BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Cardinals running back David Johnson may be preparing for the biggest game of his life, but he’s taking cornerback Jerraud Powers’ advice: He’s doing nothing different in his approach to the NFC Championship Game.
“No, not at all,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to keep on the same schedule – lifting, working out – and not change anything.”
“For me, I’m going to stick to my same routine,” Johnson said. “Watching film, getting the massages, just doing everything that I normally do and try not to get off balance or anything.”
Johnson’s treating this game with the Carolina Panthers like it’s a regular season game, not the NFC title game, even though a lot of veterans have sat him down and explained the magnitude of this contest to him. They stressed to him that an opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day. They told Johnson that he’s got to enjoy this moment and seize his opportunity on Sunday evening.
“(Cardinals running backs coach) Stump (Mitchell) tells us all the time this does not happen a lot. You definitely have to take advantage of the opportunities that we’ve been given,” Johnson said. “He (Mitchell) asked (Cardinals running back) Chris (Johnson) one day how long he’s been in the league – nine years – how many times he’s been in the playoffs and I think he said once or twice only. In a special teams meeting we asked our long snapper, Mike (Leach), he’s been in the league for 16 years and he’s only been to the Super Bowl once, so we definitely have to take advantage of everything that we’ve been given.”
Johnson and the Cardinals really struggled to run the football last Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game. Johnson had 35 yards to lead a team that only totaled 40 yards rushing for the game.
Johnson says the reason why they couldn’t get anything going on the ground was because Green Bay had a great game plan drawn up for them, and they wouldn’t let them get loose.
“It was intense for sure,” Johnson said. “A lot more guys were keying in on, especially just that game with Green Bay, keying in on a little bit more coming out of the backfield. They had a good defense scouted for us.”
If Johnson and the Cardinals have any chance of becoming NFC Champions, they have to have a balanced offensive attack against the Panthers. It’s going to be very difficult to bust Carolina’s run defense, which was the No. 4 ranked rush defense in the NFL during the regular season (88.4 yards per game).
Carolina’s entire defense is outstanding, but their front seven sets the tone for everything they do against offenses. As good as they are, Johnson says the Cardinals still have to commit to running the football on Sunday.
“It’s very important because, not just for the play action, it gets us moving the ball, takes a lot less on (Cardinals quarterback) Carson (Palmer) having to throw the ball and rely on throwing it more,” Johnson said. “When we’re able to run the ball, it keeps our offense on the field and it just overall helps our whole team.”
“They’re (Panthers’ defense) fast and physical,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to come out and be more physical than them. Their linebackers – Thomas (Davis), (Luke) Kuechly – are really good linebackers and we’re going to have to come out and play our game.”
It was good for Johnson to get his playoff feet wet at home in front of the #RedSea, but traveling to Charlotte, N.C., for the NFC Championship Game will be a whole different animal.
Most, if not all, Cardinals players love playing on the road (their 7-1 road record will back that statement up), because it gives them a chance to bond even more in adverse conditions and situations, like they’ll see at Bank of America Stadium this weekend. The field wasn’t in the best shape when Carolina took on Seattle this past Sunday, and there’s no telling what it will look like when Arizona takes the field for pregame warm-ups, and eventually the game.
Johnson will make sure he’s ready for whatever comes, from a uniform standpoint, and a physical standpoint, with maintaining his footing on a rough field.
“What I’m doing is I got the seven studs, the cleats,” Johnson said. “They’re a longer cleat for me to be able to grip the ground better. Also, keeping my feet under my body or my center of gravity and not reaching out so much, and probably just running downhill a little bit more, not trying to juke as much.”
Johnson’s in a fantastic place right now. He’s 24-years-old, he had a regular season that most rookies would do almost anything to have had, he’s with a legitimate Super Bowl contending team, and he’s one win away from playing in Super Bowl 50. All he and the team need to do is head cross-country on this business trip, handle that business, and they’ll be just one win away from the ultimate prize: the Lombardi Trophy.
“The main thing is to make sure we’re prepared,” Johnson said. “A lot of that stuff outside of us that we can’t control with the crowd and everything, it doesn’t really affect us. The biggest thing is getting ready and making sure I’m mentally and physically ready to play.”