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How Kyler Murray broke the Rams’ back on 3rd-and-16

The Cardinals QB could have thrown a first down to DeAndre Hopkins, but decided to run it instead

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

It was early in the second quarter and the LA Rams would have plenty of opportunities to close the gap later in the game, but Kyler Murray essentially put the home team to bed on a single play that emphasized both the good and the bad of the Arizona Cardinals’ young quarterback. As well as the bad — and the bad — of the Rams 2021 defense.

This is the third-and-16 run that crushed LA’s soul and exemplified how Murray has led the Cardinals to a 4-0 record in spite of his mistakes.

NFL Week 4 - 3-0 Cardinals at 3-0 Rams

Score: Cardinals 14, Rams 10

Quarter: 2nd

Time remaining: 9:40

Situation: third-and-16 at the Ram 27

It’s hard to believe now that we know the Rams lost 37-20, but LA led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter following an immaculate play by Matthew Stafford to direct-and-execute a touchdown throw to Van Jefferson for 14 yards.

If LA’s defense could contain Kyler Murray to some degree, it appeared that Stafford would again provide enough offense for the Rams to maintain their lead. However, a 10-yard run on third-and-4 by James Conner and a 7-yard pass to Chase Edmonds on third-and-2 helped keep Arizona’s ensuing drive alive, ending in another 14-yard touchdown pass, this time going from Murray to tight end Maxx Williams.

And the Cardinals took a 17-14 lead.

It was at this point that the LA Rams could come back and shoot their shot, making it clear that SoFi Stadium was in Los Angeles and so are the Rams. Despite the post-game narrative that this was “all bad Stafford” the truth is that there were moments — like the Jefferson throw above — that displayed the same “oh my god the Rams are different now” abilities from Stafford that he had shown during the 3-0 start.

Matthew Stafford would get zero opportunities on the next drive, unfortunately.

On the first play of the drive, Stafford handed the ball to Sony Michel, a player who entered the week with three career fumbles on 595 career touches. Now he has four fumbles.

With 10:50 remaining in the second quarter, the Cardinals were at the Ram 14 and they had a three-point deficit.

With 10:35 remaining in the second quarter, the Cardinals were at the Ram 21 and they had a four-point lead.

However, momentum almost immediately seemed to shift back into LA’s favor when Arizona lost a yard on their first play, then another five yards on a false start by right tackle Josh Jones. On second-and-16, Murray arched a pass towards running back Chase Edmonds, who was streaking up the right sideline against linebacker Troy Reeder — and winning.

Refs initially said that Edmonds caught the ball, but then they waved it off because Edmonds didn’t establish control until after his legs had touched out of bounds.

And this is how we got setup with third-and-16.

Here is the situation before the play begins:

  • QB Kyler Murray is in empty, with five receivers. He can play it safe and go for a closer field goal in the worst case scenario, or attempt to go for it all.
  • The Rams show five, with linebacker Kenny Young hanging around the line of scrimmage, not letting his intentions be known.
  • WR DeAndre Hopkins is at the top of the screen.

At the snap, a few interesting things immediately happen.

  • Aaron Donald is gobbled up by THREE Cardinals offensive linemen, and somehow Sebastian Joseph-Day also gets sucked into the void.
  • Leonard Floyd is facing Josh Jones and while he does appear to get around the edge, forcing Kyler to his right, there is no urgent reason for Murray to scramble outside of the pocket yet.
  • #52 Terrell Lewis takes on left tackle D.J. Humphries and nothing much happens there, setting Lewis free in a moment

Free to do what exactly? Nobody knows.

It’s at this moment that Murray could actually make his job really easy if he recognizes everything that’s in front of him. Because while the take away from this article will be that Kyler Murray broke LA’s back with a first down scramble on third-and-16, he also overlooked an elite NFL wide receiver saying, “Hey, hey, hey look over here — nobody is covering me!”

  • That red arrow is pointing to DeAndre Hopkins, who ran 15 yards down field and immediately started begging for the ball because NOBODY WAS COVERING HIM.
  • However, Murray doesn’t need to necessarily do that because as soon as he decides to run out to his left, he immediately finds that there are... NO RAMS IN FRONT OF HIM.

Kenny Young did not drop back into coverage and he did not immediately blitz either. He spied Murray and decided that as soon as Murray broke left, he would follow him, and that’s when everything was clearly going wrong.

Lewis disengages from Humphries, but once Murray runs around the too-slow Young, there is absolutely no hope for Lewis to hustle his knees to any spot on the field that would prevent Murray from streaking up the sidelines for a first down.

As you can see, there are zero LA Rams players between the LA30 and the LA14. and Murray only needs to make it to the LA11.

Consider the numbers:

  • Five Cardinals blocked, Five Cardinals went down the field as receivers
  • Five Rams rushed, Six Rams went more than 15 yards down field
  • LA had a 6-to-5 advantage in the secondary, but that left them with a major DISADVANTAGE against a dual threat quarterback who had nothing in front of him so long as he could be faster and more agile than Kenny Young and Terrell Lewis.

Who would you choose in a race between Murray and those two?

Here’s the play from Andrew Leezus on Twitter (but he’s 100% wrong about his 99.9% because he’s overlooking the fact that Murray had a wide open DeAndre Hopkins, and that’s just the receiver who I could see):

And another angle:

The play was a microcosm of the game and the two teams for several reasons:

  • Kyler Murray got deserved praise for this play but I think for the wrong reason. It’s not just that Murray is insanely athletic and gifted and unlike any other QB before him, it’s also that he is so athletic that he can make up for some of his mistakes. Like overlooking a wide open DeAndre Hopkins.
  • The Rams have major personnel problems on defense.
  • The Rams have major scheme problems on defense.
  • Aaron Donald can get triple-teamed and it still doesn’t free up other pass rushers to make plays somehow.
  • Kenny Young isn’t capable of playing the role he was assigned to play.
  • Turnovers will kill you.

Two James Conner runs later, the Cardinals scored a touchdown and the Rams went from a 10-7 lead to a 21-10 deficit in a matter of less than 3:00 minutes of game time. Who is to say how that impacted LA’s game plan and what Sean McVay wanted to do from there if he was simply down 14-10 instead, but Stafford seemed to get more inaccurate from there and we didn’t see any more Sony Michel in spite of the fact that Darrell Henderson is dealing with a rib cartilage injury.

The whole game seemed to turn on that moment and it wasn’t even the last time Murray would convert third-and-Long on the day.

How will Rams make sure this doesn’t happen again in Week 14, when the two teams rematch on Monday Night Football? Better yet, how will McVay ensure this doesn’t happen on Thursday against Russell Wilson?