The Hyphen’s rough day

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2012 – 11:58 am

LaRod Stephens-Howling could only smile. What else was he going to do?

His stat line from Sunday’s game against the Eagles was, well, there is no other way to put it — it was ugly. Forced into action down the stretch after Beanie Wells went out of the game and Ryan Williams was dealing with cramps, the Hyphen was battered at the line of scrimmage running plays that probably don’t fit his skill set the best. Plus the Eagles at the end knew the Cards would run the ball and were coming to stop it. So the Hyphen’s final numbers were eight carries for minus-14 yards.

“It was rough,” Stephens-Howling said. “And it was rough waking up Monday and seeing what the stats were. But again, we all knew what we had to do, we lost Beanie and we were short running backs, so I needed to get in there and take the carries. The win makes it better than those negative-14 yards.”

The end of game doesn’t explain everything. In fact, Stephens-Howling had three first-half carries that put him in a deep hole, losing 5, 4 and 2 yards, respectively. Of his eight carries, seven lost yardage. Since 1960, a total of 20 Cardinals have had a game in which they have had at least five carries and had zero or negative yards. Nine quarterback efforts dot the list. The running back closest to Stephens-Howling for day of difficulty was merely the best running back in franchise history, Ottis Anderson, who was stoned for minus-10 yards on 11 carries in a 1985 game against Dallas.

(Here’s the funny thing: Of those 20 games where a runner couldn’t get started, the Cardinals actually have a 12-7-1 record. And the Cardinals won both the game in which Anderson struggled and of course, Stephen-Howling’s game Sunday.)

Again, Stephens-Howling,  who now has 12 total rushing attempts for a grand total of one yard on the season, took it in stride. The Cardinals won. They also actually ended up running the ball OK as a team, finishing with 99 yards on 34 tries and seeing Williams rip off a career-best 83-yard performance on just 13 carries. It was surprising from the Hyphen too, since the last couple of years he has been a threat to break a big play — and usually gets at least one — every time he touches the ball.

Going forward he will be needed to help Williams as the Cards deal with the long-term loss of Wells. Sunday the Cardinals needed carries and needed him to burn clock and hold on to the ball. He would have liked to gain yards, but the result worked out. And he’s willing to live with individual sacrifice. The Cards are, after all, 3-0.

“Hey that’s what I am here to do,” Stephens-Howling said. “I’ll take one for the team.”

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Friday — Christmas — before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2009 – 4:41 pm

First, a definition. The “third rail” of politics is a subject so untouchable or controversial that to take it on would mean basically blowing up one’s career. The metaphor comes from the third rail of a railway that is exposed while carrying high voltage power – think a subway system. To step on such a third rail means electrocution and death.

Bet you didn’t think you’d read that on this blog. Ah, but there is a method to the madness.

When talking to Cards analyst Ron Wolfley about Beanie Wells for the story about he and Ottis Anderson, Wolf came up with this gem: “There are running backs, there are scatbacks, and then there are the third-rail backs. Beanie Wells is a third-rail back.” Why? “Because he can run around you, he can go to the right, he can go to the left, or he has the option of dipping and ripping.”

Dipping his shoulder and running people over, in other words. The third rail, in which a back blows up the defender. “When you’ve got a big back who rips it between the tackles for eight yards, 10 yards, 20, you are interfacing with the essence of the game,” Wolfley said. “Every football player has this primal aggression … and Beanie brings that out of the team.”

Obviously, Wolf – who also is a huge fan of Tim Hightower, by the way – loves Beanie and what he brings to the table. I know it’s early in Beanie’s career and the guy barely has 700 yards rushing on the NFL level, but assuming he stays healthy, I am guessing the third rail will stay intact.

Unleashing him on the struggling Rams Sunday could get interesting.

— The talk will continue about how long to play the starters, but for this weekend at least, unless the Cards build a giant lead, I don’t see why the Cards will gear it down against the Rams. The Vikings, the team the Cards are chasing for the unlikely chance to be the No. 2 seed, don’t play until Monday night. You won’t know if they eliminate you from that race, so there is no reason to pull back. Besides, I personally think the Cards need to get back in sync offensively and defensively and make sure they feel better about themselves, something that was lacking a bit after the Detroit win.

— In training camp, Kurt Warner mentioned he felt worn down late last season because it was clear he had to have a great game every game for the Cards to have a chance. Thanks to the running game plowing ahead behind Hightower and Wells, that’s not a concern anymore. “It’s a completely different team this year,” Warner said. “You’ve seen so many games we’ve won in so many different ways. A sign of a good football team is when somebody doesn’t have their ‘A’ game and someone else can step up and win it for you.”

— Speaking of Warner and the now-infamous touchdown-pass-that-wasn’t, I watched one replay – from ground level and the end zone – and immediately thought, “How was that not a forward pass?” But then I went back and watched the TV play (and replay) from the side, and there is little doubt Warner threw the ball a smidge behind the 7-yard line and Anquan Boldin, drifiting backward while in motion, caught it between the 8 and 9. Lateral.

— How unknown is probable Rams starting quarterback Keith Null? Here was Warner when asked about Null on the conference call this week by St. Louis reporters: “I’m sorry, who did you say?” Warner asked before a long pause. “I don’t know a lot about him. I can’t say I’ve seen him play much. Obviously, I guess I’m kind of at a loss.”

— Null at starting quarterback, Steven Jackson playing with a bad back, it all seems to point to a big day for the Cards Sunday … except that’s what we all thought last weekend when the Lions ended up with their backup running back and third-string QB.

— The Cards continue to lead the NFL in red-zone efficiency, converting 68.8 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20 into touchdowns.

— Thanks to the TD pass takeaway, Warner still needs two TD tosses to join Fran Tarkenton to be the only QBs to have 100 touchdown passes with two different teams.

— It’ll be interesting to see if the Cards can rev up the passing game. With the possibility the last game against the Packers will be nothing but a glorified scrimmage (because the teams would meet a week later in the playoffs), you know Larry Fitzgerald would like one more bust-out game. And Boldin is sitting at 870 yards receiving, so close to 1,000 that it’d be a shame not to try and get him there.

— Finally, I’m hearing the team won’t be raising the division championship banner this week. Maybe next week against the Packers. Meanwhile, I hope everyone had a good Christmas/holidays. But there’s an NFL season to finish, right?

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