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In a rush to be tested

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2013 – 11:00 am

The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.

Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).

(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.

Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.

There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.

RunDBlogUSE


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With 2014 schedule, London calling?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2013 – 3:03 pm

The NFL announced today that three teams will host games in London during the 2014 season: Jacksonville, Oakland and Atlanta. Why does that matter? Because you never know if the Cardinals could get picked to be the visiting team to a London game.

The Cards don’t play Jacksonville next season. But they do travel to Oakland, and with an away game at the “matching” NFC South team wherever they finish, there is a chance the Cardinals could have a road game in Atlanta next season — making then two of the three London games possible. We are far away from knowing for sure, of course, but it’s an interesting tidbit to chew on.

So, as long as we are discussion the 2014 opponents — because why wouldn’t you five games into the previous season — here is the list of the Cardinals’ schedule-to-be:

HOME

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

Kansas City Chiefs

San Diego Chargers

NFC North “like” finisher (If Cardinals finish in second place in division, for instance, they play the second-place team from NFCN)

Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams

AWAY

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Denver Broncos

Oakland Raiders

NFC South “like” finisher

Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams


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Tackle situation shows why you don’t fall in love

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2013 – 11:19 am

One of the clichés that always floats around at draft time is that a team never ever ever should fall in love with a player. I mean, if you’re picking No. 1, fine. But otherwise, there is always a risk that said player or players isn’t going to be there. And you don’t want to be disappointed or let the emotion of losing out on such a crush drive you to do something dumb when you are on the clock.

That crossed my mind this morning when NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock talked about what has become a growing sentiment — that all three high-end offensive tackles available: Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson — will all be off the board by the time the Cardinals pick at No. 7. Let’s make this clear, no one knows for sure the Cards even like all three at that point, although it stands to reason they do. For a while, it was people thinking Fisher would be there and Joeckel wouldn’t. Then it was Fisher being gone and Johnson being the consideration. But there is a strong likelihood that the Chiefs take Joeckel at No. 1 (KC wants to trade Branden Albert) and the Eagles (No. 4) and the Lions (No. 5) both easily could take the other two tackles. Even if one lasts to No. 6, the next scenario could be the Browns trading out of No. 6 to the Chargers or Dolphins, both of whom need a left tackle like Johnson (pictured below).

Now, the Dolphins are talking with the Chiefs about the Albert trade, which would take them out of the mix. But the Chargers, picking 11th, could try to jump up (with Ken Whisenhunt’s new team potentially stealing a tackle out from under his old team.)

What does this all mean? Well, this is operating under the assumption the Cards are focusing on a tackle. That was the thought last year too and they took Michael Floyd over Riley Reiff, so there’s that. I don’t see the Cards trading up and surrendering a pick, although I’m not positive on that. If all the tackles are off the board in the top five, I could definitely see the Cards trying to trade down a little, although other than the tackles, I don’t know who would trade up. And again, if three tackles go off the board that early, someone is sitting there that hadn’t been expected. Will it be someone the Cards want?

– As long as we are talking about potential picks at No. 7, we have our annual mock draft contest ready for play right here. Hope you decide to take a crack at who you think the Cardinals will select.

LaneBlogUSE


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Reading the options of the future of offense

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2013 – 10:48 am

The Super Bowl run-up this week — on both TV and in print — will be filled with a handful of the obvious stories this week: The last game for Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, and, with the 49ers becoming explosive on offense with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick, there will be plenty written and said about the read-option offense.

The conventional wisdom has long been that running quarterbacks will have a hard time having long-term success in the NFL. Defenders are faster and stronger in the pros than college. The chances of a quarterback getting hurt — and the chances that a coach wants to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get hurt — are high. Of course, that all got turned on its head this season, with Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson (to a lesser degree) all making the read-option incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses.

Where does it go from here?

It’s impossible to know for sure. I do know that defensive coordinators are going to have an entire offseason to prepare to defend it. If you are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who could/will see some version of it up to seven times in 2013 — the Niners twice, the Seahawks twice, the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Jake Locker) and Eagles (with new coach Chip Kelly) — you know the Cards are going to study the strengths and weaknesses carefully. There have been comparisons made to the Wildcat offense, and that version became a lot less effective the year after it hit the scene hard.

