Broncos should fear David Johnson, Cardinals’ run game on TNF

Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos

David Johnson and the Arizona Cardinals can dominate on the ground against a dire Denver Broncos run defense on Thursday Night Football.

David Johnson should be a happy man this week. The NFL scheduling gods have done the struggling Arizona Cardinals running back a favor.

Johnson not being able to get back to his 2016 form is a big reason why the Cards are 1-5. So a visit from Denver Broncos for Thursday Night Football should put a smile on Johnson’s face in Week 7.

The Broncos are the not-at-all proud owners of the worst run defense in football. Offenses are churning out 161.3 yards per game against Denver’s soft front.

Facing the Broncos is a running back’s dream since ball-carriers are averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. The last three runners who have suited up against these Broncos posted numbers Johnson hasn’t produced in two years:

Todd Gurley is the last name on the list after he finished with 208 yards on 28 carries in Week 6. Gurley averaged an eye-watering 7.4 yards a pop and scored a pair of touchdowns as the Los Angeles Rams left Mile High country with a 23-20 win.

A 200-yard rushing effort is rare in the NFL, unless of course you’re talking about the Broncos’ defense:

The Cardinals don’t need to get cute with their gameplan. They just need to call Johnson’s number early and often.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy hasn’t been doing much of that through six games. Johnson has only topped 20 carries once, during Week 4’s 20-17 defeat to NFC West rivals the Seattle Seahawks.

It’s a shocking waste of one of the toughest runners in the league. Johnson is a classic rhythm back, a workhorse who needs double-digit carries just to get warmed up.

Head coach Steve Wilks only needs to remember his time with the Carolina Panthers for a blueprint of what to do this week. Wilks may have called the defense in Charlotte, but he also saw the value of a smash-mouth running game in the Panthers’ offense.

For smash-mouth think a backfield bulked up with a lead blocker. Think a line of scrimmage supplemented by extra tight ends.

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The Cardinals have the personnel to unleash a throwback, ground-and-pound offense on the Broncos. McCoy must get 233-pound fullback Derrick Coleman in front of Johnson.

He also needs to put Gabe Holmes and Jermaine Gresham on the edges of an O-line built to win on the ground. Mike Iupati isn’t the force he used to be at left guard, but the 31-year-old can still put defenders on skates if he’s allowed to play straight ahead.

Iupati could dominate against a Broncos D-line a shadow of the group that dominated offenses in 2015. Adam Gotsis isn’t getting into the backfield often enough from his end spot, while injuries appear to have taken the best of Derek Wolfe.

Denver’s biggest problem is Domata Peko’s inability to command double teams over the nose. The 33-year-old isn’t causing enough disruption inside or keeping linebackers clean.

Arizona shouldn’t need more motivation for keeping the ball in Johnson’s hands. Rosen doesn’t want to go air it out too often against a pass rush still capable of getting home.

The Von Miller and Bradley Chubb double act is causing havoc off the edges:

Exposing Rosen, who has been sacked six times in three starts, to this rush would be an act of madness.

Instead, all the Cardinals need to do is hand Johnson the ball and watch him become the latest back to enjoy a monster day against these Broncos.

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