Cardinals: Looking Back, Looking Forward

The Cardinals didn't have a lot of problems with their physical health, so from that standpoint, the bye last week could have come at a better time. But for the Cardinals' mental health, the time off might have done the team some good. The Cardinals haven't played nearly as well in three games as they did in the playoff run last season.

The Cardinals have moved the ball in mostly in fits and starts -- save for the one strong showing at Jacksonville -- but the inconsistency on offense has been startling.

The run game is struggling, and the pass protection was poor in the two losses. Quarterback Kurt Warner has been sacked seven times, and at age 38, it will be difficult for him to last the season taking this many hits. Already, Warner is watching his sore right shoulder.

Much of the pressure to improve falls upon the offensive line.

The tackles, Mike Gandy on the left side and Levi Brown on the right, have struggled in pass protection.

It doesn't help that the team fell behind against the Colts a week ago and had to abandon the run. That allowed talented defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to focus all their energy on getting to Warner.

The Cardinals need to take a more balanced approach on offense and get rookie running Beanie Wells involved. He gives the club a big-play dimension that it's been missing from that position for years.

NOTES, QUOTES --Defensive coordinator Bill Davis was elevated from linebackers coach in the offseason because coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted some consistency from the unit. The Cardinals have been inconsistent but Davis thinks things will improve. "This defense can go to the top of the NFL," Davis said, "and we will. I know we have the talent to do it. And I'm not going to back off of that because I know what I'm looking at. I just have to get them together and get it right."

--The Cardinals are 0-2 at home and could be facing their first home blackout this week since moving into University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006. The Cardinals have sold out every game they've played in the new stadium. There seems to be much less interest in the Texans, however, and the Cardinals' poor home start hasn't caused any rush to the box office.



--QB Kurt Warner took part in both practices during the bye week. That was a surprise since Warner has been suffering from a sore right shoulder. but Warner wanted to practice.

--RB Beanie Wells could become a bigger factor in the offense, but he needs to prove he can protect the ball and handle a role in the passing game. He fumbled twice against Jacksonville and had only two carries against the Colts.

--LT Mike Gandy needs to do a better job in pass protection. He struggled against Justin Smith of the 49ers in the season opener and the Colts' Dwight Freeney beat him for two sacks.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald isn't making the big plays that defined the team's playoff run last season. Fitzgerald's longest catch through three games is 25 yards. Teams are doubling him with a safety, and the lack of a running game has ruined the play-action scheme.

--S Matt Ware could return this week after missing two games with a shoulder injury. Ware is not only a good special teams player but he's a safety in the team's dime package. Without Ware, starting strong safety Adrian Wilson doesn't play near the line of scrimmage as often.


PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Larry Fitzgerald's longest reception has been 25 yards and QB Kurt Warner was sacked seven times in the two losses, both at home. The protection has to improve if the passing game is going to approach the production of last season. A big piece of that puzzle is struggling left tackle Mike Gandy.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Cardinals haven't made much of a commitment to it, yet. And the top two backs, Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, each have committed critical fumbles.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- It was porous against the Colts, and too many big plays have been given up. The pass rush has been inconsistent, and the secondary isn't making big plays.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- None of the three opponents has been able to run on the Cardinals. The team speed on defense is excellent, so it's hard to get outside. The Cardinals have been susceptible to misdirection and reverses, however.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The coverage teams look much improved over last year, a bit of a surprise since the team dumped some quality veterans from special teams. Punter Ben Graham and kicker Neil Rackers have been solid. The return teams aren't producing much.

COACHING: C -- The Cardinals already have lost as many home games, two, as they did in each of the past two seasons. The defense is inconsistent, and there have been too many turnovers on offense. Everyone is talking about the need to pay attention to detail but no one is doing it.

OVERALL: C-minus -- The club should be 2-1. There was no excuse for playing poorly in the season opener at home and losing to the 49ers. Even Ken Whisenhunt has said his team has looked "bush league" at some points this season. The Cardinals had better find some consistency soon.

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