Penalties Driving Cardinals Coaches Crazy

Deuce Lutui (Getty)

Since arriving in Arizona in January of 2007, Coach Ken Whisenhunt has preached to his players about playing with intelligence and discipline. And there's no question the Cardinals are demonstrably better under Whisenhunt than they were under his predecessor.

But they haven't been necessarily smart or disciplined, at least if you judge those attributes by the number of penalties the team draws. The Cardinals led the league in penalties last year and they are tied with Green Bay with 72 fouls accepted this year.

After 25 games with largely the same key players, is it time to accept that the Cardinals are just a team that is going to draw an unusual number of flags?

"I'm not going to accept that," Whisenhunt said. "We're going to continue to work on that and, hopefully, at some point begin to turn the tide and become better."

It's hard identifying chief culprits, other than right guard Deuce Lutui, who has drawn eight flags.

Last week, for instance, four players, including Lutui, were penalized for false starts. Nine of the penalties against the 49ers came in the second half of a tight game. Two were on defensive players, linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Antonio Smith, for late hits. Strong safety Adrian Wilson and defensive end Darnell Dockett nullified turnovers with offside calls.

At times this year, the special teams have drawn plenty of flags, too. So it's obvious that the problem is distributed throughout the team.

What to do about it? It's hard to imagine Whisenhunt doing more. He put a heavy emphasis in the off-season on reducing the number of penalties, and the Cardinals have improved a little, reducing their average number of flags from 8.5 a game last year to 8 this year. The real answer might come in the draft.

The Cardinals likely will continue to put a bigger emphasis on drafting smarter players who understand the damage a penalty can do.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Cardinals won their seventh straight home game last week. That's their longest streak since 1925, when the Chicago Cardinals won nine consecutive games at home.

--Kurt Warner now has more than 10,000 passing yards as a Cardinal. Only 10 other players have reached that mark with two teams.

--At 6-3, the Cardinals lead the other three NFC West teams by four games. It's the first time the Cardinals have had a four-game lead in their division. Ever. It's the team's best start since 1984, when it also was 6-3.

--Anquan Boldin leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 10. That's a career high.

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't happy with punter Dirk Johnson's performance, calling his game against the 49ers "not very good." The Cardinals aren't looking for a replacement "at this point," Whisenhunt said. "But his performance has got to improve."

--Whisenhunt also wants better blocking from his tight ends. The Cardinals have four of them on the roster, and they will all compete this week to see who plays in Seattle. The biggest problem has been blocking the edge on short yardage runs.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14-11 -- That's coach Ken Whisenhunt's record in two seasons as a head coach. It's the best record of a Cardinals coach after 25 games since Norm Barry went 16-7-2 in 1925-26.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He pulled the trigger. I think in a lot of situations, it would have been hard for people to make that decision." -- Quarterback Kurt Warner on coach Ken Whisenhunt picking him as a starter over Matt Leinart.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Running back Tim Hightower, a rookie, will remain as the starter, even after he struggled last week against the 49ers (13 carries for 22 yards). Running back Edgerrin James played a limited amount against the 49ers after not playing at all the week before in St. Louis. James carried just twice for four yards.

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Steven Spach didn't play as well in his second game as he did in his first with the team. Spach signed two weeks ago and has played heavily in both of his games with the team.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played well last week in his first start in the team's base defense. Eric Green, the regular starter, was out with a knee injury, but Rodgers-Cromartie likely would have started anyway. Green has not played well.

--RG Deuce Lutui is playing better than he did last year, but he still makes one or two mistakes a game that drive coaches crazy. He's one more personal foul penalty away from being benched for Elton Brown.

--Two former Steelers have made plays on the final snaps to win games for the Cardinals. Sean Morey blocked a punt in overtime against Dallas, which resulted in a touchdown. And linebacker Clark Haggans stopped Michael Robinson short of the end zone on the final play last week against the 49ers.

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