Category:NFL
Posted on: September 15, 2009 3:41 pm
 

Leinart Time

Week 1 was a massive disappointment to say the least.  The very least.  These are the defending NFC Champions and they appeared to be completely out of sync.  Is it too early for to ask Kurt Warner to sit and watch?  I think not.

Many fans do not follow, enjoy, or appreciate the preseason.  They are meaningless games to the fan; a tease of Sunday's yet to come.  Some care not of the hard work and true passion played by the hopefuls.  If you are a true fan of football and a team, then you may see the preseason differently.  The off-season is long, and players go through a variety of changes in this time.  Physical well being (or lack thereof), mental preparation, and life changing events can effect a player and their production just as it would you or I.  The preseason gives us that first glance of the season and in doing so exposes the players at their rawest and most vulnerable.  You can learn many things about the season ahead based on performances and quirks seen in the preseason.  Although the effectiveness of players is apparantly highly problematic during this time and shouldn't be overanalyzed, it is still a great barometer.

I will not sugar coat this next statement:  Kurt Warner played like dog shit in the preseason.  I could delve into the numbers and lack of excellence achieved in little playing time, but that would just disprove my previous statement pertaining to over analyzation.  I will pose this point of view however.  Just because Warner led the team to the Super Bowl deosn't mean he is the best quarterback for this team.  I'll explain.  Warner and Leinart battled throughout the preseason of 2008 for the starting position of quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.  Kurt Warner outshined Leinart and definitively won the spot.  He then led the team to a 9-7 record and an extraordinary run through the playoffs.  We all know the story and thank him for it.  He was then rewarded a new contract, as well he should. 

Entering the 2009 season Kurt Warner was the heir apparant to the throne.  Why should he not be?  Yet in the preseason, not only was he outplayed by Leinart, he didn't play well at all.  In routes in which his receivers were wide open in the flat, his throws were out of bounds.  On seam routes to tight ends up the middle, his tosses were too high.  In situations that called for the long ball, his powerful right arm threw ducks that quacked through the night.  I understand what he did last season, but this is this year.  Leinart's calm pocket presence and quick decision making, two qualities I have always felt eluded the USC alum, were crisp and poignant in the preseason.  If this were the 2008 and the two were fighting for the position, Leinart would have won with flying colors and without question.  You are supposed to put the best player in the game, right?  Matt Leinart has been the better player for more than a month now. 

Following the loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which Kurt Warner performed at the same level as he did in the preseason, I believe it is Matt Leinart time.  I don't know if Matt has earned it more than Kurt has handed it to him, but I feel if this team wants to make an effort towards repeating as NFC Champions (or make the playoffs for that matter), Ken Whisenhunt must make this decision.  Perhaps Kurt Warner has peaked, perhaps the hip surgery didn't go as well as we all hoped, and perhaps I am jumping the gun too soon on this thing.  It is only Week 1.  Yet after what I watched in the preseason, I feel Matt Leinart took the necessary steps in the offseason to be the franchise quarterback we all envisioned he'd be. 

Time will tell whether or not Whisenhunt puts Leinart in (unlikely I guess), but I hope we aren't 0-3 when he makes his decision.
Category: NFL
Posted on: August 24, 2009 9:56 pm
 

The Preseason and Matt Leinart

The Cardinals are now 0-2 as the preseason rolls on.  I say "So what?"  In all honestly, as many of us know, the preseason means little as far as the wins and losses go.  It means everything for the fan, however.  You hear it all the time, "It's just the preseason.  Who cares?  These games don't count."  I beg to differ.  This is the time of year in which the fan is given the opportunity to truly know their team.  We can all be arm chair quarterbacks, playing the "what if" game, predicting what Ken Whisenhunt should do next.  The depth chart opens wide as we watch these games, learning more about the construction of the Cardinals with every snap.  Now is the time to understand all aspects of the team as the Fight For 53 continues. 

Like most of America, I am an avid player of fantasy football.  For those who play, they know the double edged sword we carry.  You love your team and that can be contradictory to what you need for fantasy success.  Playing out possible scenarios is part of the fun (okay, I need Warner to throw a TD, but not to Boldin), but it does feel as if it ruins part of the allure of the game.  The preseason holds no value in the world of fantasy, and I feel as if this time of year is the time in which the true passion of the game is being put forth.  Men are not fighting as much for their contracts as they are for the simple chance to play and affect an NFL football game.

