Keys to NFC West producing Super Bowl team

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHICAGO -- The best offense in the NFC West might also be the one with the most potential for improvement over the second half of the season.

I say that because the Cardinals, though dominant offensively Sunday, are still working their way through a few things. Beanie Wells' ongoing development is one key variable. Coach Ken Whisenhunt's management of the running game and various personnel packages is another key variable.

The Seahawks, 49ers and Rams have more room for improvement. Each also faces significant challenges. The Rams are gaining ground as their offensive line comes together and Keenan Burton makes strides as a complementary receiver, but their passing game lacks talent overall. The 49ers' offensive line was worse than expected, even before Joe Staley's knee injury, stacking the odds against Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. The Seahawks' continually reshuffled line and Walter Jones' placement on injured reserve have lowered the bar.

While defense is important, the NFL is an offensive league and the Cardinals' ability to score points can easily cover for imperfections on the other side of the ball. That is why I think Arizona's continued growth on offense will strongly influence whether the NFC West produces another Super Bowl contender this season.

The Cardinals' performance during a 41-21 victory over the Bears suggests they have a chance. They scored touchdowns on their first four possessions for the first time since 1980. They scored on their first six possessions for the first time since at least the 1970 merger. They have scored more points on opening drives this season (35) than every NFL team but the Saints.

The Cardinals are starting to sprinkle in more running plays from their four-receiver offense, an important move as they try to become less predictable. They have handed off four times for 24 yards in their last 27 snaps with four receivers, up from five times in their previous 147. Wells, developing as a pass protector, is getting more chances as the lone back on pass plays (five times against the Bears and 17 times in the last four games, up from five times in the first four games). These are small signs of growth for an offense loaded with talent at the skill positions.

The chart breaks down the Cardinals' offensive production by personnel groups through eight games, with quarterback scrambles excluded from rushing plays (the term "scrambling" charitably describes what Kurt Warner does when he carries the ball, as when his 3-yard gain against the Bears looked like a sack).

A full personnel report, available for download here, lets you sort every play of the season by multiple categories. It also includes season-to-date breakdowns by situation, and more.