The Arizona Cardinals took the field for the first time since the Super Bowl and they performed about like you'd expect them to in the first preseason game of the year. Some guys looked rusty. Some guys looked sloppy. Some guys looked like they never took a break during the off season and the result was a game completely controlled by both team's defensive units until the fourth quarter. Outside of a key turnover that set the Steelers up inside the Cardinals' five yard line, the Red Birds almost dominated the reigning Super Bowl champs, but the preseason experience can't be measured in the box score or the score board. It's more or less about how the individuals played against whatever level of competition they were facing. There were certainly some guys who impressed and there were others who were disappointing to say the least. Here's how we saw it....
- Michael Ray Garvin: I had to start with Garvin because by the end of game I was sitting on the edge of my seat every time the Steelers either punted or kicked off. He handed most of the return duties last night and was about as good as you could expect, averaging 30 yards per kick return and ten yards per punt return. When he hits top speed he's clearly the fastest person on the field and his ability to sift through traffic and make people miss is better than I expected. He also got some snaps as a receiver, catching one ball for 15 yards, but he also dropped a pass that was thrown slightly behind him that ended up being intercepted. I'll look past his shortcomings as a receiver because if he makes this roster it won't as a wide out, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets quite few more looks as a returner.
- Calais Campbell: One tackle and one assist might not look like much in the box score but Campbell had quite game considering he only played the first half. In the base defense he lined up at end before shifting down to tackle on passing downs but where ever he lined up, he made plays. He should have had a sack and a safety on Ben Roethlisberger but Big Ben broke out of the tackle and Campbell put pressure on Ben a couple of other times. Where he was most impressive though was against the run. Campbell not only held his ground more often than not, but his ability to shed blocks was most impressive. He was facing Max Starks for most of the night (a guy the Steelers gave a big contract to this off season) and Campbell threw him around like a rag doll. If last night was any indication of how well Campbell plays, the Cardinals won't miss Antonio Smith.
- Michael Adams: I came away with two thoughts about Adams after last night. First, we should all hope that he never has to take a single snap as a starting corner back and secondly, I absolutely want him on this team. His' height, or lack thereof, is a complete liability when he's lined up at corner and that was never more evident than on a deep ball against Limas Sweed. With eight inches of height advantage, Sweed barely jumped and while Adams had trouble locating the ball, it wouldn't really have mattered. He also broke up a deep pass (almost intercepted it really) but he only caught up to the pass because it the ball was underthrown. So why was he impressive then? No other defensive player on the field last night, first string all the way to fourth string, was more aggressive and willing to throw his body at the ball carrier than Adams. He routinely cut down Steelers' ball carriers just as you thought they were about to make it around the corner. Adams plays "balls to the wall" every second he's on the field and that's exactly what makes him a good special teams player and valuable to this team.
Tyler Palko: If someone watched last nights game and had no idea of who the quarterbacks were or how the depth chart was supposed to line up, they probably came away thinking that Palko was the Cardinals best quarterback. Granted he was playing against guys who will most likely end up on a practice squad somewhere (at best), but he still flashed some qualities that make you think he'll land on a 53 man roster somewhere this season. He's got a strong arm, escapability and a certain knack for making me inch closer to the edge of my seat every time he drops back. His final line (8 of 15 for 103 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) is a decent line but even that doesn't do justice to how well he played because the lone interception was a dropped pass by Garvin. If you missed the game you absolutely have to go back and watch the highlights to see Palko scramble out of the pocket and try to hurdle a defender in order to reach the sidelines.
- Also, on Palko: Maybe this was just late light delirious talk but I started to form a conspiracy theory in my head. If the Cardinals really view Leinart as the future, maybe it makes more sense to keep Palko as the backup instead of BSP because Palko is also left handed. That's of course all based on this one time that I've seen Palko play but he was that impressive.
