“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.
My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?
First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)
But again, what if?
Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.
When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)
If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?
Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.
What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.
Still, what if?
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger, Chargers, Dennis Green, draft, Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Steelers
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Will he or won’t he? I’m sure the last thing the Cardinals wanted going into the opener was having their key offensive piece be a game-day decision, but that’s where we are left with running back Andre Ellington and his pesky foot problem. Bruce Arians said Ellington did enough in practice Saturday (pictured right) to convince him that Ellington could possibly play Monday, so there is that.
“We can’t worry about injuries,” Arians said. “Nobody cares but us.”
Even if he doesn’t play, the beat moves on. If you look at the key guys not playing in total that you had hoped would – Washington and Mathieu and Dockett and Cooper, aside from Ellington – it can be a daunting list. But these are things that don’t make Bruce Arians flinch. He will forever have that 2012 season with the Colts burned on his brain, when everyone seemed to get hurt for Indy (except for Andrew Luck) and they still won 11 games. That will be the memory Arians will fall back upon, and why his “Next Man Up” battle cry isn’t just lip service. Whether the Cardinals can too make it work, we’ll see. The Chargers are just the first in a tough schedule.
— Punter Dave Zastudil was added to the injury list as questionable Saturday with a groin injury. That’s not good, obviously. The Cardinals did cut linebacker Desmond Bishop Saturday, so maybe the Cardinals fill that spot with a new punter if Zastudil can’t go. (Kicker Chandler Catanzaro punted once last season in college at Clemson.)
— If I had to pick just one major key to the game Monday, I’d have to go with the pressure the Cardinals need to put on Philip Rivers. There are other important aspects, of course. The Cardinals need to show they can stop the run again, and they need to protect Carson Palmer as promised. But after the vanilla preseason, it’s important that the Cards can hurry Rivers in the pocket. Once in a while without a blitz, preferably.
— Here is not a surprise in the least: The presence of new left tackle Jared Veldheer has completely changed the tension level for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
“For me, for Carson, it’s about being comfortable,” Goodwin said. “For me, I can worry about other things. I don’t have to worry about chip-help for the tackle all the time. That relieves a whole lot of stress.”
No question Veldheer gives the Cardinals something Levi Brown simply did not, and that Bradley Sowell can not. In the end, Veldheer is seen by many fans as a savior to that position, although Veldheer isn’t all that comfortable with the notion.
“I guess that’s an OK thing, but to me, the biggest thing is being accountable to the guys on the line and the offense and the team,” he said. “And that’s me doing my job.”
— Got a chance to catch up briefly with Darnell Dockett yesterday, and he was as Darnell as always. He’s already pushing himself hard on his knee, even this early.
“You put the time in, got nothing else to do,” he said. “My coaches are supporting me, they know my work so they give me the green light to do everything I can to come back faster. There can’t be a better situation other than not being in this situation in the first place.”
— I’ve had many people ask me what the ramifications might be for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if the new drug policy – rumored to be close – is passed. The truth is, I have no idea. Part of the problem is that it hasn’t publicly been said why Washington was suspended. He said in his statement it was for marijuana, but you’d need more details than that. Let’s put it this way, first this new policy actually has to be put in place – and it hasn’t yet. I still wouldn’t hold my breath for Washington even if it does.
— It’ll be an emotional night Monday. Aside from the game itself and the knowledge it is on national television, Kurt Warner gets inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. I’d guess there will be some well-remembered highlights played too. Don’t leave your seats.
— Carparks open at 3 p.m. Monday. Don’t forget your clear bags.
— With all the Ellington news, the possibility of Tyrann Mathieu playing has seemingly been pushed to the background. I still think the Cardinals are going to err on the side of caution and keep him out for now, but Arians said again it’ll be a game-day thing.
— Crazy to think Alameda Ta’amu is fine after tearing his ACL in the 2013 season finale, but the nose tackle should be in the defensive line rotation and his biggest issue is his stamina. “He’s full go. He runs on and off the field and gets out of gas. That’s a lot of ass to carry back and forth out there.”
So, on that note, on to Monday night.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Andre Ellington, Chargers, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Dave Zastudil, Harold Goodwin, Jared Veldheer, Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers, Tyrann Mathieu
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)
That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.
Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.
“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.
(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)
McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.
Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.
I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?
In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Darnell Dockett, Dennis Green, J.J. Arrington, Jeff Blake, John Navarre, Josh McCown, Karlos Dansby, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Pat Tillman, Philip Rivers, Revisionist history
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I enjoy San Diego. I have been there many times, and had some good family vacations there. Given that the freaking temperature here in the Valley continues to boggle us at around 105 degrees now that we’ve reached October, 36 hours in San Diego sounds good.
Football-wise, it’s definitely an interesting trip to say the least. The Chargers are beat up, missing two key players because of contract squabbles, and apparently can’t tackle on special teams. They are 1-2, and are turnover machines – and still are favored by more than a touchdown. I suppose that says a little about where the Cardinals are right now, beat up themselves at wide receiver and still looking for offensive consistency and a true defensive identity.
I will say this: If the Cards emerge victorious this weekend – regardless of how it happens – this team will have earned its 3-1 record.
As for the details on this Friday afternoon …
— I’ve mentioned this before but the Cardinals need a big effort on defense. They just do. Partly it’s because the Chargers have turned the ball over nine times in three games. Partly it’s because the Cards just don’t know what will happen offensively. Those turnovers are key, though (Duh, right?) The Chargers are ranked tops in the NFL in offense, which is based on yards, and the Cards know they haven’t been stellar in that regard.
“We have been giving up a lot more yards than we should,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We know if we don’t play our game, they can expose us.”
Said safety Kerry Rhodes, “They are number one for a reason. They get a lot of big chunks. We give up the big one, we’re going to be in trouble.”
— On the other side of the ball, Derek Anderson will be tested. The passing game has been hot and cold even with Steve Breaston in the game and now Breaston isn’t. I like the potential of Stephen Williams and even Max Komar, but the question is whether potential helps enough right now.
— So then you think about Larry Fitzgerald and getting him the ball – again. Is he a decoy (not on purpose, but …)? Coach Ken Whisenhunt knows the Chargers may use even more resources to throw at Fitz. But, Whiz noted, “if you’re going to compromise your scheme to take away a certain player, it may open up certain areas and you can exploit it.”
— Fitzgerald expressed his concern in a Fitz-like way this week, talking about just wanting to double his catches from last week’s two, etc. Clearly, he and Anderson have to hook up on openings more often. Whisenhunt even mentioned missing on the big plays when they presented themselves last week, and it seems like there have been a couple each game in which Fitz could have broken loose and the connection just wasn’t made.
Fitz talked about getting on the same page, still preaching patience. Most dynamic duos have had a couple of years. He and Anderson have had three games. “Reggie Wayne and Peyton, Moss and Brady, they know each other, all their quirky moves,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what me and Derek need to do.”
Fitz said it felt like it was working better in Atlanta. Last week, not as much. “Hopefully this is the week it comes together,” he said.
— XTRA’s Mike Jurecki is reporting rookie nose tackle Dan Williams didn’t make weight this week so he won’t play in San Diego. If so, it’s a lot easier to make such a call with veteran Gabe Watson – who has been a healthy scratch the first three games – champing at the bit to finally play. (Bryan Robinson is the starter, so we’re talking about a backup anyway). It’s a big moment for Watson, who you know doesn’t want to be one and done. And it’s an wake-up call for Williams, who was regarded as a nose tackle who wouldn’t have to fight such things as much as guys like Watson and Alan Branch have the past few years.
— The game in San Diego will be blacked out locally because, for a second time in two home games, the Chargers didn’t sell out. It’s been an issue there, although quarterback Philip Rivers insisted it doesn’t affect the home-field advantage.
“We were 7,000 tickets or so short in the home opener, but you sure couldn’t tell,” Rivers said. “It was loud. … I don’t think that’s something us players get caught up into.”
— Another thing the Chargers haven’t had affect them too much – the missing stars, tackle Marcus McNeill and receiver Vincent Jackson. Rivers said everyone knew both would not show up, so there was no shock value. “We were able to have a whole offseason, a whole training camp a whole preseason knowing we weren’t going to have those guys,” he said. “It really hasn’t been a distraction.”
