The Arizona Cardinals took the field Sunday against the Carolina Panthers minus their two best offensive weapons in quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The result was a 34-10 home loss to a Cam Newton-infused Panthers squad.
Murray has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Zona has gone 1-1 without their offensive leader. The Cardinals have a crucial NFC West battle against Russell Wilson’s desperate Seahawks.
For Zona to have any chance of clinching homefield throughout the NFC playoffs (currently No.1 seed), they need their dynamic and unorthodox signal caller healthy and in that shotgun.
Murray believes he’s close to playing and told reporters so in a post-practice presser on Wednesday:
"If I can play, I'll play."
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) November 17, 2021
The good news is Murray gutted through practice on Thursday and if he can play at all you know head coach Kliff Kingsbury is going to put him out there.
Cardinals’ QB Kyler Murray is practicing again today, despite his ankle injury; Lions’ QB Jared Goff with his oblique injury is not.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 18, 2021
Murray Is Straw That Stirs The Drink On Offense
The Cardinals offense has explosive potential with Murray. When he’s not on the field Arizona loses his threatening ability to run from the QB position. His legs make teams prepare for the Cardinals in a different way.
Last week, Murray’s backup Colt McCoy threw for a paltry 107 yards and a pick against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers would never have been allowed to press Murray so aggressively with his ability to streak to the house at any time.
.@K1 is a human highlight reel.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 27, 2020
Murray’s Numbers Don’t Tell The Whole Story
This season Kyler has passed for 2,277 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 8.89 yards per pass attempt leads the NFL.
The offense has plenty of weaponry with big play receivers like the aforementioned D-Hop, Christian Kirk, and rookie Rondale Moore. Plus the addition of two former Pro Bowl players in wideout AJ Green and tight end Zach Ertz adds veteran stability. The running game is also explosive. The two-headed monster at tailback with the versatile Chase Edmonds and end zone addict James Connor (12 total touchdowns) completes what is a top 10 offense.
This play was shown on #ESPN and discussed by #TonyKornheiser and @RealMikeWilbon on today's episode of @PTI.
I root for the #Bills, but that was an incredible play.#HailMurray#KylerMurray#Cardinals https://t.co/n9875eim7r
— Dan Meyer (@MeyersMusings) November 15, 2021
But it all starts and ends with Murray, and when he’s not healthy enough to be the head forming Voltron, this offense can look downright anemic. He makes up for some of their offensive line woes, which are even more obvious when he’s playing hurt or not playing at all.
Postseason Expectations Are High In The Valley of the Sun (Murray Must Lead)
Fresh off a year where the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury both played for championships, the Cardinals could be next. After getting off to a blistering start and being the last undefeated team, a loss to the Packers and then last Sunday’s setback is concerning. The concern isn’t about Murray’s health, but rather about the loss of JJ Watt and his effect on the defense, which is still solid. With Watt it was borderline dominant.
Anytime a team can get pressure and stop the run with the defensive line it’s a win-win for the defense. No one did it better than Zona prior to Watt’s injury.
Watt’s mere presence was something teams had to account and game plan for on the scouting report. That made life easier for edge rusher Chandler Jones, who had five sacks and two forced fumbles in a Week 1 38-13 blowout win at Tennessee. Jones has missed a few games and recorded just one sack since then. The lack of rush requires more blitzing by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, which makes Arizona more susceptible on the back end
This team will go as far as the arm and legs of Kyler Murray can take it. If he can’t play again this week, then the trajectory of the season starts to take a different direction and we have to wonder if the ankle injury will be something that hinders Murray throughout the season. If any quarterback needs his legs it’s Murray. Without him the Cardinals ain’t worth the price of admission.