Leinart Looks Good; Edge Likes His New Line

Leinart Looks Good; Edge Likes His New Line

Final Four around the Cardinals complex refers not to the NCAA basketball tournament but to the possible remaining tenure, in weeks, of many key executives, coaches and players. At 3-9 the team has seriously underachieved, although it takes into Sunday's home game with Seattle some positives gleaned from the Cardinals' win at St. Louis last weekend.

INSIDE SLANT
But it may be too little too late. At the very least it shows what the Cardinals could have done more this season, that preseason excitement was not completely over-hyped. The team was capable of being a diverse, effective offensive machine, and the defense has enough good young playmakers to keep the team in games.
"We're hitting our stride a little bit," said quarterback Matt Leinart. "We stop ourselves sometimes but when we can run the ball effectively, it is scary. We proved (at Minnesota) that we almost won a game just throwing the ball and we proved (at St. Louis) we can run the ball a lot more and we had some big passes and the offensive line is doing a tremendous job. They're playing unbelievable."
This, running back Edgerrin James said, is starting to resemble the offense he envisioned when he signed on.
"It's been taking us longer than normal," James said. "We've been having a lot of changes up front, a different (offensive) coordinator, a new quarterback.
"I was on a team where we did the same thing for seven years, and you keep building on that so you know exactly what's going on. It's a matter of time, man."
But the Cardinals let far too many slip away, though. The worst of which was blowing a 20-poit lead vs. Chicago in the closing 16 minutes in an October Monday night game.
Vice president of Operations Rod graves has been working without a contract since May. His job may be on the line.
There's no question that coach Dennis Green and his staff are on the hot seat, even though Green is under contract for 2007.
And the reason why Green and Co. may well go, despite the team recently showing some life, is reflected in Green's comment regarding the first meeting this season with Sunday's foe, Seattle (the Cards lost 21-10 at Seattle in Week 2): "We played a lot better than that score indicated. I think it was a little closer than maybe the score indicated. We had a lot of turnovers which made a big difference."
When it is all said and done, it might make a big difference for many people connected with the team.
The Cardinals' final four games -- Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego -- are against playoff contenders.
"The name of the game is you want to feel like -- when you go on the field to play -- that you're playing with a good team," Green said. "A coach wants to feel like he's coaching a good team. A player wants to feel he's got a good coach coaching him. A player wants to feel he's got good teammates.
"There's going to be disappointment all over the league, because only a certain number of players and teams get to make the playoffs. You want to play like you're a good team."
It appears the Cardinals are beginning to play like a real team a little late in the game.
 

SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting. The Seahawks lead the series that dates to 1976, 8-7. But the Seahawks have won the past four and seven of the past eight, and Cardinals coach Dennis Green is 1-5 vs. them in his career. In the last meeting, on Sept. 17 in Seattle, the Seahawks prevailed 21-10 as WR Darrell Jackson caught five passes for 127 yards, including a 47-yard score. This is the Seahawks' first visit to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, but on their last visit to Arizona, on Nov. 6, 2005, the Seahawks posted a 33-19 rout as RB Shaun Alexander rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns, including a franchise-record 88-yard TD run. The most historic meeting between these teams from the Cardinals' perspective came in 1976, in the Seahawks' very first game in the NFL. Seattle was in position to score and win in the closing minutes but the Cardinals' defense thwarted the Seahawks and the Big Red prevailed, 30-24.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Another game, another Rookie of the Week nomination for QB Matt Leinart, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown for a passer rating of 100.3 in the Cardinals' 34-20 win at St. Louis. He has been nominated after six of his eight starts.
Leinart is among the leaders of the pack of those QBs drafted in the first round recently. Nine first-round picks from the last three drafts started at QB this past weekend.
Leinart's 186 yards, 62.5 percent completions and 100.3 passer rating all were superior to the marks of Vince Young and Jay Cutler, the other first-round QBs this year; superior to Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers (did not play) and Jason Campbell, the first-round QBs of 2005, and superior to Philip Rivers and J.P. Losman, first-round QBs of 2004.
But Eli Manning's 270 yards, 66.7 percent completions and 107.4 rating and Ben Roethlisberger's 198 yards topped Leinart.
Manning and Roethlisberger also were 2004 first-round picks.
Leinart's performance at St. Louis marked the second time in three games that he had a game with a 100-plus rating. The last Cardinals QB to post three in a season was Jake Plummer in 2001.
--The Cardinals finally found the key to success in their opening drive at St. Louis: the ability to run the ball. They had run only six times (only four by Edgerrin James) the previous week at Minnesota. They'll need that balance once again Sunday when they host Seattle. They have to control the clock and the threat of the run opens the passing game for Matt Leinart, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
In that landmark opening drive, the Cardinals drove 90 yards in 13 plays, eating 7:22 off the clock. The drive was the team's longest scoring drive of the season. The last time the Cards had a 90-plus-yard scoring drive was vs. Philadelphia on Dec. 24, 2005 when the Cards went 97 yards in 13 plays.
"Those are the ones we practice," said coach Dennis Green. "You can't have a penalty, you can't have a sack and you definitely don't want to have a dropped ball. A lot of it was we got good yardage on first down runs. We controlled the clock and the ball."
--The unsung hero of the Cardinals defense: backup DL Chris Cooper, who has seen extensive duty at NT while starter Kendrick Clancy (ankle) is out.
"He has really been the guy who has been a jack of all trades for us," Green said. "He has played the end position, the under tackle and the nose, so he plays all four positions."
Cooper is coming off two pass deflections and a sack for a nine-yard loss.
--Marcel Shipp's favorite NFL stadium must be the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. He had a career-high three rushing touchdowns there last Sunday -- his first scores in nearly four years (three years, 11 months and 18 days, to be exact).
The last? Dec. 15, 2002, also at the Edward Jones Dome.
--The Cardinals hadn't had three rushing touchdowns in a game in eight years, since Nov. 22, 1998, vs. Washington.
--When RB Edgerrin James rushed for 115 yards, it was the team's first 100-yard rushing game since Emmitt Smith ran for 106 yards on 26 carries vs. Seattle on Oct. 24, 2004.
James' last 100-yard game came on Dec. 4, 2005 vs. Tennessee (28-107). Twelve games were the deepest he'd even gone into a season without a 100-yard game.
--The Cardinals are coming off only their second turnover-free game. The first was a win vs. Detroit, in which they snapped an eight-game skid.
--With three interceptions at St. Louis, the Cardinals improved to 25 takeaways, tied for fifth in the NFL.
--RB Edgerrin James is on the verge of 1,000 yards rushing and WR Anquan Boldin is close to 1,000 yards receiving. It would be the first time since 1998 that the team has had both a rusher and receiver top 1,000 yards (RB Adrian Murrell and WR Frank Sanders).
BY THE NUMBERS: 2-7 -- Cardinals' record vs. Mike Holmgren.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It has been a few years but I was able to get into the end zone three times and I just tip my hat off to the offensive line. 'Edge' (Edgerrin James) did a great job running to set me up and score those touchdowns." -- RB Marcel Shipp, the Cardinals rushing leader three of the past four seasons, on his career-high three touchdowns in a win at St. Louis, his first scores since Dec. 15, 2002.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
DL Kenny King, the projected starter in 2004 who hasn't played a down since 2003 because of wrist and hand injuries, was re-signed by the team to address depth issues caused by injuries. He'd reached an injury settlement on Sept. 2, 2006 and was released. He spent all of 2005 and 2004 on Injured Reserve following wrist surgeries. He suffered a hand fracture during training camp this season and was unable to play. His 2004 injury opened the door for rookie Darnell Dockett to move into the lineup, and Dockett has held the job since. King was attempting a comeback this year and figured to push Dockett inside or Chike Okeafor outside for a job before suffering yet another setback. King was drafted by the Cardinals in the fifth round (141st overall) in 2003. In 11 appearances as a rookie, he made 21 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. King was signed for one year. If he can play, he will add quality depth at tackle and end.
--CB Darrell Hunter was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.
Hunter (6-1, 206) was signed to the practice squad on September 3 after being released in the team's final roster cut the previous day. Originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Miami (OH) this past spring, he has spent the first 12 games on the Cardinals practice squad.
Hunter was a three year starter at Miami (OH) and never missed a game in his four-year career while collecting 120 tackles (89 solos), eight interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 17 pass deflections in 50 career games.

