GLENDALE, Ariz. — History has a weird way of repeating itself.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray had the chance Sunday to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in his first three games, bettering the record Cam Newton set in 2011. Instead, playing against Newton’s team, Murray followed Newton’s path, throwing for 173 yards eight years after Newton threw for 158 in his third NFL game.
Unlike Newton, who won his third game for his first NFL win, Murray lost to the Carolina Panthers 38-20, displaying a mix of dynamic savviness and a rookie’s inexperience.
After an impressive first drive, when Murray mixed in runs and plays with his feet with a variety of different passes, Murray struggled with making sound decisions, often holding on to the ball too long — which resulted in eight sacks — or making ill-advised throws. He threw two interceptions and two touchdowns to go along with 173 yards on 30-for-43 passing. He also ran for a team-high 69 yards, making defenders miss with his feet.
But it wasn’t enough. Murray didn’t mix his passing and running well enough to keep the ball moving down the field.
Describe the game in two words: “Dink” and “dunk.” While the Cardinals’ offense looked as good as it has all season on Sunday, Arizona didn’t take many shots downfield. Seven of Murray’s 43 attempts were longer than 10 yards and just one was a completion. Otherwise, Arizona used short passes to move the ball down the field. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a major part of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, but when the Cardinals needed a big play, the downfield pass wasn’t effective.
Troubling trend: David Johnson continued to be quiet Sunday against Carolina, rushing for just 37 yards. He has yet to hit 100 yards this season with totals of 82 in Week 1 and 13 in Week 2. Johnson has struggled to break the big runs and hasn’t often shown the jump cut that was once a valuable weapon for him. His inability to get going has cost the Cardinals the option of relying on him to be a major focal point of the offense, instead turning to Murray to run the ball.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Defending tight ends. The Cardinals’ trouble defending against tight ends continued Sunday and it contributed to Arizona losing to a formerly 0-2 team. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen finished with 75 yards and two touchdowns, continuing a trend of tight ends torching the Cardinals’ defense. It was Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson in Week 1 with 131 yards and a touchdown on six catches and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews in Week 2 with eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Bold prediction for next week: Kingsbury will continue to learn from his mistakes as a playcaller and fix them. After 36 of Murray’s 43 attempts were thrown 10 yards or less against the Panthers, Kingsbury will stretch the field more to get Arizona’s offense kick-started when it starts to slow down and get receivers such as Damiere Byrd more involved.