James Conner brings element of toughness to Cardinals attack

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) James Conner
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) James Conner /

The Arizona Cardinals offense can no longer be considered a “soft” scoring attack with running back James Conner in the lineup.

When Kliff Kingsbury became the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals back in 2019, the young guru brought to the desert a “finesse” type of offense. The “Air Raid” attack could certainly pile up the points, but it would never be looked at as “tough” in NFL circles.

That perception has now been put to rest, thanks to a battering ram of a running back named James Conner. The offseason acquisition is a physical performer who has singlehandedly changed the way that outsiders are looking at the Cardinals.

The role that Conner has taken on for the Cards is a pivotal one. With the 6-foot-1, 233-pounder in the backfield, Kingsbury no longer feels the need to have to pass the ball on a 3rd-and-1. Handing the rock to Conner in short-yardage situations can just about guarantee a first down for Arizona at a high percentage of the time.

Arizona Cardinals are thrilled with the all-around ability of James Conner

Conner’s speed and agility have also been a pleasant surprise for the Redbirds. Quarterback Kyler Murray is well aware of what the multi-talented player has brought to the team.

"“James is one of those guys where everybody in the huddle feeds off of his energy. Once he gets going, he’s tough to stop. He’s a bigger back, real versatile. He can catch and he can do it on the ground.”"

The versatility of Conner was on full display during the Cardinals’ week-nine victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The former Pittsburgh Steelers draft pick ran for 96 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and hauled in five passes for 77 yards and another score as well. Conner also provided the highlight of the day, when he took a screen pass from backup passer Colt McCoy and rumbled 45 yards to paydirt.

Last Sunday, during the Cards’ 34-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Conner tallied his 11th rushing touchdown of the 2021 campaign. The 11-yard score tied him with Murray and running back MacArthur Lane for third place on the franchise’s all-time list for rushing scores in a season. Conner needs six more trips into the end zone on the ground this fall to break the all-time mark (16) set by David Johnson back in 2016.

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It’s been an outstanding year for Conner, who has amassed 629 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns in 10 appearances for “Big Red”. An extension for the 2022 unrestricted free agent is a no-brainer and should undoubtedly be at or near the top of the Cardinals’ priority list.

(Statistics provided by ESPN’s NFL Scores and Pro Football Database)