TEMPE, Ariz. — Reactions to the loss of Cardinals running back Chris Johnson have run the gamut. Some analysts believe it spells the end of Arizona’s Super Bowl hopes. Others believe it’s no big deal.
The truth is somewhere in the middle, but coach Bruce Arians suggested it’s closer to no big deal when asked if running back is a position that can be filled capably by reserves such as David Johnson.
“Running back is one of the easier ones,” Arians said Wednesday. “Chris was having a heck of a year but David, given those same number of touches, I don’t think would be far behind him.”
Johnson was having a heck of a year. He was fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with 814 and he had given the Cardinals’ running game a dimension it didn’t have before. He also gave the Cardinals enviable depth with Andre Ellington (also out with turf toe), David Johnson, Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams behind him.
“It was a great comeback story,” Arians said. “How it affects our football team we’ll wait and see, but last year we lost what, 14 guys? It didn’t affect us until we lost our second quarterback. The next man up is a real thing.”
Arians said that Ellington will likely miss this week’s game against the Rams in St. Louis, and it would not be a stretch to think he could miss the following week’s short-week game on Thursday against the Vikings.
If Ellington’s injury sidelines him longer than that, the Cardinals will be more concerned. They also can’t afford to lose David Johnson with only Taylor and Williams to back him up at the moment, but the Cardinals prepared themselves for this current situation by acquiring such depth in the first place.
“Somebody else is going to get hurt this week,” Arians said. “Somebody else is going to have to step up against Minnesota on a short week. That’s just the way football is, especially in December.
“It really doesn’t change it at all. We’re not going to change what we do at all. David will just step up. When Andre was out, David was playing a lot more early in the year. He played extremely well.”
While Johnson was giving the Cardinals some tough yards and also had the ability to attack the edge, it would be a stretch to say that his simple presence had dramatically altered the Cardinals’ running game.
For starters, offensive line play has a whole lot to do with a running game’s effectiveness and the Cards have received solid play up front most of the season, with the addition of guard Mike Iupati (when he’s played) clearly helping.
Rams defensive tackle Chris Long sees another factor in the Cardinals’ improved run production.
“I just think you can see a difference in commitment level to it and it makes things even tougher to deal with, with Carson (Palmer) and all the weapons they’ve got on the outside,” Long said.
David Johnson is still a rookie so the Cards may have to live with a few more mistakes in pass protection, route running and hole-reading, but Johnson also gives them a greater dual-threat than Chris Johnson because of his ability to catch the ball, so Arians will likely alter the play-calling slightly to play to his rookie’s strengths.
It’s also important to remember that Ellington was averaging 6.9 yards per carry before his injury, the guys behind him have both played a significant number of snaps and, oh yeah, the Cardinals have a pretty competent passing game.
“(Chris) is a definitely a big loss,” Taylor said. “But the past two years have been a next-man up mentality so you’re kind of prepared for it.”