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Thursday Cardinals Talk

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The “Stink” on Johnson

  • With QB Kyler Murray drawing more than normal national interest and coverage of the Cardinals, some analysts are offering their opinions about some of the Cardinals’ other players. Yesterday, on Bickley and Marotta, NFL analyst Mark “Stink” Schlereth opined that “David Johnson is not a dynamic offensive player.” Clearly, Schlereth has been seeing what many of us have been concerned about—-Johnson not running with the same kind of agility and explosion that had fans and pundits drooling in 2016. Johnson’s more deliberate running style the past two years has caused some other analysts around the league to question whether Johnson is a good fit in the K-Raid. I think that is a very good question.
  • In my opinion, David Johnson is a good fit in the K-Raid, but far more at WR than at RB. Bruce Arians once claimed that Johnson had the ability to be a top tier WR in the NFL. I think BA’s claim has significant merit and, with Larry Fitzgerald possible on the verge of retirement, David Johnson could become a total beast in the slot where he can use his size, strength and speed to his advantage while wreaking havoc on the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense.
  • Some recent signs from David Johnson are encouraging. He has openly conceded that he needs to pick up his game. While Johnson is prone to fantasize about his dazzling potential, he does remain modest in his assessment of his production. For example, he is still lamenting the fact that he didn’t bull his way into the end zone versus the Ravens when he elected to dive for the pylon instead.
  • I thought that last week versus the Panthers, Johnson made a more concerted effort to hit the holes harder. His longest run off the left side, a beautiful 15 yard gallop, was explosive. His nifty handling of the throwback pass, where he caught the ball, deked the first defender and bulled his way through two defenders at the goal-line (while planing out with the ball extended) showed how determined he is when he gets a whiff of the end zone. Plus, he ran hard and effectively on all of his 3rd and 1 conversions. Hopefully, these are signs that Johnson is now on the verge of reclaiming his stardom.

The “Pugh” on the Cardinals’ Offensive Line

  • Yesterday, while fielding questions from the media, LG Justin Pugh was vehemently alleging how “misunderstood” offensive line play is. At one point Pugh said, per Darren Urban, “I’ve been in the NFL for seven years and every year -- and I’ve been on two teams -- the offensive line is always (called) the problem. What happens, it’s a position where no one knows enough about it. I read things online, thinking what qualifies (this person)? Anyone in here know a lot about offensive line? Could you sit in an offensive line room and have a legitimate conversation about offensive line play?”
  • You know something? Justin Pugh is 100% correct. Whenever a QB gets sacked or a RB gets stopped behind the line of scrimmage, most of the fans immediately blame the offensive line. The main point that Pugh tried to make is that fans and even the PFF graders with regard to certain plays “don’t know the scheme.” In other words, only the coaches and the players know what the line rules are and what each lineman is being asked to do on each play.
  • For example, one of the rules I always gave my offensive lineman is to protect the play side gap as 1st priority. So, if a LB is storming the gap, the guard has to forget about his normal head on (hat to hat) block and pick up the blitzer. The reality is that fans and analysts who wouldn’t know what the OL is being taught would be apt to criticize the OL in either case—-if he stays and blocks his DT—-or if he leaves his DT to protect the play side gap.
  • When it comes to pulling—-what we don’t know is how the play is designed and how deep or shallow the pulling OL is supposed to run—-which defender he is supposed to block—-and just how far he is supposed to get on the 2nd and 3rd levels. There is an other widely employed rule about pulling and that is if as you pull as a defender is storming an open gap, you have to abandon your designed assignment to take out what coaches would call “the first threat.” Again, anyone watching this happen on tape could find a reason to criticize the OL on both accounts—-sticking to the play design or abandoning it in favor of taking out the first threat.
  • Let me put it this way—-so often on the offensive line, they have to be as well coordinated and ready to make switches like a good basketball team has to be in a matchup zone. What’s so similar about the two is the concept of “help.” How often do basketball fans complain that the defense doesn’t help fast or quickly enough? The same holds true for offensive linemen—-they have to be quick to help and quick to switch on pass rushing schemes like TEX stunts (DE swings hard to the inside to try to blitz up the middle, while the DT loops around the end). In many ways, blocking a TEX stunt is like trying to defend a pick and roll—-it often involves hedging , sealing and switching.
  • Then there’s the issue of helping perhaps too quickly—-because if you do, your man might be left wide open too soon and you could like a fool if he scores easily. That’s why timing within line coordination and play design is of such paramount importance.
  • If you notice the PFF grades—-they are typically the most critical of offensive linemen. This is understandable because Justin Pugh is right—-the evaluators do not know the schemes and the play assignments. They can often have a good idea, but they can’t always be 100% sure.
  • I know my next opinion won’t be popular with the majority of you, but I think that through the first 3 games, the Cardinals’ offensive line has played reasonably well—-well enough, in fact, for the team to possibly be 3-0. i think that, for the most part, the coordination and chemistry up front has been solid—-with one understandable exception—-the play at RT—- because of having two newcomers who were not in training camp at that spot.
  • Line coordination and chemistry do not happen overnight. This is one of the main reasons why I and others were so upset when Steve Keim tossed away Korey Cunningham for a 6th rounder, with no one on the roster to immediately take his place. Keim, being an OL himself, of anyone should know better than to leave the line that vulnerable. That one precipitous move may have already cost the Cardinals two wins—-and possibly three if Korey Cunningham would have been a much better answer to block the Ravens’ Matt Judon, who wreaked havoc in the Cardinals’ backfield all afternoon.
  • That’s the other thing about evaluating offensive lines—-it’s like links in a chain—-if one link breaks, the whole chain can look broken.
  • Therefore, kudos to Justin Pugh for speaking the truth. Coming into this season, I was feeling a little skeptical of Pugh’s dedication—-but the game he played at Baltimore while sick and having to take multiple IVs just to be on the field speaks volumes to his character and leadership. I think Pugh is having a good year and hopefully the best is yet to come, particularly if the coaches and line mates can settle the RT spot down.