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Should the Cardinals re-insert David Johnson into the starting lineup?

Johnson showed signs of his 2016 form against the Steelers

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have treated Kenyan Drake as a starter ever since they acquired him from the Miami Dolphins via trade.

Through the five games he played so far in a Cardinals uniform, Drake had 65 carries, 280 rushing yards, and one touchdown. He also caught 21 passes for 121 receiving yards.

Let’s take a look at how he performed game by game:

  • Week 9 (vs SF): 15ATT, 110 rushing yards, 7.3YPC, 1 TD, 4REC, 52 receiving yards
  • Week 10 (@ TB): 10-35-0 3.5YPC, 6-6-0
  • Week 11 (@ SF): 16-67-0 4.2YPC, 6-13-0
  • Week 13 (vs. LAR): 13-31-0 2.4YPC, 2-20-0
  • Week 14 (vs. PIT): 11-37-0 3.4YPC, 3-30-0

In three games, he was limited to less than 40 rushing yards. There is no question that Drake brought a lot of energy and speed to the backfield as soon as he arrived in Arizona, but he has been ineffective of late. In fairness to him, the Buccaneers, Rams and Steelers own top 12 run defenses. Surprisingly, the 49ers are allowing the 10th-most rushing yards (116.6) per game.

He passed David Johnson on the depth chart a few weeks ago but is it time for the humble rumble to reclaim his role as the starter?

Despite only 22 offensive snaps, Johnson had five touches, 53 scrimmage yards, and a touchdown against the Steelers last weekend.

Johnson has been highly criticized for his ineffectiveness due to his lack of speed and inability to block. He sustained an ankle injury earlier in the season that forced him to miss a couple games. More recently, Johnson has looked a lot more agile which could mean he is finally healthy.

He is still among the best at his position as a receiver out of the backfield. Keep in mind this is everyone’s first year with Kliff Kingsbury and some players need more time than others to learn his playbook. This means understanding where the rushing lanes are, identifying which players to block, and other things that comes with comprehending a playbook.

The Cardinals were at their best when the committee was between David Johnson and Chase Edmonds. Kingsbury had his work cut out for him having to figure out a way to use both of them through the first three weeks of the season. Once week four arrived, Kingsbury had a solution.

Week 4 (vs SEA):

  • DJ: 11ATT, 40 rushing yards, 3.6 YPC, 8REC, 99 receiving yards
  • CE: 6-37-0 6.2YPC

Week 5 (@ CIN):

  • DJ: 17-91-0 5.4YPC, 3-65-0
  • CE: 8-68-1 8.5YPC, 3-18-0

Week 6 (vs ATL):

  • DJ: 12-34-1 2.8YPC, 6-68-1
  • CE: 5-34-0 6.8YPC, 2-33-1

Week 7 (@ NYG):

  • DJ: 1-2-0
  • CE: 27-126-3 4.7YPC, 2-24-0

The Cardinals went 3-1 during that stretch but one can argue that three of those games were against losing teams. Both running backs understood their roles within the offense and blossomed. But the most important thing is that the Cardinals had a winning formula for the offense. After both of them went down, Kingsbury was forced to change his strategy to accommodate the injured. Now, he has a new challenge of utilizing all three running backs on the roster which has been a big struggle to watch.

There were plays where all three were on the field at the same time against the Steelers, which might be too creative and fancy of a play call. He might be too focused on trying to use all three running backs in a single game rather than devising a strategy to expose their opponent’s weaknesses.

At this point, the Cardinals know what each running back is capable of. Instead of limiting the snaps of Johnson and Edmonds in favor of Drake, both must be reintegrated in the offense. This might mean reducing Drake’s snaps, considering he is not guaranteed to be re-signed after the season and the conditional draft pick the Cardinals traded could become a fifth rounder.

Kingsbury has nothing to lose and the team must figure out what to do with David Johnson moving forward. The Cardinals are not helping themselves relegating him to backup duties while he carries a $14.25 cap hit next season. With limited snaps, he will only get worse as a blocker and grow more unhappy with the team.

With Kenyan Drake’s ineffectiveness the past two games, Johnson should be given more snaps. Roll back with the Johnson and Edmonds duo that was key in the Cardinals’ three wins of the season, despite Johnson’s one carry against the Giants.

For what it is worth, here are their Pro Football Focus grades:

David Johnson: 74.9

Chase Edmonds: 70.5

Kenyan Drake: 65.9

The Cardinals’ 2019 season is coming to an end, with three more games remaining on their schedule. Even if they cannot manage to pull out another win this season, they need to show some promise and progression within the next few weeks before heading into the offseason.