With a dodgy offensive line and an unreliable running game, the Packers haven’t been as strong as usual this year, but the Cardinals made them look like a fourth-place team on Sunday. Arizona pasted Green Bay in a 38-8 win that revealed why Bruce Arians’s team is so scary: Their depth chart is stacked.
Injuries are a part of the NFL, but the Cardinals are beyond that. Here’s an example: Before the season, Andre Ellington was the projected starting running back. Chris Johnson wasn’t even on the team until Aug. 17, and he wasn’t expected to be anything more than a warm body. Ellington sprained his knee in the first game, so Johnson took over. He had a good shot at his seventh 1,000-yard season, but broke his tibia at the beginning of December. This led the Cardinals to rookie David Johnson, who, impressively, might have the most generic name on the team. In his first three games as a starter, the younger Johnson had 99, 92, and 187 rushing yards. He’s right up there on the franchise list for combined rushing and receiving touchdowns in a single season:
Ellington returned from a toe injury this week and ran seven times for 40 yards. The original starter is complementing the monster rookie as the team prepares for the playoffs. Jim Irsay would sloppily murder three drifters for just one of those healthy running backs, and the Cardinals used all three.
Arizona’s defense is just as deep. Free safety Tyrann Mathieu tore his ACL last week, and starting strong safety Rashad Johnson has an ankle injury, so the Cardinals reworked their secondary against the Packers to overcome those absences with a mix of Tony Jefferson, Chris Clemons, and D.J. Swearinger, who forced a fumble on James Starks.
Cornerback Justin Bethel had an increased role, and he made a couple of huge plays. Near the end of the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers threw to James Jones in the end zone, and Bethel played the ball perfectly for a pick:
Green Bay had a nine-play drive in the third quarter that ended with no points because of Bethel’s coverage on receiver Davante Adams. Rodgers looked for Adams three straight times in the red zone. The first two passes were incomplete; on fourth down, Adams caught it, and Bethel immediately tackled him for a turnover. And while the secondary was handling its business, the pass rush was dragging Rodgers all over the field:
The Cardinals have 13 wins. Before this year, they had never won more than 11 games in a season. Bruce Arians and his staff have a rock-solid strategy—the only vulnerability being Palmer’s admittedly weak knees—and have found a roster that can execute it. Chris Johnson looked like toast with the Jets, and he stepped up. Dwight Freeney was effectively dead in San Diego, and he sacked Rodgers three times on Sunday. Anyone can play well for the Cardinals. You probably could:
Cut off the Cardinals’ armor, and you’ll just find that they’re wearing three more suits underneath.
Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images
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