LOS ANGELES — The descriptions varied, Rams players and coaches this week comparing Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray to a speedy cartoon bird and a former boxing champion with a skill set that makes him a next-gen Russell Wilson.
There was universal agreement about one thing: Controlling Murray will be the key for the Rams (7-4) when they play the Cardinals (6-5) on Sunday in a key NFC West game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Murray, the first pick in the 2019 draft, has improved dramatically from his rookie season. He has passed for 19 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also has rushed for 650 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He looks like a whole different player," Rams safety John Johnson said.
The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Murray — a former outfielder who was the ninth player chosen in the 2018 MLB amateur draft — passes accurately to a receiving corps that features four-time Pro Bowl selection DeAndre Hopkins, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk among others.
But Murray's running ability sets him apart. He moves laterally and straight ahead with dynamic speed. His stride is not long, making it difficult for would-be tacklers to choose angles.
"He's like the Road Runner," Johnson said. "It doesn't look like he's covering a lot of ground, but he is because he's taking a lot of steps.
"I think as a defender, you've got to match that body language. You can't run in there with long strides thinking you're going to tackle this guy. You got to run in there, chop your feet, shorten your stride and come to balance to tackle him."
Last season, the Rams sacked Murray six times in a 34-7 victory at State Farm Stadium. Four weeks later, they mostly contained him in a 34-21 victory at the Coliseum.
It is a tougher assignment now that Murray has experience in coach Kliff Kingsbury's system. The Cardinals rank second in the NFL in offense, averaging 403.3 yards per game.