The Cardinals have never been known as a strong running team in recent memory. Their playoff runs in 2008 and 2009 were fueled by Kurt Warner and his trio of excellent receivers in Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Breaston. He was able to mask the teams struggles in those two seasons where the team ranked 32nd and 28th in rushing.
However the teams inability to run the ball has stretched out over two decades. The last 20 seasons the Cardinals have ranked better than 21st once, in 2002 when Marcell Shipp carried the team to 15th on the list. They have finished dead last four times in 1997, 2005, 2008, & 2010.
So what is the problem with the team? For many years it was due to the fact that there was no passing game from the team. Kevin Kolb, Derek Anderson, Josh McCown, Jeff Blake, Jake Plummer, Boomer Esiason, and Dave Krieg were amongst the quarterbacks who have played for the team in the past 20 years.
Kolb was supposed to revive Ken Whisenhunts career, and instead was injured day in and day out. Anderson beat out Matt Leinart, and quarterbacked the teams worst offense in the last 20 years. McCown and Blake worked off one year stints with the Cardinals. Plummer was the most successful of the quarterbacks named, and leaned on the Marcell Shipp lead running game despite a 5-11 finish. The team dealt with injuries to their pass catchers that season. Esiason was supposed to be a steal for the team, but quarterbacked the 22nd ranked offense.
So history shows the quarterback situation has been equally as lacking as the running game for the Cardinals. But blame cannot be solely put onto the quarterbacks. The Cardinals also had some of the weakest offensive lines, whether along the interior of the line, or at tackle. In recent memory you look at this past season.
Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie were able to make blocks on the outside, but the interior of Ted Larsen, Lyle Sendlein, and Paul Fanaika failed regularly to open holes wide enough for the team to run through. It took the addition of Jonathan Cooper to spark a running game. While Andre Ellington was injured for much of the year, the run game did not improve even when fresh blood came in, such as Kerwynn Williams (outside of his first two games in which Cooper was a part of) Stepfan Taylor, and Marion Grice.
Steve Keim and Bruce Arians have obviously taken last seasons struggles to heart, which is why the aggressively pursued Mike Iupati in free agency, and added AQ Shipley to compete at center. The draft is loaded with talent at running back, as Arians mentioned during the leagues Annual spring meetings.
"This might be the best group top to bottom that I’ve seen in about 10 years. There’s some teams in college running the ball and not just at the top two or four guys but all the way down. There are 15 really quality running backs in this draft."
It is still to be seen whether or not the Cardinals address it in the first round like some analysts predict, or if they hold off until later rounds. ROTB's Seth Cox ranked this years runningbacks, and his number one was Duke Johnson, a player predicted to go in the second round in most mock drafts.
And there's still the rumor of Adrian Peterson. His situation will be revisited by the league next week, and if he is to be reinstated the Vikings will have to decide what to do with him, seeing as Peterson wants a fully guaranteed contract, or out of Minnesota.
The missing key to Arizona last season was the run game. Obviously the loss of Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton hurt the team significantly, but the fact that Andre Ellington could not return to his rookie form, and the loss of Jonathan Dwyer to off the field issues, meant the team had to pass more than they likely would have liked, and cost them in big games such as the playoff loss to the Panthers, and their losses to the Seahawks.
With an offseason to address the running game, there is hope that the team can shake off two decades worth of running failure. Bruce Arians and Steve Keim have shown when they want something done, they will put all their effort into fixing that issue, and there is no reason to doubt their judgement yet.