Once pass-happy Cardinals turn to running game
TEMPE — The Arizona Cardinals seem to be undergoing something of a personality change.
The big-play passing offense that propelled them to a 13-3 record a year ago is giving way to a ground game centered on dynamic running back David Johnson.
Coach Bruce Arians said the philosophy hasn't changed but the running game has.
"We've always wanted to run it," Arians said after practice Wednesday. "We haven't always been able to. With the running back situation, we're able to run the football and that makes it a whole lot easier, especially on the quarterback. But, no, our philosophy hasn't changed. We're still how we are."
Quarterback Carson Palmer agreed. "It's what we want to do. I think it's what everybody wants to do," he said. "You run the ball and you go play-action and take our shots. There hasn't been a ton of it (in the past). I think the main thing is we've gotten so much better in the run game. We're doing such a good job up front, regardless of who's kind of filtered in with injuries. But we've improved our running game dramatically."
The Cardinals have rushed for at least 170 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 1988, the team's first season in Arizona, in wins that evened the team's record at 3-3.
But there have been hardly any of those big passing plays that have been so common in the past. Perhaps it's because defenses have adjusted to take those away or receivers haven't been able to get separation or Palmer has underthrown them. The lone long pass for a touchdown this season was a 51-yarder from Palmer to Jaron Brown in Week 2's 40-7 victory over Tampa Bay.
Palmer was 23 for 34 for 213 yards and a touchdown in Monday night's 28-3 victory over the New York Jets but the longest pass play was 14 yards.
"Everybody loves the home run ball," Palmer said, "but completions are completions. Whether it's a two-yard or 12-yard or five-yard, when defenders have to run and tackle somebody it wears you out defensively. It's demoralizing when you get lots of completions, and there's the ability to miss tackles, which is something we really do well."
The running game did produce Johnson's 58-yard touchdown.
Two of the other TDs against the Jets came on 14-play drives, one consuming 7 minutes, 37 seconds of the third quarter, the other 7:26 of the fourth. Arizona also had a 17-play touchdown drive against Buffalo, making the Cardinals the only team in the league with three touchdown drives of at least 14 plays this season.
"The longer you go, the more tired the defense gets," Palmer said, "and you could tell on some of Dave's touchdown runs, once we did get down there. He just kind of walked right in, especially on one of them."
Johnson rushed for 111 yards against the Jets. He had a pair of two-yard scoring runs up the middle along with his 58-yard play.
He's loving the load he's being asked to carry.
"Just continue to pound the rock," he said. "That's receivers and tight ends blocking down the field, helping me string out those long runs. I get tired but obviously it's a good thing."
Earl Watford, who moved in at right guard last week after Evan Mathis went down with a season-ending ankle injury, was far downfield on Johnson's long run. He doesn't know how many people he blocked on the play.
"Run blocking is fun. I'm not going to lie," Watford said. "That's probably the best thing about football, just running the ball."
It's great motivation for the line to block for a runner of Johnson's ability.
"You know you give him a little bit, he's going to get a lot," Watford said.
Arians gave the entire offensive front a game ball, including the tight ends.
"One-hundred seventy-one yards (rushing) and no sacks," he said. "That's worthy of a game ball for a blocking unit."
The Cardinals split the offense evenly against New York — 35 running plays, 35 passing plays.
Next up is a Seattle defense that's one of the NFL's best, especially against the run.
The Cardinals won't change their approach.
"We're going to come out and try to run the ball," Palmer said.
Notes: Palmer got a scheduled day off. ... wide receivers Jaron Brown (knee) and John Brown (hamstring) did not practice. ... guard Mike Iupati, who missed the Jets game with a sprained ankle, practiced and "looked good," Arians said.