NFC West: Jake Delhomme

A few thoughts on each of the known candidates for the Arizona Cardinals head coaching vacancy:
  • Andy Reid: Hiring Reid would have been the safest move for several reasons. Reid has 130 regular-season victories and a Super Bowl appearance, so he's proven. Reid could have assembled an experienced staff quickly. Arizona would have won the hiring-day news conference had Reid taken the job. Finding the next up-and-coming coach is tougher than identifying the established ones. Reid was the safest choice, but was he the best one? He favors a relatively traditional West Coast offense. Most of the league appears to be heading in another direction.
  • Ray Horton: The Cardinals' defensive coordinator presumably remains in consideration while the team interviews other candidates. On-field results suggest he's done a very good job coordinating the Cardinals' defense. Some have hinted that Horton might be able to land Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, but it's unclear whether that is true. Horton has said he would hire someone to run the defense if Arizona promoted him to head coach. That would free up Horton to focus on being a head coach, but a trade-off could be weakening the one area where Horton could make the Cardinals strongest, on defense.
  • Mike McCoy: The Denver Broncos offensive coordinator will presumably remain occupied by the playoffs for as long as his current team remains in contention. He gets credit for successfully adapting the Broncos offense to Tim Tebow last season and Peyton Manning this season. McCoy previously spent most of his career with Carolina. The Panthers ranked near or below the NFL averages in third-down conversion rate, touchdowns, points per drive and NFL passer rating from 2004 through 2008, the years when McCoy coached quarterbacks or coordinated the passing game. McCoy is known for getting along well with others. He had a positive working relationship with Jake Delhomme and was instrumental behind the scenes in relating to mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith.
  • Jay Gruden: Gruden just finished his second season as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator. He played quarterback in college and should have a good feel for the position, a plus for the Cardinals as they try to improve behind center. Gruden's work with 2011 draft choice Andy Dalton works in Gruden's favor. Gruden, 45, had a winning record as a head coach in the Arena League. Dalton's postseason struggles (zero touchdowns, four interceptions) and overall ineffectiveness on third down may or may not reflect on Gruden. Dalton ranked 36th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR on third down this season (10.5). Even Mark Sanchez was better (16.4). Arizona's Ryan Lindley (4.1) and John Skelton (1.4) were worse than Dalton, but neither played enough to qualify in the rankings. They were 38th and 39th, respectively, in third-down QBR among players with at least 50 pass attempts. Kevin Kolb was 33rd at 19.2.
  • Todd Haley: Haley wants the job, but he has been reluctant to embrace the process without first knowing how serious the Cardinals are about hiring him. The Cardinals have turned over much of their offensive roster since Haley left his job as the team's offensive coordinator following the 2008 season. Sure, Haley knows Larry Fitzgerald, but that isn't reason enough to hire a head coach. The Cardinals would have to feel Haley could help them identify talented quarterbacks and then develop them quickly. Haley was Kansas City's head coach when Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel tossed 27 touchdown passes with seven interceptions in 2010. The team finished 10-6. Cassel, despite a 93.0 NFL passer rating that year, graded out as merely average that season in Total QBR (52.2), however, and he no longer projects as a starter. That might actually reflect positively on Haley. Perhaps he was able to get a winning season from Cassel while other coaches could not. But as some have mentioned, Charlie Weis could have played a more prominent role. He was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2010.

More to come as long as the wireless remains functional on my 5-hour, 41-minute flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle.
Jesse Reynolds, an Arizona Cardinals fan deadlocked in a debate over quarterbacks, turned this way for a resolution.

"I have searched everywhere but haven't been able to find the data that supports (or contradicts) my argument that the Cardinals were one of the most-blitzed teams last year because no one feared our quarterbacks," Jesse wrote to me via Facebook. "Could you help find the numbers? I'm sure other NFC West teams' fans would love to know their numbers, too."

