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Running Efficiently

After one of best recent rushing days, Cards just want threat on the ground

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Running back Tim Hightower helped the Cardinals to 182 yards rushing Sunday.
 
 
The look came across Tim Hightower's face, that telling half-smile that let anyone know the answer was obvious, because of course, the running back would love to see his team pile up the 182 yards rushing they did in Chicago.

"Yeah, we want to have days like (Chicago), days where we are feeding off each other," Hightower said. "As a competitor, you want those days."

But "being honest," Hightower added, "at the end of the day, a win is a win. We run the ball for 50 yards, you're not going to hear much out of me."

 The Cardinals have long had a tug-of-war within its offense, needing to run the ball more effectively but not necessarily – with the Cards' passing game – needing to run it as much as conventional wisdom dictates.

It's unlikely the Cards, after their showing in Chicago, are suddenly going to change. They don't have to get 180 yards every game. But having that option helps.

"We have had those games in the past," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There have been games where we have had 60, 70, 80 yards rushing where we have had 35 minutes of possession time and scored 40 points. Those are things you can definitely live with.

"I can tell you this: What we did on Sunday was certainly a more balanced effort. Obviously, we'd like to do that every week."

The Cardinals did score 31 points in a win against Miami last season and held the ball for 32 minutes rushing for only 81 yards. They beat the Rams with 34 points and 30 minutes of possession time running for 63 yards. They beat the Falcons with 30 points in the playoffs with 86 yards rushing.

"We just want to be a more complete team," guard Reggie Wells said. "Whatever the numbers are at the end of the day … in our offense, I think it's more about efficiency than the big stats."

In the last decade, the Cardinals have rushed for at least 150 yards only 13 times, and nine of those games pre-dated not only Whisenhunt but the Dennis Green era.

"If it's 180 yards or 80 yards, as long as it is effective and contributes to a victory," Beanie Wells said, "I'm fine with it."

Only three times in the past 10 years have the Cardinals rushed for more than the 182 yards they had in Chicago. Topping the list was 249 yards rushing in Seattle (9/15/02), followed by 221 against San Francisco (10/26/03) and then 211 against New Orleans (10/3/04).

But each of those games were different than the Bears game because in each of those games, the rushing numbers were spearheaded by a singular effort: Thomas Jones' 173 yards rushing against Seattle, Marcel Shipp's 165 against the Niners and Emmitt Smith's 127 versus the Saints.

Against the Bears, it was split virtually down the middle: 77 yards on 13 carries for Beanie Wells, 72 on 15 carries for Hightower. If the Cardinals can continue that production, "it would create some big problems for other teams down the road."

No one is promising a repeat anytime soon. But there is a feeling the Cardinals can run the ball better than they have in recent memory.

"It may not show up every week, but we practice it every week," run game coordinator Russ Grimm said. "Last year, we had that spurt right before the playoffs where we were running maybe 10 times a game. Then we got the last game of the year and the first three games of the playoffs and it was working.

"It's a phase (of the game) we have, it's a phase you need to get to if you run into bad weather, it's a phase you get into if the defense dictates it. But you want to be able to run the ball when you want to."

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