Behind Enemy Lines: Hawks / Cardinals, Pt. 1

In Part 1 of our four-part game preview series, Brad Keller of CardinalInsider.com answers the first five of ten questions from Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET. Where is Matt Leinart in his development, how did Arizona get a running game, who could be in charge of gadget plays for Ken Whisenhunt, and what does the loss of Chike Okeafor mean for the defense?

Doug Farrar: After a solid rookie season, Matt Leinart stumbled quite a bit in Arizona’s 2007 opener. Why did this happen, and what has Ken Whisenhunt – a coach who has a good track record developing quarterbacks – been teaching him? What flaws has Whisenhunt found in Leinart’s game?

Brad Keller: Whisenhunt essentially works by teaching the quarterbacks what they don’t know and how to be more effective in the system. Unfortunately, it takes a while for a coach to figure that out, because he doesn’t always know what his quarterback doesn’t know… you know? The other side of it is that you can cover a lot in OTAs, mini-camps, training camp, and the pre-season, but you don’t know for sure what you’re working with until the games start for real.

What Whisenhunt saw from Leinart was hesitance and confusion, coupled with flawed decision making and the tendency to try to do too much. Not unlike any young quarterback. Whisenhunt is very deliberate and patient and will work with Matt Leinart (much like he did with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh) to have him slow things down, go through his progressions, hit the open or the hot receiver, and throw the ball away if there’s nothing there.


DF: Something we saw in the loss to San Francisco that we didn’t see a lot from the Cards last year – an actual running game. We know about Edgerrin James, but what about Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington and the rest of the Arizona backs? Do you foresee a situation in which several backs get more carries as they would under Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh?

BK: That was something, wasn’t it? Who was that team in the away jerseys? The good news is that Edge seems to have found his old legs and tenacity (lots of good yards after contact). The bad news is that Shipp and Arrington - in the eyes of the coaching staff - are more valuable in the kicking game than the running game. Neither has proven that they’re even suitable for a part time role (though they haven’t had much of an opportunity to run behind the new and improved line), so they’re not likely to see a lot of touches this season.

The smart money is on Shipp, though, since he’s the type of back that Whisenhunt and Running Backs Coach Maurice Carthon favor and could also be useful by the goaline.


DF: That line has two key additions – rookie stud right tackle Levi Brown and position coach Russ Grimm. Brown had his moments against the 49ers, but what has Grimm brought to the team?

BK: Confidence and determination. Grimm has the same limitations of any great former player – it is difficult for him to teach what he inherently knows; much the same way it would be difficult to teach someone how to breathe or scratch their head. Where he adds value is in motivating his charges and instilling them with confidence. The line knows the Cardinals are going to run the ball under the current staff. They know that the current staff is going to stay committed to running the ball, even if they do not see a lot of early success (both in-game and in-season early success).

Grimm understands this from his previous experiences with Whisenhunt and has renewed the line’s, the team’s, and the rest of the offense’s faith in the running game. Stay determined, know that you can stuff the ball down their throats even when they know it is coming. Running the ball and stopping the run is equal parts talent, technique, and attitude. Grimm brings that attitude to the line.


DF: Arizona’s front seven didn’t seem too impressive against San Francisco. How is the team adjusting to a 3-4 defense, and did the 3-3-5 sets run by Clancy Pendergast help the transition?

BK: They didn’t seem too impressive because they weren’t too impressive. They are not adjusting to the 3-4 front well and I would assume they are going to move to a 4-3 as their full-time defense very shortly. They’re short on linebackers as it is (more on this later) and don’t have the proper personnel (no ends, lack of a true nose tackle) along the defensive line. They will need two drafts and 2 off-seasons to acquire the right mix of talent and body type to properly run the 3-4. I sincerely hope they wait until they have the right guys in place before they try to run the 3-4 as their base defense.

The 3-3-5 can’t help the transition if they don’t have the right players for each position, but it is actually a better formation for this personnel grouping, given that it’s a small defense and the Cardinals have a lot of small, fast players on defense.


DF: How is the defense adjusting to the loss of Chike Okeafor? It’s a bit difficult to imagine Arizona in a 3-4, since they didn’t have enough good backers for a 4-3 last year. Was Okeafor the best option to convert?

BK: The loss of Okeafor set the team back for this year (though, ultimately, they weren’t going to solve the issues of the front three with or without him), but really for this year only. Okeafor was going to be, at best, a short term fix to a long term position need. Since he uses his speed and his hands more than Bert Berry, he was a better fit for the move to outside linebacker. Berry uses leverage, leg strength, and his shoulders/pass rush moves to get to the quarterback. If you’re just trying to get through a running back, you can just use your hands and speed like Okeafor.

The bottom line, though, is that this was going to be a rough transition, especially after Arizona jettisoned Buster Davis (and Brandon Johnson was inactive on Monday). Purely from a numbers standpoint, the Cardinals simply don’t have enough bodies to run the 3-4. They have six linebackers on the roster. Six guys, four starters. Even if you add Okeafor, that’s not enough. Most teams that run the 3-4 keep eight or nine, sometimes 10, linebackers on the roster and pick the best four to start.


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