Blitz numbers usually tell us which defenses were more aggressive. But if we flipped our perspective, as Jesse suggested, we could find out which quarterbacks commanded the most respect, at least by this measure. Where to turn? Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information put me in touch with colleague Jason Starrett, who came through with numbers for all 32 teams and for 40 individual quarterbacks.

Thanks to Jason, Jesse is going to win his argument by a knockout.

Opponents blitzed the Cardnials 37.2 percent of the time overall, the sixth-highest percentage in the league. Oakland (39.8), St. Louis (39.4), Chicago (38.4), Carolina (37.5) and Baltimore (37.5) faced blitzes more frequently.

We defined blitzes as plays when defenses rushed five or more defenders.

As the first chart shows, Max Hall, John Skelton, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford -- all rookies playing for losing teams season -- faced blitzes most frequently.

As the second chart shows, five highly experienced quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning, Jake Delhomme, Drew Brees, Matt Hasselbeck and Tom Brady -- faced blitzes least frequently.

Hall and Skelton combined to start seven games for Arizona. Teammate Derek Anderson ranked 17th among the 40 players listed in terms of being blitzed most frequently.

In looking at the charts, a few names showed up in surprising places.

The San Francisco 49ers' Smith ranked higher than expected on the list of quarterbacks facing blitzes less frequently. Was he really "commanding respect" the way Brady commanded respect? Of course not. Does he really qualify as a wily veteran such as Delhomme or Hasselbeck? The answer is "no" on that front as well.

Likewise, quarterbacks such as Hill and Henne wouldn't provide a strong deterrent to blitzing, would they? Why would Green Bay's Rodgers face blitzes more frequently than them?

Other variables come into play. Some teams blitz more frequently than others regardless of opponent. A quarterback facing these teams more frequently would see his numbers shift accordingly.

How well an offensive line picks up blitzes could influence how a defense attacks. How well receivers adjust to blitzes could matter, as could the confidence a defensive coordinator has in his secondary during a given week. A quarterback's running ability and ability to read defenses accurately could factor.

Overall, I'd say it's telling to see the Cardinals' Hall and Skelton blitzed so frequently, particularly relative to the numbers for the more experienced Anderson. It's also telling to see some highly experienced quarterbacks blitzed so infrequently by comparison.

Healthy perspective on Matt Leinart

August, 24, 2010
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Facebook friend E.J. reached out with a question about Matt Leinart's light workload against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

"When Kurt Warner was the starter," he wrote, "I always thought Leinart should play every snap of the preseason (when Warner wasn't in). But to my surprise, they often played Brian St. Pierre and even Tyler Palko. Now that Leinart's time has come, I'm again surprised to see how little Leinart has played."

E.J. pointed to other starters around the league playing longer.

"Could you shed some light on the Cardinals' approach to limiting Leinart's preseason work?" he asked.

Yes. I asked coach Ken Whisenhunt about this issue early in training camp and he surprisingly said there would be no extra effort made to get reps for Leinart. To the contrary, Whisenhunt was reasonably comfortable with what Leinart could do. Getting work for Anderson, who was new to the system, would be a higher priority than carving out extra time for Leinart.

That told me Whisenhunt felt good enough about Leinart to go into the season with Leinart as his starter, even if the offense played the way it played in past preseasons with Kurt Warner under center -- not very well.

Yes, it's more important for Leinart to look good during these preseason games because he's less established than Warner. It's also fair to wonder to what degree Leinart's performances might be affecting Whisenhunt's view of him. My sense early in camp was that Whisenhunt felt better about Leinart than he was letting on -- the last thing he wanted to see was Leinart getting complacent. Whisenhunt has handled other players similarly, so there's nothing out of the ordinary there.

At your request, E.J., I went through gamebooks from the recently completed second week of exhibition games to see how much starting quarterbacks played in general. Special circumstances limited A.J. Feeley, Josh Freeman and Brett Favre to only one series apiece.

