A big reason the Cardinals have managed to win four games this year has been their defense’s ability to put its foot down.
However, every foot has an Achilles’ heel. And for the Arizona defenders, it is their predilection for opposing running backs to post gaudy numbers.
"In 10 games, we’ve given up six 100-yard rushers, so that has been a concern of ours," coach Dennis Green said. "We have done some good things on defense, but stopping the run hasn’t been one of them."
The Cardinals have the NFL’s seventh-worst run defense, and in their last game, the Carolina Panthers’ fourth-string running back ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns.
On Sunday, the New York Jets and Curtis Martin, who recently eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the 10th time in his 10-year NFL career, visit Sun Devil Stadium. No additional math needs to be done to figure Arizona will be under the rushing gun again.
"It all begins with their line," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "They have a very physical line, and Curtis has such good vision that if you give him a crease, he’ll take it every time. And they’ve got another back in (LaMont) Jordan that, I feel, runs even harder."
Linebacker James Darling acknowledged Arizona’s ability to stop the run needs to improve, but he added the statistics can be misleading. The Cardinals’ numbers have been skewed somewhat by their mysterious vulnerability early in games.
"If we start a lot faster, we can hold teams in check," Darling said. "In the first quarter, we’ve had some long runs against us. Without those two long runs last week, we would have been all right. We just need to start faster."
Last week, Carolina’s Nick Goings compiled 81 of his yards on two firstquarter runs, including a 57-yard touchdown. After that, Arizona managed to hold him in check.
Two weeks ago, the Cardinals allowed a combined 160 yards total offense on the New York Giants’ first two possessions, then not much afterward.
"It’s been one or two plays a game against us," defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. "I’ve coached on a lot of defenses, and you know when you can’t stop the bleeding. We can stop the bleeding."
Another factor is the pressure Arizona has managed to get, which had led to a substantial increase in quarterback sacks. An unintended consequence of good pressure is that, with a good block, it is easier to spring a big run.
"A lot of the runs we’ve given up have been off of pressure," Pendergast said. "We get pressure, they run a different play, and they have a chance to get big yards.
"It’s not like we are sitting there, giving up 8 yards, 10 yards, 8 yards, 12 yards. It’s like 2 yards, minus-2 yards, no gain, 25 yards. . . . We have to eliminate big plays."
With Jets quarterback Chad Pennington injured and Quincy Carter — a noted scrambling QB — leading the offense, New York has another weapon to take aim at Arizona’s run defense.
"Any time you go into a game, the first thing you want to do is stop the run, regardless of who it is," Dockett said. "It will be more so for this week against the Jets because that’s what they do best."
EXTRA POINTS: Backup quarterback Josh McCown was excused from practice Friday due to a death in the family.
Safety Adrian Mayes (hamstring) was the only other player to miss practice. Everyone else listed on the injury report practiced and is expected to play.
The game Sunday features two of the NFL’s top sack artists: New York’s John Abraham and the Cards’ Bertrand Berry.
"Definitely I am aware of it," said Berry, who has a half-sack less than Abraham’s 9 1/2 and one less than the Colts’ Robert Mathis. "It’s a friendly competition. . . . Winning the sack title would be nice, but it would really have to be with making the playoffs and the team having a successful season."