NFC West: Clancy Pendergast
Ray Horton's classic interview with XTRA Sports 910 AM gave Mike Jurecki, Tim Ring and I plenty of material for discussion during our latest NFC West conversation .
With Horton's departure as defensive coordinator in mind, I've put together a chart showing where the Cardinals ranked in several defensive categories during the tenures of their three most recent defensive coordinators, including Horton.
Bill Davis and Clancy Pendergast coordinated Arizona defenses with varying levels of talent and varying levels of assistance from the Cardinals' offense.
Another season with that record would feel like stagnation.
That is one reason the Seahawks would be best off, at least in theory, using their early draft choices for immediate contributors. Selecting a quarterback in the first round Thursday would qualify as more of a long-term move -- and perhaps as a redundant one, given Matt Flynn's addition through free agency.
Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest says there's no way the Seahawks should select Ryan Tannehill in the first round. Thiel: "Carroll had so many good quarterbacks at USC that he tends to see the world behind center in Trojan colors. But as has been pointed out to him numerous times, relative to their respective empires, the Seahawks aren’t the Trojans. Tannehill isn’t the next Matt Leinart. Actually, maybe he is, which is even worse." Noted: Carroll and general manager John Schneider continue to speak glowingly of Tannehill. The team could be interested in Tannehill and/or trading back in the draft with a team eager to land him.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com has this to say about the team's needs: "An edge pass-rusher is high on Carroll's list, but he’d also like to add to competitive aspect of the roster by adding a touchdown-maker on offense, a young quarterback and depth and unique qualities at linebacker. Carroll said he’s even open to adding to the already large pile on the offensive line and the talented collection in the secondary, if the right player is there."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times likes what he sees from Carroll and Schneider. Carroll on going young: "One of my favorite coaches ever, Bud Grant, said one time, 'For every young guy you start, you lose a game.' That was classic, traditional thinking. I was of that mindset in classic fashion until I had to be in charge of calling all the shots, and then it just flipped in me that we don't know where we're going unless we find these guys out."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along notes from the Seahawks' pre-draft news conference Monday, including this one: "Barrett Ruud, Seattle's projected starting middle linebacker, is not healthy. Carroll said he’s still recovering from groin, knee and shoulder injuries that landed him on the injured reserve while he was with Tennessee last year." Noted: Seattle will presumably find a starting linebacker in the draft. Ruud is veteran insurance, but not a player to count on at this stage.
Draft analyst Rob Rang considers wide receivers and running backs Seattle could consider, one per round in the upcoming draft.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams ran top receivers Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright through last-minute pre-draft workouts. Thomas: "A six-person Rams contingent traveled from site to site via private jet, a contingent that included coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president for football operations, joined the others for the Blackmon workout."
Also from Thomas: Gil Brandt thinks the Rams strongly need to consider selecting Blackmon. Thomas: "Former Rams general manager Billy Devaney was known to say that you could always find a receiver. Thus, it is not a surprise that the team has not used any of its 14 first-round picks since 2000 on the position. The only second-round receiver was Donnie Avery. Instead, the Rams have hoped that lesser-known names would produce. Since drafting Holt they have picked 13 receivers, who have averaged 1 1/2 years with the team each and produced a combined 450 catches, 5,420 yards and 26 touchdowns."
More from Thomas: The Rams need help at linebacker. Thomas: "There are some legitimate options for the Rams in rounds 2-4, including Mychal Kendricks of California and Sean Spence of Miami, who paid pre-draft visits to Rams Park. Kendricks was named Pacific-12 Conference defensive player of the year last season after racking up 107 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. Under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, Cal ran a complex scheme, and Kendricks was used in a variety of ways -- playing inside, outside and used as a blitzer. (He had 8.5 sacks in 2010.)"
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic asks whether the Cardinals would select receiver Floyd even if offensive tackle Riley Reiff were available to them with the 13th overall choice.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Floyd-Reiff dilemma is a tough one. Somers: "And depending upon the day, I've taken both players. I guess I have myself covered. My thinking today is that the Cardinals will take Reiff, figuring that they are good enough at receiver with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and whomever emerges from the rest of the pack. They haven't taken an offensive lineman above the fifth round since 2007, so it's time."
