals converted the second-and-short to help extent their game-winning drive.

The Cardinals aren’t going to win a lot of games this year. They don’t have many offensive weapons, and the defense needs an infusion of talent as well.

On the plus side, Murray already looks better today than he did four weeks ago.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. Murray needs to keep working on going through his progressions with more consistency. He has a tendency to lock on to his first read. But notably, his biggest passing plays saw him go through them, so he’s already making progress. I also noticed more than a couple overthrows.

It’s easy to like what the Cardinals are doing, though. With the combination of more time and some more help, it’s not difficult to see a future where Murray leads an effective, exciting offense on a good Arizona team.