TEMPE, Ariz. – The Arizona Cardinals have one of the NFL's worst offenses, injuries and ineptitude preventing them from running the ball effectively, protect the quarterback or score more than a handful of points.
So what can the Cardinals do to fix their problems at the midpoint of the season?
They could try to bring in new players, but that might be tough; most of the ones available have been cut by other teams.
They could revamp the offense, try something new. That might just make things worse, adding another learn-on-the-job element to players who have already been thrust into unfamiliar roles because of the injuries.
Changes on the coaching staff? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
For now, the plan is to stand pat, stick with the players and coaches they've got and try to get better together.
"Let's not get into panic here and start changing things up," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We're going to continue to do what we do and we're going to do it better."
Arizona managed to play just well enough on offense during a four-game winning streak to open the season, getting a few big plays while protecting the ball as its stingy defense shut opposing teams down.
The offense has done nothing but get in the way during the Cardinals' current four-game losing streak, averaging 11.5 points per game while turning it over seven times.
Arizona is 31st in total offense with 289 yards per game and 29th in scoring at 15.9 points.
Many of the Cardinals' problems have started up front.
Arizona lost starting tackle Levi Brown to a torn triceps muscle before the first game and more injuries have led to plenty of shuffling on the line, moving players to new positions while trying to find someone on the practice squad or waiver wire who might be able to help.
The Cardinals have allowed 39 sacks — nine more than anyone else in the NFL — and their quarterbacks have been battered, with John Skelton and Kevin Kolb both missing games with injuries.
"As any professional, you don't want to use injuries as an excuse," Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge said. "We've got guys backing these guys up that are paid professionals and they expect to come in and play at a high level. It doesn't help our continuity having that many guys out, but we expect that guys behind them to step up and play well."
Arizona's inability to get much of a ground game going hasn't helped the offense.
The Cardinals have been wracked by injuries at running back, losing Ryan Williams for the season to a shoulder injury after six games and Beanie Wells until after Thanksgiving with turf toe. LaRod Stephens-Howling also missed two games with a hip injury.
With a shuffled offensive line and down to its backup running backs, Arizona's running game has been stuck in the sand, ranking 31st in the NFL with 79 yards per game. The Cardinals were so ineffective running the ball against San Francisco on Monday night they all but gave up, rushing for seven yards — second-worst in franchise history — on nine carries in the 24-3 loss.
Without having to worry about defending the run, opposing defenses have been able to drop their safeties deep and keep the Cardinals to short gains underneath. The lack of a running game also has allowed opposing defensive linemen to charge up the field after Arizona's quarterbacks without hesitation, putting them on the run or on their backs seemingly every play.
"We have to be able to run the ball," Skelton said. "It hurts the offense as a whole if you're not able to run the ball. It's frustrating for everyone involved."
With an inconsistent offensive line and little help from the running game, Skelton and Kolb have struggled while running for their lives.
Skelton opened the season as the starter and went down with a sprained right ankle in the opener against Seattle. Kolb took over for five games and went out just as Skelton got healthy, injuring his ribs and chest on a punishing hit by the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 14.
Skelton has started the past two games and has thrown for just one touchdown with four interceptions. Kolb had a little more success, throwing for 1,169 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions, but still isn't close to even practicing.
After Arizona's loss to San Francisco, fans started calling for Ryan Lindley, a rookie from San Diego State who started the season third on the depth chart and has never taken an NFL snap.
"I'm sure there are a lot of fans saying a lot of things," Whisenhunt said. "We're all frustrated with where we are because we feel like we're better than what our record indicates right now. We're going to continue to stay the course."
The Cardinals don't have much time to get things figured out. They have a short week to prepare for Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Sunday and have the undefeated Atlanta Falcons after that.
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