Is Kyler Murray’s Shoulder an Issue Against New England Patriots?

Kyler Murray's Shoulder

Seattle Seahawks‘ newly acquired defensive end Carlos Dunlap crushed the Arizona Cardinals‘ hopes of a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 11, sacking Kyler Murray on fourth down. It was not, however, the first time in the game that the former Cincinnati Bengal got his hands on Murray in the game. In what was perhaps another game-defining play, Dunlap and teammate L.J. Collier sacked the quarterback again, with the two defensive linemen landing heavily on Kyler Murray’s shoulder.

Murray was spotted in significant pain on the sideline by the broadcast team, wincing as he threw. Murray’s effectiveness was limited by the injury, later indicated to be an AC joint sprain, throughout the loss to their division rivals. Throughout the ten-day layoff, questions have swirled about the health of the franchise quarterback. The severity of Kyler Murray’s shoulder injury could ultimately define the game plan heading into Foxborough to take on Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Kliff Kingsbury’s former team have had an up-and-down season in the wake of Tom Brady’s departure and the Cardinals will hope to capitalize on the poor fortunes of the fading dynasty.

How Might Kyler Murray’s Shoulder Affect the Game Plan?

In the Media

During media availability this week, Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury spoke on Kyler Murray’s shoulder injury. “He’s working through it” said Kingsbury, suggesting that the staff would continue to monitor the issue when the team headed back to practice on Tuesday. However, Kingsbury did concede the possibility of having to ‘make adjustments’ if the injury proved troublesome.

After Tuesday’s practice, Kyler Murray was distinctly more optimistic, telling reporters that he ‘felt fine and felt good’. The Cardinals are taking precautions to preserve his health, which Murray acknowledged. He spent much of Tuesday’s practice working out away from the other quarterbacks. However, Murray seemed confident of playing Sunday in what is an important game for the Cardinals.

Kyler Murray will likely play Sunday, so his injury shouldn’t impact Kingsbury’ formula in that sense. Unfortunately, as seen in Seattle, the injury has the potential to severely limit Murray’s effectiveness.

Throwing

Since the sprain occurred in Murray’s throwing shoulder, Kingsbury’s passing attack is at risk of being affected. Murray has found particular success so far this season on the deep ball to DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. Troublingly, Cardinals media members Mike Jurecki and Craig Grialou pointed out that some of Murray’s throws in practice lacked the usual velocity. Underthrowing these routes could spell danger when facing a defense tied for fourth in interceptions in 2020. The Patriots defensive backfield boasts 2019 DPOY Stephon Gilmore, as well as J.C. Jackson, tied for first in interceptions in 2020.

Similarly, the Patriots deployed a bevy of zone coverages (55% of defensive snaps) in the Week 11 loss to the Texans. Deshaun Watson threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns against this system. Fitting balls into tight windows is the key to unlocking zone looks. Therefore, Murray’s throwing power might be integral in defeating the Patriots coverage schemes.

Rushing

‘Come for the arm. Stay for the legs’. Murray’s showpiece so far this season has been his rushing ability, consistent amid sporadic throwing issues. Kingsbury has employed designed runs for his quarterback who, alongside scramble plays, is currently second in the league for rushing touchdowns. The loss in Seattle indicated the importance of Murray’s rushing prowess; Murray managed only five attempts for 15 yards.

Murray suffered the injury early in the game. Although Seattle’s defensive front got reinforcements in Dunlap and ‘Snacks’ Harrison, that shoulder clearly played a role in Murray’s season-low rushing. Murray leads the team in rushing, with Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds failing to consistently perform. Murray’s rushing is the most effective facet of the Cardinal’s offense and his injury may therefore limit the offense overall. Murray may be forced into over-working that shoulder if the underwhelming Cardinals rushing attack, sans Murray, fails to carry the load against New England.

How Serious is the Kyler Murray Injury?

Only Murray and the Cardinals know the severity of the injury, so the indication out of Arizona is that it isn’t serious in that regard. However, what is serious is the implications that any underproduction out of Murray could have on the Cardinals offense. Belichick’s system famously takes away a team’s greatest strength. The one-two punch of Murray and Hopkins has brought the Cardinals this far. If Murray is immediately out of the equation, expect Hopkins to receive a lot of attention on Sunday.

Arizona’s offense is Murray-centric and relies on him greatly. Constant slow starts this season often leave the game on his shoulders in the latter acts. The Cardinals have only one opening drive touchdown, in Week Two against the Washington Football Team. Hopefully, Murray won’t be limited, but the Cardinals will need a swift start that will insulate him from such responsibility, particularly in the rushing game.

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