Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Getty Images
Last week it was containing the Atlanta Falcons duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both running backs don’t just excel after the handoff but must be constantly marked during passing situations.
The Tampa Bay defense passed this first test by virtue of not allowing either back to blow up with a game-changing type performance. The Bucs bottled up Freeman and Coleman for 42 combined rushing yards on 19 carries. Outside of one big 47-yard catch-and-run by Coleman, Tampa Bay did a good job of keeping them in check. They caught nine of 10 targets for 115 yards and no touchdowns.
Sunday brings another similarly dynamic challenge with Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. Saying that outside expectations for the second-year pro are high would be an understatement. The Cardinals drafted Johnson in the third round last year after a standout career at Division I-AA Northern Iowa and he rewarded the team by picking up over 1,000 yards of total offense and 12 touchdowns.
Last Sunday night didn’t go how Arizona had hoped, losing at home 23-21 against New England, but Johnson showed flashes of why outside experts and fantasy owners across the country were so eager to see him play this season. The 6-foot-1, 224-pound back delivered two of the Cardinals’ three longest plays of the game, including the most explosive – a 45-yard burst up the middle in the fourth quarter that set up a go-ahead touchdown.
It’s those kinds of impact moments that allow Johnson to compile numbers quickly during games and keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night beforehand.
“Johnson, the running back, he’s a man now,” Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Thursday. “He’s kind of busted onto the scene. He’s a guy that can run that ball very violently and also catch the ball out of the backfield, I’ve been very impressed.”
Making Johnson even more dangerous is simply being part of one of the NFL’s top offenses. A healthy Carson Palmer at quarterback throwing passes to receivers Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd makes stacking the box to slow the run an unwise decision. And don’t forget about a more-than-capable offensive line, said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“You can go down the line from guys who this is their first year and you take a guy like A.Q. Shipley, who was the extra lineman last year and now he’s the starting center,” McCoy said. “So obviously they’ve got a good group of guys that work together.
“What makes Carson so good is his O-line and the time they give him. Johnson, their running back, he’s a very dynamic player, but those holes they open for him, it gives him a chance to be patient because the things they do as a scheme, they do it well. And obviously they have been very successful because of how good they’ve been in the past couple of years. So we have a tough road ahead of us and we know that, but we’re putting the work in.”
Tampa Bay was in the top third of the NFL last season in run defense and the Bucs kept that trend going last week in Atlanta. Only the Green Bay Packers allowed fewer yards rushing than the 52 Tampa Bay surrendered to the Falcons.
If the Bucs plan on climbing to 2-0 and becoming the league’s top surprise story of the year, forcing Arizona to become a one-dimensional offense by snuffing out big runs would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
Last year’s misleading statistic. Why run when you can throw an unopposed slant pass?
I think when Palmer gets flustered his whole game goes down the drain. And when he gets down, man, he gets down. Just coming into this week, he’s already mentally one step down with last week not going as planned. Then you add in the fear of starting 0-2, 0-2 at home, which I can guarantee they never even thought it was possible, he going to be a bit on the edge. If the Bucs D line can harass him, get in his face and disrupt his timing, I think he will quickly lose his cool.
Agree Dude Palmer does not play well with pressure at all.
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