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The Cardinals have 2 major flaws holding them back in 2016

The Cardinals are the first team since 2012 with five turnovers in back-to-back games.

NFL: St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The window for the Arizona Cardinals to win a Super Bowl was always small. With no young replacement waiting in the wings to take over for Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald’s retirement reportedly on the way, Arizona only had a small amount of time to win with its current group before making a big transition.

But it’s hard to believe how fast that window slammed shut.

Four weeks may be too early to throw in the towel on the Cardinals, but back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams, along with an injury to Palmer that will keep him out of action in Week 5 don’t bode well for a prompt turnaround.

“We are not panicking,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said after the team’s latest setback, a 17-13 loss to the Rams on Sunday. “The sky is not falling for us. I’m sure it is for a bunch of the fans. I am as disappointed as they are, but we have a game Thursday night.”

The alarms may not be going off for the Cardinals, but something needs to change. A year ago, Arizona lost just three games, including an inconsequential Week 17 game to the Seattle Seahawks after clinching a first-round bye the week prior. In four weeks, the Cardinals already matched that loss total.

But there are some good signs. The Cardinals are top 10 in both offense and defense, are still putting up big numbers through the air, and are shutting down opposing quarterbacks.

Even with Palmer out of action and Drew Stanton starting, the Cardinals are still favored to beat the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night. But Arizona’s problems run deeper than the 1-3 record and there are two major issues for the team to correct:

1. Carson Palmer suddenly became a turnover machine.

In each of the last two losses — games where the Cardinals were big favorites — the team had five turnovers. It’s the first time that has happened to any team since the 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Palmer is the surprising root of it.

The 36-year-old veteran is in his 14th NFL season and finished 2015 with 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the last two games alone, he has five interceptions and leads the NFL in fumbles with four after coughing the ball up just six times in all of last year.

It hasn’t been all his fault. Both John Brown and Michael Floyd took responsibility for an interception each in Week 3 and the Cardinals offensive line hasn’t kept the quarterback clean. He’s now out with a concussion after taking a shot in Week 4, and Stanton will get the start on Thursday night against the 49ers.

Even if the Cardinals offense stops turning the ball over — something only the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers did more in the first four weeks — the Arizona defense needs to get better at shutting down opposing rushing attacks.

2. The Cardinals can’t stop the run.

The Cardinals have given up 110 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 20 in the NFL. Last year, Arizona was No. 6 at stopping the run and allowed 91.2 yards per game.

Todd Gurley managed just 33 yards against the Cardinals on Sunday, but it’s tough to know if that’s indicative of a bounce back for the defense or if it’s an indictment on the Rams’ struggles to run all season.

In Week 3, Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Mike Gillislee all averaged more than 6 yards per carry against the Cardinals, combining for 206 rushing yards.

“Football is a prideful game … a lot of game is pride, especially when it comes to stopping the run,” Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell said of the struggles against the run. “It’s technique and positioning too, but the whole game is want-to. The coaches put in a game plan and you try to execute it the best you can, but I remember in college, one of the coaches said, ‘It doesn’t matter what we call, it’s your job to make it work.’ That comes with being prideful.“

Shutting down Gurley is exactly the type of “prideful” performance that can refresh the team’s energy and confidence, the question is how well it can be sustained through the remainder of the year.

* * *

If the run defense is corrected, Palmer gets healthy, and the offense stops the surge of turnovers, the Cardinals have plenty of talent to turn things around and make a run. But that’s a lot of “if” for a team that has to win now before it’s too late.

The problems are even more difficult to correct with the team suffering through several injuries. In addition to Palmer, the Cardinals placed safety Tyvon Branch and running back Chris Johnson — one of the integral pieces in the 2015 ‘old man’ movement in Arizona — on injured reserve this week.

San Francisco is a struggling, beatable team for the Cardinals, but raises dangerous challenges. The 49ers lean heavily on their rushing attack led by Carlos Hyde, who is second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with five. And the defense hasn’t done much of anything right, except force eight turnovers.

Beating the 49ers on Thursday night could help the Cardinals exorcise some of their demons. A loss would all but sink a team that many believed was a top contender for Super Bowl LI.