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The long-anticipated switch from Edgerrin James to Tim Hightower at running back gives the Cardinals another dimension heading into the second half of their schedule.
The ground game had stalled in recent weeks, in part by choice. The Cardinals were spreading the field and throwing the ball effectively enough to compete and even win games without a ground game to rely upon. Life becomes easier if Kurt Warner doesn't have to throw the ball 45 or 50 times a game.
Taking a longer look at Hightower should let the Cardinals know whether their offense can become more balanced in the second half of the season.
Hightower provided a 30-yard touchdown run against the Rams. J.J. Arrington also had a 30-yard run. The Cardinals become a different team if their running backs become big-play threats, even occasionally. James is more of a grind-it-out runner. His diminished role suggests strongly he won't be part of the team in 2009.
The Cardinals' performance at the Edward Jones Dome doesn't suddenly validate Arizona as a strong road team. The outcome was significant for more practical reasons.
At 5-3, the Cardinals are halfway to the 10-6 record that seemed likely once they defeated the Bills and Cowboys in consecutive weeks last month. They are 2-0 on the road against division opponents. They have to like their chances against the 49ers in Week 10, and a victory in Week 11 at Seattle would all but wrap up the division title.
The Rams appear to be leveling off a bit after two upset victories in Jim Haslett's first games as interim head coach. This was their first game with more than pride at stake. A victory would have made them players in the division, but they did not respond well to the challenge. Allowing more than 500 yards represents a significant setback.
St. Louis faces consecutive road games on opposite coasts over the next two weeks, making it unlikely the Rams will be better than 3-9 through 12 games -- particularly with Steven Jackson still limited by injury.