Arizona Cardinals Address Kicking Woes

Punting is not a sexy topic, but it's an important one in the NFL. The lack of production in that department has haunted the Cardinals for two years and highlights the biggest personnel mistake during Ken Whisenhunt's two-year tenure as head coach. This week, the Cardinals released punter Dirk Johnson and signed Ben Graham, who was released earlier this year by the Jets and the Saints.

Ben Graham is the fifth punter the team has utilized since training camp of 2007. That's when Whisenhunt decided to cut Scott Player just before the start of the season and go with Mike Barr, a rookie who had tried for a few years to catch on with a team.

Barr was a disaster as a punter and a holder for kicker Neil Rackers. His holds were inconsistent and that sent Rackers into a funk. Barr gave way to Mitch Berger, who left after last season and was replaced by Johnson.

Johnson, too, was inconsistent all season but coaches kept him around because they didn't want to throw off Rackers again. In the end, however, Johnson's inconsistencies just cost the team too much in field position.

Graham, an Australian, was signed, but not before coaches brought in Rackers to work with him. The tryout went fine for Graham, both as a punter and a holder, and Rackers is determined to make it work.

"He's got great hands and gets the ball down quick," Rackers said of Graham. "And he's amazed with (long-snapper Nathan Hodel's) speed on his snaps, as is everyone else."

Johnson's statistics weren't great, but not awful. He was averaging 41.8 yards gross and 35.2 net. What led to his departure was his inconsistencies. There were just too many punts in the 35-yard range and with little hang time.

Coincidentally, the lack of hang time is the reason the Jets parted with Graham, who had punted for them since 2005.

SERIES HISTORY: 60th regular-season meeting. The Rams lead, 30-27-2, but the Cardinals have won four straight and five of the past six. The teams met just a month ago and the Cardinals won, 34-13, dominating in every way. They rushed for 177 yards, passed for 333 and held the Rams to 231 total yards. It was the starting debut of rookie running back Tim Hightower, who gained 109 yards. The Cardinals didn't have a turnover, while the Rams had three.


--WR Anquan Boldin could make franchise history this weekend by becoming the first Cardinal to have four 1,000-yard receiving seasons in a career. Boldin needs 58 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Larry Fitzgerald leads the team in receiving yards with 1,075.

--The Cardinals are on pace to have three players score at least 10 touchdowns in a season for the first time in franchise history. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin has 11, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald eight and running back Tim Hightower nine.

--The players enjoyed four days off and five days without practice. That was the benefit of playing on Thanksgiving night.

"Those four days helped a lot of guys, man," said defensive end Darnell Dockett. "There were a lot of guys playing in that game Thursday who were just trying to suck it up and make it through that game to even get that four days off. That kind of plays to our advantage."

--RB Edgerrin James needs 9 yards to reach 12,000 rushing yards for his career. It's not a given he reaches that mark as a Cardinal. In the past five games, he has four yards on four carries. James has asked for his release and the club has said no. Last week, he told a Florida newspaper he was just waiting for his release "like an inmate."

--SS Adrian Wilson must love playing against the Rams. In his past five games against them, Wilson has four sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

BY THE NUMBERS: 170 -- That's the number of rushing yards the Cardinals have gained in their past four games. In that time, their rushing average is 2.5 yards a carry.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think there's always a special feeling walking off the field knowing that winning a game means you won the division. Hopefully, that's something that we'll have an opportunity to do this weekend." -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt on what beating the Rams on Sunday and winning the NFC West would feel like.



--RB Tim Hightower's production has fallen off badly since he rushed for 109 yards in his starting debut a month ago against the Rams. In the four games since, Hightower has gained 82 yards on 45 carries. It's not all his fault, as the team has either chosen to pass or been forced to pass by game conditions. But Hightower appears to be dancing a bit much and needs to work on avoiding negative plays.

--RB J.J. Arrington continues to be productive as the single back in the team's spread formations. There are no plans, however, to expand Arrington's role and use him more in the base offense. Coaches think Hightower is better suited to that job.

--RB Edgerrin James has carried just four times for four yards in the past five games, and didn't play a snap in two of those contests. His role won't expand unless starter Tim Hightower gets hurt.

--QB Kurt Warner has committed seven turnovers in the past three games (five interceptions, two fumbles). That's what happens when you drop back to pass 138 times in three games, an average of 46 times a game. The Cardinals need to be more productive with their running game to take the pressure off Warner.

--The Cardinals aren't getting much production out of their nose tackle position. The hope was that Gabe Watson or Alan Branch would have become a solid starter by now, but Bryan Robinson remains the starter. He's better suited to playing end, but he's the club's best option at the nose.

--CB Ralph Brown has moved past Eric Green on the depth chart behind starters Rod Hood and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

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