The Cardinals' victory over the Raiders on Sunday came down to the final play. The Cardinals could be involved in many similar games this year if their offense continues to struggle.
There is no flow or rhythm to the unit. Quarterback Derek Anderson is struggling with accuracy and he's not getting a lot of help.
There have been too many dropped passes and busted routes. Three of the top five receivers are rookies, and the club is adjusting by using third-down backs Jason Wright and LaRod Stephens-Howling in passing situations.
"I know it's getting old," Anderson said, 'but I feel like we are a better football team than we played again (against the Raiders). We left a lot of plays out there."
That's become a familiar refrain for the Cardinals. One of the biggest offensive problems is getting the ball to receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has two touchdown catches, including one against the Raiders, but he's not getting the ball in position to make enough plays.
Anderson has targeted Fitzgerald 34 times this season, yet Fitzgerald has just 12 catches.
Part of the problem is that Fitzgerald often runs routes that require the quarterback to put some touch on the ball. That is not Anderson's strength, and the quarterback too often throws hard passes to Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is brilliant at adjusting to the ball, but he can't do that when it's thrown too hard.
Given Anderson's limitations, it could be a problem all season.
Some help is on the horizon. Receiver Early Doucet is due to miss only two more games after undergoing sports hernia surgery after the first week. Doucet, in his third season, will give Anderson more options and send one of the rookies, probably Andre Roberts, to the bench.
Until then, the Cardinals will try to survive. Although they haven't played well, they are 2-1, which is where most people expected.
If they can manage to beat either the Chargers or Saints in the next few weeks, the Cardinals are set up well for the final 11 games. Only two of the final 11 opponents made the playoffs in 2009.
UNDER THE RADAR: Inside linebacker Paris Lenon is not a loud, demonstrative player. But he has been a solid contributor in the first three games. With Gerald Hayes on PUP, Lenon is calling the defensive signals for the team. Hayes is doing well after undergoing back surgery in July, but he might have a hard time getting his job back when he returns. Unlike Hayes, Lenon plays in passing situations and is fast enough to be effective in coverage. Hayes is probably a little stronger against the run, however.
LINEUP WATCH: The search for a punt returner continues. Receiver Steve Breaston could do the job, but he's a big part of the offense, and coaches don't want to expose him to more risk. Rookie Max Komar fumbled two punts in the season opener, and rookie Andre Roberts let two bounce against the Raiders. Those punts hit Cardinals players and the Raiders recovered. Roberts seemed to be lining up too deep, which might be a reflection of the scouting report.
--RB Beanie Wells gained 75 yards on 14 carries in his first game of the season. Wells underwent knee surgery in early September, but looked fast and powerful against the Raiders.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald has been targeted 34 times this season, yet has only 12 receptions. QB Derek Anderson has been off the mark in going to Fitzgerald because those passes often require touch.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. In doing so, he won a house for an Arizona man who entered a promotion sponsored by a builder.
--ILB Paris Lenon left the game against the Raiders briefly because of a bruised tailbone. He returned and should be able to play against San Diego.
--OLB Joey Porter recorded his first sack as a Cardinal and put consistent pressure on Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
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