Arizona Cardinals' pass catchers must stay alert and active when Kyler Murray has the ball

Bob McManaman
Arizona Republic
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It wasn’t so much what he said, but how he said it and how it sounded. Then again, it might have been all three.

After the Cardinals’ 20-12 loss to the Rams on Sunday, quarterback Kyler Murray was asked about some of the many dropped targets by his pass catchers and how at least a few times, they didn’t seem to be expecting the football during his 37 of 58 passing effort for 314 yards.

“I told guys you have to be awake when you play with me,” Murray said. “No matter what the play is. I have free reign to do whatever, so when you sleep, and you don’t think you’re getting the ball, you can’t play like that. Everybody has to be head up, in the game, locked in and we just have to be better. We will be, but it’s frustrating when you lose, and you felt like you could have played better in the game.”

Murray addressed the situation once again on Wednesday after the Cardinals wrapped up practice at their Tempe training facility. A total of 14 players didn’t practice or were limited due to injuries or rest, including wide receivers A.J. Green (knee), Rondale Moore (hamstring), Greg Dortch (back) and Hollywood Brown (rest). Tight end Zach Ertz (rest) also didn’t practice and running back James Conner (knee) was limited.

That’s six of Murray’s pass catchers and it probably didn’t ease his mind considering what a surprise it was to see some of his targets either stop running a route or not ready to make a catch.

“Of course, it’s a surprise when you throw the ball and somebody stopped looking or doesn’t expect the ball,” he said “Everybody on the field should be live at every moment. That’s something we continue to preach and continue to harp on. Don’t ever think you’re not getting the ball.”

How many times did that happen on Sunday?

“I think it happened once,” Murray said.

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Sep 25, 2022; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws the ball against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium.

Once, though, is one too many times, in Murray’s opinion, even if it might have happened more than he may remember or cares to share publicly. Wideout Andy Isabella clearly stopped running his route on one such play, but there appeared to be other communication issues with Green and Conner and on at least one deep throw to Brown.

Communication breakdowns will happen, but failing to be active, alert and ready when Murray is scrambling from pressure or maneuvering his way out of the pocket is a concern. Every would-be pass catcher should already fully be aware that when Murray has the ball, he can still be throwing it in your direction before the play is dead. To be clear, coach Kliff Kingsbury said that hasn’t been any sort of pattern.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “Last week was just one of those games where it just kind of snowballed on us. We didn’t execute, didn’t coach, didn’t do anything as well as we think we can. I don’t think that’s been anything like a pattern here from what I’ve seen.”

Still, it’s a problem nonetheless if pass catchers need to be reminded to stay awake.

“He’s a dynamic player back there,” Kingsbury said of Murray, “and so at any time he can escape and make a play and it’s really never ever over. When playing with a guy like that, it can be a new experience. Hopefully, the reps they’re getting over the last couple weeks, the new younger guys, it will help them.”

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Wide receiver A.J. Green #18 of the Arizona Cardinals can't hold onto the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium on Sept. 25, 2022, in Glendale, Arizona.

Kingsbury said Green, who suffered a bone bruise to his left knee against the Rams, appears to be doubtful and is “probably not going to be available” when the Cardinals (1-2) meet the Panthers (1-2) Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. The good news is that Moore has finally returned to the practice field after straining his hamstring three days before the season opener. He was limited, but seemed to run with his normal top-flight speed, according to Murray and other players.

“He looked good. Looked fresh,” Murray said. “I know he’s been itching and scratching to get back out there, but with injuries you’ve got to take your time. It’s a long season. He knows that.”

Wide receiver Greg Dortch, whose 20 receptions and 198 receiving yards rank second on the team behind Brown (24, 251), sounded more optimistic about Moore’s return.

“Rondale is a hell of an athlete so if anything, he’s going to help us,” Dortch said. “Just having him back, with his speed, I think that will be helpful for sure. … He looked like himself out there and I’m definitely excited to watch him play. I know he hasn’t played since last year. We all know he’s a dynamic guy. He looks ready to go.”

If Moore has a setback of any kind and can’t play, the Cardinals likely will have to elevate at least two wide receivers from the practice squad. Lately, it’s just been Andre Baccellia. But now, it might also be Javon Wims or C.J. Board or Stanley Berryhill.

If that’s the case, Murray said bring it on.

“I feel fine. I feel fine,” he said when asked about the possibility of throwing to practice-squad call-ups. “I’ve got the utmost confidence in everybody out there. We’ve just got to execute better.”

Sep 25, 2022; Glendale, Ariz., U.S.;  Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown (2) catches a pass against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick (6) during the first quarter at State Farm Stadium.

The common theme through the first three weeks of the season has been Arizona’s sluggish start at the beginning of games. Not only have the Cardinals failed to score at all in the first quarter, but they’ve been outscored 31-0 in the first 15 minutes. They’ve been outscored 56-13 in the first half.

Murray was asked if the Cardinals simply need a big play or two early for the offense to pull out of its funk and find some sort of rhythm.

“It’s not just a couple plays,” he said. “I think it’s foundationally, just what we’re all doing right now, it’s not good enough. There are a couple plays we would love to have back, reads that I would love to have back. … The plays that are there to be made, the crucial plays that are there to be made, we’ve got to make those plays. There were some crucial plays in that game (against the Rams) where we could have made a difference.

“Again, everybody makes mistakes. All you ask is for them to make it full speed, but right now, we’re all not doing our jobs as good as we should.”

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Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at bob.mcmanaman@arizonarepublic.com and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch. 

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