The heart and soul of the Arizona Cardinals offense was taken out of the lineup last Sunday when James Conner was sidelined with a knee injury. Fortunately, the squad's starting running back has not been lost for the season. In fact, it's possible that Conner could return in time for the Cards' Week 10 clash with the Atlanta Falcons.
In the meantime, Arizona's coaching staff will have to decide on a temporary replacement for the injury-prone Conner. It's an important decision, especially when you consider the fact that the team's scoring attack relies heavily on the ground game. Any success that the Redbirds have enjoyed through the air during the past five weeks has been a result of Conner's impressive play thus far in 2023.
The challenge for the Cardinals coaches, at least through the next month or so, will be to choose a ball-carrier who can fill Conner's massive shoes. At the moment, a pair of youngsters will do battle for the starting gig. Rolling with the right man for the job is crucial if the squad hopes to build on it's impressive offensive performance over the next 12 weeks.
In one corner is Keaontay Ingram, the Cards' sixth-round draft selection from a year ago. The 23-year-old will be back this coming Sunday from the neck issue that kept him out of two matchups. It's good timing for Ingram's return, now that Conner has been placed on Arizona's injured-reserve list.
Emari Demercado appears to be the best alternative for the Arizona Cardinals at the present time
Actually, Ingram hasn't exactly taken advantage of the opportunities he's been given since he joined the Cardinals in 2022. In his 12 appearances as a rookie, the 6 foot, 220 pounder averaged a measly 2.2 yards per attempt. Ingram totaled 81 yards from scrimmage last year, and scored the first touchdown of his NFL career during a Week 7 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Ingram's production during the first three contests of the current campaign has been well under par as well. The Texas native has toted the rock 12 times for the Cards in '23, for a grand total of just 15 yards. For those keeping score, Ingram is averaging an ugly 1.3 yards per carry for the Arizona rushing attack this fall.
The main competition for Ingram is Emari Demercado, an undrafted rookie out of Texas Christian University. When Conner went down last weekend, the 24-year-old Demercado was immediately thrust into action. The 5 foot 9, 215 pounder racked up 45 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and contributed an additional 12 yards to the Cardinals on a fourth-quarter reception.
Demercado displayed a flair against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 that should give him the nod over Ingram. The Cards will likely give both backs a chance early on versus the Los Angeles Rams, and then simply roll with the hot hand from there on out. Most Arizona fans would have to agree that Demercado appears to be the better of the two options at the present time.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference and ESPN.com)