Redemption Tour continues: David Johnson will be tested against the Ravens
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans stood on the 19-yard line on 2nd-and-1 when Deshaun Watson completed an inside handoff to running back David Johnson. Offensive tackles Zach Fulton and Tytus Howard opened a right-side gap that led to a 19-yard touchdown run for the one-time pro-bowler (2016).
An energetic Johnson celebrated with Kenny Stills and the rest of his new teammates. His first touchdown of the season put the Texans ahead 7-0 over the Kansas City Chiefs late in the first quarter.
The first stop on the Johnson Redemption Tour ended with a total of 109 yards — 77 yards coming on the ground for 11 carries in his Texans debut — but it wasn't enough. Houston would find themselves on the wrong side of a scoreboard that read 34-20 inside Arrowhead Stadium late Thursday night.
Johnson's first game was not perfect nor an unforgettable performance. But it severed as a building block in a game that featured Houston's ineptitude to stop Chiefs' rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the lack of production coming from their receiving corps. It's the foundation of what will be an integral part of the Texans' offensive schemes this season.
"I felt great being out there, and our line did a great job blocking for me," Johnson said in a post-practice interview via Zoom on Monday. "I think to myself I still had a couple more yards I left on the field and I've just got to improve on that aspect. And then just in the passing game, a couple routes I wish I could've got back where Deshaun [Watson] was looking for me and I just ran the wrong route. So, continue to correct those mistakes and building from that."
It is no secret that the Texans will rely heavily upon their running game in 2020. Houston ran the ball 22 times against the Chiefs, in comparison to the 20 passing plays called. The former Arizona Cardinal contributed for 50 percent of the Texans running plays, with Watson (27 yards on six carries) and Duke Johnson (14 yards on five carries) splitting the latter.
This trio of runners will usually lead the Texans in rushing yards over the next 15 weeks, with The Johnson Brothers leading the way. However, what's supposed to be a two-man tandem may end up featuring David as a solo act coming out of the backfield this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
In hindsight, it may seem like the Texans will struggle to run the ball against Baltimore. In 2019, the Ravens only gave up a total of 1,494 rushing yards (93.4 YDS) — finishing the year with the fifth-best defense at stopping the run. But their defensive performance could be misleading when breaking down their opponents from the previous season.
Bill O'Brien on RB David Johnson: "He's a good player. He's big. He's strong. He's a great guy. Awesome guy to coac… https://t.co/VCDrXVDbkH— Coty M. Davis (@Coty M. Davis) 1600144162.0
Out of the 18 games — including the playoffs — the Ravens only played against two premiere running backs and came up short in each contest.
Nick Chubb recorded 165 yards and three touchdowns, as the Browns handed Baltimore their worst defeat of the regular season in a 40-25 loss on their home field. Despite being favorites to represent the AFC in Miami this past February, the Ravens' postseason run ended earlier than expected in a loss to the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry's stat line in the AFC Division Round victory: 195 yards (6.5 AVG) on just 30 carries.
Albeit they came out on the winning side this time around, the Ravens gave up 138 yards on the ground in their Week 1 victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Chubb and his new backfield mate Kareem Hunt registered a combined 111 rushing yards on eight carries.
"I think the league definitely front-loaded the schedules and we have a pretty tough schedule," Johnson said. "Going against the defending champions and then against the Ravens whose always been up there with Lamar (Jackson) in the playoffs and stuff. I think it's going to be a good measurement for our team. "The last game was my first real game, no preseason, so I still have a lot to improve on."
Houston only experienced a small dose of what a rejuvenated Johnson can bring to the gridiron. According to Johnson himself, there is a lot he can build on heading into his second game with the Texans with more responsibility than in his debut.
Duke sustained an ankle sprain during the second half of Houston's season opener and is considered day-to-day, according to head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien on Monday. After sitting out of practice, Duke is unlikely to play Sunday in their home opener against the Ravens.
O'Brien says he "feels good about their depth" in an event Duke is not available. Although true with the talents of Buddy Howell and Scottie Phillips, Duke's potential absence will open the door for David to receive more touches heading into Week 2 — as the Johnson Redemption Tour makes its next stop inside NRG Stadium in Houston.
Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, apart of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.