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Cardinals Beat Titans At Own Run Game

Posted Dec 10, 2017

Kerwynn Williams outshines Tennessee's DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry

Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams helped lead a potent rushing attack in Sunday's win over the Titans.

DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are among the most recognizable running back duos in the NFL, and their presence was a major reason why the Titans were atop the AFC South heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Cardinals.

But if Kerwynn Williams and the Cardinals’ gang of backups were supposed to play second fiddle, they never received that memo. Tennessee’s 1-2 punch failed to regularly connect, and it was the Cardinals’ lesser-known runners who ended up playing a critical role in the team’s 12-7 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Williams finished with 20 carries for 73 yards and the Cardinals totaled 136 on the ground at a 4.7 yards-per-carry clip. Tennessee, meanwhile, had only 22 carries for 65 yards. Murray rushed the ball 11 times for 34 yards and Henry was held to 20 yards on eight carries. The Titans averaged 3.0 yards per rush.

“I don’t remember too many times in my time here anybody’s run the ball in this stadium on us,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Maybe the second half of that one Rams game (in 2015) on a busted assignment or two. If you want to try to come in here and run the ball, go ahead. Your quarterback is going to have to beat us.”

The Cardinals began the season with superstar David Johnson at running back, before shuffling to Chris Johnson and then Adrian Peterson. While Peterson has been solid when available, he missed a second straight game with a neck injury.

Like he did in the loss to the Rams, Williams was impressive as a fill-in, keeping the offense balanced in a grind-it-out affair. He also found a way to keep himself balanced, absorbing hits but staying on his feet for extra yardage on multiple carries.

“He’s one of those little ping pong balls that bounces in there,” Arians said. “He’s hard to bring down.”

Williams had the best day among any running back in the game, but said his focus was on the defense across from him, not the play of the running backs on the alternate sideline.

“I’m never worried about what other people got going on,” Williams said. “I’m worried about myself, how I play.”

Williams was the consistent presence, and the running game also received a huge boost from rookie wide receiver Chad Williams. With less than ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the third-round pick took an end-around 33 yards to the Arizona 48. Eight plays later, Phil Dawson connected on a go-ahead 32-yard field goal.

While Williams hasn’t made a big impact this season, he showed a flash of his athleticism on the play, firing through the crease for the big gain.

“Chad’s got wheels,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “That was a big play.”

Elijhaa Penny had two carries for 11 yards and an 18-yard reception, as the Cardinals found production from multiple reserve running backs.

The defense made sure the Titans’ duo never made a huge impact. Murray had a 54-yard run in the first quarter that was called back for holding, and while Henry had a six-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, it was the last time the Titans’ running game had a memorable play.

“We take great pride in it, stopping the run,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said.

Gabbert finished the game 17-of-26 for 178 yards and was sacked eight times in the contest. The Cardinals only had 64 yards of total offense at the half and trailed 7-0, but flipped the script in the final two quarters.

At the heart of it was winning the ground game battle, which kept the Titans off the scoreboard and allowed for a deluge of field goals for the narrow victory.

“We’ve built our team on running the ball and stopping the run, and big plays off of it,” Arians said. “We were able to make some of those today on both sides.”

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