The NFL MVP award requires the perfect blend of storyline and performance. The best overall player rarely wins it because there's a fatigue factor and expectations change how someone is viewed.
The perfect storm appears to be brewing for Arizona Cardinals' star quarterback Kyler Murray to plant his flag as the early frontrunner for this year's NFL MVP.
The numbers speak for themselves, in a sense. Arizona is 4-0 and atop the toughest division in the NFC, and possibly the entire NFL. Murray has led a top-five passing attack and top-six rushing game with his dynamic skill set. Their huge 37-20 road win against the Los Angeles Rams legitimized a team that had three wins against lesser-caliber foes.
Murray's individual numbers in Kliff Kingsbury's offense have gotten actually silly in 2021. The former No. 1 overall pick already had two statistically impressive seasons under his belt, but there was a need for improvement. Murray's film was filled with splash plays but missed the impactful moments that we've seen throughout 2021 already.
A Hall-of-Fame Pace?
Murray's current blistering 76% completion rate, 318 yards-per-game, and a nine-to-four touchdown-to-interception ratio have him on a peak Kurt Warner-type trajectory. Obviously, Murray also has wheels to threaten defenses. Even as he's rushing less, he's accumulated three scores on the ground and always forcing the defense to react to him.
Kyler Murray was efficient on quick passes (< 2.5 seconds) in the #Cardinals 37-20 victory over the Rams in Week 4.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 4, 2021
Murray completed 15 of his 17 passes for 123 yards and a TD on quick passes (+11.5% CPOE).#AZvsLAR | #RedSea pic.twitter.com/fMJd0WghtH
The Cardinals' offense hasn't drastically changed their philosophy since 2020 but they're executing it at a higher level for a variety of reasons. Murray has long been a great deep passer but Kingsbury's offense doesn't prioritize vertical routes. The Cardinals get the ball out fast on short passes and screens built to create misdirection and yards after the catch.
Murray has been excellent with his accuracy thanks to improved footwork. He resets his feet more often than ever before and therefore misses less often. Passes that sailed a bit high or fell to the ground short are now hitting his target in their frame, at least catchable even if not perfect.
There Is No "I" In Team
Besides shoring up some of his deficiencies with accuracy, Murray is making the most of a deeper array of playmakers. Starting Chase Edmonds at running back has been the right call, and James Conner is an upgrade in the red zone from previous years. The tandem boasts the right skill sets for their role.
For as much as the franchise was questioned for signing A.J. Green after his body appeared to be broken and a shell of what it was in the past, the 33-year-old leads the team with 248 yards and a 16.5 yard-per-catch average. Combined with second-round pick Rondale Moore, the Cardinals now threaten defenses much more effectively with their spread looks. They have a whopping four receivers over 211 yards, and Maxx Williams is right behind them at 179.
The overall talent around Murray is more well-rounded and less dependent on the scheme to win. Green can take advantage of smaller defenders still with his long frame, and Moore is the ultimate weapon who can change a game in the blink of an eye. They have opened new opportunities for Christian Kirk, and to a lesser degree DeAndre Hopkins, to find soft spots throughout the defense.
Kingsbury has been rightfully criticized in the past for punting on short fourth downs despite being lauded as a progressive coach. Upcoming battles against much better opponents will define whether he's grown to be a sustainably quality decision-maker or not.
In the meantime, Murray is helping this unit ascend to the top-scoring offense in the NFL because he's making throws that can't be defended. His touch on seam and corner routes has been dramatically better than what we had seen in 2019 and 2020. There's a new level of comfort in his game.
Defenses have their hands full with the Cardinals and few have the personnel to usurp this powerful assembly of playmakers. Murray's full form has been unlocked thus far in 2021, and he may be rewarded with a divisional crown and MVP if he continues at this rate.
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