NFL Nation: Cowboys-Cardinals

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals' veteran players give them a better chance to sustain success and reach the playoffs.

Also from Somers: Coach Ken Whisenhunt told the kick-return team he wanted at least one return covering 50 yards or longer. J.J. Arrington made it 93 yards.

Also from Somers: He re-watched the game and came away even more impressed by the Arizona pass rush.

More from Somers: An assessment of what the victory means to the Cardinals.

Somers again: The Cardinals' versatility on offense was a key to the game.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic describes a team mentally tough enough to reach the playoffs.

Also from Bickley: A look at the blocked put that won the game for Arizona.

Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic cites a reliable source in saying these Cardinals aren't the same old ones. Cowboys guard Leonard Davis, formerly of the Cardinals, offers a testimonial.

Scott Allen of RaisiingZona.com had another postgame report ready to go until the Cardinals found a way to win in overtime.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers postgame thoughts, including an in-the-shower confidential involving Antonio Smith and Sean Morey. Smith apparently told Morey through suds last week that he missed the days when Morey blocked punts.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals have finally stepped out of their bumbling past.

Also from Tulumello: How the Cardinals overcame mistakes and poor officiating.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals feel as though they can beat any team in the league.

Cowboys look lost in the desert

October, 13, 2008
10/13/08
12:31
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For a few frantic moments Sunday, the Cowboys made you forget how pedestrian they've become. Marion Barber's mad dash to the end zone and a 52-yard field goal by Nick Folk at the end of regulation temporarily covered up another unimpressive effort.

But with one blocked punt return for a touchdown, the Cardinals delivered a jolt of reality. Arizona won the game 30-24, and any other result would've been a crime after watching the Cardinals dominate the second half.

 
 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
 Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's solid numbers and high passer rating are misleading.

The Cowboys probably should've turned the ball over four times in the first half, but they only had one. The aerial assault on what had been rumored to be an outmanned Cardinals secondary never materialized, and Tony Romo spent most of the day checking down to Barber.

Romo somehow always ends up with 300 yards and three touchdowns, but don't be fooled by those numbers -- or his 113.3 passer rating. He fumbled the ball three times, and was fortunate to lose only one. The only thing that prevented him from giving up a touchdown in the first half was the tuck rule, which makes less sense every time I see it called.

In fairness to Romo, his Pro Bowl-laden offensive line was dominated by the Cardinals' defensive line. Left tackle Flozell Adams offered little resistance as defensive ends Bertrand Berry and Antonio Smith raced past him. I've documented almost every Romo start since 2006, and I've never seen him take that much punishment. People want to ask where all the enthusiasm and child-like joy has gone. Well, getting hit in the mouth every other play isn't a particularly enjoyable experience.

Romo showed up to his news conference with a heavily bandaged right throwing hand. According to the Cowboys, he sprained his right pinky finger. And considering the punishment he took Sunday, he may have gotten off easy. Romo made an interesting statement when asked about the constant pressure he faced.

"I think there's a couple of things we've got to do to counteract ... one of our formations I think some of the teams are kind of getting a bead on," said Romo. "We'll rectify that this week and hopefully learn from it."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Week 6 generally isn't the time for sweeping proclamations, but it's time to state the obvious.

The Arizona Cardinals will reach 10 victories and host a playoff game this season.

Their 30-24 overtime victory against the Dallas Cowboys revealed Arizona as nearly indestructible at home, a reliable indicator for every team but the road-tested New York Giants.

"What a great environment in the stadium today," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Fans were fantastic. This was what a playoff game feels like. Just a good total team win for us, which is nice to see.

"And I guess we're pretty good at home, too."

That last part was what this game was about for Arizona: establishing itself as a team that protects its home turf even when the other team has more talent and the breaks aren't going its way.

The Cardinals have knocked off Buffalo and Dallas at University of Phoenix Stadium in consecutive weeks. It's tough to find a likely home defeat on the Cardinals' schedule beyond a Nov. 23 home date with the Giants.

Eleven teams won at least 10 games last season. Seven went 7-1 and one was 8-0 at home. The three exceptions -- Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee -- beat up on one another in the rugged AFC South.

The Cardinals are 4-2 overall and 3-0 at home. Their opening-game victory at San Francisco bought them early insurance. Four of their remaining games come against division rivals with a combined record of 4-12. Losing back-to-back games against the Washington Redskins and New York Jets doesn't look as bad as it did at the time.

"We talked about going on the East Coast trips and obviously it didn't go well for us from the win-lost record, but I think it made us a mentally stronger team and I think that showed up today," Whisenhunt said.

Ten other things we learned from the Cardinals' victory:

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are finally for real.

They needed overtime to prove it, but their 4-2 record and consecutive victories over Buffalo and Dallas left little doubt. This was the victory Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt needed to demonstrate how far his team has progressed.

Previous road losses to the Redskins and Jets raised questions, but the Cardinals answered them with two impressive victories heading into their bye.

Arizona didn't get many breaks in this game. The officiating worked against them repeatedly. They lost cornerback Rod Hood, who had been defending Terrell Owens.

