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Cardinals faced with decision: Take Chris Johnson or Tyvon Branch off IR?

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals nearly faced a dilemma no team wants.

They almost had to choose between three regular contributors who were placed on injured reserve -- right guard Evan Mathis, running back Chris Johnson and safety Tyvon Branch -- as to who to bring back after their six weeks on IR was up. But Arizona's decision was made slightly easier by Mathis likely being out for the rest of the season after he undergoes surgery to repair foot and ankle issues.

"I doubt that he'd be six weeks," Arians said of Mathis.

The will leave the Cardinals deciding between Johnson and Branch.

Both were placed on IR on Oct. 4 with groin injuries while they awaited hernia surgeries. With new IR rules in place this season, teams don't have to designate a player to return. They can activate one player per season who's been on IR for at least six weeks. Then the player has to wait two more weeks after being activated to play. For Johnson and Branch, the earliest they can return would be for the Dec. 4 game against Washington.

Thus the race begins: Who will get healthier first? Johnson or Branch?

"Knowing Chris, as fast a healer as he is, he might be sooner," Arians said.

But the Cardinals' decision might be more nuanced than who's healthy first, Arians said.

Arians said it could depend "on where we’re at position-wise." Both players either have seen their roles change this season or will see their roles change by time they return. Johnson, who was the Cards' featured back last season until he suffered a season-ending fractured tibia, has been second on the depth chart this season behind David Johnson. He only had 25 carries for 95 yards before his injury. Branch, who played 166 snaps this season before he went down against the Rams, will return to find the role he played early in the season, slot corner, occupied by its previous owner, Tyrann Mathieu.

If he were to get back on the field, it'd likely be at deep safety.

But the Cardinals don't have to figure out who to bring back and how to use them just yet. There are still six weeks until a decision has to be made, and a lot can happen between now and then.