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Old September 9th, 2004, 11:27 AM   #1
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9/9 USAToday Cardinal Report


Here is this weeks Cardinal write-up from USAToday.....

Quote:
Inside Slant
They have a new coach, new system on each side of the ball, plenty of new personnel - yet many of the same old problems as the Cardinals prepare for Sunday's opener at NFC West foe St. Louis.
Injuries are everywhere. Already they've had more than the norm, with three four key players on Injured Reserve, including Marcel Shipp, their rushing leader the past two seasons, and safety Dexter Jackson, MVP of the Super Bowl two seasons ago with Tampa Bay who saved two of the Cardinals' four wins last year with late interceptions in his inaugural season in the desert.

And while the team addressed needs with its free-agency signings and through the draft, a talent shortage still permeates the roster. It is especially pronounced on defense and in the backup positions everywhere. The drop-off is higher than the norm.

The offense already has been tweaked significantly because projected starting wideouts Anquan Boldin (knee), Larry Fitzgerald (ankle) and Bryant Johnson (foot) missed all or a large part of training camp and preseason action.

Fitzgerald and Johnson have returned to the practice field, but if they play on Sunday, they'll be far short of a polished product.

This is a game in which it is vital that the Cardinals control the ball and place a high premium on mistake-avoidance.

Given the slipshod work of the offensive line in preseason, when Leonard Davis was learning left tackle after playing right guard most of his career, and when rookie center Alex Stepanovich was learning everything about the NFL, it is questionable whether the Cardinals are up to the task.

Emmitt Smith will be the starting running back but a familiar face, Troy Hambrick, will back him up after Hambrick was acquired in a trade with Oakland last week. Hambrick is expected to see as much or more action than Smith on most Sundays, and especially now with the three-wide plan greatly reduced. The Cardinals now will need a smasher in the backfield rather than Smith's undisputed seam-running skill.

And quarterback Josh McCown, who will start only his fourth NFL game, has few reliable targets outside which could cause him to look more often to tight end Freddie Jones or to Smith and Hambrick out of the backfield. If McCown tries to force the action, or if he gets happy feet and attempts to run too soon or too often and exposes himself unduly to injury, the Cardinals will be in trouble.

And even though the Rams' notorious offense has some question marks - whether they kept the right quarterback in Marc Bulger, whether running back now will be by committee, how strong the line play will be with tackle Kyle Turley out for the year and tackle Orlando Pace just coming to terms - it still should be plenty good to threaten the Cardinals defense.

Three of the four defensive line positions are manned by new faces, including left end Peppi Zellner, who at this point two weeks ago was an Oakland Raider.

There remain questions at corner and free safety, as well, because of injuries.

Toss in yet another season-opener on the road - the league does that to keep teams out of the early-season Arizona desert heat - and it doesn't look good for the Big Red in a return to the city it once inhabited.

SERIES HISTORY: 51st meeting. St. Louis Rams lead the Arizona Cardinals, 27-21-2. Before the league was realigned two years ago, the Cardinals had won six of eight in the series. But since they've been NFC West foes, the Rams have swept the four games. Most historic meeting between these teams from the Cardinals' perspective was a 20-17 win in St. Louis in 1998 - their first regular-season return to their old home to play in the domed stadium that the city refused to build for them while they were based in St. Louis.

NOTES, QUOTES

— When RB Emmitt Smith looks over his shoulder, he must feel like he's watching the movie Groundhog's Day. There once again is Troy Hambrick, breathing down his neck for the starting position - just as he did during Smith's final days with the Dallas Cowboys.

After RB Marcel Shipp was placed on Injured Reserve and coaches weren't sold on Josh Scobey as the No. 2 back, Hambrick was acquired in a trade with Oakland along with DE Peppi Zellner, now a starter, in exchange for an undisclosed 2005 draft pick.

The fundamental difference this time, according to Hambrick is that he has grown up and regrets some of the comments he made about Smith while attempting to wrest the job from him in Dallas while Smith was pursuing the NFL career rushing record.

"Every day I get a chance to apologize to him for the things I said when I was younger and hungrier and thought that was the thing to do," Hambrick said. "It was a good combination in Dallas until I opened my mouth. It was immaturity."

