The David Johnson watch has begun, as Cardinals fans -- and, let’s be honest, fantasy football owners – wait to see if the star running back can overcome a back injury to play on Sunday against the Falcons.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury was noncommittal Wednesday, hoping to have Johnson available but vowing not to play him at less than full speed.
While the personnel against Atlanta is up in the air, the style is not. The Cardinals have found success with misdirection this season, routinely forcing defenses to keep an eye on multiple potential ballcarriers on the same play.
“I think everybody has been going that direction for quite some time,” said Kingsbury, whose team is fourth in the NFL with an average of 5.4 yards per carry. “You see a bunch of these teams that have been successful. College teams have been doing it for quite a while in the Big 12, lots of those quick motions, and then you’ve seen it get to the NFL quite a bit. It just freezes linebackers’ eyes, and that’s what you’re trying to do. If you can hold them for a half-second, in this league, that can be a big deal.”
One of the Cardinals’ most prominent differences from 2018 to 2019 is the implementation of jet motion. Wide receivers Christian Kirk, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella have taken handoffs from it this season and also acted as decoys on regular runs or play-action.
Isabella, the team’s speedy second-round pick, does not have a catch in his NFL career, but has still made an impact. He has three jet sweep carries for 16 yards the past two weeks – with 10 more yards called back on a hold – and notably helped paralyze the Bengals linebackers Sunday on a 17-yard run by Johnson.
“They’re always going to know where he’s at,” Kingsbury said. “Any time he steps on the field, he’s one of the fastest players in the league.”
Murray is averaging 7.4 yards per carry, which would lead the NFL if he had enough attempts (he is four short). His runs have been effective, and when he hands it off, the threat of jutting the other way helps the running backs.
“When the defenses are so good, you have to find a way to make them think for a second,” Murray said. “With the guys we have on offense, it helps us out, because we have a lot of speed.”
Kingsbury doesn’t take credit for the run-play designs. He complements them with passing plays from the same formations, but said offensive line coach Sean Kugler and tight ends coach Steve Heiden are the minds behind the uptick in rushing efficiency.
“I’ll have ideas,” Kingsbury said. “Usually they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s not going to work.’”
CHRISTIAN KIRK LIMITED IN PRACTICE
Wide receiver Christian Kirk (ankle), who missed Week 5, practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday.
“He’s come a long way in a short time,” Kingsbury said. “The injury did not look good when it happened, but he’s really made some big strides.”
Wide receiver Damiere Byrd (hamstring), punter Andy Lee (hip), and cornerback Tramaine Brock (shoulder) were also limited, while defensive end Zach Allen (neck) logged a full practice.
Johnson (back), outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (back), safety Charles Washington (shoulder), linebacker Ezekiel Turner (hamstring), linebacker Haason Reddick (shoulder) and linebacker Dennis Gardeck (ankle) did not practice. Nose tackle Corey Peters and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald were given the day off.
For the Falcons, wide receiver Julio Jones (hip), cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe), punter Matt Wile (quad) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (groin) did not practice. Center Alex Mack (elbow), running back Kenjon Barner (knee) and safety Damontae Kazee (concussion) were limited.
RED ZONE IMPROVEMENT COULD GET CARDINALS OFFENSE ‘ROLLING’
After a 1-for-6 performance against Cincinnati, the Cardinals dropped to 30th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage. They have scored touchdowns on only six of 20 trips, but Kingsbury is looking at the positives.
“I just like looking at what it can be – I’m a glass-half-full guy – and where it can go,” he said. “That’s how I’ve approached that. If we’re at 30 percent scoring touchdowns in the red zone and the league average is 55, if we can get up to 60 on this back half of the season, then we’re rolling.”
A chronological look at the Cardinals' fifth regular season game against the Bengals.