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Did quick return from hamstring injury contribute to Kyler Murray’s torn ACL?

Howard Balzer Avatar
December 14, 2022

To say the last 24 hours have been tough ones for Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury would be the ultimate understatement.

It began with word that Kingsbury’s college coach, Mike Leach, had suffered what turned out to be a life-ending heart attack, and then multiplied when quarterback Kyler Murray suffered a torn ACL on the third snap of Monday night’s 27-13 loss to the Patriots.

“It’s been a tough couple of days,” Kingsbury said Monday afternoon, “but that’s life and it’s good to be around the guys; there’s no doubt. The coaching staff and all those guys, that’s definitely kind of a safe space to be, but it’s been a tough couple of days.”

However, while Kingsbury answered many questions about both Murray and Leach Monday, what he didn’t reveal has created a shroud of mystery.

First, Kingsbury claimed to not know whether the injury was to Murray’s right or left knee. Really? In all the time between the injury and his 1:30 p.m. press conference, no one told the coach it was his right knee?

The Cardinals and Kingsbury often refuse to provide credible medical information, which is mandated by the NFL media policy, and the question frequently asked is, “Why the secrecy?”

Even when asked about the extent of the injury suffered by defensive end Zach Allen Monday night, Kingsbury claimed, I’m not even sure.”

Once again, it’s hard to believe he doesn’t know.

For Murray, it’s possible his quick return from a hamstring injury could have been a mitigating factor leading to the torn ACL because both were on his right leg.

Former San Diego Chargers team physician Dr. David Chao, who now reports on NFL injuries for sicscore.com (sports injury central), told gophnx.com that if there was still “residual weakness” in the hamstring that “could have contributed” to the knee injury.

Chao also said that generally, “hamstring strengthening is one way to help prevent ACL injuries.” He emphasized of course that there’s no guarantee.

Murray originally hurt his hamstring in Week 8 against Minnesota and then tweaked it further on a run the next week against Seattle. He missed the next two games against the Rams and 49ers, but played in Week 12 against the Chargers. Kingsbury had previously insisted that Murray wouldn’t play until he was 100 percent.

On the Wednesday before the Chargers game, Kingsbury said, “I’m feeling good about the chances. I think if we didn’t let him, we may have a fist fight in my office at this point.”

Two days later, he admitted holding Murray out until after the bye was discussed, but said, “Obviously he was anxious to get back and he feels great. He feels 100 percent. If there was anything less than that we would have maybe waited, but he feels full go so we’re going to get him going.”

No one can fault Murray for wanting to play, especially after the bad loss to San Francisco, but it might not have been the best approach.

Murray said no additional healing was necessary during the team’s bye after he played against the Chargers and rushed seven times in the game, but he also went home to Dallas for “a night or two.”

We’ll never definitively know if the non-contact knee injury could have been avoided if there had been continued treatment on the hamstring, but it still raises questions. Chao noted that the torn ACL was “very classic” in the way it happened and added that an estimated 70-80 percent of torn ACLs occur when there is no contact.

The other potential red flag came when Kingsbury was asked if the club’s medical and training staff will be in charge of his rehab and if he prefers that Murray remains in town during the lengthy process. He normally spends most of the offseason at his home in the Dallas area.

Recall that within days of the playoff loss to the Rams last season, Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt, who played in the game after being out since Week 8 after shoulder surgery, continued his rehab here.

Allen, who was rehabbing an ankle injury this past offseason, credited Watt for motivating him and helped cut a potential eight- or nine-month process to four or five months.

Of course, what was conveniently overlooked in the summer controversy over the independent study clause in his $230 million contract that was eventually removed by the team because of the uproar it created, was the significant bonuses in the deal that would pay Murray more than $9.3 million in the six years of the contract for simply attending the offseason program and OTAs.

Clearly, those bonuses were there to motivate Murray to participate even though he should realize the importance of being there as the quarterback of the team without an unusually high financial incentive.

Yet, when Kingsbury was asked that very pertinent question, he stunningly said, “That’s an interesting question” and continued, “We haven’t gotten that far on it yet, but I’m sure whoever it’s with, it’ll be done well. He wants to come back bigger, stronger, and faster than ever. I think (Bengals quarterback) Joe Burrow and what he’s been able to do coming back from his (knee injury) is encouraging for Kyler and, and he’s definitely up for the challenge (after) talking to him last night.”

We’ll see about that as well as how the rehab is handled. Frankly, there shouldn’t be any doubt where and with whom Murray rehabs and the team should demand it.

Surely, the club will let us know every step of the way.

