Secret’s out: Cardinals’ injury-impacted offense faces test vs. Saints
TEMPE, Ariz. — Cardinals running back David Johnson has missed a second week of practice with a bum ankle, and receiver Christian Kirk still can’t make the necessary cuts for Arizona to feel great about his availability on Sunday in New Orleans.
If they each remain sidelined at the Superdome, the Cardinals face a 5-1 Saints team with two things being true for the first time under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
They will be playing a winning football team and will bring with them a relatively predictable offense, if not by the playcalls then at least in terms of having an obvious No. 1 weapon in running back Chase Edmonds.
“Just his burst, you couldn’t help but notice it last weekend,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “He’s sudden, he’s explosive.”
Expect New Orleans to put its full attention on stopping the Cardinals running back.
As Arizona has evolved, Kingsbury’s commitment to running the ball and the team’s ball security has stood out to Payton.
The Cardinals lead the NFL with only four turnovers this season — that’s helpful considering their defense has only generated six turnovers. Payton credited the turnover-free football and running ability with heavier personnel sets with helping Arizona to a three-game win streak.
Edmonds rushed 27 times for 127 yards and three scores a week ago against the Giants, who fell behind 17-0 before adjusting to stop the Arizona back.
“It’s a good feeling,” Edmonds said Thursday, “but I’ve already moved on from it, man. Just talking to Larry (Fitzgerald), obviously, I’m close with him, he just told me … The one thing that makes you successful is just consistency. So I got to find ways to build on a good game, and if you have bad games, just find a way to build on that, continue to improve.
“I dropped two passes from Kyler (Murray). He let me hear from it too. Just continue to get better as a pass-pro blocker with just my reads and just running that ball, protect the ball at all times.”
There’s little doubt that, without Johnson or Kirk, Kingbury will be tasked with riding Edmonds while keeping the Saints guessing.
He succeeded in that regard at New York a week ago when rainy weather grounded Arizona’s Air Raid offense, but now Kingsbury faces a defense that looks equipped well enough to push the Saints deep into the postseason.
“Really well-coached, very sound,” the Cardinals coach said. “They don’t give you anything for free. Everything’s earned. Some really exotic looks when you get to third down. They are one of the most sound teams defensively right now in the league and have some very talented players as well.”
Safety Vonn Bell, New Orleans’ leading tackler who also has four fumble recoveries this season, leads a foursome of defensive backs who were all first or second-round picks. Veteran linebacker Demario Davis has been sneaky productive with 45 tackles, three tackles for loss and three passes defensed.
Chandler High School product and defensive end Cam Jordan has 7.0 sacks this year.
On paper, it’s a little more intimidating than what the Bengals, Falcons and Giants rolled out against Arizona.
Kingsbury sounded more optimistic on Friday that Kirk could return to action this weekend, at least relative to what the coach said about Johnson.
Kirk’s presence would give Murray one of his most familiar targets back if Arizona needs to keep up with a Saints offense that is averaging 356 yards per game (two fewer than the Cardinals) and 23.4 points per game (0.4 more than Arizona).
That New Orleans offense, however, just might get a boost if quarterback Drew Brees and running back Alvin Kamara go from questionable as of Friday to active two days later.
On Arizona’s end, it has prepared for the worst-case scenario, bringing in veteran running backs Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner, who can spell Edmonds to keep him fresh.
Yet one thing remains clear: Edmonds has already done enough for the Cardinals to feel comfortable leaning on him as a No. 1 back.
“I think he’s a guy who has always had an expectation to be the guy and he prepared that way,” Kingsbury said. “Mentally, I think in his head, he’s been that guy.”
— Smirking while answering, Kingsbury explained that he enjoyed playing for the Saints in 2004 for more than football reasons: “Um, I mean, it was a great time. Yeah. Love the city of New Orleans but got be around like (WR) Joe Horn, (WR) Donte Stallworth, (head coach) Jim Haslett. Mike McCarthy was the OC. Some great football personalities. More than anything, the culture of the city and the passion of the fans (stood out).”
— On coming up as a quarterback in Texas at the same time as Saints quarterback Brees: “We were in the same area. I went and watched him when I was in high school. I think we were the same age, but he was a grade older. I remember it was in the Alamo Dome, and they were playing the Churchill Chargers, and he was just lighting it up.
“I remember he had not really been recruited in Texas, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘If this guy’s not getting recruited, I don’t have a chance.’ But then to be coaching against him however many years later is awesome. He’s a tremendous person, one of the all-time great QBs. It’s cool that we get to go out there.”Array