The Arizona Cardinals take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday for their home opener. The Dolphins…
Cardinals Cautious About Confidence
It's early to call any game a "must win", but the Cardinals opening two contests come close. The 49ers beat them twice last year and kept the Cardinals, who finished 8-8, out of the playoffs. The Dolphins were awful last year, so the Cardinals should be able to win at home.
Getting off to a 2-0 start is important, because the Cardinals play on the road the next two weeks, against Washington and the Jets. After that the schedule gets much tougher, and it could be downright brutal in the second half of the season.
So the Cardinals need to beat the teams they should beat.
"We can't be satisfied with that," defensive end Darnell Dockett said of the victory over the 49ers. "San Francisco? I really don't count that as a win until you start playing the cream of the crop, the Seattles, the Philadelphias, the Buffaloes. Until then..."
Still, Sunday's victory was huge. The Cardinals kicked themselves all off-season over losing to San Francisco twice. The 49ers won just three other games.
"That was really important," Whisenhunt said. "And it was almost like going back to the scene of the crime. We had that same situation last year and we weren't successful.
"Now, in this situation we were, and I could see our team recognizing that, and to me, that's a big step."
SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting, Dolphins lead series, 8-1. The teams meet for the first time since the Cardinals won, 24-23, at Miami in 2004. That loss prompted the departure of Dave Wannstedt as Dolphins coach. This will be the teams' third meeting since 1999. The Cardinals don't know a lot about Miami, but some of their offensive coaches are familiar with Dolphins coaches and are former assistants under Bill Parcells.
--The Cardinals tried to sneak cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the game as a receiver. He went deep, but the 49ers were ready with a Cover Two. Quarterback Kurt Warner under threw Cromartie a bit and the pass was broken up. "I thought he could have made the catch," Whisenhunt said, smiling.
--Neil Rackers made three of four field goal attempts but missed a 35-yarder. He blamed himself for starting his kick too quickly. "I just needed to slow down," he said.
Whisenhunt said Rackers is an emotional kicker and needs to calm down so he kicks in rhythm. "Obviously, I'd like to not see him miss a 35-yarder, but we're going to need Neil to win a game or two for us this year, and I have confidence that he'll be successful."
--QB Matt Leinart sent a text message to his old backup at USC, Matt Cassel, who is now starting for the Patriots. "I think he'll do all right," Leinart said. "He knows the system. He's been there. If he stays within himself, he'll do O.K. It's crazy, though."
--The Cardinals have the best record against teams in the division and they will keep it until at least Nov. 2. That's when they play their second division game, at St. Louis. "It seems weird, doesn't it?" Whisenhunt said. "But that's O.K. We've still got to play, and hopefully we'll still be leading the division."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coaches were encouraged that the Cardinals played better as their first game progressed. The offense got into a rhythm in the second half, and the defense held the 49ers to three points over the last two quarters.
The Cardinals are playing a lot of people on defense. Backup corners Ralph Brown and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played in nickel situations, as did backup safeties Aaron Francisco and Matt Ware. Backup linebackers Bertrand Berry and Clark Haggans were in for about 20 plays apiece, and each made significant contributions. Rookie defensive lineman Calais Campbell, a backup, made a nice stop against the run.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has preached that he really has about 18 starters, not 11, and he backed it up in the first game.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald caught only three passes but faced double coverage most of the day. One of his grabs was a 1-yard touchdown from Kurt Warner.
--RB Edgerrin James gained exactly 100 yards. It's his 56th career 100-yard game and his seventh with Arizona. James, however, could have some of his workload taken by rookie Tim Hightower, who has been impressive.
--OLB Travis LaBoy had 2 sacks, causing and recovering a fumble on one of them. Coaches thought he could make up for the loss of Calvin Pace in free agency, and LaBoy came through in the first game.
--C Al Johnson was placed on injured reserve last week and could end up filing a grievance against the team. Johnson was asked to take a cut in pay from the $3.5 million he is due this year. He was open to a cut but the Cardinals asked for too much, he said. The club likely will waive him in a few weeks when it deems his left knee healthy. Johnson might dispute that and file a grievance.
--WR Anquan Boldin's contract dispute with the team didn't affect his play. He had eight catches for 82 yards on Sunday and looked as good as ever.
--RB Tim Hightower will be the team's short-yardage and goal-line back. Hightower hits the hole quick and is powerful. He also has shown the speed to get outside.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin vs. Dolphins corner Will Allen -- Allen appears to be the Dolphins' best corner, and he and the rest of the secondary will have their hands full stopping the Cardinals passing attack. If Kurt Warner gets time, the Cardinals receivers should dominate.
Dolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown vs. Cardinals linebackers Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes: Williams and Brown are a nice combination, but so are Dansby and Hayes. 49ers RB Frank Gore hurt the Cardinals in the first half last week, so the Cardinals must be more disciplined about filling gaps.
Dolphins NT Jason Ferguson vs. Cardinals C Lyle Sendlein: Ferguson is a solid player, and Sendlein, in his second year, doesn't have much experience. The Cardinals must control Ferguson if they are going run effectively. It's not all Sendlein's responsibility. Sometimes it will be guards Deuce Lutui and Reggie Wells with the key blocks.
INJURY IMPACT: NT Alan Branch missed last week's game with an ankle injury, and coaches are hoping he can practice enough this week to play. Branch needs to get on the field because he's coming dangerously close to earning the 'bust' label.
--NT Gabe Watson hopes to increase his workload in practice but he might be a week away from playing. Watson practiced last week for the first time since suffering a fractured kneecap in the spring. Both Branch and Watson were limited in practice on Wednesday.
--TE Jerame Tuman missed last week's game with a hamstring strain, and he won't practice until Friday at the earliest. That would make him doubtful for Sunday's game against Miami. The club got by with two tight ends, starter Leonard Pope and backup Ben Patrick, but Tuman is the best blocker of the three, and he was missed.
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