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3 Arizona Cardinals

Sept. 04, 2006
Sept. 04, 2006

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Sept. 4, 2006

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3 Arizona Cardinals

There's a phoenix rising from a new nest in Glendale, though it must learn to run before it can fully take wing

THE BELIEF A $455million state-of-the-art stadium has cured the team's inferiority complex, andthe addition of charismatic running back Edgerrin James provides the missingoffensive link for a club that hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher-or made it to thepostseason-since 1998.

This is an article from the Sept. 4, 2006 issue Original Layout

THE REALITY Sincecoach Dennis Green was hired before the 2004 season the Cardinals have been theLos Angeles Clippers of the NFL: a team that intrigues in the preseason butdisappoints on the field. Yet even after finishing 5-11 last year, they showedwhy prognosticators loved them: Arizona was the only team in the NFL ranked inthe top 10 in offense and defense (eighth in both categories).

With dynamicyoung receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin the attack was indeedprolific-but at the same time deeply flawed. The Cardinals passed for 4,723yards and rushed for 1,138, the widest disparity in the league, percentagewise.And while they moved the chains plenty, they lost their mojo in the red zone,with only 13 touchdowns in 46 trips inside the 20. Yes, placekicker NeilRackers made a league-record 40 field goals, but Arizona doesn't want himscoring 45% of its points again.

"If weimprove inside the red zone, it's going to be a whole different season,"says quarterback Kurt Warner, who missed six games with knee and groininjuries. "If you're going to throw the ball every snap inside the five,there's not a lot of places to throw it. So it gets harder the closer you getto the end zone."

That's whereJames, the former Colts All-Pro signed to a four-year, $30 million contract,comes in. At 28 he isn't in the waning days of his career: Last year he had1,506 rushing yards and an NFL-best 115 first downs on carries and receptions."He brings a winning attitude," says Boldin. "He brings aconfidence, a swagger. But most of all he brings a running presence."

But James'sproduction will be hard to replicate behind a line that's not nearly as sturdyas Indianapolis's. How weak is that unit? It expects a boost from former Texansright guard Milford Brown-and Houston allowed the most sacks in the league lastyear. But left tackle Leonard Davis was a Pro Bowl alternate in '05 and will bemotivated to play even more impressively this year, the last on his contract.Most promising, Green replaced inexperienced line coach Everett Lindsay withthe respected Steve Loney from the Vikings.

The Cardinals'defense was ranked higher than such established units as New England's,Seattle's and Washington's. But blitz-happy Arizona struggled to preventred-zone scoring (24 TDs in 44 chances, 24th in the league). The return ofdefensive end Bert Berry, who had six sacks in eight games before aseason-ending knee injury, will help, as will the continued development ofyoung linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Antrel Rolle and safety AdrianWilson.

Spirits are sohigh in the desert that season tickets sold out for the first time since thefranchise arrived from St. Louis in 1988. And the new climate-controlledstadium enables Arizona to host an opening-week game for the first time.

Is all thisoptimism justified? Hey, the Clippers made the playoffs this year-they evenadvanced to the second round. "We have the talent, we have the rightcoaches," says Boldin. "The only thing we have to do is cometogether."

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 SANFRANCISCO

17 at Seattle

24 ST. LOUIS

OCTOBER

1 at Atlanta

8 KANSAS CITY

16 CHICAGO(M)

22 at Oakland

29 at GreenBay

NOVEMBER

5 Bye

12 DALLAS

19 DETROIT

26 atMinnesota

DECEMBER

3 at St.Louis

10 SEATTLE

17 DENVER

24 at SanFrancisco

31 at SanDiego

(M) Monday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank 19

Opponents' 2005winning percentage .500

Games againstplayoff teams 4

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE CARDINALS

> The mainquestion is, Will quarterback Kurt Warner be durable enough? Which leads you tothe next question: Will Matt Leinart be ready to fill that role?

