The Cardinals' running game totaled 112 yards rushing against the St. Louis Rams. After struggling on the ground through most of the preseason, surpassing the 100-yard mark would be considered quite an accomplishment this early in the year. Not so fast.
Yes, both Tim Hightower and LaRod Stephens-Howling displayed explosiveness and a physical presence but their performance was overshadowed by two Hightower fumbles. Hightower's second fumble came when he inexcusably put the ball on the ground while Arizona was trying to run out the clock. Safety Kerry Rhodes had apparently just sealed the win with an interception and lengthy return but Hightower gave it right back to the Rams offense.
Hightower's fumbling problems are even more concerning given Beanie Wells – who was inactive for Sunday's game in St. Louis – has struggled with ball security as well. If Hightower and Wells continue to fumble, could we see an expanded role for Stephens-Howling going forward? It's certainly a possibility, especially given his performance against the Rams.
After Hightower and the Cardinals' running game was stalling early in the game, Stephens-Howling injected life into the rushing attack after ripping off back to back runs of 15-plus yards during second-quarter action. Stephens-Howling's emergence seemed to inspire Hightower as he returned to the backfield and ripped off two long runs of his own before capping the 76-yard drive – all of which came on the ground – with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Could that be a sign of things to come as the team transitions to a more balanced offensive attack? Yes, but only if the fumbling issues are corrected. Arizona benefited from miscues by the Rams, including several dropped passes during crunch time. If the Cardinals would have been playing a better team – such as next week's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons – they more than likely wouldn't have been as lucky to leave town with the victory.
That said, even more impressive than the 112 yards racked up by the running game was the team's 5.3 yards per carry. Hightower carried the ball 13 times for 54 yards – good for 4.2 yards per carry – while Stephens-Howling was even better with seven carries for 49 yards – good for seven yards per carry.
Wells was thought to be the most explosive of the three backs on the roster but that may not be the case when he returns from a bruised knee that kept him out of Sunday's contest.
The Hightower fumbles can probably be considered out of character as he can generally be counted on in protecting the ball. QB Derek Anderson was forced to air it out 41 times, but the progress of the ground game is certainly encouraging after the first week of the season. Upon Wells' return, he'll join an already capable backfield that Arizona will attempt to get even more involved as the year progresses.
Running Game: Mixed Reviews
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