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Disaster Recovery Week 7 - Can David Johnson Be Saved?

Welcome to Disaster Recovery, where each week I'll examine why your studs played like duds.

This isn't a place to find out why you should have benched a player for somebody on your bench. Disaster Recovery is to examine the guys who you didn't think twice about benching, and deciding if you should be panicking at all about their value moving forward.

This season we'll be covering one dud per week. There will be two major qualifiers: the player must have performed well below expectations without an injury, and the player must be considered a must-start in most formats.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!


Rankings System

I'll also be implementing a new panic meter ranking system this year. It goes as follows:

  1. This week was a fluke. Don't panic!
  2. I still have full faith in this player, but there are some red flags. Be cautiously optimistic moving forward.
  3. There are genuine concerns here. Consider selling on name value, but don't panic too much unless you receive an offer you can't refuse.
  4. This player will not be the player you expected him to be. Regardless, his value may be too low to trade, and his ceiling is going to be better than anything you can get in return. Panic, but hold tight.
  5. Absolutely abandon ship. We're not coming back from this.

Week 7 features the first returning suspect of the season: Arizona's David Johnson.


Down on David

David Johnson's Week 7 stat-line: 14 rushes for 39 yards and 3 receptions for 31 yards.

I just read that line again, saw that he had over 70 total yards, and quickly thought that he had a decent day. This is DAVID JOHNSON, and I thought 70 yards was a decent day. It's been a long year.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Denver's run defense was absolutely atrocious heading into this matchup. The Broncos had given up 593 yards over the previous two games, including a 214-yard performance from Isaiah Crowell. Johnson had been trending upward over the previous three weeks, scoring four touchdowns during that stretch. This seemed destined to be the matchup that he finally broke out in.

Nope. Denver stuffed Arizona at every chance on both sides of the ball. Gameflow didn't benefit Johnson, but he still only managed four yards on his four second-half rushing attempts, and he still only caught two passes in garbage time.

The Last Straw

Arizona finally had enough of their pitiful offense after this game and relieved offensive coordinator Mike McCoy of his duties.

The Cardinals offense was a complete joke during McCoy's short stint at the helm. They rank last in total yards per game and rushing yards per game. They're second to last in points per game and passing yards per game. If Buffalo wasn't in the league, they'd be last in all four categories.

The rushing attack is averaging 64.6 yards per game. That's 14 fewer yards than Jeff Fisher's Rams averaged in 2016. It's not only an inexcusable total for a team with an elite running back, but it's also inexcusable for literally any team ever. The last time a team finished a season averaging under 70 rushing yards per game was 2000. Only three teams have finished a season with under 70 yards rushing in the entire Super Bowl era. This is historically unsustainable. Either it has to get better, or Arizona will go down as the worst rushing offense in NFL history, led by a guy coming off one of the best seasons for a back in recent NFL history.


The Savior Has Arrived

Replacing Mike McCoy as the team's OC is Byron Leftwich. This man literally led a game winning drive with a broken leg. If anyone can bring this offense back to life without any experience, it's him.

What should we expect?

Truthfully, it's hard to figure out how Leftwich is going to approach this offense. This was his third year as an NFL coach. He spent two years learning under Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. You can say that Leftwich will resonate with rookie QB Josh Rosen since he's a former NFL quarterback himself, and that may have some degree of truth to it, but McCoy also played quarterback at a very high level for the University of Utah. Just because Leftwich played in the NFL doesn't mean Rosen will magically turn into a great quarterback.

The only "tape" we have on Byron Leftwich as an offensive coordinator is two preseason games from 2017, where the team allowed him to call the plays. The Cardinals had a total of 153 yards on the ground in these two games. This includes a game against the Bears in which they had, as a team, 19 carries for 40 yards. For Johnson, he ran three times in each of these games, going for 16 yards in the first and just three in the second. Cardinals running backs caught a total of 11 passes over these two games.

Head coach Steve Wilks has already been adamant that Leftwich has to make getting Johnson the ball a priority. "You definitely want to be able to try to get David Johnson going in the run game, as well as in the pass game," Wilks said. "With Byron being here before and being part of that and understanding some of the success he's had in the past, hopefully, we can tap back into some of the things that David was doing in the past." We've heard statements like this simply be empty statements from coaches, but it's better to hear them than not hear them.

The good news for Johnson is this: no matter what kind of coach takes over the offense, the clear answer to improving it is to get Johnson more touches in better situations. He's clearly the most talented player on that side of the ball. The only other proven commodity is Larry Fitzgerald, who cannot carry an offense at his age. What I would expect Leftwich to do is try to get the passing game going as quickly as possible with Johnson being a major component of the passing attack once again. If they can make Rosen a legitimate threat to make plays through the air, teams won't be stacking the box up by 35 in the third quarter. No running back can run through nine guys. It's simply never worked that way.

Panic Meter: 4/5

Somehow, David Johnson and the Cardinals are in better shape than they were when I talked about them after Week 2. That's saying a lot about how bad they are, and that's part of the reason why I'm not going to increase the panic meter on Johnson.

In PPR leagues, David Johnson ranks as the overall RB11 and is 15th among backs in fantasy points per game. He's an absolute disaster given his ADP, but he still has value, and he's going to for the rest of the season. It's unlikely Johnson becomes an RB1 this year. It's also unlikely that he becomes unplayable.

Let's circle back to the question in the headline: Can David Johnson Be Saved? It's a trick question. Arizona has been trying to save him all season. Johnson ranks fifth among backs in carries and all we've been talking about is how he hasn't gotten the ball enough. The volume is there and it isn't going anywhere. The Cardinals will try and feed David Johnson. They'll make this thing work or they'll die trying. Whether you want to get on or off this wild ride is your decision. Personally, I'd rather see how the ride ends than get off at the worst part of it.

What To Watch For

Signs of life. Arizona has been awful on the offensive side of the ball this year. If Johnson can tally up close to a hundred total yards and a touchdown, it will be a start. Watch for how Leftwich attempts to get Johnson the ball in positions he can succeed.

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