> Newassistant Steve Loney is a quality offensive line coach, but how long it takesthem to adjust to his teaching will be critical.

> I thoughtLeonard Davis, their first-rounder in 2001, would become a dominant lineman.You really shouldn't draft a guard that high, but that's what he is: a guardplaying left tackle.

> LinebackerKarlos Dansby has all the tools to be a star, but I wonder about his workethic.

> Thedefensive line is good. Darnell Dockett at tackle makes them solid on theinterior, and end Bert Berry is a proven pass rusher.

Corner AntrelRolle's ideal position is safety. He's tough and physical. He'd absolutelyexcel there.

BREAKOUTPLAYER

Adrian Wilson

SAFETY

This guy blursthe line between safety and linebacker. The 6'3" 230-pounder uses superbclosing speed and excellent instincts to create havoc near the line ofscrimmage. The 2001 third-rounder out of N.C. State had eight sacks in '05, anNFL record for defensive backs, while making a team-best 109 tackles-and stillwas only a Pro Bowl third alternate. If the Cards turn things around, Wilsonwon't go unrecognized much longer. Says cornerback Antrel Rolle, "I wastelling him the other day, 'Adrian, you shouldn't be able to walk around inpublic.'"

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH DENNISGREEN (108-83 in NFL), third season with Arizona

OFFENSE

LARRYFITZGERALD
POS WR
REC 103
YARDS 1,409
TD 10

EDGERRIN JAMES --NEW ACQUISITION
POS RB
RUSH 360
YARDS 1,506
TD 14

KURT WARNER
POS QB
ATT 375
COMP 242
PCT 64.5
YARDS 2,713
TD 11
INT 9
RATING 85.8

BRYANTJOHNSON
POS WR
REC 40
YARDS 432
TD 1

ANQUANBOLDIN
POS WR
REC 102
YARDS 1,402
TD 7

NEILRACKERS
POS K
FG 40/42
POINTS 140

LEONARD POPE (R)-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS TE
REC 39
YDS 541
TD 4

LEONARDDAVIS
POS LT
HT 6'6"
WT 366
G 15

REGGIEWELLS
POS LG
HT 6'4"
WT 323
G 9

ALEXSTEPANOVICH
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 301
G 9

MILFORD BROWN --NEW ACQUISITION
POS RG
HT 6'4"
WT 331
G 13

OLIVER ROSS
POS RT
HT 6'5"
WT 322
G 12

DEFENSE

ORLANDOHUFF
POS WLB
TACKLES 69
SACKS 1
INT 1

CHIKEOKEAFOR
POS LE
TACKLES 51
SACKS 7 1/2

KENDRICK CLANCY-- NEW ACQUISITION
POS NT
TACKLES 37
SACKS 2

DARNELLDOCKETT
POS DT
TACKLES 29
SACKS 1/2

BERTRANDBERRY
POS RE
TACKLES 33
SACKS 6

KARLOSDANSBY
POS SLB
TACKLES 88
SACKS 4
INT 3

SCOTTPLAYER
POS P
PUNTS 73
AVG 43.9

DAVIDMACKLIN
POS CB
TACKLES 61
INT 2

ADRIANWILSON
POS SS
TACKLES 109
SACKS 8
INT 1

GERALDHAYES
POS MLB
TACKLES 0
SACKS 0
INT 0

ROBERTGRIFFITH
POS FS
TACKLES 64
SACKS 0
INT 1

ANTRELROLLE
POS CB
TACKLES 28
INT 1

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)

2005 RECORD5-11
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
OFFENSE 32/1/8
DEFENSE 10/12/8

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PHOTOPETER READ MILLER (WARNER)LUCKY 13? Fingers are crossed that Warner, who piloted the league's best air attack in '05, stays upright.PHOTOGENE LOWER/WIREIMAGE.COMROLLEPHOTOKEVIN TANAKA/SPORTPICSPHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ TWO PHOTOS