TEMPE, Ariz. — Through seven games, Chris Johnson looked like one of the NFL’s biggest steals, as he totaled 567 yards and three touchdowns on 111 attempts, giving him an average of 5.11 yards per tote.
His last two games, however, have not been nearly as productive, with the veteran running back tallying 167 yards on 55 carries, which is good for an average of 3.04 yards per run.
The 30-year-old’s overall season numbers are still strong, with Johnson ranking second in the league in rushing yards, but his struggles the last two games — and especially last Sunday in Seattle, where he gained just 58 yards on 25 carries — has led some to wonder if the running back is starting to wear down.
“I’ll take a little bit of blame for last week,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I think going into Seattle, they’re a team that’s hard to run sideways (against) and one of the things Chris likes to do is run those outside zone plays and you could tell we didn’t run that many.”
Goodwin said the game plan against the Seahawks called for more runs up the middle, ensuring that even if the team did not gain a lot of yards on the play, at least the offense was not moving backwards.
“Last thing you want to do is run sideways on Seattle because they have so much team speed on defense and we just wanted to make sure we got positive yards every time we ran the ball,” he said. “I think we had two negative plays out of all the runs we ran. Other than that, I was satisfied.
“But I’m sure he’s hungry to get chunks, we’ve got to get back to that so hopefully we can get them this weekend.”
Indeed, the Cardinals only lost yardage on two of their running plays, and that Johnson carried the ball 25 times may be more of an indicator of just how effective he was. Though he wasn’t breaking long runs, he was helping to move the chains for a team that scored 39 points.
Even though the personal numbers are down, Johnson feels like he’s running as well as he was earlier in the season.
“Every game is not going to be 100, 150-yard games,” he said. “There are going to be some games you’ve got to get dirty, get the dirty yards and stick your nose in there. I feel like the Seattle game was one of those type of games, it was a bloodbath and I feel like we left a lot of yards out there, but when it counted, four-minute offense and when we needed to get a first down and all that, I think we did well and executed on those plays.”
For the season, Johnson has carried the ball 166 times for 734 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, with the New York Jets, he ran the ball 155 times, so he’s not only surpassed that total, but is well on his way toward shattering it.
He probably will not get close to his career-high carry total of 358, which he set in 2009 with the Tennessee Titans, but Johnson, who said he feels about as good as he should at this point in the season, is not worried about getting beat up.
“The carries are not really nothing,” he said. “The carries are not bearing on me or anything like that. The last two games I got a lot of carries, but I think it kind of balances out. The first six or seven games my carries were right around 15, 16 carries a game, and I just think even though those last two games were a lot of carries, it kind of balances out throughout the season. And this coaching staff, they know the right things to do and how to keep us fresh and get us ready for game day.”
That means along with Johnson, both Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson will see a fair amount of snaps. In Seattle, Chris Johnson was on the field for 49, Ellington 35 and David Johnson eight. That distribution will vary depending on game flow, but if nothing else, it shows the Cardinals have plenty of options when it comes to running the football.
And if one of those options has better numbers than Johnson — as was the case Sunday when Ellington totaled 61 yards on just five carries, one of which was a 48-yard touchdown — that’s fine. Really, it’s all part of the plan.
“Ever since he’s been playing, every time he comes in he makes explosive plays if it’s in the passing game or the running game,” Johnson said. “Last game it just shows you like when I was in there getting all the tough yards and battling all game long, and then for him to come in fresh to be able to break it long, when you have games like that it’s not going to be the type of game where it’s a lot of wide-open holes and stuff like that.
“You’ve got to wear defenses down and I kind of think we wore them down and he was able to come in there and break a long one.”