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After 4-0 start evaporated into a 5-game losing streak, Cardinals ponder options

The Arizona Cardinals are guaranteed their most successful weekend since September came to an end.

All they have done the past five weeks is lose, and that won't happen this week because they don't play.

No team was a bigger surprise in the season's first month than the Cardinals, who opened 4-0 for the first time in 38 years. It was, as many suspected, fool's gold. Arizona's losing streak is five games and counting, leaving coach Ken Whisenhunt vowing to use this bye week to search for areas where changes should be made.

One already is in place. Rookie Nate Potter, a seventh-round draft pick out of Boise State, will start at left tackle, replacing D'Anthony Batiste. Unless another change is made, that will leave rookies at both tackles when the Cardinals resume play Nov. 18 at Atlanta.

The offensive line has been the biggest headache for the Cardinals. Arizona has allowed 41 sacks in nine games. No other team has given up 30. But there was improvement in last Sunday's 31-17 loss at Green Bay, when John Skelton was sacked twice, the fewest allowed by the Cardinals since they gave up one in their season-opening win over Seattle. Run blocking hasn't been any better. Arizona ranks 31st out of 32 teams in rushing offense.

Injuries figure prominently in the Cardinals' collapse.

Starting left tackle Levi Brown was a preseason casualty with a triceps injury and won't play this season. That led to the decision to move Batiste to left tackle, with rookie Bobby Massie taking Batiste's spot on the right side.

Running back Beanie Wells, who was not at full strength when the season began while recovering from offseason knee surgery, was sidelined with a severe turf toe and placed on the NFL's new injured-designated for return list. A short time later, second-year back Ryan Williams went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. That left 5-foot-7 LaRod Stephens-Howling as the every-down back, although Wells returned to practice this week and is eligible to play in Arizona's home game against St. Louis on Nov. 25.

"My knee feels great, the toe's feeling good," Wells said.

Will he be ready for that Rams game?

"No doubt about it," Wells said.

Then there's the quarterback situation. Skelton beat out Kevin Kolb for the starting job, then was carted off the field late in the opener. Kolb came on and directed the game-winning touchdown drive and the three victories that followed. But he was under relentless punishment from the pass rush. The Rams sacked him nine times in a 17-3 Thursday night loss at St. Louis. The following week, at home against Buffalo, running back William Powell missed Kolb's audible call at the line of scrimmage, and as the quarterback tried to salvage something out of a broken play, he was slammed to the turf, sustaining rib cartilage damage. Skelton threw an interception that set up Buffalo's game-winning field goal in overtime, and Kolb hasn't practiced since.

He didn't sound optimistic about things this week.

"It's just a frustrating deal," Kolb said. "You know I want to be out there with the guys. It's cartilage. You have to have patience, and I'm not very good with patience."

Skelton threw for more than 300 yards at Green Bay in his best game yet, leading a rally that cut the Packers' lead to 24-17.

Defense has remained the team's strength, but breakdowns have occurred there, too, often against the run.

The team lost starting outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield for the season when he injured his left ankle against Green Bay, sustaining ligament damage that required surgery.

And the special teams magic that fueled Arizona's strong last half of the season a year ago has been mostly absent. Patrick Peterson had four punt returns for touchdowns as a rookie last season, all of at least 80 yards. He hasn't come close to breaking one this year.

""Patrick is a very driven, competitive athlete and he wants to be the best at everything he does," Whisenhunt said. "Is he pressing now? I'd say that's probably fair that he is. He's trying to make a play, but the one thing that you've got to understand about him is that he's very coachable. He's a very good young player. He certainly recognizes that. That's something that we can address, and he'll get better."

A loss at Atlanta, and the Falcons will be the favorite, would match Arizona's six-game losing streak of last season. The Cardinals then won seven of their last nine to finish 8-8. After the Falcons, the Cardinals play at home against the Rams, then go back on the road to face the New York Jets and Seattle. In late December, the Cardinals play home games against Detroit and Chicago, then finish things off at San Francisco, a team that's overpowered them 24-3 on an embarrassing Monday night in Arizona.

So this time off is much-needed, for a mental break as much as anything.

"Especially the younger guys. You can see that in a lot of their eyes right now to this point," Whisenhunt said. "What it's been? Nine (regular season) and five (preseason), 14 games. That's a college season for them, and they've still got a stretch of games to come yet, so sure it is. It gives us a chance to work on some of our inconsistencies, to look at our scheme and what we're doing, look at our players that we're doing it with, a lot of those things. Plus, it gives us a chance to get healthy. That's a big thing, so it comes at a good time."

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