Chiefs Season Preview: Week # 5 Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals fans will be getting a brand new state-of-the-art stadium this season, and by the looks of it, they might be getting a playoff-caliber football team as well. OK, we might be getting ahead of ourselves – but if you look at the makeup of this team, you can see why there is so much optimism in Tempe, Arizona.

Cardinals head coach Dennis Green has assembled a team that many believe can make a run at the NFC West title. The division should be the weakest it's been in years, and with some of the aggressive moves that the front office made during the off-season, you've got to believe that they will improve upon the 5-11 record they had a year ago.

If the Chiefs take this team lightly, they could be in for a rude awakening.

OFFENSE
The strength of Arizona's team is the offense, especially when you consider the addition of Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James, who signed a huge deal in the off-season. James will bring a dimension to the Cardinals' offense that has been missing the last few years: A running back that is worthy of getting 25-30 carries a game. He should make the Cardinals a more balanced team on offense.

James should rush for more than 1,250 yards and score double-digit touchdowns. He's a physical running back who delivers just as many hits as he takes. He's very difficult to take down and should give the Cardinals an element of toughness in the backfield.

Last year's running back tandem of rookie J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp combined for just two touchdowns. Think the Cardinals can use a guy that has a knack for finding the end zone?

James is also an asset in terms of pass-protection, as he excels at picking up the blitz. His contributions in that regard should help keep quarterback Kurt Warner healthy. Warner, who turns 35 this month, hasn't played a full season since 2001 when he was with the St. Louis Rams.

If for some reason he does miss time in 2006, the Cardinals would have to turn to first-round draft choice Matt Leinart. Cardinals fans are hoping that it won't get to that point, as they'd like to see Leinart carry the clipboard for a year before taking over the reigns.

One element of Warner's game that Leinart will have a difficult time duplicating is the chemistry that he's been able to develop with a pair of star wide receivers - Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Last season, they became the first teammates in NFL history to record at least 100 catches and 1,400 yards.

Fitzgerald is your typical possession receiver. He runs great routes, makes difficult catches in traffic, and isn't afraid to go over the middle. He's like a young Keyshawn Johnson, only better. Boldin is a receiver that makes huge plays after the catch and has tremendous breakaway speed. He is a threat to score every time he catches the ball, particularly when he's out in space and has open field to work with.

If the Cardinals are to continue their success with the passing game, they'll have to get better play from their offensive linemen. Left tackle Leonard Davis will be protecting Warner's blind side, and he really needs to step up his level of play. He hasn't yet realized his full potential, and the Cardinals are expecting more out of their former top-five pick.

The Cardinals will also count on a pair of new linemen – free agent guard Milford Brown and second-round draft choice Taitusi Lutui – to come in and help out immediately.

DEFENSE
If the Cardinals hope to field a defense that can keep up with their offense, they'll need better luck than they had a year ago. Last season they lost four linemen to season-ending injuries, including defensive end Bertrand Berry.

Berry is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFC when healthy and the Cardinals will be counting on him to put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Playing opposite Berry is the up-and-coming Chike Okeafor, who seems to have found a home in Arizona after spending time in San Francisco and Seattle. If Okeafor is able to duplicate his numbers from last season (51 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles), the Cardinals will be in good shape.

The Cardinals also need to improve their third-down defense. They allowed too many big plays on third-down last season. That's an area that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will have to address.

Having cornerback Antrel Rolle for a full season should help (he missed much of last season with injury), as he's a potential game-breaker at the position. Rolle loves to take chances and plays the game aggressively.

The problem with that aggressiveness is that Rolle doesn't have great safeties playing behind him. Free safety Robert Griffith, a 13-year veteran, probably doesn't have many years left in him. Though he's still one of the league's hardest hitting safeties, he can't cover a lot of ground and needs more than just smarts to get by.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson plays closer to the line of scrimmage and is almost like a fourth linebacker. He blitzes frequently and is exceptional at stopping the run. When he's got an open shot at a quarterback, he rarely misses. Trent Green should be on the lookout.

BOTTOM LINE
The Cardinals should be one of the league's most improved teams in 2006. The front office made a huge splash with the James signing and he could be the guy that ultimately leads them back to the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

The Chiefs will be the first non-division team to play at the new Cardinals Stadium, and they can only hope that they escape with a win. It's critical that they take this game seriously and remain focused, rather than looking ahead to a road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers a week later.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories