It's a great week to be in the commode business in the desert.
The roar of toilets flushing seemingly can be heard from one end of the Phoenix area, where the Cardinals train, to the other, where on Sunday they host the Detroit Lions.
Two of the worst teams in the game collide in what can best be described as The Toilet Bowl.
But it isn't as if there are no stakes in this game: The first pick in the 2007 draft could be on the line.
A wise guy might suggest that if the Cardinals lose the game -- and thereby position themselves to win the first pick -- they're only setting themselves up to select another player who will hold out, and then under-perform for five years before moving along in free agency.
Or, as the Cardinals, who can't seem to do anything right, are so wont to do, they're liable to win a game or two during the closing seven weeks and lose the chance to draft the best player.
Such thinking is reflective of the perception of the team as a can't-win operation, a position supported by the Cardinals having had only one winning record since 1984, dating to their days in St. Louis.
Expectations coming into the season were high, maybe artificially so. Buying into the Cardinals is tantamount to sinking a fortune into a tech stock in 2000. There simply is no track record to support such craziness. That 9-7 in 1997, the only wining mark now in 23 seasons, was against what is statistically supported as the weakest schedule in the NFL that year, based on opponents' won-lost records. Their current eight-game skid ices yet another non-winning season.
So on what basis would anyone have a right to believe the Cardinals (1-8) were going to be anything other than a bottom-feeder? Edgerrin James and Matt Leinart got hearts racing, but when the center, both tackles and a guard were shaky, these results were predictable.
"I speak for our entire organization when I say how disappointed and deeply frustrated we are about where we find ourselves," said Rod Graves, who in another seven weeks might find himself out of a job.
Graves is the Cardinals Vice President of Operations.
"We can point to games that were close, games that we should have won and games that we let slip away," Graves said. "While that may be true, the fact remains that that is not acceptable."
Graves says that anyone who cites a lack of spending as a reason for the skid "is simply misinformed."
"The fact is that we have focused our attention on a system for offensive production and we have invested heavily on that side of the ball over the last several seasons," Graves said. "In 2006, we are spending $56 million on offensive players, the second-most in the National Football League. We have the most invested in the running back position of any team in the league and have the fifth-most invested in the offensive line. Clearly that significant investment is not reflected in our rushing performance.
"Our plan has also been to lock-up our core players before their contracts expire and you have seen us do that in recent years, most recently with extensions to Darnell Dockett and Gerald Hayes -- two young players that we think will be integral parts of our defense for years to come. At this point we have $3.8 million of cap space remaining for 2006, less than the league average of $4.4 million.
"To blame our current situation on a lack of spending, while simplistic, is not at all accurate. Truthfully, I wish it were that simple. The reality is more complex and that is what we need to take a hard, candid look at.
"So there are several key questions we all have to ask ourselves: Have we as talent evaluators done well enough in identifying and securing players who will be successful for us? Have our coaches done the most complete and thorough job in preparing and putting the team in the best position to win? And have our players delivered the maximum effort required to succeed and have they executed what has been asked of them? Evaluation. Preparation. Execution. As the saying goes, it is simple but it is not easy."
SERIES HISTORY: 58th meeting. The Detroit Lions lead the series vs. the Arizona Cardinals, 31-21-5, including three straight wins. In the last meeting, Nov. 13, 2005, Lions QB Joey Harrington shook a so-so year with three touchdown passes to wideout Roy Williams in a 29-21 win at Ford Field. This is the Lions' first visit to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. On the Lions' last Arizona visit, on Dec. 8, 2002 at Sun Devil Stadium, Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica's 42-yard field goal in overtime gave the Big Red a 23-20 win after the Lions had led early by 10.
--Try as they might, the Cardinals can't even do a heartfelt tribute to fallen Army Ranger and former SS Pat Tillman right.
Their hearts were sincerely in the right place but the halftime tribute to Tillman last weekend during his posthumous Ring of Honor Induction ceremony had Cardinals' ineptitude stamped all over it when the sound system in the three-month old University of Phoenix Stadium malfunctioned and fans barely heard it.
