GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It’s not necessarily an Einstein-esque revelation, but the word is out: The Arizona Cardinals struggle mightily to run the ball against good defenses.
Thursday night was the case study.
The Seattle Seahawks stacked the box against Adrian Peterson, who was coming off a career-high 37 carries for 159 yards, and slowed him nearly to a halt with 21 carries for 29 yards -- the fewest yards he’s ever had in a game with at least 20 carries. Peterson said he felt he got the runs he wanted in the Cardinals' 22-16 loss, but when he found holes, Peterson ran into Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner more often than he wanted.
“Those [are] opportunities that I have to take more advantage of and beat the guy one-on-one to make something happen,” Peterson said.
It could’ve been a sign that Peterson was fatigued after having so many carries just four days earlier. Or it could’ve been a sign that the Cardinals have a hard time against strong front sevens.
Or it was both.
Peterson ran for 9 yards on 11 rushes against eight or more defenders in the box on Thursday night, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He ran for 105 yards on 25 carries against eight-man fronts against the 49ers.
The book on how to defend Peterson this season is being written. His last two games included his most and second-most runs against eight or more defenders in the box this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The difference is the talent level on those teams. Peterson ran through San Francisco’s defensive front with ease, but had only three runs of 5 yards or longer against the Seahawks.
“It was some missed opportunities on my part,” Peterson said. “They did a great job defensively of containing us. We just really couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
Peterson was held to 21 yards on 11 carries in Week 7 in London against the Los Angeles Rams, who have one of the best defensive lines in the league. That game could have been looked at as the textbook way to slow Peterson, but there were too many other factors involved: travel, time change, practice conditions, weather.
Aside from being played on a short week, Thursday’s game was played in familiar surroundings on a familiar field in a familiar stadium.
And the Cardinals still couldn’t get the ground game going.
“It was hit or miss,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “We knew it was going to be hard. Our good front, we didn’t block as well as we did last week. There were one or two that looked like they were going to come out of there, but they didn’t.”
And it’s just going to get harder from here for the Cardinals.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries might have a torn ACL, Arians said. Humphries injured his right knee in the first quarter. It was initially believed to be a sprained MCL, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, but Arians said after the game that “it looks like right now” to be an ACL injury. That would likely sideline Humphries for the rest of the season just as he and the rest of the offensive line were finding a rhythm.
“It’s just a shame,” Arians said. “Guy was playing fantastic. Second time in one year.”
Humphries suffered an MCL sprain in Week 1 and missed the next four games.
Without Humphries anchoring the offensive line, Arizona’s run game might lose the balance it sought with Peterson -- and had against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers, who have combined for two wins this season.
When the Cardinals' run game struggles, so does the offense.
When the run game isn’t effective, the Cardinals have trouble controlling the game, keeping possession, sustaining drives and scoring, tight end Jermaine Gresham said. When it’s working, the run game can help open up passing plays such as Gresham's 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Even though Arizona didn’t break any long runs -- the longest was 9 yards -- wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald believed the “body blows” against the Seahawks’ front were working.
But for the Cardinals' run game to work against good defenses, they’ll have to continue doing one thing they did Thursday.
“The one thing I did like about it is that we stayed committed to the run game,” Fitzgerald said. “I felt like we stuck with it. We continued to pound it at them. We’ve got to continue to do that as the season goes on because when you get into those obvious passing situations against a team that has great pass-rushers like Seattle does, it makes it very difficult.”