Cardinals need ground game to do its part vs. Seahawks
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals provided a blueprint on how to beat Seattle when the teams met last December -- run the ball, control the clock. It is not their fault the rest of the league was slow on the uptake.
The Cardinals ran for 139 yards and held the ball 15 minutes longer than the Seahawks in a 17-10 victory at Century Link Field last year, overcoming four interceptions in a game that was not as close as the margin indicated.
San Diego, Dallas and Kansas City have used subtle variations on that theme to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks (6-4) this season -- the Cowboys rushing for 162 yards in Seattle and the Chiefs going for 190 last week.
Mirroring their 2013 M.O. is high on the Cardinals' priority list this Sunday, although running yards have been harder to come by this season, perhaps part of the reason the Cardinals reportedly put in a waiver claim on Ben Tate, who was awarded to Minnesota.
"If you can pound the football, no matter who you are playing, you are going to have success," Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said.
"Hopefully we can duplicate it. If not, we're going to be in trouble. So we have to deliver up front. We have to pound the football when we can, throw it when we can. You know we are going to take our shots."
If the Cardinals can duplicate last year's blueprint, it will be a reversal of current form. The Cardinals are tied for No. 30 in the league in rushing with 79.8 yards per game. They are last with a 3.07-yard average per carry.
The Cardinals (9-1) have not been able to generate much on the ground the last two weeks against St. Louis and Detroit, although they won both games and to put themselves three games ahead of division rivals Seattle (6-4) and San Francisco. They had 28 yards in 22 attempts against the Rams but took advantage of three fourth-quarter takeaways. The Cardinals had 48 yards on 26 carries against Detroit but were again victorious thanks to a defense that held the Lions to two field goals.
The loss of starting quarterback Carson Palmer would seem to make the return of the running game even more crucial.
"We have to have it to help Drew (Stanton) cancel out some of the crowd noise this weekend," Goodwin said.
A combination of little things have caused the issue, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. The Cardinals had 11 of their 20 mental errors in the running game last week, according to Goodwin.
"It's the helmet on the right side of a player, getting to the second level too quick and not blocking the down lineman, or hanging onto the down lineman and not getting to the linebacker," Arians said.
"It's mostly fundamental stuff. Then, with different stuff each week, there are some miscommunications and where we're going in our zone-blocking schemes, which have cost us some."
The Cardinals' backfield is constructed differently than last season, when Rashard Mendenhall was a first-down power back and Andre Ellington was used more in third down situations. Ellington is the primary ball carrier this season while also being used as a receiving threat, and a complementary runner has not emerged after the suspension of Jonathan Dwyer. Ellington has 624 yards on 186 carries, a 3.4-yard average. Second-year back Stepfan Taylor is second with 69 yards.
Because of a left foot injury that has nagged since preseason, Ellington does not practice in pads on Wednesday, when the game plan is introduced. Both Ellington and Arians wish things were different.
"It hurts him tremendously to miss Wednesday's practice in pads because of getting his run reads," Arians said. "He knows all his assignments, but when you don't practice them until you get out there on Sunday in full speed, it's hard."
Ellington said he needs the contact that practice provides. The only day he gets hit is game days.
"Being a running back, getting those hits during the week . . . you don't notice it, but it actually pays off when you get to the game," Ellington said. "You get used to it and you expect it more. It takes me a few hits to get going.
"Not being able to consistently practice every day limits me. I'm not hitting 'til Sunday. Just the timing things. . . . It's more getting the timing down with the quarterback and O-line."
The game matches two defenses that are strong against the run. The Cardinals are third in the NFL in rushing defense (80.5 yards a game) and the Seahawks are seventh (90.8), even after being run over by Kansas City last week.
"The run game has to get better," Goodwin said. "We talk about it every week, but it has to happen."