For his part, Smith said he finds the whole turn of events amusing. Smith, 35, is in the final season of his contract.

— According to the NFL's computations, the Cardinals play the league's second-toughest schedule based on winning percentage of opponents last season - which really is more of a gauge of how they would have done a year ago than what they might face this season after all of those teams have made numerous personnel moves.

Nevertheless, Cardinals' foes posted a .523 winning percentage a year ago, just behind the .531 of Miami, which plays the toughest schedule, and just ahead of the .516 of Jacksonville and Seattle.

—The Cardinals have seven games against teams that had winning records and six against teams that made the playoffs in 2003.

— Backup QB Shaun King did nothing remarkable, and likewise nothing career-killing, during his brief preseason work behind Josh McCown, who makes his fourth career start on Sunday. Lest McCown become complacent, though, comes the knowledge that Green isn't afraid to make moves at quarterback. His eight Minnesota playoff teams had seven different quarterbacks.

—McCown, incidentally, and his brother Luke McCown, a backup QB with Cleveland, are among five sets of brothers playing quarterback in the league based on rosters early this week. That's the most in league history.

BY THE NUMBERS: 16 — Players the Cardinals have claimed on waivers since the start of training camp - and climbing.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They looked rusty. Will they get there within one week? I don't know about that." - Coach Dennis Green, on the return to practice of starting WRs Larry Fitzgerald (ankle), the first-round pick this year, and Bryant Johnson (foot), a first-round pick in 2003.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL


The idea of using three wideouts most of the time was solid given that the team has not been a strong rushing team and that is appeared to be loaded with talent outside. And before the year is over, it might be in position to execute that plan. But it has been all but shelved for the early portion of the season with wideouts Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson on the mend. That, in turn, might influence how RB Emmitt Smith is used. He's an accomplished seam runner. The team might be forced to turn earlier to pounder Troy Hambrick, who was acquired for that role last week after Marcel Shipp went onto IR.

Green brings his infamous "under" defense to the desert, and on paper that's a good call, too. The team has no stud tackles to speak of. It's a light defense best suited to use quickness rather than power to be disruptive. But preseason injuries that landed potential starters Kenny King and Fred Wakefield on IR have thwarted development of the unit. Rookie Darnell Dockett, who seems more at home at end, has the quickness to be an effective "under" tackle, where he'll now play this season. But he is a rookie thrown to the wolves. And so desperate is the team to find an able body at LE that Peppi Zellner was penciled in as the starter after his acquisition in a trade with Oakland last week, despite Zellner having been unemployed through a long segment of the summer. Bottom line: It's still going to be a weak pass-rushing unit, even with Bertrand Berry, and that's once again going to expose and ultimately torture a shaky secondary.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

— OLB Raynoch Thompson, arguably the team's best playmaker defensively the past two seasons, is doubtful for the opener after suffering a serious knee injury in the final preseason game. He sprained but did not tear his MCL.

— FS Dexter Jackson (disk) was placed on IR after missing just about everything since last spring. There are rumblings that he wants out, anyway. Don't be stunned if there is an injury settlement here that will allow Jackson to go shopping for a new team. He was MVP of the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay two seasons ago. He saved two of the Cardinals' four wins last season with late interceptions.

— DT Kenny King, the projected starting "under" tackle, had wrist surgery and was placed on IR.

— DE Fred Wakefield, the projected left-side starter who went on IR, will be moving to OT next year when his foot heals, perhaps a hedge against the spotty work of RT Anthony Clement.

— CB Duane Starks (groin) has returned to practice in a shaky secondary. David Macklin still is adjusting to the system at the corner opposite Starks, SS Adrian Wilson is known for undisciplined play although he has been better in preseason games, and FS is a mess with Dexter Jackson on IR, Quentin Harris a disappointment, and waiver-claim Ifeanyi Ohalete coming off an ankle injury. Ohalete is the expected starter. The pass-happy Rams should have a field day.

— DL Wendell Bryant, the team's first-round pick in 2002 who just barely survived the final cutdown, was suspended for the first four games by the NFL under its substance-abuse policy. He was cited in Wisconsin in June for driving under the influence of alcohol. His status upon completion of the suspension is shaky.

