Behind Enemy Lines: Arizona Preview, Pt. 1

In Part One of this four-part series, CardinalInsider.com's Brad Keller answers the first five of ten questions from Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar. In order to get a bead on Arizona's offseason, Doug asks about Ken Whisenhunt's coaching perspective, Levi Brown's place on the line, Edgerrin James' workload, and much more...

Doug Farrar: Coming into the 2007 season, the big news in Arizona is the replacement of head coach Dennis Green with former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. The surface view would seem to be that Whisenhunt brings a far more balanced and fundamental approach to the game than Green's mercurial, "fantasy football" approach. Would you agree with that, and how do you think the team will be different under Whisenhunt?

Brad Keller: I would agree with that statement on all accounts and do foresee more of a balanced and fundamental approach, as well as a more intelligent way of approaching play calling in-game.  Whisenhunt has proven that he possesses excellent timing and has a knack for running the "right play at the right time."  What many people overlook is the fact that, if something isn't working, he is willing to go outside his original game plan and experiment until he finds something that works.  As a result of that flexibility and his reputation for being able to "spread the wealth" to all his skill position guys, I doubt that we'll see Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald both accumulate 1,400 yards receiving in a season any time soon.  Additionally, it is highly unlikely that Edgerrin James will end up with 55 yards on 32 carries in any game this year.  Whisenhunt is smart (and humble) enough to realize when he's made/is making a mistake and works to fix it.


DF: Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was one of two survivors of the post-Green purge, and Arizona's defense has been far from spectacular of late. Pendergast is known as a creative coach, but is he on the hot seat if the defense doesn't improve in 2007?

BK: Clancy Pendergast is a reflection of his defense: He has a lot of energy, talent, and potential, but often lacks the discipline and focus to put it all together.  Since Pendergast has the trust and admiration of his players, has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, and is familiar with the 3-4 defense and how the current talent on the roster might fit that scheme, he was retained.  However, he is on, by far, the hottest seat of anyone in the organization.  If the defense does not realize its potential this season, the Cardinals will fire Pendergast and start from scratch.


DF: Whisenhunt brings Russ Grimm from Pittsburgh, and Grimm will have the task of redeeming Arizona's offensive line, long regarded as one of the NFL's worst. Talk about the approach Grimm will bring to the team, and what the line will look like with Leonard Davis gone and Levi Brown on board.

BK: The two biggest traits that Grimm brings to the table (and instills in his players) are toughness and accountability.  If you watch film on the Steelers, you won't see five technicians along the line, methodically and meticulously going about their business.  You'll see five tough guys that are a reflection of their (now former) coach.  Grimm's charges look to hit people first and ask questions later.  When they miss an assignment or come off a block too early, they acknowledge it and they certainly hear about it from Grimm.  The players he coaches are reflections of Grimm, himself a Hall of Fame caliber lineman; and it shows on the field.

Ironically, Brown possesses the kind of toughness and tenacity that Grimm looks for in a lineman (especially at tackle, since many tackles pride themselves on technique and footwork as opposed to toughness and tenacity).  And, he will most likely replace Davis as the main tackle, though Davis often proved to be under-motivated, overweight, and not aggressive enough to play football at the NFL level.  However, since Leinart is a lefty and his blind side is therefore reversed, Brown will most likely start at right tackle. Grimm will have another one of his kind of guys on the line. 


DF: Whisenhunt was the pointman for Ben Roethlisberger's spectacular NFL start, and now he's got another potential star in Matt Leinart. How do you see that relationship working, and what can we expect from Leinart as a result?

BK: Where Whisenhunt was most valuable was in bringing Ben along slowly, gradually expanding the portion of the playbook that Ben had to work with, and, in general, slowing the game down for him.  However, since the bulk of that work was done during Roethlisberger's first season and in the offseason between season one and season two, the most important thing that Whisenhunt can (and will) do for Leinart is to not overwhelm him with playbooks and responsibilities and just let the young man play football (or, take batting practice). 

One of the primary reasons that Leinart looked flustered at times last season was that Dennis Green tried to throw too much at him and that Green was leaning too heavily on his theory that, "it's the system, not the quarterback."  Whisenhunt has stated repeatedly that he is going to find the best system and strategy that go along with his personnel and that he is not going to try to force his players into a system that does not take full advantages of their strengths and mask their weaknesses.


DF: Pittsburgh's offenses under Whisenhunt were known for two things: Copious amounts of running plays, and a "share-the-wealth" approach which had guys like Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker spitting carries. How do you think that will work in Arizona? Does Whisenhunt have a legitimate #2 back behind Edgerrin James, and is James okay with losing 200 carries to someone else?

BK: As of right now, James wants the ball on every play.  Even though he was the only person carrying the ball for the Cardinals for the first half of last season (he finished with 337 carries - the next closest player, Matt Leinart, had 22), he was still complaining early on that he should have been more involved in the offense.  At this point in his career, he can take the lion's share of the load, so it's a good thing that Arizona really doesn't have anyone to work into the line-up as a "complimentary" or "change of pace" back.  Though he may see spot carries as a short yardage or goal line back, Marcel Shipp was re-signed primarily for his work on special teams.  J.J. Arrington is a dead man walking and might not make it through his first mini-camp in the new regime.

All that having been said, there's one point that cannot be overlooked: If there are too many carries to go around, that means that the Cardinals are in the lead late in games and that they are winning on a consistent basis.  Everyone in the backfield, especially Edge, will trade individual accolades for team success.


Brad Keller is the Associate Editor of CardinalInsider.com. Feel free to e-mail him here.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He wrote the NFC West chapters for the Pro Football Prospectus 2007 book, which will be available just about everywhere on July 23. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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