Running early will help Cardinals settle down QB Logan Thomas, if he plays

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After its dismal showing last weekend, getting the running game off to a fast start Sunday against Washington is high atop the Arizona Cardinals' priority list.

It will be even higher if Logan Thomas starts at quarterback.

Nerves might be at an all-time high for Thomas if he gets the nod from coach Bruce Arians sometime this weekend, but if the Cardinals run the ball early, it will help the fourth-round pick calm down a little.

"It’s going to take some of the pressure off of him if he plays," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "My biggest thing is we have to do the job collectively -- tight ends, running backs, offensive line -- and we have to get positive yards on first and second down.

"And we did not do a very good job of that last week."

All 37 of the Cardinals’ rushing yards last week against Denver came on first and second downs, and 14 of their 18 carries went for positive yards on those downs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But the Cardinals managed just four second-half yards -- all of which came after Thomas entered the game in the third quarter. A running game will give Thomas options -- again, should he play -- especially if it’s efficient. Early in the game, Thomas can turn to running plays to let himself settle into the game like a basketball player starting with a few layups before moving back to the 3-point line.

"It’ll be huge for an offense," Thomas said. "Any time you get a running game going it makes it easier on a quarterback. So, for me, for Carson [Palmer], Drew [Stanton], whoever it is ... Dennis [Dixon], if we get a running game going, it makes it easier because it opens up the play-action and they have [to] honor that first of all."

A productive running game could keep third down manageable for Arizona, which has converted 40 percent of its third downs this season, good for 19th best in the NFL. With Thomas’ size and mobility in the pocket, a first down on third-and-2 or third-and-3 could be achieved on foot -- with his feet.

Last week, Arizona had 12 runs of two yards or less, including negative plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In certain situations, runs of that distance are helpful, but last week they just magnified Arizona’s troubles running the ball.

Washington has the league’s 10th-ranked defense, but against the run, it's in the middle of the pack. By Arizona igniting the run game early, it won’t just calm Thomas down, it will open the entire offense.

"It obviously brings more people to the box," running back Stepfan Taylor said. "They have to play the run more, so they’re biting on when we run play-action and things like that and get over their head. But it keeps the defense on their toes instead of dropping back and then coming up when we do run.

"We have to take advantage of let's run the ball and pass the ball so we can keep defenses honest rather than them just crowding the box or them just dropping back making us a one-dimensional team. We need to be two-dimensional to help the offense out."