Beanie Wells; Deon Grant (Getty)
The Arizona Cardinals have talked all season about their lack of consistency, but that problem is really coming from only one side of the ball: the defense. The offense seems to have ironed out its problems. And if anything, it's improving. Rookie running back Beanie Wells is growing weekly and has become a real threat. Coaches are working second-year receiver Early Doucet into the rotation.
Tim Hightower has been productive as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, and receiver Anquan Boldin has returned to health after struggling with an ankle injury for previous month.
"When you see that balance and we start forcing defense to do what we want them to do, I think that's when we are at our best," quarterback Kurt Warner said.
The defense, however, remains unpredictable. It has stretches of brilliance, such as goal-line stands against Houston and Seattle. And it has stretches when there are too many breakdowns.
That happened when they allowed Seattle to take a 14-0 lead. The group cracked down after that, yielding just two field goals the rest of the way, but coaches would like to see that kind of production throughout a game.
"I think our defense is upset because they gave up too many plays today and too much yardage, and that's not something they've been doing," coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the 31-20 victory over the Seahawks. "When our team operates together, especially like we did in the second half, we're a tough team to beat."
The Cardinals are going to need a more consistent effort from their defense down the stretch. The run defense was suspect against the Seahawks, who are not a strong running team.
In the next three games, the Cardinals face three strong running teams in the Rams, Titans and Vikings. Each has an elite back, and the Cardinals have been gashed for some big plays lately.
Linebacker Gerald Hayes' troublesome back has caused him to miss two games, and the Cardinals need him back. At about 250 pounds, he weighs 20 more pounds than his replacement, Ali Highsmith. The Cardinals need someone in the middle who can fill a gap, take on a blocker and stuff a play.
TRENDING: The Cardinals are a better team when tight end Ben Patrick is healthy. Patrick missed the first four games of the season because of a suspension, and a knee injury forced him to miss the Seattle victory. Patrick is clearly the team's best all-around tight end. He's improved his blocking skills, and he's always been a good receiver. He's one of Kurt Warner's favorite receivers in the red zone.
UNDER THE RADAR: It's hard to say that quarterback Kurt Warner is under the radar. But Arizona fans have grown spoiled by his production. It didn't seem he played all that well against Seattle but his final statistics tell a different story: 29 of 38 for 260 yards and two touchdowns. He had no interceptions and he wasn't sacked. Warner showed nice patience against the Seahawks, who rarely blitzed him.
--SS Adrian Wilson needs one sack to become the 10th player to have 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in his career. Wilson has 20 interceptions.
--WR Anquan Boldin gained 105 yards on eight receptions and moved past the 7,000 yard mark in his career. He reached that milestone in fewer games than only four other players.
--OLB Clark Haggans finished with six tackles against Seattle, including two sacks and three hits on the quarterback. Haggans missed the end of last season with a foot injury but has played as consistent as any defender this year.
--RB Beanie Wells scored two touchdowns in a game for the first time as a rookie. Wells looks powerful and fast and gained 85 yards on 16 carries.
--P Ben Graham should get serious consideration for the Pro Bowl. He averaged 52 yards a punt against the Seahawks. His net average was 43.4 yards and three of his punts were downed inside the Seattle 10.