The chart ranks preseason Week 2 starting quarterbacks by total plays. The chart also shows total possessions and pass attempts for each quarterback. Leinart could have gotten more plays by converting a first down or two, but I thought Whisenhunt could have given him another series or possibly gone for it on fourth-and-1.

Video: Bradford struggles but Rams win

August, 22, 2010
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The St. Louis Rams lose A.J. Feeley but beat the Browns 19-17 despite Jake Delhomme's solid start.

NFC West teams back OT changes

March, 23, 2010
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All four NFC West teams voted for overtime rules changes in the playoffs.

The 28-4 margin was more convincing than what John Clayton and I anticipated during a recent Double Coverage discussion.

Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis have all played overtime playoff games in the last decade. The new rule would not have affected those games.

The Seahawks suffered a 33-27 road defeat to Green Bay on Jan. 4, 2004 in the game remembered for Matt Hasselbeck's comments during the overtime coin toss. Both teams had possession in that game before the Packers' Al Harris returned an interception for a touchdown.

The Rams suffered a 29-23 home defeat to Carolina six days later when Jake Delhomme threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith on the first play of the second overtime.

Seattle suffered a 27-24 road defeat to Chicago on Jan. 14, 2007 after failing to score on the first possession of overtime.

The Cardinals' 51-45 playoff victory over Green Bay following last season featured a defensive touchdown after the Packers fumbled on the opening possession of overtime.

Around the NFC West: Draft Bradford

March, 11, 2010
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Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. Miklasz: "Bradford has accuracy, he's a winner, he scored high on the intelligence test and by all accounts is a high-character individual. If his shoulder is good to go -- and every indication is that it will be -- then he's worthy of the top pick. Especially for a team that does not have a quarterback. And before anyone has another anxiety attack, let me add this: Yes, the Rams need receivers and a better offensive line. I know that. I also know it would be silly to hurl an overexposed Bradford into a shark tank. The wiser approach would be to gradually ease him in. But the Rams wouldn't be drafting Bradford with 2010 in mind; we're talking about a long-term franchise piece here. This is about the big picture. And it's another reason you keep Steven Jackson; a strong running game will help protect a kid quarterback."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams re-signed tight end Daniel Fells after declining to tender him as a restricted free agent.

Also from Thomas: "If Bradford checks out medically, and throws the heck out of the ball during his pro day in Norman, Okla. on March 25, it makes all the sense in the world to draft him at No. 1 overall. And I write this as a guy who absolutely loves what Ndamukong Suh can do on the football field."

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat offers Rams-related thoughts, including this one: "The debate over whether the Rams should select quarterback Sam Bradford or defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will rage over the next six weeks, but let’s spare the hyperbole that claims Suh is a once-in-a-generation player and that he is a sure thing. There are no sure things in projecting college players to the NFL, and the reality is that high-picked defensive tackles have just as bad or even worse a track record in the NFL than quarterbacks."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sizes up the Seahawks' quarterback situation after Seneca Wallace's trade to the Browns. O'Neil: "Seattle is in the midst of its first significant shake-up in the pocket since 2005, when backup Trent Dilfer was traded to Cleveland. For the past five years, Matt Hasselbeck and Wallace have been the top two rungs in Seattle's quarterback hierarchy."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Pete Carroll, John Schneider and a full cast of Seahawks personnel people attended the University of Washington pro day. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks are the local NFL team and there is that connection between Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, who left USC for the UW last year, and Carroll, who left USC for the Seahawks this year.

Adam Schefter of ESPN says former Seahawks and Cardinals receiver Jerheme Urban has signed with the Chiefs, reuniting Urban with former Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' haven't committed to Matt Leinart as their starter. He lists Derek Anderson, Marc Bulger, Charlie Whitehurst, Jake Delhomme and Brian St. Pierre as possible competitors for the job. Somers on Bulger: "He's still on the Rams' roster but they are expected to release him, probably after the draft. The timing is tricky for the Cardinals, who would miss out on some other candidates by waiting. Bulger has a lot of experience and is a good guy who wouldn't cause problems in the locker room. But he has taken a pounding over the past few years." There were rumblings during the season that Bulger might retire, but we haven't heard much on that front recently. If Bulger did decide to stop playing, he would be best off to wait until the Rams release him. Otherwise, he might have to pay back bonus money.

