The Arizona Cardinals have two major goals over the next two days. The first, cutting the roster down to 75, shouldn't be terribly difficult but the second, determining whether Friday nights game was a sign of things to come or just a hiccup, will prove to be a more tenuous evaluation. First things first though, the Cardinals have to cut four players by tomorrow, assuming that Cody Brown is finally placed on IR. Another factor that will effect the number of players exiting will the be severity of Pago Togafau's injury. According to various reports he broke a bone in his right foot and while no one has mentioned a timetable for his return, there are some reports that he could miss significant time. If he is headed to the injured reserve as well, then the Cardinals would only hand three players their walking papers. Regardless of how many are cut, the news is expected to come down sometime today, if not very soon.
Sadly for the Cardinals though the bigger issue right now is the underwhelming, to say the least, effort that they displayed Friday night against the Packers. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was "embarrassed" and hoped that this would be a wake up call to his team (sounds eerily familiar to his comments after a 47-7 loss to the Patriots last year). Darnell Dockett questioned whether some of his teammates played "all out," Kurt Warner said that everyone on the team should feel a "sense of urgency" and Karlos Dansby simply said that is was time to go "back to the drawing board," but the time for talking is just about over. The defending NFC Champs will take the field just one more time in the preseason, in three short days, but starters and veterans rarely play much more than a series or two in the preseason finale, so it's very likely that we'll enter the regular season opener with more questions than answers. Among the questions that need to be answered:
Kurt Warner's health/effectiveness: First let's be clear, no one is calling for KW to be benched or put on a short leash but his play through three preseason games has been somewhat alarming. Questions about the health of his surgically repaired hip won't go way, especially when his preseason play so far has consisted of three turnovers, zero touchdowns and a QB rating of 56.8. Would his 38 year old body be better served by resting for a week or are his struggles simply a result of a lack of preseason game planning?
Antrel Rolle second season at safety: It was a generally accepted theory that Rolle would have a breakout type season in 2009 simply because he's fully acclimated to the free safety spot and he could finally rely on his natural playmaking instincts and top flight athleticism rather than trying to learn on the fly. So far though, Rolle still looks raw and he's still struggling with plays getting behind him. Is this the year that Rolle finally puts it all together or will he continue to be a step behind?
Depth at Linebacker: The depth at linebacker wasn't considered a strength of this team heading into camp and so far they've lost their second round draft pick for the season and one of the top backups on the inside now has a broken foot. With the importance placed on solid linebacker play and performance from a 3-4 defense, it will be very important to keep Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor and Clark Haggans healthy. While a couple of youngsters are showing some promising signs, will the Cardinals be looking for a veteran backup on the waiver wire?
Offensive line continuity: For all the of positive vibes coming out of the offseason and training camp about how the Cardinals line was going to be stronger than ever after having their starting five work together for all 20 games last season, there are quite a few pass rushers getting clean shots on Cardinals quarterbacks this preseason. Too often the opposing defenses are finding ways to bring blitzers free with pressure off the edge or twisting moves of the middle. Can this offensive line keep the quarterback clean long enough for him to find the talented receivers on this team?
Who makes the cut at WR: For the past several months the question has been who makes the squad as the fourth, fifth or even sixth wide receiver this season. With so much talent at the top of the depth chart it's been hard for some younger guys to break through but several guys had a chance on Friday with two of the top four sidelined with injuries. Now that the dust has settled though, I'm not sure that anyone really helped or hurt their case for the final roster. Sean Morey showed that he had some decent hands and could take a hit but we all know that he's a special teams player first and foremost. Early Doucet dropped a couple of balls but also ended up with five catches (18.6 ypc) and a nifty touchdown on a WR screen. Lance Long had the worst game of the guys squarely on the bubble considering that he had just one catch, a dropped pass and fumbled a punt return. It's probably splitting hairs but the race for the final WR spot will probably go down to the wire.
Tight Ends Race: As with the wide receivers, we've been talking about the tight end spot and all of it's possibilities since the 2009 season ended. So far through a month of training camp and three preseason games the only thing that we know for sure is that we don't really know. Ben Patrick, despite a four game suspension looming, has been the starter each game and looks like he might be the most complete player. Stephen Spach, who had a rough game dropping passes, jumping offsides and collecting a holding penalty just to top off the night, is running with the first team but he still hasn't picked up a single reception this season. Leonard Pope leads all tight ends in receptions and yards but he still hasn't done much to distinguish himself from the pack. Anthony Becht is proving to be as advertised, a third offensive tackle when he's on the field. He's not a threat in the passing game but can seal the edge in the running game. Dominique Byrd, the most intriguing of the bunch, had his best night hauling in a pass and flashing some run after the catch skills as he turned a medium range pass into a 45 yard completion. His blocking skills have been better than advertised but he still seems to be at the bottom of the totem pole. The question remains, how many will they keep and who will it be?
Thoughts about who gets cut and what other questions need to be answered?