Cards 'finally' feeding David Johnson the ball more



The above word is likely what any Arizona Cardinals fan yelled -- any fan of good football in general, really -- while watching David Johnson's usage skyrocket in Week 10.

The Cards running back had a season-high 28 touches in the loss to the Chiefs, and was finally utilized heavily in as a pass-catcher both from the backfield and split wide (7 receptions for 85 yards and a TD).

Johnson's underutilization this season was maddening, and a key reason offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired. Coming off the team's bye week, it was clear new OC Byron Leftwich had spent the week installing more plays to get the ball to his best player.

"Me and Leftwich have been talking and we've been communicating about trying to find ways to get me the ball and he did a great job," Johnson said Wednesday, via the Arizona Republic. "I felt real comfortable, got a good rhythm going this last game, and it felt good."

Johnson's usage on Sunday stood in stark contrast to how he was employed in the previous weeks this season:

First 8 games: 18.3 touches per game; 75.1 scrimmage YPG; 3.2 rush YPG
Week 10: 28 touches; 183 scrimmage yards; 4.7 rush YPG

It's no coincidence that the Cardinals have improved the past two games under Leftwich, generating almost 3 points more per game and 70 yards per game more than with McCoy.

No one will mistake the Cardinals struggling operation for the high-flying Rams, but getting Johnson the pigskin more is a step in the right direction.

"I hope so. I definitely hope so," Johnson said when asked if his increased workload would continue. "And I think it will. I think it will as Leftwich gets more comfortable being the OC and everybody gets more comfortable playing together and hopefully, staying healthy. If that happens, then it definitely will lead to that."

Teammates know that the dual-threat running back is their best weapon, one that needs to be exploited all over the formation to create mismatches that will elevate pressure on rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.

"It felt good to see David get back to doing what he's done," rookie center Mason Cole said. "We're really excited for him, we're happy for him. Byron's finally calling the plays that he thinks we're good at and David's obviously a big part of that, so it was really good to see."

There is that 'finally' word again.

Sunday's opponent, Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, knows that a player like Johnson can be a matchup nightmare.

"Johnson is what you're looking for," the Raiders' head coach said Wednesday during a conference call when asked what he likes about the fourth-year star. "I mean, he's a game-breaking back, he can take a short pass the distance, he can bang in there for critical yards and short yardage, he can end the game, breaking tackles.

"He's a joker. I call him a joker. He can line up in any hand. You can put him in the I-formation. You can off-set him in the shotgun. You can line him up at wide receiver or the shotgun. He's just a complete modern day back. He's what we're all looking for."

Sadly, it took half a season and a coordinator change for the Cardinals to see the light.