Doug Farrar: Has the line improved at all? Is there any reason for encouragement?
Brad Keller (CardinalInsider.com Associate Editor): No, it hasn't. But that doesn't mean that there isn't reason to be optimistic. The only off-season additions were rookie Deuce Lutui (a former Southern Cal standout that is used to blocking next to superior athletes against inferior competition with a known weight problem - though I still think he was a good pick) and Milford Brown, formerly of the Houston Texans. Yes, the same Houston Texans that have given up 214 sacks in the last 4 years whose current left tackle is a rookie that played guard in college. So, no real additions.
However, new offensive line coach Steve Loney may hold the key to the season.
Arizona's line is made of slow, fat, old linemen. Loney had success with slow,
fat guys in Minnesota and is familiar with Dennis Green's system. Edgerrin James
makes every line he runs behind better with his ability to make defenders miss,
hit the hole (if there is one) with decisiveness and authority, and the
toughness to gain yards after contact. If Loney can coach his group up (as
they're much better suited, as is James, to running slant and stretch plays than
counter, misdirection, or cut-back plays, or any play that requires the linemen
to pull), they have a chance. Big fat guys are much better at pass protection
and all Kurt Warner needs is three seconds to tear up any secondary in the
league with his talented receivers.
Doug Farrar: Where Arizona has the edge over just about any team in the NFL is in their receiver corps. With Anquan Boldin. Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson on board, it's the one part of Arizona's offense teams just can't seem to stop. The public perception seems to be that of the three, Fitzgerald is the one who has real Hall of Fame potential. What can you tell us about each receiver's strengths and weaknesses?
Brad Keller: All three suffer from the same weakness that any big receiver suffers from: They all need time to get their hands on the DB and separate, because they're not quick or fast enough to separate by running. They all have the same strength that any big receiver has: The ability to catch any ball in range even if covered because they can simply out-fight or out-reach the DB to the ball or shield the DB's angle with their body.
Boldin excels in short and intermediate routes and piling up yards after the
catch. Catching the deep ball, however, is not his long suit. Fitzgerald has
excellent body control, amazing hands, and the ability to blow by corners once
he gets up to speed and catch a high percentage of deep passes. He does have a
tendency, though, to go down too easy for such a big receiver. Johnson has the
size, speed, and feet of an elite player, but seems to lack the determination,
tenacity, and consistency to reach that level. Which is why Boldin and
Fitzgerald were drafted and Johnson is now the #3.
Doug Farrar: The Cardinals' defensive line would seem to be a strength. Who leads this unit, and how do they look this year?
Brad Keller: Bertrand Berry, without question. He's been the most consistent lineman they've had (when healthy) and is the only member of the line to go to the Pro Bowl. They appear to be improved this year with a deeper tackle rotation that includes rookie Gabe Watson. The free agent signing of Kendrick Clancy goes a long way towards improving the run defense up the middle, since Clancy finished as one of the NFL's top rated DTs vs. the run last year, according to Football Scientist KC Joyner. As always, Chike Okeafor needs to be accounted for at all times.
So, they look good.
Doug Farrar: In 2005, many Seahawks observers wanted the team to draft linebacker Darryl Blackstock instead of Lofa Tatupu, including this writer (Note: This is why many Seahawks observers, including this writer, don't work in the front office). How is Blackstock doing after a slow start in the NFL?
Brad Keller: He's still coming along slowly. Given the fact that he played in a 3-4 scheme in college and might not have the right body type to play any linebacker position, he may never come along at all.
However, he's too fast and has too much of a nose for the ball to not succeed
eventually. He's no Tatupu, whose instincts, intelligence, and speed set him
apart from pretty much anyone else, but he may grow into a solid starter in the
future. Just not this year.
Doug Farrar: The secondary seems to be shaping up nicely, with Adrian Wilson - in fact, the secondary is where Arizona might have the defensive advantage. Who don't we know about that could make a difference here?
Brad Keller: It's entirely possible that Arizona has an advantage matching up their secondary against Seattle's receivers, especially in nickel and dime situations.
The players that could make a difference are David Macklin, Robert Tate, and Eric Green. All three are excellent #3 cornerbacks and could be a mediocre #2 for most teams in the league. Macklin just happens to be the actual #2 for the Cardinals. These three DBs, along with Antrelle Rolle, could present some real problems for the Seahawks' receiving corps. While they have a number of very talented pass catchers, Seattle lacks that one guy that keeps defensive coordinators up at night.
Since Seattle's receivers and Arizona's "other three" are essentially
interchangeable, both sides will have the ability to mix and match in formations
and try to find the best individual match-ups. Who wins these individual
match-ups will go a long way in determining who wins the game.