Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph understood the assignment on Christmas: Find a way to stop Colts' running back and MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor, the NFL's leading rusher.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the run defense somewhat answered the bell.
Taylor cracked 100 rushing yards for the ninth time this season, most in the NFL, but the Cardinals held Taylor to just 2.5 yards per carry after his 43-yard run during the Colts' opening possession.
Taylor, who leads the league in rushing touchdowns, also did not reach the end zone for the first since Week 3. Joseph said the performance from the run defense against an elite rusher is an encouraging with a trip to Dallas -- and a running back tandem of Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard -- ahead.
"Obviously, the first play of the game was disappointing; that was the biggest run of the game," Joseph said. "But I felt good about our plan going into the game to get him stopped. I knew he was going to be tough – he was going to break some tackles and break some runs – but I was pleased with our guys after the first play of the game moving forward. The run game wasn't an issue."
The run defense aims to have similar success against Elliott and Pollard, one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. The Cardinals know what to expect from Elliott, who is 101 yards shy of his fourth-career 1,000-yard season. But Joseph said the Cardinals won't overlook Pollard, who is enjoying a career-season in rushing yards and average yards per carry. The Cowboys have the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL.
"He's a guy that makes big plays," Joseph said. "When Zeke was going through his health issues Pollard came in and made big plays. Even last year when you watched the Cowboys, he's capable of making big plays in the run and pass game. He's a guy you can't discount. He has his specialty plays – 10-15 plays you can't discount – because he will make a big play. It's going to be a challenge."
CARDINALS PAY HOMAGE TO MADDEN
Legendary coach and sportscaster John Madden passed away on Tuesday, shocking the NFL world. Madden earned one of the greatest regular season winning percentages by a head coach during his tenure with the Raiders. He was as impactful in the broadcast booth following his coaching career, and is also known for the famous Madden sports game, which was named after him.
Tight End Zach Ertz paid his respects to Madden on Thursday.
"Obviously, growing up in the Bay area everyone knew John Madden," Ertz said. " You can talk about those great Raiders teams and the legacy that they left, even though they weren't necessary in Oakland at the time. But just the legacy he had on that team. He raised the profile of football in the Bay Area. Then when he transitioned to commentating, he is the voice that I remember calling football games. The NFL lost a legend."
HUDSON, MOORE BACK AT PRACTICE
Wide receiver Rondale Moore (ankle), safety Budda Baker (ribs) and center Rodney Hudson (illness) all returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, although running back James Conner (heel) was officially a DNP despite stretching with the team in the open portion of work.
Also missing practice were defensive lineman Jordan Phillips (knee), cornerback Marco Wilson (shoulder), tight end Demetrius Harris (shoulder) and defensive lineman Zach Allen (ankle). Also limited was running back Chase Edmonds (back).
For the Cowboys, defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna (illness) didn't practice while defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (foot) and tackle Tyron Smith (ankle) were limited.