The Giants will be facing their most unique challenge of the season when they take the field against Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on Sunday. Murray, the former Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, has a skill set that most quarterbacks don’t possess. He measured in at 5-10, 207 pounds at the NFL Combine, but has a rocket launcher for a right arm and blazing speed to help elude defenders. On Sunday, Murray had a career-high passer rating of 128.2 against the Atlanta Falcons, throwing for 340 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
One positive for the Giants is having defensive coordinator James Bettcher on their side.
“I have spent 10 games playing against Russell Wilson in Seattle, 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," Bettcher, the former D-coordinator for the Cardinals, said during his press conference on Thursday.
Bettcher went on to praise Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has helped improve the Cardinals’ offense from 4.3 yards per play in 2018 (32nd in the NFL) to 5.6 yards per play (16th) this season.
“They’ve created a good amount of explosives in the pass game off of that," Bettcher said. "Also, the read option, there’s designed quarterback runs where he is running it and there’s other plays where he is reading the scheme of the defense, tucking the ball and carrying it or giving it. It’s going to be a great challenge for our guys.”
Rookie defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence echoed his defensive coordinator’s sentiments, but also noted that they can’t stray too far from what they normally do.
“It’s kind of what the game plan is every week: to try and collapse the pocket,” Lawrence said after Friday’s practice. “We need to do our best to make him uncomfortable and try to make him throw over our hands. For any quarterback, you just want to try and disrupt them and cause some pressure.”
Lawrence said that Murray’s height could benefit the Giants’ defensive line in terms of helping them bat down passes. According to Sports Info Solutions, Murray only has two batted passes this year, but it’s still something that the Giants are looking to took advantage of.
“Especially dealing with a shorter guy like that, you can get some batted passes in there," Lawrence said with a slight chuckle. "You just gotta try and contain him, because he can still outrun the containment, so we have to be disciplined in our gaps while we rush [the passer].”
The rookie mentioned that he sees a lot of things from Arizona’s offense that remind him of the offenses he used to face in college at Clemson. “In the ACC you have all those different types of Air Raid offenses, and they give you a plethora of things to defend. You see all the misdirections and the high tempo and a lot of the eye candy stuff.”
Even though Murray is such a dynamic player with his legs, averaging 6.1 yards per carry this year, Lawrence said they won’t be slow with their rush in an effort to keep Murray in front of the defense while he’s in the pocket.
“You know, we’re not going to be robots out there,” Lawrence said sternly. “We’re gonna play football, but we all know what we have to do to slow him down.”
Pass rusher Markus Golden said that Murray’s arm is a big challenge this week as well.
“That’s the thing about him, man. He can throw the ball too. He can run, but he can throw that ball too. We can’t worry too much about him running because he can throw the ball too. We look at it like, of course we all know he’s an elite runner, but he’s a great passer too. We gotta go out there and get after it. You gotta mix it up on him, but at the end of the day it’s gonna come down to guys beating their men and making sure we get after him and make plays.”
Golden specified the Giants’ gap integrity and rush lane integrity when it comes to defending Murray. A quarterback with his athleticism can easily take advantage of undisciplined play and zip up the field with his legs for long runs.
“It’s important, it’s very important. You have got to keep a strong rush lane integrity.” Golden said. “If you leave it wide open, any smart quarterback is just going to take off running down the middle. That’s part of being in the NFL, you’ve gotta rush smart, you’ve gotta know your rush lanes, you gotta know what the other guy on the side of you is doing. I feel like we’ve been communicating a lot this week in practice, so we’ve just gotta make sure we carry it over this week into the game.”
Like Lawrence, Golden is reminded of the offenses he faced in college while he was playing at the University of Missouri. Mizzou had transitioned from the Big 12 to the SEC by the time Golden was there, but Kingsbury’s offense is similar to what he saw when he was playing on Saturdays.
“It looks more like a college offense, especially on this level in the NFL. It’s different from what you’re used to saying on the NFL level. It’s really quick, man — and it works for them,” Golden said. “When you see it on film and see the guys they got running that offense, it works for them and it’s a nice set up for them.”