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Cardinals hope to keep building around overthinking David Johnson

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson stretches out with teammates prior to an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has maintained that getting the ball to David Johnson, or failing to, has been mostly about earning enough offensive snaps at all.

But Sunday in a 20-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the rate at which Arizona found its star running back was steeply improved. Of 56 offensive plays, 25 went to Johnson via a combined 22 rushes and three catches for 112 total yards.

“We’ve been talking about that way too long,” McCoy said Thursday.

The Cardinals can only hope their growing confidence in rookie quarterback Josh Rosen allows them to keep feeding Johnson on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

On a handful of plays last Sunday, Johnson lined up as a wide receiver, something he did regularly under former head coach Bruce Arians.

That fact got plenty of attention when Arians inserted himself into that conversation before the Seattle game. Joining the TD Fantasy Podcast, the former head coach and first-year CBS analyst criticized how the Cardinals used Johnson almost entirely out of the backfield.

But Arizona opened up the playbook — involving Johnson and beyond — as Rosen made his first start, allowing the offense to threaten the Seahawks vertically because of the quarterback’s arm strength. That opened up the run game, which in turn gave Johnson a rhythm, leading to sustained drives that McCoy hopes become more of a regular occurrence.

And that allowed McCoy to move Johnson around more than he had in the three prior games.

Johnson even lined up outside in the fourth quarter, using a crossing route with Chad Williams and then a spin move to avoid a tackle by safety Delano Hill, picking up a key third down as Arizona attempted to drive for a go-ahead score.

“I think that’s the biggest mismatch in the National Football League now with the Alvin Kamaras and the guys like that, the David Johnsons, who are able to split out on linebackers and safeties who just quite frankly can’t cover those guys,” Fitzgerald said.

Johnson’s use as a true receiver might end up helping out Fitzgerald, too. He has 15 catches for 141 yards so far this year and is on pace to set a career low in total receiving yards.

“Whenever you got to find him, he’s motioned out of the backfield on cross-motions, messing up their checks, things they might be wanting to do — blitzing,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re getting out of things to try to figure out where he’s at. Sometimes guys run free, just miscommunications, so it does open up other guys.”

But Johnson has been highly critical of his own plays in the last two weeks. Against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, he was pulled from the game on a pivotal third down for a mental error. Last weekend against Seattle, after his big catch, he took the blame for misreading a cut on a crucial 3rd-and-6 before a missed Arizona field goal led to a Seahawks drive that won the game.

“I guess coach says I overthink a little bit sometimes, especially when I’m involved in a play, thinking too much, trying to do too much sometimes,” Johnson said.

“That’s who I am. I’m always overthinking. Video games, hanging out with my son, being a father — I’m always overthinking.”

McCoy doesn’t see it as a bad thing. Being a perfectionist shouldn’t be.

At the same time: “Dave is a professional. Every week, every day at practice, every game, he wants to play the perfect game,” McCoy said. “You can’t do that. You strive for that obviously, but you’re going — there’s going to be some mistakes. He looks at every route, every carry, every protection and he looks at every little step and every little technique, but that’s what the great ones do.

“They’re critical, they take all the blame, regardless of whether it’s deserving or not.”


McCoy has taken heat for Arizona’s offensive woes that have the team 32nd in the NFL by averaging 9.3 points per game.

Even opening up the offense last week with Rosen leading the way brought criticism when Arizona opted to hand the ball to Johnson on the critical 3rd-and-6.

A former head coach himself, McCoy finds that criticism expected. And he’s over it.

“I’ve been in the business a long time,” McCoy said. “Since 2000 I’ve been doing this in all different roles. You learn it’s part of the business. If I can’t handle that, I shouldn’t be doing my job. I love what I do. Regardless of what happens from Sunday to Sunday, you come in Monday morning, and you work your tail off, you put that next plan together.

“You got to have thick skin. It’s a humbling business.”


Cardinals defensive coordinator Al Holcomb had a fine metaphor that he’s telling young linebackers like Haason Reddick as they continue to learn the intricacies of the NFL game and his scheme.

“In high school, they tell you, ‘There’s the ball, go get it.’ The college game is spread out. They spread you over the field, they do tempo, everyone’s trying to get lined up and go get the ball,” Holcomb said.

“In the NFL, we give you a map, for lack of a better term. Within the framework of our defense and the discipline within our defense, you need to navigate through that map in order to get to where you need to get to.”

Phillips Law Group


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