Starting a season with somewhat lofty expectations isn't all that new for the Arizona Cardinals. For a team that always seems to be labeled as an "up and coming team" or "darkhorse," fulfilling those expectations has been a different story. These 2008 Red Birds are proving to the league and themselves though that the future could be much different from the past. Nine weeks ago, even the most biased Cardinals fan couldn't have predicted that their team would hold a four game lead at mid season. The Cardinals have come a long way since a week one contest against division rival San Francisco but it'll still take another solid showing to improve to 6-3 against a squad that's intent on proving their not just an afterthought in the poor NFC West. With one game against each other already this year, what can the Cardinals take from that game?
Aggressive Game Plan's Suit This Offense: Early in the season, before we really knew who or what the Cardinals were, the coaching staff rolled out some rather conservative game plans. They weren't sure how well Kurt Warner could protect the ball or how well the offensive line could protect him. That led to the offense trying to run the ball more than they passed and left Warner out of rhythm and uncomfortable. He attempted just 30 passes (low by his standards) in opening weekend versus 39 rushing plays. He'd go on to average 28 passing attempts and 250 yards per game the first three weeks of the season before the coaching staff opened things up. Warner's responded the past five games averaging 42 attempts and 336 yards per game. The offense as a whole has gone from averaging 23.6 points per game in the first three weeks to 32.6 over the next five. This team is only going to go as far as the Warner's right arm can take them and they're best suited letting him air it out.
Experience Doesn't Always Trump Youth: The coaching staff made a bold move last week benching a possible future Hall of Famer, Edgerrin James in favor of a unheralded rookie, Tim Hightower and the results couldn't have been better. Hightower infused a running game that was giving 'struggling' a bad name. Timmy responded with a longer run that Edge has had in his two and half years in the desert and a 100 yard game. The staff also benched Eric Green after he gave up a long TD pass, last week, in favor of another rookie, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They seem poised to leave DRC in the starting lineup for the future. The secondary has struggled to stop the big play and the speed and athleticism of DRC would be beneficial. He'll still struggle at times but Eric Green wasn't playing great football either. One thing is for sure though, players know that they must continue to play good football or they'll be replaced, and competition is a good thing.
Home Really is Sweet: The Cardinals have enjoyed playing at home under Ken Whisenhunt and it's quickly becoming a hostile home crowd. The team is 9-2 at home since the beginning of the 2007 season and they've been especially potent at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They're 3-0 at home this year with an average score of 34-17 and Kurt's completed 77% of his passes while throwing seven TDs and just one interception. The defense has had three games this season in which they recorded more than three sacks and two of those have come at home, including a five sack game against the Bills. They've also recorded five turnovers in the three home games and the offense and defense both feed of the home crowd.
The Niners certainly aren't going to come into the desert and roll over but the Arizona Cardinals need to step up to the plate, in prime time no less, and prove to everyone that they're by far the better team. They need to be aggressive and defend their home turf from the outset. Agree/Disagree? What else have we learned?