SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Kliff Kingsbury really liked what he saw from Kenyan Drake in the first matchup against the 49ers this season.
Even with David Johnson at his disposal this time around, Kingsbury stuck with his new running back. Drake had 22 touches in the rematch, carrying the ball 16 times for 67 yards while catching it six times for 13 in the 36-26 loss.
Johnson, who was arguably the best running back in the NFL early in his career with the Cardinals, saw the field minimally and did not get a touch. Johnson missed the Week 9 matchup with an ankle injury and has not been a major part of the offense in the two games since his return.
“We wanted to get K.D. in a rhythm,” Kingsbury said. “We thought he played really well the first time (against San Francisco) when he was in a rhythm, getting the majority of the snaps. So we rolled with him that second half.”
Drake said he has no control over playing time and just wants to be prepared as possible when called upon. He said it’s up to Kingsbury to disperse the touches.
“It’s his job to get us ready for the game,” Drake said. “I’m focused on what I’ve got to focus on. That’s not my focus. Whenever I get on the field, whenever my number is called, I’m ready to go.”
The Cardinals’ offense was potent early and then found a rhythm late. Quarterback Kyler Murray took a zone read 22 yards to the house for a 26-23 lead with 6:30 remaining in the contest. Drake got all the running back work on that drive and was a nice complement.
Drake averaged 4.2 yards per carry in the game, and while it wasn’t the same monster performance like he had against the 49ers in Arizona, he still showed impressive burst.
“It felt good,” Drake said. “We had balance and were able to move the ball a little bit.”
The Cardinals finished with 25 carries for 135 yards and Murray’s score, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. They are on pace to set a franchise record in yards per carry this season and have done it with Drake, Johnson and Chase Edmonds in the backfield at different times.
“When we get an opportunity to run it, we run it for five yards a clip,” center A.Q. Shipley said. “It really doesn’t matter who is back there or who we’re playing against. We have a heck of a scheme that coach (Sean Kugler) has put in with a lot of moving parts. The group up front has stayed together. Just keep grinding.”
Right tackle Justin Murray returned to the lineup against San Francisco as the Cardinals had their starting offensive line again after two games of Justin Pugh at right tackle and backup Mason Cole at left guard.
Kyler Murray had eight carries for 67 yards, keeping the ball more than usual as the 49ers were aggressive in tackling Drake on the zone read. Drake said Murray’s dual-threat presence makes life tough on opponents.
“It’s something the defense has to account for every single play,” Drake said.
While the Cardinals rued some missed chances late, the rushing performance against this caliber of foe did not go unnoticed by Shipley.
“We’re doing some really good things,” Shipley said, “We ran the ball effectively against what a lot of people are saying is the best defense in football, right? It’s just a play here and a play there.”
Kingsbury said Johnson’s lack of playing time was less an indictment of his ability and more a testament to what Drake has brought to the table since being acquired for a late-round draft pick before the trade deadline.
“It’s not as much what (Johnson’s) not showed us,” Kingsbury said. “K.D. played really well against them the first game, so we wanted to get him going again in this game versus them.”