Revisionist History: Denny’s thoughts on the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on June 28, 2011 – 5:18 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.

Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”

Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.

But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.

The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.

Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).

While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.

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Revisionist History: Whiz’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2011 – 4:23 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

Despite the results of 2010, the Cards are still in the midst of their best stretch of football since moving to Arizona – which, of course, coincided with the hire of Ken Whisenhunt as head coach.

It came together relatively quickly. Dennis Green was fired the day after the 2006 season ended, and even though the players did their due diligence in taking the blame, ownership clearly had their thoughts on how the Cards had evolved – letting Green go, but extending the contract of GM Rod Graves and basically saying the roster was good enough with which to win, whoever the new coach was going to be.

Whisenhunt was one of the first candidates in to talk to the Cards – among the other candidates were new Panthers coach Ron Rivera and current Colts coach Jim Caldwell – and when Whiz first showed up, Bill Cowher hadn’t yet resigned (that was to come a day or so later, with Whiz as a potential replacement) and the Falcons were still considering him. By the time Russ Grimm arrived for an interview himself, Cowher had stepped down and Grimm was also a Steeler possibility.

Eventually, the Steelers moved in a different direction and Whisenhunt was brought back for a second interview, along with Mike Sherman (who has since become a college head coach). Rumors were flying that the Cards wanted Sherman, but that never happened and in fact, the Cards insisted Whisenhunt had already become the top choice. Less than two weeks after Green was fired, Whisenhunt was named the new coach and, as then-tackle Reggie Wells said, the Cards could “move on to the next phase.”

When the process started, the Cards were likely third on Whiz’s list. He was considered, after all, for the Falcons’ job and he was from the area, and he was considered for the Steelers’ job, and he had been there for six seasons already. But he insisted that after considering everything, he liked what the Cards had to offer an incoming coach. He didn’t come in boasting about potential playoff wins (like his predecessor) but a quiet confidence, saying, “we’re not trying to change the world.” His key players, part of the process in talking to Whiz ahead of time, were on board.

Then, under Whisenhunt, the Cards did some unprecedented winning, the most important aspect of the hire. And the reason that proved the decision to be the right one.

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Revisionist History: McCown produces Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2011 – 11:04 am

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.

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DRC/PP expectations

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2011 – 3:05 pm

Patrick Peterson was blunt when asked about wanting to have an NFL “island” as a cornerback, a la Darrelle Revis. “I don’t want an island,” he said. “I want a universe.” Alrighty then. That’s a pretty big area. You have to assume, in such a universe, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would have to be part of the equation.

Just what will the Cardinals have with the DRC/PP combination – not yet forgetting Greg Toler, who won’t have the draft pedigree of the other two but arguably will be the best tackler? (We have yet to see what Peterson brings to the table in terms of tackling, but for now, keep the DRC comments to yourself.)

Because neither has been around, it’s difficult to get a feel for how the duo – or trio, including Toler – will fit together. Here’s what we know: DRC acknowledged last season he didn’t play as well as he could or should have, and he must improve (note I didn’t say “master”) the art of tackling. Toler can play physically, but he remains raw as a cornerback. Peterson has to learn the NFL game period.

The last time the Cards took a cornerback high in the draft, Antrel Rolle certainly entered a different situation. The starting cornerbacks at the time were David Macklin and Robert Tate, and with all due respect to those guys, DRC and Toler are a better duo. The year the Cards took Rolle, they also took Eric Green in the third round, which shows you how much they needed cornerbacks. Rolle was late arriving to camp but was still going to jump into the lineup sooner rather than later; this was Dennis Green as coach. He had no problem thrusting rookies in the lineup. Peterson has Ken Whisenhunt as coach, and if anything, Whisenhunt has shown he’ll slow it down for rookies and playing time if he has a feasible alternative and Toler qualifies.

(Toler, at the least, should be able to be a solid nickel cornerback in a league where three cornerbacks are often needed.)

One thing is guaranteed, and that’s the confidence both DRC and Peterson own. Perfect for their position, and necessary. As has been noted many times, whomever plays cornerback will need a steady pass rush to achieve high-profile status. But if DRC can take his 2009 season and ratchet it up, and Peterson becomes the player everyone keeps saying he should be, high expectations should be the bar the two are able to reach.

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Revisionist History: Warner’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on May 12, 2011 – 3:30 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

We all know what Kurt Warner did for the Arizona Cardinals. We all know the power of his decision to retire.

At the time he arrived, though?

