How Edge Might Solve Two Problems: Part 1

The Edgerrin James signing has been the biggest thing to hit Arizona Football since...ever. How big is it? Associate Editor Brad Keller believes it might be bigger than anyone thinks, because James' abilities suit the Cardinals, their strengths AND their weaknesses, perfectly.

Before I get too far into this, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I do not like Edgerrin James.  I think he's overrated, a liability in the red zone, and self-absorbed.  I wouldn't have him on my team.  That being said, I think he's an ideal fit for the Arizona Cardinals.


When it first became public knowledge that James was going to become a free agent, I decided that it only made sense for him to sign with one of three teams: the Colts, the Vikings… or the Cardinals.  The reason for this is that James is not your stereotypical featured back.  While he's the type of back that can carry the ball 30 times a game, it's not his long-suit.  While it is possible to have him run out of an I-formation, to do so would be to drastically underutilize his natural abilities.  He has never been and never will be a guy that you can count on for 30 hard carries out of a two-back set that will wear down defenses and be counted on to break the occasional big play.  He's at his best when he can pick his hole out of a spread formation and make the defense pay with 25 touches per game, including critical third down receptions.


The funny thing is, the Cardinals drafted someone that fits this profile last year.  Why didn't J.J. Arrington pan out?  The simple answer is that James has more intelligence, natural athletic ability, vision, instinct, and pass-blocking ability in his gold teeth than Arrington has in his entire body.


That's really why the Cardinals should cut Arrington and keep Shipp.  Shipp and James would work well as a combination of non-traditional featured back and "change of pace" back combination than the non-traditional featured back and "guy that's nowhere near as good as the featured back and thus doesn't deserve any of our attention" combination that James and Arrington offer.  But that's a story for another time.


As I'm sure you all remember, this article is about "How Edge Might Solve Two Problems," so let's get back to that.


Working out of a three receiver, one back, one tight end set (or four receivers and Edge, I'm not picky), the offense will be able to maximize Edge's production, much in the way the Colts have all these years.  As Tony Dungy pointed out, Dennis Green runs an offense that is almost identical to Dungy's.  The primary difference the last few years has been that the Colts had Manning and James and the Cardinals… didn't.  At least until now.


The Colts' best kept secret of the Manning and James era has been that they don't have offensive lineman that are terribly good.  For the most part, they're good and terrible.  They've drafted lineman on the second day consistently for the last eight years because Manning gets rid of the ball quickly and James has an almost superhuman ability to read the hole, make the first man miss, and explode.  Because of the talents of Manning and James, the Colts' offensive line has been given more credit than it deserves.


While the Cardinals still have Kurt Warner and his tediously long decision making process behind center, they now have James behind Warner.  James will make the Cardinals' seemingly anemic offensive line better in the running game and the passing game.


James is at his best when he can get the ball 7 yards deep, read the defense, pick his hole, make the first man through the hole miss, and accelerate.  As luck would have it (and I'm sure this is more than a happy coincidence), that's the type of running attack Dennis Green likes to deploy.  The good news for Cardinals fans that are nervous about the offensive line for the coming season is that the lineman don't really have to do too much to make this approach work.  They don't need to trap.  They don't need to pull.  They don't need to drive the defender into the second level.  They simply need to maintain their blocks and move their defender in whatever direction he's already going. 


Edge will find the hole.  Edge will make the linebacker or safety coming through the hole miss.  And if the defense gets too aggressive, Edge will cut back against pursuit and really make the defense pay.  He did this quite often early in his career until defenses realized that the best way to contain Edge (because he's not been easy to stop, unless Manning stopped calling running plays) is to be patient and make sure the first guy through the hole brings him down; which is easier said than done.


Would it help if the Cardinals employed a group of linemen that were faster, more agile, more intelligent, and stronger?  Of course.  Is it absolutely necessary?  Nope.  Just ask the Colts.  Edge has compiled more individual 1,000 yard seasons in his career running behind rookie undrafted free agents than the Cardinals have since the Johnson administration.


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