Cardinals Try To Find Some Balance With David Johnson, Red Zone

Running back David Johnson runs in for a touchdown during Sunday's loss in Baltimore.
Running back David Johnson runs in for a touchdown during Sunday's loss in Baltimore.

The Cardinals’ offense was actually pretty good in Baltimore Sunday.

It averaged 6.5 yards a play, sixth in the NFL. The Cardinals didn’t turn the ball over.

“What you want to see is improvement,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday, a day after the 23-17 loss to the Ravens. “We had some things we would like to have back on Sunday, but I feel like we progressed.”

What the Cardinals would like back were three trips that ended inside the Ravens’ 5-yard line that resulted in three field goals, a chance at some semblance of a running game and to never have a game in which running back David Johnson – an important cog in whatever the Cards are going to do this season – is a non-factor.

Johnson scored a touchdown on a one-yard run late in the game, but had only seven carries for 14 yards and caught one pass. He did miss a chunk of the first half after hurting his left wrist – Kingsbury said Monday Johnson should be fine for this weekend’s game against the Panthers – but it was a significant dropoff from what Johnson did Week 1.

It was striking, however, for the Cardinals to get so close to the end zone so many times and not rely on Johnson, especially after a similar situation played out Week 1 against the Lions. (On one of the drives close, Johnson was on the sideline with his wrist problem.)

Kingsbury said there was a system in place to decide whether to go for it on fourth down Sunday and that he never considered going for it, including on the initial trip to the Baltimore 4 on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter and the Cardinals trailing, 7-0. When the Cardinals were close, “we had chances to hit some things in the pass game,” Kingsbury said, only to have them not materialize.

The Cardinals have two touchdowns and six field goals in the red zone this season.

“I have to do a good job of not wasting plays when you’re in the red zone,” Kingsbury added. “You’ve got to make every play count, have a purpose for every play.”

It was a quiet Johnson in the locker room after the game, saying it was up the Kingsbury to make the decisions to run in the red zone. As far as the overall running game, Johnson said Sunday’s situations often dictated passing – and sometimes, Johnson’s own errors played into it.

“It is hard to run the ball when it is second-and-12 because I missed a blitz or missed a pressure (pickup),” Johnson said. “It is hard for the coach to run the ball on second-and-long, and then it becomes third-and-long, and no one is really going to call a run play then.” 

Kingsbury said he doesn’t know if there is any difference in the way Johnson is playing compared to his big season in 2016, although the coach noted “we haven’t gotten him in a rhythm.”

“We’ve got to get him going early and into the game more,” Kingsbury added.

It isn’t as if the Cardinals offense has been bad, certainly not to the extent of last season. They’ve scored on 8-of-15 possessions since starting the fourth quarter of Week 1 (after the initial three terrible quarters). They have been moving the ball.

There was always going to be a work-in-progress feel to this year. There were times Sunday, in the red zone and otherwise, when that showed up.

“I’m going to get adjusted to the NFL game the entire season as well,” Kingsbury said. “Rookie quarterback (and) this is the first time I’m calling plays in the league, so I have to wrap my mind around that, finding matchups and finding concepts that work.”

Some of the best images from the Week 2 matchup in Baltimore

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