Offense: On a night when the passing game was out of sync, especially in all five trips to the red zone, the Cardinals rushing attack showed solid improvement. Tim Hightower ran well and decisively...as did the fast charging LaRod Stephens-Howling. In LSH's case, he managed to make the best of a few snaps where he was greeted immediately by Charger linemen and linebackers.In the passing game, the player who stood out the most was WR Lance Long, who, IMO, is locking himself up a roster spot.
Defense: The first team did a fabulous job rushing Phillip Rivers to the tune of four sacks. Three of those sacks were the result of Dockett, Campbell and Robinson beating their blockers one-on-one. The other sack was off a beautifully designed and executed curl blitz from Karlos Dansby who circled around inside slants from Dockett and Robinson. The most significant and encouraging positive of this game was the suddenly dynamic pass rush. The two negatives: no turnovers for a second week in a row and shoddy play from the second team defense. And...Bill Davis saw how Norv Turner tried to exploit the Cardinals' vulnerabilities under Clancy Pendergast...by throwng the play action deep post over the top of the FS and by running the WR reverse...both plays were immediately successful, but, the deep post was covered by the FS the second time around. Looks like Davis knows how to adjust and counter.
Special Teams: So far the Cardinals' off-season attention to improving the special teams is paying excellent dividends. LSH's electrifying kickoff returns set the tone, as all ST units played well throughout the game.
As for the 53 Man Roster...here's an updated prediction:
QB (3): Warner, Leinart, St. Pierre. Even though Whiz and his staff may be tempted---because of the difficult roster decisions---to keep only 2 QBs as Whiz did in his first year, he simply cannot risk such a move, especially when the starting QB is 38 years old and is coming off hip surgery. Memories of having to start a QB off the street two years ago are still fresh.
Warner was off his game last night, although he still made some good throws like the strike to Anquan Boldin down the middle. St. Pierre started his series with a bang on a pass that probably should have been a TD to Leonard Pope...but then forced the red zone interception and looked decidedly demoralized afterward. His last series was his best as he connected well with Lance Long and threw a good ball down the middle deep to Early Doucet...but he had no chance on 3rd and 4 when the Chargers were in his face upon receiving the snap. Leinart looked relaxed and drove the team down the field, but like Warner and St. Pierre rushed his throws in the red zone...at least for incompletions not turnovers. Leinart looks very much in control of the #2 spot at this point.
RB (4): Hightower, Stephens-Howling, Wright, Wells. Whiz would probably just want to keep three here, but Wells' ankle injury makes keeping three a risky decision. Hightower is dispelling the notion that he's not a starting RB, for he looks very good in that role. LSH secured his roster spot last night, and is the speed #3 RB option. Wright played a better game and was also good on STs. Wells will make the roster, obviously, but right now, he may be inactive for the first couple of weeks.
Note: I also sat up and took notice of Chris Vincent last night. he ran very hard...maybe too hard on a couple of occasions...and he did fumble (picked up by Dominique Byrd)...but he looks swift and strong.
FB (1): Kreider. Didn't help his cause as a receiver out of the backfield, but did block well, which is his ticket to the roster.
TE (3): Pope, Spach, Byrd. Pope made two good catches last night even though he should have been able to advance the ball for a TD on the first one. The team is looking for him and throwing to him which means the coaches have faith in him. Spach has earned Whiz's faith and trust, while he gets back in good football condition. And Byrd not only has displayed good receiving ability, he's contributing on ST, which is a real plus.
If Spach does not hold up, he could be put on the IR in favor of keeping Anthony Becht, who hasn't yet played to his potential as the designated run blocker.
There's a chance too that the Cardinals may only keep two TEs for the first four weeks until Ben Patrick returns.
WR (7): Fitzgerald, Boldin, Breaston, Urban, Long, Doucet, Morey. Fitzgerald and Boldin look to be in tip-top condition. The team missed Breaston last night. Urban has had a great camp, as have Long and Doucet (who returned to action to make two nice plays). Morey even had a nice catch and run on Leinart's drive, but did his best work lead blocking for LSH on the two long kickoff returns.
