Kurt Warner (Chris McGrath/Getty)
The Cardinals could take a huge step toward their first NFC West title in the next three weeks when they play three division foes, beginning with Sunday's game in St. Louis. At 4-3 and with a two-game lead, the Cardinals could almost clinch the division with three straight victories. That might too much to ask of a franchise that hasn't three consecutive games since 2002.
The Cardinals know they can't get too far ahead of themselves. The Rams are 2-5 and the Cardinals have won three straight in St. Louis. But the Cardinals shouldn't be expecting an easy win.
The Rams are playing better under interim coach Jim Haslett, winning two straight before losing a tight game in New England last Sunday.
The Cardinals (4-3), however, were encouraged by their performance in a 27-23 loss at Carolina.
"I hate to lose and no moral victories," said quarterback Kurt Warner. "But we played with an intensity (last Sunday) against a good football team that I haven't seen this team play with since I've been here."
--Coach Ken Whisenhunt is getting second-guessed for calling a fake field goal on fourth-and-15 from the Carolina 21.
Tight end Jerame Tuman caught the pass from holder Dirk Johnson but was tackled five yards short of the first down.
Whisenhunt acknowledged that 15 yards might have been too far but added that "Dirk could have thrown it a little bit faster."
--The Cardinals top two running backs, Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, rushed just 13 times for 20 yards and had only five carries in the second half. For most of the second half, the Cardinals used four and five-receiver sets. The fifth receiver was backup running back J.J. Arrington.
"Well, we had 400 yards (425 yards to be exact) of offense," Whisenhunt said. "We scored 23 points against the No. 3 defense in the league. I'll take that any week."
--CB Rod Hood has matched up with Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens and Panthers receiver Steve Smith in the past two weeks. Hood covered each the whole game. Smith scored two touchdowns, including an 18-yarder in which Hood felt Smith pushed off.
"It was blatant," Hood said. "But you have to deal with that at corner. You can't complain about it; you just have to play."
The Cardinals have only three interceptions in seven games, which points to their lack of playmakers in the secondary. Rookie corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could get more playing time if he begins to develop as expected. He has the speed to break on the ball and make some plays.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Anquan Boldin returned after missing two games because of facial surgery. He caught nine passes, including two for touchdowns. Boldin leads the league with seven touchdown receptions. He also gained 30 yards on a reverse against the Panthers.
--WR Jerame Tuman was the team's only healthy tight end last week. Starter Leonard Pope has a foot/ankle injury and was still wearing a walking boot on Monday. Backup Ben Patrick hasn't played since suffering a knee injury on Oct. 5. If those two don't show improvement this week, the club could be in the market for a tight end.
--RB Edgerrin James has carried only 16 times in the past two games as the Cardinals have relied primarily on their passing attack. But what's interesting is that backup running back Tim Hightower has had 13 carries in that time. Don't be surprised if the carries are split fairly evenly the rest of the year.
--QB Kurt Warner has an enormous amount of responsibility in this offense. When the team goes to its spread packages, Warner is calling most of the plays, although coaches can send in some run/pass options. Warner loves operating that scheme and excels at it.
--ILB Karlos Dansby hasn't blitzed much this year, but he made a big play when he did last week. He sacked Jake Delhomme, causing him to fumble and then recovered the fumbled. That set up a touchdown.