Cardinals challenge Steelers’ run-stopping streak
TEMPE, Ariz — Russ Grimm claimed to have no prior knowledge of the Steelers’ 28-game streak of holding running backs under 100 yards, or the Cardinals’ Edgerrin James being the last back to reach triple digits against Pittsburgh.
James carried 29 times for 124 yards Nov. 28, 2005 for the Indianapolis Colts.
“Oh, really?” deadpanned Grimm, the Cardinals’ assistant head coach and offensive line coach. “Didn’t know that. That’s interesting. Best of luck.”
James has been rejuvenated this season, his second in Arizona.
After averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per attempt in 2006, James is netting 4.6 yards per pop this time around.
Only five running backs have gained more yards than James’ 277, and just eight have more carries than his 60.
The Steelers rank No. 7 in the NFL in rushing defense and No. 2 overall.
“Against these guys, it’s hard to run the football,” Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You know that going in. Hopefully, you can mix the run and the pass and get them a little off guard and maybe you have a chance to do that.”
James declined to be interviewed for this story.
Whisenhunt, who spent three of the last six years coaching Steelers tight ends and the other three coordinating the offense, was more than happy to elaborate.
“The biggest thing, I think, is that they’ve been together for a long time,” Whisenhunt said. “A number of these guys have played in that scheme, and that scheme, in the six years that I was there, didn’t change. So when you’re talking about playing techniques, understanding how you two-gap and you play off of a block to stop the run and how you fill in their blitzes, they’ve been doing it, they’ve had a number of reps at it, they’re very comfortable with it.
“They’re very disciplined, very good at playing the techniques of their defense, which makes it tough to run the football against them.”
The Cardinals will counter with James, the NFL’s active leader and the league’s No. 16 all-time rusher with 10,662 yards, running behind a revamped offensive line that has been tweaked again early this season due to injury.
In 2006, the Cardinals started six different units, settling on the combination of Reggie Wells (right tackle and a product of South Park High School and Clarion University), Deuce Lutui (right guard), Nick Leckey (center), Milford Brown (left guard) and Leonard Davis (left tackle) over the final eight games.
This year, Arizona opened with No. 1 pick Levi Brown (Penn State) at right tackle, Lutui at right guard, free-agent acquisition Al Johnson at center, Wells at left guard and free-agent signee Mike Gandy at left tackle.
The Cardinals lost Johnson to a knee injury in their opener at San Francisco, forcing rookie-free agent Lyle Sendlein into the lineup.
Sunday against Baltimore, Brown was lost to an ankle injury and replaced by third-year pro Elton Brown, who hadn’t played tackle since high school.
Johnson practiced Friday and “looked good,” according to Whisenhunt.
Levi Brown participated in only a portion of the Cardinals’ workout and is listed as doubtful.
One way or another, Arizona will line up five linemen and try to continue improving a running game that ranked 32nd in 2005 and 30th in 2006.
The Cardinals host the Steelers ranked 14th in rushing and 11th in total offense.
“We’re gonna try to run the ball, but it is a challenge,” Whisenhunt said.
Stuffing the run
Asked what makes Steelers running back Willie Parker so good, Arizona Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson answered with a question.
‘Who?’ Wilson wondered.
Chances are, Wilson already knew that Parker leads the NFL with 74 carries and 368 yards.
Still, like his Cardinals counterpart Edgerrin James, Parker will face a challenge Sunday in his attempt to rush for 100 yards for a fourth consecutive game.
Arizona hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight consecutive games.