Then again, the Wildcat was done in a situation where the main ballhandler wasn’t a quarterback. The threat of the pass was only that, a threat. It wasn’t normal. That’s what makes the read-option so difficult, because the quarterback could instead fade for a quick throw. That’s why Kaepernick and Griffin and Wilson have been so good. It’s not because they run the ball well — although they do do that — but because they are accurate passers and can make defenses pay through conventional ways too. (In other words, Tim Tebow they are not.) As more and more college quarterbacks find ways to do both, it will inevitably find its way into the pro game.

Injury concerns are legitimate. The Redskins understand this. The more hits a QB takes, the more chance he gets hurt. Simple math. Maybe the success can be sustained on a football level, but on a player level, the quarterback won’t last as long. Or maybe the QB has to morph after a few years, like Michael Jordan went from going to the hoop every time into one of the best jump shooters. Pocket passers aren’t going away. It’s really about what the talent is coming from colleges and what coaches are willing to do to adapt. I doubt every team suddenly starts running the read-option, but I don’t see it going away.

readOptionblogUSE


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Chip trip narrows openings to Cards, Jags

Posted by Darren Urban on January 16, 2013 – 11:46 am

The shocking news Wednesday that Oregon coach Chip Kelly — who had long been thought of as the Eagles’ top choice for head coach but who seemingly made it clear he wasn’t leaving Oregon last week — was indeed going to be Philly’s new coach means there are two open head coaching spots left. Jacksonville and Arizona. (The Bears officially hired one-time Cardinals offensive coordinator Marc Trestman earlier in the morning.)

Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is interviewing with the Cards today. The Cards are reportedly trying to get permission/set up an interview with Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. The other known candidates are Ray Horton, Todd Haley and Jay Gruden, and that doesn’t preclude that there might have been unknown candidates at some point.

The Jaguars’ known list is Jay Gruden, Bevell, in-house defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Seahawks DC Gus Bradley and Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer. They are also expected to wait for and talk to 49ers OC Greg Roman — untouchable until San Francisco’s season is over — who is close with new general manager Dave Caldwell.

In the meantime, we wait.

– Ken Whisenhunt missed out again. Just when it looked like he again was making a push to be a head coach — this time with the Eagles — the Kelly bombshell dropped. Whiz was apparently in the mix in Buffalo, Cleveland and Philly (he also talked with the Chargers) but instead, it seems likely that if he coaches this year, it will be as an assistant. The idea that he could end up in Denver as offensive coordinator with Peyton Manning seems to be gaining steam. He’s not going to be on Jacksonville’s HC list.


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With Broncos out, path cleared for Cards’ decision

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2013 – 7:28 pm

With the Broncos losing (an admittedly amazing entertaining playoff game) Saturday night to Baltimore, it means their season is over and it means offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is now available to negotiate for a head coaching deal. It also would seem like the Cardinals would be in position to figure out their head coaching situation sometime this coming week.

Now, I’m not saying the Cards want McCoy for sure. But none of their candidates — at least, the ones we know of — are impeded from talking contract now. Cards defensive coordinator Ray Horton, McCoy and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden (and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley?) are all fully available. There’s been a lot of talk the Cards want McCoy, but that’s assumption rather than anything based on fact. Last week was filled with interviews anyway, so nothing was coming down last week regardless of McCoy’s situation.

We’ll see how it plays out. McCoy has interviewed with the Eagles and Bears already as well as the Cards. All of them were in Denver, so I’d expect a second interview with anybody to come in that city. Gruden has upcoming interviews with the Eagles and Jaguars. There is a report the Jags would like to talk to McCoy. Horton also interviewed with the Bills and Browns, although both spots have already been filled.

Will the Cards have a coach this week? Perhaps. President Michael Bidwill has maintained the whole process he had no set timeline in place and I don’t think there is a rush to get this done. But again, if all the candidates can be hired, it makes sense this moves forward in the coming days.

 


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As the coaching info turns

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2013 – 11:47 am

With Steve Keim in place as general manager, the Cardinals now need to find a head coach. That is ongoing, and there was some spark thrown into Wednesday morning with conflicting reports about the Cardinals and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Some reported there was an interview happening, others said no. (Or absolutely no.) What we know is that the Cards have talked to Ray Horton and Mike McCoy and are going to talk to Jay Gruden Thursday. President Michael Bidwill said all those things Tuesday. The team has been pretty transparent with all their interviews once they are lined up. Then again, Haley might want this kept quiet (which doesn’t necessarily prevent leaks, not when it is fellow coaches apparently saying what is going on.)

