Cardinals’ run defense has slipped over 2nd half of season

Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks found all kinds of room to run against the normally stout Arizona run defense last week.

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. — Coach Bruce Arians can’t pinpoint any one thing that is costing the Cardinals’ struggling run defense. Poor tackling, an inability to get off blocks and a string of strong rushing teams have all played their roles, he said.

Opponents may also have figured out how to run on the Cardinals’ injury-depleted front. Four of Arizona’s past five opponents have topped the 100-yard mark, and Detroit finished just two yards from making it five of the past six.

"You open up that can of worms and everything just starts going sour," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Everybody starts trying to do the same thing. Everybody watches film and they see your weaknesses and try to exploit them. It’s up to you to watch film, understand weaknesses and try to make them strengths."

The Cardinals finished last season as the No. 1 ranked run defense in the NFL, and they regained that ranking earlier this season. The Cardinals did not allow a single opponent to top the 100-yard barrier in the first eight games of the season. Only two opponents averaged more than four yards a carry (Washington and Philadelphia).

"We can just make the decision today to end that," Campbell said. "Once you realize you aren’t doing what you should be doing in that category, buckle down, do what we need to do and get back down to shutting down the run and making teams one-dimensional."

Campbell was one of three Cardinals selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. The others were cornerback Patrick Peterson, who will make his fourth consecutive appearance (third as a corner), and special teamer Justin Bethel, who was also selected last season.

Campbell got the news over the phone from team president Michael Bidwill. 

"It’s kind of scary to hear from the boss," Campbell said. "It could be a bad call, but this time of year it’s usually a good call."

Cardinals rushing defense

  Opponent Yds Avg
Week 1 Chargers 52 2.2
Week 2 Giants 81 3.0
Week 3 49ers 82 3.6
Week 4 Bye    
Week 5 Broncos 92 3.3
Week 6 Redskins 72 4.2
Week 7 Raiders 56 2.9
Week 8 Eagles 110 4.2
Week 9 Cowboys 92 3.7
Week 10 Rams 70 3.2
Week 11 Lions 98 5.2
Week 12 Seahawks 124 4.3
Week 13 Falcons 142 4.2
Week 14 Chiefs 126 7.4
Week 15 Rams 69 4.3
Week 16 Seahawks 267 7.6

Campbell is second on the team with seven sacks despite missing two games with a knee injury. He is the first defensive lineman in franchise history to post at least six sacks in six different seasons, yet too often in the past, it felt like he was toiling in anonymity.

"I would much rather be remembered as a Super Bowl winner than a Pro Bowler, but it still feels pretty good because you want to be the best of the best," he said.

When it was noted how the Pro Bowl is a lot like a club — once you get in, you get invited back often — Campbell smiled.

"That’s what they say. I guess we’ll find out," he said. "The first one is always the hardest and probably the sweetest, because you can always say for the rest of your life that you were a Pro Bowler."

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Antonio Cromartie were selected as alternates for the game, which will be played on Jan. 25 at University of Phoenix Stadium. 

San Francisco’s streak of three consecutive NFC Championship games (and three straight playoff appearances) will end this season. The 49ers (7-8) have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh admitted that is a weird feeling as he prepares to face the Cardinals on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

"Knowing it’s going to be the last game of the season, yeah, that’s been unique," he said. "We didn’t win enough games. We were very competitive in just about every ballgame and had those opportunities. That’s the NFL. It’s a great test every game, every season. They do a tremendous job making it a great test."

Cardinals: QB Drew Stanton (knee), S Deone Bucannon (knee), LB Larry Foote (knee) and TE John Carlson (calf) did not practice. LB Lorenzo Alexander (knee), DE Calais Campbell (hip), WR Jaron Brown (foot), G Jonathan Cooper (wrist), S Rashad Johnson (ankle), G Ted Larsen (shoulder) and LB Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) were limited. S Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) and WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) practiced fully. 

49ers: G Alex Boone (knee), CB Perrish Cox (shoulder), RB Carlos Hyde (ankle), WR Steve Johnson (knee), C Marcus Martin (ill), S Eric Reid (concussion), DE Justin Smith (back) and S Raymond Ventrone (groin) did not practice. CB Tramaine Brock (hamstring), LB Ahmad Brooks (thumb), CB Chris Culliver (knee) and WR Bruce Ellington (hamstring) were limited. WR Michael Crabtree (knee) and WR Brandon Lloyd (groin) practiced fully.

There has been rampant speculation that Harbaugh will leave the 49ers after this season to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Michigan. Unlike most Americans, Harbaugh said he doesn’t pay any attention to the media chatter swirling about his future.

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"None of it. Not a single bit of it. Stalwart-like in my focus," he said, laughing. "The interesting thing is if you don’t look at the internet and you don’t watch TV, you don’t know that it’s going on. That has been exactly what I have done: put the focus on the week of preparation; put the focus on players and the coaches and what we’re trying to get done here. It works … You can be completely unaware that anything is swirling."

Well, almost.

"I walk by people. I see their faces," Harbaugh said, laughing again. "I know something’s going on."

At that point in the conference call, reporters were ready to move on to another topic, but Harbaugh stayed with this one.

"There’s got be another American beside myself. I would think there would be plenty of Americans focused on their task at hand — dedicated to the mission they have and excelling at not having distraction."

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