How Kyler Murray under center impacted Cardinals offense

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- When Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray returned for the final eight games of the season after ACL surgery, a new coach and a new offensive coordinator weren't the only things waiting for him.

The fifth-year quarterback was also asked to change where he lined up.

Murray spent 25% of his snaps under center in 2023, more than double his second-highest rate (12%) in his rookie season in 2019. Between then and last season, Murray never spent more than 8% of his snaps under center.

That all changed in 2023 when new coach Jonathan Gannon hired Drew Petzing as his offensive coordinator. Petzing's plan in placing him under center was, according to Gannon, was to put opposing defenses in "conflict" -- allowing Murray to cause a defense to be unsure of whether it was about to face a run or pass, leading a unit to be on its heels.

"It just gives the defense a different look," Murray said. "I think [with] my ability to be able to move, run, throw outside the pocket and inside the pocket -- why not? [We] can be as versatile as possible and give the defense different looks and allow the running backs to run downhill."

Murray going under center, however, may end up being a tell. When Murray lined up under center, Arizona had a 71% designed rush rate compared to 33% when he's in shotgun.

Gannon said the decision of when to put Murray under center was on a game-by-game basis.

"You have all kinds of different play types from under center," Gannon said. " ... Some of the things that he's capable of seeing the defense do under center, the look that that gives the defense gives him an advantage and it gives us an advantage, so that'll be a part of who we are moving forward."

Murray said he enjoyed lining up right behind new center Hjalte Froholdt. One area that he found as an advantage was running bootlegs.

"We've really stressed the sell of the run, the body language, the communication at the line of scrimmage," Petzing said. "It has to all look the same, feel the same, and if he's not, then he's not going to have the time, but he's not going to get those clean edges."

The majority of Murray's snaps under center (74%) were runs for the Cardinals. Being under center allowed him to hide the ball more during bootlegs and play-action plays, making it harder for a defense to diagnose.

"You can't really see the ball as far as play fakes in that split second and play-action," Murray said. "It affects the defense, so I enjoy it."

When he threw the ball from under center -- which Murray did 33 times last season -- he completed 73% of his passes, threw one interception and averaged 10 yards per attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those 33 attempts, 31 utilized play-action.

Out of shotgun, Murray completed 65% of his 235 attempts with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, while averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.

Murray's 35 dropbacks from under center accounted for 11% of his total of his dropbacks last season. It tied the amount of under-center dropbacks he had as a rookie in 2019, though he played every games that season. Going under center has accounted for just 5% of his career dropbacks; all 121 of them were either play-action or a designed screen pass.

Where Petzing lines Murray up -- and will continue to line him up -- doesn't have to do with whether the 26-year-old is better at one spot or the other, he said. It'll continue to be a strategic decision based on opponents. Petzing made sure to say last season that Murray "does a lot of things really well out of the gun."

It may be different than how Murray has played in the past, but heading into his second season in Petzing's offense and his first full offseason in it, he has embraced playing under center knowing there's more to come.

"As long as Kyler's the quarterback, we're going to stress out the defense because of his skillset," Gannon said. "And that's on us coaches to put him in position to do that."