TEMPE, Ariz. -- Just how good is the Arizona Cardinals' rushing defense?
Well, according to the numbers, it’s very good.
Arizona is ranked third in the NFL in yards per game (58) and fourth in yards per play (2.64), a drastic difference from a year ago. In 2012, the Cardinals were 28th in the league, allowing a porous 137 yards per game. On each play, they surrendered an average of 4.3 yards, 22nd best in the NFL.
After watching it during training camp, Arizona coach Bruce Arians saw glimpses of what this year’s run defense has become.
“I think that was one of the major faults of the defense last year,” Arians said. “You never want your defense ranked in the low 20s against the run and we talked about that all the time.”
Arizona hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown and has yielded just eight rushing first downs.
New Orleans is running outside the tackles more often this year (29 percent) compared to last season (20 percent), but their productivity has declined. Running back Mark Ingram, who led the Saints in rushing outside the tackles last year, has -1 yard on eight carries this season compared to 5.7 yards per rush outside the tackles last year.
As a team, the Saints’ first-down percentage outside the tackles is down by 50 percent, and they’re facing a defense that has been stout on the edge. The Cardinals have allowed 5.67 yards off left end but haven’t given up a yard on the right side.
“They’re very strong,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think you see those guys playing the edge very well. They’ve got very good tacklers. Their scheme is outstanding. It’s a physical front and they do a good job in the back end of being on the same page and understanding how they’re fitting their gaps.”