NFC West: Cardinals-Titans

Did Titans hold on winning play?

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
5:15
PM ET
Ken from Los Angeles writes: I still blame the Cardinals' defense for the loss to Tennessee, but the hold on Clark Haggans seems to be quite blatant. Had there been no hold, Haggans could've disrupted the play.

Mike Sando: Thanks for passing along this link showing Titans tackle David Stewart blocking Haggans on the game-winning play for Tennessee. Some crews call holding more frequently than other referees. Terry McAulay's crew worked this game. His crew had called fewer holding penalties against offensive linemen than all but four of the 16 other crews, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That might be coincidental, or it might reflect a looser standard for holding.

I think you're right in holding the Cardinals' defense accountable for allowing the Titans to march 99 yards for the winning touchdown. I can also see your point on the holding non-call. There tend to be a few plays like that during the course of the game. In this case, Arizona had its chances earlier, as you noted. Vince Young made a memorable play. It was a great moment -- unless you were rooting for the Cardinals.

Silver linings: Cardinals at Titans

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
11:49
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The facts: The Cardinals fell to 7-4 after a 20-17 road loss to the Titans in Week 12.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Starting quarterback Kurt Warner smartly decided against playing after experiencing sensitivity to light following the concussion he suffered a week earlier.
  • Backup quarterback Matt Leinart improved as the game progressed, helping the Cardinals take the lead in the fourth quarter. Leinart reestablished himself as a more legitimate candidate to replace Warner in the long term.
  • Darnell Dockett played at a Pro Bowl level, collecting three sacks. Dockett played smartly, sometimes letting Vince Young come to him instead of overpursuing.
  • Tim Hightower ran hard and ran effectively despite limited attempts.
  • Role players Early Doucet, Ben Patrick and Beanie Wells made receptions covering at least 21 yards to keep the offense moving.
  • The Cardinals downed five of Ben Graham's six punts inside the Tennessee 20, helping Graham finish with a 48-yard net average.
  • LaRod Stephens-Howling downed one of those punts at the 5, one at the 2 and another at the 1. His 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown kept the Cardinals close in the second half.
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made a few big plays, including when he forced a fumble after a 51-yard reception by the Titans.
  • The Cardinals allowed only one sack.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals face the Vikings at home in Week 13.

Around the NFC West: Cardinals hurting

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
10:07
AM ET
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals aren't the same without Kurt Warner. Bickley: "This game was too painful, and attempts to minimize the sting were feeble and clumsy. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said his defense controlled Titans running back Chris Johnson fairly well, if not for that 85-yard touchdown burst. For a moment, he sounded just like Clancy Pendergast, the former defensive coordinator who specialized in such rationalizations, the same guy that Whisenhunt fired after the end of last season."

Also from Bickley: the final play of the game hurt almost as badly as the Cardinals' defeat in Super Bowl XLIII, according to Whisenhunt.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Warner did not play after experiencing neck soreness and sensitivity to light. Warner: "I had some tightness in my neck all week, so I think we were trying gauge whether what I was feeling was coming from the issues in my neck or whether it was an issue with my head. If we could've pinpointed it and believed that it was just muscular and in the neck, then I probably would've played."

Also from Somers: Matt Leinart did not get additional snaps during the week even though Warner was questionable for the game. That seems like shaky planning, in retrospect. For some reason I thought they had given a few extra reps to Leinart just in case.

More from Somers: postgame notes, including recognition for Darnell Dockett after a three-sack performance.

More still from Somers: Arizona's locker room was just about silent following this defeat. Somers: "It was so quiet, you could almost hear the fan from a beverage cooler." Linebacker Clark Haggans: "You can tell by our locker room, it's crickets, because everybody's hurt."

One more from Somers: Larry Fitzgerald made his 500th career reception. Among all players in NFL history, only teammate Anquan Boldin made it to 500 receptions in fewer games.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers postgame notes, including his take on the Arizona quarterbacks. Urban: "Obviously, quarterback was the big story. Matt Leinart played above average. He didn’t do enough in the first half; he was much better in the second as his confidence clearly grew (I could see it all the way from the press box). He needs to play better, sure. Is it unfair to compare him to Kurt Warner, sure. Warner set the bar high; even if Leinart becomes a star, it’s unlikely he’d ever post the passing numbers Warner does. That's reality."

Also from Urban: He assesses the damage inside the postgame locker room. Dockett: "I'd rather get blown out than lose a game like that."

More from Urban: Leinart's thoughts on playing after not getting many reps. Leinart: "For a backup, I think I get a decent amount of reps but … it’s just hard. The starting quarterback has to prepare. I get that. But it’s tough, because I don’t get to run a lot of the new plays. Today, you kind of wing it."

More still from Urban: Leinart had a familiar feeling while watching Vince Young lead the Titans downfield at his expense.

Fourth-down decisions pivotal in division

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
10:54
PM ET
All four NFC West head coaches made critical fourth-down decisions Sunday, with mixed results:

Rams

The situation: The Rams faced fourth-and-4 from the Seattle 34 with 1:50 remaining in the first half of a tie game.

