The 49ers last Sunday were dealt a tough, tough loss in Arizona. The team (and its fans maybe for the first time) came into this week with high hopes, facing a team with the same record and one that just made a coaching change. It turned out that the same coaching change was a contributing factor in the 49ers losing.
The 49ers attempted to get Matt Breida involved, feeding him 16 carries on the day, which is a season high for the 49er running back. Unfortunately, Breida was only able to gain 42 yards (2.6 yards per carry) and did not net a single target in the passing game. His backup Alfred Morris received six carries and gained 28 rushing yards. However, 26 of them came from one play, so the Cardinals held him in check all day.
Mostert’s involvement was reduced this week; he only received two carries and didn’t come down with his only target in the passing game. Overall, it was a very tough game for the 49er backs.
Byron Leftwich, the Cardinals’ new offensive coordinator, called a great game and put his team in position to come back and win the game. Most importantly, he got his star running back involved in the offense. When Mike McCoy was the coordinator, it seemed like David Johnson was forgotten at times. Not this week.
Johnson had a great game against the 49ers and finished with 100 yards from scrimmage. His performance has earned him the Fourth and Nine Star Running Back of the Week Award.
Johnson looked more like his 2016 self, lining up all over the field when he was on offense and it kept the 49ers defense on its heels. On this play, Johnson lined up as a wide receiver.
The Cardinals’ running back is at the top of the clip. This is a great play design by Leftwich and was also the perfect time to call this play. Reuben Foster (#56) was lined up on the slot receiver, but ends up blitzing. All Johnson had to do was step back, catch the ball, and follow his lead blockers. He wound up gaining enough yardage for the first down. Although this play wasn’t flashy, it shows how a team can benefit from having a dynamic player who can line up anywhere.
On this next play, Johnson is lined up in his usual spot in the backfield, but also benefits from a great play call from his offensive coordinator.
Once again, this play was only a simple screen, but it was effective. Arizona’s left guard, Mike Iupati (#76), blocks Earl Mitchell (#90) for a split second and allows him into the backfield, but not before he moves up to block Jaquiski Tartt (#29). That second block allows Johnson to get into the open field and pick up a first down.
The next two plays here show Johnson’s skills as a runner.
Both plays have him making nice cuts behind the line of scrimmage, which eventually lead to first downs. The second of the two clips was one of the most impressive runs of the day. The Cardinals’ running back was able to use his vision to cut away from the gap where Elijah Lee (#47) made a great read and continue his run.
Ultimately, it’s great for the Cardinals that Johnson is a big part of the offense under Leftwich. I personally want to see Johnson reach his pre-2017 form, but I also wish the 49ers would find creative ways to give the ball to Breida, Goodwin, and Kittle instead of having Beathard force the ball downfield.
However, the 49ers will have very little time to adjust the game plan because they are on a short week and will face the Oakland Raiders in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football.
Sources: Arizona Cardinals, Youtube, NFL Gamebook, Pro Football Reference