Also from Somers: Anthony Becht re-signs, while Larry Foote and Joey Porter are visiting this week.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Arizona should be pretty much set at tight end after re-signing Anthony Becht and Stephen Spach.

Also from Urban: Adrian Wilson doesn't think the Giants have the best safety tandem in the league, apparently.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers might have only casual interest in running backs Leon Washington and Justin Fargas.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers coach Mike Singletary is taking an active role in scouting. Meanwhile, the Redskins are showing some interest in swing tackle Barry Sims. Maiocco: "The Redskins, who brought in offensive tackle Tony Pashos for a free-agent visit last week, are showing interest in unrestricted free agent Barry Sims. Pashos signed with the Browns, while Sims remains a free agent. The Redskins' offensive line coach is Chris Foerster, who held the same job with the 49ers last year. Sims does not appear to be in a hurry to sign. He's just waiting to see where his best opportunity emerges. The 49ers have expressed an interest in bringing him back -- at the right price.

Precedent for how Rams might rebuild

January, 27, 2010
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The Rams were the fifth team of the free-agency era to finish with a 1-15 record. Three of the other four won at least seven games the following season. None selected a quarterback in the first round of the next draft.

Here's a quick look at how those four other 1-15 teams responded (I might expand on this down the road):

  • 2007 Dolphins: Fired coach Cam Cameron after one season. Hired Tony Sparano. Used the first overall choice in the 2008 draft on tackle Jake Long. Signed veteran free-agent quarterback Chad Pennington from the Jets. Posted 11-5 record in 2008.
  • 2001 Panthers: Fired coach George Seifert. Hired John Fox. Used second overall choice in 2002 draft for defensive end Julius Peppers. Signed veteran free-agent quarterback Rodney Peete from the Raiders. Posted 7-9 record in 2002, then signed Jake Delhomme before the 2003 season.
  • 2000 Chargers: Traded first overall choice of 2001 draft to Falcons for package including the fifth pick, which San Diego used for LaDainian Tomlinson. Signed veteran quarterback Doug Flutie and used the first pick of the 2001 draft's second round for quarterback Drew Brees. Improved to 5-11 in 2001, then hired Marty Schottenheimer before the 20o2 season.
  • 1996 Jets: Fired coach Rich Kotite. Hired Bill Parcells. Traded the first overall choice in the 1997 draft to the Rams, who drafted Orlando Pace. Traded the sixth overall choice (acquired from Rams) to Tampa Bay for a package including the eighth overall choice, which the Jets used for linebacker James Farrior. Stuck with veteran Neil O'Donnell at quarterback in 1997 (O'Donnell had missed the final 10 games of 1996). Improved to 9-7 in 1997.
Three of the four fired their head coaches. Three of the four signed veteran starting quarterbacks the next off season (the Jets already had one). Something to consider as the Rams decide how to acquire their next quarterback and how to proceed with the first overall choice of the draft.

Warner could get Pro Bowl call next

January, 25, 2010
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The Cardinals' Kurt Warner moved closer to another Pro Bowl nomination Sunday.

The NFL named Donovan McNabb to the NFC's roster after Drew Brees and the Saints advanced to the Super Bowl. McNabb was the first alternate. Warner, the second alternate, would be named to the game if an injury forced the Vikings' Brett Favre to withdraw from the game.

Favre did suffer an ankle injury Sunday.

Warner is also dealing with injuries after absorbing a hard hit from the Saints' Bobby McCray in the divisional round. It seems unlikely that Warner would play in a Pro Bowl if nominated. The Cowboys' Tony Romo would be the next alternate.

I wonder how many injury-related withdrawals it would take for, say, Marc Bulger or Jake Delhomme to "earn" Pro Bowl honors.