The team attempted to honor Tillman with a six-minute halftime video tribute while also dedicating the plaza that surrounds the stadium as the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza" which includes a bronze statue of Tillman.
And reviews of the statue of Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger two years ago after refusing a new contract in 2002 to join the Army, aren't exactly rave.
During the Ring of Honor ceremony, the tribute ran on the stadium's scoreboard with no problem with the video portion.
The team posted an apology on its official Web site for the audio snafus, though, offering a link that has the audio and video working properly. The Cardinals also plan to re-run the ceremony this Sunday when they host Detroit.
"While the technical reasons for those audio problems have been addressed, the bottom line is that we dropped the ball. Our intent was to provide a very special tribute to Pat and in the end we did not do that. We regret that very much," the apology on the Cardinals Web site reads.
Tillman, a seventh-round draft choice in 1998, was a three-year starter at SS for the Cardinals.
--QB Matt Leinart has looked very much the rookie the past three games -- coinciding with coach Dennis Green firing offensive coordinator Keith Rowen and replacing him with QB coach Mike Kruczek.
In his first two starts, Leinart completed 60 percent of his passes. In his past three, his completion percentage is below 50 and he has five interceptions.
"I just can't seem to get it going right now," Leinart said. "You have to keep your head up, you got to keep working, you got to get better. This is a whole learning experience for me.
"Anyone can say what they want about rookie quarterbacks. I'm my own worst critic. I feel like I should be playing better."
--RB Edgerrin James, despite going the latest he's ever gone into the season -- 10 games -- without a 100-yard performance, has managed to climb into 19th on the NFL career rushing list ahead of Joe Perry. James has 9,820 career yards.
Next on the list: former Cardinals RB O.J. Anderson, 18th all-time with 10,273 yards.
That puts James roughly 450 yards away. In most seasons, James could cover that in a month. But at his current pace with this outfit, James won't get there until next year, not even with seven games left.
--The Big Red seems to have a way of making heroes of Detroit players.
Last year, Lions QB Joey Harrington, on verge of losing his job, fired three touchdown passes in the Lions win over the Cardinals.
Two years ago, the Cardinals let rookie RB Kevin Jones rush for 196 yards in a Detroit win.
--The Cards and Lions, through scheduling quirks, are meeting for the sixth straight season despite being in different divisions.
And chances are looking good for another meeting next season when the Cards are set for a home game vs. an NFC North team. They are both last in their respective divisions and appear likely to stay there.
If they meet in 2007, the Cardinals very likely will field the first pick in the 2007 draft, the Lions the No. 2 pick.
--Three years between hosting Super Bowls isn't very much. So are the Cardinals a serious contender to host the Super Bowl again in 2011 after they host it in 2008 after next season?
Or is it simply that wily businessman Michael Bidwill, Cardinals vice president and general counsel, simply finding and milking a way to goose the season-ticket base by dangling the chance to be in the Super Bowl lottery for three more years?
The new Cardinals stadium in Glendale, Ariz. is sold out for this season, their first in it, and likely will be sold out in 2007 despite the team's current two-month skid and 1-8 record. Fans want to be positioned to get a Super Bowl ticket. In essence, the Cardinals have a two-year free pass in the new building because of the Super Bowl. Rarely in recent seasons had they drawn more than 35,000 in Sun Devil Stadium.
Perhaps Bidwill is hoping the specter of another Super Bowl will keep people coming for three more years after that even if it is the same old Cardinals product on the field.
Bidwill said Arizona would submit a Super Bowl XLV bid this March during an NFL owners meeting.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Winning seasons the franchise has had since 1984, dating to its days in St. Louis. With eight straight losses since winning the opener, the Cardinals are assured of yet another non-winning record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like I want to take more blame than the players, to be honest with you. I just feel that I'm just not doing nearly as good a job as I'd thought that I'd do and that we would do." -- Cardinals Coach Dennis Green, on the team's eight-game skid since winning its opener.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Dennis Green has acknowledged that he is coaching differently in an attempt to shake the Cardinals out of their half-season-long malaise, eight straight losses after winning their opener. Among the differences: taking calculated chances by going for it on fourth down, hoping to goose his seriously under-achieving offense.
