Saturday night in Chicago was a crossroads of sorts for the Arizona Cardinals. The team had put forth disappointing performances during the first two preseason games, with late rallies by the backups keeping them competitive. The Cardinals answered a host of pending questions against the Bears, as they managed to put everything together en route to a 14-9 victory in the Windy City.
At the forefront of the action was the play of both Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart. Both quarterbacks were in top form, playing to their strengths all evening. Anderson’s big arm was on full display, completing a handful of passes downfield to rookie wideout Stephen Williams. His ability to stretch the field was a welcomed sight for coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona offense. Leinart, on the other hand, stuck to his focus underneath, but it worked. Leinart was nearly flawless, hitting on 9 of 10 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
While Leinart’s 135.0 QB rating trumped Anderson’s rating of 111.1, Anderson’s performance is probably considered more impressive. Anderson completed 7 of 12 passes for 94 yards and a score of his own. The most exciting throws of the night came from Anderson, including a beautifully thrown 27-yard touchdown strike to Williams, who’s clearly emerged as his favorite target.
The other main areas of interest during Saturday’s game also showed up. The team’s rushing attack looked the best it has all preseason. In total, the Cardinals racked up 87 yards on the ground with Tim Hightower doing most of the damage. Hightower’s vision was tremendous while his cuts were swift and decisive. Hightower displayed an explosive burst of speed on his eight attempts for 62 yards, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.
Beanie Wells continues to play second fiddle to Hightower and the thought to be breakout candidate wasn’t as successful against Chicago. That said, it’s only a matter of time before Wells gets back on track. Wells clearly has an extra gear that sets him apart and his power running style resembles another dominating runner, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.
Most of the success stories were made possible by the coming together of the offensive line. While not perfect, play in the trenches was dramatically better than it has been. The tackle position is still vulnerable – both the starters and backups – but there will be some formations used to help them along the way. The quarterbacks had more time to operate in the pocket and the running backs were able to find open lanes up front.
Defensively, the domination of training camp has continued into the preseason. The Bears’ starting offense did next to nothing and were shutout through the first half of play. The defensive line has been touted as the major strength of the team and that continues to hold true. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have the potential to be a Pro Bowl duo and the rotation at nose tackle should be difficult to stop. Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson and rookie Dan Williams all expect to play a prominent roll this year.
The linebackers and cornerbacks were fairly quiet, but that can probably be considered a good thing, especially in the secondary. No one in particular was exposed and mistakes were limited through disciplined play. Rookie LB Daryl Washington, getting his first start as a pro, covers a tremendous amount of ground and should be with the first-team defense come opening day. The battle behind him is still unclear. Monty Beisel and Pago Togafau are competing to be a top backup with Reggie Walker figuring to be in the mix if he can avoid any further injuries.
The secondary got beat on a few throws from QB Jay Cutler but for the most part gave the erratic signal caller fits all evening. Both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Greg Toler intercepted Cuter and the two appear to be developing into a formidable tandem on the perimeter. Furthermore, backups Michael Adams and Matt Ware are amongst the most unappreciated players on the roster. Their importance should become more visible during the 2010 campaign.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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