NFC West: Cardinals-Redskins

Cardinals rookie Hightower making mark

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
11:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Hightower

The Cardinals and Jets will field two of the older offensive backfields even beyond the quarterback position when the teams face off in Week 4.

Arizona's Edgerrin James and New York's Thomas Jones are 30. Jets fullback Tony Richardson is 36. Don't be surprised if Cardinals rookie running back Tim Hightower looks even faster than usual. He turned 22 in May and gives Arizona a more dynamic alternative to James' grind-it-out approach.

The fifth-round draft choice from Richmond is looking like the future starter, but the Cardinals aren't waiting to use him. Hightower rushed five times for 23 yards against the Redskins in Week 3. He also caught three passes for 38 yards. The Cardinals targeted Hightower as a runner or receiver on six of their 11 third-down plays, converting twice. Overall, the Cardinals handed off or threw toward Hightower 11 times in 56 plays, or 19.6 percent of the time.

James averaged better than 5 yards a carry against the Redskins, but the Cardinals are among only four teams without a running play of at least 20 yards this season (the Jets are another). James remains the established runner between the tackles. Hightower provides more big-play potential.

I've isolated each Week 3 play featuring Hightower, providing detailed notes on each in an effort to better understand how the Cardinals are using their promising rookie runner:

(Read full post)

Around the NFC West: Gore thinks big

September, 23, 2008
9/23/08
8:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Frank Gore has his eye on the NFL rushing title. I think 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz wouldn't mind adding a rushing champion to his pass-oriented resume, particularly after the Lions said they wanted a coordinator more committed to the ground game.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says cornerback Allen Rossum filled the role of the small, quick receiver Martz covets.

Also from Barrows: Gore's new approach includes letting the game come to him.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have come to appreciate "Cowboy" Justin Smith, a difference maker on their defense. I've watched Smith closely in the first three games and would say he's better than I anticipated.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic ties up loose ends from the Cardinals' defeat at Washington. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald laments missing a chance for another touchdown. Cornerback Rod Hood thought the defense let down the offense. And receiver Anquan Boldin won't forget Shawn Springs' declaration about their matchup.

Also from Somers: Coach Ken Whisenhunt explains why he elected to punt with 2:46 remaining against the Redskins. Also, nose tackle Gabe Watson might miss another game.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals still must prove they're not the same old Cardinals.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says Edgerrin James has become an afterthought in Arizona, playing a secondary role to Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. I've always viewed James as a solid and consistent player, never a spectacular one.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks will hold informal workouts today, Wednesday and Thursday before taking off for the bye weekend.

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle's ground game gives opponents something new to worry about.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have some choices to make following their bye week given the expected return of injured players, notably Maurice Morris, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks haven't decided whether to put Sean Locklear back in the lineup at right tackle. Ray Willis gives the team a "physical presence" on that side of the line, coach Mike Holmgren said.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls the Rams hopeless and the worst team in the history of football in St. Louis. He thinks firing coach Scott Linehan would be the most humane course of action in the short term.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams weren't competitive in Seattle even though they improved in a few key areas offensively.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams running back Brian Leonard will finally become active for a game now that an injury has knocked out Antonio Pittman.

Also from Coats: No big news from the Rams despite threats from ownership.

Silver linings: Cardinals vs. Redskins

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
1:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The facts: Arizona suffered two turnovers and other breakdowns during a 24-17 road defeat against the Redskins in Week 3.

Silver linings: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two. A look at what went right for the Cardinals ...

  • The Cardinals averaged 5.0 yards per rushing attempt. Edgerrin James (93 yards) and rookie Tim Hightower (23 yards) are forming an effective 1-2 combination.
  • Arizona did not allow a run longer than 9 yards from a Redskins running back. That reflects good team speed on defense.
  • No personal fouls. The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson, Chike Okeafor and Darnell Dockett have ranked among the league leaders in these penalties. Reducing them has been a point of emphasis. Dockett actually drew a personal-foul penalty from Redskins tackle Stephon Heyer, a mistake that wiped out a 68-yard Redskins touchdown pass.
  • The Cardinals remained a fun team to watch. Receiver Jerheme Urban completed a key 18-yard pass to Hightower, setting up a touchdown. Safety Antrel Rolle played receiver. Coach Ken Whisenhunt learned well from Bill Cowher.
  • Kurt Warner generally had ample time to throw. The Redskins sacked him twice.
I'll be heading east later this week for the Cardinals-Jets game. I predicted a Jets victory in our preseason game-by-game projection. The Jets haven't been as good as I might have thought, while the Cardinals have protected the ball better than expected, at least until Sunday. For those reasons, an Arizona victory wouldn't surprise me at all.

Did time bandit rob Cardinals?

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
1:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals were unhappy when officials flagged them for delay of game right before Kurt Warner threw a would-be touchdown pass to Ben Patrick on a fourth-and-1 play in the first quarter Sunday.

