Last week against the Vikings, backup Jeremy Bridges played masterfully against the vaunted defense…
Health and Depth Biggest Concern for Arizona
Backup Bertrand Berry (34) is a situational pass rusher who could play an important role late in games. The Cardinals have had some trouble this season stopping teams late in games -- the opener against the 49ers, at Tennessee -- partly because they don't have a premier pass rusher.
Berry used to be that player for them, and he has shown flashes of that ability at times this year. But it hasn't been consistent.
Offensively, Warner's good health is paramount, of course. Backup Matt Leinart played well in his only start, but the offense changes dramatically without Warner. The club would rely more on a power running game, and a more conservative approach in the passing attack.
Left tackle Mike Gandy (30) has struggled with a pelvic muscle injury for much of the second half of the season and missed one game. His replacement, Jeremy Bridges, has played well, but Bridges is the only proven reserve offensive lineman on the roster. Another injury among this group could be devastating.
The health of the receiving corps has been a key to the team's consistency in the second half of the season. Anquan Boldin wasn't happy about missing the game in Chicago in November, but it obviously helped his sore right ankle.
Receiver Steve Breaston has been dealing with a bruised knee for most of the season but has looked more explosive in recent weeks. If Warner is healthy and has a full complement of offensive weapons and decent protection, the Cardinals should be a factor in the playoffs again.
LINEUP WATCH: If left tackle Mike Gandy continues to be hampered by a pelvic muscle injury, coaches must seriously consider starting Jeremy Bridges there. Bridges did an excellent job against the Vikings' Jared Allen two weeks ago, although he received help from tight ends and running backs. This will be an interesting position to watch in the offseason, too. Gandy is an unrestricted free agent and after making $5 million this year he won't be looking for a pay cut. Bridges would be a cheaper alternative, although he's only started one game at the position.
BY THE NUMBERS: 34 -- That's the numbers of years that have passed since the Cardinals last won consecutive division titles. They did it in 1974-75 in St. Louis under coach Don Coryell. They did it last season under coach Ken Whisenhunt. While the team was only 9-7, the division title gave the Cardinals a huge advantage in the playoffs. Their first-round game was at home, and they were able to play the NFC title game against the Eagles there, too.
--P Ben Graham continues to have a fine season. No one is better at placing kicks inside the opponents' 10. His hang time has improved, which has allowed the gunners to improve their coverage.
--K Neil Rackers has been playing through a painful groin injury. He's been reliable but his health has to affect coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to go for long field goals.
--DL Alan Branch has continued to improve through the season. He's been especially effective at defensive end, often pushing the pocket when lined up inside.
--RB Tim Hightower will continue to split carries with rookie Beanie Wells, as long as both are healthy. Coach Ken Whisenhunt believes strongly in a two-back system. --RB Beanie Wells gives the team something it hasn't had in years: a big play threat. If teams continue to play safeties deep to stop the Cardinals passing game, Wells should be able to break some plays. He has the power and speed to make defensive backs miss.
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