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Kyler Murray: Cardinals’ rookie quarterback developing ability to anticipate throws

Let’s break down Murray’s passing

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Two organizations that turned the keys to the franchise over to rookie passers will square off this weekend, as the New York Giants host the Arizona Cardinals. This game will feature two passers drafted in the top ten of last year’s draft, as Daniel Jones squares off with the first overall selection, Kyler Murray.

Coming out of the University of Oklahoma, there were various areas scouts identified where Murray would need to show improvement as an NFL passer. Anticipation was one area commonly identified as a trait where Murray would need to grow and develop.

From my evaluation, however, I felt that this was an area where Murray was being undersold. I thought his ability as a pocket passer - including throwing with anticipation - was more advanced than he was given credit for.

Even with that in place, anticipation throws are still difficult for younger quarterbacks to execute. This is something that Giants fans have seen with Jones over the past few weeks. When you are entering the league it takes time for your mind to speed up to the point where you are getting throws out ahead of the receiver’s break, or you start throwing receivers open in the midst of coverage.

Let’s look first at this play from Murray’s Week 4 game against the Seattle Seahawks. Very early in the game the Cardinals have a first-and-10 on their own 38-yard line. The offense lines up with Murray in the shotgun and a slot formation to the right and a single receiver split to the left:

The Seahawks show the rookie quarterback a two-high safety look prior to the snap of the football.

This is the route concept that Kliff Kingsbury calls for his quarterback to execute:

The route design in play here is a variation of the Y-Cross concept that is a staple of Air Raid offenses. The primary receiver here is Larry Fitzgerald (11) on the crossing route from right to left, but Murray first will look to the deep curl route along the left sideline. In the standard Y-Cross design, the curl route is instead a vertical route.

Seattle spins their defense into a combination coverage here:

One of the safeties drops down in a buzz technique, and that helps to take away the crosser to Fitzgerald. There are zone elements underneath as well, in addition to MEG (man everywhere he goes) technique on the boundary to the right.

Murray indeed opens to the left here and the curl route. But he comes off that pattern and then looks at the crosser, which is taken away due to a combination of underneath coverage and the buzz safety. By this time, the pressure runs out, and the rookie takes a sack:

The issue here that I have with this play is there is a window for Murray to throw the initial read, that curl route to the left. If Murray makes an anticipation throw to the left side, he can get this out and complete this for a decent play. But he is wary of the coverage to the inside and wants to confirm that the receiver breaks open. By the time the wide receiver gets his separation — which would have been present even with an anticipation throw -- Murray has moved on and eventually runs out of time.

Now we can examine two plays from Murray’s game against the Atlanta Falcons last week. We can be honest here, friends, and admit that the Falcons’ are struggling defensively this season. Against Atlanta this year opposing passers have completed 71.4 percent of their passes for 1,627 yards and 15 touchdowns, and have posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) of 9.3. That ANY/A would place “Generic Atlanta Opponent Quarterback” second in the league behind only Patrick Mahomes.

That being said, players still need to execute the plays against this defense. Last week Murray showed growth in the anticipation realm. On this third-and-8 play late in the first half, watch the timing and anticipation on this curl route to Fitzgerald:

As Murray hits his drop depth he hitches up in the pocket and gets the ball out to the curl route. The ball is coming out right on time and as Fitzgerald is making his cut on the route. The defender closes quickly, but he cannot prevent the Cardinals from moving the chains on this third-and-long.

Then there is my favorite throw from Murray from the game, and perhaps his rookie year.

With a first-and-10 midway through the third quarter, the Cardinals line up with Murray in the shotgun and Fitzgerald again in the slot, this time on the route. Here is the route concept Arizona calls:

The Cardinals run “pout” here, or post/out. The outside receiver runs a post pattern while Fitzgerald runs a deep out route. Atlanta drops into a Cover 3 scheme here:

Murray does not hesitate here at all. As soon as he hits his drop depth in the pocket the ball is coming out of his hands, in the direction of Fitzgerald on the out pattern:

Here is what I love about this play. Murray confirms that the cornerback is carrying the vertical route over the top, so the QB knows that there is a window to throw the out pattern. But he also needs to be wary of the defender in the flat perhaps poaching this route, so the ball has to come out quickly, and before Fitzgerald gets close to that area of the field. So Murray not only makes an anticipation throw, but he puts this ball in a spot where only Fitzgerald can get it, and prevents the flat defender from breaking on the ball.

This is advanced passing from a rookie quarterback.

Murray’s growth this season has been slow, but steady. He seems to be improving each week, and as we saw here over just a few weeks there is demonstrated growth in anticipation, a critical trait to playing the position. As we know development at the quarterback position is not linear, but Murray seems to be on a solid track.