GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Everything had to go right Thursday night for the Arizona Cardinals.
They had to run the ball a lot and run it effectively. They had to minimize the amount of responsibility placed on quarterback Drew Stanton's shoulders. They had to make catches when they presented themselves.
None of that happened in a 22-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, and the Cardinals (4-5) learned a valuable lesson in front of a national TV audience: They're not good enough to overcome that many issues.
Just four days after Adrian Peterson had a career-high 37 carries for 159 yards, he was held to just 29 yards. But Arizona stuck with its plan of feeding him, at least early in the game. He had eight carries in the first quarter but just three in the second. He finished with 21 carries and a fumble, as Arizona had to abandon the run to begin passing more in the comeback effort.
"We knew it would be tough sledding running the ball, but we still hammered it in there," coach Bruce Arians said.
That was another lesson Arizona learned Thursday: Running the ball against good defenses is much harder than running against bad ones. The Cardinals ran for 160 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, and they gained 167 yards on the ground against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. But those two teams have combined for two wins this season.
Seattle's defense was, well, quite different from those two units. The rushing performance Arizona turned in against the Seahawks was similar to the one the Cardinals had against the Los Angeles Rams in London. They didn't wear down the Seahawks' defensive front like they did to the Bucs' or Niners' and were unable to break the big run they needed.
"We didn't have big pops, though sometimes those body blows are good too," wideout Larry Fitzgerald said. "They continue to soften the defense."
And that's where the Cardinals' problems against Seattle were most obvious. When the run game didn't work, the passing game didn't help.
Once the Cardinals began trailing, they tried to make up the difference. And that meant they had to put responsibility on Stanton. For this team to be effective, Stanton can't be relied upon to carry the offense. He needs help. He should not be throwing 47 times a game -- those are Carson Palmer-type numbers. Even Arians said Arizona had no plans for Stanton to throw that much. And as Stanton has said recently, he's not Palmer. But when the receivers don't help, there's little he can do.
Stanton said he'll never complain that he didn't get the help he needed. He took the blame, saying he needed to play better, "plain and simple." That's not saying Stanton was perfect. He threw passes that were too wide and too high. But Arizona had five drops, according to Pro Football Focus, which Arians called "way too many." J.J. Nelson let a pass go through his hands. A throw bounced off Peterson's hands.
"We just didn't make enough plays," Fitzgerald said. "There was some out there to be had, [but we] didn't make enough of them. When you're playing against a good football team like that, especially on the defensive side, you can't give up those opportunities. They're just too talented, too fast, too explosive. When you get your shots, you've got to capitalize on them."
Thursday night was a dose of reality for the Cardinals. All four of their wins have come against teams with losing records. Of their five losses, four have come against teams with winning records.
For that to change, they need to give Stanton the help he needs. They didn't do that Thursday night.