They even lost the coin toss to begin overtime.

But they still found a way to win when Sean Morey blocked a Cowboys punt and Monty Beisel ran it in for the decisive points. The Cardinals will have a hard time losing their division lead after the Seahawks and 49ers lost again.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One reason I linked to an NFL Rule Book in the NFC West blog: to help explain things that are technically correct even when they seem so wrong.

A reasonable person watching the Cowboys-Cardinals game might have credited Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett with two fumble-forcing sacks on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Dockett did indeed hit Romo twice, knocking the ball free both times. The Cardinals recovered the ball both times. But neither play stood.

Officials wrongly disallowed the first fumble by claiming Romo had been down before the ball came loose. Replays showed otherwise.

Officials got the second call right, at least technically, when they used replay to invoke the "tuck" rule after seeing that Romo's throwing arm was indeed moving forward when the ball came out. The Cardinals recovered that non-fumble in the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but the reversal made the play officially an incomplete pass.

The NFL loses when officiating decisions influence outcomes and defy logic. The tuck rule is another example of rules removing judgment from the game. On the second play, everyone could see that Romo was trying to tuck away the ball when Dockett knocked it loose. That type of play will always look like a fumble to people who don't memorize the rule book for a living.

The Cowboys used the reversal to sustain a touchdown drive, tying the score at 7-7 with 59 seconds remaining in the first half. Terrell Owens threw a block on Patrick Crayton's 55-yard touchdown reception, but officiating is the leading story line so far.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Referee Peter Morelli and crew missed a critical call early in the Cowboys-Cardinals game, ruling Tony Romo down even though Darnell Dockett clearly forced a fumble deep in Dallas territory.

The play was not subject to review, but the league will hear about it if the Cowboys win a close game. Arizona appeared to recover the non-fumble, but the Cowboys kept the ball and backed up the Cardinals with a 61-yard punt. A short time later, officials missed a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston.

Might be time for commissioner Roger Goodell to give his officials another pep talk.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
 Chris McGrath/Getty Images
 Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner is making smart decisions and avoiding mistakes.

The Cardinals used three or more wide receivers on nearly 70 percent of offensive plays against the Bills despite leading the game most of the way. They gave significant snaps to running back J.J. Arrington after putting him on the inactive list previously. I expect Arrington to remain part of the offense after breaking down the Cardinals' production when he was in the game.

I liked the Cardinals' approach to offense against Buffalo. They threw 42 passes without completing one longer than 18 yards. They averaged only 7.6 yards per completed pass -- Kurt Warner has averaged more per attempt throughout his career -- but the Cardinals also allowed no sacks. The tradeoff makes sense as long as Warner continues to make the right decisions and the team continues to convert short-yardage rushing situations.

Putting extra receivers on the field forces a quarterback to make more complicated decisions. Defenses react by putting more defensive backs on the field. The more defensive backs on the field, the more options a defense has in coverage. The more options in coverage, the more important a quarterback's decision making becomes.

The 49ers learned this the hard way when J.T. O'Sullivan threw into coverage with four receivers on the field during a critical second-and-2 play against the Patriots. Rodney Harrison picked off the pass for New England, a pivotal play in the game.

Warner has the experience to avoid those types of basic errors. He also has the receivers to make it work against most teams. Even without Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals can produce favorable matchups by putting three and four receivers on the field together.

This Excel file features sheets breaking down the Cardinals' offensive personnel use against the Bills.

  • The first sheet shows total plays, percentage of plays, total runs, yards per carry, first downs running, total pass attempts, yards per attempt, first downs passing, touchdowns, interceptions and sacks allowed across each of the seven basic personnel groupings Arizona used in this game (plus more specific breakdowns for certain combinations within those seven basic groupings).
  • The second sheet contains play-by-play information sortable by quarter, drive number, down, distance, field position, personnel, play type, ball carrier, yards gained or lost and play result. I also have a few notes on selected plays in the margin.

Edgerrin James averaged 1.6 yards per carry on five first-down rushes with two receivers on the field. These are base runs. He had a 15-yard run on first down from a rare split-back formation with three receivers. His remaining six first-down carries averaged 0.6 yards. Five of these were with three receivers and a tight end. A sixth was with four receivers. Arrington and Hightower each had only one first-down carry.

Hightower converted all three third-down rushing attempts. He had gains of 17 and 6 yards on third-and-1, plus a 7-yard gain on third-and-6. He had runs of 3 and 1 yards on second-and-10. He scored on second-and-goal from the 2 and he had a 1-yard run on second-and-7. His lone first-down carry gained 5 yards on first-and-goal from the 7.

Arrington gained zero yards on his lone first-down carry. He had gains of 5 and 8 yards on second-and-10. Arrington rushed for 14 yards on third-and-9. The Bills stopped him for no gain on a third-and-2 run. He gained 13 yards on a screen pass on third-and-13.

James still got 21 carries, but the production wasn't great. Expect Arrington and Hightower to continue getting touches because both are producing.

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