The Cardinals have signed six players thus far in free agency.
They replaced nose tackle Dan Williams with Corey Peters. They replaced defensive tackle Darnell Dockett with Cory Redding. They replaced future coach Larry Foote, should he retire as expected, with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. And they get veteran LaMarr Woodley on the cheap for depth at linebacker.
They got A.Q. Shipley to provide depth at center. All those moves were made to provide depth and replace lost players.
But Mike Iupati is different. The free agent signing of the former 49ers guard is a signal of a shift in philosophy. A pass-happy team unable to run the ball last season (3.3 yards per carry) now has a mauler at left guard. The Cardinals can now potentially run off-tackle left between Jared Veldheer and Iupati and have success.
Iupati was rated as the fourth-best free agent available by NFL.com. He is only 27 years old and he is a three-time Pro Bowl player. And, most importantly, he is durable. Iupati has played in 75 of 80 games, and he played last season with a broken foot.
Arizona will add a running back either via free agency or in the draft. The Cardinals like Andre Ellington but don’t seem to trust him carrying the bulk of the workload. Any upgrade at running back and this team becomes awfully dangerous.
I’m sure the Cardinals — even Bruce Arians — would have liked to run the ball more last season. But Ellington was banged up and the offensive line was not built to dominate the line of scrimmage when running the ball. Their leading rusher in each game totaled 53, 91, 62, 32, 67, 88, 71, 95, 23, 42, 24, 16, 100, 75, 19, 67 and 22 yards. Only Kerwynn Williams rushed for 100 yards in a game — against Kansas City, two days after being called up from the practice squad.
With Iupati in the fold, Arizona can and should run the ball more.
Run it down opponents’ throats.
They can establish the run, and stick to it — use it move the chains, to dominate the time of possession, to run out the clock.
Now, instead of passing on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1, Arizona can line up play some smashmouth football.
It’s been a long time since they have been able to do that.
But Iupati is that good at run blocking. So good, in fact, that Arians should begin putting more running plays in his arsenal now.