A few signs Carroll has work to do

January, 12, 2010
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Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Stats & Information sent along the following charts after the Seahawks confirmed Pete Carroll's hiring.

Ryan was basically looking at what Carroll inherits: a 5-11 team with issues.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Joemeekfreak checked out the earlier item sizing up playoff pass defenses and said, "Sando, why don't ya make a chart just like this, but only for games they played against winning teams?"

I liked the idea. Instead of adjusting for opponents with winning records, though, I adjusted for opponents with passer ratings 80.0 or higher.

The goal was to eliminate games against teams with weak passing attacks.

Elias Sports Bureau came through with the numbers.

The results were pretty striking as applied to the Packers-Cardinals wild-card game.

Green Bay's pass defense beat up on teams with weak passing games. The Packers allowed 29 touchdowns and picked off 30 passes overall, holding opponents to a 68.8 rating.

The numbers were dramatically different against opponents with passer ratings 80.0 or higher: 18 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 96.2 rating.

The first chart ranks playoff pass defenses against all opponents by passer rating, with the Packers and Cardinals highlighted.

The second chart shows how pass defenses fared only against opponents with passer ratings of at least 80.0. For reference, the top 20 quarterbacks finished with ratings that high. Quarterbacks without ratings that high included Jay Cutler, Chad Henne, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brady Quinn, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman, Jake Delhomme and JaMarcus Russell.

No play-action despite Rams' Jackson

December, 2, 2009
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Steven Jackson's consistently stellar production in the running game should, in theory, make the Rams a dangerous play-action passing team.

That has not been the case.

Marc Bulger owns the NFL's second-lowest passer rating (39.8) on plays when he fakes the handoff, trailing only the Titans' since-benched Kerry Collins among quarterbacks with at least 10 play-action attempts. The Rams' Kyle Boller ranks 22nd with a 93.3 rating in those situations, two spots behind former 49ers starter Shaun Hill (96.1).

Kevin Kolb (158.3), Ben Roethlisberger (157.5), Brett Favre (136.9) and Vince Young (124.9) comprise the top four, with Kurt Warner (118.2), Seneca Wallace (118.2) and Matt Hasselbeck (106.9) among the top 16 . Matt Leinart does not have enough attempts to qualify.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune wonders whether the Seahawks would make a run at Mike Holmgren as their general manager. I'm not sure how the organization could put coach Jim Mora in such an uncomfortable situation, but the Seahawks do hold Holmgren in high regard. Would Holmgren take such a role? Let me put it this way: He has done nothing to discourage such talk.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with cornerback Josh Wilson, who made a run for the end zone instead of taking a knee against the Lions.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks think their running game is showing signs of life. Mora on Julius Jones: "He's starting to pick up the scheme. He's seeing things much better. I think he's understanding where the cut's going to be much better. I feel like he's gaining more yards after contact than he was earlier in the year."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Mora felt like joining Seattle fans who booed the home team after the Seahawks fell behind, 17-0, to the Lions.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks receiver Nate Burleson guaranteed -- sort of, anyway -- a Seattle victory at Arizona. Burleson: "I don’t want to give anybody bulletin board material, but I do believe it was Herman Edwards [who said], 'We play to win the game. Period.' So, we’re going on the road to play a football game, and we’re gonna win. I don’t care what you say. People can print it in the paper, they can send it to the teams we’re playing. But they know just like we know, we’re going to win the game. I’m not taking away anything from the teams we’re going to play on the road the next few weeks, but we’re gonna get on the plane with the mindset that we’re going to win, and we need to win."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt renewed his support for Matt Leinart after benching the backup quarterback following an interception Sunday. Also, the Cardinals' offense finally found a way to pick up big chunks of yardage.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' focus this week is restoring home-field advantage at University of Phoenix Stadium. Whisenhunt: "After two-and-half years of being here and just getting killed for not being any good on the road, it's certainly nice to play better on the road. But now we've got to play better at home. If we can do that, maybe we're on to something."

