One can be forgiven for thinking that Arizona Cardinals third-year running back David Johnson was created in a covert Midwestern lab by some mad genius. Johnson is a chiseled, 6’1”, 225 pound cyborg who rose from the corn fields of Northern Iowa to take his place among the NFL elite.
I have no evidence that Johnson’s a cyborg. It’s just a hunch, and even Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7 this week, “You wonder if he’s real.” Johnson has the power to run over you, the speed to run around you, and an instinct to burst through just the right crack in the line and then jump-cut to the outside, buckling the knees of would be tacklers and leaving them strewn all over the field. In 2015, Johnson became just the fourth player in NFL history to post 500+ rushing yards, 400+ receiving yards, 500+ kickoff return yards and 13+ TDs in a season, joining greats like Maurice Jones-Drew and Gale Sayers.
Oh, and he only started five games all season.
Johnson is averaging five yards per carry this year and a hefty 13.3 as a receiver. He has rushed for an NFL-high eight TDs in the first six games. He is one of the most elusive backs in the league and even if you can get your hands on him, he’s averaging three yards per carry after first contact.
Scouts didn’t see this coming. Johnson was selected 86th in the 2015 draft out of the University of Northern Iowa. The school enjoys a strong liberal arts tradition, and publishes The North American Review, a celebrated literary magazine whose past contributors include Mark Twain, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Walt Whitman. The university is not, however, known for producing pro athletes; one could pen the complete list before Usain Bolt breaks the tape in the 100-meter dash.
The well-spoken Johnson made the dean’s list twice, and since being drafted he’s acquired a wife, a house and a dog, and the couple is expecting their first child in late January. He’s doing it all, on and off the field.
The franchise has piled heavy expectations on Johnson this season, and he’s shouldered them with an easy grace. He’s lifted the spirits of Cardinals fans who are still drifting on memories of last year’s aerial circus, with ringleader Carson Palmer spinning floaters and bombs to a skilled and speedy receiving corps that lit up scoreboards all over the league. This season Palmer’s numbers have dipped across the board, and with the exception of Larry Fitzgerald the pass catchers have been hobbled by injuries and under-performance. As a result, Arizona is leaning more heavily on the ground game. Johnson’s out front, carrying the ball and the banner.
Patrick Peterson is one of the toughest shutdown corners in the NFL, and seems to be part man, part beast. Now there’s proof: https://twitter.com/AZCardinals/status/788139269256654848/video/1
MONDAY NIGHT MASTERY
The defense swarmed over the NY Jets last Monday night with barbaric urgency. The Cards held the Jets to only 33 yards rushing and a single field goal. That performance and Johnson’s three TDs were more than enough for a solid 28-3 victory. Arizona has won two straight to pull even at 3-3 on the season, righting a foundering ship after a 1-3 start. Arizona is now 10-3 in prime time games under coach Bruce Arians.
BRING ON THE SEAHAWKS
Buoyed by their Monday night performance, the Cardinals will play under the lights again tonight when they host rival Seattle in a pivotal division matchup. A Cardinals victory would pull them within a half game of the division lead and extend their winning streak to three. A Seahawks win would give them a 2.5 game margin in the division. The Seahawks boast the league’s #1 defense, and QB Russell Wilson has found his footing after suffering ankle and knee injuries early in the year. He’s hitting on 66% of his passes and Seattle has averaged 30 points in its last three games. Arizona has to find a way to shut down the Seahawks and gut out a win in what may be a low scoring game.
The Cardinals have been a cordial host to Seattle in recent years, allowing the Seahawks to win their last three games in University of Phoenix Stadium. Frustrated cornerback Patrick Peterson was at a loss for words when asked why this week. “Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question,” he said. Coach Arians offered an explanation: “They beat the s— out of us.”
The players are hell-bent on halting the recent home slide against Seattle, and they’ve drawn a line in the desert sand. The biggest challenge will be to get the running game going, which has been thoroughly squelched in the recent home losses to Seattle.
Maybe David Johnson will somehow run wild against the Seahawks’ punishing defense. If he does and Arizona wins, as far as Johnson’s devotees are concerned he may as well just keep on running to Canton, OH and install himself as the first living exhibit in the NFL Hall of Fame.
He has the talent to get there someday. Why wait?
– Eric Forgaard
This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation