Linebacker Sam Acho (94) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie hem in Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.
ARLINGTON, Texas – The perfectionist in Calais Campbell didn't like the rushing total accumulated by Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday afternoon.
"Too much," said the Cardinals defensive end when told of Murray's 17-carry, 79-yard finish.
After a moment, his outlook softened. Maybe it wasn't a perfect night for the team's run-stopping unit, but Campbell knew this was still mighty impressive.
For the first time all season, Murray was held to under 100 yards rushing in a game. The NFL's leading rusher had sliced through defenses with
ease through eight games, amassing 1,054 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, but was mostly held in check by the Cardinals. Without a Murray breakout, the Cowboys could not move the ball well enough offensively in the Cardinals' 28-17 win.
"We knew they had been running the ball very well week in and week out," Campbell said. "We took it as a challenge. Against a good team like this that runs the ball so well, we wanted to go out there and shut him down. We did a pretty good job. There were some runs where he had too many yards, but he's a great back. He's having a great year. They made a lot of plays, but we responded."
The Cardinals sold out against the run, often employing a fourth defensive lineman – compared to their usual three -- to add some beef to the line of scrimmage. Nose tackle Dan Williams finished as the team's leading tackler with seven, including his second career sack and two tackles for loss. He was joined on the line by a rotation of Campbell, Ed Stinson, Tommy Kelly and Frostee Rucker. The alignment made it tough on Murray.
"It takes the linebacker out and gives us strength at the point of attack," coach Bruce Arians said. "We're not getting into a bubble. They've got to beat somebody right at the point of attack. It's been something that's been good for us all season."
With Murray and a highly-regarded offensive line, the Cowboys had reinvented themselves this season as a smash-mouth offense which wore down opponents. The Cardinals entered the game as the NFL's third-best defense against the run and looked forward to the challenge.
Campbell said it was a point of pride to keep Murray under 100 yards, and even worried he would hit the number on a meaningless possession
late in the game.
"I thought they were going to try to run the ball and just get him his yards," Campbell said.
Instead, Murray didn't come close to the century mark, and on the game's most important play, it was the Cardinals defense which stood tallest.
The Cowboys had a 4th-and-1 from the Arizona 34 with 9:41 remaining, trailing 14-10. Murray took the handoff but the defensive line pushed the line of scrimmage back and safety Deone Bucannon swooped in for the stop, short of the first down marker.
The Cardinals took over on downs and scored a touchdown to grab a two-possession advantage.
Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo didn't play because of a back injury, but either way the Cardinals were going to force Dallas to beat them through the air. Arians wasn't convinced Romo would sit until a few hours before kickoff and had instituted the game plan well in advance of that.
"We knew if they got the running game going their whole offense was going to start flowing," Williams said. "It didn't matter if it was (backup Brandon) Weeden or Romo in there."
The game was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter, but Murray finished that stanza with only two carries for two yards as the Cardinals pulled away.
"It was mano-a-mano," Williams said. "Who wants it bad enough?"