That’s why the last two games have been so rewarding for me, just to sit back and watch my favorite player. This season may be lost, but there’s nothing like the feeling one gets watching a big power back break into the open field and accelerate like a gazelle for a 63-yard run, as Johnson did against the Bills last week.
But as fun as that play was to watch, that’s not the reason for this column. No one has mentioned it so far, but there is a difference in Johnson’s game since his return from suspension. For two games, Larry Johnson has not been a liability in pass blocking, and at times, he’s completely destroyed would-be pass rushers.
You don’t believe me, do you? It’s completely understandable. Other than brief flashes of competency, to this point in his NFL career, Johnson has been a turnstile for linebackers, defensive ends, and even safeties going after his quarterbacks. No one will soon forget the terrible block he threw at Scott Fujita in Dallas three years ago, which led to a game-turning touchdown.
But over the last two games, I see a different player. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for what is hopefully just the beginning of Larry Johnson’s evolution into a more complete player. Here’s what happened against the New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills the last two weeks. Stop the presses, because this time, Johnson actually blocked Fujita.
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JOHNSON VS VILMA
It’s early in the game and the Saints decide to test Tyler Thigpen. They send two linebackers up the middle in a blitz, one of whom is Jonathan Vilma. Johnson correctly identifies Vilma (fullback Mike Cox has the other rusher) and picks him up as Thigpen throws incomplete to Tony Gonzalez.
JOHNSON VS SMITH
The Chiefs are threatening on their second drive, near the goal line. Branden Albert turns Pro Bowl defensive end Will Smith free, and the only man standing between Smith and Thigpen is Larry Johnson, who cuts him low and disrupts his path just long enough for Thigpen to lob a pass to Dwayne Bowe for six points. Smith had zero chance to bat down the pass because of Johnson’s block.
JOHNSON VS FUJITA
It’s a rematch of Larry’s nightmare play from Dallas three years ago. Scott Fujita blitzes off the weakside of the formation. Larry Johnson is forced to circle around his quarterback to get into position, but knocks Fujita off balance as Tyler Thigpen throws complete to Tony Gonzalez.
JOHNSON VS FUJITA II
Fujita comes in on the blitz again, and this time Johnson attempts to cut him at the knees, momentarily halting his pass rush as Thigpen throws incomplete to Dwayne Bowe. Unfortunately, Fujita wasn’t completely stopped.
JOHNSON VS KAESVIHARN
This time the Saints send a safety, Kevin Kaesviharn, and we see a glimpse of the old Larry Johnson as he whiffs badly. Thigpen still completes a pass to Dwayne Bowe for a first down.
JOHNSON VS GAY
It’s another defensive back blitzing, this time off the weakside. Randall Gay has a free shot at Tyler Thigpen unless Larry Johnson does something, and he disrupts him just enough for another touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe. A quick pass, but Gay was unable to get into position to bat it down.
JOHNSON VS BULLOCKS
The Saints blitz safety Josh Bullocks, again off the weakside. Larry Johnson is there to stop him as Thigpen hits Mark Bradley with a perfect pass, which is dropped.
JOHNSON VS POSLUSZNY
Now the Bills are visiting Arrowhead Stadium, and blitz middle linebacker Paul Posluszny up the middle. Johnson meets him head on and smacks him hard, allowing Thigpen to scramble for a key first down on a scoring drive.
JOHNSON VS DENNEY
Branden Albert turns another defensive end loose, and despite the fact Ryan Denney has at least 30 pounds on him, Johnson thumps him square up in tandem with Brian Waters. Thigpen throws incomplete.
JOHNSON VS DENNEY II
Denney’s back for more, but it was a bad, bad idea. That’s because Larry Johnson goes low and upends the tall defensive end as if he was felling a mighty redwood tree. Denney is de-cleated and left eating grass, with no chance at a snap fumbled by Tyler Thigpen. Priest Holmes would be proud.
JOHNSON VS MITCHELL
Old teammates meet as Kawika Mitchell blitzes off the strong side. Larry Johnson is there to meet him and contains him to the outside as Tyler Thigpen is intercepted.
JOHNSON VS MITCHELL II
Kawika’s back for more and comes screaming up the middle on a blitz, but Larry’s ready and sends the linebacker flying off his feet as if he had hit a brick wall. Mitchell is stopped dead in his tracks as Thigpen overthrows a receiver.
JOHNSON VS WILLIAMS
The Bills call a stunt and defensive tackle Kyle Williams loops to the outside and around the corner. Despite the fact he’s outclassed by 70 pounds, Larry Johnson smacks into Williams and holds him up for a second or two, just long enough for Thigpen to get rid of the football.
JOHNSON VS DENNEY III
The Chiefs are dead in the water and Quinn Gray is playing quarterback, but the Bills don’t care and keep blitzing. Johnson meets his old pal Ryan Denney and takes him off his feet again.
JOHNSON VS WILSON
The Bills keep blitzing and Larry Johnson keeps knocking them down. Safety George Wilson runs up the middle and meets a speedbump named Larry Johnson, who takes him off his feet a full three yards from the quarterback.
• • •
Two weeks, 15 matchups, and only once did Larry Johnson completely whiff. That’s a far cry from the pass-blocking nightmare Chiefs fans are used to watching. Can we give Larry Johnson a break, just this once?
Maybe, but it’s only fair to point out that on Johnson’s last block against the Bills, he picked up the wrong blitzer on Quinn Gray’s touchdown pass. Buffalo sent two players up the middle, and Johnson went after the outside man instead of taking on the rusher closest to his quarterback.
Back to work, Larry. Just know that some of us are thankful for the improvement.