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.
Tags: black uniforms, Dan Williams, DRC, Eagles, Gerell Robinson, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Vick, Ray Horton, Ryan Williams
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