Brownie Points: Fast start hid Cardinals' problems

Hey, you have to admit it was a hell of a September, huh?

From the bottom of Valley sports fans' hearts, thank you to the Arizona Cardinals for helping take our minds off the lack of a baseball pennant race locally, the idiotic and insipid hockey lockout which will benefit no one and that inevitable post-Olympic hangover.

But October began with a reality check. Anyone who even mentioned the 1972 Dolphins when the Cardinals stumbled out to a 4-0 start should be smacked across the cheek with a mackerel.

That this team tip-toed its way through an entire month of hokey-pokey football, winning three games by the skin of their beaks is flat-out remarkable. But the 17-3 loss in St. Louis Thursday only magnified problems that have shown their face for five weeks but were deftly camouflaged by a strong defense and timely heroics by a quarterback who is running for his life.

•The Cardinals can’t run the ball. Doesn’t matter who – did you really expect Beanie Wells to be healthy all season? Doesn’t matter where – Ryan Williams tried to run outside too often, but it’s hard to blame him when things looked so bleak inside.

When you have most pass attempts (50), than rushing yards (45) your chances of winning a football game are like Ron Paul’s chances of waking up Nov. 7 surrounded by Secret Service agents.

If you know the other team can’t run, and you know the other team can’t pass block, the nine sacks the Rams racked up Thursday night almost sounds like underachieving. Do you think St. Louis defensive end Chris Long, who lined up all night in an all-four stance usually reserved for Usain Bolt, was worried about being burned by a draw play Thursday? Me neither.

•The Cardinals still can’t pass block. Even when the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl, they had a couple of turnstiles at the tackle position. But they also had a quarterback with a computer mind and an arm that would make Gerardo Parra weep. Kevin Kolb holds the ball too long at times. He locks on receivers at times. But this isn’t a Kolb problem, and you can't question his toughness after being treated like a crash-test dummy by the Dolphins and Rams over a five-day period.

The Cardinals started with two subpar tackles in Jeremy Bridges and Levi Brown – who was resigned because, well, good tackles just don’t make it to free agency in the NFL. Now they are both injured and gone for the season, replaced by a rookie (Bobby Massie) and a journeyman (D’Anthony Batiste) who has never been a starter in his seven-year career.

And that’s it folks. No one is trading a stud tackle to Arizona. The decision to draft receiver Michael Floyd over a first-round quality lineman doesn’t look good right now – Floyd has been a major disappointment and any reinforcements on the edge would be welcome.

Russ Grimm can’t be expected to turn these guys into Pro Bowlers and allowing your quarterback to be sacked 17 times in two games is a group effort. Where was the help? Where were the calls to release pressure? Where were the in-game adjustments?

•The Cardinals are still their own worst enemy. When you add in the par-for-the-course poor time management and head-scratching calls in the red zone, that 4-0 start becomes more and more mythical.

Down 14 points with less than three minutes left, Whisenhunt and Kolb allowed 30 seconds to run off the clock before throwing an incomplete pass – on third-and-one! One incompletion later, the game was over. On the previous drive, the Cardinals had two plays inside the 10 yard line and threw two quick slant passes to Larry Fitzgerald – neither of them in the end zone – against double coverage and he was corralled immediately. You have to give your best player a chance to make a play in the end zone.

OK, here’s the good news. The Cardinals have 10 days to prepare for Buffalo at home. If they win, they will have 10 games left and a 5-5 finish gets you to 10 wins and a probable playoff spot. Despite an increasingly difficult schedule – assuming Kolb or John Skelton, or both, isn’t in traction by then, that scenario is daunting, but doable.

Now that the whole undefeated season albatross has been lifted ... just kidding. Holster that mackerel.


Photo: Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. Contact him at jbrown5548@aol.com