It has been pretty easy to place most of the blame for the Cardinals' mediocre first half of the season on QBs Derek Anderson and Max Hall, neither of whom has done much at all to rise hopes in the desert. But a strong case can be made for the team's weak ground game becoming just as big a problem this season.
Entering the season, head coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed intent on making a running game featuring Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower the offense's new focal point. But through eight games, the Cardinals have been running on empty more often than not. The lack of a ground game was particularly glaring in overtime in Week Nine, when the team chose to completely disregard the run in the extra period of a game in which the Cardinals blew a 24-10 lead with 4:39 remaining in regulation.
Of course, the fact that the sore-kneed Wells had only one carry for minus-two yards, and 13 of the team's 21 rushing plays resulted in one yard or less (six went for loss) had something to do with an over-reliance on Anderson, who actually wasn't half bad against the Vikings.
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Actually, there were much bigger reasons behind the Cardinals' major collapse in crunch time at the Metrodome, the biggest one being the latest heroic effort of 41-year-old Brett Favre, who came up with a vintage effort when it counted most.
But the outcome might have been different had the Cardinals' offensive line not completely caved in, allowing four sacks on the team's last six offensive plays. The same can be said of a pass rush that completely disappeared when it counted most after being decent earlier on — particularly ROLB Joey Porter, who had his best outing by far as a Cardinal with a pair of sacks and a pressure on Favre that led to an interception by S Rashad Johnson.
Porter reportedly got huffy with the local media after the game for only wanting to talk to him after a good performance. Talk about ill-advised pettiness!
What we've got in the desert all of the sudden is more heat than ever on Whisenhunt after the team's first three-game losing streak since 2007. And yet amazingly, the Cardinals find themselves in a very favorable position to turn things around with four home games in the next five weeks. Only a game out of first place in the NFC West, there appears to be plenty of time to save the season.
It has become obvious that the QB play has to be better. But what might be more important is the sudden emergence of an actual ground game for an offense that has experienced a remarkable regression that would have been very hard to predict before the season started.