To say the least, the Arizona Cardinals' passing game has been less than spectacular. I'm sure that most fans envisioned the 2009 Cardinals as “The Greatest Show on Turf II: Aerial Addition,” or "The Greatest Show on Real Turf." Some kind of sequel to the Kurt Warner-led Rams' heydays.
What with the amazing display of passing acumen and acrobatics on display last January and in Super Bowl XLIII, expectations were justifiably high coming into this season. It was clear that we were about to witness to the next “3 Amigos,” or other such passing success/aerial circus as to garner a nickname in NFL lore.
I mean, we all know the Cards had three receivers cross the 1,000-yard plateau in 2008. We all watched Larry Fitzgerald shatter...not break but absolutely smash playoff receiving records. We watched one of the toughest receivers in the NFL (and frankly, one of the toughest people on the planet) shatter...not break but shatter his face, only to come back a few weeks later, and never flinch going over the middle once he came back.
All these guys all just have another year under their belt. The "oldest" of the trio is a six-year veteran that just happened to set a career team receiving record last week, perennial Pro-Bowler Anquan Boldin. Then there’s the fourth year receiver that is now officially a household name.
Oh, and that Breaston kid, who would be at least a No. 2 receiver on most teams, and still manages to haul in passes and turn them into big gains.
But it all starts with the quarterback, and the re-signing of Kurt Warner sealed the deal.
Okay, as John Madden rightly points out, it ALL actually starts in the trenches. And with the Cards' OL coming off a Super Bowl campaign of 20 straight games intact, and under the stern watchful eye of Russ Grimm, well, they too can only be better in 2009, no?
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to "The Greatest Show on Turf II." The numbers, the highlight film catches, the tackle-busting, churning TD runs, and the accompanying bells, whistles, and hoopla haven't materialized.
So, going with the Madden theory, it’s true that the Cards OT’s have played some of the leagues best over the past month. But so what? There are ways to keep guys off the QB’s back by doubling with a TE, a FB or a RB. Or by rolling plays away from (insert stud DE here). Or, as the Cardinals have done with uneven success, screen over the oncoming freight train.
But all that aside, it’s obvious that Kurt Warner cant move very well. He CAN get rid of the ball quick, but that doesn't do much good if you want to stretch the field.
So heading into Chicago’s Soldier Field for an NFC matchup against the Bears, what can the Cardinals do to get this Show going?
Well, for one thing, LT Mike Gandy won't be going up against a perennial Pro-Bowler this Sunday. Bears RDE Adewale Ogunleye was a Pro-Bowl player, but the veteran hasn't been invited since 2003, with the Dolphins.
But that doesn't mean the guy can't play. He can. He usually leads the Bears in sacks since they traded for him in 2004, and is among the top 10 in the league in sacks with 60+ since 2002.
Gandy has taken a lot of heat. But there’s a reason certain guys like Dwight Feeney, Mario Williams, Osi Umenyiora, and Julius Peppers are perennial Pro Bowlers. Gandy (and pretty much any other OLman) needed help with those guys, and its on the coaching staff to provide it.
Since the return of TE Ben Patrick, the Cards have deployed a two-TE set more. I like that. But it seems they do it more for an extra pair of hands than an extra blocker. I think they need, NEED to do whatever it takes to keep pressure off Warner. It doesn’t matter how open you get down field if he’s on his back (often with the ball escaping his grasp).
Same goes with Levi Brown on the other side. The Cardinals rate sixth in the NFC in sacks allowed with 12. That's not great, but not too shabby. But when you consider that the Cardinals (Warner) are only behind Green Bay (40), and tied with the Rams and Lions in QB hits with 39, it doesn't look as good. Its obvious Warner needs more time, more consistently.
The interior line has played pretty well, at least in passing situations. LG Reggie Wells, C Lyle Sendeline, and RG Duece Lutui have been inconsistent in run blocking but haven't allowed a lot of pressure up the gut. Most of it has come off the ends.
It all starts up front. And if the Cardinals want to show some of that anticipated aerial attack, keeping a TE (or two) in to block might help. I offered this suggestion heading into the Giants game, and it worked when deployed. If that doesn't, then something else must.
Kurt Warner isn't going to suddenly become mobile, and the Cards knew what they were getting when they re-signed him. His 2.2 second release on a three-step drop isn't going to find Larry or Q 30-40 yards up field. If you're going to sign and use an accurate and quick release QB that's a pure pocket passer and slower afoot than...well, me...then you better make sure you provide protection.
Less pressure on Warner by adding blocking help in max protect is going to mean less pressure on Gandy and Brown, possibly cutting down on false starts and holding penalties that have killed so many drives, too.
The Cardinals have an opportunity this week to break out in the passing game. The Bears are good, but not great. If Coach Whisenhunt sees someone being overmatched, then don't dither. Add help, and give Warner time to find his receivers.
They can't double cover everyone, and an extra blocker or two will move LB’s in and safeties up to get more pressure, giving Fitz, Q, and Breaston more field to work with.
Yes, I know the usual refrains. Get a running game going to set up the pass, etc...Some have even suggested putting in a more mobile Matt Leinart. But one is silly/obvious, and the other is just silly.
Blockers. As many as necessary. Roll plays to the right if necessary to keep them off balance, or other tinkerings. But blocking is the ONLY thing that will make it work. It's the only way that I can see to get this “Greatest Show on Real Turf” going.