Cards Irish left a comment yesterday in boogatt's Finkle is Einhorn story that had me thinking nearly all night long (yea I know, I've got a problem):
If Leinart plays to his potential. If Edge and Hightower establish a running game behind the improved OL. If the pass rush potential that is there gets established and takes the pressure off the secondary. These are the 3 most important areas that need to improve for the Cards to go beyond 8-8 and get into double figures on the win column.
My immediate thought was, "yea I can agree with that" but eventually the 'devil's advocate' side of me said 'well what if they don't improve in those areas?' The obvious answer would be another sub-par to mediocre season but what's the fun in going with the most obvious answer. Here's what one man sees as the future if the Cardinals can't get the 'ifs' right.
What if Matt Leinart doesn't play up to his potential?: Call me crazy but this is the least of my concerns. I honestly believe that if Matt isn't productive and helping this team win ball games that Whisenhunt will pull the rip cord and name Warner the starter. He might give him two or three weeks before he bails out but I think we'll know relatively early in 2008 whether he's part of the solution or just in the way of progress. Warner obviously had a great year in 2007 and should be able to step in and have the same kind of year in 2008, if need be. Warner may not have a ton of years left in his right arm, but he's got plenty left for 2008. Warner may madden some fan with too many turnovers but most of the time he does enough to give his chance to win the game.
What if Edge and Hightower can't establish a running game behind an improved OL?: I'm going to spin this a slightly different direction because frankly the running game can't be much worse than it was in 2007. They were in bottom five of nearly every significant rushing category in the league last year including yards, yards per rush and runs that produced a first down. The bigger problem in my opinion was the ability to run the ball when they were leading late in games. Of the Cardinals eight losses last year, they were leading in the fourth quarter in three of them. During those three games combined (both SF games and the CAR game) the Cardinals had the ball on a total of four fourth quarter possessions before the opposition took the lead or tied. Those four drives they produced just two first downs (both off the pass) and they ran the ball just eight times for eleven yards. The average time of possession on those four drives was a pathetic 1:50. Just consider for a second if they could have won two of those three games by running the ball, milking the clock and grinding out first downs. We'd be talking about a second consecutive playoff season, instead of whether or not this team can get over the hump. If they can't find some way to improve the running game, either from an improved offensive line or from a bigger back who can grind out 3-4 yards per carry when they really need it (Hightower), they'll likely let enough games slip away to be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
What If the pass rush potential can't take the pressure off the secondary?: This is the toughest of these three scenarios for me to break down because the pass defense (pass rush and secondary) was so destroyed by injuries that it's hard to imagine them being anything other than greatly improved. In 2007, neither of the starting corners had significant starting experience and once the secondary lost Adrian Wilson, they really went down hill. The combination of an inexperienced and injured secondary and a worn down front seven spelled doom for the defense as whole. The entire defense was upgraded through the draft and free agency, not only in starting potential but also in depth. Unless the defense is again ravaged by injuries to multiple players, I don't see how the pass rush and as a result the secondary, can't be much better than in 2007.
Well for what it's worth, that's my two cents. I may be drinking too much Cardinal Kool-Aid right now but it sure seems like this team is set up to surprise some people in 2008. Agree/Disagree? How do you see these things playing out and what if they don't work out for the best?