Kyler Murray showed off his elite mobility on the first play Sunday against the Ravens, twirling around an unblocked rusher to turn a sure sack into a seven-yard gain.
The showdown of fleet-footed quarterbacks seemed to be just revving up, but the Cardinals’ rookie quickly hit the brakes.
While Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson rushed for 120 yards in the game, Murray preferred to sit in the pocket and make plays with his arm. The passing game clicked, as Murray completed 25-of-40 passes for 349 yards, but he finished with only three carries for four yards.
It was similar to the opener, when Murray led a comeback against the Lions through the air and rushed only three times for 13 yards.
“This is one thing I don’t think everyone understands,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who faces Murray this week. “When he was in college and he’s (scrambling), he’s not looking to run. He’s looking to throw the ball downfield. … He’s an opportunistic runner, but at the same time, he’s going to hold onto the ball and look downfield.”
Murray has exceptional arm talent for any quarterback, let alone a dual threat, and that gift should give Cardinals fans great hope for the future. If he can maximize the rushing aspect, it could take the offense to another level.
“Sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball is often my first choice,” Murray said. “I haven’t really gotten out too much this season. It’s a long season, but if the opportunity presents itself, I’ve got to take it.”
Running quarterbacks can put defenses in a real bind.
Murray carried the ball 140 times for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at the University of Oklahoma. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can be inaccurate, but he still won league MVP and led Carolina to the Super Bowl in 2015 because of his dual-threat abilities.
While the mobility can be hard to defend, running regularly can also be an occupational hazard.
Newton looked like a shell of his former self on Thursday night against Tampa Bay, and he likely won’t play against the Cardinals after aggravating a foot injury he suffered on a preseason scramble.
Murray is smaller than Newton, and the last thing the Cardinals want is for him to get injured. Murray has done a nice job thus far of getting out of bounds or sliding to avoid big collisions. That should pay dividends both now and later for an organization that believes this could be its quarterback for a long time.
“I’m not really thinking about years to come,” Murray said. “Obviously that’s in the back of your head, but when you’re in battle, it’s got to be in the back, back, back, back, back of your head.”
There could be weeks when Murray runs a lot because the defense dictates it. There could be others in which he is again content to sit in the pocket.
Kingsbury believes his quarterback will learn to optimize the situation. Above all else, he doesn’t want Murray to be reckless.
“The more (sliding) the merrier,” Kingsbury said. “Just get down. There is a time and a place – end-of-game, gotta-have-it situation. The whole John Elway in the Super Bowl. But for the most part, self-preservation and knowing how much you mean to this team. You’ve got to be safe with your style of play.”
Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center.