Using a healthy dose of David Johnson, the Arizona Cardinals seemed to have righted their listing ship, just in time for a critical NFC West showdown with Seattle.
The Cardinals’ methodical 28-3 victory over the New York Jets on Monday night lifted them to 3-3. There are 10 games to play, plenty of time to climb back into contention, but the schedule is daunting.
First up is a Sunday night home game against the Seahawks, who at 5-1 are two games up on the Cardinals. Arizona never has beaten Seattle at home in coach Bruce Arians’ three seasons in the desert. The Cardinals have won twice in Seattle.
Arians said he wouldn’t dwell on where the Cardinals have lost in the past.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s on the road or at home, we’ve got to beat them,” he said. “If we’re going to win the division, we’ve got to beat them.”
Just as they had the week before against San Francisco, the Cardinals won Monday night with a punishing running game.
Johnson rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns, including a 58-yarder that finally gave Arizona a score in the first quarter.
“David had a heck of a ball game,” said Arians, who usually picks out things to criticize about his star running back, “and I might give him a game ball.”
The Cardinals rushed for 171 yards against a Jets team that entered the game second in the NFL against the run, allowing 68 yards per game.
Arizona had perfect balance on offense — 35 rushing plays and 35 passing plays. Although Arians has always been known for his passing game, he said he’s always wanted to run the ball, too.
“It’s the way we want to play,” Arians said. “It’s always the way wanted to play. Run the football and play-action and take whatever’s there. But we really haven’t changed our philosophy at all.”
With the Jets defense taking the long ball away, Arizona was content with short passes complemented by the ground game. One touchdown drive took 11 plays, two were 14-play marathons. The only time Carson Palmer threw long was on a “free play” after the Jets jumped offside. J.J. Nelson couldn’t quite come up with the catch.
“They made us get rid of the ball quick,” Palmer said after the game. “They did a number of things to put us in situations where the ball had to come out quick. I feel we normally have big chunk plays — 15- and 20-yard pass plays. They forced us to get rid of it quick and we did a good job capitalizing in those situations.”
Johnson has rushed for 268 yards in the last two games. He leads the NFL with 833 yards from scrimmage and with eight touchdowns.
“Very pleased that we were able to run the football as well as we did against a really good front,” Arians said. “The interior guys did a heck of a job, because they throw a lot of stuff at them up the middle.”
Those interior guys included two new guards — Earl Watford and John Wetzel — who were playing due to injuries to starters Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati. Mathis was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Arians hopes Iupati, out with a sprained ankle, will be back against Seattle.
Arians said a knee injury to wide receiver Jaron Brown was not as serious as first thought and he will be listed as day to day.
First-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche was active for the first time since the season opener and the big defensive tackle drew a ‘C’ grade from Arians.
“He’s overaggressive,” Arians said. “Play technique and just do your job. You don’t have to be Superman just because you’re a first-round pick. You don’t have to go out there and get all crazy and get out of your gap.”
Overall, though, Arians praised the team’s defensive effort in holding New York to only a field goal.
“The front defensive line was outstanding, penetrating and stopping the run and letting the linebackers play free,” Arians said. “Third-down defense was much better. A lot of good individual — really good individual — performances also.”