Midseason Report Card: Offense

The Cardinals are 1-7, Dennis Green is on the verge of being fired, the Matt Leinart era began earlier than anyone thought, and Anquan Boldin recently called out his teammates.  Other than that, all is well in Arizona.  All this begs the question: Where did it go wrong?  We're starting with the offense.  And, obviously, the offensive line.

Offensive Line

Grade: F

To say that this unit has underachieved thus far this season would be like saying the surface of the sun is a "little warm" or that fire and gasoline "aren't quite compatible."  It's not as though the coaching staff hasn't tried to fix things, switching the starting five so many times this year that left tackle Leonard Davis is the only player on the line that has started every game at the same position.  They've even thrown rookie guard Deuce Lutui into the mix.

While guard Milford Brown has been injured the past few games, he's no Steve Hutchinson.  A former back-up for the other worst offensive line in the NFL, the Houston Texans, would never be referred to as the glue that holds this unit together (even considering how poorly they've played).  With Brown coming back after the bye, Lutui forced into the line-up, Reggie Wells moving to right tackle for the deposed Oliver Ross, and Nick Leckey at center (replacing benched former starter Alex Stepanovich), Davis has been the only stable linemen for the Cardinals this year.  And he's no Orlando Pace.

Being the most stable starter on the Cardinals offensive line is kind of like being the best looking guy at a leper convention.  Steve Loney hasn't proven to be the "magic ingredient" that would make this group easier to swallow.  And the guys Arizona is bringing off the bench were back-ups for a reason.  Thankfully, they're starting to go younger and plan for the future.  Here's hoping the future includes a few key free agent acquisitions.

Wide Receivers:

Grade: B

The strength of the team receives the highest grade possible for a team that's currently 6 games under .500 eight games into the season.

This group, while talented and deep, certainly misses Larry Fitzgerald.  While any team would still like to have a starting trio like Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson, and Troy Walters, there really is no substitute for a weapon like Fitzgerald.  And, the group would suffer similarly if Boldin went down with an injury for a protracted period of time.

The only real issue with this stellar corps of wide-outs is that they're all too big and not quite fast enough to play for a team that struggles to protect its quarterback.  Given the fact that it takes longer for Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Johnson to run their routes and get out of their breaks than smaller, quicker receivers, they sometimes turn around to find out that Matt Leinart (or, Kurt Warner for the first few games) has already been sacked.

Quarterbacks:

Grade: C

This is not an attack on Leinart or Warner.  I'm sure that no Cardinals fan realistically hoped that Leinart would see any action this season.  Or, at least they all hoped he wouldn't start any games.  Leinart starting meant that the season was over.  And, effectively, the season now is over.

Both men have done their best with what they have to work with (limited mobility and poor pass protection are another volatile combination).  It just so happens that Warner fumbles more often than most and Leinart gives the fan base hope.

Either Dennis Green knew his team was going to implode in several consecutive games or he really thought he might be able to save the season by starting a rookie that held out for a significant amount of training camp.  In the long run, though, win or lose, it was the correct decision.

And, with Leinart's accuracy, decision making, poise, and surprising arm strength, the man coaching the Arizona Cardinals next season will appreciate Green's decision to accelerate Matt Leinart's development.

Running Backs:

Grade: D+

It's difficult to separate the production of Edgerrin James from the horrid play of the offensive line.  However, it's even more difficult to fathom that James suddenly forgot how to play the game of football after he signed on the dotted line to play for the Cardinals in March. 

It's probably true that James has been more hesitant to the hole and not as explosive in the open field (when he's been able to find it).  It's definitely true that he isn't enjoying the kind of prolific production he was accustomed to during his time with the Colts.

The key here is finding the disconnect between the two entities (James' production, and the offensive line's complete lack of effectiveness).  And, one of the reasons this is still a point of question is that the Cardinals have failed to involve anyone but James in the running game.  Failed to give Marcel Shipp or J.J. Arrington more than a carry or two here and there.  Shipp only has one carry for the season.

If for no other reason than satisfying scientific curiosity (and to find out if they completely wasted their money), the Cardinals need to involve their other two backs in the running game in the second half of the season.  If the other backs struggle like James has thus far (Shipp and Arrington struggled last season), then the heads should roll on the offensive line in the off-season.  If they succeed, James should be held accountable, or at least be exposed as a "system guy."

Overall:

Grade: C

One word can describe Arizona's offense to this point: Inconsistent.  True, they've consistently failed to run the ball well.  But, they've also been inconsistent in pass protection.  Their receivers have been inconsistent, sometimes running free through the secondary, sometimes getting jammed at the line of scrimmage, sometimes failing to beat their man or find the open hole in the zone. 

Leinart has been deadly accurate and efficient in the two minute drill with decision making that belies his inexperience.  He has also missed wide open receivers and thrown interceptions that make the coaches scratch their heads.

Some weeks, the offense looks unstoppable, some weeks they look as though they could trip over their own feet and not see it as a strange occurrence.  To top it all off, the trouble with inconsistency is that it's... well... inconsistent.  There is no "Consistency Button" that the coaches and players can press to fix what ails this offense.

Perhaps, with a bye week of practice, they can iron out some of the wrinkles that have plagued them thus far.  The more likely, scenario, however, is that it will take the rest of this season and the off-season training programs for Leinart and his talented cohorts to get on the same page and establish consistency and timing.

That is, of course, after they learn the new offense that the new coach installs.


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