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Cardinals Run Game Taking Forward Steps

Talented running backs, improved offensive line should increase production


Cardinals running back David Johnson finds plenty of room to run on a carry against the Texans.

D.J. Humphries gazed across the locker room at three last name placards bunched together and shook his head.

"Every one of them can be someone's starting running back right now," the Cardinals' right tackle said. "Seriously. There are teams that don't have one of them on their team, and we've got three of them. That's amazing."

The Cardinals are known for their impressive aerial abilities behind quarterback Carson Palmer and his talented group of receivers, but this year more than any other in coach Bruce Arians' tenure, the ground game could be just as lethal.

David Johnson is an emerging star, while Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are the proven backups that Humphries raved about.

If everything goes according to plan, they won't have to do it alone.

The offensive line's prowess was on display in Sunday's loss to the Texans. Johnson, Johnson and Ellington combined to carry the ball 16 times for 77 yards and a touchdown, and multiple times there were gargantuan holes to run through.

That was a rarity two seasons ago when the Cardinals finished last in the NFL in yards-per-carry at 3.3, but they improved to 12th last year with 4.2 yards per tote.

With run-blocking standouts Evan Mathis and Humphries added to the fold this season, Arians said the running game on the right side of the line is "better than it's ever been."

Mathis and left guard Mike Iupati have consistently been ranked two of the better run blockers in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Jared Veldheer and Humphries are mobile tackles, while center A.Q. Shipley's strength is his run-blocking.

"Across the board there is a lot of physically, athletically talented guys on the offensive line," Mathis said. "I think we mesh very well together."

There will be no change to the offensive identity this year, as deep passes will still play a critical role. But Arians said he always aims to remain 50-50 between the run and pass, and an effective running game makes it much easier to stay true to it.

"The thing about B.A. is, he's going to call whatever's working," Chris Johnson said. "You know he likes to go deep, but that does nothing but help us out."

One of the most memorable running plays last season came late against the Seahawks, when Arians called a draw for Ellington which left Seattle off-balance and resulted in a game-sealing 48-yard touchdown.

Ellington smiled when thinking back to that decision at the game's most critical juncture.

"I call him the guru," Ellington said. "He knows it all."

The Cardinals finished second in the NFL in points last season and bring back their star pass-catchers. If the running game improves as expected, that will make the offense even harder to stop.

"What do you do as a defense?" Humphries said. "Do you put eight in the box or drop everybody into coverage? If you drop everybody into coverage, we're going to run it on you. If you put eight in the box, we're going to bomb you. I'm pretty sure it makes some defensive coordinators have some sleepless nights."

Images from the Cardinals' third preseason game in Houston

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