Watching the Arizona Cardinals' 44-37 preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium was like watching a storm blow away everything you've worked for.
The Cardinals' defense made strides over the first two weeks of the season. Arizona's first-team defense held the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense at bay for most of the first half. One week later that same unit held a dangerous San Diego Chargers offense to zero points, before giving way to the reserves. Arizona's defense looked fast, athletic and aggressive.
Now this. Aaron Rodgers completed 14 of 19 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns and the Packers rushed for an average of five yards per a carry. The Cards also surrendered 38 first-half points. If Arizona took two steps forward in the first two weeks of the preseason, it definitely took a step back Saturday.
There was, however, a bright spot.
The Cardinals finally had an opportunity to see their first-round pick Chris "Beanie" Wells in action. And he looked good. Wells, a 6-1, 230-pound running back, averaged almost seven yards per a carry. He ran strong, showed some burst and was elusive. He was everything a first-round pick is expected to be.
Wells missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury before making his debut against the Packers. Tim Hightower (pictured), for the third straight game, had a good showing. Like Wells, Hightower ran hard between the tackles and showed consistency. Wells rushed for 46 yards on just seven carries. He also scored two touchdowns. Hightower rushed for 39 yards on six carries.
This is good news for Arizona. The one thing the Cardinals lacked a year ago was a consistent running game. Even without a rushing attack the Cardinals were still able to become one of the most explosive offenses in the National Football League. That's what happens when you have three 1,000-yard receivers at your disposal and a veteran quarterback with the accuracy of a marksman.
All-world Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he believed Arizona's offense would be better this year. He's on to something. The Cards, with a good running game, would become more of a threat to score on each possession. They would be tougher to game plan against, adjust to and predict on down-to-down situations. The days of a one-dimensional attack would be vanquished.
Who benefits from an effective Cards running game? The passing game. Kurt Warner would spend most of the game standing up instead of looking up. Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston would have more opportunities to make plays down the field, with safeties having to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
It's truly pick your poison. There was much to cause alarm. However, the running game, the team's weakness a year ago, proved to be a strong point.
In the middle of such a disappointing effort, the Cardinals did find a calm in the storm.