Also from Somers: The Cardinals have become more apt to trade draft choices since Ken Whisenhunt succeeded Dennis Green as head coach, with mixed results. Somers: "Green, who coached the team from 2004-06, preferred to stay rooted in the team's original draft slot. His mantra was to never fall in love with players. But since 2007, coincidentally the year Ken Whisenhunt became coach, the Cardinals have been more active during draft week. That year, they made two trades on draft week. In 2010, they made three during the draft in addition to two others that came before. The results have been mixed, but the Cardinals have shown they won't always sit still during the three days of the draft."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks the 49ers will address guard, running back and wide receiver in the 2012 draft. Barrows: "While the need for an offensive tackle in 2010 and a quarterback last year helped narrow the list of draft candidates, San Francisco's stacked roster this year means it can go in many directions."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com picks one player per round for the 49ers. On first-round projection Kevin Zeitler: "Right guard might be the only starting job on the team that's up for grabs, and Zeitler would enter that competition against Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore. Zeitler fits the 49ers' style. He started three seasons and won the Badger Power Award for he weight-room dedication. At the combine, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 32 times -- 14 more than his former Wisconsin teammate Peter Konz."
I stood along the back of the end zone and watched the offense push around the defense convincingly.
My take then: "Defensive coordinator Ray Horton should know by now he's not in Pittsburgh any longer." My take now: After two games, Horton really knows he's not in Pittsburgh. And just to be sure of it, Horton will have to watch the Steelers' defense during its Week 2 shutout against Seattle while preparing to face the Seahawks in a Week 3 game at CenturyLink Field.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says former Cardinals coordinators Clancy Pendergast and Billy Davis must be feeling some vindication after watching the Cardinals' defense allow more than 900 yards in the first two weeks of the season. Noted: I had similar thoughts watching the Washington Redskins amass 477 yards during a 22-21 victory against Arizona on Sunday. Not that the defense necessarily would have performed any better with Pendergast or Davis.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says former Cardinals running back Tim Hightower took credit for baiting his former team into a 15-yard penalty early in the game. Hightower called it knowing which buttons to push. Hightower: "I'm trying to think of all the adjectives that I could use right now that are coming to mind. Happy. It feels great. I tried to tell myself all week that this was just another game, but it wasn't. It meant a lot to me. I wanted this one really bad."
Also from Somers: The Cardinals are entering a critical stretch of seemingly winnable games, but their defense has to play better. On Kevin Kolb, whose 73-yard scoring pass to Larry Fitzgerald put Arizona ahead, 21-13: "I can see why coaches wanted Kolb. He can make all the necessary throws. He's tough. And he understands leadership. He takes more than his share of the blame for losses and other failures. That throw to Fitz and the hit he took? I don't see how anyone could watch that and think Kolb's not suited to be a good starter." Noted: The challenge for Kolb is playing aggressively without taking too many chances. Kolb agreed Sunday that this is a line he walks.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects no significant changes to the Cardinals' offensive staff this offseason. Somers: "Whisenhunt clearly doesn't think changing his offensive staff is warranted. I look for him to turn more of the play calling duties, perhaps all of it, to passing game coordinator Mike Miller next year. I think that will be the only significant change, unless one of his position coaches gets an offer he can't pass up."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team has re-signed fullback Charles Ali.
Also from Urban: a look at plays that defined the 2010 season for Arizona. Urban: "The quarterback shuffle clearly became a major storyline of the season. The first imprint came in San Diego. With the Cards struggling on both sides of the ball and trailing 21-7 (with a Kerry Rhodes fumble return the only Arizona score), Anderson threw an interception returned by linebacker Shaun Phillips 31 yards for a touchdown. When the Cards got the ball back moments later, it was rookie Max Hall – who had briefly played at the end of the Atlanta loss – getting his first significant playing time. It turned into his first start the following week, and from that point on, Hall, Anderson and rookie John Skelton all received their own chunk of time in the starting lineup."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with ESPN's Trent Dilfer for thoughts on Matt Hasselbeck's prospects at Chicago. Dilfer: "If you do what he thinks you’re going to do, and he has any time in the pocket whatsoever, he’s going to slice and dice you. That’s well known throughout the league. I was shocked that the Saints didn’t change things up on him more. They know that about him. And I’m just moving forward to this Bears’ game -- same thing. And I went back and watched the Week 6 matchup -- and I know very little carries over from earlier in the season, I get all of that -- but he was so comfortable with what he was looking at in that game, too. ... Rod Marinelli has to give him some change-ups, especially in the first quarter to occupy some space in his brain. If his brain isn’t cluttered, look for Matthew to deal in this game as well."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seattle linebacker Will Herring, who can't recall quite when he suffered a broken wrist in the wild-card game against New Orleans.
Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times puts Marshawn Lynch's run in perspective by ranking 10 moments in Seattle sports history. Condotta: "The most memorable moment of the first era of Seahawks football might have been an a unlikely play from a most likely source -- a hit by Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent on Denver DB Mike Harden on Dec. 11, 1988. Harden had earlier in the season delivered an illegal hit on Largent that drew a $5,000 fine in a Seahawks loss in Denver. A few months later, when Harden picked off a pass, Largent got his revenge, forcing a fumble with a hard shoulder-first hit that leveled Harden. Better yet, Largent got the recovery as Seattle earned a key victory on its way to its first division title."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a step-by-step look at Lynch's run.
Also from Condotta and O'Neil: Seahawks notes, including one on Raheem Brock's contributions to the Seattle pass rush.
Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Russell Okung hasn't been healthy all season. Kelley: "Drafting Okung was the right call. But it seems he's lived a haunted life since draft day. Because he held out, he missed the early days of camp, the important tutoring and technique days before the games began. Then he injured his right ankle in August and missed the first three regular-season games. Then he injured the other ankle in his third NFL start. When he left the practice field Thursday, Okung still noticeably was favoring his left ankle."
Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com looks at ways the team will stay warm and hydrated in cold conditions at Soldier Field. Malcolmson: "More than 3,000 extra pounds of equipment is being transported to Chicago, raising the cargo load from 14,000 pounds to 17,000 pounds. Besides the suspected winter gear, the equipment department is also packing battery-heated jackets and gloves, cases of hand and foot warmers and enough thermal gear to suit up the traveling party of more than 130 players and staff."
Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from practice Thursday.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams general manager Billy Devaney gives outgoing offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur credit for helping to develop quarterback Sam Bradford. Devaney: "He played a huge part, on and off the field. He helped Sam through the trials and tribulations that a rookie quarterback goes through, dealing with a lot of issues. And then obviously, with the on-field stuff, Pat was a tremendous asset. I think Sam would be the first to tell you what a huge part Pat played in his development."
Also from Thomas: What happens next for the Rams? Thomas: "The two names most commonly mentioned as possible replacements are former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress. Both were fired in the 2010 regular season, and both have backgrounds in offense. McDaniels already has been interviewed by Minnesota for the offensive coordinator job there; Childress is headed to Miami to interview for the same position there, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Childress is one of Spagnuolo's best friends in the business; they worked together for several years on Reid's staff in Philadelphia. Childress would run a version of the West Coast scheme. McDaniels' background is different. The former Bill Belichick protégé in New England favors a more wide-open passing game with more downfield throws. Spagnuolo didn't talk specifics about candidates Thursday."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ranks Ndamukong Suh and Maurkice Pouncey as the top two rookies for 2010, ahead of Bradford. Bradford, through the nature of his position, had a greater impact on his team than Suh or Pouncey. Suh and Pouncey were better at their positions. It then comes down to criteria for the award. Miklasz: "Bradford is the most valuable rookie in the league, because he had more impact in transforming a franchise than any player that entered the NFL in 2010. There is absolutely no question about that. I don't know if any NFL player was more valuable -- when we consider off-field impact -- than Bradford this season. But again, if we're limiting the discussion to on-field performance, I have no problem with Suh getting the honor."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Shurmur's hiring in Cleveland comes as Rams fans complained about the offense's approach. Ross Tucker: "It's so easy in hindsight to blame a play-caller for a certain play because it didn't work. That's always in hindsight. There are a lot of good plays where it was a horrible play call but the defense just screwed up. And vice-versa. There's some great play calls but an offensive lineman misses a block or does this . . . and it doesn't work either. I've never been a big guy second-guessing play-callers or offensive coordinators. There's really only about three, maybe four fan bases in the NFL that really like their offensive coordinator. Think about this, Sean Payton, of the Saints. People like Sean Payton. Then he has that handoff to Julius Jones on fourth and one and now people are criticizing him."
Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis offers names of potential candidates to replace Shurmur. John Ramsdell, Bill Musgrave, Jim Zorn and Chris Palmer are on his list. Stull: "Ramsdell helped in the development of Kurt Warner and also helped Marc Bulger to one of his career best years in 2004. Since leaving the Rams, he has been the quarterbacks coach in San Diego, where he has developed Philip Rivers. Ramsdell could be in demand elsewhere, as his name has come up as a possibility to join Ron Rivera in Carolina. One other note, Ramsdell graduated from Springfield College -- same as Steve Spagnuolo."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says during a chat that he doesn't see Donovan McNabb as a good fit for the 49ers. Maiocco: "Mike Shanahan had him for less than a year and decided he wanted no part of him. And he runs the West Coast system. Is McNabb going to work with a young QB? If the 49ers get a guy in the draft they think is their future, that’ll influence which vet they pursue — a short-term fix (Matt Hasselbeck?) or long-term solution (Kevin Kolb?)."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are closer to putting together a staff now that Stanford has named a head coach.
More from Maiocco: Nate Clements will not be back under terms of his current contract. Clements' salary moves past $7 million in 2011. Maiocco: "The 49ers are expected to approach Clements in the next six weeks to negotiate a new deal. If the sides are unable to reach an agreement, the 49ers would release Clements -- either before the collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3 or after the new CBA is agreed upon."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides updates on the 49ers' coaching staff. Barrows: "Tight ends coach Pete Hoener, a favorite of tight end Vernon Davis, interviewed with the Redskins this week, according to a team source."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Andrew Luck's decision to remain at Stanford could foreshadow Jim Harbaugh's return as well. Maiocco: "A league source told Comcast SportsNet on Thursday that the timing of Luck's decision to announce he was returning for another season might not have been a coincidence. The allure for Harbaugh of having an opportunity to win a national championship next season might be too tempting to pass up."
Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com says 49ers president Jed York looks bad even if the team winds up getting Jim Harbaugh after all. Ratto: "This is why you hire the general manager who’s been around and knows the league terrain. This is why you let him run the football operation without interference. This is why you move aside and let the experts expertify. But no, Jed wanted this to be his big score. Putting his reputation in the middle of the table next to the insufficient pile of chips, he ends up looking weaker. Even if he does get Harbaugh, it won’t be perceived quite the same way. Jed got played because he wanted too much to be a player, and he got played because he didn’t bring enough jack with which to play."
The 49ers' website offers an interview transcript featuring guard Mike Iupati. Iupati: "I think I’m a much better player now than I was when I first came in here. I feel like I’ve improved every part of my game, and its obvious when you watch the film. I learned a lot this season, especially from the coaches. Our o-line coach Mike Solari was great, and it also helps to watch guys like David Baas, Joe Staley and Adam Snyder who have been in the NFL for a few years. I watch and observe what they do as professional football players and I try to do the same things. I try to get any knowledge I can from them because their experiences can help me out."
Clare Farnsworth of seahwaks.com says the team's plan all along was to start Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback against the Saints if he were healthy. Farnsworth: "Hasselbeck has started nine playoff games and is the franchise postseason leader in passing attempts (325), completions (189), passing yards (2,211), touchdown passes (11) and wins (four). His start against the Saints will tie the franchise record held by former Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones."
Also from Farnsworth: Linebacker Lofa Tatupu offers thoughts on Hasselbeck's pregame speech from Week 17. Tatupu: "We thought that meant he was playing. But it was just good to hear from somebody else. Usually it’s myself or Law (strong safety Lawyer Milloy). Sometimes, you don’t want to think it, but maybe your words can fall on deaf ears. So I’m glad someone stepped up."
More from Farnsworth: best friends Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are headed to the playoffs together.
Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times says Raheem Brock still feels the sting of losing to the Saints in the Super Bowl as a member of the Colts. Mayers: "The 32-year-old recorded six sacks in the past five games, including at least a half-sack in four of them. In a division-clinching win against St. Louis in the regular-season finale, Brock had a personal-best 2.5 sacks, including two on the Rams' final drive."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times expresses surprise that the Seahawks did not name Hasselbeck their starter earlier.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hasselbeck kidded national reporters about making a rare trip to the Northwest. Hasselbeck, referring to Seattle as "South Alaska" and saying, "Look at this -- I didn’t know you guys covered the CFL."
