SPORTS Cardinals' Murray evaluation gets murkier after Rams loss

Cardinals’ Murray evaluation gets murkier after Rams loss

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The Cardinals are back in the basement. After a 37-14 loss to the Rams on Sunday, they are clearly the worst team in the NFC West. They have now lost 10 or more games in a season for the 19th time in their Arizona history.

Nineteen times in 35 years. Staggering incompetence doesn’t happen by accident.

Yet everything about the 2023 Cardinals must be viewed through a telescope and not a microscope, with an eye and a nod to the future. And when it comes to Kyler Murray, that picture is murkier than ever.

Since returning from major knee surgery, Murray has been mostly meh. He has produced 25, 16, and 14 points in three games. The last touchdown on Sunday was a garbage-time score against reserves when the Cardinals trailed by 29 points late in the fourth quarter, when a quarterback coming off of knee surgery shouldn’t have been in the game.

In sum, Murray’s performances have regressed from exhilarating to troubling to predictably boring.

In a victory over the Falcons, Murray showed great courage and mental fortitude. In a loss to the Texans, Murray fell prey to poor mechanics and throwing inaccuracy under heavy pressure. Against the Rams, he looked like very little threat to a Rams defense that has beaten Murray in eight of their past nine games, including that embarrassing playoff loss in Los Angeles.

There’s also an important caveat attached to Sunday’s game: For the second consecutive week, Murray looked dynamic and dangerous on the opening drive. He took 5-of-7 snaps from under center, and the Cardinals seemed unstoppable, rolling downfield for an impressive touchdown.

And then Murray retreated back into the comfort zone of the shotgun formation, where he would spend 14 of the next 15 plays, where the game would soon become a haze of failure. It was the same show we’ve seen too many times before, the yawn of a new era.

There are many possible scenarios.

Maybe the Cardinals have already grasped the growing realization in Arizona – that Murray must become something entirely different, that he must become a conventional quarterback to succeed in the NFL. And maybe they know it’s too much to ask Murray to be that quarterback in full right now, to trust his rehabilitated knee while operating in a completely foreign system, in a formation he is only starting to embrace.

The uncomfortable truth is that Murray came to the NFL with terrible footwork. He needs more time, more tutelage and more practice reps to find his comfort level while taking snaps under center. And at 2-10 and loitering near the top of the NFL Draft, the Cardinals might be in no particular hurry.

It’s also very clear that most of Steve Keim’s draft picks have very little appeal or leverage with the new regime. A lot can change for Murray in the final five games, for better and worse.

Personally, I would be open to a long-term plan that foregoes drafting another quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft; a plan that commits to Murray in 2024 under the stipulation that he operates predominantly under center; and then give him a game-changing wide receiver like Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., upgrading a room full of smallish wide receiver that strike little fear in opposing defenses and rarely win individual battles.

Bottom line: The old Murray won’t be good enough for the new Cardinals. And the new Murray is clearly a work in progress, with a long way to go.

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