Johnson, Williams maintain Cardinals’ ground game success
TEMPE, Ariz. — See, there was nothing to worry about.
The Arizona Cardinals showed they will be just fine at running back despite the loss of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, their top two players at the position.
Though if you had listened to head coach Bruce Arians all along, then you would not have had any concerns.
Arians expressed confidence in his two young backups, rookie David Johnson and recently promoted from the practice squad Kerwynn Williams, from the onset and was rewarded on Sunday.
Johnson and Williams combined for 158 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ 27-3 win in St. Louis.
“We were confident with the guys back there,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “We know that anyone back there basically has the ability to be productive in the run game. Those guys did a great job. They’re good backs, and we knew that going into the game. If we were able to provide a little bit of a seam for them that they would be able to move the ball and get some good yards on the ground.”
Johnson had four carries of nine or more yards with a long of 23, while Williams rushed for 15 yards on each of his first two touches and then on carry No. three broke off a career-long 35-yard run for his first career touchdown.
“It felt great. It’s definitely big. I was definitely excited,” said Williams, who spent 10 of the first 11 weeks of the season on the practice squad. “What made it even better was how excited the team was for me. I came to the sidelines seeing how excited everybody was for me was definitely big.
“The offensive line did a great job all day opening up holes for the running backs to run through. That definitely was a key contributor to how well we were able to run the ball.”
The Cardinals gained 175 yards total on the ground, their second-best total of the season and the second-most allowed by St. Louis.
In the previous two weeks, the Cardinals finished with 82 and 70 yards rushing.
“I don’t think you go in expecting to get any certain number,” Williams said. “You expect to be efficient in the game, that’s what you want to do. You want to be efficient and help contribute to the drive.”
Added Arians, “I think the backs hitting the holes were a little bit better and (the offensive line) did a good job. But yeah, I think the confidence should be pretty high right now because no one’s done it to the Rams defense.”
In his first career start, Johnson fell one yard shy of 100, averaging 4.5 yards on 22 carries. He also caught two passes for 21 yards and a touchdown.
“A lot of people had confidence in me. I had confidence in myself,” he said. “Coaches helped out a lot to get me ready for that game.”
Johnson credited the blocking up front, the offensive line and tight ends, for opening up lanes for him and the other backs to run through.
Stepfan Taylor added 20 yards on five carries late in the game.
“You lose Chris and Dre right away, it’s obviously difficult,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “You don’t replace those guys. Those guys are very unique. They’re very special, but in saying that, David and Kerwynn are very unique and very special and very different. It’s a really good change-up and it gives Chris a chance to get back and get healthy and it gives Dre a chance to get back and get healthy.
“These other guys are excited about their opportunity and obviously they’ve done a good job taking advantage of it.”
Chris Johnson will be sidelined for the rest of the regular season and a good portion of the postseason due to a knee injury. The Cardinals placed him on injured reserve/designated to return, so the earliest he might be available would be the Super Bowl.
Ellington, meanwhile, has missed one game and is expected to miss a second after suffering a turf toe injury against the 49ers. He’s considered day-to-day.
This week against Minnesota, Johnson, Williams and Taylor will once again be tasked to carry the running back load.
“I’ve never had a concern about the running back position, that’s for sure,” Arians said.
Neither does anyone else, now.