Personally, that Seahawks broadcast of the Chargers game on Saturday killed me. Not only did I not know anything about the team, but I didn't really care either. So a team that was bad last year is hopeful in the preseason, woohoo. Also, it would've been more exciting to know which players Seahawks fans had their eyes on.
So this time around, I went straight to the source. I went to cgolden from Revenge of the Birds, SB Nation's Cardinals blog, and asked him all of the questions I want to know as an outsider who will be forced to watch the Cardinals for 3 hours on Saturday. Plus, the Cardinals are much more interesting than the Seahawks. What's going on with Heisman-winner Matt Leinart? Will there be a Super Bowl hangover? All of the answers a Chargers fan needs to intelligently watch the Cardinals game are after the jump.
As far as position groups, the wide receiver spot is by far the most banged up right now. Anquan Boldin has been dealing with a knee that seems to swell up from time to time, Steven Breaston has a sprained ligament in his knee (PCL) and Early Doucet is still trying to get from a strained shoulder. That's three of the top five receivers who are dealing with some sort of injury or ailments. Add in the semi-serious knee injury to wide out/return specialist Michael Ray Garvin and it's a big enough problem that the team had to sign a WR off the streets yesterday just to keep enough warm bodies in the rotation.
Oddly enough though the biggest 'single player' injury is to the team's first round pick, Chris "Beanie" Wells. Wells sprained his ankle in his first practice after signing and after missing roughly two weeks of camp, he lasted just two days (of limited work) before 'tweaking' the ankle again. Wells was in a battle with last year's fifth round pick Tim Hightower for the starting job but now it just seems like a battle to be healthy by opening day. He is still hoping to be play this Saturday but that seems like a long shot, at best, at this point.
Which first-teamer are you most excited about seeing in this game and why?
That's a tough question to answer because the Cardinals don't have much 'drama' in their starting lineups. Most of the guys are returning starters, but if I had to name a couple of guys who will be under the watchful eyes of Cardinals' fans, I'd say Mike Gandy and Calais Campbell. Gandy is the team's left tackle and he struggled last week against James Harrison (as most tackles tend to do), and this week's assignment won't be any easier. Assuming that Shawne Merriman is the same pass rusher that he was in 2007, Gandy will have his hands full and then some. Second on the list is Calais Campbell, a second year defensive end who was quite impressive in week one against the Steelers. Despite the promise around this 6-8 sophomore, I think most fans were surprised at how well Campbell played against the run and pass in his first start and it'll be interesting to see if he can carry that momentum over to this Saturday.
Which backup (second or third-teamer) are you most excited about seeing in this game and why?
Any talk about a second or third string player is instantly going to spark a debate among Cardinals fans for one reason (well two players, but one reason) and that's the 'battle' between Matt Leinart and Brian St. Pierre. Leinart, a former 10th overall pick, is having to play for his job as backup QB against a 29 year old guy who has never completed a pass in a regular season game. At least that's what the coaching staff would have you believe. Most of the guys covering the team, myself included, doubt the validity of the battle, but BSP will be the second QB to take the field on Saturday. Other guys I'd include among the backups worth keeping an eye on category include rookie Cody Brown, Greg Toler and Will Davis.
What position battles will you be keeping your eye on?
Besides the one listed above, the only other true 'position battle' is at tight end and that race is wide open. It's conceivable that any one of four guys on the roster could be the week one starter and that number would be five if Ben Patrick wasn't suspended for the first four games of the season. Last week Stephen Spach (a guy signed mid-season) and Patrick started the game in a two tight end set, but Leonard Pope has just as much starting experience as anyone at that position. He's underachieved so far and had trouble staying healthy but then again, so has everyone else at this position. Others in the mix are Anthony Becht (if healthy enough to play this week) and Dominique Byrd. Becht is basically a third offensive tackle, but head coach Ken Whisenhunt values the blocking side of a tight end just as much, if not more, than his ability to catch the ball. Byrd, a former USC tight end, was unemployed last season after getting cut by the Rams but is impressing so far this season and has as much talent as any of his competition.
With Todd Haley leaving, is there any concern about a drop-off in the offense's performance? Who will call the players in 2009?
That's a question that will be very hard to answer, at least the first part. The passing game can't get much better, but the running game can't get much worse so it's hard to quantify exactly how this offense will perform as a whole. If the running game gets better, it'll almost certainly be at the expense of the passing game but a more balanced offense is what Whisenhunt prefers. Considering that Whiz will be calling plays, as he did in his first season in AZ, it's likely that he'll at least attempt to become more balanced. In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if thier overall rank (4th) dropped but their running game improved.
With Clancy Pendergast leaving, is there any concern about the drop-off in the defense's performance? Is the philosophy for the defense still all about speed?
To be honest, I can't imagine this defense being worse than it was last season. They ranked 19th in terms of yards per game but only four teams allowed more points per game (Chiefs, Broncos, Rams and Lions). The defenses' inability to keep opposing offenses out of the endzone is the primary reason that Pendergast is gone and luckily he's taking all of his goofy schemes with him to Kansas City. Pendergast's defense at times were brilliant but too often his hybrid fronts and unique schemes would leave players out of position and in a very poor match-ups. New defensive coordinator, Bill Davis, is designing a defense that more closely resembles a true '3-4' and will use a much more aggressive blitz package. It's highly questionable whether the Cardinals actually have the pass rushers to pull off such a scheme but like a said, they can't get much worse.
With James and Arrington gone, is Hightower going to be carrying the entire RB load?
Is it possible to say YES and NO? Yes, because it looks like Hightower will be the starting running back should be the 'majority' of the carries. No, because the Cardinals drafted Beanie Wells for a reason and if he's healthy you can be sure that he'll get his share of carries as well. Ideally I'd think that the Cardinals are hoping to split the carries right down the middle but much of that plan will depend on Wells' ability to stay healthy.
Do you believe Matt Leinart is still the QB of the future for Arizona?
Welcome to the most debatable topic among Cardinals' fans, where you'll hear anything from "he should've been cut yesterday" to "if Kurt Warner goes down, we wouldn't miss a beat." In all honesty the only thing that we know for sure, is that we really don't know. At times over the past twelve months, Matt has shown signs of becoming a quality NFL starter, including a tremendous job of maturing off the field and showing the kind of dedication to the mental/preparation side of the game that so many thought he lacked as a younger player. That being said, it's still a head scratcher as to why Whiz would promise St. Pierre a shot at the backup job but maybe he knew that Matt was the far better quarterback and would beat BSP in any competition (my personal opinion). I personally still view him as the Cardinals future and I think that the Cardinals coaching staff still sees quite a bit of promise, but only time will tell.
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