TEMPE, Ariz. – The Arizona Cardinals are off to their best start in 38 years despite a ground game that isn't keeping pace.
Even though the Cardinals are one of three 4-0 teams in the NFL, their running game ranks 29th out of 32 teams at 68 yards per game. Only Dallas, Pittsburgh and Oakland are worse.
While the Cardinals say they're happy to be winning regardless of the statistics, quarterback Kevin Kolb and guard Daryn Colledge know that the running game needs to get going to give the team a more balanced attack as the season moves into November and December.
"It's a big point of emphasis for us," Kolb said after practice on Tuesday, "and we know that we're going to have to have it, especially come later on in the season. That's a big part of the game as people start to get banged up and we get later on in the cold weather months."
Arizona managed just 28 yards on the ground on 15 attempts in Sunday's 24-21 overtime victory over Miami, an average of 1.9 yards per carry.
For the season, the Cardinals are gaining 2.7 yards per attempt, second-worst (behind's Pittsburgh's 2.6) in the league.
"We've got to get better," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We're trying to work on that. Hopefully, we'll show some improvement."
The Cardinals entered the season expecting the running game to be a strength behind the 1-2 punch of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.
But Wells went down in the season's third game, a 27-6 victory over Philadelphia, with a severe turf toe injury that will keep him sidelined at least through Thanksgiving weekend.
That leaves the majority of the work to Williams, the shifty second-year pro who missed all of his rookie season with a torn patella tendon in his right knee.
Williams fumbled the ball away in the season-opening win over Seattle, and again in the final minutes at New England, allowing the Patriots to attempt, and miss, what would have been the game-winning field goal.
He came back with his best performance to date against Philadelphia. In the only one-sided triumph for the Cardinals thus far, he gained 83 yards on 13 carries, a good share of them in a late drive that set up Jay Feely's 27-yard field goal that sealed the victory.
Against the Dolphins, though, he managed only 26 yards on 13 attempts. For the season, the former Virginia Tech standout has 131 yards on 42 carries, an average of 3 yards per attempt.
With Wells out, the backup chores have gone to William Powell, who made the roster with his play in the preseason but never had appeared in a regular season game until he managed 2 yards on 2 carries against Miami.
The Cardinals re-signed Alfonso Smith, a member of the team a year ago, for depth at the position.
The offense was hurt against Miami by the absence of LaRod Stephens-Howling, the diminutive situational running back with a knack for making big plays. He sat out the game with a hip flexor and his participation at St. Louis on Thursday night is expected to be a game-time decision.
The offense has had to operate behind a makeshift line after left tackle Levi Brown went down with a torn triceps in the preseason. D'Anthony Batiste moved from right tackle to left tackle, with rookie Bobby Massie starting at right tackle.
Massie was beaten repeatedly by Cameron Wake — who had 4½ of Miami's eight sacks — on Sunday. But at least Kolb was able to get some time when he needed it most, notably on his final pass of regulation, a fourth-down 15-yard dart to Andre Roberts for a touchdown with 22 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Colledge said run blocking requires teamwork up front meshed with the decisions of the person carrying the ball.
"The running game is one of those things where you've got to have everybody on the same page every single time," he said, "because if one guy is out of position, one defensive guy can change the game. We've got new guys, we've got transition, we've got new running backs, so it's one of those things that will hopefully come along soon.
"We know it's a big part of what we do and a big part of our future. Hopefully it will be this week."
Opponents at least are respecting the runs because Arizona has been successful on play-action passes. Kolb was 5 for 5 on them against the Dolphins.
The Cardinals no doubt would like to have even a sliver of the kind of success they had on the ground at St. Louis last season. In that 23-20 victory, Wells rushed for a franchise-record 228 yards, almost a quarter of his total for the season.