PFF stats show the good and bad of Cardinals offensive weapons

Feb 20, 2020, 11:05 AM | Updated: 11:06 am
From left to right: Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, TE Maxx Williams and RB David Johnson....
From left to right: Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, TE Maxx Williams and RB David Johnson.

Generally speaking, the 2019 season was a win for the Arizona Cardinals on the offensive side of the ball. Inviting Kliff Kingsbury to lead the team obviously helped the unit revert back to respectability after the 2018 squad put together a cringe-worthy statistical season.

Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray impacted the uptick, too, looking in-tune with the offensive changes and adjusting relatively quickly to the NFL. The offensive line stayed healthy and produced, lending to a balanced run-pass attack.

At the skill positions, however, two returning pieces and one underappreciated newcomer stood out to Pro Football Focus in statistical terms — and for good and bad reasons. In the website’s signature stat spotlight series, receiver Larry Fitzgerald and tight end Maxx Williams were among the elite players in terms of respective skills.

But running back David Johnson stood out for the wrong reasons, per PFF.

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson finished dead last in forced missed tackles per touch (0.08) and averaged just 2.05 yards after contact per attempt in 2019. Only Chicago Bears’ Tarik Cohen (1.94) recorded a lower yards after contact per attempt average. Johnson also ranked last in PFF Elusive Rating in 2019 at 17.4.

That the 5-foot-6, 191-pound Cohen joined the 6-foot-1, 224-pound Johnson among the worst performing backs when it came to yards after contact is a bit concerning.

The Cardinals could have come to the conclusion that Johnson was struggling without peeking those statistics. General manager Steve Keim noted the running back’s indecisiveness midseason, and Kingsbury phased Johnson out of the offense in favor of trade acquisition Kenyan Drake.

Johnson produced 370 yards as a receiver — Arizona continued to see his value in that role — but only 345 as a running back. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry when fellow backs Drake (5.2 yards per carry) and Chase Edmonds (5.1) seemed to thrive working in the NFL’s second-best rushing offense in terms of yards per carry.

Credit for that success on the ground could be directed toward Murray’s rushing abilities, the offensive line and the tight end room.

Williams, an offseason free agent addition, was the only Arizona player who earned a contract extension in the middle of the regular season. His contribution in the running game likely had everything to do with that. From PFF:

… Maxx Williams led all qualifiers at his position in PFF run-blocking grade (84.7) in 2019. He was also the only NFL tight end with 300-plus offensive snaps played that earned a PFF run-blocking grade above 80.0.

And it was not surprising that Fitzgerald, in his age 36 season, became Murray’s most prolific receiver, finishing with 804 receiving yards in 2019.

He wasn’t tagged with a drop all year long on a team-high 109 targets and was the only NFL player with more than 30 catchable balls who did not record a drop, according to PFF.

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PFF stats show the good and bad of Cardinals offensive weapons