In the realm of the NFL, change is the only constant. Each season unfolds with its unique narrative, different players stepping into the limelight, and others fading due to various circumstances such as injuries or trades. The ebb and flow of a football season are expected, yet it never fails to bring surprises along the way. As the weeks unfold in the 2023 season, the Arizona Cardinals running backs have been a testament to this age-old adage.
The backfield of the Cardinals has taken a big hit early on in the 2023 season. In what’s seemed like a series of unfortunate events for an already struggling offense, the team currently has three running backs sitting on the injured reserve. With five offensive linemen on the IR as well, the situation is far from ideal.
The lack of depth is concerning, and the Cardinals are feeling the impact. With each game, the offensive struggles become more apparent, and the need for healthy, effective players in the backfield and on the line is glaringly obvious. The Cardinals have found themselves in a tough spot, and navigating through this rough patch requires strategic adjustments both on and off the field. Putting both the brand-new head coach and general manager in a tough spot without much to work with.
After igniting the turf with a red-hot start to the season, Cardinals starting running back, James Conner, found himself on the IR following a week five matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Prior to the knee injury, Conner was having a career year, averaging a solid 5.5 yards per carry and 72.8 yards per game, a rhythm disrupted much to the team's chagrin.
Though technically eligible to return in Week 10, the lack of substantial updates on his recovery timeline leaves a cloud of uncertainty. Conner joined fellow back Marlon Mack, who was struck by the cruel hand of fate with a torn Achilles before he could make his mark on the season.
With Emari Demercado out for Week 9, Arizona Cardinals have a serious depth issue at running back
With the announcement on Saturday that Emari Demercado wouldn’t be available for the Week 9 clash against the Browns due to a toe injury, the spotlight now shifts to backup running back Keaontay Ingram to spearhead the Cardinals rushing attack. The 2023 season has seen Ingram with limited opportunities, having carried the ball only 24 times for a modest 64 yards.
His journey to the end zone has yet to be christened with a touchdown, and the chains have moved just three times on his account. Yet, every game is a fresh slate, and the upcoming matchup against the Browns presents Ingram with a chance to redefine his narrative.
Tony Jones Jr. is also a new addition to the Cardinals backfield, who journeyed to Arizona off waivers in early October following his release by the New Orleans Saints. His stint with the Saints this season saw him rushing 21 times for 70 yards and finding the endzone twice. Jones found himself oscillating between the practice squad and the active roster in Arizona.
However, as the injury cloud continued to hover over the Cardinals running back room, the silver lining emerged. The persistent injuries to the Cardinals backfield catalyzed his promotion to the 53-man roster for the first time on November 2nd. As the Cardinals navigate through the stormy seas of injuries, the lack of production from the guys they have available is a major concern. Both for this week against the Browns and moving forward through the season as well.
Tony Jones Jr.
The injury saga extended to the Cardinals practice squad as well, with Damien Williams landing on the IR on Halloween. To address the thinning depth at the running back position, the Cardinals promoted Corey Clement from the practice squad, a move aimed at providing some relief for Ingram and Jones in this week’s matchup with the Browns.
But the Cardinals didn’t stop there; to further fortify the position for the remainder of the season, they signed rookie RB Hassan Hall to the practice squad. Hall, who brings a wealth of raw talent to the table, could eventually earn an active roster spot once he gets acclimated to the Cardinals offensive scheme. His potential to provide a fresh burst of energy to the offense is a forward-thinking move by the Cardinals, preparing for any further setbacks in their running back room.
The stark reality confronting the Cardinals is that their available running backs have only managed to chalk up a total of 134 yards and 9 first downs this year, combined. The urgency to regain their health couldn't be more pressing. With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, external solutions are off the table.
Now, the focus shifts inward as the team braces for Kyler Murray's return. Though the season's outlook may be bleak, it's going to be crucial to evaluate Murray and how he takes to the offense. However, seeing the team’s full potential is a challenge with a battered rushing unit and offensive line.
As the Cardinals eye the offseason, the remaining games morph into a live audition for many, a chance to secure a roster spot for the next year. For the running backs, it's a unique blend of opportunity and necessity; while the opening to prove their worth is welcomed, the circumstances leading to it are far from ideal. It makes every snap and every yard gained an integral part of the bigger picture as the Cardinals strive to find stable ground before heading into the offseason.