"There's no doubt about that," Green said.
--QB Matt Leinart, a rookie chosen 10th overall in the first round, through five starts, with 1,115 passing yards is on pace to eclipse the franchise record for passing yards by a rookie -- 2,203 by Jake Plummer in 1997. Leinart is the only QB in NFL history to pass for two touchdowns in the first quarter in each of his first two starts. The Cardinals have not had a rookie QB get a win as the starter in nine years, or since Plummer's inaugural campaign.
--RB Edgerrin James rushed for at least 100 yards in his past two games vs. Detroit, however those were when James with the Colts. When James has 100-plus yards, his teams are 43-6. However, they'd never know that in Arizona. After a half season-plus in Arizona, he still is searching for his first 100-yard game. James has 49 career 100-yard rushing performances in 105 games and can become the third fastest in NFL history to 50 with another. Game 10 is the latest he ever has gone still searching for his first in a season.
--WR Anquan Boldin recalls past battles vs. the Lions with fondness. He made his NFL debut against them and had a career-best 217 receiving yards (10 catches, two touchdowns). He could join Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with 100 catches in three different seasons.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald, a Pro Bowler last year, returned last weekend after missing three games (hamstring) and is set to start vs. the Lions, although he still is not 100 percent. He complained of stiffness late in his return last weekend vs. Dallas. Since 2005, Fitzgerald (83.0) is sixth in receiving yards per game in the NFL.
--WR Bryant Johnson is averaging 20.2 yards per catch (18-364), second in the NFL (minimum 15 receptions). He is back at his third receiver spot in the rotation after filling in admirably for Larry Fitzgerald for three games. Johnson is the Cardinals' best speed threat deep, as the team comes out of the bye vs. Dallas.
--SS Adrian Wilson, who set a league record among DBs last season with eight sacks on safety blitzes, hits the midpoint this year on pace to equal that with four. Wilson also has three pass interceptions, making him the only NFL player with four sacks and three interceptions.
--DE Bertrand Berry, who had a sack in his last game vs. Detroit, last year, needs a half-sack to reach 50 for his career.
--CB Eric Green was burned for two touchdowns vs. Dallas and likely will be replaced in the lineup by David Macklin, who Green replaced in the opener after Macklin was burned early by the 49ers.
--RG Deuce Lutui, the rookie second-round pick, is expected to remain in the lineup for his third pro start.
--LG Milford Brown, who was the right-side starter before suffering an ankle injury four weeks ago, is expected to replaced veteran Chris Liwienski at the left-side starter vs. the Lions.
GAME PLAN: The Cardinals have to find a way to keep it together. After eight straight losses, a half-season of them, there are signs that a good many players have thrown in the towel.
The game plan this week and each week moving forward now has to be to develop stability, consistency and credibility.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals MLB Gerald Hayes, the team's leading tackler, vs. Lions RB Kevin Jones, who is emerging as an effective multi-purpose back. Hayes just signed a five-year contract extension, an indication that he's in the plans. He has more size and "pop" than the team has had at the position in years. But he'll be tested by Jones, who two years ago as a rookie lit up the Big Red defense for a career-high 196 rushing yards. And this season, Jones ranks second among RBs with 50 receptions.
--Cardinals CB David Macklin, who lost the job in the season opener but may be back in the lineup this weekend, vs. WR Roy Williams, who has had four 130-yard receiving games this season. Macklin is aging and smallish and prone to mistakes. He compensates for it with his junkyard dog attitude. He replaced Eric Green during last weekend's loss to Dallas after Green was burned for two TDs. Green had replaced Macklin vs. San Francisco, the Cardinals only win, after Macklin was beaten early for big plays. The challenge is Williams, who had a career-high three TD snags against Arizona last season and 117 receiving yards.
INJURY IMPACT: C Nick Leckey (quadriceps), the starter the past three games, missed a portion of Wednesday's practice and is listed questionable. If he can't go vs. the Lions, Alex Stepanovich, the man Leckey replaced, would return to the lineup.
Who Is To Blame?