The Arizona Cardinals have surprisingly struggled this season, but an MVP candidate emerged from the wreckage, and no it wasn’t Carson Palmer. Running back David Johnson has been unreal this year, gaining over 2,000 total yards and reaching at least 100 total yards in all 15 games. On Saturday, the Seattle Seahawks held him to just 3.4 yards per carry, but they also allowed three rushing touchdowns from inside the two-yard line and he finished with 136 total yards.
A large portion of the Cardinals running game is based on gap-style runs out of Singleback. In my tracking, 23 of the Arizona’s run plays involved him lining up seven yards behind the line of scrimmage where they either used 11 personnel with one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers or by using 12 personnel where the they substituted tight end (85) Darren Fells in for one of the receivers.
From a play selection standpoint, the Cards love running between the tackles allowing him to use his elusiveness and power to gain yards after contact. As soon as a defense starts committing too hard inside, Bruce Arians will call power sweeps or power tosses to horizontally stretch the defense and get Johnson to the sideline.
On his longest run of the day, he took this zone run from the playside C-gap all the way to the backside C-gap with a sharp backside cut. His vision is excellent with his ability to find the crease between the backside defender and the left tackle. He slips Michael Bennett’s tackle and is off to the races.
The Hawks defense actually did a good job of stopping Johnson on the ground for the vast majority of the game. In my tracking, the defense was able to hold Arizona to just 41 yards blocked by the offensive line. Johnson was the reason why he finished the game with 54 more rushing yards than his offensive line blocked for him by showcasing excellent vision and surprising power.
His best run in my opinion came on his fifth carry. The Cardinals run “pound draw”, sometimes called “Duo”, with a double team between the left guard and the left tackle. Based on the combination block on (93) Tony McDaniel, a seam barely opens up outside the left tackle. Johnson puts his head down and powers his way for an additional six yards after first contact by (31) Kam Chancellor. This play is incredible and shows why he has been so successful this season.
In my tracking, he only had one negatively run play and that was the fumbled handoff exchange out of Shotgun. Palmer puts the ball into his stomach and the ball bounced right out of his hands before he could completely secure it. Looking at the play, I think it’s very possible that Johnson would have been able to get into the second level even though the right tackle is late to recognize the stunt by (56) Cliff Avril.
Seattle has the second-ranked defense versus the run according to FootballOutsiders. The two standout defensive players from the Arizona game were defensive lineman (72) Michael Bennett and safety (31) Kam Chancellor. On multiple occasions, both players were able to meet Johnson in the backfield for a loss.
The Seahawks play the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday, without Carlos Hyde in the backfield since he tore his MCL. Hyde ran for over 100 yards and two touchdowns in their last meeting, but I don’t see the defense having trouble stopping them without him on the field. Looking towards the playoffs, the teams that have the greatest chance at being able to run the ball against Seattle are the Dallas Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliott and possibly the Washington Redskins with Robert Kelley.
As far as David Johnson is concerned, he consistently performed this season and deserves more recognition, especially when you look at how much more he does despite his offensive line at times, not because of them. He’s the type of player that the Seahawks have missed this season without Marshawn Lynch.