I can't write about Derrick Johnson objectively.
Let's get that on the table before we talk about his film with the Raiders. DJ is one of my favorite players of all time. I was thrilled when he somehow fell to the Chiefs back in 2005 (a decade ago. MAN time goes by). I was frustrated and amazed by him simultaneously during his first five years with the team as he flashed incredible talent but faded in and out of games in terms of impact. I vividly remember his nine interception, nine touchdown (give or take) game against the Broncos where you just felt ... I dunno. You just knew he had finally put it all together.
I love everything about the way DJ plays. I love how quickly he locates and closes on the ball. I love the way he basically teleports through blockers to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage. I love the way he takes the legs out from ball carriers with dives where he slides 5 yards on the ground. I love the fact that every now and then he runs right through tackles like the guy with the ball was made out of cardboard.
Sometimes it feels like 40 years from now, when I'm walking with a cane and it takes me 15 minutes to get to the bathroom from the kitchen, Derrick Johnson is still going to be diving around blockers and chopping the legs out from underneath running backs.
So look, this article isn't going to be some kind of detailed analysis of DJ's film against the Raiders. You want objective analysis, I'll give it to you in a sentence; DJ had a solid game against the Raiders with multiple splash plays that weren't necessarily highly impactful to the overall outcome of the game due to the timing of those splash plays. There, we're done being objective.
DJ SPECIAL. No one does this better than DJ (avoiding the mess and taking out the legs of a runner). pic.twitter.com/5hxJJ304rM— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 8, 2015
I love that so much. As always, H/T to Craig Stout, the initial coiner of the phrase "DJ Special." That's the name given to a play wherein DJ (sometimes someone else, but virtually always DJ) shoots into the backfield and stuffs the runner before he can even get going. OL are often left grasping at where they thought DJ would be in total bewilderment. It's wonderful.
Remember when he was injured last year? Achilles tendon. YIKES. All of us wondered if he'd ever make it back onto the field, never mind whether he'd be the same player he was before injury. There were already whispers that DJ was slowing down just a hair. I constantly wrote things like "even DJ at 85 percent will be an upgrade over what the Chiefs have at ILB."
See what I was doing there? I was trying to preemptively control my disappointment when DJ inevitably came back as a lesser player. We do that all the time as fans; expect the worst in order to avoid pain when bad things happen. But it was almost universally held that DJ was never going to be, you know, DJ again.
Those fears have vanished. DJ is back, and is every bit the player he ever was. Remember the concern about speed?
Very next play DJ sniffs out the throw to Murray in the flat. Look at how fast he closes. Losing a step? Nah... pic.twitter.com/LttjN3dq7R— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 8, 2015
Now, DJ's recognition of where the throw is going allows him to get a jump on the play. A little veteran savvy never hurt anyone.
However, no amount of savvy or knowhow or grit or leadership or whatever can make you close the gap between yourself and the ball carrier like that. DJ might be slower than he was five years ago, but it's not by much (if at all).
Those GIF'd plays occurred back-to-back in the fourth quarter. A lot of players don't have multiple plays in which they stuff an offense for no gain (or negative yards) over the course of the entire game. DJ had four such plays in the fourth quarter alone. Re-read that last sentence. Ignore the tortured language and focus on DJ. He stuffed the Raiders for no gain or a loss FOUR TIMES IN THE FOURTH QUARTER.
The Raiders (despite having some success running the ball) spent the majority of the afternoon throwing at the Chiefs defense. At one point they had 16 passing plays in a row. A lot of inside linebackers would have their impact greatly diminished by a gameplan like that. No DJ. Part of what has made him unique for years is that he can do everything you need in coverage.
Going back and re-watching the game, part of what caused Derek Carr to be under pressure in the second half of the game was the Chiefs clamping down in coverage. Play after play, there just wasn't anywhere to go with the ball. DJ was a big part of that, either coming up and smothering running backs or dropping back into zone and taking away the middle of the field options Carr used early in the game.
With 2:10 left in the in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were up 14 and had all but won the game. Carr (who might be a problem going forward) had managed to get a pair of quick first downs and was jamming his foot in the door to keep it from slamming shut. The Chiefs defense was clearly gassed and for a second I felt just a TINY sliver of concern that Carr would march them down the field quickly enough to at least make it interesting.
The Raiders, in a hurry-up, no-huddle offense, ran a quick play in which they sent everyone deep then had Marcel Reece (a talented, fast fullback who has hurt the Chiefs in the past) sneak out of the backfield. The idea of a play like this is to get Reece alone against a linebacker so he can make a move and get a lot of easy yards before anyone from the secondary (drawn deep by the other routes) can help out.
Great idea in theory. But great ideas don't always work out.
DJ's 4th stuff of the 4th Quarter. Defense was gassed, 1-on-1 vs. Reece out of backfield. Completely smothers him. pic.twitter.com/lAq81vyV1i— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 8, 2015
There's DJ, 33 years old and a decade-long vet, recognizing the play and shutting it down instantly. Making the tackle in bounds there is huge, as it essentially means the Raiders wasted 10 seconds to go nowhere. The clock ran down to the two-minute warning, and a precious time stoppage was wasted.
Oh, and in case you were interested, the very next play?
Oakland is forced to burn a timeout after DJ destroys another short pass attempt, and the game is all but over (as Frank Zombo was about to morph into Justin Houston for a pair of snaps).
All these years later, and DJ is still crushing the Raiders. Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin were the jabs that set everything up. Marcus Peters and Tyvon Branch were the roundhouse shots that staggered the Raiders and left them wobbly on their feet. But DJ was the overhand right that sent them crashing to the mat.
Derrick Johnson; Raider killer, overhand right, knockout punch... we could come up with all kinds of nicknames for the Chiefs all time leader in tackles.
But DJ will do.