Bickley: Cardinals’ Murray evaluation gets murkier after Rams loss

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The Cardinals are back in the basement. After a 37-14 loss to the Rams on Sunday, they are clearly the worst team in the NFC West. They lost 10 or more games in a season for the 19th time in Arizona history.

Nineteen times in 35 years. Amazing incompetence does not happen by accident.

However, everything about the 2023 Cardinals should be viewed through a telescope, not a microscope, eyeballs and a forward slam. And when it comes to Kyler Murray, that picture is darker than ever.

Since returning from knee surgery, Murray has been mostly meh. He scored 25, 16 and 14 points in three games. With the Cardinals leading by 29 points late in the fourth quarter, Sunday’s final touchdown was a garbage-time punt on tight ends, when the quarterback, coming off knee surgery, shouldn’t have been in the game.

All in all, Murray’s show has gone from entertaining to annoying to boring.

In his win over the Falcons, Murray showed great courage and mental toughness. In the loss against the Texans, Murray fell victim to poor mechanics and threw an error under heavy pressure. Against the Rams, Murray looked like little threat to a Rams defense that had won eight games, including an embarrassing playoff loss in Los Angeles.

There’s also an important note related to Sunday’s game: For the second week in a row, Murray looked volatile and dangerous on the opening drive. He took 5 of 7 passes up the middle, and the Cardinals seemed unstoppable, rolling downfield for a touchdown.

And after that, Murray returned to a comfortable position in the shooting formation, where he would spend 14 of the next 15 games, a game that would soon become a haze of fall. It was the same show we’d seen many times before, a new age yawn.

There are many possible scenarios.

Perhaps the Cardinals already understand the growing perception in Arizona – Murray needs to be something completely different, he needs to be a typical quarterback to succeed in the NFL. And maybe they know the embrace is just beginning for Murray now to be a complete quarterback, to rely on his renewed energy while working in a completely alien system.

The Inconvenient Truth Murray came to the NFL with a terrible walk. He needs more time, more tutoring and more practice reps to find his comfort level taking over quickly under center. And at 2-10 and hovering near the top of the NFL Draft, the Cardinals may be no different.

It’s also clear that most of Steve Kemm’s draft picks have very little appeal or benefit to the new regime. A lot can change for Murray over the final five games, for better or for worse.

Personally, I would be open to a long-term plan to draft another quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft. Under the stipulation that Murray will primarily work under center in 2024, and then give him a game-changing wide receiver like Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., upgrade a unit full of small wide receivers who will create little fear in opposing defenses and occasionally win individual battles.

Bottom line: The old Murray won’t be good enough for the new Cardinals. And the new Murray is a work in progress, with a long way to go.

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