Demercado or Ingram? James Conner-less run game headlines Cardinals-Rams

Oct 13, 2023, 5:45 PM

Keaontay Ingram runs the rock...

Keaontay Ingram #30 of the Arizona Cardinals runs the ball during the second quarter of a game against the Dallas Cowboys at State Farm Stadium on September 24, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals provided little clarity this week as to who exactly was going to lead the running backs room in the absence of the injured James Conner.

Sorry, fantasy football managers.

But with Keaontay Ingram back practicing fully on Friday and no longer carrying an injury designation ahead of the Cardinals’ Week 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, we at least know this:

It’s going to come down to Ingram and undrafted rookie Emari Demercado.

“I’m excited for them, honestly,” head coach Jonathan Gannon said Wednesday. “You’ve got to be ready to go when your number is called.”

Ingram, currently listed as RB1 on the team’s unofficial depth chart for Week 6, has more experience, but is coming off a neck injury that lingered the past couple weeks.

His three-game sample size has been less than stellar, too, with just 15 yards to show on 12 carries.

Demercado on the other hand is an undrafted rookie five games into his NFL career yet looked the part of NFL starter filling in for Conner last week.

The first-year pro has already been counted on in passing situations and should see his role increase even more with Conner sidelined. He showed his ability to carry the load against the Cincinnati Bengals with 45 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Why not stick with what worked?

“You would never know it’s his first year out there,” offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said Tuesday. “I think we felt that way when the ball was in his hand on Sunday. He’s prepared, he’s ready and he’s going to go out there and make his plays.”

“He handles his business all the time,” Gannon added Friday. “He prepares if he’s going to get five snaps or 35 snaps. I’m excited for him.”

Double trouble

There’s no hiding the fact that cornerback Marco Wilson and the Cardinals secondary got torched by Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase last week.

Just take a look at his franchise-record-setting performance of 15 catches for 192 and three touchdowns.

Week 6 doesn’t get any easier for Cardinals defensive backs with the Rams boasting both All-Pro Copper Kupp and rookie sensation Puka Nacua at wide receiver.

After beginning the year on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, Kupp returned last week to the tune of 12 catches for 118 yards.

“He was definitely featured in that last game,” defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said Tuesday. “He’s got a huge route tree that you’ve got to account for.”

Nacua on the other hand more than picked up the slack in Kupp’s absence.

A quick snapshot of what he’s accomplished in 2023:

– Broke the NFL single-game record for catches by a rookie in Week 2.
– Set a new NFL record with 25 catches across his first two games.
– Became the first player to reel in 10 catches for 100 yards or more in each of his first two NFL games.
– Leads the league in receptions (46) and is second in receiving yards (572) behind only the Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill.

“What is impressive to me is his route-running ability just with the intricacies of that of getting open,” Gannon said. “He looks like an eight-year vet. He did that well in college.

“But being with (the Rams coaching staff) … the detail on how he runs routes, the releases that he has, his body language, his eyes, how he comes in and out of the cut. I’m sure his quarterback helps him with that. I’m sure Cooper helps him with that. It was a strength of his game that got stronger.”

And as far as the Cardinals secondary needing any more motivation from the coaching staff with Kupp and Nacua on the docket?

“They understand explicitly what needs to get done,” Gannon said Friday when asked if he needs to challenge the DBs after Chase’s performance.

War Daddy Donald

This Rams team isn’t quite what it used to be when Kliff Kingsbury was running the show in Arizona.

There’s still a very big defensive constant, though, in game wrecker and defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

And given how Los Angeles deploys the future HOFer, it’s going to take a collective effort to keep Donald at bay on Sunday.

“War daddy,” Gannon said Friday. “One of the best players in the NFL. We got to do a good job with him. The different protections, different run game, all the different things that you want to do, he doesn’t allow you to do some of those things. We got to be smart about attacking their defense.

“They’re well coached, they play fast, they’re in the right spots, they’re violent. It’s a good defense. People haven’t run it great versus them partly because Aaron and partly because the other guys, too. We got our work cut out for us.”

Per Pro Football Focus, Donald has been moved inside and out five games into 2023. The bulk of his snaps, however, have come on the latter, with the lineman setting up at both right (70) and left end (96).

The Cardinals offensive line has to know where Donald is at all times, especially starting tackles D.J. Humphries and Paris Johnson Jr. since they’ll be tasked more times than not at limiting his production.

“He’s a great player, I think the world knows that,” Johnson said Wednesday. “But again, it’s just going back to technique and starting to take the fight to them. We’re also in the NFL. It would be different if we weren’t.

“He’s a great opponent, I’m excited to play against him. I respect him, he’s been playing in the league for 10 years. He’s the ultimate veteran.”

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Demercado or Ingram? James Conner-less run game headlines Cardinals-Rams