NFL Talking Point: Is Kyler Murray on track to emulate Russell Wilson?

By Sports Desk October 24, 2020

The Seattle Seahawks will put the NFC's last undefeated record on the line when they take on divisional rivals the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Inspired by an MVP-calibre start from quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have reaped the rewards of shifting their emphasis to a passing attack in the early weeks of the 2020 NFL season.

After some strong moves in the offseason, the Cardinals have impressively moved to 4-2 with second-year QB Kyler Murray producing some must-see plays.

Ahead of what looks likely to be a high-scoring NFC West battle, we have compared the two QBs and their supporting casts.

Can Murray emulate Wilson?

There are similarities between Murray and Wilson, two diminutive quarterbacks who also pose a significant threat in the running game.

Murray has shown signs of promise and if he can get anywhere near the level of Wilson in his NFL career, the Cardinals will rejoice.

The Seahawks QB has made a spectacular start to 2020, throwing 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions through five games at an average of 300.4 yards per game with a 129.8 passer rating.

That puts him third in YPG, first in passer rating and top for passing TDs, even though he is coming off a bye week and some of his counterparts have played six times.

Seattle average a league-leading 33.8 points per game and look impossible to stop, despite having a woeful defense that is worst in the league for yards allowed (471.2 per game).

Per the NFL's NextGen Stats, Wilson is completing 72.8 per cent of his passes compared to an expected rate of 65.1. The plus 7.7 differential is comfortably the league's best, while Murray (two per cent over expectation), ranks 17 of 38 qualifying QBs.

Are the Cardinals capable of stopping Wilson? Since 2018, they have had some success, as he is averaging 183.3 passing yards and has three TDs to one interception over four games against Arizona. 

Per Stats Perform data, against all other opponents in this span, he is averaging 252.3 yards and has an 82-14 TD-INT ratio in 33 games.

The Seahawks are 6-1 in games after a bye week since 2013, best in the NFL, though the lone loss during this span came against the Cardinals in 2015.

Arizona also won the most recent matchup 27-13, though they are yet to face the 2020 Seahawks offense which has reached a new level.

Murray, meanwhile, completed a career-low nine passes in Monday's 38-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys, but still finished with 188 passing yards courtesy of big completions to DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. 

The last player to rack up that many yards through the air on fewer than 10 completions was Brian Hoyer on October 12, 2014 (217 yards on eight completions).

Murray leads all QBs with 370 rushing yards and six touchdowns, his speed and elusiveness ensuring he remains a potent threat even when the passing attack is out of rhythm.

Through the air, the 2019 number one overall pick has 10 touchdowns to six interceptions through six weeks, with his 1,487 passing yards putting him in the middle of the league.

Murray vs Wilson's first two seasons

In his first 22 games as a starter, Murray has 5,209 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, plus 914 rushing yards (10 TDs).

His career passer rating is 88.5, whereas Wilson topped 100 in each of his first two seasons, and his yards per attempt number (7.0) falls short of how the Seahawks QB (7.9 and 8.2) began his career in 2012 and 2013.

But less than halfway through year two, Murray is already closing in on the 1,028 rushing yards Wilson produced over his first two full seasons and has already doubled his rival's TD total on the ground for those years (five).

The passing is less explosive than early career Wilson, but the rushing ability is more productive and game-changing. Solid passing figures and spectacular running give the Cards hope of further growth to come.

Hopkins and Metcalf lead NFL receivers, Drake bounces back

Two of the year's top wide receivers will be on show, as Hopkins (100.2) and D.K. Metcalf (99.2) lead the league in yards per game.

Hopkins was a spectacular addition for the Cardinals in a trade with the Houston Texans and has even been better than advertised, already racking up NFL highs in yards (601) and receptions (47).

Metcalf, meanwhile, is posing a huge threat down the field, catching passes at a league-high 22.5 yards per reception and has five touchdowns.

He is averaging 6.1 YAC, well over his expected rate of 4.0, with Hopkins also excelling in that category. His 260 YAC are second only to Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints, and his 5.7 YAC per reception rate is 1.7 over expectation.

While Murray has been thriving on the ground, running back Kenyan Drake had a slow start to the year until he burst into life against the Cowboys.

He rushed for 164 yards, just two shy of his career high that came against Seattle last December (two TDs).

Drake came into the Cowboys game with a rushing yardage that was 71 yards below his expected total, worst in the NFL, but the stunning performance was 87 RYOE, the NFL's third-best 2020 performance in a game and enough to bring him back into positive territory.

The Cardinals reached the 100-yard rushing mark for the sixth consecutive game, racking up a season-high 261. Per Stats Perform data, it is the first time they have had such a streak to begin a season since 1988.

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals - now playing without injured star pass-rusher Chandler Jones - are going to have a hard task stopping Wilson despite being second in the NFL for points allowed (18.7).

Seattle's defense has struggled to get pressure and cover the pass, a worrying combination Murray must exploit knowing his team likely have to emerge triumphant from a shoot-out to take victory.

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