NFC cham­pi­onship:

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Bob Baum

Car­di­nals need to fix run­ning game.

tempe, ariz.» The Ari­zona Car­di­nals’ once ro­bust run­ning game has all but van­ished in re­cent weeks. Now the team has to try to re­dis­cover it while fac­ing the pun­ish­ing de­fense of the Carolina Pan­thers.

In Satur­day’s 26-20 over­time vic­tory over Green Bay, the Car­di­nals man­aged just 40 yards rush­ing in 19 at­tempts, an ane­mic av­er­age of 2.1 yards per carry.

David John­son gained 35 yards in 15 tries, an av­er­age of 2.3 per at­tempt. Ari­zona’s long­est run­ning play of the game was 8 yards.

“I think they had a good scheme against us from the two weeks be­fore that when we played them, they were ready for us,” John­son said Tues­day af­ter the Car­di­nals’ walk-through prac­tice.

Ari­zona coach Bruce Ari­ans placed the blame squarely on the of­fen­sive line and not on his rookie run­ning back.

“Get­ting their (be­hind) kicked up front,” Ari­ans said. “It’s not any­thing David is do­ing. There’s just not a lot of holes there and we have to do a bet­ter job. It’s a tough chal­lenge this week.”

When the Car­di­nals face Carolina in the NFC cham­pi­onship game Sun­day, they will go against a de­fense that ranked fourth against the run in the reg­u­lar sea­son, al­low­ing 88.4 yards per game.

De­fen­sive end Jared Allen is doubt­ful for the game be­cause of a bro­ken foot.

Most of the sea­son, the Car­di­nals’ ground game had been hum­ming along nicely, with Chris John­son the fea­tured back un­til he went down with a sea­son-end­ing in­jury. David John­son, a third-round draft pick out of North­ern Iowa, knows the run­ning game has been cru­cial to the suc­cess of the Car­di­nals, who had the No. 1-ranked of­fense in the NFL dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“When we’re able to run the ball, it keeps our of­fense on the field and it just over­all helps our whole team,” John­son said.

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