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Injuries, especially up front, taking toll on Cards

Cardinals are suffering, especially on O-line, from numerous injuries, and results are showing it.

TEMPE, Ariz. — If it's true that you don’t know what you've got 'til it's gone, Cardinals fans may finally be gaining a true appreciation for the talents of Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges, Todd Heap, Jim Dray, Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling.


Without the services of those two offensive linemen, two tight ends and two running backs, the Arizona offense is in shambles. The Cards rank 31st out of 32 teams in yards per game (271). They are allowing more sacks per game than any other team (5.2) by a wide margin, and the running game is ranked 29th in average yards per game (68) and 31st in yards per carry (2.7).


Coaches don’t like to use the injury excuse. It violates the NFL code. The Cards have been employing the next-man-up mantra so far this season.


But when asked how much of the Cardinals’ historically bad pass protection on Thursday (first NFL team in nine years to allow eight or more sacks in consecutive games) was due to the absence of the aforementioned players, coach Ken Whisenhunt’s facial expression almost said, 'Geez, I’m glad somebody brought that up.'


“No question. No question it affects us,” Whisenhunt said. “But all teams face those kinds of issues. We have to get through them. Hopefully we’ll get some of those guys back before our next game.”


In that sense, this nine-day break couldn’t come at a better time for the Cardinals. Obviously, Brown, Bridges and Wells won’t be back when the team hosts Buffalo on Oct. 14. The former two are out for the season, while Wells must miss at least five more games as the club’s eligible-to-return injured reserve exception this season.


But Stephens-Howling would help because he gives the offense another dimension in the struggling running game.


“He’s one of our better players, and you want to have those guys available,” Whisenhunt said. “He certainly could have helped us (Thursday) night.”


So would have Heap and Dray, whose greatest strength is his blocking. Heap could open up some of the shorter, safety-valve type throws and also could help chip along the edges to aid the Cardinals' beleaguered tackles.


“You can’t expect to run or pass like we usually do down so many guys like that,” tight end Rob Housler said. “It’s one of those things that’s part of the game and you have to be ready for it, but it’s not easy to be down guys who are traditionally starters.”


Nowhere will that challenge be greater than along the offensive line. The Cardinals don’t have any better options on the roster, and there doesn’t appear to be any upgrades available outside the club. The team could decide to re-sign former starting right tackle Brandon Keith, who knows the system but underwent surgery in the offseason and wasn’t deemed valuable enough for the club to re-sign when he became a free agent.


“We’ve got new guys on the offensive line trying to work into a scheme,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “We had a group last year that we thought finished well. This year, we’ve got a lot of new parts and pieces.


“It takes time. This is scarily and greatly one of the positions in football that relies on all five guys being on the same page. If four guys are doing great and one guy’s screwing up, we can all look bad, and vice versa. We’ve got to have everybody doing the same thing every week or we’re not going to have any success.”


INJURY UPDATE


Whisenhunt had nothing new to add on the apparent shoulder injury that running back Ryan Williams suffered against the Rams. Williams told reporters at the game that he was fine, but we’ll know more Monday when the team resumes practice.


Whisenhunt also said defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (hamstring) became more and more limited as Thursday’s game wore on. Dockett played only 19-of-56 defensive snaps against the Rams and will greatly benefit from the long break.


Whisenhunt said Stephens-Howling (hip) was close to playing Thursday and should be ready for the game against the Bills. Buffalo, who plays at San Francisco on Sunday, will practice in the Valley all of next week rather than going back home and then flying cross country for the Arizona game.


Given how banged up the Cardinals are — 16 players were on the official injury report Wednesday — Whisenhunt chose to give the team the weekend off.


"Physically, (practice) wouldn't be productive,” he said. “I don't know how many guys would make practice right now."


FEELY FINED


Kicker Jay Feely was fined $7,875 on Friday for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit on a kickoff last Sunday against Miami. Feely maintains it was not a late hit. There is no word on whether he will appeal.


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