TEMPE, Ariz. — We’re just past the halfway mark of this NFL season and there is no universal plan in sight to jump-start a dismal Cardinals offense.
Both the running game and passing engine appear to be dead on arrival, and no matter how optimistic the words from the principals, the challenge ahead remains enormous.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt and his intrepid band of warriors continue to say things one would expect, and promote the positive. However, words will not complete passes and do not move the chains.
While the defense is regarded as creditable, the offense continues to struggle, and heights needed to mount drives and score points look nearly insurmountable. The cliffs are soaring and Whisenhunt stands nearly alone on the precipice without a parachute or even a bungee cord.
Though numbers can be exaggerated and account for little, in the current case of the Cardinals, they do tell an important narrative.
Coming into Week 10, Arizona is last in the NFL in rushing, 31st in total offense and 20th out of 32 teams in passing. Their scoring remains anemic, and through the opening nine games this season, Arizona has scored 14 touchdowns. They are scoring just 16 points per game.
“The offense is not working the way it should operate,” WR Andre Roberts said right after the Cardinals returned to work following their bye week. “No, the production is not there, and we need to find ways to get better.”
It’s likely the running game likely will remain in disarray the rest of the season. Though the injured Beanie Wells is eligible to play against the Rams at home in Week 12, how healthy will he be? And with Ryan Williams done for the year, the burden of the ground game defaults to LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell.
In their last game before the bye on Nov. 4, the Cardinals gained only 54 yards on the ground against Green Bay, and Stephens-Howling picked up 51 of those in 17 carries. Against the 49ers the week before, the Cardinals managed seven net yards in the ground and QB John Skelton dropped back to pass 56 times.
Which brings us to the passing game and production from the receivers, wide and tight end.
None of them have been terribly stellar or productive, and when WR Early Doucet was benched in the Packers game for dropping two critical passes, the offensive malaise was merely exacerbated.
Doucet’s production epitomizes the Cardinals’ circumstances.
He is gaining only 8.4 yards per catch (on 19 receptions), and zero touchdowns. Conversely, Larry Fitzgerald's numbers remain comparable to last season. After nine games in 2011, Fitzgerald had 45 grabs and three touchdowns. Thus far in 2012, he has caught 51 passes for four touchdowns.
Yet, numbers tell only part of the story.
The tight end has been nearly nonexistent in the total scheme of things. With Todd Heap remaining on the sideline with a knee injury and Rob Housler (24 catches) without a touchdown, the offense continues to sputter, lack continuity and miss vital components.
“The offense is not where it needs to be,” Whisenhunt admitted after the Cardinals returned from their bye week. “It’s not just the receivers, it’s the offense. We’ve had too many dropped balls and, overall, we just have to do a better job.”
While injured QB Kevin Kolb has an 86.1 passer rating and Skelton is functioning at a 65.8 rating, neither has been dependable in getting completions into the hands of receivers. With the prospect of Kolb not returning anytime soon, fortunes are now placed upon the arm of Skelton.
For the Cardinals to pick up drastically in the passing game, Whisenhunt needs to stretch the field. Seemingly mired in some kind of West Coast offense, the offense must show different looks and Skelton needs to complete more mid-range passes. For greater efficiency, simply eliminate swing passes to the backs and quick hooks to the wideouts.
Whisenhunt needs to understand the things he currently has in place are not working. He can't believe this team will get better by simply having him say, “we need to get better.”
Now is the time for more slants, in the 15- to 20-yard range, to the wideouts, and more involvement of the tight ends in both the general and red-zone offenses.
With just seven games remaining, there’s not much more for this team to lose.