Steve Breaston (Getty)
The Cardinals are ranked 11th in the NFL in offense, but there is plenty of room for growth over the second half of the season. The passing game already is dangerous, and the elements of that threat have been together for some time. What's been lacking is a consistent rushing attack, and the club is showing signs of being on the verge of developing that, too.
The key is the addition of rookie running back Beanie Wells, the 31st overall pick in last April's draft.
Wells is just beginning to show his talents. He's still playing behind starter Tim Hightower, and that likely won't change any time soon. But Wells could end up being the featured back in terms of carries.
In a victory last week over Seattle, he has 16 carries for 85 yards while Hightower had 10 for 37.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't rule out Wells becoming the starter, but he didn't sound as if he's in a rush to make a change.
"That's an issue that when it comes, it comes," he said. "I think that we have always said, and have been consistent, that when we feel like it's time to make a change with those things we will do it if that's deserved."
A year ago, Hightower was promoted to the starting job over Edgerrin James for the game in St. Louis. He responded with a 100-yard day, but he lost the job as the season progressed.
Hightower's big failing last year was too many negative runs.
He's been more decisive this season, and he's a much better blocker than Wells. That's an important asset because the club works out of a single back, multi-receiver formation much of the time.
But Wells is improving as a blocker and a receiver, too.
"He (Wells) is running well, but so has Tim," Whisenhunt said. "The rotation we have going now has been very effective."
SERIES HISTORY: 61st meeting. The Rams lead 30-28-2. The Cardinals have won five straight. Four of those games have been decided by at least 14 points and the last three have been blowouts with margins of 29, 21 and 24 points. The Cardinals' offense has encountered no problems moving the ball in those games, and the club hasn't scored fewer than 34 points against the Rams in their five consecutive victories.
--The Cardinals have scored 41 and 31 points in the past two games. It's the first this year they've score more than 30 points in consecutive games.
--Seattle coach Jim Mora took offense to Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett giving quarterback Matt Hasselbeck an elbow to the throat last Sunday. Dockett called the elbow a mistake. "I would never hurt Matt Hasselbeck," Dockett said. "I have a lot respect for guys who come in, play week-in, week-out, broken ribs, play hurt. I take my hat off to him and I would never try to do that. It's kind of disappointing what the coach thinks."
--Kurt Warner will make his seventh career start against his old team, the Rams, this Sunday. It will be his third start at the Edward Jones Dome as a Cardinal. The Cardinals swept the Rams last year and Warner completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 622 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He's 25-4 as a starter in St. Louis. But Warner has now played in more regular season games as a Cardinal (55) than he did as a Ram (53).
"No question it's a special place," Warner said of St. Louis, "but the meaning on the football field isn't as big, not like the first couple times going back there. I love the place, I love the people, and the fans there have just been tremendous to me."
--Warner passed for than 300 yards last week for the 51st time in his career. Only Dan Marino (63), Brett Favre (58) and Peyton Manning (55) have done it more often. Warner, however, has played in only 118 games. Marino played in 242, Favre in 282 and Manning in 185.
--Through his first 45 games, Ken Whisenhunt has the best coaching record in franchise history, 26-19. Don Coryell was 26-18-1.
BY THE NUMBERS: 34 -- That's the number of points the Cardinals have scored in four of their last five games against the Rams. The Cardinals have beaten the Rams five straight times and six of the last seven.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been entrenched here with the Cardinals so long that I definitely consider myself a Cardinal, as opposed to what it was like the first couple times going back there. I still saw myself, to a large degree, as a Ram." -- QB Kurt Warner on returning to St. Louis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Running back Beanie Wells is becoming a bigger part of the offense. He's improved in picking up the blitz, he's hanging on to the ball and he's caught the ball well. All three were question marks entering the season.
Wide receiver Early Doucet has moved past Jerheme Urban for the No. 4 receiver role. Doesn't sound like much, but the Cardinals often go to a four-receiver set.
Strong safety Matt Ware has become an integral part of the club's dime packages. When he comes in, Adrian Wilson moves to linebacker, where he is most effective.
--The Cardinals continue to carry four tight ends on the roster, mostly because of injuries. Ben Patrick is hampered by a knee strain, and Stephen Spach is just returning from ankle sprain. If they become healthy, the club could release Dominique Byrd, who hasn't been active this season.
--WR Early Doucet has moved up to the No. 4 receiver role but he needs to become more reliable. He dropped a pass on third down last week.
--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, a rookie, has become one of the club's best special teams players. He leads the team with 16 special teams tackles.
--The Cardinals are having success with their two tight-end formation, especially when Ben Patrick is healthy. They have been successful running out of that formation and it's opened up the play-action pass. The tight ends have caught three touchdown passes this season after having none last year.