QB Matt Leinart (Chris McGrath/Getty)
The preseason comes to an end this week as the Arizona Cardinals host the Denver Broncos at University of Phoenix Stadium. While many players have used the exhibition season as a springboard, others have been passed over on the depth chart. Brad Wilbricht previews Friday night’s game and outlines what’s at stake for both teams.
Two quarterbacks from the 2006 draft class square off as Jay Cutler leads the Denver Broncos to the desert to take on Matt Leinart and the Arizona Cardinals. While Cutler has firmly planted himself as the Broncos starting quarterback, Leinart will begin the game on the sidelines. Veteran QB Kurt Warner gets the nod for Arizona, starting his second game of the preseason.
Although Leinart was selected one spot earlier than Cutler, he’s experienced a longer learning curve since arriving in the NFL. Over the course of their two-year careers, Cutler has thrown for 4,498 yards and 29 touchdowns while Leinart has thrown for only 3,194 yards and 13 touchdowns. Furthermore, Cutler has a QB rating of 88.2 compared to Leinart’s QB rating of 71.2.
While Leinart’s struggles have been well documented, the third-year quarterback hit an all-time low last week against the Oakland Raiders. Leinart suffered through a dismal first half, completing only 4-of-12 passes for 24 yards and three interceptions. Despite the poor performance, head coach Ken Whisenhunt refuses to name the starter for the Cardinals season opener in San Francisco.
The Arizona running game was the bright spot of last week’s game. The Cardinals running backs combined for 215 yards on the ground while averaging over five yards per carry. Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington racked up the majority of the yards and combined for two rushing touchdowns. The improvements shown on the offensive line are also encouraging as coach Russ Grimm continues to transform his unit into one of the team’s strengths.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals will look to build on last week’s shutout of the Raiders. Fierce competition continues at nearly every position and this is the final chance for players to put forth their best effort. Friday’s game will go a long in determining the depth chart along the defensive line and at linebacker.
Denver has its own questions to answer, including what to do at running back. Mike Shanahan is notorious for using multiple options out of the backfield and the team currently has six running backs on the roster. The three most likely to make the team are Selvin Young, Andre Hall and Michael Pittman. That leaves Anthony Alridge, Ryan Torain and Cecil Sapp on the outside looking in. However, it’s possible the Broncos carry four running backs leaving one more opening on the active roster.
The Broncos wide receiving corps received good news this week as Brandon Marshall’s three-game suspension was reduced to just one game. Last season, he caught 102 passes for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. Behind Marshall, Denver's depth at wide receiver is much more uncertain. Darrell Jackson is currently penciled in as the other starter with rookie Eddie Royal and veteran Brandon Stokley battling for the third spot.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org