The Cardinals seem to be plugging the team’s major perceived leak: Their offensive line, bolstered by free agent acquisitions and assistant coach Russ Grimm, seems improved by a stunning degree.
Now, about that other problem.
Their defense, ranked a lowly 29th last season, is generating little pass rush.
They’ll have to figure this out with existing personnel, as the team will “probably not” be able to add a pass rusher, general manager Rod Graves said.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to get better,” Graves said. “But the chances of finding that kind of player to impact our team is probably a long shot right now.
“I still believe we can get a sufficient rush with the personnel we have.”
Yet he conceded that, “We’re not getting it to the level we’d like to have it.”
The Cardinals have been fairly bland in their defensive alignments, so, “We haven’t really exposed all of what we’re capable of doing with the defense.
“We’ll have a better feel for that during the first game when we unleash everything we have.”
On the plus side, the Cardinals appear to have shored up their troubled cornerback spot with the acquisition of free agent Rod Hood and the apparent improvement of holdover Eric Green.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt, asked about his defense, sounded more optimistic than certain that holes have been plugged.
“I hope we’re going to be all right,” Whisenhunt said. “I’m basing it on what we’ve seen in practice. We’re trying to keep a lot of things basic in the preseason, not so much because we’re trying to fool other teams but because we want even competition with guys we’re trying to evaluate.”
THE ONES TO WATCH
Bertrand Berry: He didn’t put much pressure on opposing passers during the preseason. That needs to change or the Cards could be in trouble. Levi Brown: The rookie right tackle needs to protect the passer as well as run block (where he already seems proficient). Edgerrin James: He needs 1,200 yards or so, both for his Hall of Fame ambitions, and for the Cardinals to establish a running game. Matt Leinart: He can start a long run as the Cards QB by guiding them to a respectable season now. Rod Hood: He’s replacing Antrel Rolle at a cornerback spot and needs to be a significant upgrade.
Based on last year’s records, the Cardinals have the NFL’s easiest schedule this year. But you wouldn’t know it by their games in September: at improving San Francisco on Monday night, when home teams seem to have an extra edge; at home vs. Seattle, the consensus best team in the division; at Baltimore, a potential Super Bowl contender; and at home vs. Pittsburgh, the Super Bowl champ just two years ago.
FORGET THE RECORD
Ken Whisenhunt remains so sunny in spite of his team’s 0-4 preseason record (just the second time the Cards have been winless in exhibitions since they moved to Arizona) that you sometimes wonder if he has something up his sleeve. The rookie head coach, asked if he accomplished what he needed in training camp and in the preseason, replied: “I hope so. After our first game, I’m sure we’ll be able to answer that question a little better. “We’ve gotten a lot done. We still have a lot to do yet. “The biggest goal we had in training camp was trying to ascertain who our best 53 were.” With the exception of a player or two they might pick up from other team’s cut lists, that has been accomplished, he said.
GREEN LOOKS GOLDEN
Cornerback Eric Green figured to be one of the team’s most critical players this year. And so far, so good. Green has struggled to live up to his draft stature from 2005, when he was taken in the third round. What’s more, the cornerback position may have been the team’s biggest problem spot (along with the offensive line) last year. From looking at last year on videotape, Whisenhunt said, “I thought he had potential,” but, “We wanted more consistency. From what I’ve seen this year, (he’s produced) more consistency. “Eric has progressed well in camp. I’m excited about how he’s competing.”
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Whisenhunt says he feels “very good” about his kick return game. Steve Breaston seems to have the punt-return job, while J.J. Arrington has made plays as a kickoff returner. He could be joined there by Breaston. “We have two guys I know can do it,” Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals have 11 days between their exhibition closer and the season opener, “which is a long time,” Whisenhunt said. “If you have any nicks, it’s always good to get the guys healthy. We have a schedule that’s good for us (coaches) and the players. But it’s not too much time.”
“When you talk about running the football, to me it’s more about a mentality for your team and how you want to approach the game.
“The mentality, the physical approach we want to establish is being able to run the ball, especially in the fourth quarter if we have a lead to make it tougher for the opponent to score as well as rest our defense.
“We don’t ever want to lose sight that we want to run the football.” — Coach Ken Whisenhunt on his approach this season
“We’re going to be very balanced. I have no clue what we’re going to do. “We’re going to run the ball a lot … We’re going to throw the ball … We’re going to do both.” — Quarterback Matt Leinart, asked if the Cardinals will run or throw the ball more
“Absolutely not!” — cornerback Antrel Rolle, asked if he’s better suited to play safety, on the day he was demoted to the second unit.
“I’m going to get it. That’s my goal. … I’m going to get it this year.” — safety Adrian Wilson, on his quest to become the second NFL player to record 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career.
“I’m no miracle worker. I can tell you that. “I don’t think you have to be. These guys are good football players. They take pride in what they’re doing. My job is to teach, make sure to get them in the right place and with the right techniques.
