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Forget 49ers, Cards’ toughest opponent is…

It’s hard not to notice the degree of difficulty staring the Cardinals straight in the facemask when it comes to the upcoming schedule: 49ers, Packers, Falcons (combined record: 15-5). Gulp.

But that stretch of schedule should get a grade of ‘incomplete.’ Turns out, the biggest opponent the Cards currently face isn’t even listed on the pocket schedule — themselves. #AZvsAZ

“We were just self-destructing,” said LaRod Stephens-Howling the day after a 21-14 loss in Minnesota. “We moved the ball very well and it felt like we were playing better than what the scoreboard showed.”

True that, if you believe in stats. The Cardinals had nearly twice as many first downs, more than five times the passing yards, held the ball for ten more minutes than the Vikings, and outgained ‘em by nearly 150 yards. The rub, of course, is that the objective is to outscore the opposition, not outgain ‘em. The only numbers that really count are on the scoreboard, not in the box score.

“It felt like we should have been putting points on the board and we weren’t doing that,” said Stephens-Howling. “It just comes down to us. We need to watch the film and fix it and move forward.”

And that begets the big question (BIG, BIG question) — can it be fixed? Especially in the face of multiple injuries. #MyDadIsATvRepairman

Well, during our postgame radio Q&A on Arizona Sports 620, Sam Acho might as well have been wearing a tool belt.

“The reason why we’ve been losing these games is not because the other teams are better than us. It’s because we are making mistakes and it’s evident on the field,” Acho answered. “You might hear a lot of people say ‘we’re losing and it’s our fault,’ but it really is. We miss tackles on defense and miss Fitz and not playing the run right — those are three big areas that we need to get better at.”

Now, if the Cardinals sound like they’re channeling their inner-George Costanza (“it’s not you, it’s ME. I invented it’s not you, it’s me!”), that’s because the ‘me’ that has currently dropped 3 in a row, also happens to be the same ‘me’ that won four straight to start the season.

“We know inside this locker room what we’re dealing with and what we need to do. But when you watch it on TV, it’s hard for the normal fan not to say – ‘it’s easy, why aren’t you guys making these plays?'” explained Daryn Colledge. “We know what we need to do. I believe in the guys we have in this locker room. We made a run last year when we needed it with these guys and I think we can do it again.”

According to players, moments after the loss in Minnesota, veteran DL Nick Eason delivered an impassioned postgame speech that implored Cardinals players to look in two places: the mirror and within. If and when they do, Colledge says that players will realize that it’s become multiple-choice mistake: turnover, penalty, missed block, missed read, dropped ball, etc.

“We’re not playing well enough to just win at places, we need to play well for 60 minutes,” said Colledge about different breakdowns at different times and how all it takes is just one mistake to doom any one play.

In the Metrodome, there was a honkin’ huge sponsor banner that read: “South Dakota — home of the nation’s best pheasant hunting.” In Arizona, the Mad-Jack banner hanging in the corner of the stadium could read: “Cardinals hunting Cardinals.”

“We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Colledge said. “Nothing against the defenses we’re playing, we’ve got a lot of respect for the guys we’re playing, but we felt like we moved the ball this weekend and then we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Asked whether that’s encouraging or discouraging, Colledge replied: “I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s encouraging because I think you look at it and say ‘hey, we’re doing a lot of good things. We’re just a couple of plays away from winning games.’ But it’s discouraging because this isn’t baseball, we haven’t got that many games. We’ve got 16 and every one of them is a ‘must win.'”