The following is a scouting report from Redbirds to the SB from Revenge Of The Birds, who was kind enough to answer my request for a report concentrating on the Cardinals' running game and defense. Give it a read, and then head over to the discussion thread to weigh in on tomorrow's game. Big thanks to Redbirds to the SB!
The running game for the Arizona Cardinals has been an exercise in futility for most of the season. They've started three different backs and tried running from every formation including the ever-popular wild-cat formation. For the most part, the results have been below average to simply embarrassing. It's hard to point a finger at any certain person, personnel group or offensive philosophy though because I don't think any of them are suited for a strong running game. The offensive line is built to and conditioned to protect the quarterback. The running backs seem like a good mix of complimentary backs with no real 'workhorse.' has been that 'bell cow' back for his entire career but earlier in the year he looked like a 30 year old back with almost 3,000 career carries. He was replaced by Tim Hightower, a fifth round rookie, and he had one good game (22 carries 109 yards vs STL) before combining for 157 yards in the final eight games of the season. J.J Arrington seems like the only back that has a defined role. He's fit in well as the 3rd down back who can pop a good gain on a draw or take a quick swing pass for nice gain. The offensive philosophy seems to also hinder the running game at times because the passing game flourishes when they've got three or four wide receivers on the field. Obviously not having a tight end or fullback or both on the field will slow down a running game at times. It's also worth noting that getting down by multiple touchdowns early in games has a way of neutralizing the running game and that's certainly something that the Cardinals have suffered from this season.
The Arizona Cardinals defense takes alot of shots during the season and for the most part, they're deserved. I don't think they're as bad as the 26.6 points per game they've given up (28th in the league) would suggest though, but they do have a small margin for error. What I mean by that is that they're a capable unit as long as the offense doesn't put them behind the eight ball. Case in point, in every single game this season that the opposition has scored more than 25 points (6 times), the offense turned the ball over at least twice (a total of 19 turnovers). Some good news for the defense this week is that they should be close to full strength when and Gabe Watson return. LaBoy is one of their better pass rushers and he's been slowed by a variety of ailments for most of the season. Watson is the anchor in the middle of the defensive line and he's never fully recovered from a fractured knee cap in the offseason. He seemed close to regaining his starting job until he experienced some swelling and sat out of practice and the game last week. The secondary has been terrible at times this season but the emergence of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and settling into the free safety spot is give them some stability. The front seven is a athletic group that plays much better with a lead considering that most of them are better pass rushers than run stoppers. They can be exposed if the opposition is able to run right at them for four quarters.