Midseason Report: The Road Ahead

At midseason, the outlook is bleak. The Cardinals are out of contention. They have no chance to win the division or make the playoffs after a 1-7 start. It would be nice if they could simulate the rest of the season on Madden '07. However, that's why they play the games. And, when they do, we could see some things blossom in the desert.

Let's Start With Leinart:

The best and worst thing that has happened thus far this season is that Matt Leinart got his opportunity to be the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.  When the Cardinals took Leinart with the 10th overall selection this April, everyone knew that the Leinart Era would have to start eventually, but no one knew exactly when that would be.

Kurt Warner's ineffectiveness, the popular theory went (and was re-enforced by me) that if Leinart started at any point this year, the season was over.  According to Dennis Green, the season was over in Week 5.  And that was considerably earlier than anyone had assumed.

For the remainder of the season, it will be important to track the young quarterback's development.  After going 37-2 at Southern Cal, the 0-3 start to Leinart's career must be jarring and foreign to him.  The important aspect of his development to track will be how he deals with the adversity that comes with playing for the Cardinals.  Will he rise to the occasion and "make everyone on the team better"?  Or, will he fall prey to the losing mentality that hangs over the entire organization?

Only time will tell.

Will the Offensive Line Improve?

No.  It's entirely possible that they'll play better (after all, they can't play any worse).  The best thing that coach Green and offensive line coach Steve Loney can do for this unit is offer it a modicum of stability by rolling out the same starters for the rest of the season, barring injury.  Offensive line play is all about continuity, timing, and familiarity.  Athleticism, strength, size, and tenacity come into play, but the common thread among the best lines in the NFL is that they've all been together and started numerous games together for a long time.

While it's true that Arizona will (or, at least should) blow up the offensive line and start over at the end of the season, they still owe it to themselves and the gentlemen they currently have under contract to see what they have.

What's the Game Plan From Here?

When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.

The Cardinals should continue to be aggressive on defense.  Not aggressive to a fault, but aggressive.   Clancy Pendergast needs to continue to preach his usual aggressive style, but temper that with discipline and caution.

On offense, they need to stick with the running game to establish consistency.  They also need to take some shots down the field to loosen up the defense.  They need to take chances.  Playing conservative hasn't worked.  Running the ball for the sake of running the ball hasn't worked.  At 1-7, having been largely ineffective on offense for most of the season, it can't get much worse.

By opening up the passing game, the coaches can see what Leinart is really made of.  And Leinart can see what he's really made of.

Don't Forget, NFL Players Are People, Too:

The one thing that analysts and "experts" forget when they're breaking down film is that players in the NFL are people, just like you and me.  For every Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson, there's a Marc Columbo or a Rod Smith.  Everyone has worked at a company where the "star" salesperson bangs a gong every time he closes a big deal.  Everyone also knows Ed from accounting, who quietly goes about his business, clocks out when the day is done, and goes home to the wife and kids.

Now, imagine that the company that you're working for is in danger.  It's been a bad year and the CEO and management are likely to be fired when it's all said and done.  The question is: Who is going to sustain their level of productivity?  Who is going to persevere and go above and beyond, even though the future is uncertain?  And who is going to lay low, only do as much as they have to to survive, and wait until the new regime begins?

Anquan Boldin and Robert Griffith have already called out their teammates for not trying hard enough now that the season is over.  The popular line is that they're all professionals.

Who works on their resume and cover letter during the day?  Who tries to fill their pipeline and create business for the future?  And who does just enough to get by?

Only time will tell.  That's why they play the games.

 

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