Arizona Cardinals: Is Conner the answer at running back in 2023?
Can James Conner become the running back the Arizona Cardinals need him to be for the remainder of the season and moving forward as well?
One bright spot that came out of the Arizona Cardinals loss last week was the performance by James Conner. He became the first Cardinals running back to gain over 100 yards on the ground in any game this season and was a big reason why they were able to move the ball efficiently.
The run game was a key component that had been missing for this offense all season as the Cardinals have had to play from behind in most of their games forcing them to throw the majority of the time they have possession of the ball. Conner’s recent output proved just how dangerous he can be and just how smooth the offense can run with an efficient rushing attack.
But it remains to be seen if the offense will be able to sustain that balance and continue this trend throughout the remainder of the season. Even though Conner’s 120 yards on the ground and average of 4.8 yards per carry was impressive, it did come against a Los Angeles Chargers defense who are fifth worst in the NFL when it comes to defending the run.
What the Cardinals front office will ultimately have to decide is whether Conner will be the long term answer at the position moving forward. Conner is still young at 27, and has proven before that he can be an every down back.
Can James Conner be productive for the Arizona Cardinals in 2023?
He already has been selected to a Pro Bowl during his tenure in Pittsburgh but has yet to have a 1,000 campaign in his six-year career. It’s obvious that whenever Conner gets opportunities and the touches he can be very productive.
In his last five games Conner has averaged 15.2 attempts, 66.2 rushing yards per game and three touchdowns. Conner will face a test in Week 14 as the Cardinals will take on the New England Patriots and their ninth ranked run defense.
The Patriots have only allowed two players to gain over 100 yards rushing and one of those players was Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Last week they held Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook to only 42 yards on 22 carries so Conner will have his work cut out for him if he plans on duplicating his last performance as it won’t be easy against the Patriots stifling defense.
The Cardinals have already released Eno Benjamin, who was just in his third year in the NFL. The move was a shocking one due to the fact that he was considered to be a talented and promising prospect.
Conner signed a three-year extension during the offseason which signifies that the Cardinals do have faith in him, but in the ever changing landscape which is the NFL, no one’s job is safe in this league, especially at the running back position. Conner could prove to be the man for the job with a strong finish to the season.
The Cardinals also have rookie Keontay Ingram who is also a young, promising prospect, but doesn’t appear to be ready to take over the full-time job just yet. This is an opportunity for Conner to not only prove his worth but also show that he can be a solid mentor to Ingram as he will likely be a candidate to replace Conner whenever his time is up in Arizona.
While there are no guarantees that the organization will keep Steve Kiem or Kliff Kingsbury after the conclusion of the season, the Cardinals would be wise to hold on to Conner. While he isn’t a superstar at his position, he has been reliable despite playing behind mediocre offensive lines throughout his career.
Conner can give the Cardinals offense that power, punch and balance it so desperately needs as he is capable of closing games as well. He isn’t the fastest player but he is strong and runs hard. Let’s hope that the Cardinals organization and coaching staff (whether it’s the old regime or a new one) realizes the gem they have in Conner and gives him a fair opportunity to prove himself as a valuable piece to their offense going forward.
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