3 Arizona Cardinals

There's reason for optimism in the desert, starting with veteran passer Kurt Warner and an explosive set of young wideouts
September 04, 2005

THAT BUZZ emanating from the Arizona desert is not the annual summertime invasion of cicadas, but rather the drone of unusually upbeat comments from football insiders about the Cardinals' 2005 prospects. And it isn't coming merely from the media, either. "Their offense is pretty potent with Kurt Warner leading the charge," says Cowboys safety Roy Williams, whose team lost its preseason opener to Arizona. "If they can stay healthy, the Cardinals will be a team to look out for this year."

It's easy to chalk up the optimism as some peyote-induced delusion. After all, Arizona fans have enjoyed only one winning season since the franchise moved to the Phoenix area in 1988, and last year's 6--10 effort was the team's sixth straight losing campaign. The franchise, dating to the days in Chicago, has one playoff victory in the last 56 years. Yet with second-year coach Dennis Green slowly changing the organization's cheap and cynical culture, plus an infusion of youthful talent (11 starters have three years or less experience), the Cardinals have bought into the hype.

"I know we're a buzz team and all that, but people don't realize how good we really are," says veteran safety Robert Griffith, who signed with Arizona as a free agent after three seasons with the Browns. "We have some very good players, and we're going to win here." It also doesn't hurt that the Cardinals play in what is shaping up as a weak division.

While Griffith is expected to provide steady leadership to a fast, aggressive defense, another 34-year-old free-agent acquisition, Warner, will try to bring the Cardinals' offense up to speed. The former two-time league MVP and Super Bowl MVP hopes to rebound from an unfulfilling half season as the Giants' starter and prove that he's still a productive NFL quarterback. Warner, who felt handcuffed in the Giants' restrictive offense before losing his job to anointed franchise savior Eli Manning last November, should have an ideal opportunity to recapture his old magic. The Cardinals may not be the Greatest Show on Turf, as the Rams were known in the quarterback's heyday in St. Louis, but there are some similarities: an explosive set of receivers, a versatile running back with pass-catching ability and a coach committed to a wide-open offense.

"What most people don't understand is that it's going to be more of a balanced attack this year," says wideout Anquan Boldin, a rookie sensation in 2003 who struggled in '04 after missing the first six games with torn cartilage in his right knee. "When people think of Denny, they think air attack, but we'll definitely run the ball."

That means rookie J.J. Arrington, a second-round draft pick out of Cal, should have a chance to make the same kind of sudden impact that Boldin made as a rookie. There are concerns about Arrington's size (5'9", 214 pounds) and durability, but second-year wideout Larry Fitzgerald doesn't share them. "J.J.'s going to be huge for us," says Fitzgerald, who had 58 receptions for 780 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. "He's a shorter guy, but I think that gives him a huge advantage. If you're a defender, you can't identify him coming out of the hole, and by the time you see him, he's making you look bad."

With Boldin, Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson, a first-round pick out of Penn State in '03, racing downfield, Warner could look very good. That's assuming his line gives him time to throw. The line, led by massive left tackle Leonard Davis, is a work in progress, but Warner says the issue of protection extends beyond linemen holding their blocks. "So much of it is the receivers' timing and ability to get open--that allows me to set my feet and make quick reads," Warner says. "If you have a strong running game and good play-calling, with the coach mixing things up and keeping the defense off-balance, all of those things make an offensive line better."

Green, noting that the '04 Cardinals lost four games by three points each, believes this year's team will be good enough to pull out victories in such situations. Fitzgerald agrees but hopes that opponents continue to underestimate his club. "We think we're a good team," he says, "but we don't want the rest of the nation to catch on. We want them to think we're the Cardinals of old and come out and play half-speed against us. Maybe we'll get a couple of quick, cheap wins before they figure it out." --M.S.

PLAYMAKER

After all the free-agent busts the Cardinals have signed over the years, they hit the jackpot with Bertrand Berry during the 2004 off-season. The 6'3", 277-pound defensive end had an NFC-best 141/2 sacks last season, the third-highest total in franchise history. (Four came against Kurt Warner in a victory over the Giants.) Berry also forced three fumbles in earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Not bad for a guy who was out of football in 2000, after being released in camp by the Rams.

