Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals/Seahawks, Pt. 2

In part two of our pre-game preview, Amberly Dressler answers 10 Cardinals questions from NorthWestFootball.net publisher Doug Farrar. Why has the Cardinals dynamic offense sizzled? Will the Cardinals ever be successful at running the ball? Is Darnell Dockett an elite player in this league? These answers and more inside.

DF: In 2008, the Cardinals finished near the top of the NFL in pass plays of 20-plus and 40-plus yards, and they've dropped off on both of those stats in 2009 -- in fact, they have one pass play of 40 or more yards all season. What is the cause of the less dynamic passing attack this year? Is it Kurt Warner's injury, the blocking, or the new offensive coordinator?

AD: The majority of the Cardinals struggles have been in pass protection. Kurt Warner did aggravate his throwing shoulder in Week 2, but it hasn't been an issue. What has been an issue is the opposition's defense upsetting Warner's timing because of poor performances from a couple of the O-linemen. Warner has eight sacks. The big guys up front need to find a way to protect their veteran quarterback with a temperamental shoulder.

DF: One thing that has transferred over from 2008 is a real problem running the ball. How are the Cardinals handling the running game this year, and what impact has Beanie Wells had?

AD: Tim Hightower continues to be the Cardinals primary ball carrier. Many reports this week have stated that the Cardinals are saying all the right things when it comes to fixing their ground game, but the follow-through has been non-existent. Wells has had little to know impact so far. Wells arrive in the desert after being the focal point of his team's offense, which is far from the case in his rookie year.

The Cardinals haven't been able to fully trust Wells with the ball. Hightower continues to be the more reliable option. Wells has 95 yards on 23 carries with zero NFL touchdowns.

DF: Though people still talk about him as one of the NFL's best (as they should), has some of the luster come off the public perception of Larry Fitzgerald with the decline in big plays? How are Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston contributing in comparison to 2008?

AD: Warner has appeared to be almost diplomatic in his ability to get to the ball to Fitzgerald, Boldin, Breaston and Jerheme Urban while also using Hightower as a receiver.

Prior to last week's game, Hightower led the team in receiving yards, which is a weird stat considering the Cardinals have Fitzgerald on the roster.

Heading into this week's game against Seattle, Hightower has still seen the most receptions of any of the Cardinals receivers. If the Cardinals can protect Warner in Seattle, then expect to see more plays to Fitzgerald and Boldin since the Seahawks secondary won't be in the top-five of the defensive back groups that the Cardinals will or have faced this season.

DF: The Cardinals haven't had what you'd call a great offensive line through the last decade, but things were good enough to get things done last year. Are there any differences now? Are there particular players who aren't pulling their weight?

AD: Mike Gandy and Levi Brown have felt most of the burden for the mediocre offensive line. Gandy has been burned on several plays, of which some have led to sacks. Brown, a former first-rounder who is now in his third year, has also been inconsistent. Both players are feeling the heat.

DF: With offensive coordinator Todd Haley gone, who's in charge of the offense and what's the primary plan? Right now, there's a head coach with an offensive background, Russ Grimm's five different titles, and a passing game coordinator. Are there too many cooks, or is there one dominant voice?

AD: The primary plan heading into the season was that Grimm would handle the running game and Mike Miller would handle the passing game. Also with Haley's departure left the play calling void that Coach Ken Whisenhunt picked back up (he took care of the play calling in 2007).

Whisenhunt is absolutely the dominant voice, but Haley's departure, without a doubt, left a very large void in the Cardinals offense.

DF: The Cardinals have the NFL's best run defense by just about any measure right now, and the most visible member of that front seven is Darnell Dockett. Is Dockett an elite player? It seems that he gets a great deal of respect from those in the know.

AD: Dockett has proved to be an elite player in the Cardinals organization. His contract demands following the 2007 season were a bit premature. He had a good season under first-year coach Whisenhunt, but the Cardinals had more pressing matters to address and put Dockett on the back-burner. He saw the same treatment this last offseason as well.

Dockett continues to prove himself on the field. He is definitely an impact player. Dockett says that every defense's objective is to first stop the run, which the Cardinals excel at thanks to the likes of Dockett. The Cardinals have a lot of work to do on the pass.



DF: Who else in the front seven has stepped up?

AD: Alan Branch has had a successful campaign so far. He lost more than 20 pounds during the offseason. Branch has pep in his step that has translated to quality play on the field.

The third-year player has also been a versatile player, lining up at end and nose tackle.

DF: We know that Adrian Wilson was a key to Clancy Pendergast's creative schemes, but it looks to me that new defensive coordinator Bill Davis bring more of a straight-ahead idea. Even when Arizona blitzes, you don't see a lot of delays or overloads like you did with Pendergast. Is the new system working?

AD: The Cardinals defense has its eyes set on becoming the No. 1 defense in the league. Obviously that can't happen until the Cardinals do a better job at stopping the pass.

Davis brought discipline into the group. If he can keep emphasizing focus, making big plays and not giving up big plays, then we can say the new system is working under Davis.

DF: For all their success against the run, why are the Cards so vulnerable to the pass?

AD: Coach Whisenhunt joked to the Arizona Republic that opponents are just throwing more against the Cardinals, which is actually true.

The Cardinals put a premium on pass defense during the offseason, but the Cardinals haven't been successful at getting after the quarterback as much as they need to. DF: At 2-3, what do the Cardinals need to improve to repeat their division title?

AD: The Cardinals start and end with Kurt Warner. He needs better protection and more consistency from the offensive line. The Cardinals also need to find more ways to pressure their opponent's quarterback. And one final thought... The Cardinals secondary has been inconsistent as well. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made up for three weeks of poor performances with a interception that he returned for a touchdown against the Texans, but he needs to be more focused and zeroed in on the play at hand.


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