With the Arizona Cardinals leading by 18 points about five minutes into the third quarter, running backs Chase Edmonds and James Conner got together on the sideline for a chat.
“I said, ‘This is our time,’ ” Edmonds recounted for reporters Tuesday, September 14.
“We’ve got to really grind these guys out,” he told Conner. “We’ve got to get some first downs and just continue to tire them out, lean on these boys and take it home.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
Arizona’s one-two punch of Edmonds and Conner carried the ball 15 times for a combined 60 yards following the sideline pep talk as the Cardinals kept the clock running and cruised to a 38-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
“That was huge,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Monday, September 13. “We basically got in the four-minute (offense) midway through the third quarter.”
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Arizona possessed the ball for more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, putting together drives of seven and eight plays on its final two possessions. The Cardinals ran the ball 12 times in the final quarter and threw it just once.
“I thought Chase and James tucked it in there, protected the ball well,” Kingsbury said, “and our O-line came off and moved a really physical defensive line when they knew we were going to run the ball.”
On a day when quarterback Kyler Murray had five touchdowns and edge rusher Chandler Jones set a career-high with five sacks, Arizona’s running backs quietly went about their business.
Edmonds finished the day with 63 yards rushing on 12 carries (5.3 yards per carry), while Conner carried 16 times for 53 yards (3.3 yards per carry). Edmonds also had four catches for 43 yards, giving him 106 total yards in the Week 1 win.
Playing time was split pretty evenly between the two running backs in the season-opener, with Edmonds seeing action on 40 snaps (58%) and Conner on 34 (49%).
Battle of the Backs
Kenyan Drake, the Cardinals’ leading rusher a year ago, signed a free-agent deal with the Las Vegas Raiders during the offseason. That created a competition in Arizona for the top spot on the depth chart throughout training camp and the preseason.
Edmonds, 25, was Arizona’s second-leading rusher a year ago with 448 yards on 97 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound back has been a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield in his time with the Cardinals, finishing with a career-best 402 yards on 53 catches in 2020.
However, Edmonds was non-existent in the running game down the stretch last season, when the Cardinals’ offense sputtered and Arizona lost five of its final seven games to miss the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.
In the Cardinals’ season-ending 18-7 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17, Edmonds had minus-3 yards rushing on just three carries, and he went without a rushing attempt in the 20-12 home loss to the 49ers in Week 16.
After losing Drake to the Raiders, the Cardinals brought in Conner, 26, a five-year pro and former Pro Bowler with the Steelers, as a free-agent pickup. At 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, Conner gives the Cardinals a bigger back for short-yardage and goal-line carries.
Kingsbury said both running backs will play a big role in the Cardinals’ offense this season.
“We’ll ride the hot hand,” he said.