John Morgan of Field Gulls says starting Hasselbeck could compromise the Seahawks' ground game while mistakenly assuming the quarterback can produce the way he did against New Orleans indoors. Morgan: "The Seahawks should not pass deep, because Hasselbeck struggles to pass deep and the conditions should only exacerbate that. Further, Seattle should not pass deep because it lacks the kind of consistent passing game and run game to recover after it has burned a down on an incomplete pass. Seattle could potentially bank on the run game, but that should be harder without Charlie Whitehurst to boot and stretch the field horizontally. Instead, Seattle should stretch the field horizontally through screen passes and swings, outs and flats to the backs. The Seahawks should complement this ball-control passing attack with draw plays."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt plans to go outside the organization to find a replacement for fired defensive coordinator Bill Davis. Somers: "Whisenhunt twice has shown interest in hiring Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler for the job. In 2007, the Steelers denied Whisenhunt permission to interview Butler. Two years ago, the hiring time frame was complicated by Butler's hip surgery. Butler, 54, has been with the Steelers since 2003. He works under Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, whom Whisenhunt greatly admires. Whisenhunt has long sought to install a defensive similar to the 3-4 scheme used by LeBeau. Whisenhunt confirmed that former Cardinals secondary coach Teryl Austin also could be a candidate. Austin left the Cardinals staff after the 2009 season to become defensive coordinator at the University of Florida."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Austin finished a "close second" to Davis when Whisenhunt replaced Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator following the 2008 season. Whisenhunt: "As I sit here right now, I have a couple of names (in mind), but I don’t even know the availability of those guys." Knowing which candidates are available is the only way to know whether the team can upgrade the position, unless change for the sake of change is an upgrade in itself. Surely Whisenhunt has a feel for what options exist.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are not bringing back Chuck Faucette, their assistant strength-and-conditioning coach. Faucette was a holdover from Scott Linehan's staff.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams voted Steven Jackson, Sam Bradford, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Bradley Fletcher as their annual award winners. Coats: "Fletcher received the Ed Block Courage Award. Fletcher underwent major knee surgery in October 2009 and was expected to be sidelined at least a year. But he was back in time for the regular-season opener and wound up starting 15 games. He led the team in interceptions, with four."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is getting more respect in Cleveland than in St. Louis. Gordon on the Browns' interest in Shurmur as a head coaching candidate: "Shurmur is a longshot to actually get the job, given the stiff competition, but just interviewing for this gig is a nice career step for him. It validates his standing as one of the game’s emerging young coaching talents, despite how he is viewed locally."
They'll address those problems, at least in part, by seeking a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator. The team fired Bill Davis, its coordinator the past two seasons, in a move announced Thursday.
This marks the second time in three seasons coach Ken Whisenhunt has fired a defensive coordinator. He inherited Clancy Pendergast from Dennis Green's staff in 2007, firing him after the 2008 season.
Whisenhunt, as an offensive-minded head coach, is not in a position to take over the defense if things go wrong. That's why it's critical for him to find the right defensive coordinator.
Pendergast's defense had failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. Arizona had ranked 28th in points allowed per game during the 2008 regular season.
Whisenhunt tried to hire Steelers assistant Keith Butler to replace Pendergast, but Butler remained with Pittsburgh. Whisenhunt then promoted Davis. The defense made statistical gains in 2009, but key young players regressed in 2010 as the defense failed to compensate for an even more dramatic dropoff on offense following Kurt Warner's retirement.
It's not yet clear which direction the Cardinals might go in replacing Davis. They could pursue Butler again. As Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio in Phoenix notes, the team could consider San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, should he become available.
The chart breaks down defensive stats for the Cardinals over the past five seasons.
Grimm ranks as the Arizona Cardinals' most prominent assistant coach, overseeing the offensive line and coordinating the running game. He is also assistant head coach.
Losing Grimm after losing offensive coordinator Todd Haley to the Kansas City Chiefs would further weaken Ken Whisenhunt's staff in Arizona.
We can debate to what degree Haley ran the offense or whether the offensive line has played to expectations under Grimm's leadership. We do know Haley and Grimm have strong leadership qualities. We know Whisenhunt trusted and valued Haley. We knew he trusts and values Grimm.
