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James Conner’s big day but an inconsistent run game remains

James Conner’s 120 rushing yards against Chargers is a team-high among Cardinals’ ball carriers this season

Los Angeles Chargers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have struggled to find success in the run game all year long.

Cardinals’ best output from a running back this year before Week 12 was from Eno Benjamin, who had 92 rushing yards in Week 7 but he was released over a week ago. Quarterback Kyler Murray is Arizona’s most dangerous runner but his high usage as a scrambler often leads to injuries which makes him unreliable in that regard.

Prior to yesterday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, starting running back James Conner had 356 rushing yards and averaged only 3.7 yards per carry through eight games this season.

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

His output has been disappointing up to that point considering the Cardinals rewarded him a three-year $21 million contract in the offseason after a breakout 2021 year. He had 1,000 yards from scrimmage, 18 total touchdowns, and a Pro Bowl appearance last season.

It doesn’t help when the Cardinals’ offensive line is missing 80 percent of their Week 1 starters with D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Rodney Hudson, and Will Hernandez on injured reserve. Injuries forced Conner to miss three games.

Not only has he struggled, the entire Cardinals offense has underperformed dating back to the second half of last season.

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

Despite all these factors, James Conner found a way to have his best performance of the year behind a backup offensive line for 120 rushing yards while averaging 4.8 yards on 25 carries.

He had 54 rushing yards in the first quarter alone and was easily the Cardinals’ most consistent weapon in the loss. The Chargers are allowing a league-high 5.4 yards per carry while allowing the seventh-most rushing yards though 11 games this season. This was a get-right game for James Conner and he played well.

However even when the Cardinals discover some sort of success in the run game with their primary ball carriers, they manage to deviate from it. A prime example of that was on their fourth offensive drive against the Chargers that included three passes and a RPO play by Kyler Murray. One bad drive such as this one can make a huge difference in a football game.

Essentially the Chargers’ defense knew exactly what the Cardinals were planning. Even then, the lack of a carry for James Conner with a yard to go on third and fourth down was surprising. Though Kyler Murray said in the post-game conference that “schematically, [Cardinals] were kinda f*ed”, Murray was unable to adjust the offense and ultimately he failed to execute as a result. That ended up being a game-changing drive as the failed fourth-down conversion, that ended in an interception, added even more momentum to a Chargers’ team that scored a touchdown the drive prior.

Arizona was held scoreless in the final four offensive drives of the game in which Conner was limited to 15 rushing yards in the fourth quarter. They missed a field goal early in the third quarter which also loomed large. Conner was dominant for a good portion of this matchup but was ineffective in the final quarter.

Los Angeles scored 14 unanswered points after Arizona led 10-0 in the beginning of the second quarter. The Cardinals ended up losing 25-24 that dropped their record down to 4-8 as they head into their bye week.