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The good, the bad and the ugly of Kyler Murray’s Week 3 performance

NFL top 100 players
Michael Chow-USA TODAY NETWORK

Heading into his Week 3 game against the Detroit Lions, Kyler Murray said something that will be on my mind for the rest of the NFL season.

A reporter asked the Arizona Cardinals’ emerging young star about staying grounded amid the team’s sudden success. Murray, who went 42-0 in high school and 12-2 in his lone season as a collegiate starting quarterback, responded simply: “It’s not my first time dealing with success.”

He’s right. He won the Heisman, was the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, won Rookie of the Year, can swing a baseball bat and Arizona was 2-0. All he knows is success.

Following his beatdown of the Washington Football Team in Week 2, I forecasted that his MVP odds were about to skyrocket and that the national media would hype him up like never before. (This all happened, btw.) But realistically, second-year quarterbacks are expected to struggle, their warts are supposed to be exposed. It’s just that the great ones overcome them. 

During Sunday’s game against the Lions, we saw the warts. Not just from Murray — the Cardinals had problems running the ball for much of the game and failed to intercept a pass for a third straight contest. But the previously winless Lions did beat the Cardinals, 26-23, and Murray threw three interceptions. The loss fell largely on his shoulders, as he was more than happy to admit following the Week 3 loss.

“We had every opportunity to win that game, and kind of just let it slip away,” Murray told reporters. “I feel like if I didn’t do what I did today, we win the game.”

He knows about winning, it comes easy to him. Which makes the question about handling success a little off-base, in my opinion. We already know the answer to it. The better question is one we’ll begin finding out next weekend, as the Cardinals hit the road for Carolina: How does he respond to failing?

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In the meantime, we can look at Kyler Murray’s play against the Lions, the best and the worst of it, to better understand what improvements to look for in the weeks ahead. 

Kyler Murray Week 3 highlights

Did I mention Kyler used to play baseball? Because I legally have to, we all do, like Ryan Fitzpatrick attending Harvard or how Matthew Stafford and Clayton Kershaw grew up together. They really did, it’s true!

But I also have to say that when I watched Murray’s first touchdown of the game, my first thought was about what made the throw so unique. He looked like he was playing Jackpot, the game where kids chuck a baseball into the sky so others can eventually catch it. Something about the arm angle, or the way my brain works.

A second-and-goal heave from the 13-yard line, Murray connected with Andy Isabella on a deep end-zone fade. The ball was placed directly over Isabella’s right shoulder for the wideout’s first touchdown of the year. Honestly, beautiful.

Fast forward to two minutes remaining in the second quarter and it’s 10-7, Lions, with Arizona knocking on the door to retake the lead. Coach Kliff Kingsbury calls a play-action rollout for Kyler, which, if you’ve seen the highlight, is just plain unfortunate for Detroit corner Jeff Okudah.

The play design worked out perfectly, fooling the defense into crashing to stop the goal-line handoff to Kenyan Drake. But Murray did the rest, and put this year’s No. 3 overall pick in cement with the coldest pair of jukes we may have ever seen from a man under center.

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The ugly from Kyler Murray’s Week 3 performance

But as really this entire article exists to underscore, this game was all about ups and downs for Murray. So let’s look at a couple of things he’ll need to clean up, starting with his second interception. 

Up 7-3 in the second quarter, Murray makes his first crucial mistake. He forces the ball through a tight passing lane to Larry Fitzgerald, Jamie Collins undercut the route, interception. 

Fitzgerald finished with just one catch for no gain, which he made on the Cardinals’ opening drive, so Murray likely wanted to get his Hall of Fame receiver involved. But forcing a throw here, against one of the league’s better coverage linebackers, wasn’t the right call. As Brady Quinn noted on the broadcast, Collins read Murray’s eyes the whole way.

A quick breakdown of the play highlights several better options for Murray. A trips-right package with DeAndre Hopkins alone on the outside, Murray never checks his way on what could have easily been a connection on a 10-yard out.

He could have also hit KeeSean Johnson underneath. Isabella went streaking downfield, momentarily pulling Johnson’s defender with him.

Finally, Murray could have made it happen with his feet, as is often the case. After rushing 21 times for 158 yards in the season’s first two games, Murray toned it down against the Lions, rushing just five times for 29 yards. But this play, especially after that killer pump fake, was ripe for a scramble.

The next play I want to look at was one of the most pivotal of the game. It’s third-and-9 with five minutes remaining and it’s tied at 23. After tying last season, 27-27, you could imagine Kyler is probably pressing for a go-ahead touchdown here.

Murray drops back, steps up and launches a 50-yard missile…into double coverage. Johnson, who was blanketed for the majority of his route, never had a chance. Isabella sure did, though. The second-year receiver was having a career game, already with two touchdowns on the day. On this play, he puts a move on Detroit’s Darryl Roberts that created several yards of separation.

Why Murray didn’t find Isabella underneath, who’s really to say. After the game, he admitted he misread the play. But given the moment, it’s more than likely that it was more than a misread, that he felt the pressure to put his team up late with a highlight play, as most any 23-year-old quarterback would. 

The problem, of course, is that forcing things in the NFL rarely works. Whether it’s feeding the ball to Fitzgerald or attempting to beat double coverage purely off arm strength, it’s a bad idea. 

Murray had a bad game, but he can easily learn from this loss. He’ll look at some of these same throws and come to the same conclusions. But it’s going to be up to him what happens next.