At 2-2, Cardinals struggling to take flight

Oct 12, 2009 - 10:49 PM By ANDREW BAGNATO AP Sports Writer

TEMPE, Ariz.(AP) -- A shade better than mediocre was good enough last season for the Arizona Cardinals, who parlayed a 9-7 record into an improbable run to the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals (2-2) seem to be following the same path this year.

They have scored 85 points and allowed 89. They've beaten two teams with losing records (Houston and Jacksonville) and lost to two teams with winning records (San Francisco and Indianapolis).

"We're 2-2. You would like to be better than that the first quarter of the season," coach Ken Whisenhunt said at his weekly Monday news conference. "I think that we are getting better. We are improving."

Mediocre might be good enough again in the feeble NFC West, where the four clubs are a combined 7-12 and division leader San Francisco was pummeled 45-10 by Atlanta on Sunday. But the mood in the Cardinals' locker room is that the team needs to start playing more consistently.

"We can't go win, loss, win, loss, win, loss throughout the course of the season," safety Adrian Wilson said. "So it's time for us to kind of start stacking some wins together."

That could be a challenge. This week, the Cardinals go to Seattle (2-3), where they've won twice since the teams became division rivals in 2002.

Then the Cardinals visit the New York Giants (5-0), come home to play the Carolina Panthers (1-3) and visit the Chicago Bears (3-1).

The Cardinals' 28-21 victory over Houston on Sunday provided a snapshot of what's good and bad about them.

On the plus side, the passing attack remains potent. Quarterback Kurt Warner completed 20 of 23 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns - in the first half - as the Cardinals bolted to a 21-0 halftime lead.

Meanwhile, the defense saved the game by repelling the Texans at the goal line in the final minute.

But the game also revealed some chronic problems.

The running game is sputtering, much as it did a year ago. The Cardinals rushed for 44 yards on 16 carries, an average of 2.8 per attempt. Arizona's 56.5 rushing yards per game ranks 31st in the NFL.

A more productive running attack could have helped the Cardinals control the game in the second half against Houston. Whisenhunt said he had called a number of running plays that Warner correctly checked out of because the Texans were stacking the line of scrimmage.

"He is going to get yelled at if he runs the ball into an eight-man front," Whisenhunt said.

Arizona hoped to bolster the ground attack by drafting Beanie Wells in the first round last spring. But Wells has seen limited action this year, and he carried only seven times for 24 yards on Sunday.

"Obviously, if that dumb guy that is calling plays will call more runs, then Beanie will get more opportunities for carries," said Whisenhunt, who calls the Cardinals' offensive plays.

The defense played well in the first half and stuffed Houston in the final minute. But it also allowed the Texans to score touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second half.

Afterward, Warner expressed his disappointment with the way the game had unfolded.

"You can go home and smile and laugh, and it's easier to correct those mistakes after a win, but the guys aren't satisfied," Warner said after the game. "That's a good thing because our expectations have to be higher than what they were. We can play a lot better, and we'll get back to correcting those things."

One sign of the higher expectations: the Cardinals criticize themselves after a victory. That didn't happen much in the past, when wins were relatively scarce.

"First of all, I'm excited that we got the win," Whisenhunt said. "I think there have been a number of times around here, with this organization, where those games would have slipped through the cracks."

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