Columnists Kent Somers and Greg Moore identify three things to watch for during the Cardinals’ preseason game against the Raiders.
Brian Snyder, Arizona Republic
It was a common refrain last year, repeated week after week throughout the Cardinals facility. It came up after practice, after games, after it almost felt like a filler: “We have to stop the run. We’ve got to stop the run.”
In their first preseason game, the Cardinals allowed the Chargers 179 yards rushing. This was, of course, in a technically meaningless game, but given last year’s trend, it was noticeable. Cardinals’ opponents averaged 154.9 yards rushing in 2018.
Veteran nose tackle Corey Peters is anxious to cut that down, but the similarity to last year did not stand out to him.
“I look at this team and last year’s team as completely different,” Peters said. “We’re doing two different things, so I don’t really compare the two. But obviously, you want to be able to stop the run. That’s one of our main goals as a defense. So whenever a team runs the ball so well, especially at the beginning of the game when our starters are out there, it’s not a good look. It’s something we’re taking a good look at.”
While the Cardinals were able to outlast the Chargers, 17-13, their takeaway is not on the win, but on what was exposed. Coach Kliff Kingsbury did not excuse the run defense, but he did note that 87 of these yards came from Chargers quarterbacks. Regardless of how it happened, it will be an emphasis moving forward.
“Anytime you’ve in preseason and you see an area that didn’t look great in the game, you want to address it,” Kingsbury said this week. “That’s what we’re doing. I don’t know, it’s early in this process to panic, but we need to show improvement this week in the run game.”
Part of the reason that Kingsbury is not overly concerned is that he is not yet turning his attention to the opponent. The Cardinals are using training camp to install their own offense, so naturally, the defense is seeing unique looks driven by quarterback Kyler Murray. With Kingsbury and Murray hoping to stir up the NFL with a new offense, that means practice takes on a different tone. Even veterans like cornerback Patrick Peterson felt that contrast in Thursday’s game.
“It was kind of difficult, because that was our first time seeing a real run offense,” Peterson said. “Like Coach Vance (Joseph) said, that was a PhD running game we faced. We never really saw any slashes, no pulls, ’cause we’re practicing against our offense.”
There will come a time to prepare for those other offenses, and it is not now. Across the defense, players are not thrilled with the stat, but they brushed off any suggestion that this would continue. As the season gets deeper, they’ll use more and more walk-throughs to get ready for specific looks. Some of that can still get woven in now, with the Chargers game as a starting point.
“It was our real time out there facing – I won’t call it an NFL offense, but a more traditional offense, versus four-wide all the time, spread all the time,” Peterson said. “But now that we have it on tape, we have something to teach off of.”
There is one other main issue when it comes to stopping the run, and it comes up front. The Cardinals have work to do to bolster their defense line. Kingsbury knows this, and has indicated that General Manager Steve Keim is exploring options. With Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon gone, options are thinner already. The team trusts rookie Zach Allen, but he will have to adjust quickly to NFL offenses.
Without the luxury of depth to rotate as often as they’d like, it will be more difficult to slow other teams on the ground. Their next test will come Thursday against the Raiders. Still, at this point in training camp, the Cardinals defense is not alarmed.
“It’s part of it, man. It’s part of it,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We’ll be just fine. I’m not worried about our run fits.”
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