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Personnel report: Cardinals diversified

9/24/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals ran plays against the Jaguars in Week 2 from each of the seven primary personnel groups I track when charting a game. They even used all seven on first down.

That is unusual and possibly attributable to a several things:

  • Kurt Warner and the offense can handle the additional burden. For example, using four wide receivers invites more defensive backs onto the field, giving defenses an opportunity to get more creative with their coverages. Warner nonetheless averaged 11.2 yards per attempt with seven first downs on 13 pass attempts from the Cardinals' four-receiver package. Top-notch Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis made Larry Fitzgerald work, but Warner spread the ball around. How many times he targeted players from four-receiver personnel: Jerheme Urban 4, Anquan Boldin 3, Fitzgerald 2, Steve Breaston 2, Dan Kreider 1, Tim Hightower 1.

  • The Cardinals like their young running backs. NFL teams rarely pair two running backs with three wide receivers on the same play. The combination allows an offense to run the ball behind a fullback if defenses focus too much on defending the receivers. Most teams would rather have a tight end on the field over a fullback for the additional options in the passing game, but the Cardinals are without their most versatile tight end, Ben Patrick, for the first four games. Arizona has used two backs with three receivers on more than 10 percent of snaps this season, up from less than 5 percent in 2008. Against the Jaguars, the Cardinals paired Jason Wright and Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells and Dan Kreider, Wells and Wright and even one snap with two halfbacks, Hightower and LaRod Stephens-Howling, in packages with three wide receivers. The Cardinals had success, too, throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Wright from this group. They also fooled linebacker Daryl Smith with misdirection to the right, freeing Hightower for a 17-yard gain on an inside handoff.

The chart shows the Cardinals' production depending on how many tight ends were on the field (not counting quarterback kneel-down plays). They went without a tight end nine times in 28 first-down plays. They used two tight ends 12 times on first down. They mixed it up, in other words.

Note: Download full personnel report with play-by-play notes here

A few other Cardinals-related observations after taking a closer look at their game in Week 2:

  • Calais Campbell continues to be a factor. The defensive end batted down a pass for the second time in as many starts. He blocked a field-goal attempt. He got pressure on David Garrard, but failed to finish the play. He could stand to become a little more violent in his play. Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson set the tone that way.

  • The Cardinals are in shape. Conditions were hot and sultry, leading one of the Jaguars' offensive linemen came out of the game to receive liquids intravenously. The Cardinals seemed to hold up well. Much was made about coach Ken Whisenhunt holding a camp less physical than other camps. His team was up to the challenge Sunday. Darnell Dockett was running down ball carriers late in the game.

  • Kreider made some strong blocks. Fullbacks must produce to earn a place on the field in this offense. Kreider did produce. He helped seal the edge for Hightower's easy 1-yard touchdown run. He put Jaguars linebacker Justin Durant on skates and moved him downfield while Hightower gained 7 yards in the third quarter. Late in the game, Kreider crumpled Durant with one of the best lead blocks I can recall. With Durant on the ground, Kreider finished him with another hit delivered quickly enough to stay within the rules. The hamstring Kreider injured early in camp must be feeling OK. I'm not so sure about Durant.

  • The tight ends are still hit and miss. Stephen Spach missed Derrick Harvey early in the game, leading to no gain on a rushing play. Spach had a penalty for the second game in a row. Anthony Becht dropped a pass.

  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was paying attention. His interception late in the game required focus. The game was out of reach. Rodgers-Cromartie wanted the ball more than the receiver wanted it, making an aggressive play.

  • Matt Leinart played well in relief. Fitzgerald and Becht dropped passes or Leinart's numbers would have been better. Fitzgerald's play would have been tougher to make, but expectations are high for him.