Byron Leftwich has newfound authority as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator, but that hasn’t turned him into a power-hungry dictator.
In order to succeed the rest of the season, Leftwich is counting on input from his players, especially the stars. Running back David Johnson has put up disappointing numbers through eight games, and some of that can be traced to his usage under former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
Johnson seemed to benefit from Leftwich’s play calling in Week 8 – totaling 100 yards from scrimmage, his second highest of the season – and Leftwich wants Johnson to vocalize his preferences moving forward.
“I ask him questions all the time,” Leftwich said. “I always have, because when you have players that good, you want to always know what they’re thinking.”
When Johnson arrived in 2015 as a third-round pick, he said little and followed instructions. That began to change near the end of his breakout 2016 campaign, when coach Bruce Arians began to seek his input, and this season the new coaching staff has encouraged him to speak out regularly.
“They say I’m the one who is running the ball and I’m the one doing the routes,” Johnson said. “What I see out there, they want my opinion.”
Leftwich and Johnson didn’t have a big pow-wow during the bye week, but whenever they are together, the topic often turns to utilizing the running back effectively.
“We’ve been talking between meetings, between practice,” Johnson said. “We’re going to try to find the mismatches.”
BUDDA BAKER EXPECTED TO PLAY
Safety Budda Baker missed Thursday’s practice with a foot injury but returned Friday in a limited capacity and is expected to play, per coach Steve Wilks. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (calf) and wide receiver Chad Williams (ankle) have been ruled out.
Wilks expects guard Justin Pugh (hand) to return on Sunday, which would give the Cardinals their starting offensive line for the first time since Week 6. Pugh and Baker are officially listed as questionable, as are tight end Jermaine Gresham (back), safety Tre Boston (chest), guard Mike Iupati (back) and defensive tackle Corey Peters (ankle).
For the Chiefs, wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) is listed as questionable, as are guard Cameron Erving (illness), linebacker Anthony Hitchens (rib), linebacker Justin Houston (hamstring), safety Daniel Sorensen (knee) and linebacker Frank Zombo (hamstring). Center Mitch Morse (concussion) won’t play and safety Eric Berry (heel) is doubtful.
COIN FLIP PERFECTION
The Chiefs’ offense has been great this season, but there’s an area in which the team has been even more successful: winning the coin toss. Kansas City has won every flip through nine games, overcoming odds that gave them just a 0.2 percent chance to do so at the start of the year.
The Cardinals will have a chance to end the streak on Sunday. Cornerback Patrick Peterson said the captains don’t have a clear plan for calling the toss, so it’s unknown who will do so against Kansas City. If Peterson makes the pick, he won’t be subscribing to the “tails never fails” philosophy.
“That’s what they say, but you can’t live without a head,” Peterson said.
Past images of the Cardinals against this week's opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs