James, Hightower and Cards' personnel

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals went with mostly conservative personnel groupings early in their 56-35 defeat to the Jets in Week 4. That changed dramatically once the Jets scored 34 unanswered points in the second quarter. Arizona responded by going with four receivers for almost all of the second half.

I was able to chart the personnel in real time (download). I wasn't sure which running back was on the field for one play -- Anquan Boldin's fumble after a 3-yard reception. This was the second play in which the Cardinals used four receivers. I went with Tim Hightower as the back because he was the back on the team's only previous four-receiver set.

In any event, I put together a chart (big surprise) showing Arizona's production in the passing game from one-back groupings with three and four receivers. Hightower drew a few more third-down plays in these situations. The offense averaged more yards per pass attempt when James was in the game during these situations (9.5 to 6.9).

The chart and file cover the Cardinals' first 68 plays. The exclude the final drive, which came once Arizona had no chance for a comeback.

A couple things stood out to me:

  • Using an empty backfield with James and Ben Patrick on the field produced a second-quarter interception. Sometimes teams get themselves in trouble with empty backfields. The defense instantly knows a running play isn't coming. I sensed trouble for Arizona on this one.

Seattle did the same thing against the 49ers this season (third quarter, third-and-10, Leonard Weaver wide left and John Carlson in the right slot). The 49ers picked off the pass. Saw it coming.

  • Even though the chart shows fewer sacks allowed when James was on the field with three or four receivers, Hightower threw a couple of key blocks in blitz pickup. The more he shows he can do that, the more he is going to play.