PLAYER NOTES
--QB Matt Leinart, a rookie chosen 10th overall in the first round, has passed for 200-plus yards in six of his eight starts, but the team is 2-6 in them. Leinart's 405 yards passing at Minnesota set an NFL rookie record, surpassing Jake Plummer's 388. Leinart is the Cardinals' first rookie QB to get a win as a starter in nine years, since Jake Plummer. Leinart is on pace to eclipse the franchise rookie passing record of 2,203 yards set 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 rushed for a career-best 219 yards and three TDs the first time he faced this weekend's foe, Seattle. But that was six years ago, and James was with the Colts. In his first meeting vs. the Seahawks as a Cardinal in September, he gained 64 yards. James is coming off his first 100-yard game as a Cardinal (115 in win at St. Louis). Game 12 was the deepest he'd ever gone into a season without a 100-yard game. James needs 190 yards to become the first 1,000-yard back for the Cardinals since Adrian Murrell in 1998. James would need to average 47.5 yards a game the rest of the way to do it. If James averages 19.5 carries a game in the final four he would break the franchise record for attempts in a season of 331, set by Otis Anderson in 1979. James also became the 19th player in NFL history to hit 10,000 career rushing yards last week (he's at 10,036). In that win at St. Louis, he became the third-fastest player to 50 100-yard rushing games. It took James 103 games. Eric Dickerson did it in 83, Jim Brown in 102. When James has 100-plus rushing yards, his teams are 44-6.
--WR Anquan Boldin goes for his sixth six-catch game in a row vs. the Seahawks. He has 37 catches for 441 yards (88.2 per game) and two touchdowns in the past five. He could join Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with 100 catches in three different seasons. He'd have to average just over eight catches in the final four games to get there, though. Boldin needs 80 yards for 1,000. It would be the third 1,000-yard season of his four-year career. He would be just the second Cardinal with three 1,000-yard seasons in a career (Roy Green 1983, '84, '88).
--WR Larry Fitzgerald, a Pro Bowler last year, has 12 catches for 175 yards (87.5 per game) and a touchdown in two home meetings vs. Seattle. He recorded his ninth career 100-yard game at Minnesota with a career-high 172 yards on 11 receptions. He is now 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 (17.8). He has returned to his role as the No. 3 receiver, and the Cardinals best speed threat deep.
--RB Marcel Shipp, the team rushing leader three of the past four years, had a career-high three rushing touchdowns last week in a win at St. Louis.
--SS Adrian Wilson, who set a league record among defensive backs last season with eight sacks on safety blitzes, had 2.0 sacks and an interception in the first game vs. Seattle this season. Wilson is the only player in the NFC with at least 4.0 sacks and four picks. He has two 99-yard touchdowns this season, on an interception and a fumble recovery. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wilson is the first player in NFL history to record two touchdowns of 99-plus yards in the same season without the benefit of a kickoff return. He becomes the fifth player since the 1970 NFL merger to record two 99-plus yard scores in the same season. The four others all scored on kickoff returns. Wilson's four interceptions tie his career high, set in 2002.
--OLB Karlos Dansby, recovering from a slow start caused by thumb, toe and groin injuries, with his 5.0 sacks leads the team since DE Bertrand Berry (6.0) went on Injured Reserve. Dansby had his first career interception vs. Seattle in 2004 and has 5.0 sacks in his past seven games vs. the Seahawks. The Cardinals have been blitzing Dansby more during the past month since he recovered from early-season injuries.
--DE Chike Okeafor, the left-side starter, tied his career-high with 2.5 sacks against the Rams last weekend, stepping up in place of injured right-side starter Bertrand Berry.
