QB Kurt Warner (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)
With Kurt Warner as quarterback, the Cardinals coaching staff is going to be faced with a difficult decision almost weekly. They want to build a power running game that they can rely upon to wear opponents down and consume clock late in games. Yet, Warner is at his best when the offense is wide open and he's operating in rhythm.
The conflict was highlighted in the season opener, a 23-13 victory over the 49ers.
The offense struggled in the first half as the Cardinals concentrated on their running game. When he did throw, Warner was out of sync.
At halftime, coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley decided to open up the attack. They used more multiple-receiver sets and called for passes on nine of the first 10 plays.
Warner responded with a solid game -- 19 of 30, 197 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. But he admitted afterward that he and the coaches will walk a fine line this year.
"You want to be able to do both and sometimes I think it can get frustrating," Warner said. "We're so good at throwing the football and when we don't do that and we're not able to get into a rhythm, it's frustrating for me out there."
Warner won two MVPs playing in Mike Martz's system in St. Louis, but Whisenhunt's philosophy is much different. He's not conservative, but he doesn't want to pass 40 times a game, either.
He came to Arizona from the Steelers, where he saw how effective a running game was in taking away an opponent's will and protecting a lead.
Warner understands that, but it's not necessarily in his nature. In the first half against the 49ers, Warner felt like he was being too conservative, too careful.
"That's what I told the coaches, that I was a little more reserved in the first half than I like to (be)," he said. "That's the thing that's going to be a delicate balance for me."
Whisenhunt and Haley have preached ball security to Warner, who fumbled 12 times in 11 games last year, losing six.
They have worked with Warner on moving in the pocket more, and protecting the ball with two hands when he does. He was sacked three times last Sunday but held on to the ball each time.
"I don't want to turn the ball over. I don't want to take chances," he said. "But I also feel like sometimes I'm at my best when I'm ad-libbing and making plays. It's one of those things I'm trying to learn, even at my age."
Last year, the Cardinals relied on the pass because they had to. The offensive line took a while to gel, and Warner was forced into the starting lineup when Matt Leinart was hurt.
This year, the offensive line returns intact, with the exception of center Al Johnson, who was placed on injured reserve last week. Running back Edgerrin James is back, and rookie running back Tim Hightower has shown considerable potential.
The Cardinals are trying to find a balance "where I'm smart and I can still be me," Warner said. "That's going to be a balance for us all year."
--C Al Johnson was placed on injured reserve before the season opener, after he declined the team's offer to restructure his contract. The club wanted Johnson to accept a reduction in the $3.5 million he was due. Johnson said he was willing to take a cut, but not as drastic as the team was proposing. Johnson underwent two knee surgeries in the offseason, the latest coming in late July. Lyle Sendlein is the starter now, and he is a solid player. The problem comes if Sendlein gets hurt. The backup, Pat Ross, hasn't played in the league.
--WR Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 82 yards, all in the second half. The 49ers doubled Larry Fitzgerald, so the Cardinals turned to Boldin, who produced.
--OLB Travis LaBoy had two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in his Cardinals debut.
--RB Edgerrin James gained 100 yards on 26 carries, a 3.8 average. James ran effectively in the second half as the Cardinals had the ball for all but 7:22.
--QB Kurt Warner completed 19 of 30 passes for 197 yards, but just as important, he didn't have a turnover. He was sacked three times.