Going into Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, Cardinals coach Steve Wilks appeared very aware that the team would benefit by manufacturing more touches for running back David Johnson.
By quantity, they did decently in a loss, putting the ball in his hands 16 times.
But quality-wise, Johnson gained just 31 yards on 12 carries and caught four passes for 30 more yards, including a 21-yard touchdown.
His absence from the field on a 3rd-and-2 run play in the fourth quarter, however, marred any improvements in how Arizona’s first-year coaching staff is implementing the running back in the game plan. Former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, now an analyst with CBS Sports, wasn’t shy in his criticism of how Arizona is using Johnson when he joined the TD Fantasy Podcast on Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s going to get any worse,” Arians said when asked about the team turning to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. “It can only be better, I would think right now, pushing the ball up the field. I just don’t like the use of David Johnson in this offense. David Johnson is a premier wide receiver and I don’t see him out of the backfield creating the mismatches that he should be out creating and opening up things for Larry Fitzgerald.
“David Johnson, people didn’t realize, he opened up stuff for Larry Fitzgerald because he was used in the slot opposite, or we always put him in position to be opposite of Larry and pick your poison,” Arians added. “I got to see David Johnson being used properly for Josh Rosen to even be effective.”
Johnson has taken his relatively sluggish start to 2018 in stride. The 26-year-old is averaging 38.7 rushing yards (11.3 carries) and 21 receiving yards per game.
Before the Cardinals’ 16-14 loss to Chicago on Sunday, he even gave the counterargument for being used as a receiver more out of the backfield than out of the slot.
“Two different coaching styles,” Johnson said, comparing Arians’ offense to new Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s. “I’m not being split out more but I’m … doing routes out of the backfield, being utilized that way. Like I said, the offensive scheme is different.
“I think coming out of the backfield actually, I feel like I’m more likely to have a linebacker on me compared to being split out.”