Arizona Cardinals Need To Protect the Nest, Regain Home Field Advantage
University of Phoenix Stadium was the Cardinals' mecca last season, where they rode the fan noise to a 6-2 regular season home mark, and concluded it there with a historical NFC Championship victory over the Eagles in front of an emotional crowd.
Sitting at 1-2, Arizona desperately needs to recharge its fan base and regain this asset. The Cards have lost both home games so far, and with another loss they are sure to lose all of the electricity they worked so hard to generate there.
Houston (2-2) comes in with many of the same burning questions the Cardinals face: Who are the Texans?
The teams also share strengths. When QB Matt Schaub is on his game he can be deadly, having the luxury of passing to Andre Johnson, who many consider to be the best receiver in the NFL.
You can't sleep on any of the Texans' other receiving options either, because Schaub is so effective in spreading the wealth. Tight End Owen Daniels and Wide Receivers Kevin Walter, David Anderson, and Jacoby Jones are all capable targets, let alone Steve Slaton out of the backfield. They are currently ranked ninth in passing offense.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are fourth in passing offense, and boast the "other" best receiver in the game today, Larry Fitzgerald. It is no secret what Kurt Warner will do if given the time to throw.
He has WRs Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, and Jerheme Urban to compliment Fitzgerald, and RB Tim Hightower has developed into a reliable check-down option.
Don't let the high ranking fool you, however, as Arizona's passing offense still has issues.
The Cardinals operate best when they are connecting on deep balls, particularly to Fitzgerald, yet so far this season his longest reception went for 25 yards. The long ball may not be effective until they can establish a running threat and protect Warner.
Despite all of the lip service to the contrary, the Cardinals have not improved their rushing attack this season, currently ranking 31st in the league. Furthermore, in two out of three games Warner has had to endure constant duress, as tackles Mike Gandy and Levi Brown have underachieved.
Look for Ken Whisenhunt to come into the game seeking more balance. You can't expect to improve your running game without a legitimate fair chance to. So far Arizona has called 130 pass plays and only run the ball 57 times.
If Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells are given more of an opportunity, it could help take the pressure off of their struggling O-line to pass protect, and open up more passing lanes for Warner.
If they can find a way to strike more of a balance, the Cardinals can own long clock-eating drives and regain their most potent desert weapon-the rabid support of their fan base.
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