Whisenhunt's staff has already undergone significant changes. The team fired former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast after the 2008 season. Another defensive assistant, Teryl Austin, left to become defensive coordinator at Florida after last season.
The current defensive staff could change again this coming offseason even though personnel issues are also to blame for the defense's problems this season.
I'll start with the Arizona Cardinals, then hit on the other NFC West teams in order of 2009 finish.
The chart shows the Cardinals' roster counts by position as of Friday, with Week 1 counts for every season since 2003. This makes it easier to see how many players the team might cut at a position before the regular season.
Teams must reduce to 75 players by Aug. 31 and to 53 by Sept. 4.
Analysis: Coach Ken Whisenhunt took over before the 2007 season, so the three most recent seasons are the ones we should pay attention to more closely. The Cardinals' defensive scheme has made some of the front-seven counts difficult to quantify, particularly when former coordinator Clancy Pendergast was using hybrid looks. Adding the totals for defensive linemen and linebackers can provide a better idea of how many the team might keep up front. Also, some of the receivers are hurt, so that 10-man count at the position could be deceiving.
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.
Depth at linebacker has suffered while Chike Okeafor has missed time with back trouble. Linebacker Gerald Hayes has also missed time to injury this season. Byrd was no longer needed as insurance at tight end after Stephen Spach recovered from injury.
Arizona had been carrying four tight ends on its roster, one more than a team typically would. Ben Patrick's four-game suspension to open the season bought time for Byrd previously. Beisel was with the Cardinals last season. He spent time with the Chiefs this season, a natural fit with former Arizona coaches Todd Haley and Clancy Pendergast in Kansas City.
|Kurt Warner’s Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s Panthers have gone in different directions since their playoff meeting last season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Pat Yasinskas
The Arizona Cardinals did more than knock the Carolina Panthers from the 2008 postseason.
Their 33-13 victory in Charlotte delivered a knockout blow from which the Panthers' organization has yet to recover. What should be a Week 8 grudge match between playoff contenders is looking more like a mismatch.
Arizona is 4-2 and riding high following a nationally televised victory over the Giants, the Cardinals' fourth consecutive road victory dating to their divisional-round upset of Carolina. The Panthers are 2-4 and contemplating whether to bench veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has more interceptions through six games (13) than he had in 16 starts last season (12).
NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas pick up the discussion.
Pat Yasinskas: That playoff game changed the momentum for both franchises. Going into that game, the thinking was how the Panthers would thump the Cardinals. Arizona had beaten Atlanta in the wild-card round to get its playoff victory, but the Cardinals were ultimately a 9-7 team from a weak division. They would be no match on the road against a 12-4 team. The upset vaulted the Cardinals toward the Super Bowl while absolutely crumbling the Panthers. Carolina hasn't recovered from it, starting with the quarterback and extending to the defense. The game led to changes on the coaching staff. The Panthers still could have a mental block heading into the rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mike Sando: These teams share quite a few similarities. Both re-signed older quarterbacks during the offseason. Both made significant changes to their coaching staffs. Both faced salary-cap limitations in free agency after naming franchise players. The results have been vastly different.
Fateful QB decisions
|Chris Keane/Icon SMI|
|Jake Delhomme and the Panthers haven’t been the same since last season’s playoff loss to Arizona.|
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had little choice but to re-sign Warner. In the back of their minds, though, they would have been entitled to wonder when Warner might hit the wall. Quite a few other quarterbacks have faded at around age 38. Would Warner be next? He made the trip to San Francisco in free agency, but there was still a sense the Cardinals were bidding against themselves. Committing $22 million to him over two seasons was a necessary risk. In the end, Arizona could not walk away from the quarterback who put them ahead in the final stages of Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals made the right move.
Pat Yasinskas: I think the playoff debacle against Arizona contributed to a rift on the Panthers' coaching staff over the direction of the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac decided he no longer wanted to be a coordinator. His departure started a near-total disbandment of the defensive staff. Line coach Sal Sunseri left for the University of Alabama. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole bolted to become defensive coordinator for the Rams. Secondary coach Tim Lewis left for the Seahawks. On the offensive side, Delhomme's longtime position coach, Mike McCoy, became offensive coordinator in Denver. Fox had passed over him for the same position on his staff a couple of years earlier. Some on the staff felt McCoy should have gotten that job.
|Jason Bridge/US Presswire|
|Kurt Warner has thrown for 1,672 yards and nine touchdowns this season.|
Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely, Mike. There’s a sense of that. Julius Peppers asked out after last season, shocking given that Fox is supposedly a defensive wizard. There was precedent for this. Kris Jenkins asked out for two years before Peppers did. People shrugged and said Jenkins was a flake. But when Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, asked for the same, it raised some eyebrows. Fox used to build his team around the defensive line and suddenly you had the two cornerstones of that line asking to get out of there. That tells you something pretty major right there.
