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Cardinals find remedy in Johnson and Johnson

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Last week, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to avoid putting too much on running back David Johnson’s plate.

Arians wanted to avoid overloading the rookie and said he would gradually increase Johnson’s role if circumstances warranted.

Well, circumstances may warrant it. Johnson, a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, has been sensational. In the season opener, he took a short pass 55 yards for a touchdown. And in the victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears, he returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown.

At that point Johnson had touched the ball three times in NFL games and scored twice.

Later, he rushed 13 yards for another score.

Johnson spent much of training camp standing on the sideline with a hamstring injury. This seemed to irritate Arians at times, and the club signed free agent Chris Johnson to bolster depth at the position.

With Andre Ellington out with a knee injury, the running back position is being manned by Johnson and Johnson.

David Johnson is the more explosive of the two. He’s 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, yet moves effortlessly for such a big man.

“He’s just special,” said quarterback Carson Palmer. “It doesn’t look like he’s moving as fast as he is. He’s such a long strider, such a powerful strider, it almost looks effortless. A couple of times he had a nice toss sweep on the outside, and it was almost as if he was just cruising.”

Johnson looked like that on the kickoff return, the longest in franchise history. He waited patiently for his wedge blockers, Josh Mauro and Ed Stinson, to block, then saw an opening to his left.

Just like that, he was gone. It was his second kickoff return of the year. He gained 43 yards on the first, giving him an average of about 75 yards per return.

“I start to look for leverages, look for holes, first off,” Johnson said of returning kicks. “Then I worry about catching balls and getting yards. I could see great blocks. Everyone was on his guy.”

With Ellington out, Johnson is the primary receiver among running backs. He does that well, too. He arrived at Northern Iowa as a receiver and was moved to running back that first year.

Johnson catches the ball naturally and obviously does something with it afterward.

“His role will continue to increase every week,” Arians said.

No kidding.

–Right tackle Bobby Massie returns this week from a two-game suspension, and coaches will decide in the coming days if he will immediately regain his starting job. Earl Watford has been decent in Massie’s place. He is a better run blocker, but he has given up some pressures on the quarterback.

Elsewhere on the front wall, left guard Mike Iupati could return to action this week after undergoing knee surgery in camp. Iupati practiced on a limited basis last week. The Cardinals play his old team, the 49ers, this week, so that might be a motivating factor for Iupati.

Notes: Wide receiver J.J. Nelson suffered a shoulder injury and will miss two to four weeks, Arians said. Nelson is the team’s fifth receiver and also the punt returner. Patrick Peterson could assume more punt return duties with Nelson out. … Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (shoulder) will miss some practice time this week. … Defensive end/linebacker Josh Mauro earned a game ball for his performance against the Bears.

REPORT CARD VS. BEARS

–PASSING OFFENSE: A — The Cardinals passed for only 185 yards, but quarterback Carson Palmer had four touchdowns, three to receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Receiver John Brown drew two pass interference calls that cost the Bears 80 yards. The Cardinals scored after each interference penalty.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B — The Cardinals gained 115 yards, the second consecutive week in which they surpassed 100 yards. Chris Johnson started at running back in place of Andre Ellington and was decent. Johnson didn’t have a ton of room to run and gained 72 yards on 20 carries. Rookie David Johnson gained 42 yards on five carries, including a 13-yard touchdown.

–PASS DEFENSE: B plus — Jay Cutler completed 8 of 9 passes before suffering a hamstring injury. That injury came after safety Tony Jefferson intercepted a Cutler pass, and Cutler tried to tackle him. The Cardinals blew a coverage early that gave the Bears their only score through the air.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The Bears hurt the Cardinals in the second quarter with the read option. There were too many gaps left open, especially up the middle. The Bears finished with 109 yards on 28 carries.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Rookie David Johnson returned the opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, the longest in team history. But punt returner J.J. Nelson muffed a kick and the Bears recovered. Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra-point attempt.

–COACHING: B — The Cardinals have scored touchdowns on all eight of their red-zone possessions this season. Having numerous playmakers is a factor, but so are the plays being called by Arians. He used screens and motions to create favorable matchups. The run game also is vastly better in the red zone. Defensively, the Cardinals were slow to adjust to the Bears’ success on the ground. Offensively, the Cardinals played sloppy at the end of the first half for the second consecutive week.


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