Kyler Murray may just be the NFL’s most exciting player.
Or at least he can now officially enter that conversation alongside the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, because it’s not just the athleticism and statistics which define the evolution of this new breed of quarterbacks, but getting results in big games matters as well.
Murray’s Arizona Cardinals may not have taken that next step, at least on this version of “any given Sunday” – but goodness, even in a 34-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins at State Farm Stadium in the Arizona desert that came down to the final minutes for an outcome, he was fun to watch.
To say that Murray has mastered coach Kliff Kingsbury’s “Air Raid” attack-oriented offence would be an understatement.
With Murray at the helm of it, the “Air Raid” offence is to the West Coast Offence akin to what a strong double-strength cappuccino would be to chase down three bullet-cans of Red Bull: a nitrogen-powered stimulus to what already is a high-powered V8 engine.
The West Coast Offence – viewed as revolutionary when the San Francisco 49ers were winning Super Bowls in the 1980’s – is nothing new, as it has its origins from Bill Walsh’s days as a Paul Brown assistant coach as far back as the late 1960’s.
But if as suggested that the “Air Raid” offence exists a 2.0 version of Walsh’s brainchild, Kingsbury’s previous results as a college coach primarily at the University of Houston, Texas A&M and Texas Tech speak louder about his advocacy of the system than his 35-40 record in six seasons as the Red Raiders’ coach would suggest.
To his credit in that regard, Kingsbury had better results nurturing future NFL quarterbacks such as Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel and Baker Mayfield, in addition to Mahomes over his years at the college level, than he had with those wins and losses alone at Texas A&M.
But as the “Air Raid” system has evolved alongside Kingsbury’s application of it, Murray would be a prototypical quarterback to run it.
Concepts of a spread offence at the line of scrimmage, oftentimes utilising one running back and as many as three or four wide receivers as a refinement of Darrel “Mouse” Davis’ old run-and-shoot offence exist as the overview of fundamentals within the “Air Raid” system.
As for Murray, he is quick, mobile, athletic beyond reproach, strong-armed, smart enough to execute the fundamental elements of the system and acerbic-minded enough to know when to improvise with it via any of his physical attributes.
And despite a fumble on the opening drive – returned for a touchdown by Dolphins linebacker Shaq Lawson – that made him look less like Kyler Murray and more like Callum Murray, the good Murray rebounded with an unflappable style.
His passing efficiency was simply incredible, 21-of-26 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while his rushing numbers, on out-of-pocket scrambles and planned runs alike, added another element to the Cardinals’ offensive attack, 106 yards on eleven carries and one touchdown.
Over the course of the season at the halfway point, Murray – in addition to averaging one rushing touchdown per game – is putting up NFL MVP-type statistics.
He has added to his impressive rookie season from a year ago, throwing for 16 touchdowns against seven interceptions, has already surpassed 2000 yards, completed 68.1 percent of his passes to the tune of 7.6 yards per attempt.
Extending the plays via the ground, Murray’s uncanny ability to make clutch plays has seen him average 7.1 yards per rush, gain 34 first downs, and average 67.9 yards per game. If that holds up over 16 games, Murray will surpass 1000 yards rushing, a KPI usually reserved for running backs, and joining Jackson and Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks to surpass that magical mark.
Arguably, Murray’s best value to the Cardinals has come when in the red zone, completing 73 percent of his passes for eleven of his 16 touchdowns with neither an interception nor being sacked.
His best targets, DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and future Hall-Of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald all parts of a unit that is averaging 11.2 yards per catch as a team, would be grateful for all of that.
But their loss against the Dolphins – in which their quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, exacted a small measure of revenge on Murray for finishing second to Murray for the 2017 Heisman Trophy – cannot be pinned on Murray. He did everything possible offensively within the realms of Kingsbury’s “Air Raid” system and everything within his skill set and athleticism to win the game, accounting for four total touchdowns.
Beating the Dolphins, coupled with the Seattle Seahawks’ 44-34 road loss to the Buffalo Bills earlier in the day, would have put the Cardinals in a first-place tie atop the super-competitive NFC West at the halfway pole.