Having been viewed as an MVP contender for much of the season, Kyler Murray was held in check by the New England Patriots in Week 12 as the Arizona Cardinals slumped to a damaging defeat.
Murray threw for 170 yards and an interception in Arizona’s 20-17 loss in New England, while he ran the ball five times for 31 yards.
It was the second consecutive underwhelming display from last year’s first overall pick, following an uninspiring, if more statistically impressive showing, against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11.
With the Cardinals suffering back-to-back losses and their franchise quarterback suddenly falling below his high standards, it is fair to ask the question: what is wrong with Kyler Murray?
Here we look at some of the numbers to attempt to provide an answer.
Off-target and lacking aggression
Murray has typically done an excellent job of delivering his throws accurately. Ball placement has long since been a strength of the former Oklahoma star and, for the season, he has a completion percentage above expectation of 3.2, according to the NFL’s NextGen Stats, completing 68.2 per cent of his throws when he has been anticipated to connect on 65 per cent.
He is seventh in the NFL in that metric, but endured a significant drop-off in Week 12, when his completion percentage above expectation was minus 1.3, performing worse than Taysom Hill, Sam Darnold and San Francisco 49ers backup Nick Mullens to name a few.
Additionally, he did not complete a single pass that travelled over 20 yards in the air, per NextGen Stats, having hit on just one such pass against Seattle.
A significant dip in Murray’s accuracy and no downfield element to their passing game are worrying signs for the Cardinals, and there are a couple of potential underlying reasons for both.
Hopkins handcuffed without Larry
When the Cardinals have won in 2020, All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins has typically played a significant role.
In Arizona victories, Hopkins has 47 receptions for 653 yards and four touchdowns. In defeats, he has 30 catches for 314 yards and zero scores.
The Patriots’ willingness to take him away and force Murray to try to beat them using his other receivers played a substantial role in his struggles.
While the Patriots have failed to replicate their defensive dominance of 2019, they remain one of the league’s best exponents of man coverage and used it to stifle Murray by shutting down Hopkins, who was limited to five catches for 55 yards thanks in part to an excellent performance from cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2020
With veteran Larry Fitzgerald missing a game for the first time since 2014 after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Murray was unable to get anything going with the remainder of his supporting cast.
More difficult to explain is Hopkins’ five-catch, 51-yard performance in the loss to Seattle, who have the worst pass defense in the NFL, a game in which Murray had 269 yards and two touchdowns but suffered an injury that could account for his downturn.
Shoulder injury lingering?
Murray sustained a shoulder injury against the Seahawks but has played through it, indicating it is a minor issue.
It is unclear whether it has had much of an impact on Murray’s ability throwing the ball. However, his lack of production as a runner suggests it may be more of a problem than Murray has let on.
The Cardinals have run the ball 52 times over the past two weeks. Murray has made just 10 of those attempts and the Cardinals have averaged a mediocre 3.8 yards per carry.
By contrast, in their first nine games, Murray had 87 of Arizona’s 288 carries and they averaged 5.5 yards per attempt.
Arizona’s passing yardage per attempt has dipped from 7.6 in the first nine games to 5.8 in the last two.
The numbers are reflective of the notion that the Cardinals’ offense is better in every facet when Murray runs the ball.
For whatever reason, the Cardinals have gotten away from using Murray in that capacity, with their running backs failing to effectively fill the void.
Arizona occupy the final Wild Card spot at 6-5 but their lead on the chasing pack is just one game.
The Cardinals’ run-in sees them face three of the top-12 run defenses in the NFL by yards allowed per game. They face the Los Angeles Rams twice and also meet the New York Giants and the 49ers.
— NFL (@NFL) November 16, 2020
Murray possesses one of the most dynamic skill sets in the NFL and can torture defenses with his running ability. Over recent weeks, however, the diminutive dual-threat star has appeared significantly more human.
For the Cardinals to make sure of a place in the playoffs, they need to get him back running in the open field so he can resume making the otherworldly look routine.