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Kyler Murray's Legs Can't Shoulder The Whole Load

Cardinals' offense suffered when quarterback ran less due to injury

QB Kyler Murray during offseason work.
QB Kyler Murray during offseason work.

Kyler Murray didn't just sprain his shoulder in Seattle last November, he lost the 'S' from his chest.

Up to that point in the season, the Cardinals' second-year quarterback was playing like Superman, leading the team to a 6-3 record and thrusting himself into the MVP conversation.

But after Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap landed on Murray – two weeks after he originally injured the shoulder against the Dolphins – the Cardinals' offense was never the same.

Murray acknowledged Thursday that he ran less down the stretch to protect the injury, and when the passing game couldn't pick up the slack, the Cardinals sputtered to a 2-5 finish.

"Honestly, the way I see it is, my legs should be a luxury," Murray said. "And it kind of wasn't like that last year. It was me having to run for us in a sense. Once my shoulder was banged up and I wasn't trying to put myself out there and take those hits, we hit a lull. Honestly, I think it was a lesson for us. We can't be one-dimensional. We've got to be better in all aspects of the game."

The difference in production for Murray was stark. In the nine games before Seattle, he averaged 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 98.2. Murray was a terror on the ground, rushing for 604 yards with 10 touchdowns at a 6.9 yards-per-carry clip.

In the final seven games, he averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt with nine touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 89.4. He had just 215 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown in that span with a yards-per-carry average of 4.7.

Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals scored nine fewer points per game (from 29.6 down to 20.6) in the final seven.

"Anybody can look and see where that shifted a bit," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Style of play, production, things of that nature. That's part of playing in this league, and I thought he did a nice job of pushing through it. He was uncomfortable a bunch throughout the season, and still went out there and gave it everything he had to try and win games. Hopefully we can keep him healthy and stay on the right track, but I think he learned some valuable lessons through that."

The Cardinals wrapped up offseason work with the final day of minicamp on Thursday, and the best-case scenario in 2021 is a perfectly-healthy Murray from start to finish.

However, if an injury slows him down, or if teams game-plan to curtail his rushing like they did down the stretch, the Cardinals' offense will need a Plan B. That's why Murray is intent on becoming a better all-around quarterback in his third season.

"Leadership, taking care of the ball, being better as far as accuracy, the whole game," Murray said. "There is no one in this building or that watches the game that is a bigger critic of me than I am. I know what I need to get better at. When we get out there on the field, I plan to show that I grew in those areas."

The Cardinals lacked playmakers a season ago, and Murray is excited about the wide receivers that have been added, as A.J. Green and Rondale Moore are joining a group that still includes DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk.

"More weapons than I can ask for," Murray said.

Moore's ability to stress a defense horizontally on jet motion play-calls could bring a dimension to the offense that's been lacking.

"He did a lot of it in college," Kingsbury said. "You can look at the film. I thought coach (Jeff) Brohm there at Purdue did a tremendous job of getting him the ball in all sorts of creative ways, and that was certainly one of them. He's very good in the open field, making the first guy miss. He has a knack at some of those plays, so, yeah, he's going to be a guy that's going to be fun to try to draw stuff up for, and see how many times we can get it to him."

In the end, most of the success will ride on Murray. When healthy and rolling, he has already proven to be one of the most dazzling quarterbacks in the NFL.

Kingsbury sees even more upside awaiting on the horizon.

"You can definitely see that he's very confident," Kingsbury said. "He has a look in his eye that he wants to take a huge step this year. He definitely has the ability to do so. We did some good things last year and made some big strides. I anticipate us doing even more this season."

Images from Wednesday's minicamp practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center.