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Cardinals GM Keim on whether David Johnson gets RB snaps: ‘Who knows?’

David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals drops a pass during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Kliff Kingsbury and Chase Edmonds believe there are enough snaps in a game for three Arizona Cardinals running backs to split carries.

Making that a reality depends on how creative the coaching staff wants to get. It also matters if Kingsbury believes Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake deserve more touches than David Johnson.

General manager Steve Keim doesn’t know — or wouldn’t say — if the Cardinals will attempt to utilize all three backs as they embark on a homestretch of the season that begins Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.

“Who knows …?” Keim said while joining 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf on Wednesday.

“Maybe we’ll get all three on the field at one time. I just walked down to Kliff’s office — he was just watching some Knute Rockne tape. We’ll see if we can go with the Four Horsemen approach.”

That’s a reference to the Notre Dame head football coach who used a stable of four running backs in his offense during the 1924 season.

And to be clear, it sounded like a joke.

If the Cardinals don’t relatively even out the carries across three backs, Johnson would likely be the odd man out considering his struggles — and that Kingsbury put him on the field for just nine snaps to Drake’s 61 in Arizona’s last game.

Now with Edmonds expected to return from a hamstring injury, allocating snaps is an even tighter squeeze.

Keim, who spoke on Johnson’s lack of consistency two weeks ago, said that the running back’s indecisiveness is something that needs to improve.

“Whenever he sees something, you have to make a decision to stick your foot in the ground and finish the run,” Keim said. “I think too many times David’s indecisive and has struggled to make quick decisions and to finish those runs. Whether you’re going to make a mistake or not, you got to realize as a football player you got to make it full speed. That’s something David needs to improve upon.

“He’s a guy we know has a tremendous skillset, but at the same time we have two other backs that are healthy and ready to go and have a great deal of talent. There are only so many balls that can go around. Hopefully David is in the game and has the opportunity to make some good things happen.”

Defense not meeting expectations

Keim didn’t name names, but he did say the most necessary improvement from the Cardinals in the final five games needs to come on defense.

The defensive backfield is young, and Keim said breakdowns must be cleaned up. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is doing the best with what he has, the GM added.

But Keim issued a more bold opinion on the front-seven.

“I think VJ’s doing the best he can. We’re playing a lot of young guys over there on that side of the ball. To be honest with you, some of our playmakers need to step up,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys we have expectations from and they have to answer the bell. It starts Sunday.

“I think creating pressure on defense consistently, getting off the field on third down, playing with more discipline defensively (are necessary improvements),” Keim added. “If we can improve in those areas, there’s no doubt we’ll put some Ws on the board.”

Extra points

— The Cardinals signed tight end Maxx Williams to a two-year extension that runs through the 2021 season on Nov. 16. Keim spoke on that move Wednesday.

“Anytime you identify a core player — and a guy that is a core player is someone you want to move forward with — they’re not only good on the field but they’re great in the locker room as well,” Keim said. “Maxx is just 25 years old, he fits our offense perfectly. He can get dirty in the run game and block at the point of attack, and he’s shown the ability to be a solid enough receiver to create some problems in the passing game.”

— Keim on evaluating Patrick Peterson since the cornerback’s return from a six-game PED suspension: “I think it’s been up and down a little bit. Pat’s competing, he’s working hard. Sometimes when you miss six weeks of football, you got to get not only your legs back in you but also the feel for the game, the speed of it, the anticipation, the ability to read routes.”

— The GM does not yet know whether cornerback Robert Alford will be able to make an IR return from a leg injury this year.

— Is it reasonable to expect improvements on the defensive side of the ball? Keim said it is because the mistakes are fixable.

“I think because of a number of our issues have been mental mistakes,” Keim said. “Guys that drop coverages, miscommunication, things that can easily be fixed. I think we can all live with guys getting beat from time to time — they get paid on the other side, too. The frustrating part is penalties … pass interference and more than anything, when guys are running free. We’ve had too much of that this year and that needs to be fixed.”

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