Cardinals lay groundwork for big plays

Beanie Wells is leading a Cardinals rushing attack that's growing more dangerous. AP Photo/Paul Connors

The Cardinals recorded four of their six longest offensive plays of the season against the Seahawks in Week 10. The best news for Arizona: two of them came with fewer than three wide receivers on the field, and one of them was a run.

This was a hot topic earlier in the season when the Cardinals were having problems striking downfield in the passing game. "You need to run the ball from run sets to force teams to play the run so you can take play-action shots," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer advised.

That is what the Cardinals have done. Against Chicago in Week 9, they ran the ball eight times in their first 11 snaps with fewer than three wide receivers. Later in the game, they threw two touchdown passes from similar personnel.

Against Seattle, the Cardinals ran the ball on their first three plays with fewer than three wide receivers. They later threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston from similar personnel.

The Cardinals have changed offensively in the last two weeks. They have used regular personnel -- two backs, two receivers, one tight end -- about 45 percent of the time on first down in each of those games. They had never done so more than a third of the time in any of their seven previous games this season.

Receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston still attract most of the attention from opponents, and rightfully so. But the Cardinals are developing a ground game separate from their three- and four-receiver packages. The Cardinals produced their two longest runs of the season in the last two games, both by Beanie Wells and both from two-receiver personnel (one covering 29 yards, the other 26 yards). Wells has 14 runs of at least 10 yards this season. Twelve of them came with fewer than three wide receivers on the field.

Wells has also been effective in limited carries with three or more wide receivers. Establishing the ground game from run-oriented personnel is important for dictating more favorable coverages. Counting playoffs last season, the Cardinals had 17 plays longer than 40 yards. Eight came with fewer than three wide receivers on the field even though Arizona used three or more 65 percent of the time (compared to 60 percent so far this season and 42 percent Sunday).

Cardinals personnel use: Week 10

Arizona averaged 9.4 yards per carry on seven rushes with one back and two tight ends on the field against Seattle. Beanie Wells in particular was effective from this grouping, averaging 14.0 yards on three carries. The chart shows the Cardinals' production by personnel group against Seattle. You can download a season-to-date report here.