Edge On An Island

Edgerrin James has been a disappointment thus far this season. There's no question about that. But, here's the question I DO have: Are we paying him by the carry? By percentage of total rushing yards? Total carries? The coaches realize we have two other running backs? Right? They realize that, right?

You can blame the offensive line all you want.  You can point fingers at Dennis Green for not adapting his system to Edge's strengths, or Mike Kruczek for only calling 13 running plays in the loss to the Raiders.  You can say that Edge is washed up, or that he was never a great running back; just a good running back in a great system.

The offensive line does suck.  It's atrocious.  It is, far and away, the worst line in the NFL.  And, to top it all off, the Cardinals are running Edge behind it with running plays that are not designed with his strengths in mind.  They're running mostly between the tackles, mostly dive and gut plays, and not running the stretch/slant plays that are his strong suit. 

This is primarily because the offensive line is neither athletic or coachable enough to run slant and stretch plays.  But, it's also a by-product of the system Dennis Green has in place.  Green is very fond of his system and the success he's had with it in the past.  Where he (and the running game in general) has fallen short, is in the inability to adjust to the personnel they have in place.

The Cardinals seem to have forgotten that J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp, while not the caliber of James, are still running backs on the roster.  As such, they're able to contribute in the running game.  And, while it would be absurdly naive to think that simply giving Shipp and Arrington a few carries a game would be the salve to heal Arizona's anemic rushing offense, it certainly couldn't hurt.  Or, really, be any worse than the production they're already seeing from running James into the line almost exclusively.

To put this into perspective, Edge has 185 of the Cardinals 210 carries for 516 of their 554 rushing yards.  That's 88% of their carries and 93% of their yards.  When you factor in that 14 of the 35 carries that Edge doesn't have belong to Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner (for a total of 9 yards), the stats are even more jarring.  And, when you realize that Arizona is on pace to rush for over a hundred fewer yards than they did in 2005 (when they finished dead last in the league in rushing offense by a wide margin), you start to understand just how dire the situation is.

The Cardinals should be able to run the ball.  One of the reasons they signed Edge is because he performed exceptionally well in a similar offense in Indianapolis.  The Colts run a lot of three wide receiver formations.  Because of their vaunted passing attack, they face a lot of six and seven man fronts, with fewer linebackers and more defensive backs.  They have been able to successfully exploit defenses that sell out to stop the pass.  The theory was that Arizona would be able to duplicate that success simply by signing Edge.  But, since they didn't duplicate the other factors that contributed to his success with the Colts (offensive line, different scheme, inability of the quarterback to audible out of a run or to a run at the line of scrimmage), they have not seen the same results.

Of course, many of you know this by now.  I know it, you know it, the rest of the NFL knows it.  The Cardinals staff, however, through vanity or incompetence, doesn't seem to realize that continuing to pound Edge between the tackles is an exercise in insanity.  After all, insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Marcel Shipp is strong and powerfully built.  He's more of a battering ram.  Arrington is smaller and lighter.  He's more of a scatback.  Edge is somewhere in between.  The Cardinals have been successfully for years throwing the football by using different formations, different personnel groupings, motioning certain receivers to different parts of the field to get them more favorable match-ups. 

If Shipp is better at running between the tackles, the line is better at blocking those kinds of plays, and the defense is expecting to see Edge, wouldn't those factors combine for a pretty sizable advantage to the overmatched offensive line?  After a few plays of getting pounded by Shipp, wouldn't defenders hate to have to corral Arrington?  And, once there starts to be a mix of inside and outside runs, wouldn't a fresh Edge be a pretty lethal weapon running slants and stretch plays, picking the best hole?

These are rhetorical questions, of course.  Steve Loney doesn't seem to be a teacher as much as he is part caregiver, part fall-guy.  Dennis Green has made it abundantly clear that nothing's wrong with his system.  And Mike Kruczek is still trying to get his sea legs after a couple weeks on the job.

Maybe next year...

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