The play call was brilliant. Patrick ran into the clear and, based on my judgment, probably would have scored even if the Redskins hadn't heard a whistle. He was that open. The 5-yard penalty convinced the Cardinals to punt. They trailed 7-0 at the time.

Warner and coach Ken Whisenhunt were clearly upset. Whisenhunt was monitoring the play clock and, in his view, would have called timeout had he thought the Cardinals wouldn't get off such a crucial play. Warner insisted the clock showed time remaining before the snap.

We occasionally see NFL teams get away with snapping the ball a half-second (or longer) after the clock reaches zero.

A frame-by-frame look at the high-definition broadcast showed the game clock reaching 3:56 before center Lyle Sendlein moved the ball. I was able to click the frame-advance button on my DirecTV remote nine times after the clock reached 3:56 until Sendlein moved the ball. That doesn't necessarily mean the play clock expired. We couldn't see the play clock on TV.

The Cardinals could have avoided such a close call had they operated with more efficiency and urgency.

Arizona broke the huddle at about the 4:10 mark. At 4:06, none of the Cardinals' offensive linemen had gotten into his stance. Left tackle Mike Gandy was in the backfield speaking with Warner. Seindlein was looking over his shoulder at Warner. At 4:03, tight end Leonard Pope doubled back to Warner for a final presnap chat. Pope didn't get his hand down until 3:59. Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui were communicating even at the 3:57 mark.

Around the NFC West: Cardinals fall short

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
9:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Scott Allen of Raising Zona thought Ken Whisenhunt relied too heavily on a tired defense when he decided to punt with 2:32 remaining. Allen also thinks the Cardinals continue to get no respect from the officials. I'll say this: The NFL has two first-year referees this season. Both have worked Arizona games in the first three weeks.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com writes the Cardinals' defensive problems stemmed from the Redskins' excellent execution, Whisenhunt said. Quarterback Kurt Warner thought the Cardinals should have gone for it instead of punting late in the game.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' two-minute offense hasn't been as sharp this season. On defense, Bert Berry has three sacks in three games.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic said the Cardinals made just enough mistakes to lose to a good team on the road. But it's only one game.

Also from Somers: Three of the Cardinals' six penalties came on special teams. Also, the team could use a big play from a running back.

More from Somers: Thoughts on the game, including a potential bad officiating call and whether Elton Brown might get some work at right guard (he could).

And this: Arizona's defense didn't force a turnover or put enough pressure on Jason Campbell. Safety Antrel Rolle said Campbell was more comfortable in the offense than he had appeared.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic gives the Cardinals the benefit of the doubt. He's not reading too much into the team's first loss of the season. McManaman: "For the most part, they were saying it again after Sunday's loss -- that it's too early to overreact, be it positively or negatively. I know, it sounds completely un-Cardinals-like, doesn't it? But for some reason, you believe this team and these players more than you did most of the other blowhards who have breezed in and out of town since 1988."

Somers and McManaman take note as Rolle becomes the Cardinals' third defensive player to figure into the offense.

Also from McManaman: A look at the game's key play, Warner's first interception of the season. The ball was underthrown, but Steve Breaston didn't fight for it, either.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says Campbell was far more poised than he was against the Cardinals last season, a big reason the Redskins won.

Also from Tulumello: A quick look at why the Cardinals are staying on the East Coast this week.

More from Tulumello: The Cardinals were expecting a more physical opponent than the one they encountered at Washington, Darnell Dockett said. Instead, the Redskins dinked and dunked on them.

Quick Take: Redskins 24, Cardinals 17

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
4:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' surging confidence shouldn't suffer much following a hard-fought defeat to the Redskins at FedEx Field.

Arizona validated what it already knew about life on the road against a competent opponent, namely that the margin for error shrinks for everyone, notably the quarterback.

Kurt Warner had been nearly flawless for Arizona this season. He reached statistical perfection with a 158.3 passer rating during a blowout victory over the Dolphins in Week 2.

The interception Warner threw against the Redskins on an underthrown deep ball to Steve Breaston marked the first surrendered by the Cardinals all season. The play also turned the momentum toward Washington, which converted the gift into a touchdown for a 24-17 lead. Edgerrin James also lost a fumble for the Cardinals, who entered the game without a single turnover.

The Cardinals' improved defense held the Redskins' Clinton Portis to a 3.2-yard average on 21 carries even though a knee injury continued to sideline starting nose tackle Gabe Watson.

There's no shame in this loss for Arizona. The Cardinals played aggressively -- receiver Jerheme Urban completed an 18-yard pass for a key first down -- and they ran the ball effectively (18 carries for 93 yards from James). The Cardinals' next chance for a victory on the East Coast comes in Week 4 against the Jets. I think they'll be ready.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' road game against the Redskins provides an opportunity to take a closer look at Washington. Fans of NFC West teams will quickly see a connection between the Redskins' offensive scheme and the one Seattle has favored under Mike Holmgren. Jim Zorn brought Mike Holmgren's offense to Washington when the Redskins named him head coach.

