NFC West: Edgerring James

Tim Hightower was driving from Phoenix to Arizona Cardinals training camp in Flagstaff when the call came from coach Ken Whisenhunt.

The Cardinals, having used a 2011 second-round draft choice for running back Ryan Williams, were trading Hightower to the Washington Redskins. Hightower will naturally have extra incentive to play well when his former team visits FedEx Field in Week 2, but not out of vengeance.


"In this business, I’ve seen a lot of things take place, and there weren’t any bitter feelings," Hightower told reporters Wednesday. "It wasn’t anything negative. I have nothing but a great deal of respect for Arizona. I have a lot of good memories with Arizona."

Hightower grew up in Alexandria, Va., and went to Episcopal High School there. He also played at the University of Richmond.

"A lot of thoughts and emotions -- excitement, some sadness, just a lot of emotions all at once," Hightower said of his mindset following the trade.

The 10 rushing touchdowns Hightower scored during the Cardinals' 2008 Super Bowl season were the most since Donny Anderson finished the 1973 season with 10. Johnny Roland had 10 for the Cardinals' 1967 team. Lane MacArthur, Ernie Nevers and John David Crow are the only players in franchise history with more than 10 in one season. Seasons were shorter when they played.

Arizona might have held onto Hightower had the team known Williams would suffer a season-ending knee injury during preseason. The timing worked out well for Hightower, however, because he got the trade news before showing up for camp. That was important to him because it spared Hightower from committing fully for another season, then abruptly withdrawing.

Beanie Wells carried 18 times for 90 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinals during their opening-week victory over Carolina. That was the second-highest total for Wells' career. He rushed for 110 yards against Detroit as a rookie in 2009.

"There was a lot of hype around him coming in to replace me, us splitting roles, being at each other's throats and kind of divided," Hightower said. "But it actually ended up being a close relationship, one of the closest relationships that I’ve had to this day. I learned a lot from Beanie, and I feel like he learned a lot from me. We challenged each other, we pushed each other, and I think he made me a better player."
Arizona Personnel Group vs. Falcons in Week 18 PlaysPct.Runs Yards/ Run
Pass Att. Yards/ Att.
Total TDs
1-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE
24
42.152.818
7.9
1
2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE13
22.894.84
12.3
0
1-RB, 2-WR, 2-TE11
19.3 6
3.5515.81
2-RB, 1-WR, 2-TE4
10.43
2.710.01
2-TE, 3-WR
3
7.00
0.03
0.0
0
2-RB, 3-WR
11.810.00 0.0 0
4-WR
1 1.80

0.0
1
0.0
0
TOTALS57
100.024
3.6
32
8.4
3

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals did something Saturday they hadn't done all season. They did something I hadn't seen from an NFL team in the more than 5,400 offensive plays I've charted over the last few seasons.

What they did during their 30-24 victory over the Falcons -- use two tight ends and three wide receivers in the same personnel group -- might not have much staying power. In theory, the grouping should afford greater perimeter pass protection while still allowing Kurt Warner to choose from three wide receivers. In reality, the Cardinals used the combination three times, all on third down, and the results were ugly: Two incomplete passes and an interception.

The personnel-tracking system I've developed doesn't even account for that personnel grouping. Instead of changing my system to accommodate a personnel combination we might never see again, I eliminated those plays from consideration in the usual Excel file breaking down offensive personnel use from multiple angles. The plays appear in the chart topping this blog entry.

The unexpected emergence of this odd personnel combination plays into a broader theme for the Cardinals. This offense is evolving. The approach Arizona used against the Falcons marked a departure from the way we've seen the Cardinals operate most of the season.

We saw far fewer four-receiver groupings and more two-receiver groupings, with nine running plays from the I-formation and offset-I formation. Two factors are influencing the shift. One, the Cardinals are looking for ways to get the ground game going with Edgerrin James at halfback. Two, the Cardinals have fewer options at receiver when Anquan Boldin isn't healthy.

Boldin's injury situation -- he entered Saturday with a shoulder injury and emerged with a hamstring injury -- could persuade the Cardinals to remain more of a two- and three-receiver team. That style arguably gives the Cardinals their best chance in the playoffs because it facilitates the running game and, by extension, balance.

Arizona used its one-back, three-receiver, one-tight end grouping to great effect against Carolina in Week 8. I'm thinking we'll see that group quite a bit in the playoff rematch.

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