Murray, Cards on cusp of lost year after season-long issues

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Kyler Murray's journey to NFL stardom appears to have hit a plateau.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft is having perhaps the worst season of his four-year career and it's one of many reasons the Cardinals (4-6) have struggled going into Monday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

It’s not that the quarterback has been bad — instead he’s just been average.

There are many different ways to measure a quarterback using statistics, but pretty much all of them rank the 25-year-old in the bottom half of the league's starters.

Entering Week 11, he's 22nd in quarterback rating, 21st in passer rating and 17th in passing yards per game. He's been sacked the eighth-most times in the NFL and lost the seventh-most yards on those sacks.

Then there's the team's record when he's played: The Cardinals are 3-6.

It's safe to say these aren't the results Arizona owner Michael Bidwill expected when he signed Murray to a long-term deal worth $230.5 million during the offseason. It's also put fourth-year coach Kliff Kingsbury — who was hired largely because of his ability to work with quarterbacks — squarely on the hot seat.

Murray has never been big on making excuses.

“Everybody’s looking for these answers,” Murray said. “The answer is do your job. Do your job better, understand what you have to do, understand how we’re blocking this protection, my drop and the depth on your route. There’s no magic wand for the mistakes. All you’ve got to do is do your job.”

There's little doubt Murray has one of the league's most fascinating skillsets. Entering Week 11, he's No. 5 among quarterbacks in rushing yards, which is a constant problem for opposing defenses, he's fearless and has good arm strength. Those traits earned him the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 and Pro Bowl nods in 2020 and 2021.

But there's also been some negatives that have emerged. Murray is a self-described introvert and vocal leadership has never been his strong suit.

Television cameras caught three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Murray in a minor squabble on the sideline during their loss to the Seahawks.

There was also a curious interaction between Kingsbury and Murray in a win over the Saints back in October. Kingsbury was frustrated that the Cardinals had to call a timeout during a drive and Murray — in his words — yelled at the coach to “calm down.”

Both Hopkins and Kingsbury downplayed those interactions.

“That’s who he is and I love it,” Hopkins said. “Just talking about what we can do and it’s good, I love it. It’s good to have somebody like that who’s emotionally passionate with their craft.”

Said Kingsbury about their incident: “I mean that was just one of those things on the field. We had a difference of opinion.”

It should be noted that Murray hasn't been the cause of all the Cardinals problems — not even close. Arizona's had a slow trickle of bad news for just about the entire season.

Hopkins was suspended for the season's first six games after violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Two of the team's other top receivers — Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore — have missed time with injuries. Starting running back James Conner missed a few games because of an injury to his ribs.

Starting tight end Zach Ertz is done for the season because of a knee injury. Four of the team's starting offensive linemen won't be playing against the 49ers. Only right tackle Kelvin Beachum is healthy.

Even Murray has struggled with nagging injuries, missing last week's win over the Rams because of a sore hamstring. Backup Colt McCoy led the Cardinals to a 27-17 win.

Murray was listed as questionable against the 49ers (5-4) for Monday's game. If adversity builds character, then this season has been a great teacher.

But for a franchise that finished 11-6 last season and invested money to win right now, it's been a frustrating few months. Because of several mediocre teams in the NFC, the Cardinals still have playoff hopes, but a loss on Monday would come close to shutting that door.

“I think times like this are when you get a chance as a coach to really grow and see how good of a coach you are,” Kingsbury said. "Anybody can coach all-star teams. It’s one of those deals when you have things that come up, you’ve got to adapt, maximize your personnel and who it is.

"It’s an opportunity to grow as a coach and a coaching staff and that’s the approach we’re taking.”

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