As for the next month of this season, Kingsbury clearly understands his job is simple: Send the right message to his team with four games remaining in a disappointing season.

He said, “It’s been one of those years where it seems like every week something’s popping up, but we’ve got to continue to focus on the task at hand and that’s to try and win the next game. Anytime you lose your starting quarterback and a teammate, a guy that a lot of these guys have been here now with for four years, it’s a challenge, but we’ve got great leadership in that locker room. We’ll continue to try and build and play better this next week.”

While the outside world will debate what this means for the team in 2023 and how this could affect preparation for the next season, Kingsbury channeled his former coach Bill Belichick and said, “I’m just thinking about the Broncos right now. I’m trying to play the best game we can against them.”

The coach did confirm reports from earlier in the day that the injury was a torn ACL and added, “They’re going to obviously do some different opinions and go through other tests.”

Normally, doctors wait for the swelling to subside before performing the ACL surgery, and so far there’s no word whether other parts of the knee were involved. That’s what makes it difficult, if not impossible, to put a timetable on what the recovery will be.

“Certain guys have done it in different times, but I haven’t really sat down and talked through it with our medical staff yet,” Kingsbury said. Plus, nothing can be guessed at until surgeons are inside the knee and can evaluate the overall damage.

As for the reference to Burrow’s recovery, he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in a Nov. 22, 2020, game against Washington and was able to start all 16 games last season and help lead the team to the Super Bowl.

However, one significant difference is that while Burrow is mobile, he doesn’t rely on his running ability as much as Murray. Last season, Burrow rushed 40 times for 118 yards (3.0 average) and two touchdowns. This season he has run more with 65 attempts for 234 yards (3.6 average) and five scores. However, he is a pocket passer that can run if he has to.

That’s not Murray, who is productive on designed runs and scrambles while utilizing explosive quickness and wiggle. In essentially 10 games this season, Murray has 418 rushing yards on 67 runs (6.2 average) and five touchdowns. For his career, he has totaled 2,204 rushing yards on 381 attempts (5.8 average) with 23 touchdowns. Being able to do that is obviously a major component of his skill set.

“I think that’s just part of the (rehab) challenge,” Kingsbury said. “I think both of us hurt enough this year to be highly motivated for the offseason and I know he will be too. Those surgeries have been proven recently that guys are coming back faster and stronger, and I know he’s excited about that prospect.”

Kingsbury was confident the offense and Murray was ready to show improvement when things improved after the return of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from his six-game suspension along with Hopkins and Marquise Brown playing their first game together in Week 12.

While most of the injury scrutiny this season has been on the offensive line and other players, Murray also had a rocky training camp in addition to the hamstring injury that cost him two games.

Kingsbury said, “A difficult year, obviously from the beginning with not doing much in training camp with the wrist and then COVID. Then having a tough stretch offensively not playing as well as we thought we could. I really thought against the Chargers our rhythm was a little bit better and was excited about these last five games, so to not be able to kind of build off that was disappointing and tough for all parties involved.”

“Very disappointed” was also how the coach described the immediate aftermath of the injury for Murray as he fought back tears while being carted off the field.

Kingsbury said, “He’s as competitive as anybody I’ve been around, and he wanted to finish the season strong. We’ve faced a lot of adversity so far this season and we were looking forward to this last month and then trying to really build going into next year, so definitely disappointed.”

It’s new ground for Murray, who has dealt with injuries in each of his four NFL seasons, but nothing this serious.

Asked about the conversation he had with his Leo compadre, Kingsbury concluded, “I’ll kind of keep that between us, but I just wanted to make sure he knew how much we appreciate him and that we’ll get through this thing. He’s never been through this type of serious injury and so it’ll be a new challenge for him, but it’s one that (after) talking to him last night he’s up for the challenge.”

Snap shots

Remarkably, Murray was the 10th Cardinals starter to be injured early in a game this season. Not long after his injury, cornerback Marco Wilson became the 11th when he suffered a stinger in the second quarter and wasn’t able to return.

Here are the 11 players who played no more than 35 percent of the snaps before departing. The first number is the snaps and the second number the percentage:

Wide receiver Rondale Moore vs. San Francisco, 2/3

Murray vs. New England, 3/4

Nose tackle Rashard Lawrence vs. New Orleans, 4/6

Right guard Will Hernandez vs. Seattle, 9/14

Tight end Zach Ertz at L.A. Rams, 9/13

Left guard Justin Pugh at Carolina, 13/17

Left guard Max Garcia vs. New Orleans, 13/20

Running back James Conner at Las Vegas, 18/21

Wilson, 15/25

Pugh at Seattle, 22/31

Conner vs. Philadelphia, 24/35

Kingsbury expects Wilson to be OK for Sunday’s game against Denver, while Allen likely won’t be available because of a hand injury. He played only 32 snaps (54 percent) against the Patriots.