Pat Yasinskas: Franchising Peppers cost about $18 million total in cap space. The Panthers re-signed tackle Jordan Gross to a long-term deal. With those moves, they tied up their cap to a point where they could not do anything else. They did not sign any free agents. They had to let veteran cornerback Ken Lucas go. They could not even re-sign veteran snapper Jason Kyle, even though the savings for letting him go was only $600,000. That severely affected their depth across the board, which was demonstrated when defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and there were no decent replacements behind him. The Panthers have struggled on the interior of their defensive line ever since. They bragged coming into the season that they had 21 of 22 starters back, but the salary-cap issues meant they had absolutely no depth behind those starters.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals charged $9.678 million against their cap by naming Karlos Dansby their franchise player. They paid more than $10 million per year to Warner. Larry Fitzgerald was already making that kind of money. Re-signing Adrian Wilson ate up another huge chunk of cap room, although some of that seemed by design. Arizona did manage to sign cornerback Bryant McFadden from the Steelers in free agency. When defensive end Antonio Smith left in free agency for $8 million a year, the Cardinals plugged in second-year player Calais Campbell, who has played well. Again, the Cardinals' moves have simply worked out better.
Pat Yasinskas: I think we're seeing the end of the Fox era in Carolina. The Panthers still have talent, but Delhomme appears finished. It’s time to blow up the roster and rebuild.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals are a good team with the potential to get better. The Cardinals were 4-2 at this point last season heading into their 30-24 regular-season defeat at Carolina. They should beat the Panthers this time. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably. Some of the games that once appeared toughest this season -- at Seattle, at the Giants, at Tennessee -- are either in the bank already or looking like they will be.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic sifts through the rubble of the Cardinals' Week 1 defeat for clues as to what went wrong. Bickley: "Let's start with the change in leadership. The defense doesn't seem to miss former coordinator Clancy Pendergast one bit. The 2009 unit looks dangerous and dominant, and new captain Darnell Dockett appears primed for a monstrous season. Except this defense did just what it always did under Pendergast, allowing a late touchdown instead of clamping down for a victory. The offense is another matter. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is back to calling plays, and personally, the impotent performance was his worst nightmare. The Cardinals waited too long to go to a no-huddle attack. The passing game seemed resigned to tailback Tim Hightower, who caught 12 passes out of the backfield."
Also from Bickley: Frank Gore's touchdown reception was the play of the game.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals had the second-best quarterback in their opening-game defeat to Shaun Hill and the 49ers.
McManaman and Kent Somers check in with Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, who takes the blame for a busted coverage on Gore's touchdown reception.
Also from Somers: postgame thoughts, including notes on Levi Brown's rough performance at right tackle. Also: "Given the way the 49ers played Sunday, they will be a quick study on offense. They run Frank Gore up the middle behind a pulling guard, throw short to Gore and tight end Vernon Davis, and take the occasional shot downfield. Not much else."
More from Somers: what we learned about the Cardinals on offense, defense and special teams.
More still from Somers: The Cardinals' defensive effort should have been good enough to win.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals' defeat proved this is a new season. Bordow: "Talk about a buzz kill. The Cardinals looked nothing like the team that nearly won a championship last February. Instead, their 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was a hard slap in the face."
Also from Bordow: The 49ers' defensive strategy set up Tim Hightower for a big game as a receiver out of the backfield.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Arizona offense found its rhythm in Week 2 last season. Will there be a repeat?
Also from Urban: The Cardinals' defense "rose to the challenge" in Whisenhunt's words.
|Getty Images/AP Photo|
|Pittsburgh and Arizona meet Thursday night in a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
I joined AFC North blogger James Walker and Jeremy Green of Scouts Inc. for a discussion on the Steelers' and Cardinals' chances of making return trips to the Super Bowl. The two teams meet Thursday night at 8 ET on ESPN.
