David Johnson Battles Back, But Proves Key To Cardinals' Offense

Running back David Johnson churns out some yards Sunday in Cincinnati.
Running back David Johnson churns out some yards Sunday in Cincinnati.

The Cardinals had 266 yards rushing Sunday in Cincinnati, and 156 total yards from running back David Johnson – a departure from what had been seen from coach Kliff Kingsbury previously.

“When you get in the league (as a playcaller), you go with what’s working,” Johnson said Sunday after the Cardinals’ 26-23 win, their first of the season.

What was working, among other things, was Johnson. That’s why the tightness in his back that Johnson dealt with much of the game remains a concern, even as Johnson was able to finish and even make a crucial 24-yard catch on the game-winning drive.

Kingsbury wouldn’t rule out the possibility Johnson could miss this week’s game against the Falcons – “There’s always a chance” – but said that wouldn’t be known until the week plays out. Johnson, for his part, said after the game he’d be fine.

“I was impressed with his toughness,” Kingsbury said Monday. “But we have to wait and see how he recovers.”

There have been weeks where Johnson hasn’t produced what the Cardinals had hoped. But he remains a key factor in the Cardinals’ offense. Kingsbury said Johnson is still learning the best way in which to operate within Kingsbury’s schemes, and yet “we’re getting a lot of production out of him and that was the goal going into it.”

Johnson has a team-high 264 yards rushing and is averaging 4.1 yards a carry. He’s tied with Christian Kirk for second on the team with 24 catches for 247 yards, averaging better than 10 yards a reception. He already has five catches of at least 20 yards this season – including a pair Sunday – whereas he had just six all year last season, when the coaching staff couldn’t seem to find a way to get Johnson loose as a receiver down the field.

Johnson shrugs off whether he’s getting carries or targets – “Wherever I’m needed,” he said – but he was a guy the Cardinals were going to need to lean on for the offense. With Kirk out with an ankle injury (Kingsbury said Kirk might be able to practice this week), it’s arguable that the Cards’ best two offensive weapons are Johnson and backup running back Chase Edmonds, who gained 68 yards rushing on eight carries Sunday and added another three receptions.

Kingsbury said Edmonds has “earned” playing time, and that the Cardinals “are better when he is on the field, and David are on the field.”

With the way Johnson and Edmonds and quarterback Kyler Murray (a team-high 93 yards rushing Sunday) carried the ball, it would seem the Cards could use that blueprint more often. Kingsbury definitely changed his approach in Cincinnati and with Kirk sidelined, getting tight ends Charles Clay (44 snaps) and Maxx Williams (43) more offensive work, and dialing back of all people, Larry Fitzgerald, who had 57 snaps – 74 percent of the plays.

Kingsbury wasn’t committing to anything, however.

“We will change up as much as we need to change up to try and be effective offensively,” Kingsbury said, noting that the big running statistics had more to do with the Cardinals playing with a lead. “We’d like to be more balanced, mix things up, and we’ll see if that continues.”

It would help if Johnson is healthy to do so. If he can’t play this week, Edmonds would slide into a much bigger role, although the Cardinals have just one other running back on the roster right now – D.J. Foster – and it would seem likely they would consider signing another body this week, even if it is for the practice squad.

“If my number is called, I’ll try to make plays for this offense,” Edmonds said Monday. “You’ve got to come in and the standard is the standard. I pride myself on that. David is a mannequin. He’ll be fine. I’m sure they are just being cautious.”

BROCK, KIRK INJURIES

Kingsbury said starting cornerback Tramaine Brock will have to be monitored this week after hurting his shoulder, but his status is up in the air. As for Kirk, Kingsbury reiterated he doesn’t want to rush the receiver back.

“I like the progress,” Kingsbury said. “We’re going to try to get as much as we can out of him, but we’re going to be safe at the same time.”

A chronological look at the Cardinals' fifth regular season game against the Bengals.

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