"Man, we're better than this."


Posted Nov 25, 2006


As speculation turns into assumption about Dennis Green's (lack of a) future in Arizona, the wheels start turning on who might be coming to Arizona next year. Carrol? Mooch? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

INSIDE SLANT
Pete Carroll may have his football team in Glendale, Arizona for the BCS National Championship of college football, and -- who knows -- maybe by next football season he'll be spending a lot more time in University of Phoenix Stadium.
It is no scoop that Cardinals coach Dennis Green is on thin ice. An eight-game skid that was snapped last week and a 13-29 mark in nearly three seasons is no recipe for job security, although Green is under contract for the 2007 season.
Green, to his credit, along with Vice President of Operations Rod Graves, has upgraded the roster significantly during his tenure in Arizona. The offensive unit is loaded with skill-position players who would be starters anywhere. The shortcoming has been the failure to upgrade the offensive line along with it.
And the defense is filled with young rising stars who are going to be solid pros for years to come.
So why can't Green win?
That seems to be the eternal question among those who've ascended to the Cardinals head coach's chair. And Green, despite having a more impressive pedigree than most of his predecessors, has been no exception.
The win that snapped that eight-game skid last week gives the Cardinals renewed hope as they head to Minnesota on Sunday, where Green made his name in the NFL with a long and successful run as coach of the Vikings.
But at 2-8 the Cardinals are assured of another non-winning record. They've had only one winning mark since 1984 covering a laundry list of coaches dating to the franchise's days in St. Louis.
"We're not throwing in the towel," said veteran free safety Robert Griffith said. "Man, we're better than this."
Carroll isn't denying interest in returning to an NFL job, and what better job than coaching Matt Leinart and Deuce Lutui again? The former Trojans are rookie starters in the Cardinals offense.
Carroll's name will undoubtedly be hot one in the rumor mill, especially if the Trojans do get to the title game and manage to knock off the top-ranked Buckeyes.
But there is one caveat. Carroll had one chance in the NFL before and didn't get it done. And the guy who followed him at New England in 2000 hasn't had any problem getting it done there.
SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. The Vikings lead the series, 9-8, including wins in four of the past five. In the last one in the Metrodome, site of this weekend's clash, Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper passed for three touchdowns as they scored 24 straight points, after an early Cardinals lead, for a 31-14 comeback win on Nov. 12, 2000. The last meeting in Arizona was one of the most memorable in the series from the Cardinals' perspective. On the final play of the season, on Dec. 28, 2003, quarterback Josh McCown hit receiver Nate Poole with a 28-yard scoring pass for an 18-17 comeback win that knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs in coach Dave McGinnis' final game.

NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Matt Leinart has been nominated for NFL Rookie of the Week for the third time this season after getting his first win as a pro starter and ending the team's eight-game skid vs. Detroit.
Leinart passed for 233 yards and one touchdown, completing 19 of 29 attempts for a 101.7 passer rating in the 17-10 victory over the Lions. Leinart completed a two-yard touchdown pass to give Arizona a 7-0 second-quarter lead and later ran nine yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinals ahead 17-0.
"I've talk to quite a few people. They've all said to keep your head up, you're a leader," Leinart said of losing his first five games as the starter before Sunday's breakthrough. "Everyone keeps reminding me of the great quarterbacks in the past that have struggled in their early years and then have gone on to win Super Bowls. I'm not really worried about all that. I'm just worried about the team and that's about it. I'm just happy to get this win.
"One win can really spark a football team."
--The Pete Carroll rumor just doesn't want to die, largely because Carroll, who coached Leinart at Southern California, has not denied interest in returning to an NFL coaching position -- say, the Cardinals, if Dennis Green, as expected, is terminated after the season ... Carroll also coached Cardinals rookie RG Deuce Lutui.
Leinart wouldn't touch the rumors, but is excited about the possibility of the Trojans coming to University of Phoenix Stadium to meet No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS National Championship, if USC wins out vs. Notre Dame and UCLA.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if they win out they will make it here," Leinart said. "I think I'll be alright on those tickets. I just want to be on the field if they get there. They are already in the Rose Bowl so that's good so I'll be there for that one."
Lutui and his wife had a baby girl in the early morning before the win over the Lions. Mom and baby are fine. Dad played in the victory later that day to help end a skid.
--The embattled Green, whose teams are 13-29 in his nearly three seasons in Arizona, is under contract for 2007.
He returns to Minnesota on Sunday for the first time with another team. As coach of the Vikings, his teams were 101-70 (.591) from 1992-2001.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald grew up in Minneapolis and was the Vikings' ball boy when Green was coaching the Vikings.
--RB Edgerrin James came within perhaps one carry of his first 100-yard game with the Cardinals when he gained a season-high 96 yards in a win over Detroit that snapped an eight-game skid.
James was delighted with the win, but he's clearly irked that he is going into Game 11 without a 100-yard game, the deepest he ever has gone into a season without one.
"You always want to go over 100 yards," James said following the game. "It was nice that we were able to control the clock, and that's because of our offensive line. They hit guys right in the mouth today. You finally get a victory, you want to keep it up.
"You just hate that you're out of the playoff picture. That's the down side to it. When you win, you're looking at the standings to see where you're at as far as the playoffs. It would have to be a miracle for us.
"As we play more and more together, we're going to get better and better. For a while, it's been like a Rubik's Cube -- it's something different every week, and we're just trying to find that perfect match."
--Although their failures on the field are well-documented, the Cardinals continue to be good corporate citizens and admirable human beings. Players and their wives, front office personnel, and family members helped serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Phoenix Rescue Mission to "Help Feed the Hungry" to observe the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday evening.
"I think it is very important for every person and every organization to give back a little bit," said Cardinals Vice President and General Counsel Michael Bidwill. "There are so many people living at the margins of our society and there are so many different needs. We're really about building a championship team on the field, a championship organization and we try to be champions in the community. It is events like this where I am most proud of our organization."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Rookie offensive starters for the Cardinals (QB Matt Leinart, RG Deuce Lutui, TE Leonard Pope).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I felt kind of devastated. I look up to Bert, and I know the struggle Bert went through last year trying to get himself back right for this year." -- Cardinals DE Antonio Smith, on the season-ending triceps tear suffered by DE Bertrand Berry last weekend, after Berry had missed the second half of 2005 to a torn pectoral muscle.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
DE Antonio Smith, once the pass-rushing terror of NFL Europe, now gets his chance to show he can do it against the big boys. Smith moves into the lineup on the right side in place of injured Bertrand Berry, whose torn triceps will sideline him the remainder of the season.
Smith will need help. Left-side starter Chike Okeafor has been very quiet this year. He now must step up as a pass-rushing threat.
Berry finishes the season with six sacks, 20 tackles, three forced fumbles, and three pass deflections. He had a key goal-line stop vs. the Lions in what proved to be the difference in the Cardinals' 17-10 win to snap an eight-game skid before he was injured late in the third quarter.
The defensive line has struggled to pressure the quarterback this season, and four of the final six games are on the road where the Cardinals could use Berry's leadership.
--SS Aaron Francisco, the backup to Adrian Wilson, has emerged as the team's nickel back, a testament not only to Francisco's coverage skills and hard hitting but also to the poor quality of depth among the team's CBs. One of them, veteran Robert Tate, was inactive last weekend. Francisco has thrived in the role, however, making his mark with his coverage and hits vs. Chicago on Monday Night Football in October.

