The storyline after the Cardinals throttled the Browns Sunday was about Kliff Kingsbury's absence and the great defensive effort with missing pieces. But it was hard not to notice a stat line that, if anything, underscored how different the 2021 Cards are to 2020.
The Cardinals won and scored 37 points. The team rushed for 144 yards. And quarterback Kyler Murray had six of those rushing yards.
That simply wouldn't have happened last year. They would have had a hard time beating the 49ers the week before, but this year they did, and Murray had just one rushing yard. When Murray said in the offseason he really didn't want to rely on his legs this year, he wasn't kidding.
Of course, his legs do more than just come alive on rushing attempts -- twice against the Browns he started taking off up the middle where there was a ton of room to run, the linebackers adjust by coming up to get him, and he threw strikes for completions. He's gotten so good that that. He has scrambled improbably into multiple highlight-worthy passes this season.
But that's different than playing de facto running back.
Last season, after the Cardinals started 6-3 (and Murray had a shot at a 1,000-yard rushing season), they sputtered to a 2-5 finish with Murray averaging 31 rushing yards a game and the offense struggling for any kind of consistency. This season, Murray hasn't run for more than 39 yards in a game, is averaging just 19.3 yards rushing a game, and is on pace for only 328 in a 17-game season after gaining 819 in 16 games in 2020. (I'm not sure if Murray fantasy owners are bitter, but ah well.)
The Cardinals averaged 139 yards a game rushing last year, when Murray was 36.6 percent of their yards. This year, the Cardinals average 131 yards rushing, still a strong number, but Murray is only 14.8 percent of their yards, and stays healthier that way.
And the Cardinals are 6-0.