Day-after Whiz

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2009 – 11:32 am

Nothing earth-shattering from coach Ken Whisenhunt’s day-after press conference. Kurt Warner will continue to be monitored day-to-day, but short of Warner coming and proclaiming himself “perfect” (that’s been his go-to phrase, that he “doesn’t feel perfect”) I think the Cards will be in the same position at quarterback this week as last. It’ll be sorted more out by Wednesday.

RB Tim Hightower is nursing a thumb injury, and both T Mike Gandy (pelvis) and LB Karlos Dansby (shoulder) left the game Sunday because they aggravated existing conditions.

In the meantime, Whiz wants to look forward to playing the Vikings on “Sunday Night Football,” emphasizing he’s still happy having a two-game division lead with five to play.

“That’s really the story,” Whisenhunt said. “Where we are the next five weeks.”

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Titans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2009 – 1:12 am

Late, late, late. You get talking with cohorts like Ron Wolfley and Paul Calvisi on the flight home and suddenly, there’s not quite enough time to do all your work and you’re writing the aftermath blog entry past midnight at the kitchen table. Certainly there’s been enough time to absorb everything. I thought for sure, once the Cards held for three downs on that final sequence near their goal line, that they’d hold for one more. Great play by Vince Young, but to give up three fourth-down plays … ouch.

So on to some thoughts:

— Obviously quarterback was the big story. Matt Leinart played above average. He didn’t do enough in the first half; he was much better in the second as his confidence clearly grew (I could see it all the way from the press box). He needs to play better, sure. Is it unfair to compare him to Kurt Warner, sure. Warner set the bar high; even if Leinart becomes a star, it’s unlikely he’d ever post the passing numbers Warner does. That’s reality.

— Warner still is doing the “day-to-day” thing. He certainly didn’t come out and declare himself ready to play against the Vikings. The week off helps but it may not be an exact parallel to Anquan Boldin taking a week and then being perfect. What’s concerning is that no tests are saying anything is wrong with Warner, so it’s a matter of when he feels right. It’s a tough way to run a team. I can’t see Leinart being ready for the 10-1 Vikings if he doesn’t get more practice time than last week.

— Leinart wore a glove in practice last week to get a better grip and then —  lookee here!  — he wore it in the game. The subject brought a smile to his face after. “I told Kurt I am doomed, because I am still young in my career and I liked it,” Leinart said, given that Warner permanently wears gloves in games. “We’ll see what happens. But I was comfortable with it.”

— It proved moot, but the Titans have to be thanking their lucky stars the Darnell Dockett sack on the last play of the half – the play where Vince Young suffered brain lock and scrambled around to waste all eight seconds instead of preserving time for a field goal – didn’t come back to kill them. Another three points would have changed so much in the fourth quarter. Props to Dockett on that play too, since Calais Campbell should have had the sack and inexplicably didn’t wrap up (he did the same thing to David Garrard earlier this season). Dockett never stopped coming, and eventually got Young.

— Dockett is playing as well as any defensive lineman in the league. Period. He has to finish strong, but right now, it’d be a crime if he wasn’t a Pro Bowler.

— Ditto on that for punter Ben Graham. Lemme get this straight: Six punts, a gross average of 49.7 yards, a net of 48, five dropped inside the 20-yard line and three of those at the 5, 2 and 1? There isn’t an NFC punter having a finer season.

— Rookies rarely get Pro Bowl nods unless they are at a glamour position, but LaRod Stephens-Howling is deserving of consideration too. He’s been great in coverage on kicks and as a gunner on punts, and now he has a 99-yard kickoff return. He may have had, as an overall showing, the greatest special-teams day I’ve ever seen. He and Graham work magic together.

— Who says Beanie can’t catch? That was a pretty nice grab of the impressive Leinart throw down the sideline. More importantly, that play got Beanie and Tim Hightower on the field together, which will cause matchup concerns for any defense.

— I heard from a couple fans about the Cards not going for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 45 in the fourth quarter (I noticed Hightower asking for the same thing at the time). I say, why? Graham pinned them deep, and at that point, the only touchdown the Cards had given up was Chris Johnson’s 85-yard run. It was the right move and, in hindsight, proved to be the right move.

— That said, the two-yard run by Beanie on third-and-1 on the TD drive may have been the hardest run I’ve ever seen for two yards.

— There were three shots by Leinart down the field I thought should have come closer to working. Twice he tried to find Steve Breaston but the lack of practice time between Breaston and Leinart showed, with Leinart looking long and Breaston cutting off his route with a defender behind him both times. There was also a bomb to Anquan Boldin in which Boldin would have had a one-on-one jump ball – except Boldin didn’t see the ball coming and slowed up, never giving himself a chance.

— Big, big, big hitting going on down there. You could tell from afar but you could really tell down on the sideline. It was intense Sunday and a nice playoff preview.

