It’s not every week an NFL defense has to face a speedy, undersized quarterback with a baseball background who can just as easily run for a touchdown as throw one from anywhere on the field.
But it’s not unique, either.
Which is why, as the Giants prepare to face Kyler Murray and the Cardinals on Sunday, they are leaning on some of their experiences going against someone with an eerily similar skillset.
“I spent 10 games playing against Russell Wilson in Seattle,” said defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who was with the Cardinals for five years and in the NFC West. “So I have seen some guys like this that can buy time with their feet who are accurate and can deliver the ball on time and on schedule, then create some off-schedule plays.”
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was in that division too, beginning his career with the Rams. He said Wilson was the fastest quarterback he ever faced in the NFL.
Might Murray be faster?
“I don’t know,” Jenkins said. “I just know both of them are mobile. Both of them are quick and athletic.”
And both can be a challenge for a defense.
“He’s unorthodox, but he can and will be a phenomenal quarterback in this league,” Giants safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We know we have a tall task at hand, but we are going to go in ready for it.”
Murray presents multiple areas of danger for the Giants. First there are the designed plays like the quarterback keeps, the read-options. For that, the Giants need to rely on solid assignment football and trust each other as well as their communication. Every player on the field needs to stick to his role and not deviate from it or those plays can turn into massive gains.
“They’ll spread you out, make you defend the entire field,” inside linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "They’ll screen to the right, then come back on the next play and screen to the left. They’ll screen the middle. It takes a lot of gap discipline and you have to make sure guys are in the right positions. You get some zone reads, they try to play to the guys that they have there. They like to get Kyler out of the pocket and throwing downfield and they definitely use the whole field.”
Then there are the plays that aren’t on the call sheet. The ones that Murray improvises.
“I think the most dangerous thing in our league with a quarterback with his skillset is when they drop back to pass, and then he takes off and runs,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s done that on a consistent basis throughout [the season] and that’s where they’re dangerous, because then they have the ability to keep their eyes downfield and throw a late check down for 60 yards, or continue to run and move the chains.”
When that happens, when Murray is on the loose, Giants defenders will have to remember to stay on the ground.
“You can’t jump,” defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. “If you jump or leave your feet, even against slower quarterbacks, they get a step on you and the next thing you know that sack or pressure turns into a 10-, 15-, 20-yard gain. You can’t leave your feet, especially with a quarterback like that. They’ll be gone.”
The one advantage the Giants will have is height. The defensive linemen have been working on getting their arms up to prevent the diminutive quarterback from squeezing passes through lanes.
“A lot of people bring up the short thing,” Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton said, “but as he says, that Oklahoma line he played behind had a lot of NFL-caliber linemen, big guys, so I’m sure if he was able to throw over them he’ll find a way to throw over these guys or through lanes or whatever. I’m sure he’ll do well.”
So far, he has.
Murray was the first overall pick by the Cardinals, a team that has built its offense around him. Some scoffed at the selection, but Peppers said he never doubted that Murray would succeed in the NFL despite his size (he’s listed at 5-10) and his lack of experience.
“He’s definitely surprised me the more I’ve watched the tape in depth,” Peppers said. “I see the growth there from college. He still has all of the athleticism, but he tries to be a pocket passer when he can, let the routes develop downfield. Those guys do a great job of making plays for him.
“But we’re always up and ready for it.”