--P Scott Player made his 700th career punt and he 30,000th career punting yards in the win at St. Louis. Player's 30,143 career yards equal 17.1 miles. Player, a former Pro Bowler and a Cardinal since 1998, now has 701 punts for 30,143 yards, a 43-yard average over his nearly nine-year career.
GAME PLAN: The Cardinals are at home and the offense is coming off a balanced, mistake-free showing in a rare road win at St. Louis. The line continues to play better, which keyed Edgerrin James' first 100-yard game with the Big Red. They don't want to mess with that success. If they can continue to run the ball, they can stay in this game and give themselves a chance to steal one.
Defensively, where injuries are piling up, they face a huge task dealing with Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander and WR Darrell Jackson. Jackson had 127 receiving yards vs. them in September, Alexander in his past eight games vs. the Cardinals has rushed for 849 yards (106.1 per game) and 15 touchdowns, and Hasselbeck is 6-1 (.857) as a starter vs. the Cardinals and has won eight in row vs. division foes with 13 TDs, five interceptions and a 98.0 passer rating.
So without the pass rushing of injured starting DE Bertrand Berry and the run defense of injured starting NT Kendrick Clancy, and with a pair of pedestrian starting corners -- Antrel Rolle and David Macklin -- who have one pick between them in 12 games, the task for Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is formidable.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals CBs Antrel Rolle and David Macklin, who've been horrid this season, vs. Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson, the league leader with nine touchdown catches. Starters Rolle and Macklin went into Game 12 last weekend before either of them made an interception -- veteran Macklin gone, the former first-round pick Rolle still shows a blank. Meanwhile Cardinals foes have caught 14 scoring passes. And he last time they saw Jackson, in Week 2 at Seattle, he worked them over for 127 yards with five catches, including a 47-yard score. In seven career games vs. Arizona, Jackson has six 100-yard games.
--Cardinals OLB Karlos Dansby, who after a slow start from injuries is playing again like a Pro Bowler, vs. Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, a long-time Cardinals basher. Dansby opened eyes a year ago with his four sacks and three interceptions, but was no factor this season initially because of toe, groin and thumb injuries. For the past month, he has been a monster again, now with five sacks and 47 tackles. But Alexander, despite having been held to 89 yards on 26 carries in the last meeting in September, in two routs of the Cardinals by the Seahawks in 2005 rushed for 173 yards and two TDs in one and 140 yards and four TDs in the other. In his past eight games vs. the Cardinals, Alexander has rushed for 849 yards (106.1 per game) and 15 touchdowns.
INJURY IMPACT: NT Kendrick Clancy (sprained ankle), the starter, is expected to miss a second consecutive game. Rookie Gabe Watson got his third pro start in Clancy's place in the win at St. Louis, but coaches are down on his excessive weight and lack of stamina. Chris Cooper came off the bench to essentially split time with Watson vs. the Rams and coach Dennis Green raved about Cooper afterward.
--DE Bertrand Berry, the right-side starter and a 2004 Pro Bowler, went on injured reserve in November (surgery, torn triceps). Berry was the team's best pass-rushing threat with six sacks and one of its leaders on the field and in the locker room. It was Berry who called out teammates during the bye before they ended an eight-game skid with a win over Detroit. This is a big loss as the team attempts to reverse its miserable fortunes. Antonio Smith has moved into the lineup with backup help from Calvin Pace, who has been moved back to DE, where he backed Berry for two years. Pace was moved to OLB during training camp, started early in the season, and was beginning to thrive at the new position. Chike Okeafor, the left-side starting end, is beginning to step up to soften the loss of Berry's pass rushing.

 

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