The Arizona Cardinals are 5-0. They won on Sunday, against the San Francisco 49ers, in what was ultimately a solid victory. They didn’t trail at any point in the contest and won the game by a clear seven-point margin, even with San Francisco’s defense committed to containing Kyler Murray. However, the game was won on defense, with Arizona holding Trey Lance and the San Francisco offense to just 20% efficiency on fourth down.
The game was Arizona’s most demanding game so far this season. The game was a dogfight, and subsequently, their offensive production did suffer some. The offense was held to under thirty points for the first time in 2021. While slightly disappointing, this really isn’t too concerning for Cardinals fans, especially playing a top defense in the Niners. However, there were reasons why the offense slowed somewhat. Down the road, Cardinals may have to address these to recapture their explosiveness.
Containing Kyler Murray Key as Arizona Cardinals Falter on Offense Against San Francisco 49ers
Remember, Cardinals Still Won
The offense did what they needed to do and came out of a divisional clash with a win. Totaling 210 passing yards against what Murray called the best defensive line in football is a commendable achievement. Fundamentally, it was Arizona’s passing attack that won the game in the end. Despite the notable decline in production, Arizona’s offense still retained much of its effectiveness.
Murray did an excellent job down the stretch in counteracted San Francisco’s pressure by leaning on Ol’ Faithful DeAndre Hopkins. The game-winning drive had shades of the 2020 Cardinals. Murray connected with Hopkins on a ‘He Down There Somewhere’ toss before the duo linked up again on a laser in the endzone. Hopkins’ role has been somewhat diminished in Arizona’s offense in recent weeks. Yet, Sunday’s showing proved once again why he is arguably the best receiver in football. With Murray straddling his own goal line, Hopkins dragged the Cardinals downfield. A stellar game, with 87 yards and a touchdown, Hopkins reminded everyone that he is just that dude.
Containing Kyler Murray By, Well, Containing Kyler Murray
Arizona’s offense did the business, but it wasn’t the league-leading offensive performance the Cardinals have displayed so far in 2021. Again, San Francisco’s defense, with that line and linebacker Fred Warner, is one of the best in the league. A powerful unit, the Niners outmatched Arizona’s unconventional run game on paper and held the Cardinals to under 100 total rushing yards on Sunday. Therefore, responsibility lay with Murray to beat the Niners, and that he did, but some of the dynamism that has seen Murray’s stock skyrocket was notably absent from the game. His single rush for seven yards is indicative of the excellent job that San Francisco’s defensive linemen did in containing Murray.
San Francisco’s game plan to contain Murray was simply to do just that. Murray’s most electrifying plays are predicated on the quarterback’s elusiveness, extending plays behind the line of scrimmage by escaping wide and isolating defenders in space. Last season, Murray’s effectiveness faltered when defenses deployed a so-called Mush Rush, overwhelming inside pressure that collapsed the pocket and closed off rushing lanes for Murray. Here in 2021, not only do the Cardinals now have Rodney Hudson protecting the interior, but Murray exploits aggressive rushes by outflanking them.
Unfortunately, the Niners refused to allow this. Using a combination of rushing linebackers and defensive ends, San Francisco prioritized outside contain on Murray. Improvisation is an integral part of Arizona’s offense; they practice scramble drills at the end of most practices. The Niners simply keyed on Murray’s tendency to extend and create. When Murray tried spinning wide, he ran straight into San Francisco’s contain. He took a couple of poor sacks as a result.
Did San Francisco Just Reveal The Blueprint?
When opposing teams realized the Mush Rush caused issues for Arizona in 2020, every team ran it against them. With defensive coordinators sweating at the thought of game-planning for a dynamo like Murray, San Francisco’s success against the Cardinals might be a good starting point. Fortunately for Arizona, such as the talent of their young quarterback that there isn’t simply one way of stopping him.
Murray will adapt to attempts to contain him and continue to thrive. He did so, on the back nine, against San Francisco. Attempting to envelop Kyler Murray rather than gunning for him affords the quarterback slightly more time in the pocket, and Murray has the arm talent to be effective in a more conventional quarterback’s role. With time to review, Murray will improve in recognizing rushes and continue to demonstrate his improvisational skills. Against the Los Angeles Rams, he showed an ability to escape vertically against edge pressure and still deliver the ball downfield.
There is no one way to stop him, but Murray has to be proficient in multiple areas and make defenses simply pick their poison against the Cardinals. Maintaining the dual-threat ability in Arizona’s arsenal and extending passing plays is a vital part of this offense; it has to remain so, and Murray will make sure of it.
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