Running back David Johnson scores on a 10-yard reception during the Cardinals' 27-3 win over the Rams Sunday in St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS – Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington were injured, but it mattered little to the Cardinals.
Plugging running backs David Johnson and Kerwynn Williams into the lineup would work. Of that, the Cardinals and coach Bruce Arians were confident. Sunday, the Cardinals rushed for 175 yards, Arians compared Johnson to a "young Edgerrin James" and said Williams was a "December killer," and win number 10 was delivered in a 27-3 domination of the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
"They stepped up big," tackle Jared Veldheer said of Johnson and Williams. "We made it a point of emphasis we needed to get the run game going again. It was slowed the last couple of weeks."
There was little celebrating. The Cardinals (10-2), winners of six straight, have to turn around and play Thursday night against Minnesota (8-4). But at least that is at home, and the Cardinals understand that they could take a stranglehold on the NFC's No. 2
playoff seed – and a first-round bye – if they can knock off the Vikings.
The Vikings were crushed by Seattle Sunday. They travel cross country to play a Cardinals team that didn't play its best game, but played well in sweeping their NFC West brethren on the road for the first time since 2008 and in winning 10 of their first 12 games for the first time since 1948.
"We're still looking to improve," Arians said. "I've got to find reasons to holler at them about and make sure we are improving each week. There is time to look back on the journey and enjoy it but this isn't it, especially on a Thursday night week."
It'll help if the Cardinals – who finished with 524 total yards – can run like they did. Johnson finished with 99 yards on 22 carries, and added a 10-yard touchdown reception. Williams came in late but his 35-yard touchdown run highlighted his six carries (for 59 yards).
"We blocked better," Arians said.
Both backs rebounded from low moments. Johnson was fantastic in his blitz pickups and ran well in the first half, but the offense bogged down often and the Cardinals only led at halftime, 10-0.
The second drive of the second half changed all that, and both backs avoided being a goat and play critical roles in a 98-yard touchdown drive that all but sealed the win against a bad St. Louis offense. The drive started in a bad place because Williams fumbled the kickoff return out at his own 2-yard line.
Saved by a critical 31-yard jumpball catch on third down by Michael Floyd, Williams later had a 15-yard run to set up a sequence in the red zone – until Johnson fumbled himself. The Rams got the ball but it was touched while out of bounds, allowing the Cards to keep it. Johnson made his touchdown catch on the next play.
"Just try to look past that (fumble), when stuff goes bad, especially during the game," Johnson said.
Said Williams, "It's always good to be able to bounce back like that, because it shows the coaches' confidence in you."
They outperformed Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley by far. The Cardinals simply wanted to bottle up Gurley after he had 144 yards against them the first time, and they did. Gurley got loose once on a 34-yard run when the Cards failed to fill a gap, and it led to the Rams' field goal. But Gurley had just 41 total yards on nine carries, and the Rams (4-8) went nowhere.
"I wish we would've played a perfect game, but it was a pretty solid game," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.
Larry Fitzgerald surpassed the 1,000-yard mark this season with 55 yards on eight catches, receptions that got him to exactly 1,000 in his illustrious career. Meanwhile, Michael Floyd (seven catches, 104 yards) and John Brown (six for 113) got loose and J.J. Nelson had a touchdown catch.
Quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 356 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in an efficient game. Foles completed just 15-of-35 passes for 146 yards, threw an interception to Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson and was booed often in the second half.
The Cardinals finished with 29 first downs, while the Rams had just nine as the Cards avenged an early-season loss to the Rams while showing the loss of Chris Johnson and Ellington wasn't going to cripple them.
"We didn't listen to anything outside the team," Johnson said. "We kept doing the same stuff."
It's a running game that can only help going into the game against the Vikings, for whom the Cards were already trying to mentally prepare for in the locker room. The Cardinals had a similar great start after 12 games last year – 9-3 -- but "it didn't really mean much," Campbell said.
"It's how you finish. Lot of football left," Campbell said. "My mind is already on Minnesota."
Images from the Cardinals' Week 13 matchup in St. Louis