To stop Cards’ passing attack, Browns first must stop the run

Posted by Vic Carucci on December 14, 2011 – 9:34 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

You think Arizona Cardinals, and you think explosive passing game. You think Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet and other receivers who present the constant threat of making a big play.

But the Cardinals aren’t quite as pass-happy as you might assume.

Their coach, Ken Whisenhunt, actually believes that the best way to set up an effective passing game is with an even stronger rushing attack.

That is why the key to disrupting the Cardinals’ offense is stuffing their talented running back, Beanie Wells. Although the Cards didn’t run as often as usual in last Sunday’s victory against San Francisco, they will likely look to test the Browns’ run defense immediately. That makes it imperative that Cleveland picks up where it left off against Pittsburgh last Thursday night, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 76 yards on the ground.

Another reason the Cardinals have been leaning more heavily on the run is that their passing game has been inconsistent. Much of that has been due to the fact that their starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb, has been unable to stay healthy. He missed four games with a foot injury. Then, after returning to action last Sunday, he made an early exit after suffering a concussion.

John Skelton took over, and rebounded from a slow start to throw three touchdown passes in the Arizona’s 21-19 win.

The Browns need to be ready for the fact that Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike Miller will take advantage of his stable of talented pass-catchers with plenty of three- and four-receiver sets. Typical of the Cards’ firepower is the fact that, against the 49ers, Fitzgerald had receptions of 53 and 46 yards, while Doucet had a 60-yard touchdown.

Of course, regardless of who quarterbacks the Cardinals, it will be difficult for him to make plays if he isn’t upright. The Cards have allowed 43 sacks this season, in part because they prefer to have their tight ends to out for passes rather than stay in and help with pass protection.

The Cardinals’ defense is in the lower-echelon of the league for yards allowed, but it has only given up six touchdowns in the past six games. And it does an excellent job of getting after the quarterback. For the second consecutive week, the Cards had five sacks, all by different players. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton likes to involve everyone in the pass rush, including his cornerbacks.

Linebacker Paris Lenon leads the Cardinals’ in tackles and will be primarily responsible for trying to make sure the Browns don’t get anything going on the ground.

The Browns’ suspect kick coverage will be challenged by explosive rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has returned four punts for touchdowns this season.

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