Carson Palmer: Cardinals RB David Johnson plays best when in space

Sep 23, 2019, 9:57 AM | Updated: 2:28 pm

Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball between Tre Boston #33 a...

Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball between Tre Boston #33 and Donte Jackson #26 of the Carolina Panthers during the first half of the NFL football game at State Farm Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

If one was to rank the biggest issues facing the 0-2-1 Arizona Cardinals through three weeks of the 2019 season, there would probably be more pressing matters than running back David Johnson.

Still, he’s on pace to register 1,152 yards from scrimmage this season, which is a far cry from the 2,118 yards he had in 2016 as he excelled both in run plays and pass plays. Two head coaches and a carousel of offensive coordinators later, there’s still the burning question: How do the Cardinals get Johnson back to elite performance?

Johnson’s former quarterback, Carson Palmer, told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station that the issue might be found in the way Johnson is utilized, and not necessarily a matter of whether he’s still the same explosive back. The discussion came after a Cardinals loss to the Panthers on Sunday in which Johnson had 11 carries for 37 yards, and his longest run was 15 yards. Quarterback Kyler Murray ran for nearly twice that many yards.

Johnson has averaged 4.4 yards per touch this season, getting 83 receiving yards and 133 rushing yards for 216 total.

“Dave’s a great back, but Dave is built to be in space,” Palmer said. “The one thing I’d like to see him more is more opportunities to catch the ball in space, like his touchdown catch. You give him a little bit of wiggle room, nobody on the planet wants to see him in a one-on-one situation where they have to make a tackle like that. And that’s the one thing we haven’t seen a ton of, is just Dave out in space.

“He is a good downhill runner, he’s a good bounce runner, he’s a good zone scheme runner. But where Dave is one of the most elite backs that I’ve seen in my time is when you have him out in space getting him on little screens. You remember him his first couple years, he was returning kickoffs for touchdowns when he had space against Chicago. He caught that game-winner at home on the season-opener against the Saints, where he just had space. He just was running a simple drag route that, you know, I threw the ball six yards and he ran 60.”

Those kinds of designs, Palmer said, were part of the style of former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. But now under Kliff Kingsbury, perhaps the system isn’t designed for Johnson to be utilized in space that same way.

So should Kingsbury change things up?

“That’s the catch-22,” he said. “There’s so many guys you’re trying to fit in to one package. Yes, I would love to see more of that, but I love Coach Kingsbury’s system. The ball is out quick, they can still take shots, they can still take advantage of Kyler’s legs. Larry’s off to a phenomenal start, which, Larry might be one of the most difficult players to get off to a start, because everybody’s going to focus on Larry.”

Presented By
Western Governors University

Presented By
Western Governors University

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinal wins the Topham Handicap Chase race on the second day of the Grand National Festiv...

Tyler Drake

High horse: Arizona Cardinal takes home Topham Handicap Chase victory

Given the same namesake as the NFL team, Arizona Cardinal finished first in the Topham Handicap Chase on Friday morning.

2 days ago

Monti Ossenfort could control the draft if he trades the No.4 pick, NFL Draft insider Matt Miller s...

Bailey Leasure

ESPN’s Miller: It would take a ‘Trey Lance’ trade package to move Cardinals out of No. 4

NFL Draft insider Matt Miller thinks the Arizona Cardinals could control the 2024 NFL Draft if they decide to trade down.

2 days ago

Presented By...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Arizona Cardinals in good spot with No. 4 pick in 2024 NFL Draft

The Arizona Cardinals have a lot of leverage when it comes to their No. 4 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Burns & Gambo talk about what could be if other teams give GM Monti Ossenfort a call about it.

2 days ago

Nate Wiggins #DB42 of Clemson participates in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil ...

Damon Allred

Arizona Cardinals could trade up from No. 27 for a cornerback, ESPN says

After some successful maneuvering a year ago, Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort is poised to do the same in the 2024 NFL Draft.

2 days ago

Darius Robinson makes a tackle...

Tyler Drake

Cardinals address 2 big defensive needs in Mel Kiper Jr.’s 2-round NFL mock draft

The Arizona Cardinals added a pass rusher and a cornerback in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest two-round mock NFL Draft.

3 days ago

Marvin Harrison Jr. looks on...

Tyler Drake

Mel Kiper Jr. still has Cardinals landing Marvin Harrison Jr. in latest NFL mock draft

Marvin Harrison Jr. is still the answer for the Cardinals at No. 4 overall following a run of quarterbacks in Mel Kiper's latest mock draft.

4 days ago

Carson Palmer: Cardinals RB David Johnson plays best when in space