— Finally, everyone knows how important this game was to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who played college ball at Tennessee State and trained in the offseason with many Titans, including Chris Johnson, whom DRC talked to at one point Sunday (as seen in the photo below). “I holler at him whenever I can,” DRC said, apparently including game days. He almost caught Johnson on Johnson’s 85-yard run. “I didn’t think he was gonna break,” DRC said. “But then he got past ’Los (Karlos Dansby) and I’m like, ‘Here we go.’ ” (Johnson broke free, by the way, because it looked like linebacker Gerald Hayes over pursued and didn’t protect the cutback lane).

DRC played pretty well against the Titans, making a couple of pass breakups and creating the lone turnover of the day, coming from behind to force what was at the time a crucial fumble that was recovered by fellow cornerback Bryant McFadden. DRC thought he’d have bragging rights. And then he didn’t.

“That was hard,” DRC said, “because I’m going to hear about all offseason.”

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Fitz fast, Hyphen faster, Dockett on fire

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2009 – 4:19 pm

Larry Fitzgerald’s first catch of the second half was the 500th of his career, getting him to that level in just 87 games — the second-fastest in NFL history to 500. Teammate Anquan Boldin, who did it in 80 games, was the fastest.

Then again, no one looked faster on the Cardinals than rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling, who broke off a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — the first Cards’ rookie to do so since Roy Green did it against the Cowboys in 1979, a 106-yard return.

Finally, Darnell Dockett already has three sacks today (Vince Young had been sacked just once this season on four starts), a career-high in the regular season and tying the three he notched in the Super Bowl.

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Hanging in at the half

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2009 – 3:40 pm

The Cardinals finally got points behind a Matt Leinart drive — a Neil Rackers 41-yard field goal — and a mistake in clock management by Titans quarterback Vince Young cost Tennessee a chance at three points right before the half. Leinart seemed to find a more comfortable rhythm as the half progressed. If the Cards can continue to handle the running of Chris Johnson and keep Tennessee out of the end zone, I think Leinart can generate enough in the second half to pull one out. The Titans get the ball first, so the defense has a big opportunity right away.

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Warner officially among inactives

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2009 – 12:47 pm

As expected, quarterback Kurt Warner (concussion) is being held out of today’s game, meaning Matt Leinart will start and Brian St. Pierre will be the backup. The move ends Warner’s consecutive starts streak at 41 and because of the injury, he isn’t the third quarterback either. I assume that makes Anquan Boldin the emergency QB.

The other inactives include:

  • S Rashad Johnson
  • OL Herman Johnson
  • OL Brandon Keith
  • LB Will Davis (knee)
  • TE Stephen Spach
  • WR Jerheme Urban
  • LB Reggie Walker

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Warner not playing today UPDATE II

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2009 – 11:08 am

All week, quarterback Kurt Warner said he was feeling better from his concussion but he always added the caveat that his status for Sunday in Tennessee would hinge on how he felt Sunday. Well, we’re at Sunday at it looks like Warner doesn’t feel as well as he did — and now, a few hours before kickoff, his availability is very much in doubt. Some reports have Warner unlikely to play; I was just told the decision would be made much closer to gametime.

UPDATE: I have been told Warner’s status will be determined at the 90-minute mark with inactives. Check back then — 12:35 p.m. Arizona time. But I am hearing he’ll probably sit out. UPDATE II: Kent Somers has Warner’s agent saying Kurt is out.

That said, in the case of a concussion, if Warner is iffy, I don’t see how the Cards play him. Not with so many games to go. We probably won’t know for sure until the Cards take the field on offense. And then, it might be Matt Leinart’s first start since he broke his collarbone in the fifth game of 2007.

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Friday before the Titans

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2009 – 4:40 pm

Thanksgiving came and went and, as usual, the holiday seemed like a blur. There is a lot to like about this job but that’s one of the downsides – the traditional holidays this time of year flash then disappear in the grind of the season.

But it does give us a chance to hear the thoughts of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who has continued to slide his desire for a new contract out once in a while never in a snit but instead with a little humor. The message is never lost, though. This week, Dockett said his family wasn’t coming out for Thanksgiving in part because the team leaves Saturday morning for Tennessee and he was saving their trip for the following week for Minnesota weekend. He just doesn’t have the cash to afford to fly his family out from Maryland more than once in a while.

“We don’t have no Albert Haynesworth money,” Dockett deadpanned. “If I am able to get off minimum wages I would definitely take my family out to all the home games because I know they’d be happy about that.”

Yeah, I’d guess Darnell would be happy about it too. Haynesworth, the Redskins’ defensive tackle, got some $40-plus million in guarantees from Washington last offseason. Dockett is making $3.5 million this season and is scheduled to make $3.75 M in 2010 and $4 M in 2011. I can only hope his family can handle their time apart.

Nevertheless, there’s a game against the Titans up first:

— Dockett did give big props to Tennessee’s running game and talked about what a huge boost to the confidence it would be for the defense if they could slow the Titans on the ground. And to think, Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, currently the NFL’s leading rusher, could have been a teammate. The Cardinals absolutely loved him going into the 2008 draft. They loved Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie too, and cornerback was perhaps a more crucial position at the time. I think there was hope Johnson may slide all the way to their second-round pick, or at least into the second round where the Cards could trade up (a la Alan Branch in 2007). But the Titans grabbed Johnson in the first round. It seemed a bit premature at the time. Uh, not so much. He’s clearly one of the best already.

