Going into Saturday’s game vs the Falcons, you could have made a lot of money if you would have bet that the Cardinals would have more rushing yards than the Falcons. But who really thought it would actually happen? Yes, the Cardinals do have a running game, and Saturday afternoon it flexed its muscle to the tune of 86 yards, and while it wasn’t anything spectacular, it did enough for the team to gain a 30-24 win over Atlanta to move on to the second round.
It was that running game that set the tone early, and very well could have been the reason the early flea-flicker to Larry Fitzgerald that made it 7-0 after the 42-yard TD worked. Edgerrin James had just busted off a few runs, and the early part of the play in which he had the football baited the Falcons just enough for QB Kurt Warner to throw the ball deep. And yes, Fitzgerald made a great catch in double coverage, but imagine how many Falcons would have been back there if it were not for those early runs to James?
James, a grizzled vet of playoffs games past with the Colts, led the team with 73 yards on 16 carries (4.6 yards per carry average), and it was his hard nose running that set a bit of a tempo and attitude that the Falcons were not expecting. James and Tim Hightower combined for 96 yards, and if the Cards could count on that production next week in either Carolina or New York, it will give them a spark they probably thought they would not have had on offense.
Yes, the run defense was the key to the win, stopping bruising back Michael Turner to the tune of 42 yards on 18 carries, and they made sure that they were going to put the ball in Matt Ryan’s hands to try and win the game, and they forced him to throw two picks and never allowed him to get set in the pocket.
Those two phases of the game will need to be at top form next weekend as well, and if they work as well as they did Saturday at home, there is no question it gives the Cards a much better chance to still be playing on January 18th in the NFC Title game.