NFC West: MNF 082310
August, 23, 2010
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Jim Brown/US PresswireMatt Leinart struggled against the Titans on Monday, going three-and-out three times.Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals gave quarterback Matt Leinart little help Monday night during a 24-10 loss. The Tennessee Titans did Leinart no favors by blitzing against an offensive line that wasn't game-planning, this being preseason.
The Cardinals needed to see Leinart persevere anyway, or at least provide a spark, and it did not happen -- again. Three three-and-out possessions against the Tennessee Titans was not good enough given how much Leinart still must prove.
By my count, Arizona has scored two touchdowns -- wait, make that one -- in 39 possessions with Leinart at quarterback since the 2009 regular-season opener. That figure counts playoff games last season and two exhibition games this summer. Both Arizona touchdowns came during Leinart's only 2009 regular-season start, a game the Cardinals nearly won at Tennessee (and one was on a kickoff return). Some of those 39 possessions fell during clock-killing situations when the Cardinals weren't even trying to score, so the number is misleading without the right context.
Still, Leinart hasn't really earned the right to say it's only preseason -- exactly what he told ESPN's Michele Tafoya on the sideline -- even though this really is only preseason.
More on Leinart to come. Let's jump into seven observations before the Titans dial up another blitz:
1. Leinart has a big target on his back. Fortunately for him, backup Derek Anderson hasn't shown the accuracy to hit it. Anderson brings some swagger to the Cardinals' offense. The team perked up once Anderson entered the huddle. Leinart managed no first downs in his only three drives. Anderson converted one on his first play. Watching Anderson badly miss Steve Breaston wide open in the end zone had to make Whisenhunt cringe, however. Leinart has a better grasp of the offense, too.
AP Photo/Frederick BreedonDerek Anderson completed 11 of 19 passes for 105 yards against Tennessee.
2. Whisenhunt could have helped Leinart more. Whisenhunt could have shown some confidence in Leinart by going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 41 on the opening drive. He opted for a punt instead -- an easy call if the game had counted, but a missed opportunity under the circumstances. Leinart needed help. The Cardinals' pass protection struggled against the Titans' blitzes, typical for preseason. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald wasn't playing and at least one other receiver, rookie Stephen Williams, seemed to surprise Leinart with the route he ran on a third-and-1 play. Leinart gets the benefit of the doubt on that one. He knows the offense. Williams is an undrafted free agent.
3. The defense brings an attitude. Joey Porter drilled Titans running back Chris Johnson early. Clark Haggans brought down Johnson hard. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell tagged Titans quarterback Vince Young to force an incompletion. These were some early signs that Arizona can play with attitude on defense. On the periphery, Stevie Baggs might have helped himself.
4. Trumaine McBride had a rough night. The race between McBride and Greg Toler to start at right cornerback should end with Toler winning the job. That was the expectation entering camp, anyway. McBride didn't help himself Monday night. He gave up one play over the middle, got away with interference after getting beat deep, then gave up a third-down reception. McBride even hit teammate Adrian Wilson while trying to make a tackle well downfield. I didn't see Toler as much, so it'll be interesting to hear Whisenhunt's take once the staff breaks down the game.
5. Arizona might have the divison's best special-teamer. LaRod Stephens-Howling plays special teams at a Pro Bowl level. He was bouncing off defenders during an early return. The MNF crew replayed some of Stephens-Howling's efforts against the Titans during the 2009 regular season, another reminder that Stephens-Howling dominates in coverage. The San Francisco 49ers' Michael Robinson is terrific on special teams, too -- check out his brutal block during the opening kickoff Sunday night -- but Stephens-Howling is right up there among the best.
6. Beanie Wells has to earn his place. What was Wells doing in the game well into the second half? He was doing what backups do. Yes, Wells is still a backup. Whisenhunt isn't going to hand starting status job to him. Makes sense on one level, but if Wells had suffered an injury carrying the ball with less than 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter? He didn't, so all is well.
7. It's not too late for Leinart. A strong showing from Leinart in the third exhibition game could make the Cardinals feel better about their offense in the post-Warner era. The 49ers' Alex Smith stepped up Sunday night despite playing without Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis. The Seattle Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck made a positive statement Saturday night. The St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford will try to do so Thursday night. There's still time for Leinart. Remember, he completed 24 of 38 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns against Green Bay in the third exhibition game last season.