HOUSTON – Scrambling, retreating, spinning around and sprinting away from pursuit, Kyler Murray is one of the most elusive and fastest dual threat quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Arizona Cardinals’ diminutive two-time Pro Bowl selection presents a major challenge for the Texans’ defense on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
When Murray returned to the starting lineup last week from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered a year ago, the former top overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma proved that he’s completely healthy and dangerous in the open field as he engineered a win over the Atlanta Falcons.
As difficult as it is to contain Murray, Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard sacked Murray twice with one safety during a loss at Arizona two years ago. The Texans rank eighth against the run. In a 15-13 loss to the similarly sized Bryce Young and the Carolina Panthers, they sacked him six times and hit him 10 times overall.
“Man, you got to keep going because it’s like backyard ball,” said Greenard, who leads the Texans with seven sacks. “He can move. He can change directions. He’s really, really good. He’s getting into the flow of it, he’s getting his feet wet. I think he looks good. You saw the big run. You’ve got to keep going and keep going and shoot your shot and keep good angles or he can make you look bad.”
Murray completed 19 of 32 passes for 249 yards and one interception against the Falcons, rushing for 33 yards and a touchdown.
At 5-foot-10. 207 pounds, Murray is extremely fast. He has a knack for elongating plays and making defenders miss.
A year ago, he passed for 2,368 yards, 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He rushed for 418 yards and three touchdowns in just 11 games.
“I expect to go out there and make plays and do my thing,” Murray said. “I think there’s a lot of room to grow and improve, but it was a good start and I think we all can get better.”
Since being activated from injured reserve, Murray led the Cardinals to a 25-23 victory over the Falcons.
“He’s a dynamic player who can create a play into something positive,” linebacker Blake Cashman said. “He’s obviously very quick and agile. We have to be really good on our communication about having guys in the right spot to keep him contained.”
Texans coach DeMeco Ryans, the team’s defensive signal caller, is extremely familiar with Murray from his time with the San Francisco 49ers competing against him in the NFC West.
“You talk about an explosive, dynamic playmaker at the quarterback position, one of the premier athletes in the NFL right now,” Ryans said. “Does a really good job passing the football, but, as we all know, him with his scramble ability, that’s what won them the game this past week. So, it’s going to take everybody to get him down. We have to be tight in coverage and we have to, as we say, we have to cover him twice. We’ve got to rush twice. We have to stay after him because he’s going to continue to keep plays alive. That’s where he’s thrived in the league: extending plays.
“He’s done a really good job of that, so we have our hands full. The difference in Kyler is just his speed. He has to be the fastest quarterback in the NFL. The speed is real, and when he’s healthy, it’s a problem. Most guys, they step up in the pocket, but he has that ability to retreat back in the pocket and still circle the defense. You talk about elusiveness, you talk about the speed. Just a dynamic athlete.”
Murray has passed for 14,097 career yards with 84 touchdowns and 42 interceptions.
The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has rushed for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“He’s really fast,” said Texans defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who was the Cardinals’ defensive line coach last year. “I would say he’s not afraid to sort of give ground to gain ground. That play against Atlanta last week, the third down scramble, he went back 20 yards back just to go 10 yards forward. When you think you’re rushing high enough, he’ll still be going.
“You can practice him running around, but you can’t practice how it’s going to break out because it looks different every time. You just try to have rules of when it’s a scramble drill, or when it’s a broken play, what is my responsibility? He’s probably the quintessential definition of extending plays and they’re going to go for a long time, and we have to play through that whole window. Yeah, it’ll be fun.”
Texans safety and team captain Jalen Pitre expressed confidence in the game plan against Murray, but he’s aware that it won’t be an easy task defending him.
“Good, dynamic quarterback that can do a lot,” Pitre said. “I feel like he’s a good scrambler. He has a good arm that doesn’t get talked about a lot. We have to rush twice and make sure we’re covering twice.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.