Kyler Murray might be one of the smallest quarterbacks in the NFL, but he undoubtedly has one of the strongest arms. Early in his NFL career, we haven’t seen that fully unleashed. Over Murray’s three seasons in the league, his average depth of target has been 7.3, 7.8, and 7.5, respectively. That 7.5-yard average throw depth for 2021 ranks 22nd among 31 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 100 passes, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Much of that stems from the Horizontal Raid aspect of the Kliff Kingsbury offense that relies heavily on screens and other throws behind the line of scrimmage. So far this season, Murray leads the league in the rate of throws at or behind the line (28.2%), per TruMedia. But what’s different and helping to propel the Arizona passing offense this season is that Murray is throwing deep more often at 15.6% of his attempts, which is the sixth-highest rate in the league.

It’s not just that Murray is throwing deep more often, it’s that those deep throws have been incredibly productive. Per Sports Info Solutions, Murray is averaging 1.3 EPA per attempt on throws of 20 or more air yards in 2021 while completing a league-high 70.4% of those passes. Only five quarterbacks, Murray included, are completing at least 70.4% of their passes overall this season.

Obviously, those deep rates are significant improvements over the numbers Murray had over his first two seasons.

Kyler Murray 20+ Air Yard Passes, 2019-201


It’s great to see the on-target rate has improved so much because that completion percentage is quite an outlier, both for Murray and quarterbacks in general. Since Murray entered the league in 2019, there have been 93 quarterbacks with at least 20 deep passing attempts in a season. The highest full season completion percentage in that sample is 63.3%, which came from Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019 when he threw just 30 deep passes. The only other season at 60% was Ryan Fitzpatrick last season with only 20 deep passes. In the chart below, Murray’s three seasons are highlighted in the 93 quarterback sample.

We shouldn’t expect Murray to keep up these completion numbers, but we also shouldn’t have expected him to start this hot, either. Since 2015, there have been 134 quarterbacks with at least 20 deep attempts through the first six weeks of the NFL season. Again, Murray’s 70.4% completion rate is the top mark. The second comes from Russell Wilson in 2019 at 61.5%, the only other quarterback over 60%. Wilson finished that year with a 43.7% completion rate on those passes, which ranked sixth among quarterbacks in 2019.

But even if a 70% completion rate isn’t going to hold up, there are some signs that Murray can continue to be an incredibly efficient deep passer. That high completion rate doesn’t just come from chucking it up and hoping, even if some of those throws can sometimes look like it.

A lot of the efficiency comes from the types of throws Murray is attempting — or not attempting. Of his 27 deep passing attempts, only two have targeted go routes. Straight go routes down the sideline can leave a small margin of error for a completion. The pass has to be nearly perfect in order for it to be complete. 

In Murray’s first two seasons, go routes made up for 23.3% and 21.3% of his deep attempts, respectively. But on those throws, he only completed 31.3% and 21.4%. This season, those two go routes make up just 7.4% of Murray’s deep attempts and he’s connected on one.

This isn’t just an aversion to throwing the routes by Murray. The Cardinals have almost completely eliminated them from the offense. Per SIS charting, Arizona receivers have only run 12 go routes total through six weeks, easily the lowest figure in the league.

That’s a fairly significant change for the Kingsbury offense that tied for the second-most go routes run in 2019 (269) and was closer to league average (19th) last season. So not only is Arizona no longer targeting go routes, the offense isn’t even running them to clear out space for underneath routes. Even when those routes are used on deep-developing plays, they’re not the feature. Instead, the Cardinals are using better concepts and route combinations to open things up down the field.

Early in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, the Cardinals faced a third-and-goal from the Cleveland 21-yard line. In personnel, they lined up in a 3×1 set with DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk to the left and A.J. Green to the right.

The focus of the play was on Kirk and Moore inside working against Cleveland’s slot corner and safety. Kirk and Moore both ran a vertical stem until about the 7-yard line before Moore broke in on a post and Kirk broke out to the corner. By that point, the inside safety had his hips facing outside while the slot was faced inside. The late break of the receivers in the opposite direction left the defenders with no chance to cover and Kirk was left open for a touchdown.



Arizona has excelled at putting safeties in conflict this season. Midway through the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, the Cardinals came out in 11 personnel on a second-and-9 from the 49ers’ 39-yard line. Arizona motioned Rondale Moore to the backfield for a split back look. At the snap, DeAndre Hopkins and tight end Demetrius Harris (86) ran dueling deep crossing routes. From the left, Hopkins was passed off by the corner to safety Jimmie Ward. Murray was forced from the pocket, which disrupted the timing of the play but Hopkins’s separation from the switch allowed him to turn upfield and adjust to a crossfield throw from Murray for a gain of 30 yards.



In the second quarter against the Browns, the Cardinals went back to a similar concept on a second-and-6 from the Arizona 44-yard line. This time, Hopkins crossed with Kirk from the opposite slot. Hopkins was passed off as he crossed the field, but Kirk’s crosser held the deep safety and a vertical route from A.J. Green held the other corner in the three-deep coverage, which left a ton of space for Hopkins across the middle for a 33-yard gain.



Here are the two plays drawn out side-by-side.

Arizona is also using the formations to open things up down the field. The Cardinals have been a team that uses empty formations often, but this season they’re using those looks to go deeper. Murray’s aDOT from empty in 2019 was 6.7 and it was 6.5 in 2020. This year, it’s 8.7 per SIS. Through six weeks, Murray already has six deep attempted from empty after just seven in all of 2020 and 10 in 2019. On those throws, Murray is 6-for-6 with 179 yards. 

In Week 4 against the Rams, the Cardinals had Green and running back Chase Edmonds stacked to the right. Edmonds ran a quick in-breaking route from the outside and Green ran an out-and-up that froze the corner just long enough to create separation for a 41-yard touchdown pass.



Against the Browns, the Cardinals went empty with a bunch to the right that consisted of Green, Kirk, and Moore. From the middle, Kirk ran a deep crosser that took the safety from the opposite side. Moore, from the inside, ran back to formation for a quick chip then released into the flat, which pulled both the linebacker and slot corner. That left Green alone on the outside with a post against the corner playing with outside leverage. There was plenty of room for Green once he broke inside for a gain of 34 yards.



Green already has seven deep targets on the season and he’s caught six for 195 yards. Last year with the Bengals, Green had three deep receptions for 85 yards on 26 targets. Green looks healthier and smoother while he’s been put in a better position to succeed on these deep targets. The spread of the ball has also helped. Green is tied with Hopkins for deep targets and both are one behind Kirk for the team lead.

The Cardinals are currently fourth in the rate of explosive pass plays — an element of the offense that wasn’t present over the previous two seasons. Arizona ranked 22nd in 2018 and 23rd in 2020. Murray has been able to connect on so many of these deep passes because they’ve been set up so well and most of them are open. This isn’t forcing the ball deep in the hopes of making a play. So even while the completion rate is going to regress throughout the season, the Cardinals still have a lot to like in how they’re opening up these deep routes in a way they hadn’t in previous seasons.

Murray has taken advantage of every opportunity for far this season and even if that rate declines in the coming weeks — though it shouldn’t be an issue in Week 7 against a Houston Texans defense that is allowing the highest rate of deep targets to deep completed against them — there are better chances created down the field that should allow the Cardinals to continue to be one of the better deep passing teams in the league.