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have done just fine without Anquan Boldin. Boivin: "With his continued willingness to take shots at the organization and the increasing evidence that the team can survive without him, the odds are great he won't be sticking around."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says inconsistency remains the top issue for the Cardinals even though they are 5-3 and leading the NFC West by two games.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with the Rams while they prepare to face the 8-0 Saints at the Edward Jones Dome. Defensive end Leonard Little: "We've got a great challenge because they've got some great skill position players. Great receivers, great quarterback, great running back. But every week is a challenge."

Also from Thomas: The Rams are not expecting right guard Richie Incognito to return from a foot injury this week. Thomas: "Once again, the Rams are expected to go with Adam Goldberg at right guard and rookie Jason Smith at right tackle against the Saints. Incognito hasn't played or practiced since suffering a mid-foot sprain Oct. 25 against Indianapolis."

More from Thomas and colleagues: How can the Rams beat the Saints? Bryan Burwell: "After seeing Carolina run up and down the field against the Saints, the run-oriented Rams certainly have a chance. If the Rams can stick to a Steven Jackson rushing attack and keep Drew Brees off the field, the home crowd could become a huge factor." Carolina is a contender when Jake Delhomme throws the ball to the right team.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the schedule is doing no favors for the Rams.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Titans coach Jeff Fisher offered high praise for 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, the lone defender with a chance against the Titans' Chris Johnson on Sunday. Fisher, as quoted in the Tennessean: "I think he knew once 52 [Willis] was nowhere in the vicinity that no one was going to catch him. Willis on the field yesterday was the only one that could catch him. I have to compliment him and his play because I have not seen an effort out of a linebacker like I've seen out of the effort out of him. C.J. would have had three more touchdowns yesterday had he not been on the field. It was an outstanding defensive effort by Patrick Willis."

Also from Maiocco: Mike Singletary played for the Bears, but they're just another opponent Thursday night.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says it's desperation time for the 49ers. How will they respond?

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers quarterback Alex Smith graded out better on video than on the stat sheet. Singletary: "It was, unfortunately, one of the better offensive performances that I've seen since I've been here. Take away the turnovers and we have a chance to really have a good offensive game and have some excitement and momentum going forward."

John Crumpacker of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith did a "good job throwing the football" in Singletary's eyes.

Also from Crumpacker: Jason Hill got a chance to play a more prominent role after performing well in 49ers practices.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The rugged Carolina team that failed to show up against Arizona during the playoffs last season made an unexpected appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 8.

The Cardinals, perhaps a bit high on themselves after beating the Giants, seemed completely unprepared.

Instead of catching interceptions from Jake Delhomme as previous scripts suggested the case would be, the Cardinals threw them to Carolina. Kurt Warner, picked off five times, tends to have a game like this every so often. But the Cardinals' defense, ranked No. 1 in yards allowed per game entering Week 8, failed to compensate. This defeat was a team effort.

Arizona's performance demonstrated again that the Cardinals cannot be trusted to perform well consistently. The Cardinals can still be plenty dangerous when threatened or when the stakes are high. But they are rarely a sure bet when the evidence says they should be one. And they should have been a safe bet Sunday.

Warner often could not find open receivers when he did have time to throw. This has been a recurring theme for Arizona this season, and an unexpected one. The Cardinals cannot be at their best while feeding dump passes to running back Tim Hightower after failing to find open receivers. It's one of the angles I plan to explore upon heading to the locker rooms momentarily.

