How can the Cowboys defense stop Kyler Murray?
The answer to this question is short and simple: they won’t.
Kyler Murray is putting up MVP-like numbers through the early onset of this NFL season. He’s a two-pronged yardage machine, with a cannon of an arm that was good enough to net him a first-round MLB selection, and wheels with enough horsepower to fasten onto a brand-new Bugatti.
And the Dallas defense is absolutely terrible. From a statistical standpoint, they’re ranked 20th in pass defense, and a putrid fourth-to-last in quelling the run.
Murray himself is likely faster than every man on the Dallas defense. Plus, his ability to spread the wealth between an array of lethal receiving threats and hide his small frame behind Arizona’s hefty line (at times remaining virtually undetectable) poses one bad matchup problem for Mike Nolan to gameplan for.
But they have to do their best. At 2-3, the Cowboys’ record is poor by league standards, but luckily they play in the NFC East - a conference that’s been completely upended by the rest of the NFL. They still have a chance to regain their footing and make ample noise in the division, but their subpar start makes this upcoming Arizona game one of large significance.
They're not going to completely shut down Kyler Murray. That’s impossible. But here’s what they can do to slow him down.
Murray is in the bottom percentile of QB’s in terms of sack numbers, but that’s a telling testament to his one-of-a-kind pocket dexterity. Like a fluid boxer, he’s able to easily bob and weave his way through a multitude of oncoming hits, and stop on dimes to turn, shift and keep defenses off-balance.
He’s shown a tendency to escape the pocket under duress rather than stand in longer and substitute contact for more accurate throws, which reeks of his inexperience at the NFL level. Still though, Murray possesses turbochargers for legs, which makes scrambling a viable option 9 times out of 10.
It’s when tries to make throws on the run that he finds trouble.
Against Kyler Murray, the Steelers dropped eight into coverage inside the ten yard line four times. The results?— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 12, 2019
One yard scramble
Great adjustment to force a rookie QB into tight window throws. https://t.co/OKbIo7bPFS pic.twitter.com/XzSkNzG7u3
Jeff Okudah’s first career interception is made in coverage against DeAndre Hopkins, thrown by Kyler Murray pic.twitter.com/UivP5Xgy1i— nolan bianchi (@nolanbianchi) September 27, 2020
Forcing throws like these will be a double-duty task for the defense.
First, the front line will have to get into the backfield, which at this point has been a rare sighting. They are 18th in total sacks with 10, but ESPN’s pass rush win rate tracker (which measures how often a player is able to beat his block within 2.5 seconds) has them slotted at 29th, with just a 34% success rate.
Good stuff from Bryce Huff (47) here. Giving up 50 lbs to DJ Humphries and drives him in to the backfield, helping force Kyler Murray to bail on the play. Showing he's more than just a speed guy off the edge. pic.twitter.com/HSBKp9c4YU— Glenn Naughton (@AceFan23) October 13, 2020
That’s bad. And with names like Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith, and Demarcus Lawrence (who still hasn’t fully lived up to his supermega contract award) lining up against Arizona’s 21st ranked O-line, hurried throws from Murray should come by the plenty. At least we hope so.
The second portion of this strategy is entirely reliant on the Cowboys secondary (takes deep breath).
This is where things get sticky.
DeAndre Hopkins is one of the most dependable deep threats in football, which is particularly scary considering Dallas is in desperate need of a safety,
Chidobe Awuzie’s absence has thrust rookie Trevon Diggs into unfamiliar territory as a primary cover man, and although his instincts and doggedness are top-notch for a player his age, he's been a step slow in numerous one-on-one situations.
Hopkins is not the only option to be weary of. Christian Kirk can take the top off of any defense. Slot man Andy Isabella is Cole Beasley-like in his ability to make tough catches in the trenches, and blind you with a sneaky speed burst. And don’t get me started on Larry Fitzgerald.
So for coverage, this means battening down the hatches in every aspect, and sending a few surprises Murray’s way: multiple high-safety looks, a few corner and linebacker blitzes, and double-teams (mainly on Hopkins) will all substantiate to provide alternative looks.
Mack Wilson gets his first-career interception against Kyler Murray pic.twitter.com/QCPG0xttLw— Everything Cleveland (@EverythingCLE_) December 15, 2019
Jaylon Smith will likely take on spy duties in efforts to slow down Murray, but Smith will have to make sure he doesn’t allow #1 to get to his outside hip. That’s a L for Smith in a footrace every time.
The Cardinals’ run offense hasn’t been their bread and butter up to this point, but look for Kliff Kingsbury to try and take advantage of Dallas’ weakened expertise in that category. It will be a chess-match of wits between Kingsbury and Nolan in terms of play-calling, and Murray is Kingsbury’s ultimate pawn.
If Dallas can figure out how to keep him from claiming checkmate, they’ll be back in business at 3-3. We’ll see if they’re ready for a “king me.”