TEMPE, Ariz. – Already without safety Tyrann Mathieu, the Arizona Cardinals can ill afford another absence in the secondary, especially if that vacancy is the spot occupied by starter Rashad Johnson, going into this week’s matchup against Green Bay.
If Mathieu is the heart of the defense, that emotional leader, then Johnson is the brains, the proverbial quarterback, signaling in the calls and getting everyone in the right position.
Johnson did not practice for a second straight day on Thursday, and he has not been on the field since hurting his ankle versus Minnesota.
While his teammates continued to prepare for the Packers, Johnson was once again working out on the side with a trainer.
“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling better. Today was the best day that I felt,” he said, standing in front of his locker. “Hopefully get an opportunity to practice some tomorrow and hopefully get the ‘go’ from the training staff and the Coach (Bruce Arians) on Sunday.
“If the progress continues like it’s been going for the past week-and-a-half like it did from yesterday to today on to Friday on to Sunday, then, yeah, I’ll be able to play on Sunday.”
Johnson had not missed a game in two years prior to him being sidelined at Philadelphia.
“It was weird,” he said. “You want to be on the field, you want to do everything you can do to help your guys win. I just love to be involved and be in the action.”
Without Johnson, the Cardinals defense appeared to struggle at times.
Both the Eagles touchdowns occurred amidst confusion in the secondary.
On Zach Ertz’s 22-yard second-quarter score that tied the game at 10, the Cardinals had only 10 men on the field. They failed to get a timeout called though replays clearly showed the 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell signaling for one.
Later in the fourth quarter, Sam Bradford and Jordan Matthews hooked up for a 78-yard score, the second-longest touchdown allowed by the Cardinals this season.
Matthews was wide open on the play.
“I don’t know if it does or doesn’t (happen if Johnson was on the field), but it was a breakdown,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “That stung a little bit.”
Bettcher said Philadelphia’s up-tempo offense forces opposing defenses to communicate fast. That’s an area Johnson excels at, and without him, others were forced into a situation that was somewhat new.
In other words, valuable experience was gained, meaning they’ll be more prepared going forward, according to Bettcher.
“This week it’ll be a little bit of that again, so last week, as I looked at it, was a great way for us to improve our communication in those situations when Rashad is not in,” he said.
Johnson, now in his seventh season, is tied for the team-lead with five interceptions, has the fourth-most passes defensed (eight) and sixth-most tackles (56).
It’s what’s between the ears that can’t be quantified.
Mathieu’s loss is huge, yes; Johnson’s availability, or potential lack thereof, would be just as significant, if not more so.
“Guys are really locked in to getting the job done,” Johnson said. “We’re missing Ty a tremendous lot, I mean a brother to us, wish he was around; just the person of him, not so much as the football player….everybody has been focused to detail and a lot of urgency about what we’re trying to do this week.
“Two wins to get in the Super Bowl instead of three. I’d rather go two instead of three. For us, we want to get a home-field game. We know how great our crowd is and how well we play at home. But at the end of the day, none of that matters if we don’t take care of Sunday.”
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