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The Run Will Come, But Throw First

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Rookie running back Tim Hightower could get the nod to start at some point this season to aid the Cardinals' running game.

Kurt Warner said he is playing as well as he ever has.

Edgerrin James wasn't saying much at all.

In the aftermath of the Cardinals' disappointing 27-23 loss in Carolina, two separate yet intersecting stories emerged Monday. One was the elite level at which the Cardinals' passing game has evolved, to the point where it shredded the league's No. 2-ranked pass defense.

The other was the lack of production from the running game, and, in the bigger picture, whether veteran Edgerrin James is moving toward being replaced at starting running back by rookie Tim Hightower.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't ready to say that. But he certainly left it as an option.

"I think we have shown we will play the players we feel give us the best chance to win," Whisenhunt said. "We did that with the quarterback, we did that with the linebacker, we've done it with the offensive line. At the point we feel Tim gives us the best chance to win, then absolutely (he would start).

"But I don't think you can judge it just based on (the Carolina) game. This is something we are looking at … as a process."

Hightower gained a mere three yards on six carries against the Panthers, although he converted a two-yard touchdown and a third-and-1 run when both times it looked like the defensive penetration would stop him for a loss. James carried just seven times for 17 yards while losing a fumble and dropping what looked to be a well-planned screen pass.

James, who told the Arizona Republic last week he wanted to play more, noted Monday he said nothing different than Warner did when Warner was still behind Matt Leinart on the depth chart – that a player wants to be on the field.

"At the end of the day, perception has always not worked in my favor," James said. "That's why for me I should just not answer questions."

Pressed on his situation, James added, "I'd rather not say nothing. I'll get in some more trouble."

Whisenhunt did say he didn't want to give Hightower, as a rookie, too much too soon.

Maybe it won't matter if the Cards keep throwing the ball so well.

Whisenhunt emphasized Monday that the Cardinals not only piled up points and yards through the passing game, they also controlled the clock – the Cards held the ball for 32 of the game's first 54 minutes prior to the Panthers' final clock-choking drive.

It was the defense that couldn't get the Panthers off the field – along with the two crucial second-half turnovers – that doomed Arizona, rather than the absent running games.

Whisenhunt even said Carolina decided to stop the run, using extra bodies in the box to do so. Warner said he was surprised the Panthers never went away from that approach, even as the Cards beat them up through the air. Boldin expressed surprise that, on his first touchdown catch, the Panthers didn't matchup in personnel, leaving a linebacker to cover him – and giving Boldin an easy score.

Still, Whisenhunt added, "there will be times this year where we have to run the football. There will be games where weather conditions dictate we have to do that so we have to be able to do that."

The Cardinals are second in the NFL in passing offense (measured by yards per game) and fifth overall in offense despite having the 29th-ranked running game. The Cards average 81.6 rushing yards and 287.7 passing yards.

"No one has been able to stop our passing attack so until they stop it, we're going to keep doing it," said guard Reggie Wells. "We had a chance to win the game, so (passing) worked. I know you're going to hear that we can't run the ball and this and that, but we know we can."

Warner said there was "no doubt in my mind" the Cardinals could reach the playoffs as a pass-heavy team. That's what he did with the Rams.

Then again, Warner added "I don't think that's the way we want to do it."

Warner's statistics continue to be Pro Bowl-caliber, while Boldin proved quickly why he was missed. Larry Fitzgerald may have had the quietest 100-yard game ever (seven catches, 115 yards and several clutch first downs). Steve Breaston is already playing at a higher level than former third wideout Bryant Johnson did, while Jerheme Urban added four catches for 51 yards.

The Cards may still have to sort out the running back situation, but their quarterback and receiving corps certainly seems like it can buy time to do so.

"I think we'll do whatever it takes to win," Boldin said. "If it calls for us throwing the ball like we did yesterday, we'll do that. If it calls for us to run, we'll do that."

EXTRA POINT

Whisenhunt said the Cards seemed to have come out of Sunday's game relatively injury-free. Safety Aaron Francisco left with a left ankle sprain but returned to play, while DE/LB Travis LaBoy was sore after playing with his groin strain. Tight end Ben Patrick (knee) is expected to practice more this week, although tight end Leonard Pope (ankle) remains in a walking boot.


 Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 10/27/08.

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