— DT Eddie Freeman was released after he failed a physical. He'd been claimed off waivers after being cut by Kansas City. He was to take the place of Wendell Bryant, who is serving a four-game suspension imposed by the NFL. Freeman appeared in 20 games over the last two seasons for the Chiefs, who selected him in the second round in 2002.

— OL Jeremy Bridges was claimed off waivers after being cut by Philadelphia. He was on Philadelphia's 53-man roster for the entire 2003 season.

— CB Derek Ross was released after he failed a physical. He'd been claimed off waivers after being cut by Minnesota. The team had kept only four CBs after the cutdown to 53. He has been with Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans and Minnesota the past two years.

GAME PLAN: The offense will be all about mistake-avoidance. It's not a unit that has scored well the past several seasons, and it has shown no tendency to change that through preseason. So every opportunity across the opponent's 50 will be precious. QB Josh McCown must make good decisions with the ball and not become impatient or frustrated - which could happen to a young guy on a weak unit. He'll have his chance to take shots at big plays, but those spots will be set up carefully. The Rams defense has improved over the past two years, but it's still not among the league's most feared.

Defensively, it is just the opposite. The team isn't anywhere near good enough to play plain vanilla and it's going to have to take chances and be creative to disrupt and slow opponents. It is a unit based on quickness, and there are several athletes sprinkled among an overall low-average talent base to make things happen. Unfortunately, the opener with the Rams is a matchup with a team that is strongest where the Cardinals' defense is weakest.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Cardinals LDE Peppi Zellner, who will have been with the team less than two weeks, vs. Rams RT Scott Tercero, thrust into the lineup because of Kyle Turley's season-ending injury. Zellner, signed after a parade of prospects either became injured or failed to impress the coaches, catches a break here in his debut with his new team. Turley is experienced and ornery and no doubt would have been a tough matchup. Tercero is very inexperienced. Even though this is a battle between two replacements it is one of the keys to success for the Cardinals.

Cardinals C Alex Stepanovich, a fourth-round pick in his first NFL game, VS. Rams MLB Robert Thomas, who came into his own with 71 tackles and two sacks last season. The rookie does not have great guards beside him who can help him cover for his inexperience and mistakes. He's being thrown to the wolves and the Cardinals need him to come through for ball control. Thomas is among the league's up-and-coming linebackers after a breakthrough 2003 season.

INJURY IMPACT: OLB Raynoch Thompson missed practice Wednesday on his strained MCL and the Cardinals' top playmaker has to be regarded as very doubtful for the opener. They would miss his lively body. ... OL L.J. Shelton was back at work after a back injury. Although he lost his starting LT job to Leonard Davis he remains a valuable experienced backup if he is not too sore to play. ... FS Ifeanyi Ohalete returned to practice Wednesday on his sprained ankle and he likely will start. That's good, because Dexter Jackson is on IR and Quentin Harris was lousy during preseason.
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Old September 9th, 2004, 11:35 AM   #2
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Sobering.
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Old September 9th, 2004, 11:50 AM   #3
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What great fantastic news, this article really got me pumped for the season
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Old September 9th, 2004, 12:30 PM   #4
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And don't forget... Dexter Jackson "saved two of the Cardinals' four wins last year with late interceptions"...

To the rest of the NFL and all sportswriters: Just keep repeating, "Same ol' Cardinals, same ol' Cardinals, same ol' BAM

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Old September 9th, 2004, 12:31 PM   #5
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Why play and risk injury..Call it a season draft first next year...Record under Green 0-16. A sad case of 53 horrible players that have no right putting on the suit of an NFL pro football player..Lets all go home now and have some warm milk.

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adrian wilson, alex stepanovich, anthony clement, bertrand berry, center alex stepanovich, coach dennis green, dallas cowboys, darnell dockett, david macklin, dexter jackson, duane starks, eddie jones, emmitt smith, football player, fred wakefield, freddie jones, game plan, ifeanyi ohalete, jeremy bridges, josh mccown, josh scobey, kenny king, knee injury, larry fitzgerald, leonard davis, louis rams, marc bulger, orlando pace, peppi zellner, playoff team, preseason game, quarterback josh mccown, raynoch thompson, season game, season games, shaun king, troy hambrick



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