Corralling Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray will be the Rams’ biggest challenge

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is chased out of bounds by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is chased out of bounds by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack during a game on Sept. 26. The Rams know they’ll have to stop Murray through the air and on the ground Sunday.
(Gary McCullough / Associated Press)

He was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft and the offensive rookie of the year.

In his second season, he was voted to the Pro Bowl.

Now, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has complete control of an offense for an unbeaten team tied for the league lead in scoring.

Rams coach Sean McVay witnessed the growth in Murray, who has led his team to a 3-0 start heading into Sunday’s game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

“He’s doing a great job distributing the ball evenly,” McVay said, adding, “It’s not like he hasn’t been a dynamic playmaker since he got into the league. ... He’s a problem.”


From what Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury has seen on film, he says he believes Jalen Ramsey has been the most valuable Ram in their 3-0 start.

After defeating future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, the Rams are preparing for a change of pace. They face the mobile Murray in the NFC West opener for both teams, and will play against elusive Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks four days later on “Thursday Night Football.”

Murray, 24, has completed 76.5% of his passes this season for 1,005 yards, including seven touchdowns, with four interceptions. He also has rushed for three touchdowns.

“He’s, respectfully, in his own MVP race right now,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said.

Murray is in his third season running coach Kliff Kingsbury’s system. His mastery of it was evident in victories over the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars.

“He really has a good understanding of our offense now — where his checkdowns are, where his outlets are, how to get out of trouble,” Kingsbury said. “And he’s taking advantage of it.”

All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, A.J. Green and running back Chase Edmunds are reaping the benefit of Murray’s maturation.

“Covering those guys for, you know, six seconds is already tough enough,” Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “So, if he extends a play to a couple more seconds, then you can just imagine how much tougher that makes it on the defense.”

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray looks for a receiver.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray looks for a receiver during a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 26.
(Gary McCullough / Associated Press)

Said Rams lineman Aaron Donald: “He is similar to how Russell Wilson plays. He can run 20 yards back and throw a deep ball and hurt you.”

The Cardinals’ defense also appears to have improved. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones returned from a biceps injury that limited him to five games in 2020, and the team added lineman J.J. Watt, a three-time defensive player of the year.

“Any time he walks in, the entire room perks up,” Kingsbury said of Watt. “He’s got that effect on the young players where you don’t want to let him down. ... He’s definitely really had a really profound impact on this entire organization.”

McVay is 8-0 against the Cardinals, including an 18-7 victory in last season’s finale. Murray suffered a right ankle injury and was sidelined for most of that game.

When an Arizona reporter this week asked Murray how much better this Cardinals team is, compared to those of his first two years, Murray did not hesitate.

“It’s not even a question,” Murray said. “Night and day.”

But this Rams team also appears improved.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, like Murray, is among the early contenders for the NFL most valuable player award. Receiver Cooper Kupp leads the NFL in receptions, and McVay has opened the playbook to include deep passes to receiver DeSean Jackson and routes of all lengths for tight end Tyler Higbee.

With running back Cam Akers out for the season because of an Achilles injury and Darrell Henderson sidelined last Sunday because of a rib injury, Sony Michel stepped in and provided a power-back presence.

The defense, led by Donald and Ramsey, has been mostly stout under Morris, who replaced Brandon Staley.

“Raheem’s done a tremendous job of just evolving what was started last year schematically and adding some of his own stuff,” Kingsbury said.

The defense could have a slightly different look against the Cardinals. Outside linebacker Justin Hollins is out because of a chest muscle injury suffered against the Buccaneers.

Second-year pro Terrell Lewis; Obo Okoronkwo, who was activated Saturday from injured reserve; and rookie Ernest Jones could be part of a rotation opposite Leonard Floyd.

Their mission: control Murray.

In last Sunday’s 31-19 victory at Jacksonville, Murray completed 28 of 34 passes for 316 yards with an interception. He also rushed for a touchdown.

“We love this kid and how he moves and how he plays,” Morris said of Murray. “It’s a great challenge for us to get [him] on the ground.”

First place in the NFC West is on the line when the Rams and Arizona Cardinals meet Sunday. Which undefeated team is the favorite to win in Week 4?