Cardinal Offense Needs Quarterback-Running Back Chemistry

Tom HighwayCorrespondent IJune 24, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Tim Hightower #34 of the Arizona Cardinals runs the ball against Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Last offseason, I penned several editorials here at Bleacher Report predicting a Super Bowl run for the Cardinals in 2008—but only under the condition that head coach Whisenhunt bench the ineffective, first-round draft bust Matt Leinart and return Kurt Warner to the starting QB job.

Since then, and due to my previous insight, many have inquired of my predictions for this upcoming season.

This year, my crystal ball tells me that the running back position will see dramatic improvement—not necessarily in total rushing yards but certainly in yards per carry and pass receiving. 

When defenses slant their formations to cover Arizona's formidable passing attack, the Cardinals will finally become a threat to gash the opposition with big gains on the ground, as opposed to the past three seasons in which Edgerrin "No Gain" James would stumble along for two-yard carries despite facing predominantly spread-out, nickel defenses.

When the dust settles from James' release, I also expect more of his story in Arizona to see the light of day.  We all remember him arriving and declaring that the Cardinal offensive line had better not "(bleep) up his hall of fame", and his stubborn refusal to attend voluntary offseason workouts with his teammates.  And who could forget his regular, public finger-pointing at the offensive line for his lack of production?

And then there was the rumor that he skipped a practice before he laid that egg in the 2008 regular season Carolina game with a fumble, a dropped screen pass, and 2.4 yards-per-carry (the game that finally got him benched); and most thought it despicable that he tried his best to disrupt the team with his demand for a release while the Cards were destined for the playoffs.

Finally, there was the case of James' awful receiving hands.  Most realized that he was not a speed back, but the discovery that he couldn't catch the ball was a shocker.  Dropping key screens turned out to be one of his trademark specialties in Arizona.  He even dropped an important one in the Super Bowl (on the very next play after his 15-yard illegal chop block penalty).

For three seasons, James carried himself as if he were too good for the Cardinal organization, but in the end the Cards turned out to be too good for him.

If Tim Hightower, Chris Wells, and Jason Wright can be productive and develop the kind of receiving chemistry with Warner that James could not—or simply would not—then the offense will become even more potent than last season.

The chemistry between Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk was legendary in their "Greatest Show on Turf" days.  Even on passing plays, the checkdown to Faulk became one of the Rams' most dangerous weapons.  And the chemistry between Warner and Tiki Barber was equally deadly during their nine games together with the Giants in 2004.  In that stretch, Barber posted the highest all-purpose yardage of his career, as Warner helped elevate his per-game totals up to those of an MVP-caliber running back.  In fact, in 1999, Faulk was a 1000+ yard receiver; and in 2004, Barber was on-pace to exceed 1000 receiving yards, as well.

Is it a coincidence that Kurt Warner has helped elevate 4 wide receivers to the Pro Bowl?  And is it a coincidence that Warner helped elevate 2 running backs to MVP-caliber, all-purpose production?  The answer is an obvious "no".  All phases of an NFL offense are triggered by the quarterback, and Warner has proven to be the master at utilizing every surrounding weapon at his disposal to carve up opposing defenses.

If quarterback/running back synergy can be established in the desert in 2009, then the Cardinals will keep opposing defenses off-balance, continue their dominance of the NFC West, and make another run at the Super Bowl.