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Spreading the ball around is ‘the Cardinals offense’

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) celebrates his touchdown with teammate Larry Fitzgerald (11) during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz.  — Though it went through some rough patches Sunday, what you saw in the Arizona Cardinals’ 31-19 win over the New Orleans Saints was pretty much what the offense is supposed to look like.

Through the air, eight different players were on the receiving end of a Carson Palmer pass, with a ninth — J.J. Nelson — drawing a key pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter. The quarterback finished the game completing 19 of 32 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted or sacked.

And on the ground, the Cardinals’ Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson combined to run the ball 22 times for 106 yards and one touchdown. Adding Palmer’s 14 yards on three scrambles, the running game produced an average of 4.8 yards per touch, which is a significantly better mark than last season’s league-worst mark of 3.3 yards per carry.

Sure, it was only one game, but Arizona’s offense showed a level of diversity and potency that has some believing it could be one of the best groups in the NFL. Based off of their performance Sunday, who would you design the defense to stop? Does it matter? Whoever a defense aims to take away, the Cardinals will have no problem sending the ball elsewhere.

“Like I’ve said, check your ego at the door,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t give a s*** if anybody catches 10 passes, as long as nine or 12 catch passes and nobody drops them. Because Carson is going to distribute to where the coverage says. Not to who is getting it and we don’t design anything to who is getting it.

“It’s the Cardinals offense, not somebody’s offense.”

Sunday, Larry Fitzgerald led the team with eight targets, while John Brown had seven and Darren Fells five. Andre Ellington and J.J. Nelson were each targeted three times, while four others had one pass go their way.

In all, Arizona’s offense amassed 427 net yards, converted 5 of 10 third-down chances and was a perfect three-for-three in the red zone.

It wasn’t always pretty, but for the most part the Cardinals moved the ball with a level of ease and consistency that highlighted just how dangerous the team can be.

That’s especially true if the Cardinals can continue to run the ball the way they did against the Saints.

“It’s great,” Palmer said of the success there. “We ran the ball right through the teeth of their defense a number of times.”

The QB went on to point out how well the offensive line played in making that happen, and it’s true. If there was any concern going into the opener, it had to be up front. The right side of the line was essentially made up of first-time starters, while center Lyle Sendlein, a veteran, was not even with the team until a little while into training camp. And the left guard, Ted Larsen, was only at that spot because the team’s big free agent signing, Mike Iupati, is sidelined with an injury.

As it goes, you can have all the talent at QB and the skill positions, but if there is no time to throw and no room to run, it will go for naught.

But what happened Sunday was a positive sign that maybe the line will hold up better than some think. And having a capable offense sends a message to the defense that if you at least keep the game close, there’s a good chance of coming away with a win.

“When you’re dealing with a high-powered offense like the Saints, you know if you keep them out of the end zone and give your offense enough chances to go down there and win the game for you, it’s always going to be a good outcome for us,” Tyrann Mathieu said.

If nothing else, the odds appear to ever be in their favor.

Going forward, the offense may have to change a bit if Ellington is out for an extended period of time. He hurt his knee in the fourth quarter, with Arians saying after the game the early indication is an injured left PCL but that more tests will be needed to get an official diagnoses.

But even if Ellington is out for a while, the team’s backfield is deep with Chris and David Johnson. And the passing game will surely get a boost as Michael Floyd, who caught just one pass Sunday, gets back into game shape.

No doubt, the Cardinals will face better defenses than the one New Orleans brought to town, but even still, Arizona appears capable of giving opponents fits.

“For the defense, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Fitzgerald said. “You don’t know where guys are going to be. You don’t know who’s going to be getting the ball when so many guys can beat you. We have so many great personnel packages. It’s going to be tough for teams to beat us.”

Fitzgerald went on to add that the Cardinals have to make sure they don’t turn the ball over and continue to capitalize in the red zone, which is of the utmost importance. But those are the same for every team; the number of weapons in Arizona is not.

“It’s a good thing by all of us,” Brown said. “It takes pressure off most guys who have to accept their role. We have plenty of players who can do whatever we need done.”

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