PLAYER NOTES
--QB Matt Leinart, a rookie chosen 10th overall in the first round, posted his first career win last week in his sixth start, earning nomination for the Rookie of the Week honor. He became the Cardinals' first rookie QB to get a win as a starter in nine years, since Jake Plummer. Leinart has passed for 200-plus yards in five of his starts. Leinart is on pace to eclipse the franchise rookie passing record 2,203 yards by Plummer in 1997. Leinart is the only QB in NFL history to pass for two touchdowns in the first quarter in each of his first two starts.
--RB Edgerrin James missed his first 100-yard game with the Cardinals last week by probably one carry (96 yards, season high). Eleven games marks the deepest he ever has gone into a season without one. But James goes for his third 100-yard game in a row vs. Minnesota (both previous were while he was in Indianapolis) James has 9,906 career yards, 19th on the NFL career rushing list.
--WR Anquan Boldin since 2005 is averaging 89.6 receiving yards a game, third-best in the league in that span. He could join Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with 100 catches in three different seasons.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald, a Pro Bowler last year, is averaging 80.7 receiving yards a game since he came into the league two seasons ago, sixth-best in the league over that span. He is nearly 100 percent after missing three games (hamstring).
--WR Bryant Johnson filled in admirably for Larry Fitzgerald for three games, rising up among league leaders in average yards per catch. Johnson snagged a TD reception in a win over Detroit last weekend and averages 18.7 yards a catch. He has returned to his role as the No. 3 receiver, and the Cardinals' best speed threat deep.
--SS Adrian Wilson, who set a league record among defensive backs last season with eight sacks on safety blitzes, has four more this season. He is the only NFL player with four sacks and three interceptions.
--DE Bertrand Berry, who stirred up teammates with stinging criticism during the bye week, suffered a torn triceps last weekend vs. Detroit. Berry is expected to have surgery and is out for the season. Berry's six sacks lead the team. The 2004 Pro Bowler not only is the team's best pass rusher but its leader on the field and in the locker room. This is a major loss.
--LG Milford Brown, who was the right-side starter before suffering an ankle injury last month, has found a home as the starting LG since his return.
--G Elton Brown, a 2005 starter as a rookie, is an example of how the mighty have fallen. He was inactive vs. Detroit.
GAME PLAN: The threat of the run meant everything last week to the offense. With Edgerrin James gaining 96 yards, poor by his standards but his highest output since joining the Cardinals, it enabled Matt Leinart to return to his comfort zone and the offense finally began to more and score. Springing James is essential to the well-being of the unit, but that chore is daunting in the face of the league's rushing defense leader, Minnesota. The Cardinals might be well served by spreading the field with lots of four-receiver sets, trying to dent the Vikings with quick passing and then mixing in the run to achieve some balance.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals DE Antonio Smith, once the pass-rushing terror of NFL Europe, vs. Vikings QB Brad Johnson, who is 5-0 in his career vs. the Cardinals. Smith is expected to take over for injured Bertrand Berry, the team's sacks leader, and its emotional leader. He has big shoes to fill, especially against this opponent. The seemingly ageless Johnson had his first four-touchdown-pass game against the Cardinals -- 10 years ago. Lately, he's been playing like that youngster again.
--Cardinals RB Edgerrin James, a Pro Bowler still in search of his first 100-yard game with the Big Red, vs. the Vikings defensive front seven, which the league's stingiest vs. the rush. It's been a tough go for James since he came to the desert as a free agent although he nearly got his first 100-yard game last week. He posted 96 yards in a win over Detroit that snapped an eight-game skid. In two games vs. Minnesota while with Indianapolis, James rushed for 251 yards and added 135 receiving yards. When James has 100-plus rushing yards, his teams are 43-6 (.878). The Vikings are limiting foes to fewer than 65 rushing yards and less than three yards a carry, bad news for an opponent that still hasn't quite figured it out yet on the ground.
--Cardinals QB Matt Leinart, coming off his first career win, vs. Vikings DT Kevin Williams, who had three of is team's eight sacks and his first career interception the last time he faced the Cardinals. Leinart is to start his sixth game as a rookie and seemed to regain his confidence last weekend after two poor efforts, largely because the Cardinals kept Lions' pass rushers at bay. But now he faces Williams and a defense that has seen only three of its last 11 opponents reach the 20-point barrier.
INJURY IMPACT: DE Bertrand Berry, the right-side starter and a 2004 Pro Bowler, suffered a torn triceps vs. Detroit last weekend, is expected to undergo surgery and is lost for the season. Berry was the team's best pass-rushing threat with six sacks this season and one of its leaders on the field and in the locker room. It was Berry who called out teammates during the bye two weeks ago before they ended an eight-game skid with a win last Sunday over Detroit. This is a big loss as the team attempts to reverse its miserable fortunes over the closing six games. Antonio Smith is expected to move into the lineup with backup help from A.J. Schable, who was inactive last weekend. The Cardinals also might bring back Calvin Pace for limited backup duty. Pace had been Berry's backup for two years before he was moved to outside linebacker during training camp.
--WR Troy Walters (hand), the fourth wideout did not practice Wednesday and is questionable vs. the Cowboys. The team will miss his experience and punt return capability. Those duties are expected to go to No. 3 receiver Bryant Johnson.
 



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