The Cards, in the Haley case, are not commenting.

(UPDATE: Steelers president Art Rooney said Haley is interviewing. Feels like a solid source.)

Regardless, nothing has changed with the hiring time frame, which was that there was no time frame. Bidwill reiterated that notion. “The timetable is the timetable that gets us the right coach and the right decision for the team to move us forward,” team president Michael Bidwill said during Steve Keim’s introductory press conference Tuesday.

One final interesting note, which comes via Geoff Mosher from CSN Philadelphia, via tweets that make me think he too has been hit with many questions from concerned fans about no head coach yet hired, in his case with the Eagles.

“KC was first NFL team last year to hire HC, on Jan. 9. Chiefs went 2-14, fired Crennel. Colts hired Chuck Pagano on Jan. 25. Made playoffs”

Mosher makes the point of various successful coaches over the years and their hire dates: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin Jan. 22 (’07); Baltimore’s John Harbaugh Jan. 19 (’08); Denver’s John Fox Jan. 13 (’11); Atlanta’s Mike Smith Jan. 24 (’08); and Seattle’s Pete Carroll Jan. 11 (’10). Again, I’m not trying to say every coach hired is the right one, or that waiting always is a benefit. But clearly, it’s not like taking time crushes chances for success. Of the seven teams that need new coaches, only two have hired new coaches, and that doesn’t include the possibility Jacksonville could change coaches now that they have a new GM.

– One final outlier here: After the Cowboys fired DC Rob Ryan Tuesday it became popular — driven by media speculation — that Horton could be a candidate to replace him. Horton was wooed by Jason Garrett to be on staff two years ago as Horton was coming to Arizona as DC. Here’s the problem: If the Cards don’t hire Horton has head coach, I’m pretty sure they want him to stay as defensive coordinator. Now, that can always change depending on who the head coach is, but with Horton still under contract for another season, he can’t go anywhere (except as a head coach) if the Cards don’t want him to. And I just don’t see the Cards allowing a lateral move, even if Horton did (of which I’m not sure either).


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Gruden planned as coaching candidate

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2013 – 6:44 pm

The Cardinals confirmed Sunday they plan to interview Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden this week for their vacant head coaching position. Gruden had success grooming second-round 2011 pick Andy Dalton at quarterback, as the Bengals made the playoffs in each of Dalton’s first two seasons. The Bengals’ offense did struggle Saturday in its playoff loss at Houston, although the Texans do have a tough defense.

(Again, no confusion here: This is Jay Gruden, not ESPN announcer/former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who is, in fact, Jay’s brother.)

Gruden becomes the fourth known candidate (fifth total, although Andy Reid never interviewed). Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was Saturday’s interview. Todd Haley still is on the radar, although no known interview has been set up as yet. And there is Ray Horton.

McCoy did spend Sunday with lengthy interviews with the Eagles and Bears. Reportedly, the Eagles want to talk to Gruden. Horton remains a candidate with the Browns, who reportedly have moved on from trying to get Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

The Cards are still looking for a general manager. They have already interviewed in-house candidate Steve Keim and the Redskins’ Morocco Brown. I’d think that decision would come sooner rather than later. We will see.

For perspective on the coach search, let’s look at the last time the Cards hired a coach. Denny Green was fired Jan. 1, 2007. Ken Whisenhunt was hired Jan. 13.


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Eagles aftermath, with a Kolb topper

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2012 – 7:46 pm

The defense is dominant. But before we get too far away from one of the key storylines from today’s game, here’s a nod to Kevin Kolb. The quarterback keeps downplaying what it meant today to beat the Eagles, but the man is human. You can only imagine, with everything he’s been through – the guy wasn’t even going to be playing two weeks ago.

“We wanted to come out and play hard for him because we knew what it meant for him,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “He made the throws, he scrambled when he needed to and he did a great job commanding the huddle. In the huddle, he was very demonstrative. He really wanted it. He was calling guys to reach down and dig deep and make plays. He really doesn’t talk all that much in the huddle, but today, you could tell he was actually trying to motivate.”

Someone wanted Kolb to reflect on the past three games. He wouldn’t bite. “I want to stay focused,” Kolb said. “Because I’ve done it in the past, you know, tried to foresee the future and every time it comes up and knocks my legs out from under me.”

