Opponent Scouting Report: Cardinals Running Backs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 20: Kerwynn Williams
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 20: Kerwynn Williams /

With David Johnson stuck on the sidelines injured, the Colts’ defensive game plan changes dramatically. With an assortment of Cardinals running backs taking the field, does enough change to set up a Colts win?

When star running back David Johnson went down with a wrist injury in the Cardinals’ Week 1 loss to the Lions, Arizona likely knew that some major adjustments would need to be made offensively. Many teams can substitute their backup for an injured starter with ease, but that becomes much more difficult when your starter is one of the top running backs in the NFL.

Losing a threat like Johnson often requires an uptick in pass plays for an offense, as the team can no longer rely on the yards that he would normally pick up. Arizona has some serviceable backups to work with, but none impose the same threat to a defense’s front seven quite like Johnson.

Johnson’s Replacements

First in line to pick up carries in Johnson’s stead is Kerwynn Williams. Williams carried the ball 5 times for 10 yards in last week’s loss, and has played a relatively small role in the offense in the previous three seasons. Last year he only logged 18 carries, but he averaged 8.7 yards per carry.

Andre Ellington also looks to see an increased workload this Sunday. Once a top back for Arizona, Ellington has taken a back seat since David Johnson rose to prominence. He hasn’t started regularly since the 2014 season, and has not broken 700 yards rushing in any single season. That said, he provides more experience than Williams, so it would not be surprising to see them split the workload.

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Most recently added to the depth chart is veteran Chris Johnson. He started the preseason on the roster, but Arizona cut him after the final game. When the Cardinals learned the extent of David Johnson’s injury, they re-signed Chris Johnson. He is obviously not the same player he once was, but he has still contributed in recent seasons.

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In 2015 he rushed for over 800 yards in 11 games for Arizona. 2016 was much quieter for him, only appearing in four games. As a result, he may not be a major factor for the Cardinals while David Johnson is sidelined.

The Cardinals’ offensive attack has relied on the running game more and more over the past few seasons. This tendency becomes even more tempting when Carson Palmer throws three interceptions in the season opener.

With Palmer playing poorly and Johnson out of commission, it will be interesting to see how Bruce Arians approaches his game plan. If he decides to lean on his platoon of running backs, the Colts should manage. Indy’s run defense was theif only bright spot of the defensive performance last week. If they can handle Todd Gurley, they can handle David Johnson’s backups. Should the Cardinals decide to lean on Palmer, the Colts can pay more attention to defending the pass.