In watching the Arizona Cardinals preseason through the eyes of a fan, I will give my input up to this point.  Allow me to say this before I continue: I am not a Matt Leinart fan.  I never have been.  I religiously follow Notre Dame football, and being a resident of Phoenix, Arizona makes me an Arizona State Sun Devil supporter as well.  Leinart beat my teams regularly while playing for Southern Cal, and his ‘being a product of a system’ has been a nice and easy argument since his lack of production since entering the NFL.  Up to this point in the preseason, he has impressed me.  Granted he is playing against 2<sup>nd</sup> and 3<sup>rd</sup> team defenses, he has been doing something I have never seen him do: he is releasing the ball quicker.

My main complaint in the past when watching Matt Leinart is his lack of a quick release and poor decision making.  When a quarterback takes a three, five, or seven step drop, the idea is that when the last foot hits the ground, the decision as to where the ball needs to go has been made and the ball is airborne.  In seasons past this has not been Leinart’s forte.  He would take a five step drop and bounce around, standing in the pocket without making judgment, waiting for the inevitable blindside sack from an opposing defense.  In other cases the pressure would make the unsure footed Leinart flee, leading to a pass thrown out of desperation into a defenders arm.

Thus far he has been the contrary.  His calm demeanor and quick decision making has him looking like a professional quarterback.  Although Kurt Warner holds the job down, as well he should, you must be impressed by the work put in by Leinart.  Perhaps he has been listening to Warner, a man who could be the best mentor for a young quarterback in the league.  As the preseason rolls on we will find out more about what the 2009-2010 Arizona Cardinals are all about.  Enjoy this time of year, for it is the purest time in a sport full of multi-million dollar players concerned with touches not victories.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 30, 2009 8:58 pm
 

The Super Bowl thru a Cardinals Fans' Eyes

Football.  The new ‘National Pastime.’  Nowhere in the world is it loved, appreciated, and worshiped like right here in the United States of America.  While the rest of the world is caught up in soccer (football to those in foreign countries), we as Americans count the days off the calendar until the season begins.  As the leaves begin their annual change of tint, we know what time it is.  It is time for our sport. It is time for some football.

Why do we love this game like we do?  Why do we paint our faces?  Why do we stand in the freezing cold, shirtless, yelling until we can scream no more?  Considering there is but one champion every year, why do we put ourselves through the disappointment?  Why do we judge others based on their affiliation and affection for a certain team?  Why do we care?  Why do you care?

I can not speak for the masses; I can only speak for me.  It is in the simple chaos every play produces.  Football is a physically cerebral game, for unless there is knowledge, mass means little.  Football is mano y mano.  Football is the exactness of a pass and the completion due to the precision of the route.  Football is the trenches.  Football is blood and passion.  Football is sport.  Football is execution. Football is ‘there is always next year.’

Perhaps next year is this year.

Everything that players of football aspire to be will occur Sunday.  Champions.  Although a total of 256 regular season games are played annually, we recognize greatness through the test of the post season.  Only one game is left to determine who is supreme.  For the first time in my personal existence, I truly feel the hype and passion that only a Super Bowl appearance brings.  I am an Arizona Cardinals fan.

Super Bowl XLIII.  Who will win?  Why?  It is the game that is most over-analyzed in pro sports.  This year I am thouroughly enjoying up all of the media attention.  Last year was a spectacle for me personally.  I work at the Westin Kierland Resort, the resort where the New England Patriots resided during Super Bowl XLII.  Seeing professional football players and coaches parading around in the deepest of concentration was a lifetime experience. This year, the Arizona Cardinals vie for the championship.  It was a blast hosting the Super Bowl last year; it is a dream being in the Super Bowl this year.

Many factors will determine the result of this battle (um…duh?)  Say what you will, this is my opportunity to say what I will.  This is what will sway the game. 

Cardinals Offense v. Steelers Defense.  We all know how explosive the Cardinals offense is, as well as how dominate the Steelers defense is.  With the Steelers 3-4 look and blitz packages staring at Kurt Warner, life will not be easy for the 37 year old quarterback.  The simple fact that the Steelers will be dropping an extra linebacker into coverage could spell disaster for the Cards’ O.  Warner is smart enough to get the ball to his desired receiver, but if he is pressured into not being quick enough, his intelligence means little. 

Cardinals Key:  Edgerrin James.  Not only is the running game necessary (although  not crucial) for the Cardinals’ success, it is Edge’s pass blocking ability that will be his biggest impact on the game.  If he can slow the Steelers pass rush and give Warner time, the Cardinals win this aspect of the game.

Steelers Key:  Ike Taylor.  The containment of Larry Fitzgerald is the obvious key for the Steelers.  Do not forget about the other two 1000+ yard receivers, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.  Ike Taylor might have to come down in coverage, especially if Pittsburgh blitzes numerous times, and Taylor could be left on an island to defend these guys.  It isn’t so much his coverage that I see as a key, it is his tackling that could be significant.