OL (8): Gandy, Wells, Sendlein, Lutui, L. Brown, Keith, H. Johnson, and TBD (either Vallejo, E. Brown, or Fowler). While keeping only eight OL is not preferable, the durability of the first unit, combined with the less than stellar play of the second unit, and very good play at other positions, may make the coaches go with eight and keep two or three o-linemen on the practice squad (Canfield, Pierce and Claxton?).
If the team elects to keep Vallejo, thinking that he will be able to return by week three or so, the plan may be to switch Levi Brown to LT and insert Herman Johnson at RT, if Mike Gandy gets dinged. But, Gandy has been a model of durability, so this strategy hopefully will be moot. The great news is that Johnson has played well at RT. He's been steady in all aspects of his game, and thus could be activated on game days. Brandon Keith has been solid and will be the backup guard to both Wells and Lutui...and could possibly kick out to tackle if needed.
Elton Brown needs to pick his game up fast. He's been inconsistent and is playing too heavy at guard...and looks too slow and bulky to play tackle. If he could play center if needed, that would likely secure him a roster spot, but has Brown been tried to date at center in practice?
Still waiting for C Melvin Fowler to make his case...and probably has the best chances of making the roster if he delivers.
NT (3): Robinson, Watson, Branch. Robinson looks trimmed down and much quicker this year, which is great. Nice sack last night. Watson still looks a little out of shape, but made a couple of nice plays last night. And I thought Branch made a positive impact on last night's game, particularly on the goal-line stand. And the thing is, Branch and Robinson can also play DE if needed...which is why the Cardinals may only keep 3 DEs.
DE (3): Dockett, Campbell, Iwebema. Dockett and Campbell were outstanding last night. Iwebema is playing very aggressively and is showing good, speedy reactions to the ball. He also led LSH nicely up the field on the kickoff returns.
The wild card here remains Keilen Dykes...but he'd better get on the field quickly or he is headed for the IR. Another frustrating injury scenario, which has definite roster implications..
ILB (4): Hayes, Dansby, Togafau, Hobson. Hayes and Dansby played well again last night and seem to be relishing Bill Davis' system. Togafau was impressive...and this time he played very physically, which was great to see. In fact, he stood a couple of runners up last night, when he normally might have gone low on the tackles instead. Plus, Togafau remains a solid ST player. Hobson had a nice sack and a great stop at the goal-line. His versatility is appealing.
Ali Highsmith needs to play his way back on this week and very well can if he has a good game, but his injury situation may be factor working aganist him...that and other players who offer just as much as he does on STs. Reggie Walker stepped up nicely and has likely secured himself a spot on the PS. Chase Bullock made a nice tackle in the game and he too could be a PS signee.
OLB (5): Haggans, Okeafor, C. Brown, Davis, Berry. Haggans made a nice tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Okeafor looks like he's in much better shape and looks quicker this year. Brown has been defending the run pretty well and Davis has shown good pressure ability, as he made a great play to pressure Whitehurst last night, even after getting sucked in a little on a bootleg. Still waiting for Bertrand Berry to come out from his hibernation.
CB (4): Rodgers-Cromartie, McFadden, Adams, Toler. DRC and BMF were well rested last night. Adams, IMO, has emerged as the #3 CB...gotta love the physical way he forces the run and other than the one jump ball he got beat on last week, he's been stride for stride on his man consistently. Not quite the same with Ralph Brown. Adams and Toler may figure into the nickel and dime defenses the way Ralph Brown did last year...however, don't forget that the main nickel back will be Antrel Rolle.
Toler is raw, no doubt, but he plays physically and he is starting to get his feet under him. By mid-season this kid could be quite good.
S (5): Wilson, Rolle, Francisco, Lewis, Johnson. The great news is the Cardinals registered five sacks last night without having to send Wilson regularly. Rolle has been good at FS...but he needs to realize that the opponents are going to try to do exactly what Norv Turner did last night: play action and throw over the top of him for the deep post. Francisco made a nice stop on the 4th down during the goal-line stand and remains a ST ace. Lewis has been very good on STs, which, IMO, gives him the edge on Matt Ware. And Rashad Johson, despite dropping the interception, is showing good toughness and an ability to find himself around the ball. Plus, he's been making good tackles on STs.
ST (3) Rackers, Graham, Leach. Very good games from all three once again.