Rookie linebacker Sam Acho, who notched his first NFL sack Sunday against Pittsburgh, stands to get more playing time the rest of the season.
After five straight losses, the evaluation could really be no other way.
"We have to look at every position," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "If we're not getting it done, we have to be willing to make changes."
That's not always simple, as Whisenhunt noted. The roster is what the roster is, and signing players off the street in late October is going to give you exactly that – a player who was left on the street two months after teams basically set their rosters.
So where could the Cardinals make moves?
Certainly, turning to younger players is the most obvious possibility, and nowhere on the field is there a bigger age gap between starter and backup than outside linebacker. O'Brien Schofield – playing behind Joey Porter – and Sam Acho – behind Clark Haggans – played significantly more against Pittsburgh than before the Cards' bye. Whisenhunt said both will be integrated more often, and with the losing streak broadsiding hopes for 2011, it only makes sense to develop the younger players.
The search for a dynamic pass rusher has been going on for a few seasons now. The Cards have also begun to use Stewart Bradley – signed to be an inside linebacker – as a pass rusher in certain packages, and while he is new to it, "he's got a talent for it," Whisenhunt said. Given Bradley's big free-agent contract, finding out if he can make an impact also seems to be imperative the rest of the season.
Finding some extra snaps for rookie nose tackle David Carter is also possible, although Carter is already in a rotation with starter Dan Williams and it seems unlikely there would be a starting lineup shift there yet, with Williams only in his second season and sporting a first-round pedigree.
And on the backside of the defense, it stands to reason the Cards will continue to play Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson at cornerback, for the same reason Acho and Schofield will get more work. Nickel cornerback Richard Marshall would be the alternative, but the Cards know what they have in Marshall (Peterson and Jefferson probably had better days than Marshall against Pittsburgh) and they need to find out who Jefferson can become. Peterson, of course, isn't going anywhere and held up well against Steelers' speedster Mike Wallace.
Offensively, the Cardinals likely will stand pat for now. Brandon Keith, after a bye week to get his knee feeling better, went right back into the lineup at right tackle after being replaced by Jeremy Bridges in Minnesota. Having Bridges find his way back to a tackle spot – either for Keith or left tackle Levi Brown – is possible. More probable is that Bridges remains an injury-only replacement.
More people seem to wonder about Deuce Lutui getting into a game at right guard. At this point, however, the interior of the line – including starting right guard Rex Hadnot – has been solid in its performance. Making a change there would just be for change's sake.
Another unlikely target is quarterback. For whatever frustrations there are in the evolution of Kevin Kolb, benching him for John Skelton won't help the Cardinals evaluate what they have in their offseason acquisition. The question of whether Kolb can be the long-term solution is unanswered, but it's much too premature to gauge at this point (and introducing a quarterback controversy to muddy the waters doesn't make much sense either, which is exactly what would happen if Kolb sat, even for just a game).
As difficult as 2010 was for the Cardinals, lineup changes – outside of quarterback – weren't part of the narrative. The lone non-injury change was at running back, where Beanie Wells subbed for Tim Hightower one game with Hightower struggling with fumbles. Hightower retained his spot the next game.
After five straight losses, 2011 could play out differently.
"We're looking for guys that are going to make plays," Whisenhunt said. "If we have to make changes across the board, at different positions, in order to do that, that's what we're going to do."