NFL.com: David Johnson rarely saw stacked boxes when running the ball
There should be no disputing or disparaging of the season David Johnson just put together.
The second-year running back tallied at least 100 total yards from scrimmage in the team’s first 15 games and led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,118) and touchdowns (20). He also came painstakingly close to becoming just the third player with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season in what was truly a campaign to remember, and at just 25 years old it would seem that this is just the beginning.
But while Johnson is no doubt talented and driven, part of his success unsurprisingly stems from the system he is in and the players with whom he takes the field.
Buried in a Matt Harmon story for NFL.com about running backs who were the best in 2016 at going against stacked boxes is the fact that Johnson was just 17th in the NFL with an average of 3.12 yards per carry in such plays.
So, how did he still have the kind of season he did?
Given how historically dominant his 2016 campaign was, it is more than a little interesting to find him so low in this metric. However, he saw the fewest percentage (18.4 percent) of his non-red zone carries against eight-plus defenders in the box. This is likely due to the Cardinals calling 52.1 percent of their run plays out of the three-wide receiver set.
Simply put, teams rarely stacked the box against the Cardinals.
As noted, part of this likely had to do with Arizona’s propensity for using many receivers on a given play, which would of course cause defensive backs or linebackers to leave the box in order to match up with Arizona’s play design.
There is also the fact that Arizona ranked ninth in the NFL in passing offense, with Carson Palmer’s 282 passing yards per game ranking sixth in the NFL, and therefore was something defenses had to be mindful of when preparing for the Cardinals.
To a large degree, there was a certain level of “pick your poison” — which is the goal of any offense — and there is no doubt Arizona’s effectiveness through the air aided Johnson on the ground.