“Come Sundays, I think we’ll be all right.” — assistant coach Russ Grimm on his job of rebuilding the previously woeful offensive line
Offense Wide receiver
11 Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 226) 80 Bryant Johnson (6-3, 213)
69 Mike Gandy (6-4, 308)
74 Reggie Wells (6-4, 305) 61 Elton Brown (6-5, 332)
50 Al Johnson (6-5, 305) 60 Nick Leckey (6-3, 300)
76 Deuce Lutui (6-4, 328) 63 Lyle Sendlein (6-2, 200)
75 Levi Brown (6-5, 322) 67 Brad Badger (6-4, 320)
82 Leonard Pope (6-8, 258) 83 Troy Bienemann (6-5, 253)
81 Anquan Boldin (6-1, 217) 87 Sean Morey (5-11, 193)
7 Matt Leinart (6-5, 232) 13 Kurt Warner (6-2, 222)
32 Edgerrin James (6-0, 220) 31 Marcel Shipp (5-11, 224)
45 Terrelle Smith (6-0, 250) 46 Tim Castille (5-11, 234)
Defense Left defensive end
94 Antonio Smith (6-4, 282) 96 Ross Kolodziej (6-3, 289)
98 Gabe Watson (6-3, 332) 78 Alan Branch (6-5, 332)
90 Darnell Dockett (6-4, 285) 93 Chris Cooper (6-5, 280)
Right defensive end
92 Bertrand Berry (6-3, 264) 71 Joe Tafoya (6-4, 258)
97 Calvin Pace (6-4, 270) 55 Darryl Blackstock (6-3, 244)
54 Gerald Hayes (6-1, 249) 52 Monty Beisel (6-3, 244)
58 Karlos Dansby (6-4, 250) 59 Brandon Johnson (6-5, 232)
26 Rod Hood (5-11, 198) 21 Antrel Rolle (6-0, 208)
25 Eric Green (5-11, 195) 20 Ralph Brown (5-11, 180)
24 Adrian Wilson (6-3, 230) 22 Matt Ware (6-2, 214)
42 Terrence Holt (6-4, 204) 47 Aaron Francisco (6-2, 207)
1 Neil Rackers (6-1, 202)
5 Mike Barr (6-2, 230)
48 Nathan Hodel (6-2, 238) 83 Troy Bienemann (6-5, 253)
87 Sean Morey (5-11, 193)
28 J.J. Arrington (5-9, 212) 18 Steve Breaston (6-0, 189)
18 Steve Breaston (6-0, 189) 80 Bryant Johnson (6-3, 213)
Sept. 10 at San Francisco 7:15 p.m.
Sept. 16 Seattle 1:05 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Baltimore 10 a.m.
Sept. 30 Pittsburgh 1:15 p.m.
Oct. 7 at St. Louis 10 a.m.
Oct. 14 Carolina 1:05 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Washington 10 a.m.
Nov. 4 at Tampa Bay 11 a.m.
Nov. 11 Detroit 2:15 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Cincinnati 11 a.m.
Nov. 25 San Francisco 2:05 p.m.
Dec. 2 Cleveland 2:05 p.m.
Dec. 9 at Seattle 2:05 p.m.
Dec. 16 at New Orleans 11 a.m.
Dec. 23 Atlanta 2:05 p.m.
Dec. 30 St. Louis 2:15 p.m.
Sept. 10 at 49ers: In a matchup of two improving teams, the Cards can send a message that this year will be different ... or more of the same.
Sept. 16 vs. Seahawks: A win in the home opener would at least guarantee a split vs. the most talented team in their division.
Sept. 30 vs. Steelers: Ken Whisenhunt goes against his old team, which also has a rookie head coach. The type of tough home game the Cards need to make the playoffs.
Oct. 21 at Redskins: The last game before the bye week will set the tone for the final half of the season. A 2-5 mark at the break would be terrible for a franchise trying to hang onto new fans and convert others.
Nov. 18 at Bengals: The Cards battle an unpredictable foe while hoping to stay in playoff chase.
BY THE NUMBERS
18 — The longest run from scrimmage all season (by Edgerrin James).
349 — Yards given up per game, which gave the defense an overall 29th ranking.
14 — Number of games missed the past two seasons by pass rushing defensive end/linebacker Bertrand Berry.
30 — Cards’ ranking for pass defense last season after giving up 231 yards per game.
4/6 — Number of sacks/ interceptions needed by Adrian Wilson to become the second player ever to have 20 of each in a career.
2006 STAT LEADERS
Att. Yards Avg. Long TD
E. James 337 1,159 3.4 18 6
Shipp 17 49 2.2 9 4
Arrington 14 19 1.4 9 0
Boldin 5 28 5.6 28 0
Att Cmp Yds TD Int Rt
Leinart 377 214 2,547 11 12 74.0
Warner 168 108 1,377 6 5 89.3
Rec. Yards Avg. Long TD
Boldin 83 1,20314.5 64 4
Fitzgerald 69 946 13.7 57 6
B. Johnson 40 740 18.5 56 4
James 38 217 5.7 14 0
Pope 16 161 10.1 33 0
Gerald Hayes, 111;
Karlos Dansby, 94
Adrian Wilson, 87;
Antrel Rolle, 87;
Robert Griffith, 83
Chike Okeafor, 8.5;
Karlos Dansby, 8
Bertrand Berry, 6;