Cardinals' rushing game in good hands if Andre Ellington misses time

Chris Johnson ran for 30 of his 37 yards on seven carries in the fourth quarter. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals saw the future of their rushing game Sunday night.

And they liked it.

When starting running back Andre Ellington left the game with what the team believes to be a posterior cruciate ligament injury in his right knee, Arizona was forced to rely on their two Johnsons -- Chris and David -- for the final 11 minutes, 42 seconds of their 31-19 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Both proved the Cardinals will be in good hands if Ellington were to miss a game because of the injury.

Chris Johnson took over the every-down role for Ellington, which he’d likely continue if Ellington misses time, and ran for 30 of his 37 yards on seven carries in the fourth quarter, an average of 4.28 yards per rush, including a 12-yard run on his first carry after replacing Ellington. He only carried three times prior.

“I thought Chris looked good,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’ll get more touches and we will feel very confident if he is our lead dog, and then David has been backing him up.”

That confidence trickles down from the top.

Like his coach, quarterback Carson Palmer believes in Chris, whose addition doesn’t alter the offense, Palmer said.

“It doesn’t change a ton,” Palmer said. “They’re similar in a lot of ways and a little bit different in their receiving ways just because Andre is so used to this offense and Chris hasn’t been in a system like this.”

David Johnson, who didn’t get a carry Sunday, makes up for what Chris lacks thus far in the passing game. A natural receiver, he had one reception, which came late in the fourth quarter, but broke it free for a 55-yard touchdown, showing off his hands and speed in one fell swoop.

“David did a heck of a job of hitting the jets and scoring,” Arians said. “It wasn’t designed to score. It was designed to get us a first down.”

The more the two Johnsons -- or Stepfan Taylor, who didn’t get a carry Sunday, or Kerwynn Williams, the practice squad running back who stepped in last season after Ellington got hurt -- continue to defy expectations, the better the Cardinals will be, especially after Sunday’s performance set a tone that Arizona hopes to continue for the rest of the season. All told, the Cardinals averaged 4.8 yards per carry Sunday -- 1.5 yards more than they averaged last season.

The impact of that extra yardage reverberated through the offense. It opened the passing game against New Orleans like rarely happened a year ago, when teams keyed on the run game and forced Arizona to pass, Palmer said during training camp. Palmer was able to spray the ball around to 10 different receivers for 307 yards and three touchdowns.

Whichever Johnson (or Taylor or Williams) carries the ball next week, the success on the ground is expected to continue.

“Whenever you have that balance, teams don’t know what to expect,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

“But when we have the arsenal of backs that we have, we can expect that those guys are going to be able to make some gashes for us.”