The decision: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo decided to go for it.

Potential reasoning: Josh Brown had already missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt. The Rams had gained 33 yards on a third-and-4 play earlier in the drive. The Rams entered the game 1-9. What did they have to lose?

What happened: Quarterback Kyle Boller threw to receiver Donnie Avery. Seattle cornerback Kelly Jennings made an aggressive play on the ball, batting it away. Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson picked off the pass and ran 65 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 Seattle lead.

My take: This one is tough to justify because 4 yards is a relatively long way to go. Running the ball isn't much of an option in that situation. The Rams were playing the Seahawks tough to that point. The game got away from them a bit after the interception.


49ers

The situation: The 49ers faced fourth-and-1 from the Jacksonville 37 with 1:58 remaining in the second quarter of a game they led, 10-0.

The decision: 49ers coach Mike Singletary decided to go for it.

Potential reasoning: Quarterback Alex Smith was functioning efficiently. The defense was pitching a shutout. Putting the hammer down in this situation could help break open the game.

What happened: Smith threw deep to tight end Vernon Davis for a 30-yard gain. The play sustained a touchdown drive as the 49ers built a 17-0 lead.

My take: Attempting a 55-yard field goal at Candlestick Park wouldn't have been a safe decision, and a punt might have netted only 17 yards on a touchback. Going deep down the field was a gutsy call.


Seahawks

The situation: The Seahawks faced fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 18 while leading 17-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The decision: Seahawks coach Jim Mora decided to go for it.

Potential reasoning: The running game was functioning effectively and this was a chance to potentially blow open a close game.

What happened: Matt Hasselbeck handed off to Justin Forsett for an 11-yard gain. The Seahawks scored on the drive to take a 24-10 lead, all but putting away the game.

My take: This was a high-risk, high-reward play. Kicking a 35-yard field goal would have produced a two-score differential that the Rams probably would have had a hard time overcoming. The play worked, so Mora comes out OK, but this was a gamble that could have backfired in a big way.


Cardinals

The situation: The Cardinals faced fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 45 with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter of a game Arizona was leading, 17-13.

The decision: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to punt.

Potential reasoning: Punter Ben Graham is playing at a high level this season. This was a chance to pin the Titans deep in their territory. Failing on fourth-and-1 would have changed field position in a close, relatively low-scoring game.

What happened: LaRod Stephens-Howling downed Graham's punt at the Tennessee 2. The Cardinals forced a turnover on the ensuing Titans drive.

My take: The Cardinals' ground game has improved, but a failed fourth-and-1 in this situation would have ceded momentum and field position at a critical point in the game. For the Cardinals, taking their chances against Vince Young seemed like the right call at the time.

Leinart stepping up for Cardinals

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
6:27
PM ET
Leinart
Leinart
For Matt Leinart's confidence and credibility as the Cardinals' quarterback, there might not be anything like a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter of a road game against a hot team.

Arizona has a 17-13 lead against the Titans after the most impressive drive of the season for Leinart and possibly the Cardinals.

Tim Hightower's 6-yard touchdown run followed some clutch passing by Leinart. Leinart found Anquan Boldin for 24 yards and Beanie Wells for 21 yards before Hightower ran for gains of 7 and 6 yards to finish the drive.

The Cardinals are looking like a tough team coming of age here. They have a chance to go 6-0 on the road this season.

Let's see if Leinart can close the deal.

Cardinals respond quickly to Johnson TD

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
6:10
PM ET
The Cardinals' run defense finally cracked against the Titans' Chris Johnson.

But only moments after Johnson's 85-yard touchdown run, the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling answered with a 99-yard kickoff return for a score.

Arizona trails only 13-10 with 3:25 left in the third quarter.

The quick answer allows Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart some flexibility. Falling behind by too much might have forced the Cardinals to lean more heavily on the passing game. The team can now make a continued attempt at balance, which should help Leinart.

Cards have scored with Leinart at QB

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
5:20
PM ET
Matt Leinart's 28-yard completion to Early Doucet stood as the key play in the Cardinals' recent drive to a field goal.

Arizona trails, 6-3. The field goal was significant because it marked the first time the Cardinals have scored during the 2009 season when Leinart was their quarterback.

Opponents have now outscored Arizona 30-3 when Leinart was the quarterback of record for the Cardinals.

A chance to evaluate Leinart

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
2:51
PM ET
Kurt Warner is out.

That is the word from Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic.

The Cardinals now have a chance to see what Matt Leinart can do over the course of a full game. Their three-game lead in the NFC West gives them enough breathing room to make this a net positive, most likely.

Leinart has struggled some in limited work this season. This is his chance to build some momentum.

Revisiting Warner's status vs. Titans

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
12:53
PM ET
Kurt Warner seemed headed toward a likely start against the Titans in Week 12.

The Cardinals quarterback was questionable on the injury report for a reason, though.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Warner awoke with a sore neck Sunday morning, raising additional questions about whether he would start against Tennessee. Matt Leinart vs. Vince Young? It could happen, apparently.

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