TEMPE, Ariz. – Protect the quarterback. Run the football. Score points.
The Arizona Cardinals accomplished all three tasks Week 1: Carson Palmer, while pressured some, was not sacked and hit only once; Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson combined for 106 rushing yards; and the 31 points were the fourth-most scored on Sunday, tied with three other teams.
In other words, there was a lot to like looking back at the film from the season-opening victory over the New Orleans Saints.
For starters, the Cardinals kept Palmer upright.
“We did a great job with protection,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said on Thursday. “Awesome, no sacks, I’ll always take that as a coach.”
Their performance was even more impressive considering those five linemen—left tackle Jared Veldheer, left guard Ted Larson, center Lyle Sendlein, right guard Jonathan Cooper and right tackle Earl Watford—had not played together in a game until that Sunday.
Plus, it was a completely brand new right side from a season ago with Watford making his first career start at a new position.
The Cardinals drafted Watford as a guard two years ago out of James Madison.
“I did some good things. I did some things I need to work on,” he said. “Definitely a good start.”
Not only did the line pass protect but run blocked well, too.
“It was good,” Goodwin said of the 120-yard total. “We had some lulls there here and there, but for the most part, when we needed it, it came through for us. In the running game, you just got to have consistency, and we did a great job last week. We did have five negative runs, which we don’t want, but overall, it was pretty solid.”
Only four times last season did the Cardinals rush for at least 120 yards.
Even better was the 4.8 yard per carry average, the team’s best since 2013 and third-highest mark under head coach Bruce Arians.
Of course, Ellington hurt his right knee in the fourth quarter and has not practiced this week.
If he’s unavailable at Chicago, which appears likely, then Johnson will start and see the bulk of the snaps at running back.
“I look forward to it,” he said. “I always prepare myself like I’m going in and getting 20-25 touches every game, so it’s not a situation where I have to change my mindset or change the way I get ready for the game; just continue to practice hard and just be ready.”
Johnson, a three-time Pro Bowler, is in his eighth season and six years removed from leading the league with 2,006 rushing yards, which earned him 2009 NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors.
After Ellington went out, Johnson carried the ball seven times for 30 yards.
“As you guys can see,” Goodwin said, “that guy’s got some juice left in the tank and hopefully we can take advantage of that. Unfortunately Andre got hurt, but it was exciting to see him get out there and contribute a little bit. We need him to contribute a whole lot this week.”
The Bears yielded 133 yards on the ground in Week 1 against NFC North-rival Green Bay, a game the Packers won, 31-23.
“Chicago has a lot of pride. It’s a city that loves their football team. Storied history. They’re going to come out with their best,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “They definitely don’t want to get to 0-2, but we have a job to do and that’s going in there and putting together a good game plan and executing it.”
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