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Cards sputter, surprise preseason stars, injury news

Posted: Tuesday August 22, 2006 4:13PM; Updated: Tuesday August 22, 2006 6:11PM
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It's understandable that everyone wants to christen the Arizona Cardinals as a team on the rise in 2006, what with all that offensive talent on display and the buzz generated by the team's new stadium and thriving ticket sales.

But has anyone noticed that the Cardinals Achilles' heel, its offensive line, still has a huge problem in the running game? True, star running back Edgerrin James has only four carries in Arizona's first two games, an output he'll top by the Cardinals' second series of its regular-season opener. But James has gained only three yards on those four rushes, and there has been absolutely nowhere to run thus far.

It's only preseason, but so far in the desert there are no signs of progress in the running game. Arizona rushed for only 57 yards on 32 attempts (1.8-yard average, with a long gain of eight) in a win over Pittsburgh. On Saturday night in Foxboro, the Patriots held Cardinals non-quarterbacks to 26 yards on 11 runs, a whopping 2.4-yard average, with a long gain of five.

Recognizing that their bedraggled O-line needed help, the Cardinals, whose running game ranked dead last in the league in 2005, traded a conditional '07 draft pick to New England on Monday in exchange for tackle Brandon Gorin. He figures to walk right into the starting lineup on the right side and hold down the fort at least until veteran Oliver Ross returns from arthroscopic knee surgery in Week 2 or so.

We knew the Cardinals could throw and catch the ball, because their passing game led the NFL in yardage last season. But even with James on board, we didn't know if they could move the chains enough on the ground to keep defenses honest. And we still don't.

• Funny, but Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward missed 2 weeks of training camp due to a lingering hamstring injury and it barely registered a blip on the NFL radar screen. You might also have heard that Dallas receiver Terrell Owens sat out about two weeks with a nagging hamstring pull of late. That saga, of course, has led the national news for 20 days in a row. Or at least it seems that way.

• If you still think NFL head coaches aren't doing enough to protect their stars and starters from injury in the preseason -- and Clinton Portis, we're looking in your direction -- check out the league leaders through the first two weeks of the exhibition-game schedule:

Baltimore's Musa Smith is your top rusher with 116 yards. New England quarterback Matt Cassel has a league-best 421 yards passing. Green Bay rookie receiver Greg Jennings has rolled up 183 yards receiving, and Eagles defensive end Juqua Thomas has a gaudy 4 sacks, just one-half sack less than he totaled in his first five NFL regular seasons. Those are your boys of August.

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