TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -The Arizona Cardinals need this bye week to rest their brains as well as their bruised bodies.
First-year coach Ken Whisenhunt wants a tough, smart team. Well, he's halfway there.
The Cardinals have played tough under the former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator. Playing smart, though, has been a problem.
``You can't win when you lead the league in penalties,'' cornerback Eric Green said.
Arizona has been penalized a league-worst 59 times for 497 yards. They also are minus-7 in turnovers. Still, the Cardinals' 3-4 start is their best start since 2002, and they are just one game behind Seattle in the weak NFC West.
``If we do some of the things I said we were going to do that we haven't done, which is be smart and be disciplined, not have the penalties, our record would be a little better than it is now,'' Whisenhunt said.
The new coach also is fighting what he perceives is a built-in bias by officials who consider the team mistake-prone and sloppy.
``Until we win more games, we're going to get some of those penalty calls,'' Whisenhunt said. ``That's the natural way that I think this team is perceived sometimes, but sometimes they're (the penalties) very justified.''
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin said the team just has to fight through the reputation it brings as a loser. The Cardinals have had one winning season since 1984.
``That's something I've been dealing with since I got here,'' Boldin said. ``We've just got to play through that. We're not going to get anything handed to us. When we go out there, we've got to have the attitude that we've got to play against not only the other team but against the refs also.''
Penalties aside, Arizona's three road losses have come by a combined eight points. The defense has been steadily good. In last week's 21-19 loss at Washington, the Redskins managed only 180 yards. Two interceptions thrown by Kurt Warner in the first half made the difference.
Arizona has run the ball better than it has at anytime since its 1998 playoff run. Edgerrin James is second in the NFC with 605 yards, averaging 3.9 per carry. The Cardinals are first in red zone offense with 12 touchdowns and three field goals in the 19 times they've been at the opponents' 20 or better.
But quarterback has been a problem. Initially, Whisenhunt had a two-QB system. Matt Leinart was the starter, and Warner ran the no-huddle. But Leinart went down for the season with a broken collarbone, the result of a vicious sack by Will Witherspoon in St. Louis on Oct. 7.
A week later against Carolina, Warner tore a ligament in his left, non-throwing elbow when he was sacked by Julius Peppers. That sent Tim Rattay in after only three practices. The result was a 25-10 loss in a game Arizona led 10-9 early in the fourth quarter.
A one-armed Warner came back, though, for last week's near-miss against Washington. More than anyone, he will benefit from a week off.
``We're just going to continue to strengthen it and get the swelling out of there,'' Warner said. ``The huge key is getting over the initial trauma. With that initial trauma, it's extremely painful. We're not going to tweak it this week. It will give it a chance to heal and hopefully we'll heal up quicker than the four to six weeks they talk about.''
Boldin is back, if not completely healthy, after missing three games with a hip injury. With Boldin out, the prime target has been Larry Fitzgerald, who leads the NFC in receptions (46) and yards receiving (642).
The off week could allow linebacker Karlos Dansby to come back from an injured left knee that kept him out of the Redskins game. Left tackle Mike Gandy might be able to return from an injured right calf.
Besides penalties, Whisenhunt is concerned about the team's sluggish effort out of the blocks. Arizona has yet to score a first-quarter touchdown.
``Our biggest thing offensively is starting quicker,'' Whisenhunt said. ``If we can do that, that's going to put our defense in a better situation and take a little pressure off them.''
The Cardinals play at Tampa Bay next Sunday, then have five of their last eight at home, where Arizona is 2-1, with victories over Seattle and Pittsburgh.
``I think we should be a lot better as far as our record stands,'' Boldin said, ``but I think we're headed in the right direction.''
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