Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks/Cardinals, Pt. 3

In Part 3 of our four-part game preview series, Brad Keller of answers the final five of ten questions from Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET. What are the differences between Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, just how good is Adrian Wilson, and might the two best young kickoff returners in the NFL be meeting in this game?

Doug Farrar: We know that receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are as dangerous a duo as there in the league. How do they differ, and will Boldin be the point man for Whisenhunt’s love for gadget plays?

Brad Keller: Fitzgerald and Boldin are very similar in that they’re both big guys that run crisp routes, have great hands, and aren’t going to be setting any records in the 100 meter dash anytime soon. Fitzgerald works better in the intermediate and deep routes, he is much better at using his hands to create separation, and struggles after the catch. Boldin is more dangerous when he runs shorter routes and is able to move in space with the ball in his hands, uses his body to create separation (one of the best at sealing off the cornerback with his hips and shoulders), but he lacks the top end speed and ball skills to be a truly effective deep receiver. Once Ken Whisenhunt realizes their strengths and weaknesses, he’ll gameplan around them. Unlike Monday…

Yes. Anquan Boldin played quarterback. Roethlisberger played wide receiver in high school. Rich Gannon was drafted as a cornerback. I’m sure Edge played on the defensive line in Middle School. Whisenhunt has the reputation of being gadget play guy and a high-risk, high-reward type of play caller, but, as I said… he’s deliberate and patient. He’ll wait until much later in the season (or, until the players have a good grasp of the system) to introduce anything fancy. When that happens (and if it happens this year), I’d expect Edge to be involved before Boldin. But, if the Cardinals have the ball at about midfield, it’s third and less-than-four, and they need play… watch out.

DF: Two defensive players under the radar of most are linebacker Karlos Dansby and super-safety Adrian Wilson. What makes these players so special, and what does Pendergast expect from them in 2007?

BK: Given the fact that he was finally voted to the Pro Bowl last season, Wilson is not as under-the-radar as a lot of players in the Valley of the Sun. However, he’s still not a household name and that’s a shame. What makes him so special is his versatility and his familiarity with Pendergast’s scheme (I have lauded Arizona’s decision to keep him on staff since Day One). Wilson can line up virtually anywhere, go in motion, even turn his back to the line of scrimmage and dart off in a random direction, but still end up where he needs to be because he’s so familiar with his assignment in this scheme. He can cover, blitz, and support against the run. Pendergast can expect more of the same this season. Hopefully another Pro Bowl berth, but that is up to the fans and players.

Dansby is probably the Cardinals’ best pass rusher and his pass coverage skills are underrated. What makes him most special, however, is his athletic ability. Men his size are not supposed to be as fast and agile as he is. The only issue is that he’s been living off potential since his rookie season. Pendergast is expecting him to take a big step forward and realize his enormous potential this season.

DF: The Cardinals acquired two defensive backs in the off-season, free safety Terence Holt and cornerback Rod Hood. These acquisitions proved wise when Antrel Rolle lost his starting cornerback job in the preseason. Why can’t Rolle find any discipline, and what can you tell us about the secondary that will be on the field?

BK: Rolle is the same player he was in college: A fantastically gifted athlete that lacks technique and discipline. At the collegiate level, you can survive on ability alone and leave technique for later. The shut-down corners of the NFL have both ability and technique, which is what separates them from the pack. Rolle never bothered to learn the nuances of the position and was never disciplined enough to learn how to use his hips and hands (and how to avoid ripping Larry Johnson’s head off).

Hood and Holt are two examples of why I like the new administration (more on that below). They are quality players with starting-caliber ability that also have solid work ethics and have the humble background of “making their bones” on special teams. They are more than willing to contribute in the kicking game and have gone out of their way to learn the system and integrate into the defense. When Holt beat out Aaron Francisco (a favorite of the previous staff) and Hood beat out Rolle (someone else that was living off of potential), it sent a message that the new staff was looking for quality over nepotism.

DF: Rookie Steve Breaston finished second behind Seattle’s Josh Wilson in preseason kickoff return yardage, and kicker Neil Rackers has been high-quality for a long time. Are there any holes in Arizona’s special teams?

BK: For the first time in a long time, no. The weaknesses in this unit had been in coverage and in the return game the past few seasons. By drafting Breaston and signing guys like Hood, Holt, and Sean Morey, as well as retaining rights to standouts like Marcel Shipp, Arizona’s special teams received a huge upgrade. Perhaps an underrated addition was that of Kevin Spencer. Spencer coached special teams in Pittsburgh and his reputation preceeds him. If you want to nitpick, the Cardinals could use a more accomplished punter than 28 year-old rookie punter Mike Barr. That would be closest thing they have to a hole in a unit that has improved significantly.

DF: The hype told us that in the post-Dennis Green era, accountability would be a far more important issue, and the team would actually play as one. It was time to stop looking good on paper and start bringing it to the field. Have you seen evidence that this change is happening?

BK: Ironically, Arizona will improve in the future because they will look worse on paper than they do now. As much as it pains me to say this, the Cardinals are the Bengals of this century. Because of underfunded, poor scouting and stingy ownership, they missed on a number of “upside guys” in the first round the last several years. As a result of this, they’ve lost a lot more than they’ve won. As a result of their losing ways, they were forced to overpay for second-tier free agents.

The first big step out of this cycle was to sign Edgerrin James, a first-tier free agent that had no shortage of suitors. The second step was to replace Dennis Green’s system-based fantasy football team strategy with a coach that has an eye towards the future and a game plan for the present.

In his first off-season, Ken Whisenhunt chose character and quality over potential and athleticism. He scooped up a number of guys that weren’t marquee names, but were players that could turn around the fortunes of the franchise (a lot like Marvin Lewis’ first two seasons in Cincinnati). He’ll continue to build the team through the draft and add key pieces in free agency and will right the ship in the next three years – as I said, the Cardinals are two off-seasons away from having the proper personnel to run the 3-4 as their base defense.

The bonus is that the Bidwells have a serious aversion to any player will a checkered legal past, so Arizona’s turnaround won’t be exactly like the Bengals’ turnaround. Top Stories