In the midst of a lost season, one of the concerns most heard out of Arizona Cardinals’ fans this year is, “What’s up with David Johnson?” As with the entire team, DJ has failed to live up to expectations this season. Many pundits pegged Johnson as the next running back to hit 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since Marshall Faulk did so during the Greatest Show on Turf’s heyday.
Despite those high hopes, David has struggled to even find the middle of the NFL’s rushers through the first half of the season. Physically, we can see he still has his speed, acceleration, and power, so what could the issue be?
The Play Calling
The root of the problem is rather simple: the coaching. The curse of Mike McCoy. Thankfully, last week the Cardinals parted ways with the struggling offensive coordinator, promoting ex-Jags QB Byron Leftwich to the position. The Cardinals’ struggles never should have even happened. McCoy has shown his offense has no imagination for years.
This season, McCoy had a penchant for calling runs from under center going straight up the gut. A lot. Other teams noticed, other players commented on it and he kept at it. It didn’t work. When in the backfield, Johnson has faced an average of 7.1 defenders in the box. That means defenses aren’t even bringing the eighth defender or blitzer on the vast majority of his carries.
With a QB under center, over 70 percent of DJ’s carries have gone inside for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. Out of the shotgun and on outside runs he’s averaging a respectable 4.4 yards. This makes sense when we look at the offensive line group above. The only two members of the line with decent numbers are on the outside, while the 3 interior lineman are each near the NFL basement.
Not all blame can be put on McCoy, however. Head coach Steve Wilks has to shoulder these mistakes, too. Bruce Arians may have been a smart enough offensive mind to make it work but Wilks isn’t. He made the choice to hire McCoy. He made the choice to ignore the offensive line woes that have been evident for years. When asking what’s up with David Johnson, the question must also be asked, “Where is his help?”
What’s up with David Johnson? Nothing. The cupboard around him is bare. Hopefully, new coordinator Byron Leftwich can get more creative in his play-calling but no amount of scheming is going to fix this line. The best case scenario is Leftwich calling a bigger variety of plays when the quarterback is under center and using shotgun formations more often. This could be a double boon, as rookie quarterback Josh Rosen seems to do better with a few steps to start between him and the defensive rushers.
This season is already lost. DJ could still work himself into a solid stat line, absolutely, but this team is going nowhere. It’s hard to watch a young all-pro player suffer because the staff didn’t do anything to help him out, but sadly that’s where we are. Don’t lose faith in David Johnson, the best is still in the future.