GLENDALE, Ariz. — Because the Cardinals’ offense in general, and the offensive line in particular, has fallen on hard times, theories abound as to its cause and effect.
After an embarrassing 24-3 loss to the division-rival 49ers on national television Monday night, the 4-4 Cardinals reached the halfway point in this NFL season by dropping into an abyss of seemingly no return.
From suggestions to bring in Vince Young to direct a dreadful offense to advocating changes in the coaching staff, the Arizona offense continues on life support. Conjecture abounds, and solutions remain fleeting for a team that once was 4-0 this season.
Aside from debilitating injuries to starting QB Kevin Kolb and RBs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, production has been all but comprised. Many fingers point to the offensive line as the root cause of the plethora of sacks and abysmal running game that have marred the Cardinals' performance in recent weeks.
Numbers left over from San Francisco loss intimate a myriad of struggles has only just begun. Cardinals running backs carried only nine times for a net of seven yards and QB John Skelton, who was sacked four times, recorded a dismal 68.6 passer rating.
The Cardinals' offensive line, battered, bruised and playing now with interchangeable parts, appears overwhelmed by the speed and quickness of superior defenses.
Some argue that injures as early as training camp clearly undercut the Cardinals' offense. Starting OLT Levi Brown, not a perennial Pro Bowler by any means, went down before the season started witha torn triceps. ORT Jeremy Bridges was similarly lost with torn ligaments in his thumb.
That forced D’Anthony Batiste, who appeared in three games last season as a reserve at the critical OLT position, and rookie Bobby Massie, a fourth-round draft pick out of Ole Miss, into immediate, pressure situations at left tackle and right tackle, respectively.
Plus, starting ORG Adam Snyder was inactive for the 49ers game as he battles through a myriad of injuries, and Rich Ohrnberger, signed in August as a free agent off the street, filled in for Snyder.
Disruption of the personnel on the offensive line has led to missed assignments, and Batiste and Massie are clearly overmatched.
“Using different people is an easy excuse,” starting ORG Daryn Colledge said after the 49ers game. “The bottom line is, guys need to step up. We need to work it out. Look, we’re all professionals in here. We need to fix these mistakes.”
Still, there’s something to be said for five players working in harmony. There’s an established comfort level, the dynamics of making an important contribution to the general success of the team, and the sense of establishing continuity and rhythm.
With the current offensive line, the Cardinals have had none of this, and with road games at Green Bay and Atlanta looming, offensive execution will be a critical factor if Arizona hopes to be successful.
“The injury bug has hurt us, no question there,” said C Lyle Sendlein, in his fifth season as the team's starting center. “When you have a steady line, there’s a level of confidence and trust. There’s also non-verbal communication, and that’s equally important as verbal communication.”
Also absent is the attempt to establish any continuity in the Cardinals' offensive scheme, and the result is that the team has shown an inability to generate a sustained attack or any semblance of creative play-calling.
While head coach Ken Whisenhunt looked to be conservative in directing the offense in recent weeks, he showed no desire to stretch the field against the 49ers, did not effectively open up the passing game, and created no attempt to spring WR Larry Fitzgerald open for possible 20- and 30-yard gains against the Niners.
Maybe that had something to do with the fragile offensive line and its inability to hold defenses from mauling Arizona's quarterbacks. The four sacks allowed by the Cardinals Monday night made it 29 takedeowns that they have allowed in the past four games.
“Ultimately, we have to find ways to makes plays on Sunday or Monday night,” Skelton said. “I don’t think anyone is packing it in at this point. We’ve just have to keep executing, keep grinding and hopefully, we can turn this around.”
To do so, the offensive line must remain a progressive and productive partner. To date, this is far from reality.