The Arizona Cardinals are finishing out their bye week and what better way for us to round out the week than hearing from Cardinals-expert Darren Urban. Urban is the web manager for the Cardinals official site and his fine work consists of blogs, stories, columns and podcasts. He recently completed a two part Q&A with Cardinals General Manager Rod Graves (Part I and II) and he also took some time to answer some questions for ROTB.
CG - The Cardinals are off to a great start and they've got most of us having postseason dreams this season. I don't it's been much of a surprise to the team but what's been the biggest surprise for you?
Darren Urban - The biggest surprise to me are both Steve Breaston (and I see I will be addressing that in a minute) and Tim Hightower (him too). Both were unknown quantities that were necessary for success and both have come through. I frankly had doubts about Hightower and I am not sure he can ever be a superstar but it sure seems to me he has the potential to be a good starter for this team. Big picture, and this may not be a surprise per se, but the ability for the offense to take into consideration it's shortcomings (keeping Warner protected given the Jets game) and working with it to still be effective. Save for that bad first half against both the Cowboys and Jets, this offense is incredibly effective.
CG - Steve Breaston is quickly becoming a household name and he's already made us forget all about Bryant Johnson. I wonder though what the front office makes of his past three weeks and how,if at all, it effects the Anquan Boldin situation. Do you think that the two are related and will he continue to be productive once Q comes back?
DA - While I love what Breaston has done and believe he is a quality receiver, I think there is a huge difference between he and Anquan. Can you replace Q with Breaston long-term? Yes. Will you be as good in the passing game? I don't think so. I think Boldin is a much better blocker, which Breaston doesn't give you. I know it's popular to talk about the Cards being 2-0 without Boldin but they were playing at home too. That plays into it as well. Obviously I don't think Breaston wiill put up the same numbers when Q comes back because Breaston simply won't play as many snaps. Warner will look at him less because he has two Pro Bowlers to throw to, but that's the nature of the beast. I do know Warner is much more comfortable throwing to Breaston now than say, he was in Washington.
CG - The weak point of the offense is pretty clear and the popular opinion seems to be to get Tim Hightower the ball earlier and more often. I've heard Whiz continue to praise Edge's ability to 'do it all' including block on passing downs. Do you think Hightower should or is ready to start? Do you see a situation where he could start and Edge could more of a third down back where his ability to protect Warner could still be utilized? Also is the lack of running success more of a problem with the offensive line or the running backs?
DA - Do I think Hightower is ready to start? No. Do I personally think he should get the ball more often? Yes. I just like the burst the young Hightower has compared to Edge. That's not knocking Edge; it's simply fact. I don't see the pattern changing much right now, not with the offense clicking as is. I don't know why the running game isn't more effective. Depends on the defense sometimes. In Washington, Edge had all kinds of room to run. I do think having an elite back would help; name me a great running team that doesn't have a great back. I can't think of one. I also don't think you need an elite back or an elite running team to necessarily win either.
CG - I sent you a question after the Cowboys game and I was a bit surprised by your answer. I asked about why Bryan Robinson started the game and played as much or more than Gabe Watson and you responded that Watson wasn't the starter or an everydown player. Is this because Watson still isn't 100% or just a case of you've got to have two guys in the rotation? Also since we're talking defensive tackles, is Whiz pretty much done with Alan Branch?
DA - Right now BRob has earned the starting spot because he was around all offseason and Watson still is rounding into form. This doesn't mean Watson won't start all year, but he will never play "every down." They want a rotation for sure. As far as Branch, no, Whiz isn't done with him. In a perfect world, Branch steps up to share time with Watson at some point. Robinson is older and they need Branch. That said, Alan better figure out quickly what it takes because he clearly has not yet. A second-round pick is getting at least three seasons to "figure it out."
CG - Kurt Warner's been nothing short of amazing through six games and it's almost crazy to think that there's talk of the league MVP residing in Arizona. Has there been any talk of extending him during the season or has his outstanding play or retirement talk put all talks on hold until after the season? (Sometimes these things get done during the bye week, ala Tony Romo last year, is there any hope for that?)
DA - Rod Graves just told me this week (in the Q and A I posted) that contract talks aren't necessarily in high gear right now. The retirement talk, as best as I can tell, has nothing to do with the contract situation, save for the idea that Warner, without a contract, may quit because he doesn't want to move his family again. The way Kurt is going I would think the Cards have to try and re-sign him, but as usual, this is a complicated situation with Warner's age, Leinart's presence and the question of how much longer Kurt can play at this level. But I agree Warner has managed to weave his way into the fringe of MVP talk and if he plays like this all year and the Cards win 10 or 11 games, I absolutely believe he belongs in the discussion.
CG - Finally, optimism is at an all time high right now (at least as far back as I can remember). Realistically though, what the Cardinals' ceiling this season?
DA - I assume you means wins and losses. The back part of the schedule is mighty difficult, but I think the ceiling could be high nevertheless. The Cards have to stay healthy of course. They have home games against SF, St. Louis, NYG, Minnesota and Seattle. There is no reason they can't win at least four of those and maybe all five (hey, dreaming is free, and the way the Cards play at home ...). Road games against Car, St. Lou, Sea, NE and Philly. They almost have to win in St. Louis and Seattle if they want to be the team they think they are. They need to win in one of the other three spots to prove it to the world. They could if they play like they are capable.
Many thanks to Darren Urban for taking the time to answer our questions. Thoughts?