  

Our roided-out Redskins roster breaks down the Redskins by 25 categories, with lots of draft-related information. Washington has 10 draft choices from 2008 on its roster, tied with Indianapolis for second-most in the league behind Kansas City (11). Unlike the Colts and Chiefs, the Redskins remain one of the oldest teams in the league.

No team in the league has older offensive players on average than the Redskins. Their offensive players average 28.8 years old (the Rams' offensive players are second at 28.4, a relatively large gap). The Redskins' starters rank second-oldest on offense and fourth-oldest on defense. Their offensive backups are the third-oldest in the league even though Washington has five 2008 offensive draft choices on its 53-man roster.

The Redskins have 10 starters in their 30s, most in the league and nearly double the average (5.8). They have only five starters age 25 or younger (the range is from four to 15 leaguewide). And their starting offensive line averages a league-high 30.9 years old even after the team replaced 32-year-old right tackle Jon Jansen with Stephon Heyer, 24.

For more on the Redskins, check out Matt Mosley's NFC East blog. Here's a direct link to Redskins-related entries on his blog.

Sando says: Tell me where to go

September, 19, 2008
9/19/08
11:00
AM ET
NFC West Team
Games attended by Sando
SF2
ARI1
SEA1
STL0

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams are the last NFC West team I haven't seen in person during the 2008 season. That will change Sunday when I witness first hand whether coach Scott Linehan can meet ownership's public demands to improve.

Part of me really wants to see the Cardinals at Washington this week. It's the best matchup involving a division team. But the owner-induced Linehan job watch upped the ante. I was also determined to see all four teams in the division as quickly as feasible.

The plan now is to see the Cardinals pushing for a 3-1 or 4-0 record on the road against the Jets in Week 4.

But I would appreciate your input in picking which games to cover. I'll run a list of all NFC West games through Week 8 below, ranked in order of perceived attractiveness, with comments for each game. If my priorities are out of whack, don't hold back. Tell me where to go.

(Read full post)

Cardinals, Rams brace for the road

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
5:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Teams are continually looking for ways to improve their travel experiences. Home teams have enjoyed only a 16-15 record through two weeks.

The Rams are leaving for Seattle on Friday afternoon, and coach Scott Linehan plans to let players sleep later than usual Saturday as their bodies recover from the long plane flight.

"It's a long flight and that's a problem," Linehan said. "It seems like we're always really dead when we get there on Saturdays because it's a four-hour flight."

The Cardinals plan to spend next week at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., between road games against the Redskins and Jets. Quarterback Kurt Warner said he would rather return home to be with his family between games.

"Not a huge fan of being away form the family for a week, but willing to do whatever it takes to give us the best opportunity to win," Warner said.

The Cardinals have an early kickoff Sunday. They begin practices at about the same time, Warner said, and most players he knows would rather wake up and go play. That's a little different interpretation than the Seahawks have voiced.

Warner, Cards have seldom been better

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
12:18
PM ET
 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Kurt Warner, right, connected with Anquan Boldin six times for 140 yards and 3 scores last Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Kurt Warner highlights blurred together during the Arizona Cardinals' 31-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.

Warner to Anquan Boldin for 79, 27 and 16 yards. Warner to Larry Fitzgerald for 75, 31 and 20 yards. Warner to rookie running back Tim Hightower for 20 yards. Warner to third receiver Steve Breaston for 18 yards. Warner to tight end Ben Patrick for 15 yards.

By day's end, Warner had become the first player in NFL history to attempt at least 20 passes, complete at least 75 percent of them and average at least 15 yards every time he threw. Not the first Cardinals player. The first NFL player. Ever.

"What I watched out there today was a hell of a job by Warner," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said afterward.

It's all good in Arizona right now. The Cardinals are 2-0 for the first time in 17 seasons and Warner's numbers suggest he's back to his old MVP form. But when I asked Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley to single out his quarterback's top three plays of the season, Haley pointed to an incomplete pass among them.

Yes, Haley loved the 79-yard touchdown strike to Boldin early in the Miami game. Warner recognized the Dolphins' blitz almost instantly, saw the safety out of position on the weak side and started his throwing motion before Boldin had made it even 7 yards downfield.

Haley also singled out a crucial third-down pass to Steve Breaston on a flag route during an opening-week victory at San Francisco.

But it was one of only five incomplete passes Warner threw against the Dolphins that validated what Warner also showed during the opener: a newfound ability to bail on a play with an eye toward the bigger picture. It's the No. 1 reason Arizona has a chance to sustain its fast start heading into road games against the Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

(Read full post)

On the air: Cardinals in Week 3

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Fox's Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa get the call when the Cardinals visit the Redskins for a Week 3 game at FedEx Field. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.

WeekTeamOpp.NetworkCrewCrew Rank
1ARISFFoxSam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers5 of 7
2ARIMIACBSBill Macatee, Steve Beuerlein7 of 7
3ARIWASFox
Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
2 of 7

CBS and Fox each have seven NFL crews. The higher-ranked crews draw more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

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