“Some receivers might not make that catch,” receiver Damiere Byrd said following the Cardinals’ 34-33 win. “That’s a great catch going down to the ground, caught it all hands, being able to bring it in. That’s a big-time play.”
That play came a week after Johnson made a game-changing catch on the winning drive against the Cincinnati Bengals. And he made both catches with an injured back.
“Same as last week, he was banged up and battled through it and did it again this week,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “That was kind of a game-saving catch. If we don’t make that one, we may have to kick a field goal, and then who knows what happens?”
That Johnson’s game-saving plays have come as a receiver should come as no surprise.
He was a wide receiver in high school and early in his career at Northern Iowa. He had nearly 1,000 receiving yards in his breakout 2016 season. Through six games this season, he has 315 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns, topping his production rushing the ball (298 yards, two TDs).
Against the Falcons, Johnson recorded his fifth career game with a rushing and receiving touchdown. That’s the second-most such games since 2015, trailing Christian McCaffrey‘s and Alvin Kamara‘s six each.
Before the season, Kingsbury talked with Johnson about needing him to be a receiver as well as a runner.
“It helps out a lot because sometimes you get mismatches, linebackers or safeties that aren’t used to covering running backs,” Johnson said. “So it’s a good thing that I have the ability to do that.”
That’s exactly what happened on Johnson’s touchdown catch against the Falcons and his deep catch against the Bengals.
“Honestly, just like last week, we motioned him out there. I saw a linebacker out there,” Murray said. “It’s kind of too good to be true, but he stayed on him. It was a great play by him.”
Johnson has always been a receiving threat, but there’s a difference to his role this season: He doesn’t have the pressure of always being the primary running back. That has been especially true the past two weeks, when second-year back Chase Edmonds rushed for 102 yards, just 23 fewer than Johnson. Having Edmonds on the field with Johnson has given the Cardinals a formidable rushing-receiving duo that’s virtually interchangeable.
During a second-quarter drive Sunday, Johnson and Edmonds were responsible for all 79 yards and a touchdown. For the game, Edmonds finished with 34 yards rushing and 33 yards receiving along with a touchdown.
But when Edmonds takes the field, the defense is sitting there yelling, “pass, pass, pass,” left guard Justin Pugh said.
The dual-threat abilities of both Edmonds and Johnson keep defenses honest, Pugh added.
“It’s great because there’s nothing that needs to change with the playcalling,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Literally, there’s plays that David and Chase both can run effectively. Both of them can do it.
“It’s great to be able to have two backs with that dynamic ability in the screen game, in the run game, in the pass game, blitz protection. They both can do it all.”
And they’re pulling for each other, Johnson said.
That was evident during their celebration after Johnson’s touchdown catch.
“We bounce off each other’s energy really well,” he said. “We’re always excited for each other. It was good to see him break those tackles, get those catches, get those runs, and he did the same thing when I was going well. He kept us motivated, kept that running back group in the game.”
Edmonds was “so proud” of Johnson after his touchdown catch.
“Y’all know I look up to Dave, and just for him to go down that big drive and put the team on his back, I told him, ‘This is you. Go lead us,'” Edmonds said. “I tell him that before every game: ‘Big bro, lead us. Start it off.’ He starts the game off for us. He gets the tempo going for the offense. For him to make that big play and that big finish, it was huge.”
They share more than affection for each other. They share a set of skills that has become a vital part of the Cardinals’ two-game winning streak. As Johnson and Edmonds go, so go the Cardinals.
“I love having them,” Murray said. “I know how versatile they are, and I know Coach Kingsbury loves using them any way we can.”