Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on from the sidelines during the third quarter of th...

Bickley: Cardinals empowered against Rams without Kyler Murray at QB

The NFL doesn’t like battles between relief quarterbacks. It’s bad television. It’s bad for advertisers. It’s bad for business.

Sunday is exactly what Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury needed.

On a day when style points mattered little, the Cardinals provided plenty in a 27-17 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Their offense operated on pace and rhythm. Their backup quarterback, Colt McCoy, delivered in a way that Kyler Murray doesn’t. AJ Green looked better than he has in years.

The whole operation seemed organized and on schedule, empowered without their franchise quarterback.

The implications are staggering, especially if you saw how comfortable Kingsbury seemed on the sidelines when interacting with McCoy, and how controversial it often seems with their $230 million quarterback.

To be fair, the Rams were spiraling long before Matthew Stafford missed Sunday’s game under concussion protocol. Los Angeles is not a good team. This is a team taking too much consolation in their championship ring, a team with a serious Super Bowl hangover.

But victories on the road are not to be questioned in the NFL. And this one sparks a new debate, perhaps even laying the seeds for a quarterback controversy in the very near future.

At the root of Arizona’s offensive dysfunction in 2022 is a central question: Is Kingsbury hopelessly in over his head as the NFL’s head coach? Or do his offense design failures and erratic play also call for the work of Murray, a quarterback who can be temperamental at times and limited in his field of vision?

The issue took a new turn in a Week 9 loss to the Seahawks, following a spat between Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. In real time, it appeared that Murray was frustrated and aggrieved, and that Hopkins should be solely to blame. But the HBO cameras provided sound and clarity, revealing a wide receiver in disbelief that Murray hadn’t seen him running free in an open space.

McCoy’s departure on Sunday gave Kingsbury a chance to clarify, perhaps even hope for the future. And for the third time in four starts spanning two seasons, the combination of Kingsbury and McCoy picked up a solid victory.

It’s a fascinating development because Kingsbury looked oddly emboldened on Sunday, throwing 11 consecutive passes to start the game, scoring an opener with the kind of success he rarely sees with Murray behind centre. He appeared to thumb his nose at critics who say he needs more balance and rushing tries in his attacking approach.

It’s fascinating because no one is lamenting that Murray didn’t suffer a moderate injury in a must-watch game on Sunday, like Josh Allen battled an elbow injury on a day when four different quarterbacks took the field at SoFi Stadium. Because no one seemed to miss him.

It’s fascinating because at the end of the day, Kingsbury has to thrive with Murray as he thrives with McCoy. But how?

Excellent question. For now, they all live to fight another day.

Contact Bickley at [email protected] Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

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