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3 reasons Cards will be OK without Chris Johnson

Posted at 3:02 PM, Dec 01, 2015

There's no doubt that Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson will be missed.

After the Cards rushed for an NFL-worst 3.3 yards per carry last season, the free-agent acquisition helped make Arizona's offense two-dimensional by rushing for 814 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and three touchdowns through 11 games this season.

But on Monday, an MRI revealed the 30-year-old pro suffered a fractured tibia that may end his season. On Tuesday, the Cards placed Johnson on injured reserve, meaning the earliest he will be eligible to return is late in the postseason.

But is Johnson irreplaceable? Are the Cardinals' Super Bowl hopes dashed, as one ESPN reporter suggested Monday?

Hardly.

Here are three reasons why there's no reason for Red Sea Nation to panic following the loss of Johnson.

1. Cards have other options.

Four months before the Cards signed the 30-year-old Johnson, they drafted a running back with the same surname, former Northern Iowa star David Johnson. The versatile 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has had some growing pains this year, but there's no questioning the rookie's potential.

Through 11 NFL games, Johnson has rushed for a healthy four yards per carry with three touchdowns, including a 1-yard TD run off a nifty cutback move against the 49ers. He's also a capable receiver, as his 241 yards on 19 catches are both best among Cardinals running backs.

The Cards may also be without running back Andre Ellington on Sunday; the oft-injured third-year pro is dealing with a case of turf toe. But as long as David Johnson can grind out, say, 3.5 yards per carry in the meantime and not turn the ball over, Arizona should be fine.

2. Chris Johnson had not been running well.

Through eight games, Chris Johnson was one of the most surprising stories of the NFL season. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and was third in the NFL in rushing yards behind only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Atlanta's Devonta Freeman. 

But it's not an overstatement to say the seventh-year pro struggled mightily in his last three games, rushing for just 138 yards on 55 attempts (2.5 yards per carry). His 17 yards on 12 carries against a 49ers defense that had allowed 4.3 yards per carry was disappointing, to say the least.

But here's the thing: Despite Johnson's struggles, the Cardinals won all three of those games to improve to 9-2 on the season. Yes, having an effective rushing attack is beneficial in more ways than one, including its ability to open up the passing game. But the Cards have already proven they can win -- and beat good teams like the Seahawks and Bengals -- even when the running game sputters.

3. There's still that Carson Palmer guy.

Chris Johnson had become an important component to the Cardinals' offense, but he's just not nearly as crucial to the Cardinals' success as is veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who is having an MVP-caliber season.

The Cards' promising 2014 campaign was derailed when Palmer saw his season end with a freak ACL injury. But through 11 games -- knock on wood -- Palmer is healthy and looking better than he has at any point during his 13-year pro career.

As long as Palmer and his dynamic receiving crew led by Larry Fitzgerald remains intact, and the defense continues to play at an elite level, all the Cards will need in order to remain a viable Super Bowl contender is a respectable running game -- something they should be able to manage with their remaining crew.