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Why Kyler Murray's toughness can't be questioned following the Cardinals rout of the Houston Texans

Johnny Venerable Avatar
October 25, 2021

Kyler Murray could feel it after the game.

“They got after us pretty good…I took some shots today.”

Those shots had the Cardinal Pro Bowl quarterback entering the team’s blue medical tent on two separate occasions amidst Arizona’s 31-5 blowout victory over the Houston Texans.

“I got a little wrap around…nothing crazy…little bruise…little dead-leg for a second,” said Murray.

“After that it was fine.”

The Arizona Cardinal offense, known for fast starts, was noticeably not fine to begin Sunday’s matchup. The unit uncharacteristically struggled to get going against a 1-5 Texans team that had previously surrendered a combined 96 points in their last three games alone. Houston’s roster, while severely lacking in high end defensive talent, is also plagued by both a rookie head coach and quarterback.

Each of whom routinely aidded in giving the ball back to Murray, yet still found themselves leading 5-0 entering the second quarter.

Perhaps it was the abrupt return of head coach Kliff Kingsbury that led to the team’s slow start. The third year head coach, in the wee hours of the morning, discovered that he was finally cleared to return from COVID-19 protocols after a near 10 day absence from the team. The Cardinal head coach was predictably frazzled during his first game action since Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.

“This is the most disconnected I’ve felt for a game ever,” said Kingsbury.

It showed, as the the team’s first three possessions of the game went as follows:

Punt
Punt
Safety

To make matters worse, Kyler Murray was sacked a season high four times thanks to increased interior pressure generated by the Texans. Both Max Williams and Josh Jones had forgettable afternoons for an Arizona offensive line that had been performing admirably. Several shots on Murray, including a nasty knee to the helmet, left him noticeably shaken.

Yet Arizona’s 5’10 signal caller continued to get back up, responding when his team needed him the most.

“For him to go in the tent, it brings a little awareness to everybody,” said DeAndre Hopkins.

“He’s tough. He bounced right back.”

After the team’s slow start offensively, Murray did indeed bounce back en route to orchestrating four consecutive scoring drives that included touchdown passes to Hopkins, Christian Kirk and newcomer Zach Ertz. Outside of an errant interception late in the third quarter, Murray was magnificent, fueling the Cardinals 50% third down conversion rate (6-for-12) on the afternoon.

While criticisms surrounding Murray’s play are diminishing by the week, a continued knock on the third-year quarterback has been his durability when considering his smaller frame. While Murray himself has never missed a start in his young career, he has been removed on several occasions following shots taken. The most notable example of this was back in Week 17 of 2020, when Murray quickly exited a “win-and-in” matchup against the LA Rams due to a lower body injury that severely limited his mobility.

Watching the former Oklahoma Sooner on Sunday, you could sense that he was hurting yet refused to exit the game. With each victory claimed, Murray understands the unique position this Cardinal franchise finds itself in. No Arizona squad has ever started better, as the Cardinals quickly appear to be one of the most complete teams in the NFL.

And it all starts with number one and his consistent desire to be great.

“He’s a phenomenal football player…one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around and I’ve only been here nine days,” said Zach Ertz.

Even when he’s not perfect, and potentially compromised, just the sheer presence of Murray is enough to create havoc on opposing defenses. It’s a large reason why the Cardinals are one of the most efficient rushing teams in football despite Murray himself limiting his attempts as the season progresses. What is not limited, however, are Murray’s gaudy passing numbers which have him on pace for career highs across the board.

That includes a projected 41 touchdown passes thrown.

With the win, the Cardinals move to an unprecedented 7-0 and remain a -165 betting favorite to win the NFC West.

Quick Hits

  • It was clear from the start of the game that Kingsbury was anxious to get newly acquired TE Zach Ertz involved in the offense. The former Eagle came within a yard of scoring on a reverse, while Kyler Murray also missed him one a potential red-zone touchdown late in the second quarter. His eventual 47-yard TD catch and run was the longest of his nine year career, with his prior best never eclipsing over 35-yards. Ertz also became the first player in NFL history to catch a touchdown pass for two different teams in back-to-back weeks.
  • Former Cardinal running back David Johnson made his return to State Farm Stadium for the first time since the infamous DeAndre Hopkins trade that sent him to Houston in March of 2020. Johnson had a modest afternoon, totaling 52 yards of offense on 12 touches for the struggling Texans. With a moveable salary on the books for 2022, it’s fair to wonder if Johnson will find himself elsewhere next season.
  • Of all the offseason additions, Markus Golden opting to resign with the team for a meager $9 million over two years may be the shrewdest by GM Steve Keim. The former Missouri Tiger now leads the team with six sacks on the season and has been on an absolute tear in the absence of All-Pro Chandler Jones. Golden’s passion and energy is contagious for a team that never should have allowed him to leave in the first place.
  • Entering Sunday’s contest, Arizona’s defense ranked second in the NFL allowing just 18.2 points per game. That number is likely to decrease with the team’s five-point effort against the Texans. With each passing week, it’s fair to wonder what kind of interest Cardinal defensive coordinator Vance Joseph could garner this offseason. Michael Bidwill may very well need to open the checkbook in order to keep him in house.
  • After a strong start to the season, former second round pick Josh Jones has struggled mightily at right guard. On Sunday against Houston, Jones was beaten on numerous occasions by a marginal Texan defensive line, several of which led to Kyler Murray ending up on his backside. If this isn’t cleaned up relatively soon, Jones could find himself on the bench in favor of Max Garcia or Justin Murray.
  • After several forgettable performances against the run, the Cardinals have put together stout efforts upfront the past two weeks. Benefiting from the return of DT Jordan Phillips, Arizona held Houston to an abysmal 42 yards rushing on 15 carries.
  • With each passing week, James Conner looks more and more like one of the best inside runners in all of football. The former Steeler has relished the opportunity to play alongside Kyler Murray, netting his team high sixth rushing touchdowns through seven games this season. He and Chase Edmonds combined for 145 rushing yards on 15 carries against the Texans.
  • Even after he was activated off the COVID-19 list, pass rusher Chandler Jones was still held out of Sunday’s matchup against Houston. Prior to kickoff, Fox’s Jay Glazer reported that Jones had lost nearly 15 pounds as a result of contracting the disease. When asked about his status moving forward, Kingsbury reaffirmed that Jones would benefit from added rest and that he “feels good about him going this week” against Green Bay.
  • Four separate Arizona Cardinal pass catchers had 50 or more receiving yards Sunday afternoon. With the embarrassment of riches at the skilled positions, it’s no wonder why head coach Kliff Kingsbury can be so quick to bail on the run game.
  • In sixth out of their seven games played this season, the Cardinals have scored 30+ points. They are still searching for their first 40-point outing of the Kliff Kingsbury era, however.
  • For the first time since Week 3 at Jacksonville, Kyler Murray threw an interception in a football game, with both he and Zach Ertz admitting fault on the play.
  • The Arizona Cardinals have opened up as a 3-point home favorite over the visiting Green Bay Packers for next week’s Thursday Night Football matchup.

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