Scott Z: Ok Chris, we just came off one of the Big Red's most important quality wins in...well, forever, when the Cards dismantled the Vikings Sunday night in Glendale. What surprised you the most in that game?
Chris: It was way too easy. Sure, the Vikings were due for an off game, and maybe they hadn't faced a team all season playing as well as the Cardinals did that night, but I still expected more of a fight. Jared Allen was double-teamed and made irrelevant in the process, and the Vikings didn't appear to attempt any adjustments to take that advantage away from the Cardinals.
Scott Z: To me, the biggest surprise has been the business-like attitude the players seem to be taking. This was obviously a huge game, and a huge win against a very good football team. But the team didn't act like they just won the Super Bowl, where in previous years, they would have. This is a solid and mature team, and it showed following that win.
Who's performance (OK, besides backup LT Jeremy Bridges; that's too easy) surprised you the most, and why?
Chris: I'm a huge Tim Hightower fan as you know. I defended him all offseason when people tried to make the assumption that Beanie Wells was the present and future of the team, ignoring Tim's existence altogether. I have been saying all along that this guy brings a lot to the table, including some things that are not quantifiable, like determination. I think his running has improved in the way it needed to this year. He doesn't dance behind the line of scrimmage as much as he did last year, and that was his biggest weakness.
But to answer your question, Hightower surprised me the most in this game, not just for his pass protection blocking, which was a key to the game, but his nasty streak. It seems to me Tim Hightower is becoming more of a menacing presence on the field, and I am absolutely loving it. Opponents are starting to really fear this guy. He is a punisher.
Scott Z: Tim is playing himself into a fine NFL running back. Frankly, his play in general this year has been a bit of a surprise to me. He has really grown up, and while he showed signs last year, he really has blossomed this year. I don't think Beanie Wells playing as well as he has didn't effect Tim's play. It has, for the better.
But I have to say that the play of the defensive line in general, and Calais Campbell in particular was a big key to this win. In the first half he was huge in putting pressure on Favre. Bryan Robinson caused trouble, and Darnell Dockett was his typical maniacal self, but C.C. quietly had a great game that kept the Vikings offense off balance all night. It was beautiful!
As they go into San Francisco on Monday night, a few questions. First, what do you think of Mike Singletary's comments about how he "doesn't care about the Cardinals," in 10 words or less?
Chris: I have to be honest, I was unaware of those comments until just now. Ten words or less? Okay how about this: I guarantee a Cardinals victory now; thanks Mike.
Scott Z: I didn't want to spend too much time on that, but I had to ask! For me, I would say: You better start caring, since you're looking up at them.
Ok, what would you consider the "matchup to watch" on Monday night, and why?
Chris: I'd have to say the San Francisco secondary without Nate Clements, matching up against any of our receivers. Clements usually plays us tough, but frankly, Dre Bly has never scared me, and I am not sure their other DBs pose much of a challenge for our receivers. Safety Dashon Goldson is a very promising player, but from my point of view if that's all they have to slow us down, I don't see it happening.
Scott Z: I want to keep my eye on the trenches. The last time these teams met, San Francisco was able to get a lot of pressure on Kurt Warner. Justin Smith and Parys Haralson were able to get a sack each, but also maintained pressure the entire game. It'll be interesting to see if Bridges or Gandy on the left side, and RT Levi Brown will be able to pick it up in the rematch, and give Warner the time he needs to throw, as well as allow play action to bring all-everything LB Patrick Willis (who dominated in the first game) closer to the line.
IF, (and I'm NOT trying to put a whammy on them, but..) if the Cardinals win Monday night, how do you think they react the following week, with the division title in their hands, playing one of the NFL's weaker teams on the road in Detroit?
Chris: Last year I wouldn't have said this, obviously. This year, I think the Cardinals have the ability, and by that I mean the mental focus, to win out and end their season with a 12-4 record. I really like what Ken Whisenhunt is building. He has a very methodical, patient approach to most things, and if you look at Arizona's improvements since he has taken over it is a reflection of that.
He took an underachieving team that was loaded with talent to an 8-8 record his first year, then last year they were improved, even dominant at times, but inconsistent. This year he has his best team. They have less moments of inconsistent play and more moments of complete dominance, and they just keep maturing and building character, even in losses. They are resilient now, something you could never have associated with a Cardinals team in the past.
That said, you know there are no guarantees, and Arizona will have their hands full versus San Francisco—this is their Super Bowl in a way—but I believe THIS Cardinals team more than others is built to win...
Scott Z: This to me, goes back to my take on the post game non-celebration following last weeks win over Minnesota. I don't see anything like last years let down, whether they clinch Monday night, or not. This is a good team, and they're no longer surprised by success. In fact, they're starting to expect it of themselves.
Good stuff! Thanks once again Chris!