Trying to slow Cardinals' Kyler Murray gives Washington's Ron Rivera 'anxiety'

ASHBURN, Va. -- After watching his defense's eight-sack effort in a Week 1 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera flipped on the film to see what awaits him in Week 2: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

Rivera watched as Murray slipped through narrow openings, connected with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and led Arizona to a comeback win against the San Francisco 49ers.

"He gives me anxiety," Rivera said.

In Arizona, coach Kliff Kingsbury watched Washington's defensive line. And, well, he issued a similar line.

"It definitely gives you anxiety," Kingsbury said.

It's understandable how both coaches feel. For Rivera, the trick on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox) will be trying to slow Murray, who threw for 230 yards and ran for another 91 against a 49ers defense that ranked second overall last season. He connected with Hopkins 14 times for 151 yards.

If Washington wants to reach 2-0 for the first time since 2011, it must find a way to limit Murray's effectiveness -- with both his arm and his legs. Last season in Murray's third start, Rivera's Carolina Panthers sacked the QB eight times in a Carolina victory.

"It's a very big challenge," Rivera said. "But it can be done."

Here's how Washington must do it:

Keep Murray in the pocket

This will be easier said than done, but it's imperative. The team did a good job against Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who had been effective against Washington in the past outside the pocket. Sunday, he completed one pass outside the pocket for 11 yards. He failed to extend plays.

Murray missed on his only two passes outside the pocket in Week 1, but he was good at extending plays and finding targets. On throws that took longer than 2.5 seconds, Murray completed 10-of-16 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Washington kept Wentz in the pocket with a combination of well-timed blitzes, an effective interior push and its long, athletic ends -- rookie Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Wentz was tough to bring down because of his size; the 5-foot-10 Murray will be hard to catch because of his quickness.

"It's difficult with a guy like that," said Young, who recorded 1.5 sacks Sunday. "He's a shorter guy, he'll be hard to see, harder to tackle. He's real good in space. It'll be a challenge but our entire defense is up for it."

Arizona helps create room for Murray by having him at times take deeper drops -- occasionally to 10 yards behind the line. Also, in Kingsbury's Air Raid offense, the linemen at times have wider splits.

That created issues for San Francisco. Even when the 49ers' pass-rushers stayed in their lanes in those situations, the splits created good passing alleys and larger creases to run through. That's what happened on Murray's 22-yard touchdown run. Even with a blitz, there was room to escape.

Washington will have to mix in stunts to pinch the interior combined with a tighter outside rush in those situations.

"He's fast getting to his top speed and quick in small spaces," Young said.

Stay fresh

Murray hurt San Francisco late in the game with 46 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, including his scoring run. He rushed for 81 yards overall in the second half, but that included minus-9 yards on two kneel-downs at the end of the game. The Cardinals ran 78 plays and it took a toll on the 49ers.

"They want to run a lot of plays and eventually you're either not able to keep up with them and you make mistakes or they wear you down and have guys with speed running all over the field," Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "It looks like they have a joystick in a video game."

Washington had six linemen who played at least 22 snaps Sunday; veteran Ryan Kerrigan had that low number but managed two sacks and recovered a fumble in part because he was fresh. Two others played at least 12 snaps. It will take a similar group effort Sunday against a quarterback with unique skills.

"He has that kind of special awareness that some of those greats have," Kingsbury said of Murray, comparing his ability to escape the rush to Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs). "They don't have to be looking at it. They can feel it coming and they make a play. It's a unique talent that some of those players have. He definitely has it."

Play lots of zone coverage

On Murray's 25-yard run in the third quarter, he dashed through an opening and raced upfield in part because San Francisco was in man coverage. Washington likes to mix coverages, but against Murray and Hopkins, playing a lot of man is difficult.

One member of the organization said Washington needs to stay calm, because Murray can hurt teams when the they're not. That means letting Arizona dink-and-dunk down the field. It's how Hopkins ended up with big numbers Sunday; he had one catch of 33 yards and two over 15. Half his catches went for 10 yards or less. He was targeted 16 times.

"Here's a guy that's got the ability to be explosive, the ability to make plays," Rivera said of Hopkins. "It's obvious based on how many times he was targeted that Kyler's become very comfortable with him."

Washington's defense, though, loves the tone set by its front, and that's what worries Kingsbury.

"They just wreak havoc really the entire game when you watch that," Kingsbury said. "They get in your face. They can chase and run. It's just a fantastic group that plays really hard."

They made life difficult for Wentz. Now they must repeat that effort against Murray.