The only thing that went right for the Arizona Cardinals in Saturday’s preseason loss to the San Diego Chargers was the running game.
Now, even that positive is thrown for a loop with the news that first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper has a broken leg and could be out for the season.
There are some ways to sugar coat the news: “At least it happened before first cuts” or “thankfully Paul Fanaika has had a good camp.” But those phrases hardly sweeten the word “devastating.”
Cooper has been great in camp. His specialty has been the run game. He’s constantly the first non-ball carrier down the field to throw an extra block, extending the play.
The big question now: What happens next?
I think Daryn Colledge will move to left guard. That’s the position he’s played most of his career. Sure, there’s an argument to be made for replacing Cooper with a player from the bench versus moving two players (Colledge from right to left and a player from bench to starter). I don’t subscribe to that thinking because Colledge will immediately adjust. Plus, Colledge has been out with a broken leg and Paul Fanaika has been spending most of practice at right guard. Fanaika is ready to play right guard so don’t move him to left.
The big reason to move Colledge to left guard is Levi Brown. Brown is one of the top 32 left tackles in football. However, there are only 32. He is a major weakness on that line. It would be a mistake to replace Cooper with a less-experienced player. Colledge is familiar with Brown. They worked together for the 2011 season.
The Cooper injury affects every aspect of the offense. Play action has been a major success in the preseason. Teams won’t need to honor the run game as much without Cooper. As the run game slips, so does the effectiveness of play action. Head coach Bruce Arians loves the deep ball but it will be harder for quarterback Carson Palmer to have the time to step up in the pocket. Penalties normally increase (e.g. false starts, holding) when you have to reach to fill a spot vacated by a player as good as Cooper.
This offensive line is simply too weak to survive an injury to its best player.