Silly Giants, tricks are for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2009 – 10:11 am

The play was set up perfectly. Safety Antrel Rolle, who proved back in training camp of 2008 when he was sidelined with an ankle sprain that he can wing the ball some 75 yards, was in at quarterback on offense in the wildcat formation. We already know what Rolle can do when he has his hands on the ball. So when he faked the handoff to LaRod Stephens-Howling and rolled right, a team’s defense has to stay honest. Maybe that’s why arguably the best receiver in the NFL got so wide open. Then again, Larry Fitzgerald dropped what should have at least gotten the ball inside the Giants’ 5-yard line. And there was a holding call anyway.

Still, it was a victory for coach Ken Whisenhunt’s play-calling, and the possibilities with Rolle back there should grow from here, Whisenhunt said. “It’s fun,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s a fun thing to do in practice. Our guys get really excited about it. I am just excited that the scheme of it worked. … Had we completed it and had we scored, the guys would still be talking about it.”

Whisenhunt said such plays help team chemistry. There’s a downside, of course. Other players go to coaches looking to play a different position here and there.

“I think you have to temper those things,” Whisenhunt acknowledged. “You have a number of guys who want to go to the other side of the ball, whether it’s some of our offensive guys wanting to blitz or some defensive guys wanting to be offensive players. As long as we don’t go overboard and we are sound in what we are trying to do, I’m all for it.”

Oh, and as long as Fitz makes the catch next time.



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Beanie up for award

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2009 – 9:30 am

Running back Beanie Wells is up for the league’s Pepsi rookie of the week award, for which fans can vote for right here. Beanie had his best game of the year, gaining 67 yards on 14 carries and his first touchdown. The other nominees include Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Jets running back Shonn Green, Vikings receiver Percy Harvin and Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey.

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Whiz talks the day after

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2009 – 2:17 pm

A few quick notes after coach Ken Whisenhunt’s day-after press conference:

— It’ll be a wait-and-see with DRC and his bad ankle (Whiz called it a “low sprain”). That’s no surprise. S Antrel Rolle did have some soreness in his left arch, but Whiz doesn’t expect that to be a problem. He also said WR Anquan Boldin, while sore late in the game with his bad ankle, didn’t have any setbacks. He should practice more this week, Whisenhunt said.

— Whisenhunt is tired today — that’s what happens when you get back to the team facility around 5 a.m. and there is still a game to plan for the next week — but happy. “What I like is we are in the same place we were last year” at 4-2, he said.

— Beanie Wells is not going to be the starter anytime soon (more on that story later today on the homepage). But he will continue to get more work. Whisenhunt made three things clear: Beanie is explosive and a day when he breaks out is coming for some unsuspecting opponent; the fumbles, especially in the limited amount of carries, is not going to help him with playing time (although he acknowledged Tim Hightower has to be careful too); and there will continue to be a running back rotation, including Jason Wright, so it’s unlikely Wells is going to end up getting 25 carries a game.

— There were questions about that last three-pass-plays-and-punt possession and why Whiz didn’t run more. Whisenhunt acknowledged he saw a matchup on a pass with Fitz and an overmatched DB and he wanted to go for the kill shot and end the Giants’ hopes. Instead, the Giants switched some things and in the end, the pass was batted down at the line. In hindsight, Whisenhunt realized he should have run a  bit more but he is always leery of losing aggressiveness in his playcalling.

P.S. For those interested, Sports 620 KTAR is replaying the game’s radio broadcast starting tonight at 6 p.m.

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Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2009 – 4:45 am

I’m writing this at 30,000 feet or so, flying somewhere high above the U.S., at around 1:45 a.m. Phoenix time. And let me state the obvious – while these red-eye flights home aren’t the best, they are much, much easier to take with a victory in the back pocket.

I’ve been covering the Cardinals full-time since 2000, and I can’t remember – and this includes last year’s playoff run – a time when the confidence felt more all-encompassing than it does right now. That’s why they could overcome some of the bad breaks in New York. They believe. You want to talk about a culture change in the franchise, that’s one major tell right there.

I mean, they’re 3-0 on the road. I remember sitting in the bowels of the Georgia Dome in 2006, after the Cards had been nailed for a 32-10 defeat and Denny Green had handed over the keys to the car to Matt Leinart and benching Kurt Warner (that alone just tells you how far this team has come). I did the math and figured that was the 50th road game I had covered as a beat writer. The Cardinals had lost 41 of them.

