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Cardinals' Offense Efficient Again

To back up defense, unit moves ball both in air and on ground against Packers

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Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) celebrates his second-quarter touchdown with a host of teammates during Sunday's 38-8 win over the Packers.

Even on cruise control the Cardinals offense gives glimpses of its horsepower.

The defense flexed its muscle despite the absence of safety Tyrann Mathieu in Sunday's 38-8 win over the Packers, scoring a pair of touchdowns and shutting down Aaron Rodgers. With that unit in hyperdrive, the offense took a back seat in much of the second half, content to keep the ball on the ground and use running back David Johnson to keep the clock moving.

"When your defense is playing like that, you're better off just making them tackle 235 pounds," quarterback Carson Palmer said.

At this point, it seems like that's the only way to slow down the Cardinals. When the outcome was still in doubt, the numbers were again prolific.

Palmer finished the first half with 238 passing yards and two touchdowns, capping it by engineering a seven-play, 80-drive for a touchdown late in the second quarter for a 17-0 lead. Michael Floyd finished with six catches for 111 yards, Johnson with 88 receiving and 39 rushing yards while Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown added touchdown catches.

Palmer finished 18-of-27 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, registering a quarterback rating of 107.8. It's become so routine that it was barely a talking point after the game.

"I thought Carson was really solid," coach Bruce Arians said. "He missed some things, but he had reasons for what he was doing."

While there's been plenty of ink spilled about the loss of Mathieu, the offense couldn't be in much better shape. While it was relying on the backfield duo of Ryan Lindley and Marion Grice at this time a year ago, Palmer is healthy and an MVP candidate with a bevy of options at his disposal.

Center Lyle Sendlein and running back Andre Ellington returned to the field against the Packers, giving the offense a full arsenal with only one week left in the regular season. The Cardinals remain far ahead of the rest of the NFL in total offense and jumped past the Panthers for the league lead in points scored.

Most promisingly, the Cardinals have been one of the best running teams in the league since Johnson ascended to starter, and it stayed that way against Green Bay. The Cardinals finished with 121 yards on 26 carries, a healthy 4.7 yards-per-carry clip. The defense may not play like this every week, but the margin for error is pretty large because this team can win shootouts if needed.

"We're able to do some great things out there, and it's fun being a part of," left tackle Jared Veldheer said. "There are a lot of different guys to spread the ball around to. I imagine it's got to be tough on a defense."

The Cardinals' one major blip came in the second quarter when Palmer tried a screen pass to Johnson and threw the ball directly to Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels, setting up Green Bay deep in Arizona territory.

"I screwed up that first one," Palmer said. "Any time a guy with a 70 number gets an interception, the quarterback messed up."

Cornerback Justin Bethel got it back with an end zone interception of Rodgers, and with 57 seconds remaining and 80 yards of field ahead of them, there was little doubt the Cardinals would try to score.

Palmer started it off with a 47-yard pass to Floyd, then hit him for nine more. Next Palmer found Fitzgerald for 12 yards, and on third-and-goal from the 7, a dart to Brown.

"Guys made plays, you know?" Palmer said.

Arians is a go-for-the-throat play-caller, and as a coach with the ear of General Manager Steve Keim, has built an offense full of dangerous skill players. Johnson wowed the crowd by breaking multiple tackles on an early catch, and then came back later and used a jump-cut that left Packers linebacker Jake Ryan grasping at air.

It's to the point where Arians can dial up just about anything and feel good about its chances of working.

"It's fun," Arians said.

Palmer has been effusive in his praise of the offensive line the last few weeks, and called the job they did on Sunday "phenomenal." When they give him time in the pocket, it allows Palmer to dissect the defense and exploit the best matchups.

"That's what we try to do," Palmer said. "That's what everybody's trying to do in this league."

As Sunday's blowout victory again proved, the Cardinals just have more options than most.

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