Enemy Lines

AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW

This team has a lot of young talent, energy and potential. Still, I think people are overrating them a little bit. They have a chance to be 8--8 or a little better.... Bert Berry's a really good pass rusher, and Chike Okeaforwill help them too. Darnell Dockett's the type of inside player you like to have on a line.... Karlos Dansby has a lot of versatility--he can rush the passer, play the run or drop into coverage, and he's good at all of it.... The secondary has a chance to be really good. Robert Griffith is a smart player who's aggressive on run support; he just attacks the ball.... Adrian Wilson is a rangy, long-striding guy with ball skills. He makes some big hits, but he'll miss some tackles too.... The key on offense is whether Kurt Warner stays healthy. They're in real trouble if he goes down, because they don't have a good backup.... Their offensive line was better a couple of years ago. That right side, with Oliver Ross, might be able to get them through a season, but it's a little shaky.... Anquan Boldinis a lot like Torry Holt--he gets good separation from the top of his routes. When he breaks, he breaks open. Kurt will love him because he's a timing guy.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

2004 RECORD: 6--10

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): OFFENSE 22/24/27 DEFENSE 27/9/12

COACH: Dennis Green; second season with Arizona (103--72 in NFL)

OFFENSE

LARRY FITZGERALD

POS. WR

PVR 66

REC. 58

YARDS 780

TDs 8

BRYANT JOHNSON

POS. WR

PVR 178

REC. 49

YARDS 537

TDs 1

LEONARD DAVIS

POS. LT

HEIGHT 6'6"

WEIGHT 370

GMS. 15

STARTS 15

REGGIE WELLS

POS. LG

HEIGHT 6'4"

WEIGHT 323

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

NICK LECKEY

POS. C

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 290

GMS. 16

STARTS 0

ELTON BROWN (R) [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. RG

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 329

GMS. 11

STARTS 11

OLIVER ROSS [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. RT

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 322

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

ANQUAN BOLDIN

POS. WR

PVR 58

REC. 56

YARDS 623 1

TDs

J.J. ARRINGTON (R) [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. RB

PVR 23

ATT. 289

YARDS 2,018

AVG. 7.0

REC. 21

YARDS 121

AVG. 5.8

TDs 15

KURT WARNER [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. QB

PVR 118

ATT. 277

COMP. 174

% 62.

YARDS 8

TDs 2,054

INT. 6 4

RATING 86.5

AARON GOLLIDAY* [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. TE

PVR 347

ATT. 3

YARDS 29

AVG. 2

NEIL RACKERS

POS. K

PVR 282

XPs MADE 28

XPs ATT. 28

FG MADE 22

FG ATT. 29

PTS. 94

DEFENSE

KARLOS DANSBY

POS. OLB

TACKLES 54

SACKS 5

INT. 1

BERTRAND BERRY

POS. RE

TACKLES 48

SACKS 14 1/2

RUSSELL DAVIS

POS. RT

TACKLES 50

SACKS 1

JAMES DARLING

POS. MLB

TACKLES 68

SACKS 1

INT. 1

DARNELL DOCKETT

POS. LT

TACKLES 40

SACKS 3 1/2

CHIKE OKEAFOR [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. LE

TACKLES 53

SACKS 8 1/2

ORLANDO HUFF [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. OLB

TACKLES 51

SACKS 1

INT. 0

DAVID MACKLIN

POS. CB

TACKLES 71

INT. 4

ADRIAN WILSON

POS. SS

TACKLES 100

SACKS 1

INT. 3

ROBERT GRIFFITH [NEW ACQUISITION]

FS 118 1 1

POS.

TACKLES

SACKS

INT.

ANTREL ROLLE (R) [NEW ACQUISITION]

POS. CB

TACKLES 71

INT. 1

SCOTT PLAYER

POS. P

PUNTS 98

AVG. 43.2

NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (stats for final college year) *2002 college PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

11 at N.Y. Giants

18 ST. LOUIS

25 at Seattle

OCTOBER

2 SAN FRANCISCO*

9 CAROLINA

16 Open date

23 TENNESSEE

30 at Dallas

NOVEMBER

6 SEATTLE

13 at Detroit

20 at St. Louis

27 JACKSONVILLE

DECEMBER

4 at San Francisco

11 WASHINGTON

18 at Houston

24 PHILADELPHIA (S)

JANUARY

1 at Indianapolis

(S) SATURDAY *IN MEXICO CITY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 31 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .449 Games against playoff teams: 6

"Anquan Boldin is a lot like Torry Holt--he gets good separation. When he breaks, he breaks open."

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH LET 'ER RIP Warner hopes to regain his touch in the wide-open Cardinals offense.
PHOTOGENE LOWER/WIREIMAGE.COMBOLDIN PHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)