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Monday, October 6, 2008
Scouts Inc.: Cards should steer run game outside

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Ken Moll 

No one can argue that Arizona's offense lacks playmakers or scoring punch. But the imagination and explosiveness of the team's ground assault is limited. The Cardinals average more passing yards (282.6) than all but two NFL teams, but their run game ranks 24th in the league (94.2 yards per game). Even worse, Arizona averages just 3.3 yards per attempt and hasn't logged a run longer than 17 yards through five games.

For this offense to move forward, the Cardinals need to be more creative at attacking the line of scrimmage. Running backs Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington direct most of their carries between the tackles, but interior run plays aren't usually an ideal fit for a pass-heavy offense. Arizona's offensive linemen need to maintain extremely tight splits in order to keep the pocket firm for quarterback Kurt Warner, and that doesn't lend itself to creating natural creases at the line of scrimmage in a base power-blocking scheme.

Off-tackle bounce-and-sweep schemes and more end-arounds and reverses to the speedy wide receivers are ways the Cardinals could attack the edge in the run game and force opponents to defend the entire field. Varying the line splits in different situations could also be helpful in spreading out a defense up front, setting up quick hitters that get ball carriers to the second level before defenders can shed their blocks.

If Arizona doesn't address these problems soon, opponents will be able stop the run game with fewer defenders up front and use nickel packages more frequently to avoid mismatches in the passing game. Rather than using seven in the box to stop the run, opposing defensive coordinators will use one fewer defender near the line and put their linemen in inside shade alignments to force the Cardinals' run game to spill to the edge. Until Arizona's runners prove dangerous enough to occasionally rip off big chunks of yardage, defenses will overplay the pass using nickel and dime packages, which ultimately could stifle Warner and his explosive pass-catching weapons.

When a team is struggling in a particular area, the coaching staff should be charged with bringing something new (and possibly innovative) to the table in an effort to break that trend -- a la the Miami Dolphins' staff and its "Wildcat" formation. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the onus is on you.