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Cards Seeing Red Clearly

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Rookie running back Tim Hightower's emergence with five touchdowns rushing is one of the reasons the Cards have improved in the red zone.

The Cardinals had their early issues in the red zone this season, scoring just two touchdowns in seven trips there to open the season in San Francisco.

There were a couple of hiccups after that too, most notably two scoreless visits inside the Jets' 10-yard line in New York.

But the Cardinals, one of the best red-zone teams in the NFL, have slowly made their way back up the red-zone rankings at this point – just like coach Ken Whisenhunt said they would, after preaching early patience.

"I think it was just getting into a flow," Whisenhunt said. "We have been pretty good at it since those first couple of games. I think we're back up there in the statistics, aren't we?"

The Cardinals are sixth in the NFL in touchdown efficiency, converting 64.3 percent of their 28 red-zone possessions into six points. They are second in the NFC (behind Detroit, which only has a stunning six red-zone visits this season).

Their 28 red-zone trips are tied with Tampa Bay for most in the NFL and they have an NFL-high 138 red-zone points.

"That's why I wasn't concerned, because when you have guys like Larry (Fitzgerald) and Anquan (Boldin) that put stress on defenses, they have to account for them coverage-wise which has allowed us to run the ball in a few times," Whisenhunt said. "We have a good mix, (offensive coordinator) Todd (Haley) has done a good job with the packages down there and hopefully it continues."

Fitzgerald, like his coach, said he was never worried about getting better in inside the opposing 20, but the Pro Bowl wide receiver also said it isn't an easy chore.

"It's more difficult to score because the field is condensed," Fitzgerald said. "Your play options and what you can do is limited. You have to make throws in tight quarters, guys have to make plays, linemen have to do a good job on draws. There is more pressure but I think guys have stepped up."

SHORT AT TIGHT END?

For a second straight day, the Cards' top two tight ends missed practice. Whisenhunt said he hoped either Ben Patrick (knee) or Leonard Pope (ankle, and wearing a walking boot) could give practice a try Friday. Pope hasn't missed a game since hurting the ankle in practice before the Jets' game, but he hadn't missed practice until this week either.

Whisenhunt said the Cards have a plan in place if both can't play, but "we've been running a little bit more three- and four-wide receiver sets anyway, so it's not really a huge concern."

Defensive end/linebacker Travis LaBoy (groin strain) remained sidelined as well. Safety Aaron Francisco (thigh) and Boldin (facial surgery) were limited.

EXTRA POINTS

Whisenhunt said he didn't want to call Boldin's status a game-time decision, but he did say he wanted to see how Boldin was after traveling to Carolina and taking part in Saturday's walkthrough. Right now, the signs point to Boldin playing. Whisenhunt added "I don't think you want to throw Q in there, if he is ready to go, and have him play 70 snaps or 60 snaps. But you know Q, we'll probably have to physically run on the field and pull him out." …

Running  back Edgerrin James needs 105 yards to surpass Thurman Thomas for 12th on the NFL's all-time rushing yards list. James has totaled 115 yards (on 39 rushes) the past three games.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 10/23/08.

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