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Chris Johnson 'drastically' changing defenses' approach to Arizona Cardinals offense

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Having an every-down running threat has really changed how the offense performs.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals offense has had talent for a few years, but it has never performed at the level it has this season. They are moving the ball almost at will. Yes, the passing game is clicking, but there is a huge reason why the offense is humming this year. It is running back Chris Johnson.

Johnson is second in the NFL in rushing yards. He is on pace for nearly 1300 yards on the season. In three different games so far this season, he has surpassed 100 yards on the ground.

He is also getting yards in chunks. According to Pro Football Focus, 42 percent of his yards come from runs of more than 15 yards.

It is this running threat that has made the offense nearly unstoppable.

Cardinals starting quarterback Carson Palmer said having Johnson in the lineup has "drastically" changed the looks defenses are giving the Cardinals.

"There are a handful of plays that Chris has just ripped off that are just as painful as a long pass from a defensive mentality," he explained. "You've got to put another guy in the box.

'If you leave somebody just barely blocked or half blocked, Chris will make that arm tackle miss or he'll make that guy completely miss. So we have seen a lot more loaded boxes and fronts that are just diving for the run."

This is something Cardinals fans know has never really happened. The running game has always been weak and, as such, teams were able to defend the pass better.

The success of Johnson opens things up. Play action is working so well for Arizona and is a big reason why Larry Fitzgerald is having the year he is. Through the first three games, roughly half of his receptions came on play action.

The threat of the running game gives the Cardinals an offensive balance. Even when Andre Ellington was making plays in 2013, the running game was not nearly what it is this year.

Johnson is still a special back. He isn't the same back he was five years ago with the Titans. Nonetheless, he still is special. Now, can he keep it up? we have reason to believe so. He isn't getting overworked. His time on the field is split with Ellington and rookie David Johnson.

There is already chatter about perhaps extending his contract. While he said after Sunday's game it is definitely too early -- even too early for his agent to even start discussing it -- it is something the Cardinals should consider. When a player "drastically" changes how teams face yours, you have to do your best to keep that player around as long as you can.