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In Year When NFL QBs Have Struggled, Kyler Murray Seeks Groove

Cardinals signal-caller counting on Hopkins return to improve numbers

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray launches a pass against the Saints last week.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray launches a pass against the Saints last week.

A year ago after seven games, the Cardinals were undefeated, and Kyler Murray was an MVP candidate.

The quarterback deserved to be. He was lighting up the scoreboard, finding his receivers all over the field.

He was doing things that have not come easily this season.

"I would've loved to start the season like we did last year," Murray said, "but that is not the case."

Among quarterbacks, though, Murray isn't the only one. Murray's statistics have fallen, but so too have many in the league. He is throwing touchdown passes at the lowest rate of his career, but so too are Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson.

Many quarterback metrics across the NFL are at their lowest level since 2017. There are questions about the future of Brady, Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. But it's interesting that there is a potential parallel between Rodgers and Murray thus far this season – struggles without a top wideout.

Rodgers lost Devante Adams in free agency, and the Packers are paying a price. Meanwhile, Murray completed almost 70 percent of his passes last season and he is at 65.5 percent this year, and for both he and coach Kliff Kingsbury, there is a straight line to draw between that and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins missing the first six games this year.

"If you have a true No. 1 wideout and he goes away, your numbers are going to be affected, I don't care who you are in this league," Kingsbury said. "A lot of that has to do with that. We'll see if I'm right."

Statistics don't mean everything. Murray's stats in the Raiders game, for instance, weren't great but to watch the game was to understand Murray played excellent in the comeback.

Yet it's hard not to notice that without Hopkins (although he had Hollywood Brown in those six games) Murray has ended up with stats that don't line up with the career he's built. His long pass of 32 yards is odd for a QB who was excellent on deep balls last season, as is his 5.8 yards per attempt, well off his 7.9 figure from a season ago.

The fact most of the league's quarterbacks have had dips in some area or another doesn't help.

Murray acknowledged he felt behind after missing so much of training camp with Covid and sore arm issues, and trying to find himself as the games counted.

"I'm not making excuses or anything like that but having missed those reps (then) having to catch up once the season got here, and things counted," Murray said. "It wasn't just preseason or reps against the team, they actually meant something. Like I said, it's playing catchup during the actual season.

"I definitely haven't played up to the standard that we have for ourselves, or I have for myself, but we can just keep getting better. That's the mindset."

Murray wasn't sure why the league has been rough on QBs this season. Maybe it is more two-high or shell coverages, he said, preventing too many big plays.

"That's what I would do if I was a defensive coordinator," he said.

Brown is out for now but Murray has Hopkins and now Robbie Anderson to team with Rondale Moore and Zach Ertz. The Cardinals did look better offensively against the Saints, although the New Orleans secondary was shredded by injury.

"(Kyler) has battled and fought and had us in every game but the first one, which I think is all you can ask of a quarterback," Kingsbury said. "I think as we get going with Hop and get Robbie adjusted, gets some of these other pieces back, we have a chance to hit our stride."

It's a crucial time in the schedule, with four straight NFC games upcoming, including three straight NFC West games after visiting Minnesota this weekend.

The Cardinals will need that offense to click. And that starts with their two-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

"I think having Hop back definitely helps, having him out there," Murray said. "More than anything, he and I are comfortable together, I know where he's going to be and what he's going to do. Same for him."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 8 regular season matchup against the Minnesota Vikings