Linebacker Paris Lenon -- making an interception last weekend -- and the defense needs to play well for the injury-depleted Cards in San Diego.
SAN DIEGO – The Cardinals aren't where they want to be.
They are 2-1 heading into Sunday's game against the Chargers, sure. Offensively, though, the performance has been uneven at best and at times underwhelming. The unit needs more time to work together – but it can't. Not with wide receivers Steve Breaston and Early Doucet out after surgeries, Breaston to repair a torn meniscus and Doucet for a sports hernia.
In theory, the Cards will have to rely more on the running game. They will have to get an improved performance from the defense.
Not that the Cardinals are thinking that way.
"You have to approach things the exact same way," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "Sometimes, things happen. You do the best you can.
"This happens every year. Someone gets hurts. It's easy to learn. You just need good coaching and great veteran leadership and it's easy."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt insisted the injuries, which will force undrafted rookies Stephen Williams and Max Komar into the No. 2 and No. 3 roles behind Larry Fitzgerald, didn't affect the game plan. The main adjustment there, Whisenhunt added, was that the rookies – who had been learning multiple wideout spots – each were left in one position all week.
Repetitions in practice this week simply were too critical to do it any other way.
The Cards can't forget about the pass – Fitzgerald is anxious to be a bigger part of the offense after making just 12 catches in three games – but Whisenhunt was happier of a 50/50 split with the run and pass last week against Oakland.
Arizona is 12th in the NFL in rushing, its highest ranking in a long time. Running back Tim Hightower said he and Beanie Wells are prepared to shoulder the offensive load while the passing game works on its issues.
"I just go out there to execute whatever play they call," tackle Levi Brown said. "But I would think personally, with the injuries, it's not necessarily running the ball more but when we do run it, we need more quality runs. When we pass the ball, we have to give the quarterback time, because with young guys at receiver, it might take them a little more time to make adjustments."
The Chargers (1-2) feature the NFL's top-ranked offense, so the Cardinals already were going to be challenged in slowing down quarterback Philip Rivers. That's why defensive players mostly shrugged off the Breaston news this week.
"We're kind of separate as a defense," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We can't worry what is going on over there (on offense). We know they know they have room to improve and are trying to get better and so are we. If we do better and not let teams score, we don't have to worry about what happens over there."
The Chargers have their own issues, with their own defensive injuries (linebackers Shawne Merriman and Larry English are doubtful and out) and yet another slow start. Without mistakes on turnovers and special teams, San Diego has a argument it could be 3-0.
But as the Cards have already learned this season, the results don't always match the performance. Finding a way to win, however it may be, is what matters – even if it is with young receivers and a passing game with hiccups.
"It's a little bit different," Whisenhunt said of his new wideouts, "but our expectations are that they are going to perform well."
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