The Arizona Cardinals will try to find a way to replace the production of star defensive end Bertrand Berry, and they are turning to a youngster to do it.
DE Antonio Smith
, once the pass-rushing terror of NFL Europe, now gets his chance to show he can do it against the big boys. Smith moves into the lineup on the right side in place of injured Bertrand Berry, whose torn triceps will sideline him the remainder of the season.
Smith will need help. Left-side starter Chike Okeafor
has been very quiet this year. He now must step up as a pass-rushing threat.
Berry finishes the season with six sacks, 20 tackles, three forced fumbles, and three pass deflections. He had a key goal-line stop vs. the Lions in what proved to be the difference in the Cardinals' 17-10 win to snap an eight-game skid before he was injured late in the third quarter.
The defensive line has struggled to pressure the quarterback this season, and four of the final six games are on the road, where the Cardinals could use Berry's leadership.
SS Aaron Francisco, the backup to Adrian Wilson, has emerged as the team's nickel back, a testament not only to Francisco's coverage skills and hard hitting but also to the poor quality of depth among the team's CBs. One of them, veteran Robert Tate, was inactive last weekend. Francisco has thrived in the role, however, making his mark with his coverage and hits vs. Chicago on Monday Night Football in October.
QB Matt Leinart, a rookie chosen 10th overall in the first round, posted his first career win last week in his sixth start, earning nomination for the Rookie of the Week honor. He became the Cardinals' first rookie QB to get a win as a starter in nine years, since Jake Plummer. Leinart has passed for 200-plus yards in five of his starts. Leinart is on pace to eclipse the franchise rookie passing record 2,203 yards by Plummer in 1997. Leinart is the only QB in NFL history to pass for two touchdowns in the first quarter in each of his first two starts.
RB Edgerrin James missed his first 100-yard game with the Cardinals last week by probably one carry (96 yards, season high). Eleven games marks the deepest he ever has gone into a season without one. But James goes for his third 100-yard game in a row vs. Minnesota (both previous were while he was in Indianapolis) James has 9,906 career yards, 19th on the NFL career rushing list.
WR Anquan Boldin since 2005 is averaging 89.6 receiving yards a game, third-best in the league in that span. He could join Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with 100 catches in three different seasons.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, a Pro Bowler last year, is averaging 80.7 receiving yards a game since he came into the league two seasons ago, sixth-best in the league over that span. He is nearly 100 percent after missing three games (hamstring).
WR Bryant Johnson filled in admirably for Larry Fitzgerald for three games, rising up among league leaders in average yards per catch. Johnson snagged a TD reception in a win over Detroit last weekend and averages 18.7 yards a catch. He has returned to his role as the No. 3 receiver, and the Cardinals' best speed threat deep.
SS Adrian Wilson, who set a league record among defensive backs last season with eight sacks on safety blitzes, has four more this season. He is the only NFL player with four sacks and three interceptions.
DE Bertrand Berry, who stirred up teammates with stinging criticism during the bye week, suffered a torn triceps last weekend vs. Detroit. Berry is expected to have surgery and is out for the season. Berry's six sacks lead the team. The 2004 Pro Bowler not only is the team's best pass rusher but its leader on the field and in the locker room. This is a major loss.
LG Milford Brown, who was the right-side starter before suffering an ankle injury last month, has found a home as the starting LG since his return.
G Elton Brown, a 2005 starter as a rookie, is an example of how the mighty have fallen. He was inactive vs. Detroit.