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David Johnson Finds Room To Roam In Win Over 49ers

Cardinals' star running back succeeds under new OC Byron Leftwich

RB David Johnson looks for yardage on a screen pass.
RB David Johnson looks for yardage on a screen pass.

The Cardinals cautioned that Byron Leftwich wouldn't be a miracle worker in his debut against the 49ers.

Indeed, the new offensive coordinator did not feed thousands of people with five loaves of bread on Sunday -- but the way he fed one was certainly encouraging.

Star running back David Johnson tied his season-high in receiving yards and finished with 100 total in the 18-15 win at State Farm Stadium. He had 59 yards rushing on 16 carries and added four catches for 41 yards.

The Cardinals have talked often this season about getting Johnson untracked but failed to do so under former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Johnson looked better with Leftwich at the helm.

"I was really excited to see him get that ball and get in space, watch him move around," left tackle D.J. Humphries said.

Beyond the numbers, it was the way Johnson was used that left people like Humphries encouraged. Johnson ran to the outside more than in past games this season and was used on a variety of screen passes.

Johnson is one of the most unique running backs in the NFL, with the rare ability to pound the ball using his 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame, but also catch it out of the backfield and make defenders miss.

"I liked the way we used David tonight, in a number of ways," coach Steve Wilks said. "In the screen game, and getting him out to the perimeter. Byron did a great job of trying to utilize his talents."

Johnson entered the concussion protocol in the fourth quarter after taking a hit to the head and had to leave the game for a few plays. However, he re-entered the game down the stretch and Wilks said afterward he was fine.

Johnson is the Cardinals' top weapon on offense, and the opponent is often going to key on him. But by using him in screens and in other ways, Leftwich was able to find him avenues to excel.

"He has very good timing with a lot of his playcalls," quarterback Josh Rosen said. "He's got a good feel for how to mess around with defensive linemen and make sure they aren't pinning their ears back too much. A lot of credit is to him."

The Cardinals' offense will assuredly hit rough patches the rest of the way, but the return of Johnson to Pro Bowl form would undoubtedly be an important step in turning the corner.

"The dude is one of the biggest weapons in the NFL," Humphries said. "If we can get him rolling, we're going to activate our offense."

Images from the Week 8 matchup at State Farm Stadium