In this first installment of “Revisionist History” (which isn’t so much revising how people should think about a moment for the Cardinals since coming to Arizona as much as reminding them the mindset at the time), a glance back at when the Cards first signed Warner in March of 2005. Denny Green was in his second year as coach. Warner was coming off a benching for the Giants. The Cardinals were coming off a season in which Josh McCown, Shaun King and John Navarre were the quarterback-merry-go-round for Denny.

So Warner was signed. Both local papers compared the decision to the Cards signing Emmitt Smith a couple of years before (“Desperate teams – and desperate players – do desperate things” wrote the Tribune’s Scott Bordow). Remember, Warner only signed a one-year contract in 2005. He re-signed a three-year deal before 2006, and then the Cards took Matt Leinart in the draft, much to his chagrin.

I remember doing a big story on Warner (part one and part two) right before minicamp (that’s a Warner shot from that camp below). There was still much to prove. His halcyon days as a Ram were far behind him, his rebirth with the Cards under Ken Whisenhunt far ahead, relatively speaking. (I mean, I remember how he was showered with boos after the early-season Rams’ loss in 2006. Leinart was the starter soon after, and before the infamous Monday Night Meltdown against the Bears, Kurt was already considering retirement after the season. Can you imagine had he done that, and not had his run in ’07, ’08 and ’09?)

One thing was for certain, Warner still very much believed in himself, and always did, regardless of the circumstances of the team or even Leinart’s showing as a rookie.

A couple of quotes from my Warner opus stand out, especially in retrospect. The first: “It’s kind of my story, the underdog story, no chance to have success. It’s kind of like what I stepped into in St. Louis. I get a chance to rewrite my story and I get a chance to rewrite the story of the Arizona Cardinals.”

There is no question he did.

The second quote? “I am moving my family, I am buying a home and I am believing things are going to work out great. The great thing about it is so much of it depends on me.”

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Emmitt’s last ride

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2011 – 3:43 pm

The news today that running back Tiki Barber is coming out of retirement at age 35 after sitting out four seasons brought with it a lot of analysis (and smart-aleck comments), and a lot of comparisons. Mike Sando wrote a nice piece on the once-rumored Jim Brown comeback in 1983 (I remember that SI cover, and the stir Brown caused at the time) and also touched on the elite backs who finished out their careers — not in great ways — as older players in the NFC West. Guys like Franco Harris, O.J. Simpson and yes, Emmitt Smith.

I did notice, however, that of the players listed, Smith ended up with the best final season of any of them, gaining 937 yards in Denny Green’s first season, and scoring nine touchdowns. That’s what I remember about Emmitt back then, that he certainly didn’t have the burst to break any big runs but he still had a knack for the goal line once you got him inside the 10. He wasn’t exactly playing for an offensive juggernaut in 2004 either — I think he would have easily punctured 1,000 yards rushing had he had a little better of a unit around him.

The other thing I remember concerning Emmitt’s end game? He didn’t want it to be the end. I was at his retirement press conference at that year’s Super Bowl in Jacksonville. Emmitt still gave thanks to a lot of Cardinals’ people, but it was a Cowboys’ event all the way, with Dallas helmets and owner Jerry Jones. Yet Emmitt wanted to come back to the Cardinals in 2005. His side had reached out to the organization, but by then — correctly — the Cards were ready to move on at running back.

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As Leinart departs

Posted by Darren Urban on September 4, 2010 – 3:15 pm

The day the Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart, then-coach Dennis Green proclaimed the fact Leinart dropped to the team’s 10th overall selection as a “gift from heaven.” Then Leinart’s first two starts – close losses to the Chiefs and Bears (the Monday Night Meltdown) that Leinart should have won had the team held up – showed so much promise.

It never quite materialized, though.

Blame it on sitting behind a probable Hall of Famer. Blame it on coach Ken Whisenhunt’s arrival. Blame it on Leinart’s inability to seize the moments he was given, or the opportunities some fans think he never got. Doesn’t matter. Leinart is an ex-Cardinal now.

I do think this: If Leinart was better on the field, he’d be here. That sounds so general, but it’s true. The basic, fundamental reason Deuce Lutui is going to be starting at guard – after missing all the offseason and showing up well overweight – when Reggie Wells was traded after doing everything asked of him this summer? They think, in the end, Deuce is a better player.

They didn’t think Leinart was a better player than Derek Anderson. It was close – close enough that the other stuff comes into play, the stuff Whisenhunt declined to get into publicly Saturday and probably never will. The coach insisted no players had input in this decision (he was specifically asked about Larry Fitzgerald) and brought up again that stats aren’t everything.

Explaining some of the things he liked about rookie Max Hall – now the No. 2 QB – and Whiz noted, “There are a number of things you try to judge the quarterback position other than his completion percentage.”

