Quarterback Kevin Kolb (4) and receivers Early Doucet (85) and Larry Fitzgerald (11) hope that extra work during the bye will change the Cards' fortunes.
The bye weekend over and with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton had a simple question for his unit: How would you practice if this was a playoff game?
"It is different, how you prepare -- it just is," Horton said. "You can't prepare for a playoff game all 16 weeks, you just can't. It's too hard emotionally. But the players smiled at me. They understood what I was saying.
"For us, it's getting down to playoff-type football, single elimination. It's getting to the point where we need to get to a nice five-, six-, seven-game winning streak. Is (this game) important? It is important because of that, not because it is Pittsburgh."
With that, Horton dismissed the idea that Sunday's game is any more important to him even though he just left there after working on the staff the past seven years. Given the Cards' struggles and four-game losing streak, the outcome means so much more – and is so much more basic – than anything having to do with the many ties between the franchises that still remain under head coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The Cardinals (1-4) have a home game against the Steelers (4-2) knowing Pittsburgh is 1-2 on the road and haven't been dominating even when they have won. They have "tweaked" the offense hoping for more production and a steadier performance from quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Players also had a pair of team meetings – including one with coaches as well – that have been described as emotional and helpful. Whether that helps against Pittsburgh is the question left unanswered.
"You can say what you want to say in a meeting but it comes down to execution," Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We have to do a better job with that."
The Cardinals want to expunge the too-many mental errors that have plagued them thus far. Talk of "details" and holding to them has been the subject almost every week, but the players insist they have come to the point where they won't let those lapses continue.
"These next 11 games," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, "we can't have 'My fault.' "
The Steelers are beat up – they are missing three defensive starters in their front seven -- and haven't been as dynamic on either side of the ball as last year. But other than being routed by Baltimore in the opener, Pittsburgh just keeps winning in much the same fashion as the past.
"It's kind of funny how that works," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We're either too old or not good enough on offense or defense or special teams. But we're 4-3 and I guess if people want to talk, they can talk. We just go out and try to play ball."
The post-bye stretch for the Cardinals is a difficult one. They follow the game against the Steelers with a trip to Baltimore, home against St. Louis, and then three straight road games against Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis.
Finding that winning streak Horton spoke about in that thicket of games will be daunting. But as Dockett noted, it's the situation the Cardinals have put themselves in, and for now, the Steelers are the only obstacle they can face.
"It's a sense of urgency right now to get things turned around," safety Adrian Wilson said. "But it's not any different if we were 5-1. We have to make sure everything we are doing is focused on Pittsburgh. Those mistakes we have made previously, we have to make sure we've cut them out."