Next-gen Russell Wilson? Rams have respect — and comparisons — for Kyler Murray
The descriptions varied, Rams players and coaches this week comparing Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray to a speedy cartoon bird and a former boxing champion with a skill set that makes him a next-gen Russell Wilson.
There was universal agreement about one thing: Controlling Murray will be the key for the Rams (7-4) when they play the Cardinals (6-5) on Sunday in a key NFC West game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Murray, the first pick in the 2019 draft, has improved dramatically from his rookie season. He has passed for 19 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also has rushed for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He looks like a whole different player,” Rams safety John Johnson said.
The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Murray — a former outfielder who was the ninth player chosen in the 2018 MLB amateur draft — passes accurately to a receiving corps that features four-time Pro Bowl selection DeAndre Hopkins, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk among others.
The Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and Cardinals DeAndre Hopkins were AFC South rivals with Jacksonville and Houston, respectively. Now the rivalry is renewed in NFC West.
But Murray’s running ability sets him apart. He moves laterally and straight ahead with dynamic speed. His stride is not long, making it difficult for would-be tacklers to choose angles.
“He’s like the Road Runner,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t look like he’s covering a lot of ground, but he is because he’s taking a lot of steps.
“I think as a defender, you’ve got to match that body language. You can’t run in there with long strides thinking you’re going to tackle this guy. You got to run in there, chop your feet, shorten your stride and come to balance to tackle him.”
Last season, the Rams sacked Murray six times in a 34-7 victory at State Farm Stadium. Four weeks later, they mostly contained him in a 34-21 victory at the Coliseum.
It is a tougher assignment now that Murray has experience in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s system. The Cardinals rank second in the NFL in offense, averaging 403.3 yards per game.
“He’s eliminated so many negative plays that kind of put us behind the sticks last year when he was trying to maybe do too much or not know when the party was over, and get rid of it and avoid those sacks,” Kingsbury said.
Murray’s ability to “slip punches” and avoid shots to his body reminds Rams coach Sean McVay of boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. His speed and elusiveness harken to former NFL quarterback Michael Vick.
“You see some of the runs he’s making against All-Pro type of players and he’s running away and separating,” McVay said. “Sometimes you’re watching and you’re saying, ‘Holy, this is a joke, man. I can’t believe we got to freaking defend this guy.’”
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald and defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said comparing Murray to Wilson, a ninth-year pro, only goes so far.
“Murray is probably a little twitchier,” Donald said.
The 5-11, 215-pound Wilson is bigger, Murray faster.
“The differences probably lie in the overall gear that Kyler has,” Staley said. “But, where they’re the same is, it’s never over. … In those gotta-have-it situations, third-down, red [zone], two-minute in a game and a half, those guys really take the game over.”
Sam Farmer makes his picks and predictions for Week 13 of the 2020 NFL season.
The Rams controlled Wilson in a 23-16 victory Nov. 15. They rank second in the NFL in total defense, third in passing defense and fourth in rushing defense.
The Cardinals are 1-3 in their last four games, the lone victory coming on a last-second 43-yard pass from Murray to Hopkins to defeat the Buffalo Bills.
On Sunday, in a 20-17 loss to the New England Patriots, Murray passed for 170 yards, with an interception. It was the first time this season that Murray did not pass for a touchdown and only the third time he did not rush for one.
But the Rams are anticipating that he will bounce back.
Would Staley consider putting a spy on Murray, a defender to follow his every move?
“He’s faster than a lot of the spies you may have on the field,” Staley said, adding, “I don’t think that that’s probably at the top of our list in terms of trying to go about containing this guy, because he’s just a rare athlete for the position.”
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