Because of Wilson’s injury, Trayvon Mullen Jr. played more than usual with 42 snaps (71 percent). However, he had a costly facemask penalty and with rookie Christian Matthew showing some improvement (11 snaps/19 percent), Mullen was waived Tuesday. It’s also notable that the compensation in the trade that landed him in Arizona on Aug. 30 was a conditional seventh-round pick in 2023 that would elevate to a sixth if he played 10 games. Monday night was his eighth, so now it’s locked in that the Raiders will receive a No. 7 choice.

Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)

*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams

OFFENSE (75 snaps, 18 players)

Quarterbacks: Colt McCoy (72/96), Kyler Murray (3/4)

Inactive: Trace McSorley

Running backs: James Conner (71/95), Keaontay Ingram (9/12), Corey Clement (3/4)

Reserve/injured: Darrel Williams (eligible to return)

Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (72/96), DeAndre Hopkins (64/85), A.J. Green (45/60), Robbie Anderson (23/31), Greg Dortch (4/5)

Did not play: *Pharoh Cooper. Inactive: Rondale Moore (injured)

Reserve/injured: Antoine Wesley

Tight ends: Trey McBride (55/73), Maxx Williams (15/20), Stephen Anderson (14/19)

Reserve/injured: Zach Ertz (eligible to return)

Offensive linemen: LT Josh Jones (75/100), LG Cody Ford (75/100), C Billy Price (75/100), RG Max Garcia (75/100), RT Kelvin Beachum (75/100)

Did not play: G *Lecitus Smith, C/G *Sean Harlow, G Wyatt Davis. Inactive: G Rashaad Coward (injured). Reserve/injured: LT D.J. Humphries (eligible to return), C Rodney Hudson (eligible to return), RG Will Hernandez (eligible to return), LG Justin Pugh (eligible to return), T Josh Miles, G Marquis Hayes

Defensive linemen: DE J.J. Watt (44/75), DE Zach Allen (32/54), NT Leki Fotu (20/34), NT Trysten Hill (17/29), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (17/29)

Reserve/injured: NT Rashard Lawrence (eligible to return)

Linebackers: ILB Zaven Collins (59/100), ILB Isaiah Simmons (59/100), ILB Ben Niemann (44/75), OLB Markus Golden (41/69), OLB Myjai Sanders (32/54), OLB Cameron Thomas (17/29), OLB Victor Dimukeje (13/22), ILB Kamu Grugier-Hill (4/7), OLB Dennis Gardeck (3/5), ILB Tanner Vallejo (2/3)

Did not play: ILB *Ezekiel Turner. Inactive: OLB Jesse Luketa. Reserve/injured ILB Nick Vigil (eligible to return)

Defensive backs: S Jalen Thompson (59/100), S Budda Baker (59/100), CB Antonio Hamilton (59/100), CB Trayvon Mullen Jr. (42/71), CB Marco Wilson (15/25), CB Christian Matthew (11/19)

Did not play: S *Chris Banjo. Inactive: CB Byron Murphy Jr. (injured), S Charles Washington (injured)

SPECIAL TEAMS (26 snaps, 31 players)

LB Ezekiel Turner (22/85), LB Dennis Gardeck (22/85), LB Tanner Vallejo (22/85), S Chris Banjo (22/85), LB Victor Dimukeje (17/65), LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (17/65), CB Christian Matthew (17/65), TE Stephen Anderson (15/58), RB Corey Clement (12/46), CB Antonio Hamilton (11/42), TE Maxx Williams (9/35), DT Leki Fotu (9/35), K Matt Prater (8/31), WR/RS Greg Dortch (8/31), CB Trayvon Mullen Jr. (7/27), P Andy Lee (6/23), LS Aaron Brewer (6/23), WR/RS Pharoh Cooper (5/19), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (5/19), LB Zaven Collins (5/19), LB Cameron Thomas (5/19), S Budda Baker (5/19), T Josh Jones (4/15), G Cody Ford (4/15), T Kelvin Beachum (4/15), G Sean Harlow (4/15), G Lecitus Smith (4/15), TE Trey McBride (4/15), DT Trysten Hill (3/12), DE Zach Allen (2/8), LB Ben Niemann (2/8)

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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