— Which special teams unit “wins” Sunday? Do the Chargers make up for their errors last week in giving up two TD kickoff returns? Do the Cards repeat The Hyphen’s exploits? Or at least cut down on two crucial punt return turnovers? “The toll it took on our defense, at the time, our defense was on a roll,” Whisenhunt said of the backbreaking notion of bad special teams plays. “I’m sure it’s a little the same thing with San Diego.”
— Finally, it stinks that Beanie Wells got hit with the $5,000 facemask fine from last week. But judging by this pic (by freelance photog Bruce Yeung, who had been reading my blog) it’s kind of tough to argue.
Tags: Alan Branch, Beanie Wells, Blackouts, Bryan Robinson, Calais Campbell, Chargers, Dan Williams, Derek Anderson, Early Doucet, Gabe Watson, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Max Komar, Philip Rivers, Stephen Williams, Steve Breaston
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If one of your long-time friends was your target when you blitzed, would you still drill the guy?
Adrian Wilson doesn’t hesitate. No way he’s easing up on Philip Rivers.
“Absolutely not,” Wilson said, a smile crossing his face. “He knows that. He ain’t gonna let up passing the ball down the field, so, you know … it’s how it is.”
Wilson, the Cards’ safety, and Rivers, the Chargers quarterback who may be seeing Wilson up close and personal Sunday, played at North Carolina State together. Wilson came out after his junior season in 2001; Rivers was done in college after the 2003 season. But when their time overlapped, Rivers and Wilson were dorm mates, living a few doors down from each other.
Wilson never had a car growing up – didn’t want a car, in fact – so when it was time for a food run, Rivers was the ride.
“He used to take me to Dairy Queen, Bojangles, the 25-cent wing store,” Wilson said. “We did a lot of stuff together.”
Said Rivers, “There were many trips to Dairy Queen and Bojangles and stuff. He was always coming knocking on my door for a ride.”
Not that Wilson was asking. “He pretty much just told me,” Rivers added. “I’d hear that knock on the door and he’d say, ‘Let’s go,’ and I’d be like, ‘Alright, coming.’”
Rivers admitted he was a little intimidated by Wilson at first – “You couldn’t really quite read him whether he’s serious or when he’s having a good time,” Rivers said – but said Wilson was a “good buddy.”
Wilson said the two trade text messages often. These days, that includes talking about their beloved Wolfpack, who have raced out to a 4-0 start. Wilson said that gives the pair plenty to talk about. There may be more to talk about after Sunday too.
“He’s all over the place as always,” Rivers said. “He flies around out there. He and (Darnell) Dockett jump off the screen when you’re watching tape.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Chargers, Philip Rivers
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But hey, it’s the summer. The players are gone. So here’s another thought.
SI.com has a story posted today about the “Rule of 26-27-60” as a guide (although not a guarantee) of NFL quarterbacking success. And, according to the rule, Leinart should work out. The idea? If a guy scored at least a 26 on the infamous Wonderlic exam at the combine, had at least 27 college starts and completed at least 60 percent of his collegiate passes, usually, it means the guy can succeed on the NFL level.
Leinart scored a 35 on the Wonderlic. He started 39 games in college. And he completed 64.8 percent of his passes. Check. Check. Check.
Among current names that also accomplished all three parts of the “rule?” Both Mannings, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Drew Brees. Among the names that fell short in at least one category? Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, David Carr, Joey Harrington, JaMarcus Russell.
Now, there are always exceptions. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre have all done pretty well. And you may not be printing Super Bowl tickets if Ryan Fitzpatrick or Kyle Orton (both of whom reached all three benchmarks in college) is your QB.
But it’s a talking point, and one to consider. Until gets a chance to wed significant playing time with his acknowledged more mature preparation methods, we won’t know for sure either way. UPDATE FOR THOSE WONDERING: Here are the numbers for the other QBs on the roster, again with the caveat that this “rule” isn’t the end-all-be-all. Derek Anderson 19-38-50.7, John Skelton 24-41-58.8, Max Hall 38-39-65.3.
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Derek Anderson, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, JaMarcus Russell, Joe Flacco, John Skelton, Kyle Orton, Matt Leinart, Matt Schaub, Max Hall, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers
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