Sluggish running game part of Cardinals’ struggles on offense
TEMPE — Five games into the season, the Arizona Cardinals’ offense is running like some old car with a sputtering engine.
The Cardinals (1-4) rank 31st out of 32 teams in total offense (210 yards a game), 31st in passing offense (146 yards per game) and dead last in rushing offense (64.6 yards per game). This with a team that features one of the best running backs in the NFL in David Johnson.
“Well, we’ve definitely got to improve in that area,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got to make sure that we put the ball in the end zone, No. 1, get more points, and that starts with being more effective upfront, from a standpoint of getting movement, being able to run the ball, being able to protect. Also, taking advantage of our opportunities. When the ball’s thrown, we’ve got to make sure we make the catch.”
NFL Week 6
Cardinals at Vikings
10 a.m. Sunday
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Arizona made much of its rebuilt offensive line this season, with D.J. Humphries at left tackle, Mike Iupati at left guard, rookie Mason Cole at center and Justin Pugh at right guard. Andre Smith was brought in to play right tackle, but his time has been limited by injuries, leaving the job to John Wetzel.
“We definitely can play better, without a doubt,” Wilks said of the O-line. “I think if you asked those guys that question, they’d tell you the same thing — too inconsistent, not running the ball well. We’ve got to do a much better job in that area.”
Two seasons ago, Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and caught 80 passes for 879 yards. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. He went down with a season-ending wrist injury in last year’s opener and hasn’t found much room to run this year.
Through four games, Johnson has 242 yards rushing on 74 carries, 3.3 yards per attempt. He has caught 15 passes for 120 yards.
“Just keep grinding,” Johnson said when asked how he was holding up through the difficulties, “just keep grinding and doing what they pay me to do, doing what the coaches, my teammates expect me to do, and we’ll get through it.”
But what needs to be done to improve things in a hurry? The Cardinals play at Minnesota on Sunday.
“Fixing my mistakes,” said Johnson, known to be his own worst critic, “and continue to give them confidence in the run game.”
Wilks knows he needs more out of Johnson, whom he called “one of the top running backs in the league.”
“I think we’re doing some great things in practice,” Wilks said. “You can see the progress there. You’ve just got to understand that it goes at a totally different tempo with those guys on the other side of the ball. So, it really comes back to really just execution and understanding that you’ve got to take advantage of each opportunity because this could be the difference in the game.”
Wilks doesn’t think teams are keying on Johnson.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job, as I mentioned before, of just trying to spread him around a little bit, get him in different areas, get him out of the backfield some, loosen up the defense a little bit and really take what they’re giving us.”
Rookie Josh Rosen is preparing to make his third start. He knows things aren’t clicking for the offense yet, at least not consistently.
“I think we all have areas we need to improve on,” he said. “We had maybe one sack last game, and it was my fault. I held the ball a little too long in the two-minute, so I think everyone’s playing pretty well. We have just one-off mental mistakes everywhere. Like me, linemen, receivers, running backs, some people make one mistake, but when you have eight or nine people making one mistake on separate plays, you almost just want to be like, ‘All right guys, let’s all screw up this first play together and then play great from then on.’
“It’s just about locking in and staying focused.”
NOTES: Johnson took a ride in a jet fighter Tuesday and said it was “a lot of fun” although he almost passed out. ... DE Chandler Jones was chosen NFC defensive player of the week after getting six tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and pass defensed in Arizona’s 28-18 win at San Francisco. ... Iupati (shoulder) and Humphries (knee) were among those who sat out Wednesday’s practice. Wilks said he expects both to play on Sunday.