Cards struggling at multiple positions but still atop NFC West

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sure, the Cardinals miss Kurt Warner. Everybody knows that.

Yet quarterback is only the most obvious of the plentiful problems -- running back Tim Hightower prefers to call them "football issues" -- in Arizona. Remember, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle are gone, too, from the team that won the last two NFC West titles.

These rebuilt Cardinals are struggling on offense and worse on defense. Of the three teams that have scored more than 40 points in a game this season, two of them did it against Arizona.

Through four weeks of the season, the Cardinals rank 29th in total defense, 30th in run defense and 31st in total offense.

Against that backdrop, with rookie quarterback Max Hall thrust into his first NFL start, the Cardinals on Sunday play the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

"I think that we have a number of guys who have a lot of pride, and they are disappointed in the way they've played," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I think that is all you can do. Some of our best players haven't played as well as they need to play. We've made that point."

Whisenhunt didn't name names, but safety Adrian Wilson and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett are likely suspects.

Wilson has acknowledged he needs to play better. Dockett, the defensive team captain who didn't have a tackle in last Sunday's 41-10 loss at San Diego, isn't talking to reporters apart from postgame anymore. Why? "Because I don't want to," he said after Thursday's practice.

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Despite the ugly statistics, Arizona is 2-2 and tied for the lead in the weak-as-ever NFC West. The victories came with a late touchdown drive to win at St. Louis in the season opener, 17-13, and a 24-23 squeaker over Oakland when the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski missed a 32-yard field goal as the game ended. The losses, both on the road, were 41-7 against Atlanta and 41-10 against the Chargers. For those counting, that's an 82-17 margin.

The Cardinals trace their defensive woes to a lack of discipline, with too many players trying to make a big play instead of sticking to their assignments.

"That's exactly what our problems are. Everybody's so eager that they try to do more than their job," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "If we go out there and do our job, make the plays that we're supposed to, we'll do just fine."

The newcomers, for the most part, have not been the biggest culprits. The Cardinals have been pleasantly surprised by the play of NFL nomad Paris Lenon in Dansby's inside linebacker position. Although the team also misses inside linebacker Gerald Hayes, out while recovering from back surgery, rookie Daryl Washington brings speed and talent in his place.

At safety, Kerry Rhodes has been steady in Rolle's spot. Outside linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans haven't been as disruptive as pass rushers as they could be, largely because Arizona has been especially generous against the run.

When Atlanta's top two backs were out with injuries, third-stringer Jason Snelling ran for a career-best 129 yards. The following week, Oakland's Darren McFadden rushed for 105. Last week, San Diego's Mike Tolbert had his first 100-yard rushing day.

"We've got to get better," Porter said. "To stop the run is a want-to attitude. It's all 11 guys wanting to tackle and wanting to get a guy on the ground. That's all it is."

The lone bright aspect of the Cardinals' game has been on the ground, where the team is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. But they have had only 74 running plays to their opponents' 140, a fact that led Beanie Wells to complain publicly about a lack of carries this week. But when a team falls behind by three touchdowns or more, the running game is abandoned.

That happened last week, and Arizona quarterbacks were sacked nine times.

Whisenhunt finally had seen enough of quarterback Derek Anderson's errant throws and has replaced him with Hall, the rookie out of BYU.

Like Warner, Hall was not drafted. He inherits a passing game that is rated 30th out of 32 teams. To make matters worse, injuries to Steve Breaston and Early Doucet have left three rookies, two of them undrafted, in the spots behind No. 1 receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who talks like a "glass half-full" kind of guy.

"We're leading the NFC West division right now, that's where we are," Fitzgerald said. "Obviously, we're not playing the kind of football we're capable of, but things could be a lot worse. We all understand that."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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