David Johnson has quietly been one of the most valuable players in the NFL this season. Despite the Arizona Cardinals overall struggles, Johnson has been a beacon of hope for the future. Johnson has built upon an impressive rookie season and emerged into a crucial role in the Cardinals offense. He leads the team in rushing yards, and is second to only Larry Fitzgerald in receiving this season.
In Sundays matchup against the Washington Redskins, the Cardinals utilized Johnson to his fullest potential as he led the team in both rushing and receiving yards and the Cardinals pulled off an upset against an impressive Redskins team.
Johnson rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries Sunday, 4.6 yards per carry, and although he never broke off for any huge runs, it’s his ability to always manage to fight his way downfield on every carry that makes him such a threat out of the backfield.This is due to both his patience and agility coming out of the backfield allowing him to find holes in the defense to exploit, turning plays that could be nothing more than getting back to the line of scrimmage into a decent pickup to keep the offense moving.
On this third quarter play, Johnson was initially supposed to run between the right tackle and guard. The Redskins defense read the play well, and were all over it. John Wetzel (#73) and Ulrick John (#75) failed to open up any sort of running room for Johnson. Johnson realizes he has no space, and instead of attempting to power through the line for minimal gain, he quickly cuts back towards his left.
After finding room to his left, he quickly makes a move back towards his right to avoid the tackle from the Redskins Preston Smith (#94), and manages to burst forward for 4 yards before Smith trips him up.
Johnson’s patience, agility and quick thinking turned a broken play into a short gain, and got his team closer to the endzone in a tight game.
The Cardinals running back showed off his vision and agility again on a 13 yard run in the fourth quarter.
Johnson takes the hand off out of the backfield, and immediately finds a hole. He then slips through Will Compton (#51) and Ziggy Hood (#90), and cuts up field. A quick short hop to his right helps him avoid a closing down Bashaud Breeland (#26). He then has to shift left again to dodge Josh Norman (#24) who has dove on the ground towards him. Johnson then has to make another cut right as defenders approach him from behind. He fights through Will Blackmon (#41) who needed help from an incoming Quinton Dunbar (#47) to finally bring him down.
This play serves as a testament to Johnson’s vision and field awareness, and his overall athleticism.
Johnson’s skill in open field also translates into the Cardinals passing game. His ability to find space and his awareness of approaching defenders makes him a valuable target to throw screens to.
The Cardinals go ahead touchdown came on a 25 yard catch and run by Johnson on a screen, where he yet again showed off his prowess in the open field.
After catching a pass from Carson Palmer (#3), Johnson bursts through the hole created by his two lead blockers, and sprints down field beating everyone to the endzone for a touchdown.
From this angle it is clear how close Mason Foster (#54) came to turning this play into nothing more than a short gain. Foster comes from his position unblocked, and if not for a quick move towards his right by Johnson, Foster would have managed to trip him up. Duke Ihenacho (#29) is just out of reach as Johnson blows by him and the rest of the Redskins defense for a crucial score.
David Johnson did not have a perfect game, though. His vision and agility usually leads him to finding any hole that may open up in the defense for him to exploit, but his vision failed him late in the first quarter.
On this run, Johnson has a huge hole open up in front of him, but as Will Compton forces his way through a block, he partially closes it. Johnson then turns his attention towards space that has opened up on his right. If Johnson had looked towards his left there was still room to force his way through the middle and up the field for a bigger gain.
Johnson shifts towards the hole on his right, which is quickly occupied by Josh Norman. He now has nowhere to go, and Norman makes a tackle. Despite his error, Johnson still managed to gain four yards on the play, showing even on a broken play he can create something to keep the offense rolling.
The Cardinals have had their fair share of issues this season, and while they had lofty goals to begin the year they are most likely now turning their attention towards the future. They still have a decent team, and David Johnson is a key piece in the offense that they could potentially build a franchise around. Johnson may be one of the best players in the NFL, and he is only getting started.
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