We missed the question of the week last week because Friday was dedicated to breaking down the first preseason game of the year, but we'll try to catch up today. The 2007 Cardinals had their fair share of weak spots including the running game, pass defense, penalties and special teams, but the franchise seemingly did a good job of addressing each of those weaknesses during the off season. With only one preseason game in the books, it's certainly to early to make an definitive conclusion on the weakest area of the 2008 Cardinals, but it's not too early for a progress report. So with all that being said, how did last year's weaknesses look on Thursday night?
Running Game: The running game looked better against the Saints and ended up with 63 yards on 15 carries (4.2 avg) and a touchdown. The best stat of the night for the running game was that they didn't have a single run that went for negative yards, but their overall numbers were helped out by St. Pierre's two rushes for 15 yards. The biggest area of improvement in upcoming weeks should be trying to break through the second level. The longest rush of the night were nine yard rushes by Hightower and St. Pierre.
Pass Defense: It was obvious from the very beginning of the game that the secondary would be in for long night. By the end of the night, the Saints' quarterbacks had completed 22 of 30 passes (73.3 % completion) for 285 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. All three quarterbacks ended up with QB ratings over 100 and an overall yards per pass play of 8.9.
Penalties: The Cardinals led the league in penalties last season with 137 penalties for 1,128 yards and a point of emphasis during camp has been to cut down on the mental mistakes and lapses that lead to penalties. They didn't appear to play any smarter on Thursday though considering that they finished with eight penalties for 70 yards (projected over a full season is 128 for 1,120). The penalties included a face mask, two delay of game (one on the defense and one on the punt unit), one encroachment, two false starts, one roughing the passer and one personal foul.
Special Teams: The 2007 Cardinals were plagued with shaky field goal kicking and sub-par punting and in an effort to improve both situations they brought in veteran punter Dirk Johnson. Neil Rackers didn't have any hiccups on field goals or extra points but the punting of Johnson didn't inspire much confidence. His raw average was decent (44.3 on 7 punts) but his net average of 31.9 would have ranked 39th in the NFL last season. He'll have to improve his hang time so that his coverage units have make it down field (allowed four returns for 47 yards) and he'll have to fine tune is directional punting to drop a kick inside the 20 instead of settling for touchbacks.
So the question to you is what most critical area for the 2008 Cardinals to improve upon if they want to accomplish their goal of making the playoffs? Also, which area is in the best shape right now and which area will end up being the biggest problem this season?