Less Pressure on Warner, Equals More Wins

It's early in the season to call any game a "must win" but the Cardinals game Sunday against the Texans comes very close. The Cardinals (1-2) already have lost two at home and three of their next four games are on the road - at Seattle, the Giants and Bears.

The Cardinals weren't crazy about having a bye in the fourth week, but perhaps it helped prepare them mentally for a tough stretch.

"It is especially tough when you go into a bye week with a loss because you seem to carry that," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

The difficult part is that the Cardinals now face 13 weeks without a break, and even more if they do make the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

"I really think you have to stay focused on just one week at a time," Whisenhunt said. "You know that you have 13 straight, but there were many years in this league that it was 16 straight without a break."

The Cardinals need to make drastic improvement in a couple of areas, however. They must protect quarterback Kurt Warner better. He has been sacked seven times in losses to the 49ers and Colts, who were able to bring pressure with just a four-man rush.

"I'm 49," FOX NFL analyst Howie Long told The Arizona Republic last week, "and today is as good as I'm going to feel. Tomorrow, I'm probably not going to feel as good. He (Warner) is not a young man. He had the hip surgery in the off-season and then I know he got dinged early on.

"And when you're down in games or in a slugfest like you were vs. San Francisco, then at the end of the game you are forced to spread them out and expose your quarterbacks to more hits.

"Like a Brett (Favre), he (Warner) can't take a lot of hits over a period of time and hope to finish the year."

A competent running game would help. The Cardinals are 31st in rushing (60.7) and 30th in yards per attempt (3.2). The 31-10 loss to the Colts skewed those statistics since the club was down 21-3 at halftime and had to go to the air in the second half.

But it's also true that the offensive line hasn't played as well as expected.

"We're inconsistent, that's the thing," said assistant head coach Russ Grimm, who coordinates the run game and coaches the line. "Each game is going to be different. We're going to be ahead in some, we're going to be behind in others. And you know, those scenarios create different problems. But the bottom line is you've got to get it done."

SERIES HISTORY: 2nd regular-season meeting. Texans lead, 1-0, winning the only game in Houston, 30-19, in 2005. This will be the Texans' first trip to Arizona during the regular season. The Texans are 6-2 against the NFC over the past two seasons. The Cardinals are 0-2 at home this season.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Sunday's game against the Texans could be the first home game that's been blacked out since the Cardinals moved into University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006. The club has sold out 36 straight games but about 1,500 tickets remained for this game as of Tuesday, according to the club. There won't be a big walk-up demand for the contest.

"It's not the first time a sellout has been in question," said left guard Reggie Wells. "We have a lot of things we want to accomplish and if we do those things, the fan fare will come with that. We can't necessarily worry about that going into the game."

--In Ken Whisenhunt's three-season tenure, the Cardinals are 1-16 when they have more turnovers than their opponents. They are 17-0 when they win the turnover battle.

--QB Kurt Warner has started 34 consecutive games for the Cardinals, the fourth-longest streak for a quarterback in team history.

--WR Anquan Boldin needs 18 receptions to become the franchise's career leader. Boldin has 518 receptions, trailing fullback Larry Centers (535) and Roy Green (522).

--The Texans and Cardinals game features two of the league's best passing offenses, based on the 2008. The Cardinals were ranked fourth in total offense last season and the Texans were third.

BY THE NUMBERS 60.7 -- That's the average rushing yards the Cardinals have through three games. That ranks 31st in the league. Granted, it's early and the Cardinals are not a run-oriented team. But they need better production.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we have a lot of games in front of us. If we can come out and play well this week, we can go a long way towards helping erase that." -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt on the disappointment of a 1-2 start.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

ILB Karlos Dansby needs to start making an impact after two quiet games. Dansby is making nearly $10 million a year as the team's franchise player and played well in the opening week in shutting down the 49ers run game. But he hasn't done much since.

The return of S Matt Ware from a shoulder injury would help the team's struggling pass defense. Ware plays in the dime packages but has missed the past two games. With Ware out, strong safety Adrian Wilson hasn't been able to play near the line of scrimmage as much. That's where Wilson does most of his damage, either blitzing off the edge or covering as a linebacker.

The club needs a better performance from its offensive line, which has been inconsistent. The pass protection has been porous in the two losses as teams have been able to pressure Kurt Warner without blitzing. Kurt Warner is great against the blitz, but often struggles when he has to move around the pocket.

PLAYER NOTES

--DL Alan Branch has found a niche as a backup nose tackle and end. Branch has dropped some weight, down to about 334, and he's played end well enough to become the top backup there. He is trying to lose five or so more pounds to improve his quickness.

--OLB Chike Okeafor should be able to play full-time this week after struggling through a shoulder injury. Okeafor, a starter, is a better run defender than his replacement, Bertrand Berry. Berry is better as a situational pass rusher and leads the team with two sacks.

--RB Beanie Wells will get more playing time if the Cardinals can get a lead or stay close in a game. He had just two carries in the last game, against the Colts, mostly because the team had to throw to try and make up for a 21-3 halftime deficit.

--TE Ben Patrick is serving the final week of a four-game suspension, and the Cardinals could use him. Tight ends Stephen Spach and Anthony Becht have been decent but they are not the all-around threat that Patrick is.

--CB Mike Adams has moved up to become the top reserve at the position, passing Ralph Brown. Adams is only 5-8 but he's very competitive and also an excellent special teams player. He excels as a gunner on punt coverage.

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