Running back Beanie Wells gets twisted around while being tackled Sunday in St. Louis.
Maybe the most important moment for Beanie Wells during his 228-yard rushing day last week against the Rams wasn't the final 14-yard charge up the middle to get the franchise record, or even his 71- and 53-yard runs.
It may have been the seconds before that 53-yard run, when – after he got so twisted up on a tackle a few minutes earlier that both he and coach Ken Whisenhunt feared the worst for his already messed-up knee – Wells went back into the huddle, waiting to take another carry.
"When you are dealing with an injury during a game you're not really thinking about it because you know you have to go (play), especially in my position," Wells said. "I know the team counts on me."
Whether Wells has changed at all is debatable. Wells doesn't think he has. Others might have a different thought. But there is little question that, after battling injuries and an ability to stay on the field last year, Wells has embraced life with hamstring and knee problems in 2011.
Wells has missed just one game, and that was because of his hamstring issue. He hasn't missed any games with his bad right knee, although he was wearing an offensive lineman's knee brace as he ran over the Rams last weekend.
"I think Beanie has the right mindset now," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "With any player there has to be a way you go about your business. You understand it is a long season and you are going to be nicked up and banged up. It's not a reflection on Beanie saying he's not tough or he is tough. It's just understanding what you have to do."
Wells admitted he had been worried as soon as he got hurt. Once he realized it wasn't serious, however, he went back in. Besides, "sometimes when you are in the heat of the moment, the adrenaline takes a little bit of the pain away," he said, which explains gaining 74 yards after the injury.
"I wanted to get back out there," Wells said, "and give our team a chance."
THE DIRECTION OF THE DEFENSE
An example of the strides the defense has made under coordinator Ray Horton: In the process of adding portions to the playbook this week, the unit made a mistake running one of the plays. Horton told them not to worry, that he'd just throw the play out.
He was met with multiple, emphatic "No" as responses.
"They want to be good, they want to exotic," Horton said. "They have grown from leaps and bounds from Carolina and Washington, when they couldn't get lined up right."
Horton said the defense now is about where he wanted and expected to be in Week 2.
"I just wish we would have had the OTAs and minicamps," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "I ain't going to lie. That (expletive) turned around to bite us. Looking back, we could have been playing good defense like this in the third week. But it's not about excuses. It's all good. We are learning."
THE FUNDIMENTALS OF TACKLING
The Cardinals are playing better defense all the way down to the most basic of levels. The website profootballfocus.com, which breaks down the video of every game every week, reported the Cardinals didn't miss a single tackle on defense last week against the Rams.
That raised a couple of eyebrows in the Cardinals' locker room, unsure if it was even possible. But cornerback Michael Adams, one of the team's most sure tacklers, did think the unit has improved in that area.
"I guess we are tackling better because it is evident when you are missing," Adams said. "Guys are flying around. The intent of getting to the ball is greater now, I feel like. I don't know if we didn't miss any tackles. Maybe."
Whisenhunt said the way the players have learned the defensive scheme actually helps the tackling.
"When you know what you are doing, it's easy to be a better tackler, to shoot the gap and make a play," Whisenhunt said. "It's definitely easier to focus on your technique when you know what you're doing. When you are uncertain about what responsibility you have, it can make you play hesitant."
Safety Kerry Rhodes finally was back on the practice field for the first time after foot surgery, limited on Friday. He and linebacker Joey Porter (knee), also limited, are officially doubtful for Sunday.
Tight end Todd Heap and linebacker Reggie Walker each were limited with hamstring issues and are questionable. Everyone else is probable for the Cards, including quarterback Kevin Kolb, who will start.
Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) is out for Dallas.