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Friday, October 23, 2009
How might the Cardinals attack the Giants?

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Cardinals Personnel on First 30 Plays 2008 vs. Giants Week at Seattle
4WR 16 6
1RB-2TE 1 11
2RB-1TE 6 4
2RB-2TE 0 1
1RB-1TE 7 7
2RB-0TE 0 1
Totals 30 30
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals face interesting choices against the Giants' defense in Week 7.

One potential approach would be to spread the field with three or more wide receivers, focusing on completing quick, short passes before the pass rush arrives. Succeeding with such a strategy sometimes leads defensive coordinators to back off with their blitzes. Seattle rarely blitzed in Week 6, presumably because the Seahawks felt sending extra pressure would have been futile given how quickly Kurt Warner could get rid of the football while throwing shorter passes to multiple targets.

So far this season, Warner's passes have traveled an average of 6.9 yards in the air, the fifth-shortest distance among players with at least 25 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For comparison, passes from the Giants' Eli Manning have traveled 9.7 yards in the air on average, the fifth-highest total.

It's tough to throw short passes most of the time and still run the ball effectively. Longer passes tend to loosen up defenses, in theory. A strong ground game can also open opportunities down the field.

Warner has completed 13 of 15 attempts for 154 yards -- a healthy 10.3 yards per attempt -- on play-action passes. But 32 quarterbacks have more play-action attempts this season. Joe Flacco (60), Drew Brees (56), Matt Schaub (50), Jake Delhomme (41) and Tom Brady (40) have at least 40. It's not a big part of what the Cardinals are doing.

But if you watched Arizona against Seattle, you saw a Cardinals team suddenly using two tight ends far more frequently. The extra tight end can help in pass protection and the running game, but the tradeoff is having fewer attractive options to make that short passing game work so effectively. I'll touch on this during the weekly "Final Word" entry scheduled to appear at 4 p.m. ET.

The chart compares the Cardinals' first 30 snaps against the Giants last season to their first 30 snaps against the Seahawks in Week 6. The first two rows show how differently the Cardinals have approached those games. The four-receiver figure against the Giants is somewhat inflated by 2-minute offense usage, but that second row is telling.