The questions are going to be there and no, I don’t know what happens at quarterback. You’d have to think Kolb will stay as the starter even if John Skelton’s ankle is healthy. I don’t anticipate any big announcement – that’s not really coach Ken Whisenhunt’s style – but that’s my guess tonight.

– There was a lot of preseason concern about how much pressure the Cards could get with their outside linebackers. O’Brien Schofield and Quentin Groves each had a sack, Sam Acho had a play that would’ve been a sack if Michael Vick hadn’t decided to intentionally ground the ball, and the three totaled six QB hits. Not a bad day’s work.

– Safety Kerry Rhodes has had two excellent games in a row. Played well in New England, and then today he looked like, since Adrian Wilson was sitting out, he was going to suddenly take up the mantle as the guy who drilled everyone. He did it back-to-back plays on tight end Brent Celek, and later tagged Vick for the James Sanders fumble return.

“Everyone else is making plays, so why not me?” Rhodes said. “I have to make a couple myself.”.

– James Sanders and Rashad Johnson stepped up in Wilson’s absence. Reminded me of last year when Johnson and Richard Marshall filled in well for Rhodes

– Daryl Washington won’t win NFC defensive player of the week, I don’t think, because Calais Campbell won it last week. But he’d have an argument after his two sacks and the way he harassed Michael Vick all day. So I’ll say this: Has a team ever looked better in a two-week stretch of re-signing two players to big contract extensions. No worries about either one flaking out after getting paid.

– The PatCat got a snap Sunday. Four-yard Patrick Peterson running loss. It can’t always be productive, I guess.

– Kolb has played two games plus the end of the other without an interception. “With our defense and our style of play, not turning the ball over is a big key,” Kolb said. “It’s OK to punt. We don’t like it, it’s never been in my game, but to have that mentality, sometimes it’s OK.”

– It was so important for Ryan Williams to bounce back like he did. Not only did his 83 yards on 13 carries look good, but it softens the blow if Beanie Wells is out. We’ll see how Wells’ toe is this week. Williams does, as Whisenhunt noted, need to grab that 3rd-and-1 pitch and just drive upfield and make sure he gets the one yard, rather than look for a big play and get stuffed.

– Speaking of stuffed, I felt back for LaRod Stephens-Howling. He was in the game with Wells down and Williams suffering from cramps, and the Eagles knew the Cards just wanted to run it into the line late and burn clock, and the Hyphen’s stats took a beating. Eight carries, minus-14 yards. Talk about taking one for the team.

– Darnell Dockett said his hamstring will be OK, but jeez, that would be a tough loss if he were to miss a game. Dockett shrugged. “Every now and then, even the Hulk gets wounded.”

– Long snapper Mike Leach recovered the Eagles’ fumble punt today, which is why you need someone athletic enough to get down in coverage at that position. It’s not just about putting your head between your legs and throwing.

– Michael Floyd, welcome to the NFL. A highlight-worthy TD catch and drawing a 15-yard penalty on DRC? Nice production.

– Fitz had a good game, but what does he tell Andre Roberts about the 50 yards Roberts lost on Fitz’s block in the back penalty that Roberts may not have even needed. Roberts ended up with a 29-yard reception instead. “I cost my closest friend on the team a 70-yard play,” Fitz lamented. Ah, after all that time Roberts spent with Fitz’s jet skis on the lake this summer, I’m sure Roberts will forgive him.

I had just turned 4 the last time the Cards were 3-0. I wasn’t living in Arizona yet, even though I’ve lived here most of my life, and their move to the Valley was a long way away. At some point, the Cardinals were going to get to 3-0 again. Raise your hand if, on Sept. 8, you thought it was going to be this season.


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Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2012 – 4:56 pm

A fan (@AzCardsGM) linked on Twitter today a video of the Cardinals’ dramatic late win in Philadelphia back in 2001, when Jake Plummer hit MarTay Jenkins for a long TD with 35 seconds left – what an improbable win, I remember thinking as I stood in the chill of the sideline that day – and mentioned that he wanted the same result Sunday when the Eagles visited University of Phoenix Stadium. Just without the drama.

Sorry. Drama is included with every season ticket these days, it seems.

“History tells us we might as well get ready for another two-minute drive to see who wins the game,” quarterback Kevin Kolb half-joked this week. OK, maybe not half. He’s probably 94.6 percent dead serious.