- Alan Branch: I re-watched every single play that Branch was on the field and came away with thinking that his "light bulb," as Whiz referred to it last year, still has some faulty wiring. Branch played with the third string facing the Steelers' 7th round rookie center, AQ Shipley, most of the night and he was absolutely dominated. Branch was able to get a step or two into the backfield a couple of time but more often that not Shipley had his way with him. For whatever reason Branch likes to try and spin, or just flat out turn his back to a defender, when he's getting driven back and it just results in him getting pancaked or pushed out of the play even faster. Towards the very end of the game it looked like Branch was lining up at defensive end but the Cardinals defensive fronts were getting pretty goofy by the end of the game so it was hard to tell. Either way though Branch didn't do anything to change the perception that most of us already have of him.
- Levi Brown and Mike Gandy: It's tough to say that they had a bad game so I'll just say that I'm very glad we don't play Pittsburgh on a regular basis because neither Brown or Gandy can handle the Steelers' OLBs. LaMarr Woodley blew by Levi Brown to nail Warner, in what Jon Gruden called a coverage sack, but it looked awful quick to my eyes. James Harrison didn't register a sack but he put Gandy on skates a couple of times and it was pretty evident who was the superior player.
- Defensive Management: Bill Davis had a rough start to his tenure as the Cardinals defensive coordinator and twice while the first team defense was on the field they had to burn timeouts because they either had to many men on the field or weren't aware of the down and distance. The first time it was pretty understandable because what looked like a Steelers' first down was actually ruled a third and short so the Cardinals burned time out just the third play from scrimmage. The second time though it looked like there were 15 Cardinals' defenders on the field and there were more coming in from the sidelines.
- Quarterback Play (not including Palko): Warner was ok but he still didn't look like Warner. He looks stiff on the field and his passes just didn't seem to have the same zip on them. Matt Leinart had a shaky start (1 for 4) but once he settled down, he actually got into a decent rhythm and led the Cardinals on their best drive of the night. On the drive, an 85 yarder that ended on downs at the Pittsburgh seven, Leinart was six of nine for 69 yards. His stat line was saved though by a phantom pass interference call at the end of first half when he bombed a pass Sean Morey that was picked off. The pick was overturned by a defensive pass interference call (even though the PA should have gone against Morey) but Leinart was just throwing it deep at the end a half. Finally Brian St. Pierre had the worst night of any Cardinals' QB completing just four of ten passes for 42 yards and an interception, but I can't help but think that it was a 'hard luck' night. One pass was dropped and another dinked off the helmet of Elton Brown but the interception was just a poor read and a bad decision. He was also done in by some really poor pass protection considering that he was the only QB to sacked more than once (he went down three times). Still though he certainly didn't do anything tonight to put pressure on Matt Leinart.
- Pass Rush: The Cardinals didn't record a sack last night, although they had decent pressure for most of the night. Campbell broke free a couple of times, almost getting a sack once and laying a decent hit on Ben another time. Adrian Wilson and Keith Lewis both had unblocked paths to the QB on safety blitzes but the QB's got rid of the ball. Will Davis showed a decent speed move late in the game and just missed a sack and forced fumble when Dennis Dixon shuffled up in the pocket. Karlos Dansby also broke through the line of scrimmage once and would have at least pressured Ben if not for a hold, or at least it should have been called a hold. On a good and bad note, Bill Davis obviously likes to blitz and I think if tonight was any indication we'll see more blitzing this year, but he also loves the 'line stunts' where the end and tackle twist. The line stunts didn't seem to have any effect last night and just make Cody Brown and other reserves look lost.
- Backup Running Backs: First it's worth mentioning that if you were worried about Whisenhunt calling a more conservative game based around the running game, according to last night you shouldn't be. The Cardinals ran the ball just 16 times (versus 49 pass attempts) and one of those runs was a scramble by Palko. LaRod Stephens-Holwing and Jason Wright both had similar games in my mind. They both looked skittish and danced a bit but then settled down to have decent showing. LSH had six rushes for 24 yards, most of which came on a 13 yard scamper, but also showed that while he's a willing pass protector, he doesn't have enough sand in his shorts to hold off a rushing linebacker. He looked like child trying to trip a bulldozer at one point. Wright only carried the ball three times for eleven yards but he showed his value as a pass protector a couple of times and that's where he'll make his mark.
Overall I'd say that this is kind of what we should have expected from the first preseason game but at least it wasn't too terriblly sloppy (just four penalties). What stood out to you and what needs to be improved upon the most?