Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is one of the new faces that will shape the Arizona Cardinals’ identity this season. While formulating his strategy he will have to cater to the team’s strengths and to its biggest weapon, running back David Johnson.
In Johnson’s stellar 2016 season he accumulated 2118 total yards with 20 touchdowns. Part of his success came through the air with 120 targets, 80 receptions and 879 yards.
Revisiting Johnson’s 2016 season, there were certain routes that allowed him to excel as a receiver. Comparing these routes with those McCoy called for his running backs in Denver, we’ll see what could be in store for Johnson this season.
The flat route from a running back helps the quarterback release the ball quickly if he is facing heavy pressure or doesn’t like his options downfield.
The Cardinals would typically pair this check down option with a play action and allow their running back to weave through the offensive line before going for the sideline.
Here, Johnson stutter steps and slows down posing as a extra blocker before continuing on his route. Thinking that Johnson isn’t a receiver on the play, his defender moves upfield allowing Johnson to gain 25 yards.
Another concept that worked for Johnson and allowed him to get separation from a linebacker in man coverage was the texas route.
Johnson is able to sell the flat route before breaking into the middle of the field for an easy gain. His quick feet allow him to get an extra step on his defender.
This route wasn’t as common as the others for Johnson but it allowed him to become a deeper threat and showed off his versatility as a receiver.
On this play, a nice throw from Palmer and some athletic ability from Johnson helps him convert on this third-and-12.
Mike McCoy’s Denver Broncos
Looking at McCoy’s last year with the Denver Broncos could suggest how the offensive coordinator will attempt to integrate Johnson into the passing game.
From the trio of Denver Broncos running backs, Devonta Booker was the primary receiving back brought in on third downs. Booker had 275 yards through the air with 30 receptions.
McCoy didn’t cater plays towards Booker, instead he was used primarily as a check down option. Of Booker’s 38 total targets in 2017, 19 came in the 4th quarter (50%) when the Broncos were trailing and opposing defenses were allowing throws underneath.
Most of Booker’s targets looked like this:
One similarity between McCoy’s play calling for Booker, and what we could see repeated this season for Johnson is slant routes from the slot.
Aside from the check down option, Booker running a slant was his second most common route.
This pairs well with Johnson. Of the 54 slants running backs ran in 2016, Johnson was responsible for 16% of them.
After two preseason games, McCoy hasn’t tipped his hand yet on how he’ll integrate Johnson in the passing game. Through the two games, there have been three designed screens called for the running back, higher than usual for McCoy.
Johnson’s sole catch this preseason is a screen he managed to turn into a five yard gain, even after being swarmed behind the line of scrimmage.
Near the end of the second half, running back DJ Foster ran a curl in the middle of the field on consecutive plays. This was utilized more as a check down option for Josh Rosen.
Foster was able to convert on this third-and-7 but this isn’t a route we saw Johnson run a lot of in 2016. The middle of the field curl gives defenders the upper hand and minimizes the potential running backs can gain after having to turn around and survey the field.
Johnson posted the largest threat on routes that allowed him to accrue yards after the catch. The flat, texas, go and slant routes give him a step in the open field, placing the ball in front of him so he can move upfield.
With two preseason games left, McCoy will still likely be tweaking and figuring out how to attack opposing defenses this season. Once Johnson gets full reps we’ll have to see how McCoy opens up the playbook and fully utilizes his best offensive weapon.