Two years ago, the only way to watch the Arizona Cardinals’ offense was through a crack in closed fingers — unable to turn away from the trainwreck on the field. The offensive environment that rookie quarterback Josh Rosen was thrown into was, to put it kindly, suboptimal, and Rosen didn’t come close to rising above his circumstances. Their -0.25 expected points added (EPA) per play in 2018 was the worst mark of any team in the past five seasons, falling below even the 2016 Los Angeles Rams.
The Cardinals’ offense got some life last season, though. Former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his Air Raid offense started off the transformation. Then, the Cardinals selected Heisman-winning quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, their second first-round quarterback in as many years. Those two additions yielded results early, as the Cardinals were one of 14 NFL teams to post a positive EPA per play last season.
The scary thing for the rest of the NFC West is that multiple signs point to this group taking another big jump in 2020.
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Kyler Murray didn’t play up to his talent as a rookie
Yes, Murray led a much-improved Cardinals’ offense last season, and he won Offensive Rookie of the Year for his efforts. In stretches, he put plays on tape that have many — myself included — ready to believe he is going to be an upper-tier quarterback in the near future. There is plenty of good to talk about with Murray, so that’s where we’ll start.
This pass above, though incomplete, is one of those plays that has you ready to believe. Don’t let his small frame fool you — Murray has a cannon. He releases this pass from his own 20-yard line and hits Christian Kirk in stride and on the hands nearly 50 yards downfield. Murray finished his rookie season coming in at sixth on PFF’s list of the top deep passers in the NFL.
Opposing defenses have to worry about Murray beating them with his speed on the ground, as well. He doesn’t put himself in the same kind of situations that Lamar Jackson does as a runner, often protecting his body at the first sign of contact rather than attempting to pick up additional yardage, but his speed in the open field does rival the reigning MVP’s quicks. It makes defenders take bad angles, something Jessie Bates III can attest to in what was ultimately the game-winning play for Arizona back in Week 5.
Murray’s 4.2 yards per rush before contact were actually 0.6 more than Lamar Jackson, leading all players with at least 50 carries during the 2019 season. That explosiveness paired with the zip and the touch that he showed on downfield passes gives plenty of reason to believe in the big-play potential of this offense.