Cardinals coach Bruce Arians discusses play selection with quarterback Carson Palmer Monday night.
Maybe it just feels different.
Maybe the Cardinals clicked so well offensively in 2015 that they could run and pass when they wanted, and what they did on the ground was naturally overshadowed by all the bombs collected down the field by a star-studded cast of receivers.
But as the Cardinals climbed back into the NFC West race with back-to-back wins – including Monday night's 28-3 domination of the New York Jets – it was with an offense that has clearly been David Johnson first.
There's nothing wrong with that. Johnson is a burgeoning star (if he isn't one already) and talented on so many fronts even
coach Bruce Arians had to compliment him Tuesday after a couple weeks of noting what Johnson hadn't done yet.
"David had a heck of a ball game," Arians said, a smile emerging across his face. "I might give him a game ball."
It won't be the last time.
"It's the way we want to play," Arians said. "It's always been the way we wanted to play. Run the football and play-action and take whatever's there. But, we really haven't changed our philosophy at all."
Even with the Johnson-led wins the past two games, Arians and the Cardinals are actually calling a greater percentage of pass plays this season (59.2) than last year (56.6). There are many, many things that go into those statistics, including the big deficit in Buffalo (requiring a lot of passes late) and playing with a lead so often in 2015.
The statistics also underscore how incredibly efficient the Cardinals were passing the ball for big chunks in 2015. Last season the Cardinals were only 19th in the NFL in passing attempts but second in pass yards. This year, they are ninth in pass attempts but 18th in yards.
Rushing attempts, the Cardinals are seventh in the league this season, but they were ninth last year – not a big change.
The Cardinals, albeit with the 14-3 lead, had back-to-back 14-play drives Monday. The first featured nine run plays. The second only five. One shoved it down the Jets' throat. The other took advantage of softer coverage for shorter passes. Neither drive had a play of longer than 14 yards.
"It's good to see us do that," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "It's good to see getting in second-and-five and then third-and-one, as opposed to, you know, first-and-10, first-and-10, first-and-10, after big plays."
Arians acknowledged he's always going to be on the lookout for chunk plays, however.
"It's hard to go without a 20-yard gain, to go 80 yards, so very pleased when you can twice without a big chunk."
The other side of the equation is Johnson's workload. Arians reiterated he wants to remain mindful of the back's touches – he had 22 carries and three catches Monday – and added that he still likes having Andre Ellington as an option.
Opponents will also play a big factor. At some point, some team will gear up to stop Johnson first. When that happens, the passing game needs to be ready.
"It's always been 'Scratch where it itches,' you know?" Arians said.
HOPE FOR IUPATI THIS WEEK
Arians said he was hopeful guard Mike Iupati (ankle) could return to practice this week. If Iupati doesn't return, John Wetzel – whom Arians said played well against the Jets – will remain in the lineup. Arians also said wide receiver Jaron Brown, who hurt his knee late in the Jets game, is day-to-day.
Some of the top images from the Cardinals' 28-3 win over the Jets on Monday Night Football