James Renwick (Managing Editor, CardinalInsider.com): Like politicians, I think our fan base is filled with 'cautious optimism.' Remember, we are the older continuously playing franchise in the NFL, and we have virtually no 'tradition.' The team has been to the playoffs exactly once since they got to Arizona, and have had just one winning season in the past...forever? There's a lot of talent, and the fans in Arizona recognize that, but we're aware that there are holes on this team, and we're aware that a big part of the excitement that built this offseason was about a player who, if the front office and coaching staff have their way, will take less than 20 snaps all season in Leinart.
Doug Farrar: At quarterback, Kurt Warner is once again playing the role of wily veteran, while first-round pick Matt Leinart is the Big Project. For Warner, this must be New York Redux, when he watched Eli Manning take his position. How should Warner fare this season, and when do you think this will become Leinart’s team?
James Renwick: The biggest difference between the two situations is that before it was New York, with 235 daily newspapers, 19 TV stations, and a front office that needed to make a big change just to appease the fan base. Now its Arizona, which is a little more laid back. If the Cards have their way, Leinart won't take a 'meaningful' snap all year, and would only challenge for the starting spot next year. Unfortunately for Kurt, and the Cards, Warner's injury record suggests that is not likely. Denis Green spent the entire Matt Leinart holdout gushing over John Navarre, and then promptly watched him throw up all over himself (metaphorically, this isn't Any Given Sunday) in the preseason. I think Warner is the started for as long as Warner's health allows him to be, up to two full years, before Leinart claims the spot. If Warner gets hurt in games 2-6 I think Navarre is the next in line, but if it is passed game six I think Leinart would step in, and much like New York, if he plays well the future is now.
Doug Farrar: The Cardinals made their big splash in free agency by signing former Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James. But Arizona’s offensive line is one of the poorest run-blocking units in NFL history. Why did the team spend their free cash on another running back with J.J. Arrington in the fold instead of using their assets to improve that line?
James Renwick: Three major reasons. First, the Cardinals, with a new, tax payer funded stadium, knew they needed to make an offseason splash, and second, because J.J. Arrington is not an 'every down' NFL back. Arrington is too small, and...oddly...too quick. Too often last season he was hitting the line before the hole opened (and yes, we're assuming a hole would have opened). While that could be remedied, the third reason is the biggest in a 'football sense.' Edge is one of, if not the best, blocking and receiving backs in the NFL. Match Shaun Alexander and Edge up, and Alexander clearly gets the nod as far as a pure 'Running Back' but Edge is certainly a superior receiver, and a better blocker as well. In the Cardinals pass first offense, having that 'safety valve' coming out of the backfield is huge, and since our line...what's the word...oh yeah, sucks, it's nice to have Edge there to help pick up the blitz (or in some cases just the four man rush).
Doug Farrar: Arizona’s defense allowed 19 first downs and 393 total yards against the 49ers in their narrow win last Sunday. Given the sorry state of San Francisco’s offense last year, what caused this unusual offensive barrage? Where was the breakdown in the defense?
James Renwick: First, and we truly believe this down here, the 49ers are vastly improved on offense. We're not pretending that the Cards D is going to matchup favorably to the defenses in Chicago or Pittsburgh, but Norv Turner has a track record as an O-Coordinator, Alex Smith was a lot less jumpy than he was last year, and the 49ers have two of the top 10 Tight Ends in the League. Second, the Cardinals defense is not great. D-Coordinator Clancy Pendergast favors small, fast, players who have pursuit skills, but since we're still relatively young on the defensive side of the ball, that often left us wide open for misdirection plays (the 49ers had four misdirection plays in the game that netted them nearly 100 of those 393 yards...on four plays). Ultimately the biggest weakness of this D right now is that we put almost no pressure on Smith last week. If the front four aren't getting it done, we're going to be in trouble.
Doug Farrar: In the end, the Cardinals seem to be a team with enormous talent at several positions, but underachievement has been the hallmark of the Dennis Green era. Why is this the case, and what’s the root cause?
James Renwick: We're not sure we'd agree with the assessment that Green's teams have underachieved. The offense was explosive last year, but our defense was horrible, and we had about 293 guys go on the DL. Until this year we have never had a better than average running back to go with our explosive wide receivers, and let's not forget that among those hitting the DL was Warner, who was backed up by the since departed Josh McCown (sp?). So if they underachieved, it was because they should have been 7-9 instead of 5-11, but it's not like this team was going to be playing the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game if a couple things had broken our way.
There were two 'goals' in the offseason for this club. A) Get a real running back, and not only did they accomplish it, they got it exactly right. We will come out on the record and say that, FOR THIS OFFENSE signing Edge was a better option than signed Shaun Alexander. We're not saying Edge is better, we're saying he's better for our offense. B) Fix the offensive line, and since Chris Liwienski was cut on Saturday by the Vikings, and started Sunday afternoon at right TACKLE, I'm not sure there's anybody in the country who would say we were successful there. As far as accomplishing their offseason goals, the Cards were .500, which is about what we're predicting for our team's record this season.