Leinart couldn’t show Whisenhunt something for which he was looking. Whisenhunt likes to treat his quarterbacks like they are any other player on the team, a tight end or an inside linebacker. I’m not sure that works for Leinart. There is a reason Leinart clicks so well with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his boss in college at USC. Leinart didn’t react well to his recent demotion, and whether you think Whisenhunt was fair to judge him on that or not, the bottom line is that Leinart should have known his coach well enough by now to know what was expected.

This wasn’t just about this preseason. Bottom line, the memory of his brief stint in Chicago last year lingered. Or the fact the Cards went through the Rams like butter in St. Louis behind Kurt Warner last season, and once Warner was concussed, the Cards suddenly couldn’t score with Leinart. There were other moments, I’m sure.

Whisenhunt insisted Saturday he thought Leinart could play. He just obviously couldn’t play for the Cardinals.

Leinart will sign somewhere else. Everyone will see whether Whisenhunt made a big mistake, or just cut his losses. In the meantime, Whiz has gone with Anderson, no sure bet, and backed him up with coaching staff favorite Hall, the rookie brimming with confidence.

“He’s not the second coming at the position,” Whisenhunt said of Hall, “but he’s done some good things. … He’s probably mad he’s not the starter. He’s definitely not afraid.”

Hall, actually, bluntly said “absolutely” the other night when I asked if he was comfortable being the backup if needed. I’m not sure that was ever an edge Leinart possessed. Maybe that could have helped. Whether Hall can translate it to success on the field, well, that too will be judged.

Leinart has already been judged, at least here. He’s not the first first-round quarterback to wash out nor will he be the last. Whisenhunt said both sides needed a fresh start. Of everything said and written in this whole saga, that is the point of which I am the most sure.

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After the talk

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2010 – 10:02 pm

Early in the afternoon, Matt Leinart was looking for an explanation, and Ken Whisenhunt reiterated — which he has actually talked about many times in various situations — he has an open-door policy for any player.

Sometime later Monday, Leinart and Whiz finally spoke.

I don’t know exactly what was said, but I think we can all guess. I don’t know if it makes an immediate impact on anything. I’m not sure why it took place four days after Leinart was told he’d be behind Derek Anderson for the Chicago game (don’t get me wrong, the two had been talking, but they didn’t have a sit-down to clear the air). Some have argued Whisenhunt should have instigated it. Then again, if you have a boss and he sets down some rule or situation at work, sometimes you have to go and find out why. Leinart could have done that. And we can talk about this and that with Leinart off the field, but it is true there was concern about the lack of offensive production in those first two preseason games, Whisenhunt shook it up, and then the offense played well.

I was a little surprised at a couple of the things Leinart said Monday considering it didn’t seem like much had changed since he spoke after the game Saturday. Maybe he was expecting Whisenhunt to flip-flop the depth chart back and when it didn’t happen (I am not sure exactly how the reps were doled out Monday) he wasn’t thrilled. I can’t think of another reason, and I’ve been thinking about it since after the media comments hours ago.

Here’s the thing, and whether you are pro-Leinart or anti-Leinart or somewhere else on the spectrum, it’s tough to argue with this — Whisenhunt wants to win. Does anyone really think Whisenhunt would move away from Leinart if he believes Leinart gives him a better chance to win than Anderson? I just can’t see it. Maybe Anderson starts. Maybe Leinart does. Either way, I am guessing Whiz wouldn’t jeopardize his chances at victory by making a QB choice based on anything else. The man has an engineering degree. He thinks through everything and he makes decisions very deliberately. This isn’t Denny Green, making spur-of-the-moment emotional choices — like John Navarre starting in Detroit.

OK. That’s enough on this for now. Maybe I can write about something besides quarterbacks tomorrow.

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Building two draft boards

Posted by Darren Urban on April 19, 2010 – 1:50 pm

Always there is talk about taking “best player available” versus “need” in a draft. During today’s pre-draft press conference, GM Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt talked about the two draft boards the team builds — and within that explanation, a tangible idea of what the Cards do emerged.

The Cardinals spend a couple weeks building out their main board. On it, players are rated “primarily for their potential in the NFL.” That board assesses players based on a grading scale of 1-100, with 100 being the highest. That board has already been built for the 2010 draft. The front office, coaches and scouts have moved on to the second board: The top 120.

That board (done since Dennis Green was head coach) takes into consideration the Cardinals’ needs and how each player fits the Cards’ schemes. For instance, Whisenhunt said, they could have a player who has the fifth overall grade out of all the players, but on the 120 board the Cards may have him 12th or 13th because that player’s skill set doesn’t fit as well what the Cardinals are trying to do. Does that mean the Cards ignore a talented player? No, and the higher grade a player has the more weight they must give to at least consider him when the team is on the clock and such a player is available. Whisenhunt said often, the Cards are looking for the player that gives “the greatest margin of improvement” for the team, a phrase he credited to Graves. “This system has worked well for us,” Whisenhunt said.

— Whisenhunt said it is difficult to judge nose tackles, not only because few tackles play a straight nose in college but also because if they have weight issues, it’s impossible to know how they will deal with such things on the professional level. “Just because you’re 6-foot-3, 330 pounds doesn’t mean you can play nose,” Whisenhunt said.

— Graves said he could see the Cards moving up in the draft (and actually sounded more enthusiastic about the possibility than in years past) and noted the extra third-round pick helps in that regard. That said, I still doubt the Cards move up. I still think moving back — even out of the end of the first round — is more likely.

— Graves and Whisenhunt said they split the final decision in the draft room, but agreed one of the reasons they do so much prep work is to avoid conflicts on draft day. Whisenhunt said there haven’t been any since he arrived, and listening to Graves, it sure sounded like he defers to his coach when it’s close. “He’s trying to build a winner out there and keep that sustained,” Graves said. “We’ve got to do the things we need to do in order to support that. In order for me to establish any sort of objection, it has to be really out of bounds, and that will never happen.”

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Friday before the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2009 – 5:14 pm

As we wrap up the week, it’s hard not to think back to the last time the Cardinals and Bears played. The coaching staff is different by now, at least on this end. Many players are different. And what lingers is Denny Green’s famous postgame rant. So I decided to ask safety Matt Ware, who was on that team, about the locker room after the game and whether he saw the rant coming.

“He was upset,” Ware said. “But it was more ‘This is unbelievable.’ As in, ‘How, how exclamation point, question mark, exclamation point that we let that happen.’ ” (Yes, Ware specifically said his punctuation. And as someone at that game, I can confirm it fit the mood).

Ware said Green’s main anger was saved until the next time the team got together to watch the film. The locker room and post-game “was just awkward, man.”

“If you remember, the Chiefs game, we should have won,” Ware said. “The Rams game the second game of the season we should have won. It probably just built up (in Green). Just a little bit.”

The funny part is that, because of where the locker room is, back behind thick walls separating it from the interview room at University of Phoenix Stadium, nobody knew what happened because Green wasn’t nearly as worked up inside or even on the postgame radio interview. Just at the podium (and just, I might add, for that one question. He answered five or six questions before that clearly not happy but calmly).

Ware said the players didn’t really know what Green had done until they started leaving, meeting their families, when it was being shown on the video screen.

 “It seems so long ago,” Ware said. “But the commercial keeps it close.”

And so, on to Bears-Cardinals 2009:

— There are two giant questions this week, obviously. One is how the Cardinals respond after their showing last weekend. The other is whether Anquan Boldin will play. On the latter, we will see but it’s going to be a difficult decision. Boldin looked Friday like he could play. There has been all the talk this week about resting-versus-playing. My gut? If the doctors aren’t sure it can get a lot better – and coach Ken Whisenhunt has talked a couple of times about how unlikely it is Q’s ankle can get hit again – Boldin will be in there. Maybe it would have been different if the Cards had beaten Carolina. But they didn’t.

— As for responding, I do think the Cards are in the best mental shape they’ve ever been in following such a difficult loss. I don’t know if that translates into a win Sunday, but I can totally see it. And trust me, there have been plenty of road trips over the years where I couldn’t.

— We’ll see if Kurt Warner can be the Cards’ first 300-yard passer against the Bears since 1937. Yikes. That’s a stretch. Given the expected weather (mid-50s, clear) he’ll have the right conditions.

— The Bears have a good win against the Steelers and they did win in Seattle. But their run game, in my opinion, isn’t as good as the Cards – and the Cards, as we know, are still progressing in that area. They don’t have the receivers and their offensive line has been spotty. If Warner has time to throw – I know, if, if, if – I think the Cards will score points. And I think the defense will expect to return to its run-stopping ways.

— Special teams will be so important. Devin Hester (on punt returns, assuming his ankle doesn’t keep him out) and Johnny Knox on kickoff returns can do damage. Limit that, and the Cardinals will be in great shape.

— Seriously, before the season, if you would have said the Cardinals would be 5-3 at midseason – looking at the schedule at the time before any games were played – I am guessing you’d think, “Solid.”

That’s about it. No more looking back, whether it’s to the Panthers’ game or to 2006 and the Monday Night nightmare. This is about the future, and a flight to Chicago tomorrow.

OK, and maybe a defensive performance like the Cards turned in the last time they saw the Bears, regardless of the result.


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