KeeSean Johnson jumps Andy Isabella in Cardinals WR pecking order

Dec 14, 2020, 1:55 PM
New York Giants' James Bradberry, right, breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Arizona Card...

New York Giants' James Bradberry, right, breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Arizona Cardinals' KeeSean Johnson (19) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Whether it serves a functional personnel purpose or one more motivational in nature, the Arizona Cardinals have been shuffling in new faces on offense over the last few weeks, searching for production.

Against the New York Giants on Sunday, it was second-year receiver Andy Isabella appearing on the inactives list that elicited questions.

Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said on Monday that Isabella’s appearance on the sidelines was partially about Larry Fitzgerald returning from the COVID-19 reserve list after missing the past two games. It was also about second-year pro KeeSean Johnson playing well and coming off a four-catch game against the Los Angeles Rams.

That was a notable change in the pecking order, at least for the week.

“Bringing Fitz back, really, it came down to that,” Kingsbury said of Isabella’s inactivity. “KeeSean had been playing at a high level, and so we kept KeeSean up and brought Fitz back and that bumped Andy down.”

One would assume the lack of production after No. 1 option DeAndre Hopkins — including Christian Kirk and Fitzgerald — is the primary reason for Arizona wanting to get looks at other players.

Johnson has played in five games and has nine catches for 72 yards on the season. In Arizona’s 26-7 win over New York, he was targeted twice and nearly had a touchdown catch on a 4th-and-goal play at the Giants 1-yard line that was knocked away by cornerback James Bradberry.

Isabella, the Cardinals’ 2019 second-round pick, has recorded 21 catches for 224 yards this season, including two touchdowns.

He had his opportunities to shine over the two weeks Fitzgerald was absent and made six catches on 11 targets for 40 yards.

Receiver isn’t the only position where the Cardinals have shaken up the rotations lately.

While Isabella was a surprise healthy scratch before the Giants game, backup guard Justin Murray was an eye-opening presence to begin it.

He started in place of right guard J.R. Sweezy before switching to left guard in the second half when starter Justin Pugh left the game with a calf injury.

Murray, who signed a two-year extension earlier this regular season, ended up playing every offensive snap between the two positions.

The Cardinals have heavily rotated their offensive linemen this year, but the rotations have changed beyond proactive health reasons, it’s appeared.

Two games ago, the team began putting veteran Max Garcia on the inactives list as a healthy scratch. He was previously the primary backup at left guard.

Like the sudden move of Isabella to the inactives list at receiver, Kingsbury did not explicitly say if Murray had taken a step up in the pecking order.

“With Justin, when came here, we asked him to start at tackle for 12 games (last season),” Kingsbury said when asked if Murray is now considered a starter. “He’s been a starter for us at another position and we’ve always felt that he could fight in there and start at a high level, whether it was tackle or guard … He’s a guy who I think was on six or seven different teams previous to us. Works his tail off, the guys in the room love him, they know what he’s been through.

“To see him get his opportunities, continue to take advantage of them, as a coach it’s really great to see.”

What’s clear, though, is that the Cardinals are looking to the future, with a potential playoff berth and next season in mind.

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KeeSean Johnson jumps Andy Isabella in Cardinals WR pecking order