Steelers Offense v. Cardinals Defense:  If the Cardinals achieve success here, they win.  Ben Roethlisberger can be described easily with but one word: dangerous.  His ability to create while under pressure is what sets him apart from other NFL quarterbacks.  Big Ben will be facing a defense that’s strength is athleticism, but is weak pressuring the quarterback on a consistent basis.  In the NFC Championship Game, the Cardinals gave Donovan McNabb too much time in the pocket.  It was McNabb who defeated himself with errand throws.

Steelers Key:  Willie Parker.  We all know what Roethlisberger can do.  The guy has proven that even if he goes 9-21 with 2 picks (a la Super Bowl XL), he can still win.  The running game is vital for Pittsburgh.  Keeping Kurt Warner and the Arizona offense off the field with long, sustained drives that result in points is the objective, and Willie Parker must deliver.

Cardinals Key:  The Linebacker Core.  Why all three?  To stop Willie Parker, of course.  Pressuring Ben Roethlisberger into mistakes and plugging the gaps is needed if Bill Bidwell wants to sheepishly hoist another trophy.  When Arizona was playing poorly at the end of the year, it was the inferior tackling ability of the linebackers that kept opposing drives alive.  Tackle like men, Cardinals.

So, in theory, this is what each team needs to do in order to take home the Lombardi Trophy.  What will happen?  God only knows, and he’ll tell us come Sunday.  I can make a prediction, at that is this:

Arizona 27, Pittsburgh 20

No need to talk shit, no need to point fingers.  As a Cardinals fan, I have never earned the right do either.  All I know is that no matter what happens, I have to thank the Arizona Cardinals for the excitement and anxiety that have accompanied these past two weeks.  So this is what it feels like.  I hope with every ounce of my fiber that they bring home the most coveted trophy is American sports.

Go Cardinals!

Posted on: January 15, 2009 9:50 am
 

The NFC Championship

Are you ready Cardinals’ fans? 20 years of the ‘same old Cardinals’ and the anguish that has coupled it will come to a peak on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. In a mere 6 minutes the game was sold out. We are the 12<sup>th</sup> Man. Get loud. Get crazy. Get a win.

The key to shutting down the Panthers was containing the run game. After their first possession, the Panthers looked to be headed towards the result they achieved 8 times at home this year: victory. But then the Cards’ D showed how vicious they can be. 5 interceptions and a fumble recovery later, Carolina was eliminated to the tune of a 33-13 Cardinals ass kicking. That triumph, along with a Philadelphia Eagles win over the reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, means one thing. Now we play for the NFC Championship. At home.

Holy shit.

I feel like most Cardinals fans do right now. I am shocked and unsure. As a 26 year old I have never seen the Cards do anything (minus 1 playoff win against Dallas in the ’97 season). This is a team that has one playoff victory in 61 seasons. They are the only NFC team never to make the championship game since the merger 39 years ago. I don’t understand these feelings that I am feeling. I do not know what it is like to care about football this late in a season. I am normally a playoff spectator, watching the NFL as a fan of the game, not a fan of a team. This is awesome.

Onto Sunday’s game against the Eagles. This team destroyed us on Thanksgiving night, evoking upset stomachs across the Grand Canyon State. McNabb was starting after being benched the previous game, and he led his team to a 48-20 victory. Now normally I am a pessimistic Cards fan, but I feel optimistic about this one. Why? The Cardinals played that game after 3 days of rest following a game against the very physical Giants. They also had to travel 2340 miles and two times zones to play them. Excuses? No. But probable reasons.

So what is the key to beating the Eagles and, dare I say, advancing to the Super Bowl. Containment. The Cardinals defense has looked phenomenal as of late, and pressing McNabb into bad decisions (a la Jake Delhomme) is a must. What hurt the Cardinals in the Week 13 was Brian Westbrook. Spy this guy, cover this guy, and destroy this guy. If Anquan Boldin can take the field, the advantage swings drastically in our favor. Know this: there is no way the Eagles are going to leave Larry Fitzgerald as open as the Carolina Panthers did. No way.

Playing at home is a massive advantage in the NFC Championship game. The home team has won the game 68% of the time. We will not travel back to the left coast for this one. We got them right here in our backyard, where the Cardinals (including the NFC Wild Card win over the Atlanta  Falcons) are 7-2 this year. Let’s continue this trend.

So how do I see it playing out? That Philly defense, which hasn’t allowed more than 14 points since they played the Cardinals, will not dominate as much as many people think. They are great against the run, but we are a passing team.

My pick: Arizona 34, Philadelphia 27.

Get loud Cardinals fans. Make their ears bleed.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com