Beast Mode. CJ2K.
They’re two of the best nicknames in football and they call the NFC West home. Arizona’s Chris Johnson is having a resurgent season and already has surpassed his rushing total from 2014, while Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch has slowly returned to the form he’s terrorized the Arizona Cardinals with in past years.
They’ll both be itching to outrun the other on Sunday Night Football at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. It’ll be Johnson’s chance to prove he’s now the best running back in the West -- a title Lynch won’t give up easily.
To get ready for the matchup of the NFC West’s top two running backs, Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia put together a tale of the tape on Johnson and Lynch.
Johnson: The 30-year-old Johnson is 5-foot-11 and 203 pounds with a muscular but lithe frame that makes him slippery once he hits the hole. He doesn’t have the same 4.24-second speed in the 40-yard dash, which still holds as the combine record, but Johnson shows bursts when he accelerates out of tackles. His offseason workouts in California improved his lower-body strength, and he worked on regaining movement in his right hand after being shot in the shoulder in March.
Lynch: Listed at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Lynch has earned his reputation as a bruising back, but he ran a 4.46 40 coming out of California in 2007. He’s been the definition of a workhorse for the Seahawks, having carried the ball 1,181 times from 2011 to 2014, more than any other back in the NFL. Lynch has been durable too. He missed two games earlier this season but sat out just once in the previous four years.
Johnson: This season, Johnson has displayed a combination of power and speed. As he’s aged, his speed has slowed a bit, but he’s made up for any lost steps with a power game, which has made Johnson tougher to bring down. He’s also patient, taking 2-, 3- and 4-yard runs before breaking through for a 40- or 50-yard run. One area where Johnson’s style stands alone is his vision and his feet. He has an uncanny ability to find holes and use quick feet to get in -- and out -- of them.
Lynch: Lynch seeks out contact and punishes defenders. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he averaged 2.53 yards after contact last season, the second-best mark in the NFL. And his vision is probably underrated. The Seahawks’ zone-blocking scheme has not always featured impressive offensive line play, but Lynch is a master at finding the right crease and making quick decisions. The Seahawks are at their best when they can wear down defenses and let Lynch close opponents out. He averaged 4.8 YPC and had five touchdowns in the fourth quarter last year.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM SUNDAY
Johnson: A noticeable trend has developed when Seattle either loses or wins tight games: The opposing offense runs the ball -- a lot. When offenses have run the ball more than 20 times against Seattle’s defense, the Seahawks are 2-4. One of those wins was a one-point victory over Dallas and the other was a 26-point shutout against the Chicago Bears, whom the Cardinals beat 48-23. Johnson is built to be an every-down back. He has three games of 20 or more rushes and is coming off a 30-rush game at Cleveland. The more Johnson can chip away at the Seahawks’ front seven, the better chance he’ll have of a breaking a long run or two.
Lynch: There actually shouldn’t be a ton. Lynch is averaging just 3.64 YPC this season, which ranks 41st out of 49 qualifying players. The biggest issue has been the run blocking, but Lynch battled through multiple injuries in the first eight games. Perhaps getting some rest was just what he needed. The Seahawks need more from Lynch and the run game if they want to return to the Super Bowl for the third straight year.
SHOWING WITH A TEAM OTHER THAN THE ONE THAT DRAFTED THEM
Johnson: For as long as Johnson plays, he’ll be known as CJ2K because of his 2,000-yard season with Tennessee, the team that drafted him in 2009. But after six seasons with the Titans, Johnson signed with the New York Jets and found a system that didn’t fit him as a back. He ran for just 663 yards last season -- less than he has through eight games this year (676). Johnson was patient this offseason as teams courted him. He wanted to go to for a playoff contender -- he last played in the postseason as a rookie -- and he got that with Arizona, which is 6-2 and in the driver’s seat of the NFC West.
Lynch: Lynch spent the first three-plus seasons with the Buffalo Bills before getting traded to the Seahawks for a couple of midround picks. Many teams in the NFL are reluctant to give up much for running backs, believing that productive ball carriers are not difficult to find. But there’s no arguing that the Lynch deal has been one of the biggest factors in the Seahawks’ recent run. Lynch has scored 56 touchdowns in 81 games with Seattle and has averaged 4.4 YPC as the focal point of the offense.
ONE THING YOU DIDN’T KNOW
Johnson: He’s the NFL’s third-leading rusher and has converted all four of his third-down runs. He also leads the NFL in yards after first contact. And Johnson has done it all with a bullet in his shoulder. He went from contemplating retirement this season and doubting whether he’d ever play football again to regaining function in his right hand to returning to the dominant level he ran at during the early years of his career.
Lynch: He loves Skittles. Oh, you knew that? He’s not a fan of the media. Oh, you knew that, too? OK, how about this: He helps younger Seahawks players with their retirement planning. Really. Rookie wide receiver Tyler Lockett admitted as much during an interview with ESPN’s Kenny Mayne. “Marshawn just helps me with a lot of things as far as just understanding my worth,” Lockett said. "If you ask me, I think he’s a great guy. Even at practice, he’s helped us with the 401(k), talked to us about that. ... He’s helped us with a lot of stuff."