Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray, Marquise Brown still looking for downfield pass connection

Three games into Kyler Murray's return to playing football after almost a full year between games, the Arizona Cardinals' on-field connection with close friend and teammate Marquise "Hollywood" Brown has yet to truly materialize.

Murray threw Brown's way four times against the Atlanta Falcons, with only a single completion for 28 yards. At Houston two weeks ago, Brown had two catches for 18 yards with five balls thrown his way. Last week against the Los Angeles Rams, with the Cardinals having to throw the ball more and playing from well behind, Brown was targeted 12 times with six catches for 88 yards.

The most recent game says the connection is now there, but Brown and Murray aren't connecting much downfield with long throws. Often times Brown is well covered, or Murray has simply missed him.

"We’ll keep practicing it and being on the details of those things. When they’re there, we’ve got to hit them, but I think just within the certain play types that we’re trying to do, those things if we make sure we practice it the right way and execute it in practice, then it’ll happen in the game," Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon said.

The downfield connection building might have to go on hold for a week, as Brown has a lingering foot area injury that has kept him out of practice this week. Though Gannon said Brown was "trending in the right direction," Brown wasn't seen in the early part of Friday's practice.

"You only have so many reps in practice to, you know, help with that stuff. But, you know, we want to make sure that we try to get Hollywood to the game and he can impact the game for us," Gannon said. "We know what he does for us. So he just wasn't healthy enough to go this week."

Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said it's a small margin when asked about the lack of a consistent Murray-Brown connection. Brown and Murray go all the way back to their college days at Oklahoma when they were lighting up opponents in the Big 12.

"There's some times where we've had opportunities, and we just missed them. There's some times where he (Murray) had an opportunity to make a play and just missed it. And then there's some times where we had some stuff up and they had the right coverage on and it wasn't open," Petzing said. "But I think you've seen that growth over the last three games. It certainly started to hit that connection a little bit more than we had the first two, on Sunday. So need that to continue. Obviously, they I think see the field very similarly. They played together a long time. So only expect that connection to continue to grow."

NFL: Arizona Cardinals seek 3rd win of season as team takes on Pittsburgh Steelers

Preparing for the cold

Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh will be cold and there’s a 75 percent chance of rain. It will begin a strong of three road games in cold-weather cities with upcoming trips to Chicago and Philadelphia also remaining on the schedule.

Petzing said it will be tougher for the coaches to handle than the players.

“The adrenaline of actually playing football I do believe takes a lot of that out of play,” he said. “I think people make a big deal because the fans are sitting in it, the coaches are standing in it. Really at the end of the day, when you walk on the field your adrenaline is so high, my guess is those guys will have no idea if it’s 15 degrees and 95 degrees honestly when the game’s being played.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 12: Keanu Neal #31 of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass while Christian Watson #9 of the Green Bay Packers is defended by Patrick Peterson #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium on November 12, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 12: Keanu Neal #31 of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass while Christian Watson #9 of the Green Bay Packers is defended by Patrick Peterson #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium on November 12, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

“You’ve got to have a plan when you come off the field, in between series to make sure you’re warming up when you need to be, you’re fresh when you go back on the field. But it’s the people not playing that honestly, I think have to adjust to it more and make sure that they’re in the right frame of mind going into it because playing the game, I think you honestly almost forget where you’re at sometimes.”

Murray will play in front of the black and yellow-clad Steelers faithful for the first time in his pro career.

"I'm expecting a hostile environment. Fans that love football, love their team," Murray said. "It's really a mindset, you know, obviously, it's gonna be fun, though. It's gonna be fun to be in. You don't get many chances to be in environments like this one."

Gannon on Zach Ertz's release

Gannon was asked about the release of veteran tight end Zach Ertz, which the Cardinals executed on Wednesday.

"Feel really good, obviously, about our room right now, the tight end room. Appreciate Zach's contributions and what he did for us, wish him nothing but the best moving forward," Gannon said Friday. "But that's where we sit today."

Second-year pro Trey McBride, who had been the Cardinals' No. 1 tight end in Ertz's absence due to injury, said Ertz was a "great role model" for him and that he runs routes similar to the way Ertz does. McBride dealt with a groin injury in practice this week but hopes to play Sunday.

"I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel ready to go," McBride said. "You know, it's just a little bit there, but I'm excited and ready to go."

Injury report

The Cardinals have ruled out four players for Sunday: cornerbacks Antonio Hamilton (groin) and Starling Thomas V (ankle), guard Elijah Wilkinson (neck) and wide receiver Michael Wilson (shoulder). Listed as questionable are safeties Jalen Thompson (ribs) and Joey Blount (ankle), receivers Hollywood Brown (heel) and Zach Pascal (not injury-related, personal), tight end Trey McBride (groin) and defensive lineman Kevin Strong (knee).

The Steelers list defensive lineman Montravius Adams (ankle) as questionable and had no other designations.

About that fake punt...

When punter Blake Gillikin gained 10 yards last week against the Rams on a fake punt, it would go down as the Cardinals’ second-longest running play of the game.

Asked what went into the thinking of calling the play, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said, “You’ll have to ask him. He went rogue on the play.”

Wait, what?

“I’m kidding,” Rodgers said, smiling. “It’s a play you can’t do often. You have to be pretty confident that there’s going to be an open run lane. Blake’s not used to running the ball. … It’s not a real common play. You don’t see it often, so we were able to pull it off.”

Gillikin’s run marked the longest run by an NFL punter since the Giants’ Riley Dixon gained 14 yards in 2018.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How can Cardinals get Kyler Murray, Hollywood Brown on same page?