In 1976, the franchise earned the nickname “Cardiac Cards” because they won eight games by seven points or fewer. Well, since the beginning of last season – 18 games all told – 15 have been decided by seven points or fewer for the Cardinals. The Cards have won 10 of those. The Cards last 11 wins, in fact, have come by no more than seven points. During their current nine-wins-in-11-tries stretch, the margin of victory in those nine wins has been 2, 4, 7, 6, 4, 3, 6, 2 and 3 points.

“As long as we get the ‘W’s,’ I really don’t care,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think you can turn the highlights on every week and you see a bunch of games that come down to the wire. We’ve been involved in a lot of those games but you have to learn how to win and you have to win the tough games and our guys have done that. It’s definitely stressful, but our guys have gotten mentally tougher because of it.”

The Cards may have gotten mentally tough, but I’m willing to say it – the constant close games are mentally taxing.

– Don’t forget the Cards are wearing the black uniforms Sunday.

– Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has come through with some strong statements of late – last week, Tom Brady was the best NFL player in history – and this week, it was his praise for his defense that got the nod.

“This was our best week of practice ever,” Horton said. “The guys came in, they had attention to detail, the focus, the practice, the talk, and that’s how I knew was the talk. By far our best week of practice since I’ve been here.”

– The Cards will need it. They face an Eagles’ offense that leads the NFL in yards per game at 471, a stunningly high total (the Cards, by comparison, are 30th in the league with their 249 yards a game). Yet the Eagles have scored only one more total point than the Cards. Why? Turnovers. Mike Vick and crew have already turned it over nine times, making their 2-0 record impressive in a backhanded way.

“If we can eliminate the turnovers, our offense can accomplish great things,” Vick said. Added Eagles coach Andy Reid, “(Michael) has never been a turnover guy. He’s started out with a few, but that hasn’t been throughout his career what he’s done.”

The Cards did pick off Vick twice last season in their win at Philly. Clearly, how the Cards’ defense handles Vick and company will be the story of the game.

– Horton’s defense has been on a field a lot already. After playing the most defensive snaps in 2011, the Cards already have played 163 total defensive snaps in two games (the Cards have a total of 129 offensive snaps).

“We are always concerned about that,” Horton said, noting that his unit needs to generate more turnovers. “That gets you off the field. No matter how you get on the field, you can’t control that. You can control how you get off the field.”

– Because of the scheme the Cards played last week, starting nose tackle Dan Williams played just seven of 82 snaps, backup nose tackle David Carter just three.

“After missing six games last season it was definitely hard,” Williams said. “Talking to Dave, we have to do what is best for the team. If we only have two big guys in there, can’t complain because it is Calais (Campbell) and (Darnell) Dockett in there, two great player. Dave and I, we understand. As a football player, you want to play but the team is bigger than ourselves.”

– The NFL announced it suspended Cardinals practice squad wide receiver Gerell Robinson. Multiple reports have it for four games for violating the agreement against performance-enhancing drugs. No official word from the team as of yet.

– It will be crucial to see how the Cards’ offensive line, particularly tackles D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie, handle outside pass rushers Jason Babin and Trent Cole. The Cards have only given up two sacks in two games. The vibe from Philly is that Babin and Cole are expecting big games. Keeping Kolb clean will be so important.

The Cards have to find a way to run the ball better. Larry Fitzgerald emphasized that Friday. That will help slow those pass rushers too. But Fitz has to have more than one catch. “We’ve got to feed him,” Kolb said. There’s a fine line between risk and reward, but Fitz needs to make an impact, get in the end zone.

– Ryan Williams has to bounce back. Quickly.

– Fitzgerald had high praise for former teammate and current Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, returning to Arizona for the first time.

“I’ve said it all along, DRC, he’s the most, from a physical standpoint, talented guy I’ve ever been around,” Fitzgerald said. “Dude is (running a) 4.3, (has a) 40-plus vertical, his quickness is unbelievable. I was teasing him this week, I’ve got to put my hands on him. He’s still only 172 pounds.”

– Just like the Cards need to protect Kolb in the pocket, the defense needs to take advantage of Philly’s backup left tackle and center. The Cards have multiple sacks in eight straight games, and the way Vick plays, they really should be able to extend that streak.

– Horton, on how his defense is handling success: “We haven’t had any success yet. We started off 1-6 last year and we still talk about that. I don’t think they think we’ve had success yet.”

– The Cardinals haven’t started a season 3-0 since 1974. We’ll see if they can update that. As far as the last time they started 2-0, well, that season included an Eagles’ trip to Arizona too.


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