— Speaking of running games, the Cardinals are 27th in the NFL. But over the past three weeks, this is how the NFL’s top rushing teams shake out: 1. Carolina (183 yards a game); 2. Tennessee (182.7); 3. Arizona 162.3.

— Say what you want about the guy, but Dockett is productive and playing well. He has a sack in three straight games and is making a strong Pro Bowl push.

— Perfect weather planned for Sunday: 64 degrees and only a slight chance of rain. Could the Cards have had any better weather this season? Heck, even in the postseason, it looks like it will be all domes.

— Kurt Warner is going to play, barring something crazy. Hopefully the Cards can protect him well enough to avoid a replay of his St. Louis hit, but Warner is going to get tagged a couple times. That’s just the game.

— Warner’s 89 straight passes without an interception was the longest active string in the league for starting quarterbacks before Thanksgiving. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers surpassed him Thursday and is at 125 attempts. Two other guys have longer active streaks than Warner but neither plays: Washington’s Todd Collins (222) and Kansas City’s Brodie Croyle (96).

— So that’s where the offense was …  in the first seven games, the most yards the Cards generated was 383. They have surpassed 400 each of the past three games, the first time since 1969 the team has had more than 400 yards in three straight games.

— Getting LB Monty Beisel back was crucial. It didn’t hurt that Beisel wanted to come back all along, but his knowledge of the defense will allow them to drop him in right away. He can play both inside and outside and most importantly, fill Will Davis’ spot on special teams. The Davis injury hurts. He was playing well and earning more and more time on defense. The ability to get him back before the playoffs, I think, is important.

— Watching Vince Young throw, that passing game doesn’t frighten me. He can complete some passes, but he can’t beat you that way. Now, if he starts to scramble, and you defense gets out of position and then he finds a way to throw it, that can beat you. It’ll start on the early downs for the Cards. They can’t let Young or Johnson rip off too many big runs (I don’t think you can realistically say “any big runs.” That’s unfair). And the Cards have to move the ball and score points. The Titans can’t score with the Cards.

— It’s week two of the Does-Adrian-Wilson-get-his-20th-career-sack watch. Not going to be easy with Young running around. Young has only been sacked once this season.

— The Cards need to win at least one of their next two games, both for confidence’s sake and to put the 49ers out of the picture.

That’s about it. We’re off to the Music City tomorrow. Hard to believe we’re about to hit December. As well as the Titans have played, the Cards again are giving off good vibes before this one. Having Warner healthy helps. So does an undefeated road record. Can it pay off into another win? The Titans are hot, but so are the Cardinals. It’s going to be fun to watch it unfold.

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Warner feeling good on Friday

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2009 – 12:57 pm

Quarterback Kurt Warner said his sore neck loosened up this morning and he felt more comfortable today than all week, and “all indications are that direction” that he will play Sunday. Warner remained cautious, saying he didn’t want to give anyone a “false sense” he was OK, but he obviously is optimistic.

LB Chike Okeafor also should play, but in both cases, coach Ken Whisenhunt said you could never know with a long plane ride how it would affect either player. Both guys — along with CB Bryant McFadden (knee), DE Kenny Iwebema (thumb) and K Neil Rackers (groin) are listed as questionable, but I’d expect all to be available.

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Titans will keep DRC’s attention

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2009 – 9:48 pm

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t want to use the word “bored,” which is a good thing. But the Cardinals’ second-year cornerback was bluntly honest that his mind wanders during games.

“There just isn’t that much action and you find yourself looking around,” DRC said.

His teammates try to keep him focused. Linebacker Karlos Dansby, in fact, head-butted DRC during the game against the Rams just for that purpose. “He was saying, ‘You just didn’t look like you were in the game,’ ” DRC said.

OK, admittedly, that’s something you hope Rodgers-Cromartie will grow out of at some point. But for now, you have a little concern. Take this weekend for instance, when the Cardinals play the Titans – a team that has a decidedly run-first-run-often bent. It might be tough to keep interested, right DRC?

“Oh no, it’s Tennessee,” DRC said, suddenly very animated. “I went to TSU and this is homecoming.  Oh no, I’m in this game, yes sir. I’ve got this game on my calendar. I got 65 tickets. I’m ready.”

Indeed, DRC went to Tennessee State. Not only are all his friends there but he often worked out with some of the Titans in the offseason. He and Titans star running back Chris Johnson are close, and DRC insisted “I need this one this week.”

“I might have to head butt me a few people, I’m so ready for this game,” DRC said.

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No setbacks for Kurt

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2009 – 12:26 pm

The only change on today’s injury report was that linebacker Karlos Dansby was back practicing full with his sore shoulder — which means QB Kurt Warner (concussion) once again practiced full and didn’t take a step back after practicing full Wednesday. That’s of course a great sign for Warner’s prospect of starting Sunday. Again, in a day-to-day situation, things can change, but it certainly seems like Warner will be under center for a 43rd straight start.

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