James raised questions about Ben Roethlisberger's recent play through camp amid potential distractions relating to the civil suit against him. I raised questions about the Cardinals' ability to replace what they lost when offensive coordinator Todd Haley left for the Chiefs.
Jeremy and I debated the merits of Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to replace Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator. And I tried to convince James to rethink perceptions of the Cardinals as a team dealing with distractions.
In the end, we agreed on one thing: The Cardinals still must prove they can win consistently, leaving the Steelers as the team more likely to make a return trip to the Super Bowl this season, even if the path through the AFC offers more resistance.
Ben from Chicago writes: Great piece on the Cards. I'm just as frustrated that besides Warner, they've made NO other moves in FA so far (besides to re-sign some minor players like their punter). What about Bryant McFadden? Did they offer him a contract? This complacency is so frustrating!
Mike Sando: Inactivity can also be good policy. Look at the "active" teams last offseason. Some of them fired coaches. The Browns were aggressive in adding Shaun Rogers and acting as though they were one or two players away from contending. Doesn't work that way.
The Jets were aggressive. Look where it got them. The Dolphins signed lots of players in unrestricted free agency, but most of them weren't the reason why Miami bounced back. The Raiders were over-the-top aggressive. No payoff.
The Steelers have won two of the last four Super Bowls without being aggressive in free agency. Lots of bad money gets spent this time of year. Something to keep in mind.
As for McFadden, I would expect something to get done with him sooner rather than later. The cornerback market has already moved, for the most part.
Paco from Hermosillo, Mexico writes: Hello Sando, thanks for all your hard work these days, really appreciate, I don't like fans going into panic mood about this whole thing. You mention some issues that have happened, but get real, most of it was expected. The only unexpected thing was the Kurt Warner situation and it was resolved.
But, for instance, they knew that Haley was going to the Chiefs during Super Bowl week. Clancy was getting fired at the end of the season if the Cardinals didn't win the Super Bowl. His defense had to be improved. As for Rutledge, he was getting fired regardless of the outcome of the Super Bowl.
The Boldin saga was expected to happen, and we don't know it's final, but trust me, it wasn't a surprise to anybody in the organization. Same with Edgerrin James. As for Karlos Dansby, he is getting his long term deal. They just prevented him from testing the free agent market, but his salary as a franshise player is too high, so they will sign him long term.
As for Antonio Smith, the Texans overpaid for this guy. We have his replacement ready in Calais Campbell. I would rather let other teams overpay for players and take a Steelers-like approach in free agency. About the assistant coaches, that has already been answered by the team, so it's not a big deal.
Bottom line, this is no time to panic. Whisenhunt, Graves and Michael Bidwill, are building something for the long run. Let's have some faith on them. After what they have done in their first two years together, they deserve that.
Mike Sando: Yes, the Cardinals could have expected to have issues with Haley, Pendergast, Smith, Boldin and James. It has been the manner in which those issues have unfolded that has deviated from how the Cardinals would have drawn it up. As I wrote in a previous mailbag, "I do think Ken Whisenhunt is the right coach. It's not time to panic by any means. But, like I said, the offseason has not gone to script for Arizona to this point."
Joshua from Fontana, Calif., writes: Wouldn't taking the best athletes in Aaron Curry or Michael Crabtree (Curry if lions pass) be better for the Rams? How could they pass on that talent? These guys will be stars.
Mike Sando: I agree with your thinking, but I also understand the Rams' needs on the offensive line. They've invested so much in Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson. Rebuilding the offensive line has to be a top priority and probably the top priority. Adding Jason Brown was a start. The situation at tackle puts pressure on the Rams to find a surefire starter at the position in this draft.
Doug from Yelm, Wash., writes: Will the Seahawks still run the West Coast Offense since Hasselbeck knows the system and Knapp is SF grown? What type of defense will the Seahawks run? All three starting linebackers are secure for next season, but with the bigger tackles is there a chance we'll see the 3-4?
Mike Sando: Greg Knapp does have a West Coast background. He will incorporate West Coast concepts without running a pure West Coast offense in the Mike Holmgren mold. Knapp is working extensively with Matt Hasselbeck to adapt terminology in ways that reduce confusion and speed the transition.
The Seahawks do not have the size at linebacker or defensive end to run a straight 3-4 system, in my view.