Kenyan Drake has taken the lead running back role in Arizona

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The "committee" the Arizona Cardinals are using at running back these days is comprised of, well, just one member.

Kenyan Drake.

A couple days after coach Kliff Kingsbury said the plan was to take a running-back-by-committee approach to the rushing game, Drake played 56 snaps and David Johnson, the former face of Arizona's running game, played seven.

It was a public statement about the future of the Cardinals' ground attack.

"I'm focused on what I gotta focus on," said Drake when asked if Kingsbury had given him a heads-up that he'd get more carries. "That's not my focus. So, whenever I go on the field, you know, whenever my number's called, I'm ready to go.”

Johnson had been Arizona's primary workhorse this season before back and ankle injuries. He played three snaps against the New York Giants in Week 7 and missed the next two games. While Johnson watched from the sideline against the Giants, Chase Edmonds ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns. Then Edmonds injured his hamstring against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8 and has been out since. On Monday, Kingsbury said he's "hoping" to get Edmonds back after this week's bye.

Less than 24 hours after Edmonds suffered the injury in New Orleans, the Cardinals traded a conditional sixth-round pick in 2020 for Drake. Their newly acquired back would run for 110 yards and a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during a Thursday night game on Halloween.

With Edmonds out and Johnson recovering, Drake took advantage of his opportunity and hasn't looked back. In three games with the Cardinals, Drake has rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries. He rushed for 174 yards with no touchdowns on 47 carries in six games earlier this season with the Miami Dolphins.

But it wasn't until Sunday against the 49ers that Drake's role as the lead back was etched in stone.

He started and was the focal point of the rushing game, rushing for 67 yards on 16 carries. Meanwhile, Johnson was primarily used as a decoy whenever he did see the field, which was only in the first half. Sunday was the first time since Johnson's rookie season of 2015 he played in a game and didn't get a single carry.

"I felt like Drake was the hot hand and we rolled with him, but David's a very good football player and we'll try to put him in positions to be successful based upon game plans week-to-week," Kingsbury said Monday.

After the game, Kingsbury said the decision to rely on Drake was a result of his production.

Sunday was the second straight game Johnson was benched, although Kingsbury contested that wording. Johnson also didn't play in the fourth quarter of a loss at Tampa Bay after fumbling late in the third quarter.

Kingsbury isn't concerned with Johnson's mental state after his reduction in playing time and said Johnson's standing with the team hasn't changed.

"David is a part of this offense and we have to find a way to make sure he's playing at a high level and that we can get him the football," Kingsbury said.

Drake and Edmonds are on their rookie contracts while Johnson is among the highest-paid running backs in the NFL after signing a three-year extension worth $39 million back in 2018 that came with up to $30 million in guarantees. This season alone, Johnson is earning $5.7 million, a number that can increase to $6.65 million because of roster bonuses.

Combined, Drake and Edmonds will make $1.64 million this season.

Arizona is eighth in the league in rushing with 1,295 yards -- an average of about 117.7 per game -- while averaging 4.96 yards per carry, which is the fourth-best clip in the NFL.

"I mean, we get an opportunity to run it, we run 5 yards a clip," said center A.Q. Shipley. "I mean it doesn't matter who's back there, who we're playing against, we got a heck of a scheme that Coach has put in with a lot of a lot of moving parts, and the group up front stayed together and just keep grinding."

Kingsbury has said he's going to spend the bye trying to figure out his crowded and competitive running back situation.

"We know we have three really good players and, more than anything, how do we fit those three guys in and maximize who they are and how they help our offense?" Kingsbury said. "With Chase hopefully coming back soon, that's the challenge for the offensive staff, how can we get all three guys involved because all three guys can be dynamic and help us win."