Preparing for an opposing team's offense is never an easy task for a defense. When the Redskins take on the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, two names will make that task even more challenging: David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Starting with Johnson, the fourth-year running back out of Northern Iowa, the Redskins will have their hands full when he lines up behind quarterack Sam Bradford, or next to him, or in the slot.
"He might play quarterback," linebacker Preston Smith joked when asked about Johnson.
Part of what has made David Johnson so successful and hard to stop is his versatility. During his strong 2015 rookie campaign and a 2016 season in which he exploded for 1,239 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns -- to go along with 80 receptions for 879 yards and 4 touchdowns -- he proved to the league that he is much more than just a running back.
The Redskins found that out first hand during their matchup with the Cardinals in 2016. In the middle of a campaign that would land Johnson Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors, he compiled 175 total yards of offense, which included 12 receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals' Week 12 win over Washington.
"I always knew he was a great player," linebacker Mason Foster said about Johnson. "But the things that he was doing that game, I felt like he pretty much single-handedly beat us, you know, by himself."
Although Johnson missed nearly all of the 2017 season with an injured wrist, the Redskins defense knows that he can not be taken lightly. If the Redskins hope to limit what the Cardinals can do on offense, they understand how important limiting the production of the running back will be.
"I feel like their offense is going to go through 31 [David Johnson]," Foster said. "I think limiting those big plays are going to come by, you know, stopping the vertical pass game and limiting 31 with his big plays...not giving up one little crease, because that crease could be a big gain up the seam, like a couple years ago when we played them."
If stopping Johnson wasn't already hard enough, the Cardinals have another pretty good weapon at their disposal. Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is entering his 15th season in the NFL, but shows no signs of slowing down.
"You know, it's like fine wine. Sometimes I think the older it gets, the better it becomes," cornerback Josh Norman said about Fitzgerald's long-term success. "So, Larry [Fitzgerald], he found out how to, you know, work his game into today's system and make plays when his number is called."
Fitzgerald proved that he's only getting better with age in 2017, finishing the year with 109 catches for 1,156 yards and six touchdowns. Heading into 2018, he needs only 398 yards to pass Terrell Owens for second all-time in receiving yards.
"He may be consider himself into that category. You know which one I'm talking about, the one that's in [Canton], Ohio," Norman said. "That's a very big, you know, step to take and I feel like he's going to be immortalized once he leaves Arizona. They're going to build like a trophy or something of him because of how he's able to maintain himself all this time. So, speaking on him is a timeless thing."
Though the admiration is there, the Redskins understand that keeping Fitzgerald quiet on the field is crucial for Sunday. With new quarterback Sam Bradford at the helm, it's a good bet that he could be a favorite target come Sunday, meaning the Redskins' secondary will have to continue to work toward locking him down.
"Larry and the other guys, they're gonna want to do their thing on the outside, so we're going to have to man the guys up and be physical with them a little bit," said Norman.