The Arizona Cardinals are currently the best team in football, and not just because their records says so. They will put their unbeaten streak on the line against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 8. A significant reason for the team’s success in 2021 is the addition of running back James Conner, who’s taken some pressure off Kyler Murray.
Conner has brought more value to this Cardinals football team than the stats would suggest.
James Conner plays a vital role in the Cardinals’ offense
After losing Kenyan Drake to the Las Vegas Raiders after the 2020 season, the Arizona Cardinals desperately needed to bolster their backfield.
The front office signed James Conner, who spent the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Conner, a former standout at the University of Pittsburgh, battled injuries throughout his tenure with the Steelers.
Questions emerged about what he had left in the tank despite being just 26 years old. However, since arriving in Arizona, Conner has become a difference-maker in Kliff Kingsbury‘s offense.
Chase Edmonds entered the season as the potential No. 1 running back for the Cardinals. Still, Conner has carved out a significant role as well.
The Erie, Pennsylvania native has rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns on 89 rush attempts. According to AZ Central, Arizona’s coaching staff loves the way Conner plays.
“I’ve always admired his career, just by how hard he plays,” said Cardinals running game coordinator Sean Kugler. “He’s a guy at the end of the game who you want the ball in his hands because he’s violent. He’s a finisher. When teams are tired, that’s a big guy to be tackling at the end of the game.”
Kyler Murray is playing with less pressure thanks to the veteran running back
Pro Bowl quarterback Kyler Murray has been the biggest beneficiary of James Conner’s performance so far in 2021.
Due to Murray’s dynamic abilities in run-pass options schemes, he has excelled at scoring in the red zone. The Oklahoma product recorded 11 rushing touchdowns in 2020. He has four through the first seven games, but Conner’s presence has something to do with that.
Conner and Chase Edmonds have posted similar numbers in the yardage department, but the power back is getting into the end zone at a much higher clip. Edmonds has yet to reach pay dirt.
Conner has established himself as the Cardinals’ most-effective goal-line back. His six touchdowns rank second among all running backs behind only Derrick Henry. The fifth-year running back isn’t a game-breaker, but he’s proven valuable in short-yardage situations.
Kyler Murray is currently playing at an MVP level. The running game has helped take pressure off the star quarterback because he doesn’t need to run as much. He’s dangerous as a dual-threat, but having capable ball-carriers is a luxury for the Cardinals.
Arizona is undefeated due to its balanced attack
The Cardinals feature one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Kliff Kingsbury’s unit currently ranks No. 2 in the NFL, behind Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Arizona is averaging just over 32.1 points and 402.8 yards per game. The offense has utilized a balanced attack, too. The Cardinals are sixth in passing yards and fifth in rushing yards.
Kyler Murray is leading the way for the undefeated Cardinals. He’s thrown for 2,002 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing a league-high 73.5% of his passes.
Talent at the skill positions has made the 24-year-old quarterback’s job easier. DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and Rondale Moore form a dynamic receiving corps. General manager Steve Keim struck a deal to land tight end Zach Ertz from the Philadelphia Eagles.
James Conner and Chase Edmonds pace the rushing attack. The Cardinals can beat defenses through the air and on the ground. On the other side of the football, Arizona’s defense is currently a top-3 unit.
The Arizona Cardinals are legit, which only further boosts Kyler Murray’s MVP chances.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.