On the injury front, Anquan Boldin did not return after aggravating his ankle injury. Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban and Sean Morey were the receivers when Arizona went to its four-receiver offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A few thoughts as NFC West games approach in Week 8:
  • The 49ers need more from their offensive line. I'm not sure why the team hasn't given Tony Wragge a chance at one of the guard spots, but perhaps it is time.
  • Recently benched 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill seemed reluctant to push the ball down the field, perhaps a reflection of the coaching staff's emphasis on avoiding mistakes. Alex Smith seemed more comfortable taking those chances. Smith has nothing to gain by mimicking Hill. He needs to cut loose a little bit. I expect him to play aggressively.
  • Nate Clements is not finished as a starting cornerback for the 49ers. He hasn't looked right at times this season, particularly recently, and he was never a shutdown cornerback, but Clements can still be a good player, in my view.
  • Kurt Warner should pay special attention to getting rid of the ball quickly early in the game against the Panthers. He basically needs to convince Carolina that its pass rush isn't going to get there no matter how well Julius Peppers and the Panthers apply pressure. Warner did this effectively in the playoff game against the Panthers last season, as I recall. Once that happens, a quarterback can take more time later in the game.
  • Jake Delhomme's interceptions appear almost entirely responsible for the Panthers' struggles this season. Carolina seems to have a good offensive line. Massive turnover on the coaching staff could be hurting the Panthers, but this team shouldn't be nearly this bad. Delhomme's problems have transcended situations, but his numbers against added pressure are second-worst in the league among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts. The numbers, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: 22-of-47 passing for 315 yards with one touchdown, six interceptions and a 36.5 rating. Ouch. Delhomme has three touchdowns and seven interceptions against standard pressure.
  • The Seahawks expected their running game to hit stride at about this part of the season, but that assumed at least some continuity on the offensive line. The constant shuffling up front will likely delay the ground game's emergence, putting additional pressure on Matt Hasselbeck to carry the offense -- a tough task for a team that seems to change left tackles every week or two.
  • Nate Burleson has been the Seahawks' best wide receiver. He ranks ninth among NFL wide receivers with 157 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The top eight: Wes Welker (266), Hines Ward (235), Miles Austin (225), Andre Johnson (224), DeSean Jackson (208), Santonio Holmes (206), Hakeem Nicks (173) and Roddy White (171).
  • Something has to give when the Rams' weak pass offense meets the Lions' weak pass defense. Detroit has allowed 17 passing touchdowns this season. The Rams have scored only five. Opposing quarterbacks have a 117.8 rating against the Lions this season. If the Rams cannot have success against this pass defense, then what?
  • The Lions' Calvin Johnson and the Rams' Steven Jackson have combined for one touchdown this season (Johnson scored it). I like both players' chances of finding the end zone in Week 8, assuming Johnson's injured knee allows him to contribute. (Update: Calvin Johnson is inactive for today's game)

I'm heading to University of Phoenix Stadium shortly to watch the early games on TV and the Panthers-Cardinals game in person. Have a great first day of November.
Getty Images
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).

What happened?

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.
Pat Yasinskas: After the playoff game, I personally had some doubts about Delhomme, as did a lot of fans. He threw those five picks and I thought there was a chance they would at least bring in someone to compete with him -- not to replace him, but to compete with him. They did not do that. He had one year left on his deal and they signed him to a contract extension. I understand the loyalty coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney felt toward Delhomme because he has obviously done a lot for that franchise and he is a leader in the locker room. But in hindsight, that game against the Cardinals and even a few late-season games last year showed that he was declining and they should have sought out alternatives.

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.

Coaching turnover

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.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had a good thing going on the offensive staff when coordinator Todd Haley left to coach the Chiefs. I think Arizona is still sorting through the aftermath of that one. Haley and Warner were tight. Haley knew how to push players' buttons. He called the plays and the offense was in a rhythm. The offense is still finding its identity a little bit. On defense, Whisenhunt failed to land Keith Butler from the Steelers after firing coordinator Clancy Pendergast. He promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis instead. Either way, the defense was going to become more straightforward, with an emphasis on reducing big plays allowed. It's still too early to pass judgment on Davis, but the defense has played very well recently. Overall, Whisenhunt is certainly on the rise, whereas there's a perception Fox has possibly run his course in Carolina.

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.

Salary-cap limitations

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.

Divergent outlooks

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.

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