Kyler Murray did not perform well in his first playoff game against Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams. His struggles in this game were congruent with his flaws dating back to his Texas A&M days. But he does not hold all of the blame for his struggles on Monday night. McVay put on an offensive clinic, and my key to the game turned out to be the most significant difference in the game. It’s just not quite how I thought it would go for the Arizona Cardinals.
Kyler Murray struggles in first playoff game
It’s VERY easy for fans to blame the quarterback blindly. They’re the ones taking the sacks, throwing the interceptions, and fumbling the football. But as PFN’s own Brett Yarris would decree, a quarterback’s environment is as essential as his individual skill.
Once a QB is to a certain level, these things become less crucial. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers can overcome deficiencies at receiver and offensive line. But those quarterbacks have done it for over a decade.
Two personal issues for Kyler Murray
One particular occurrence in this game worried me with Murray. There’s another that could explain some of his issues and be fixable heading into next season.
Issue 1: The internal clock
Murray’s internal clock, or his insistence on not caring about it, is part of what makes him unique and incredibly dangerous. However, situationally it can be a detriment, to the point where it is crippling.
So, let’s paint the picture. There is 8:07 left in the second quarter, and the Cardinals are down 14-0. They have the ball at their own 3.5-yard line, and it is third-and-7. The play before was a bucket throw to an open A.J. Green that Nick Scott dislodged. It was initially called a catch, but McVay won the challenge, and it was ruled incomplete upon review.
The defensive front on the next play leads the offensive line to slide right, leaving Troy Reeder one-on-one against James Conner in the backside B gap. It was over 3.5 seconds from snap to Reeder contacting Murray in the end zone. Kyler pitched a tent, started a fire, started eating all kinds of cookies while grilling steak, and then was caught by surprise when a bear rolled up to the site.
That is an inexcusable amount of time to spend in your own end zone, particularly when you’re not scrambling away from the pressure you feel. Murray made a valiant attempt to get rid of the ball, but one could argue he should have just taken the safety, allowing a two-possession game to stay a two-possession game.
Issue 2: Play after the ankle injury
Murray was not good after coming back from his ankle injury. He physically looked okay, with Murray’s crazy legs avoiding pressure and running around like a child playing tag at the playground.
However, he wasn’t nearly as consistent as a passer, which makes me wonder if that ankle bothered him for most of the season. Passes he threw on the hoof weren’t near as consistently accurate as they once were, and the MVP candidate before injury looked mortal after.
But that should be okay heading into 2022, and he is not entirely to blame for his struggles.
Kliff Kingsbury’s offense can’t collapse without DeAndre Hopkins
From Weeks 1-8, the Cardinals’ offense had a dropback EPA/play ranking second in the NFL at .284 and the fourth-highest dropback success rate. Murray and Hopkins returned Week 13 and played two disjointed weeks against Chicago and Los Angeles.
Hopkins hasn’t played since Week 14. From Week 15 through the Rams’ playoff game, the Cardinals’ dropback EPA ranked 25th at -.125 and dropback success rate ranked 20th at 42.9%.
Kingsbury’s offense cannot collapse at the loss of one player, albeit a superstar wide receiver. Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, Antoine Wesley, Zach Ertz, James Conner, and Chase Edmonds are more than enough firepower to survive with.
But that brings me to my next point.
Steve Keim must address the offensive line for Murray
The Cardinals have other issues on their roster that need to be addressed. There is no denying that. The offensive line can suffice, but it isn’t a top-end unit in front of Murray. However, they should at least consider upgrading at every spot on the line. D.J. Humphries isn’t bad, but an upgrade is possible, and they have an out in his contract that would create $14 million in cap space for 2022. The Cardinals could burn Justin Pugh’s contract in the fire to save $9 million.
Cutting them without imminent replacements would be foolish. But aside from Rodney Hudson, who must remain out of contractual obligation, everyone on that line could be improved upon, even if it’s a long shot. We saw the Chiefs do it just one season ago when they let both tackles walk.
Steve Keim has a lot of decisions to make this offseason, but protecting Arizona’s greatest asset and fostering an environment in the pocket that he can consistently be successful in should be the top goal.