The Cardinals' run defense is ranked second in the NFL at this early stage in the season.
For all the things the Cardinals' defense accomplished last season, stopping the run wasn't very high on the list.
"I think that was one of the major faults of the defense last year," first-year coach Bruce Arians said.
The Cardinals gave up 137 yards rushing per game in 2012, 28th in the league. It's very early in 2013, but the 58 yards a game allowed rushing by the Cards is currently second in the NFL (after Kansas City gave up a bunch of yards to the Eagles Thursday night) and has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown.
"The defense as a whole, that's something we've been talking about since the offseason," nose tackle Dan Williams said. "We did put an emphasis on it. We are really committed to it, and we just want to try and make every team one-dimensional."
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles isn't effusive in his praise yet, noting there are still a lot of defensive elements he would like to see improve with consistency.
"We're still trying to find out who we are in the process," Bowles said.
The Saints, in the year coach Sean Payton was suspended last season, got away from the run more than he would have liked. Still, New Orleans has only rushed for 153 yards total in two games, which could bode well for another solid day from the Cardinals.
"You never want your defense ranked in the low-20s against the run, and we talked about it all the time," Arians said. "I think sacks are overrated. Third-down defense, red-zone defense, the two-minute stops in the game and stopping the run, getting a team one-dimensional and then getting off the field, whether it's by an uncompleted pass or a sack, just get off the field."
The Cards did that against the Lions in the second half, leading to a victory. Williams believes it starts with shutting down the run.
"Everyone took it upon themselves to improve in that category," Williams said. "For the first two games, it's been showing up."
FITZ, MENDENHALL QUESTIONABLE
Officially, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (toe) are questionable for Sunday's game but Arians sounded hopeful both will be able to play. Linebacker Kevin Minter (hamstring) has been ruled out. Tight end Rob Housler (ankle) practiced fully for the first time Friday and is probable for the game. Defensive lineman Ronald Talley was added to the injury report with a wrist injury, but he practiced fully and is probable.
For the Saints, starting safety Roman Harper is out with a knee injury, as is special teamer Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle). Four players – running back Mark Ingram, defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley, guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Tom Johnson – all are officially questionable, although none practiced all week.
A PLAN FOR GRAHAM
Bowles smiled a bit when asked how the Cardinals were going to deal with Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
"That's the age-old question," Bowles said. "Don't let him in the stadium. He's a great player. You don't slow him down. You try to play sound, fundamental defense and mix it up a little bit and hope he has a bad day."
Graham was quiet in the season opener (although he had a touchdown) but then exploded for 10 catches for 179 yards and a score last week against Tampa Bay.
"He wants you to have confidence in him, he wants you to trust him, so he's going to work his butt off for you and you see the result of that now," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
The Cards figure to switch up their coverages on Graham to make it a little harder, but like most great players, Bowles said, shutting him down completely isn't going to happen.
"Just his body frame alone presents a matchup problem and then his physical attributes takes it to another level," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "As a defense I believe we have a great game plan in place."