Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer 403d

Cardinals should continue making Adrian Peterson focal point of offense

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- There was no question that things were going to change when Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer broke his arm in London two weeks ago and the offense was handed to Drew Stanton.

But after Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers, it's clear what the blueprint should be for the Cardinals' offense as long as Stanton is under center.

Run. Run. Run. Run. And then run some more.

Yes, Stanton threw a 52-yard bomb to John Brown on the first play of the game, but after that, he turned the stage over to Adrian Peterson and stepped out of the spotlight, managing the offense in a 20-10 win with 201 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 15-of-30 passing. Stanton wasn't asked to be the hero Sunday. He just had to make sure the offense didn't jump the tracks.

Peterson, however, was asked to carry the offensive workload -- quite literally.

"The ball's not very heavy," Arians said.

In the process, Peterson set a career high with 37 carries and showed the Cardinals that he can be the focal point of the game plan with Stanton at the helm.

"He's not a normal 32-year-old running back," Stanton said. "I think we all knew what he was capable of. We saw that from day one when he got here. We talked about it when we were in London. He is a Hall of Famer for a reason, and he's got a lot left in the tank, and he said that, and now he's backed it up multiple times.

"We came in here and wanted to run the ball. I think that's what you talk about within this offense all the time. [Arians] alludes to it. We need to be able to run the football, in physical play-action, and reduce shots."

Peterson said he knew his number of carries was somewhere in the 30s, but he wasn't keeping track. But the more he ran, the better he felt.

Being able to establish the run game early, as the Cardinals did Sunday, helps not just the passing game but also the play-action part of the scheme. That, in turn, opens up Arians' downfield passing attack.

With Peterson rebounding from a 21-yard outing against the Los Angeles Rams with 159 yards on Sunday -- and he felt he left more than 100 yards on the field -- the Cardinals look committed to the run game. That's more important than people might think because Arians admittedly has abandoned the run too quickly at times this season. But with Peterson, Arians would be shorting the offense if he stops calling runs too early, especially when Peterson runs like he did Sunday.

"I feel good," Peterson said. "I feel good. Body held up. Got twisted up a couple times. But for just, like, endurance and strength throughout the game, I felt great."

Arians called Peterson's impact on Stanton a "give and take." The Cardinals just happened to give the ball to Peterson more than they threw it. But running a good amount was the plan, and as long as Arians likes certain matchups -- he liked the matchup of Peterson against the Niners' edge defenders -- the run game should continue to be the centerpiece of the offense.

"I think the league is a run-first mentality," Stanton said. "Everyone wants to run the football. It's just a matter of if you can. We're healthy enough on the offensive line. Those guys did a tremendous job, and it makes their job easier.

"Those guys played extremely well, and that balance allows us to do a lot of different things."

Peterson forced eight missed tackles and ran for 110 of his 159 yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.

By establishing an effective ground attack, Arizona helped reduce the pressure on Stanton. The Cards' offensive line surrendered two hurries, no hits and no sacks.

Peterson got in the type of groove Sunday that shooters find when the basket looks as big as the ocean. When he got going -- he had 79 yards on 17 carries by halftime -- he didn't want to come out. Arians tried to give him a break and insert Kerwynn Williams, but Peterson kept insisting that he was good.

"It's amazing," Arians said. "Absolutely amazing. He's in unbelievable shape."

But the question this week will be how quickly Peterson can get his body back so he can handle that type of workload again, which could be particularly challenging with a quick turnaround Thursday night against the Seahawks.

"We'll see how he feels Monday and Tuesday," Arians said. "But I wish we had a full week. Obviously, we won't be able to feed him that many times in that Thursday night that quickly."

Or will they?

Peterson said he'll get some work on his body early this week -- "beat up the body a little more and give myself some time to recover" -- and should be ready to go against Seattle.

As long as Arians commits to the run, Peterson will be ready and willing to handle the rest. As long as the offensive line stays healthy, the Cardinals have a game plan that will work with Stanton under center: Let Peterson wear down the defense.

"That's what it's all about," Peterson said. "That's the mindset that I always had since I came in the league: Wear those guys down, and see if they can do it for four quarters. That's something that they then question themselves. When it's the fourth quarter and I'm still coming in there, what are you going to do?"

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