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Panthers loss shows Cardinals must re-evaluate how to use Johnson

Few running backs have been as electrifying as the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson, that is until he was stopped on the ground against the Carolina Panthers in a 30-20 loss. Every player should be given at least one pass per season, as they’re all bound to have peaks and valleys. But for the most part, it seems Johnson hasn’t really peaked. His output over 100 yards from scrimmage every game seems to be a plateau, there’s still more in him the Cardinals have not extracted.

The game against the Panthers was certainly one of the valleys as he rushed just 10 times for 24 yards. He also added seven receptions for 84 yards to save face, but that almost makes the situation heading into the bye week even more concerning.

This isn’t the first time the Cardinals have collectively struggled playing in Charlotte but Johnson was still allowed to flourish in every facet. The first was in the NFC Championship game last year, when the Cards lost 49-15, yet their play selection remained closer to the season average at 43 passes to 16 rushes — Johnson still strung together a game with 128 total yards and touchdown. Still a deviation from the mean, but not as drastic as the 54 Carson Palmer dropbacks to just 10 carries from Johnson, the only runs for the day.

But this limitation in play-calling may have been alluded to by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

“He’s a guy that we’ve got to make sure we monitor as we move forward that we don’t burn the wheels off of him,” Goodwin said via AZCentral Sports‘ Kent Somers.

Coach Bruce Arians also said he would like to get Andre Ellington in on more plays. Ellington was in for a few plays but only managed one reception being targeted once by Palmer. That too didn’t stray far from the typical strategy from the Cardinals, as Ellington had only 19 touches in seven games before playing the Panthers. Stepfan Taylor received only four carries in four games.

It’s partly been a problem that Johnson has been so good that it can’t be afforded to not have him on the field. He is certainly the most complete running back in the league right now, if not the best most weeks. Chris Johnson (hernia) being on the injured reserve certainly does not help the situation, but as showcased (or the lack thereof) against the Panthers, someone has to chip in so teams can’t keep picking up on a one-dimensional offense like the Cardinals were Sunday.

As stated before, Ellington has been used and Arians wants to use him. It will be a complete mystery if those ambitions aren’t followed through after the bye week facing the San Francisco 49ers, who provide a great opportunity to test out new strategies tested over the break.

Not too long ago, Ellington himself was the boy wonder everyone was excited about with his versatility. Johnson has elevated that status with an element of power added to his oeuvre. But Ellington still has roughly the same set of skills that helped him rush for over six yards a carry last year and has an average career reception of nine yards.

The disadvantage, of course, is that putting in a new running back so physically different from Johnson alerts teams to a new gameplan. But as shown by the Panthers, Johnson by himself can turn stale.

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