GM Keim wants Cardinals to get RBs Johnson, Edmonds going

Dec 21, 2018, 8:00 AM | Updated: 10:24 am
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) is hit by Oakland Raiders defensive end Jacquies ...
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) is hit by Oakland Raiders defensive end Jacquies Smith (93) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

There’s no doubt injuries along the Arizona Cardinals offensive line has played a large part in a spoiled season. A midseason offensive coordinator firing, a switch to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and a lack of consistency at receiver haven’t made it easy on the run game, either.

And at running back, two players that Cardinals general manager Steve Keim is confident in haven’t produced as well as expected.

Veteran David Johnson and rookie Chase Edmonds have been healthy all year, but the reality of their position makes their performances reliant on all the happenings around them.

That said, Keim believes there’s more to squeeze out of the backs with a Sunday home game against the Rams and season finale next week in Seattle remaining.

“They really can be a great pair of backs with the different things they can do,” Keim said on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf.

“I’d like to see them both in the game a little bit more. David presents so many problems when you can motion, put him in the slot, play him a little bit as a wide receiver. Those are the reasons we extended him and we felt he was a core member of this team in the future, again, because of all of those strengths he has as a football player.”

Based on his 231 rushes for 843 yards (3.6 yards per carry), Johnson is on pace to finish with 264 carries and 963 yards after playing the last two games of 2018.

Due to the circumstances, it’s understandably less production than his last full year in 2016, when he rushed 293 times for 1,239 yards (4.2 yards per carry).

But his lack of receiving production has led to criticism pointed toward his coaches.

According to Pro Football Focus, which named Johnson 2016’s best wide receiver, Johnson has lined up as a receiver on just 37 snaps this year. He’s caught 11 of 13 targets for 110 yards, six of which went for first downs.

That comes out to a PFF grade of 101.6, well above his 92.6 grade that was best in the NFL two seasons ago.

Former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said after Week 3 that Johnson was being misused when under since-fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, but little has changed under replacement OC Byron Leftwich.

Overall in the passing game, Johnson has 46 catches for 408 yards. Two years ago, he caught 80 passes for 879 yards.

He’s been targeted 67 times this year, well below the 120 times quarterbacks looked his way two season ago.

“I think when you look back at (2016) … that’s the player coming back healthy that everybody expected to see,” Keim said of Johnson. “There’s a number of things of probably why that hasn’t happened. There’s no doubt — you saw David run that wheel route last week — that he’s still a great mismatch in the passing game. We just haven’t been able to get the run game going.”

Evaluating coaches

The final two games will continue the Cardinals’ evaluation process of its many young players.

But for a 3-11 team led by first-year head coach Steve Wilks, who is on the hot seat, the outcomes against Los Angeles and Seattle might dictate coaching changes heading into next season.

“I think it’s no different from every week,” Keim said. “Again, making good decisions with our roster, where we’re at, trying to put guys in position to succeed and finding a way to get a win. There’ve been some things that we’ve seen some improvement from some of our younger players, but at the same time, we all know this season has been unacceptable.

“We haven’t gotten it done. There’s no doubt that we really have to give a hard look at every phase of this organization.”

Taking a chance on Pharoh

Return man and receiver Pharoh Cooper wasn’t sure as of Thursday if he’d play against his old team, the Rams, on Sunday.

But the reason Arizona claimed him off waivers this week was for the long-term — not just because he might lend insights into Los Angeles’ gameplans.

“The one thing about Pharoh that excited me was his ability to return,” Keim said. “He’s had some dynamic returns in the past and has that natural feel for it. Not only that, but whether he can help us at the wide receiver position. The fact that we have the No. 1 spot in the claiming order, to me, with the roster where we’re at, you have to turn it over and you have to take shots on players who’ve had some success at other places.”

Giving Fitz some time

A day after 15-year pro Larry Fitzgerald said he hadn’t spoken to the Cardinals about a contract extension, Keim said such talks would be done after the season.

“We’ll give him that grace period to sort of reflect and see how his body feels like a lot of the vets do,” Keim said.

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