(Sports Network) - There were three undefeated teams heading into Week 5 of the NFL season but one clearly didn't belong.
The Arizona Cardinals proved that on Thursday night by looking flat and uninspired during a 17-3 loss to a deeply-flawed St. Louis Rams team.
Any time a franchise is off to its best start in 38 years and sports playmakers like Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Adrian Wilson on defense, it's probably a good idea to stand up and take notice.
That said, when the same team lacks a consistent running game and is trotting out Kevin Kolb at quarterback, it's probably a good idea to put a caveat on the enthusiasm.
Thursday's game was inevitable for Arizona, one that Kolb called "sickening" after being sacked nine times.
Simply put, the Cardinals are going to struggle with consistency issues until a number of questions are answered on the offensive side of the ball.
First and foremost is pass protection. A fluid thing, protecting the quarterback is almost a living organism, one that requires the signal caller, backs, tight end and offensive line to be on the same page.
Heck, even the receivers are asked to do their part in certain blocking schemes which require a chip before heading out into a route. And then there are the sight adjustments each has to diagnose as the potential hot-read on a blitz.
Any breakdown by any player could result in disaster.
The Cardinals pass protection was dismal in the Gateway to the West. Kolb held the ball too long at times, there were mental mistakes all over the field and left tackle D'Anthony Batiste just couldn't handle the speed and quickness of Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who finished with three sacks and countless more hurries.
But that was just one of the problems for the Arizona offense. The Rams' pass rush seemed to put the entire unit on its heels.
Instead of attacking, it seemed the Cards were reacting to the Rams' aggression and everyone had a hand in the collapse. Kolb's accuracy was hit- and-miss as usual but the receivers also had a few drops, and the usually reliable Jay Feely even missed a 40-yard field goal.
Arizona, which lost in its old hometown for the first time since 2004, was also beaten up physically and running back Ryan Williams was forced to leave the game late with a left shoulder injury after getting blown up by St. Louis safety Darian Stewart.
Kolb, never the most durable quarterback to begin with, has now been sacked 17 times in two weeks, and the Cardinals' offensive line has made Quinn and Cameron Wake both look like the best pass rushers since Deacon Jones.
"We have to get back to the protection we had the first couple of games," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt understated.
No matter how talented the Arizona defense is, it's hard to take the Cards seriously as a contender until the problems on offense are cleaned up, something the team will have 10 days to do before its next game in the desert against Buffalo on Oct. 14.
"We have a lot of guys nicked up, we have a lot of guys that need to get healthy," left guard Daryn Colledge told the Cardinals' website. "We have a lot of film study to do, we have a lot of things to fix. Luckily, we have a lot of days off to do it."
"Hopefully we use this as a springboard," Colledge continued. "I don't know if we bought into our own hype or what, but we obviously weren't ready to play tonight."
That springboard could go either way, however.
With Beanie Wells out until at least Nov. 25 with a turf toe injury and Williams now hurting, it's hard to imagine the Cardinals developing a consistent running game.
Meanwhile, the beleaguered offensive line probably isn't going to get much help from rookie backups like Nate Potter and Senio Kelemete.
And finally, Kolb looked like he was distancing himself from the injured John Skelton at the quarterback position but that controversy has to be back in play.
Skelton is practicing now after suffering a severe right ankle sprain in the Cardinals' season opening win over Seattle and at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he has a better arm than Kolb and the physical stature to absorb more punishment.
"There's probably a whole laundry list of things we need to get better at," Whisenhunt said.