RUN IT BACK

How David Johnson's redemption tour with the Texans could impact Week 1

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Texans

Dressed in full pads, David Johnson's 2019 season ended with him watching his Arizona Cardinals succumb to the Los Angeles Rams in a Week 17 defeat. For two teams who were headed straight to Cancún at the conclusion of the final whistle, the Rams last home game inside Coliseum Field held the only significant meaning to the contest. Three months later, the game would hold another.

After he did not receive a single carry during the 31-24 loss to Los Angeles, the Cardinals cut ties with Johnson in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans in March. Arizona sent the 28-year-old tailback and two draft picks to Houston in exchange for All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick.

In hindsight, the Cardinals' decision to part ways with Johnson was an inevitable choice.

He lost his starting spot to Kenyan Drake mid-way through the season and ended the year with 47 yards (2.6 AVG) on 18 attempts in his final six games in Arizona. October 13 marked the last time Johnson received more than 12 carries, during a Week 6 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Perhaps a change of scenery is what Johnson needs to reclaim his role as one of the league's best running backs. Injuries and lack of production since his All-Pro performance in 2016 resulted in little to no fanfare with his arrival in Houston. And a season playing behind the fourth-worst run-blocking line, per Pro Football Focus, did not help Johnson ease what he described as the "most frustrated year of his career."

Determined to "prove the doubters wrong," Johnson's road to redemption has a chance to get off to an exceptional start, when the Texans open their 2020 season against the Chiefs, Thursday night, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

"I think I've always had pressure since 2016," Johnson told a group of reporters via Zoom conference in early-August. I like the pressure. It makes me want to be better. It makes me want to compete more and do everything I can to prove the doubters [wrong] or want to make [Bill] O'Brien look good and want to make this organization look good. I'm excited about this season, and I can't wait for it to officially get going."

The one major flaw that has hindered the Chiefs from becoming a perfect team is their inability to stop the run. Last season, Kansas City gave up a total of 2,051 rushing yard (128.2 YDS) — seventh-most in the league. Ten times the Chiefs allowed their opponents to rush over 100 yards during the regular season — which included the Texans, who recorded 192 yards during their Week 6 victory in Kansas City. Carlos Hyde — whose production Johnson can emulate playing in Houston's system — led the way with 116 yards on 26 carries.

Although it's still a daunting task, it's no secret that the best way to beat the Chiefs is by attacking them on the ground. Houston's Offensive Coordinator, Tim Kelly, said on Sunday that if they need to run the ball to win the game, then they have the ability to do that. Based on Kelly's statement, Johnson will play an integral part in Houston's attempt to exploit Kansas City's Achilles heel in his Texans debut.

"He's a special back," Texans' center Nick Martin said. "There's no doubt about it. He's so big, but he finds a hole and he hits it hard and he finds a way to somehow get skinny through that hole and burst out. We're very excited to have him behind us and block for him and finish and let him really just do his thing back there."

Even in a down year, Johnson proved he can still be a productive player coming out of the backfield when given a consistent amount of touches. In his best game of the season, DJ recorded a season-high 91 rushing yards in the Cardinals' 26-23 victory over the Bengals.

The video clip above demonstrates that Johnson still possesses the same explosiveness that led to his first 1,000-yard season (1,239) in 2016. It's the prime example of what the Texans can expect from DJ when given a suitable amount of touches. On this particular Sunday afternoon, Johnson received 17 touches — his second-most of the 2019 season.

The Chiefs have already experienced their fair share of struggles playing against the Memphis native. Despite a Cardinals' loss in 2018, Johnson ran for 98 yards and a touchdown on just 21 carries. A duplicate performance on Thursday would not only improve the Texans' chances of opening their season with a win, but a successful first stop on the David Johnson Redemption World Tour.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Carlos Correa had a big home run Saturday night. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With four wins in a row, including the first two of this series, Houston had a chance to keep their momentum going to lock up a series win on Saturday in this four-game set. Although Texas would make it interesting late, the Astros would hold them off to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 5

Astros' Record: 23-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia (1-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dane Dunning (2-3)

Action in the first

After getting trounced the night prior, the Rangers managed to grab early momentum with a run to start the scoring Saturday night against Luis Garcia. It came after a one-out triple set up a sac fly, giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Houston quickly took control back in their favor, though, putting up four in the bottom of the inning on a two-RBI single by Alex Bregman and a two-run homer by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1 Astros.

The scoreboard went quiet after that inning, with both teams slowing down at the plate. Garcia put together a decent night, allowing just the one run over five innings of work, erasing some runners throughout the night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 94 P.

Rangers tighten it up late

Bryan Abreu was the first reliever to enter for Houston, taking over for Garcia in the top of the sixth. He worked around a leadoff single, keeping it a three-run game, then returned for a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Correa led off with a double in the bottom of the inning, setting up a two-run Kyle Tucker homer, extending his recent hot streak and the lead to 6-1.

Ryne Stanek took over on the mound for Houston in the top of the eighth but worked himself into trouble with a single and walk to set up a three-run homer by Joey Gallo to make it a two-run game at 6-4. He would manage just one out before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Brandon Bielak. Bielak would allow a run while getting the final two outs, making it 6-5.

Astros secure the series

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Ryan Pressly would try to notch another save and close the door on the Rangers. He would get the job done, sitting the Rangers down in order, keeping Houston's winning streak intact.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game set will start at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Lance McCullers JR. (3-1, 3.10 ERA), fresh off of a recent gem, will look to continue his success for the Astros, while Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.28) will try to stay perfect on the season for the Rangers.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome