Arizona’s run game is one of the worst in the NFL. It’s red zone offense has been inefficient. Points have been hard to come by.
So where do the Cardinals miss Johnson the most?
“Where don’t we miss David?” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Nowhere in particular. Everywhere.
“From the week preparing to play against us when you’ve got to get your defensive guys in the mindset that you’ve got to stop him, to the passing game, the running game, red zone and third down. He was such a big part of our red zone package. He was the focus of our red zone package and such a big part of our third-down stuff. Not just third-and-2 to -3, but third-and-7 to -10 and third-and-4 to -6. He was such a big part of it. When you lose him, I can’t put my finger on one spot.”
With Johnson sidelined with a fractured wrist suffered in Week 1 at Detroit, the Cardinals have turned to an army of other players to fill Johnson’s role in various situations. Andre Ellington has seen an increase of routes out of the backfield, especially on third down. Chris Johnson has become Arizona’s bell cow.
“You take the best player off any team in the National Football League, offense and defense, it’s going to be an adjustment," Larry Fitzgerald said.
Where does Arizona miss Johnson the most? Let’s take a look.
Johnson ran for 1,239 yards last season, the fifth-highest season total in franchise history and the seventh-most in the league in 2016. It’s fair to say his are large shoes to fill.
The Cardinals have run for 228 yards this season, which are the second-fewest in the NFL through Week 4. Their 2.65 yards per rush average is last in the league.
Through four games last season, Johnson had 300 yards and averaged 4.69 yards per carry.
“Being where we are in rushing in the league is unacceptable,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.
With Johnson healthy last season, the Cardinals ran 96 times for 403 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games, with a long of 45. They had 234 yards before contact and 169 yards after contact, along with 21 first downs.
Through four games this year, including most of one with Johnson, Arizona has 86 carries for 228 yards and one touchdown with a long of 14. They have 129 yards before contact and 99 yards after contact, along with 13 first downs.
“The good thing about David being in the backfield is that even when the play’s not blocked completely right, he still gets yards,” tight end Troy Niklas said. “I think that’s where we’re missing him, if I can pinpoint something. When things don’t go right on the front of the line, we’re missing those yards, like yards after contact and stuff like that that he was able to get us.”
Goodwin said just the type of running back Johnson is could “bring more life to the offense.”
The Cardinals have had few problems this season moving the ball between the 20s. It’s when they enter the red zone that Arizona can’t find ways to score.
The Cardinals have scored four touchdowns this season, the fourth-fewest in the league. They’re also ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, rushes, yards per rush and first downs. Last season, with Johnson, Arizona struggled with just completion percentage and yards per pass attempt in the first four games.
However, Arizona’s success in the run game last season carried over into the red zone.
This season, the Cardinals have rushed the ball just 11 times for 20 yards in the red zone for an average of 1.82 yards per carry and one touchdown. A year ago, with a healthy Johnson, Arizona had 22 carries for 57 yards, an average of 2.66 yards per carry and three touchdowns in the first four games.
Johnson was responsible for 13 carries for 27 yards in the red zone. He averaged 2.08 yards per carry and scored twice in the first four games of last season.
“He was just kind of a sure bet” in the red zone, Niklas said. “Just give him the ball, and whether it’s him running a route or him running it in, it’s a pretty sure bet there.”