Indeed, the Cards are a long way from that era.

As for the immediate Giants’ aftermath:

— I’m sure I will get a bunch of e-mails on the subject, but yes, it certainly feels like there was a running back changing of the guard Sunday night. Beanie Wells only had 14 carries, but he averaged 4.8 yards a carry. The fumbling for the backs remains a concern – one each for Wells and Tim Hightower – but I’d be surprised if Beanie doesn’t get the majority of the carries now, with Hightower the receiving and short-yardage back.

All Beanie could say Sunday was how it was fun. No, it’s not eloquent. But it crystallizes his thoughts.

— The Cardinals have to hope the ankle injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t too serious. They may not absolutely need him this game, not with the Panthers struggling and possibly benching quarterback Jake Delhomme. But they need DRC and his playmaking abilities.

— The defense still hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the first quarter this season (only three field goals) and hasn’t allowed a first-quarter point in four straight games.

— You see the impact being made by Alan Branch and Calais Campbell and you have to have optimism for the future on the defensive line. Campbell has played so well the loss of Antonio Smith hasn’t been felt at all. As for Branch, I mean, this was a guy who many had written off, so for him to be this productive is just extra.

— Warner wasn’t bad Sunday, not by a long shot. But when it was over, I couldn’t help but think of the comments he made in training camp when he talked about often feeling last year that the Cards didn’t have a chance unless he played really well, and that he hoped the team would reach a point where it could win even if he had an off night. In my mind, I think that’s exactly what happened Sunday. Warner wasn’t off, per se, but he didn’t seem super sharp (the Giants’ pass rush will do that) and his teammates picked him up.

— The Giants had won 15 straight games when leading at halftime. That’s over.

— Unbelievable to me that Adrian Wilson had one of his biggest games – a pick, a fumble recovery, and another near pick – despite cramps. The secondary was banged up and scrambling at the end. By the way, Bryant McFadden didn’t have a gaudy stat, but I thought he played his best game of the year, especially with the defensive backfield leaning on him after DRC went out.

— Finally, a humorous anecdote. Apparently, some small critter raced across the field during the game, which, according to Beanie, scared fellow running back Jason Wright. “He hopped in my arms like a little girl,” Wells said with a smile. “It was the funniest thing I’ve seen in my life.” Wright, getting dressed next to Beanie in the cramped visitors’ locker room laughed but emphasized that because Beanie blabbed to reporters, “You’re gonna pay for that.”

Heck, Wright could afford to laugh it off. He scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.


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DRC hurts ankle, questionable

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2009 – 7:50 pm

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was just carted to the locker room and is questionable to return with a left ankle injury. Tough situation given how well he was playing. But the way the defense is playing as a whole, it may not matter tonight.

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Branch’s first two sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2009 – 7:33 pm

Here’s one idea of how the Cards’ defense has improved: Alan Branch, the man who almost everyone had written off as a bust, has two sacks and has shown every bit of the athleticism that made the Cards want to trade up to take him as a second-round pick in 2007. They are the first two sacks of Branch’s career.

Calais Campbell, the second-round pick of 2008, has a sack too. Branch has looked explosive tonight. If he plays like this, the Cards’ defense is only going to get better.

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DRC’s great start (with an update)

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2009 – 5:56 pm

An amazing interception by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just then, timing his move inside Dominik Hixon and then a leap for a pick. For those keeping track, that’s now nine interceptions in 18 21 career starts (including the postseason) for DRC — quite a beginning for a guy who is clearly still learning. Oh, and don’t forget, two of those fingers on the right hand are still casted.

UPDATE: If you are willing to parse details, that’s nine picks in 18 career DRC starts at cornerback — because he had three starts as a nickel slot guy before making the jump to the top two corners.

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Boldin to play; Early inactive

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2009 – 4:03 pm

It apparently was never much of a question of Anquan Boldin playing (not that I was unsure) with his bad ankle. He never even really tested it out before the game; he just came out for warm-ups like the rest of the receiving corps. Boldin is feeling so good Early Doucet remains inactive. That means a lot for the Cards to have Boldin seemingly at nearly full strength. Boldin told XTRA 910 he was told originally it is a three-to-four week injury and I was told that was true. But that didn’t faze Boldin.

