In the last two years, Kyler Murray has won the Heisman Trophy and been named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. And when Week 1 of the 2020 season comes to a close Monday night, the Arizona Cardinals quarterback will be on the shortlist of early-season candidates for league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft lived up to the billing as a rookie, and appears ready to cement himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league after a great performance in a 24-20 road win over the 49ers on Sunday. Murray passed for 230 yards with one touchdown and an interception, and also rushed for 91 yards and another score on the ground.
Arizona fell behind early and it looked like San Francisco might be able to blow things open, but after the Cardinals came up with a huge punt block, they put the game in Murray's hands and he delivered.
The 49ers certainly aren't the only team that Murray causes problems for, but they've now faced him three times, and not a single one of those games has been comfortable. He got his first victory over them Sunday, and despite San Francisco's best efforts, you can be sure there will be many more to come.
As such, the 49ers will need to adjust. Murray already is quite good, and he's bound to get better and better. They need to find a way to slow him down and prevent Murray from doing what he does best.
NBC Sports Bay Area's Ian Williams believes a change of strategy could be in order.
"He's a great player," Williams said of Murray. "This is why he got drafted. When the play breaks down and what the coach called isn't working and you have to do something with your legs, he's great with that. He's a dual-threat quarterback because when he gets outside the pocket, he can throw the ball 40, 50, 60 yards down the field on a line, and then also he can make a juke and scramble and get you with speed on the corner and break contain.
"Maybe, moving forward, you start to put a spy out there. Maybe you bring Jaquiski Tartt or Jimmie Ward down, or you leave Fred Warner as a spy when you play an athletic, dual-threat quarterback like a Kyler Murray. ... Guys are going to try to get back to the quarterback, they're going to try to get their sacks, they're going to run their games up front, and every now and then a guy like Kyler Murray is going to break that contain or break that (defensive end) stunt or someone looping over top to try to contain him -- he's going to break that. So you need to have a second layer of defense, and that's a spy to be able to contain him."
Using a spy theoretically would make it more difficult for Murray (and players like him) to beat the defense with his legs. The other side of that coin, however, is that's one fewer player in pass coverage, which Murray clearly can make you pay for. Thus is the quandary he puts defensive coordinators in.
Whatever the adjustment, the 49ers will need to figure something out because the NFL, after all, is a copycat league.
"It got to a point where he was just running with the ball and making things happen with his legs, and that's something you can't allow moving forward," Williams continued, "because now that they've seen that on film, other teams with athletic quarterbacks are going to try the same thing. This is a team they're going to see again later on this year, and it's going to be more important that they win that game now that they've lost this game."
In addition to one more game against Murray and the Cardinals, the 49ers will face a number of quarterbacks on the dual-threat spectrum this season, including Russell Wilson (twice), Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Carson Wentz, Cam Newton, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott.
San Francisco faces five of those QBs over the next seven weeks, so time is of the essence.