NFC West Writer
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is halfway through his allotment of games this season in his return from major knee surgery, with predictably mixed results.
The Cardinals are 2-2 through his first four starts, which is a big improvement over their 1-8 record without him. Murray has completed 60.8% of his passes for 864 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Overall, he has posted an 81.7 passer rating, which would be Murray’s lowest as a pro if he were to finish the season that way.
While the fifth-year QB appears healthy, he’s still working to be a consistent performer in offensive coordinator Drew Petzing’s new scheme.
“He’s done a nice job,” Petzing said when asked to assess how Murray is developing in the offense. “I think you’ve seen him really embrace both sides of the offense — the run and the pass — and just handling both sides of the operation. Certainly, there’s going to be things, even when you’re in year five, six and seven of an offense, that you’re always tweaking and changing.
“But I think he’s made really nice progress. Has it been perfect? No, and he would be the first person to admit that. But I think he’s getting more comfortable in what we’re doing, and what we’re asking him to do. And certainly, we need that to continue as we move forward through the rest of the season.”
With the Cardinals on a bye this week, Murray, Petzing and the rest of Arizona’s staff get an opportunity to evaluate how the QB has played, self-scouting and making some changes heading into the final four games of the season.
Remember, Murray signed a five-year, $230 million contract before last season to be Arizona’s franchise quarterback, but the coaching and front office regimes have turned over since then. So the two sides are still feeling each other out, raising the importance of every outing for Murray.
Petzing will continue to tinker with the offense, tweaking things such as play design and fundamentals like Murray’s footwork on dropbacks and play-action passes. The overall goal is to get Murray and the rest of the offense to play at its most efficient level.
Murray said that he’ll continue to mature and grow in a new system for the rest of this season.
“There’s a feel aspect to it all, something that you can’t really put your finger on,” he recently told reporters. “But when you’ve been in a system for so long … and then you get into a new one, you’ve got to break old habits.
“We’re learning as the weeks go on, trying to execute at the highest level we possibly can. And I think that’s a part of being in a new system. I haven’t been in many new systems, but being in this one, I don’t think we’ve reached our maximum level of where we’re going to be eventually.”
Specifically, the Cardinals could be better in situational football. Arizona is No. 19 in the NFL in third down percentage (37.6%) and last in the league in fourth down percentage (32.0%). And the Cardinals have had a rash of offensive penalties over the past four weeks — 21 to be precise — partly due to pre-snap issues and the newness of the offense to Murray.
“Some of it is operation,” Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon said. “Some of it is technique. It’s always a constant battle to try and play clean football.”
Murray also has had to learn new fundamentals, including putting his left foot back instead of his right on dropbacks.
“His feet are so good and so fast, I think sometimes he gets sped up a little bit,” Gannon said. “And he’s aware of that. Maybe when he’s ready to hitch and throw, the routes aren’t developed yet. Or maybe his eyes aren’t getting to the right progression.”
Another change is that Murray has been under center more this season, including a season-high 27 snaps in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and 50 snaps overall.
After the bye week, Murray & Co. will continue to be tested with games at home against the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, and one on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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