With that scenario, the inactives are:

  • QB Brian St. Pierre
  • S Rashad Johnson
  • LB Reggie Walker
  • OL Herman Johnson
  • OL Brandon Keith
  • TE Dominique Byrd
  • WR Early Doucet
  • TE Stephen Spach (ankle)

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Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2009 – 4:46 pm

With the night game Sunday, coach Ken Whisenhunt broke with what has become the norm for a trip as far as New York and the team is leaving tomorrow morning rather than already have left this afternoon. The two-day trips have always been about getting adjusted to the time for what would be a 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. game. Obviously, that doesn’t apply this week so we’re heading out first thing in the morning.

Until then, some things has we wind down the week:

— First-year Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan seems to have caused a stir by announcing he plans to blitz the Cardinals often Sunday. Of course, he could be blowing smoke — the Giants do have a good front four, and it seems the Cards would have more trouble with that and seven in coverage than blitzing and leaving cover men on an island. QB Kurt Warner likes blitzing teams because he can quickly exploit them. We’ll see how that turns out. Blitzes usually pay off big one way or the other, either for the defense or the offense if it handles them. “Who knows what they are going to do?” Whisenhunt said. “I haven’t seen a big change (from last year) . If they choose to blitz us, that is something we certainly expect. Hopefully we will react to it the way we did in practice preparing for it.”

— Speaking of last year — a 37-29 loss in Glendale — I’ve talked to multiple players about what they get out of reviewing last year’s game against the Giants and the answers were mixed. Tackle Levi Brown acknowledged that a player should be able to get something worthy, but in the end, often can’t because teams have changed and, more importantly, those players who have remained have either progressed or regressed. That affects the whole package. Warner said the main thing to remember is that the Cards can’t beat themselves. Mistakes — mistakes that can be avoided — is what doomed the Cards last year, Warner said.

— We’ll see if Early Doucet plays Sunday. I think he’ll be active. I still think Anquan Boldin will play, but, already knowing Boldin has a sore ankle, the Cards can’t risk not having an extra receiver available not only if Boldin gets further dinged but also if Boldin will be limited in the packages he might play. That’s what happened in the season opener against the 49ers (when Doucet was still hurt and Lance Long was forced to be active). Many fans have asked me why Doucet hasn’t played more. The big problem? He’s never proven himself on special teams, something the receivers in front of him — Urban, Morey, Breaston — all do and do well. “That’s the best way for him to assure himself of playing time,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s probably the one negative from the preseason of him being injured is we didn’t get the opportunity in preseason games to see him do those things.”

Whisenhunt thinks a player with Doucet’s size and speed should flourish on special teams and Doucet insists he played enough in college that he’d be fine. But I don’t get the sense the Cards are comfortable that Doucet can do the job just yet.

— In last year’s game, special teams killed the Cardinals. They can’t let that happen again.

— I’ve done a couple of New York radio interviews this week, and they are always asking what I think is key to the game. I said it in the podcast and I’ll repeat it here, although it’s not exactly going deep in the well: The Cards have to protect Warner. Period. They do that, they’ll be fine. It wouldn’t hurt if they could get to Eli Manning. That didn’t happen at all last season.

— Would it have been better if the Giants had gone to New Orleans and taken care of the Saints? Perhaps. Then the Cards would be going to face a 6-0 team playing really well. Instead, the Giants had some holes exposed, but they likely also were re-focused, much like the Colts game did for the Cardinals.

Well, it’s time to wrap it up. If something interesting happens in Newark tomorrow, I’ll blog (yeah, I know what you’re thinking: What’s going to happen in Newark, on a probably rainy Saturday, that’s worth reading about?). Otherwise, I’ll be like everyone else, checking out the Sunday games and waiting for kickoff at about 8:30 p.m. New York time Sunday night — hoping that the plane ride home is one of celebration.



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Anquan practices, questionable for NY

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2009 – 12:30 pm

Anquan Boldin did make it back to practice today, working on a limited basis and surprising coach Ken Whisenhunt. “I didn’t think he’s move around as well as he did,” Whisenhunt said. Boldin said there have been no setbacks and he is improving daily. That’s good news for the Cards, and while Whisenhunt added that Early Doucet has a chance to be active this weekend — that’s a possibility even if Boldin plays, given Boldin’s ankle. But in the end I also think Boldin will be able to play at least some.

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