Cardinals' run-game revival leads to unprecedented Super Bowl run

Perhaps the most unexpected on-field development in the playoffs has been the revival of Arizona's running game.

With a pass-first offense and little consistency from running backs Edgerrin James and rookie Tim Hightower, the Cardinals finished the regular season, with a league-low 73.6 rushing yards per game average.

But despite their shortcoming on the ground, the Cardinals became just the fourth team in NFL history to make the playoffs after finishing last in rushing offense.

The only difference: All three of the previous teams were one-and-done in the playoffs.

Once the postseason started, Arizona's rushing attack came alive, averaging 111 yards per game in three playoff contests, while outgaining their opponents on the ground 333 yards to 232.

In Arizona's wild-card matchup with the Falcons, Edgerrin James saw his first start since Week 8, totaling 73 yards on 16 carries.

James has gone on to total 203 yards and a touchdown on 52 carries in three playoff games against the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles.

Rookie Tim Hightower, who took over for James as the team's starter midseason, has chipped in productively with 132 yards on 34 postseason carries.

Against Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Cardinals will be facing the regular season's second-ranked run defense. The Steelers held their regular-season opponents to an average of 80.2 rushing yards per game.

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Pittsburgh has been even tougher in the playoffs, holding the Chargers and Ravens to 88 combined rushing yards, including just 15 yards on 11 carries from Chargers RB Darren Sproles.

Including playoffs, the Steelers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

James had just two such games this year, gaining exactly 100 yards in games vs. the 49ers in Week 1 and the Seahawks in Week 17. Hightower had one -- a 109-yard performance against the Rams in Week 9.

But James and Hightower don't need to gain 100 yards for the Cardinals to defeat the Steelers Sunday. Nor do the Cardinals need to gain 100 total yards to force an upset. If they can run the ball with a little success, they can open up some play-action calls in the passing game that will highlight their playmaking wide receivers.

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