Cardinals-Jaguars: Kurt Warner's Rhythm Has Jags Singin' the Blues
What a difference a week makes!
One week ago, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner threw 46 passes to collect 22 receptions. This week, it took him only 26 attempts to reach that number and add two more grabs too.
From the first pass of the game through his team record-tying 15th (Jake Plummer), Warner could do no wrong. His 24 receptions in 26 attempts set an NFL record for accuracy (92.3 percent), and that was in only three quarters of work.
The Cards managed to get their running game off the ground too.
So, let's take a look at how the NFC Champs did in week two, shall we?
Cardinals Offense—Passing: A
Kurt Warner was magnificent! From his first pass to WR Anquan Boldin (that slant he runs so well) to his last pass (a 22-yard touchdown to WR Larry Fitzgerald, Warner was "on."
Completing 24 passes in 26 attempts is an amazing feat and an NFL record for accuracy. But more important to Warner and the Cardinals, it helped fuel the sudden discovery of that elusive rhythm that's been sorely missing.
Warner stayed in for nearly three quarters before handing the game over to backup Matt Leinart with a 31-3 lead. His 24-for-26 for 243 yards, two touchdowns, and zero picks could very well earn him NFC Player of the Week honors.
Okay, so the Jags made a bit of a comeback. But despite Leinart's lack of efficiency and inability to put the ball in the end zone, he got some playing time in a game that mattered, with an entire quarter to work with. It couldn't hurt down the road.
The pass protection was better than it has been all year. Warner wasn't sacked once and was rarely under pressure—a solid performance by a group that needed a solid performance.
Warner's record-setting performance keeps me from even adding a minus to that "A" they get in the passing game.
Cardinals Offense—Rushing: B-
Cardinals RB Tim Hightower, coming off the best receiving game of his short career, knows he has first round draft pick Chris "Beanie" Wells breathing down his neck on the depth chart.
Following last week's game against the 49ers, more than a few fans called for Well to start, based mostly on his performance on one drive. I wouldn't be surprised if even a few more of those calls were yelled at TV sets all over the Valley as Hightower looked somewhat sluggish on the opening drive.
But Hightower righted himself and ended up with 72 yards on 15 carries, a 4.7 yard average per carry. Beanie added another 44 yards on 7 carries (6.3 average) as the Cardinals amassed 118 yards on the ground.
Those numbers may not put fear into opposing defenses alone. But with the passing attack running on all cylinders, they were plenty to keep the Jaguar defense on its heels all day.
The reason this grade isn't higher than a B- is twofold.
First, Hightower did look skittish and danced a bit on that first drive, eliciting those (potential) calls for Wells.
Second, Beanie did nothing to put head coach Ken Whisenhunt in favor of that move when he fumbled deep in Jaguars territory on that first drive (recovered by TE Anthony Becht at the one-yard line) and fumbled again later in the game.
The offensive line did their best job to date opening holes and keeping Jag defenders out of the backfield.
Thus, the overall rushing grade is a B-.
This is a terrific one-two punch, and the guess here is that the depth chart will remain unchanged—at least for now.
Cardinals Defense—Passing: B+
Normally, you wouldn't give a high B when a team allows the opposing quarterback (David Garrard) to throw for almost 300 yards (282) and two touchdowns.
But the Cardinals pass defense was solid throughout the game, only seeming to relax in "garbage time." With a 31-3 lead, the defense may have let down a bit, thus the B instead of an A.
Before those two TD drives late, Garrard had only 180 yards, zero touchdowns, and a pick (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) in nearly three full quarters of play.
Another solid defensive performance by safety Adrian Wilson (two fumble recoveries, five tackles, and general disruption throughout the game), who gets the defensive game ball.
And the pass defense gets a B+.
Cardinals Defense—Rushing: B+
Karlos Dansby and company had a decent outing against one of the better backs in the AFC and held Maurice Jones-Drew to 66 yards on the ground. Making that stat a wee bit more impressive is that Jones-Drew collected over half of those yards on one play.
LOLB Bertrand Berry, playing in place of Chike Okeafor, had a sack, a fumble recovery, and was a major disruption throughout the game. DT Darnell Dockett had five stops and forced a fumble.
DE Calais Campbell only had a couple tackles but played well and collapsed the pocket several times, allowing others to clean up the mess.
Garrard had 27 yards scrambling, which isn't too bad for the defense.
That the Jaguars were held to under 100 yards rushing could produce an A, but that 36-yard run by Jones-Drew was a big play that never should have happened.
Thus, a B- for the rushing D today.
Cardinals Special Teams and Coaching: B-
When a team gets a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, especially a touchdown as significant as Antrel Rolle's TD off Calais Campbell's block, it immediately makes the entire special teams unit look like they had a great day.
But in this case, it was more of a highlight to an otherwise average at best day for these guys.
PK Neil Rackers made one field goal but missed another. He added four extra points and made a solid tackle early. But he also may have nicked himself on another tackle attempt. No good.
You love Rackers' "want" to play hard and be a real football player. But you want MORE for him to stay healthy.
The Cards' ST unit also allowed the Jaguars to recover a touched ball on a punt. Rolle looked scared out there returning punts and had trouble fielding them throughout the day.
Punter Ben Graham averaged just 36 yards on three punts. Nothing to write home about, to be sure.
Coach Whiz called a good game from beginning to end. His insertion of the backup QB was called into question by the TV talking heads, but I was glad to see Leinart getting some playing time.
The special teams play was undoubtedly below average, as tape will likely show tomorrow. But the play calling and game management was good, and a blocked FG attempt returned 83 yards for a TD certainly makes up for at least some of that.
Thus, the B- grade.
Cardinals vs. Jaguars—Overall: A-
The Cardinals, as noted in my pregame, were in as close as a team can get to playing a "must win" game just two weeks into the season.
They did something they didn't do all last season (playoffs excluded), and that's earn a win on the East Coast. They got their offensive rhythm going for the first time all year.
Warner had a near perfect game. They amassed over 100 yards rushing. The defense played tough. They come home with a win under their belt with the Indianapolis Colts coming into town for a Sunday night matchup next week.
All in all, they did exactly what they had to do—a great game that gets them off the schnide and ready to start defending that division/NFC title.
Overall Grade: A-