Marshall Faulk danced his way to a big game last week against the Cardinals. Edgerrin James ran right through the New England Patriots.
Both teams were ill at how easy it was to run the ball against their defenses. Both have an urgency to improve when the teams meet Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium, where a big running game could help the Patriots bury the Cards — or help the Cards upset the Patriots.
The Cardinals gave up 176 yards rushing to the St. Louis Rams last week. The Patriots gave up 202 to the Indianapolis Colts. The showings put both in the bottom five of the NFL in run defense.
"It’s like a fire mentality," Cardinals linebacker LeVar Woods said. "I had an old college coach who said, ‘It doesn’t matter how, just put the fire out.’ You can sit and analyze all you want, but fire is still going."
The Patriots aren’t supposed to have difficulty doing anything on defense. It was the defense that took New England to a Super Bowl title last season.
And while the Patriots did win against the Colts, the ease at which James piled up 142 yards was stunning — as was the realization that James’ two fumbles in the red zone were the only reason New England hung on to win.
"It didn’t look very good," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "If it gets better, then maybe it will be an aberration. If it doesn’t, then we’ll say that that’s a huge problem. We’re not going to know until Sunday where it is. But we certainly need to improve it."
Cardinals coach Dennis Green said the Patriots clearly miss huge nose tackle Ted Washington, who left as a free agent. Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi refused to call the Colts game a "fluke" and said the team better be prepared for a physical game up front.
Cards running back Emmitt Smith was equally cautious, though, even after rushing for 87 yards on 16 carries last week in jump-starting the Arizona running game.
"Every week," Smith said, "is a different week."
The Patriots probably have the edge in running backs, anyway. Smith was good last week, but New England has Corey Dillon. Dillon had 86 yards on 15 carries last week, and perhaps the best news for the Cards was that Belichick might not feed Dillon all day.
Dillon, who once rushed for 216 yards against the Cardinals when he was in Cincinnati, said he was fine with such little work because he is so happy to play for a winner. The Cardinals don’t mind it either.
"When he’s not there, no matter what else they are doing, you have to have a sigh of relief," Green admitted.
Green said the Cardinals had guys in position to take down Faulk last week but often waited too long and missed their opportunities. Being aggressive is important.
But what will make things difficult against the Patriots, Green said, is quarterback Tom Brady’s ability to use play-action that could burn that aggressiveness. Already, Faulk made some Cards look silly with his many cutback runs up the middle.
"We made a lot of mistakes," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, "but the effort was good."
Patriots at Cardinals
When: 1:15 p.m. Sunday Where: Sun Devil Stadium TV: Blacked out locally Radio: KDUS (1060 AM), KSLX (100.7 FM)