In continuing with our bye week randomness here's a look at the Arizona Cardinals who have either surprised or disappointed over the first three weeks of the season (in no particular order).
Alan Branch: The former second round pick that most of us left for dead has impacted two games in a row for the first time in his career. While that might not be saying much, this is the same guy that many fans didn't want to see on the roster. A move to defensive end has jump started his young career and a sprained ankle from Kenny Iwebema has led to more playing time for Branch. He'll have to do much more than one tackle and a batted pass to validate his draft status but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Calais Campbell: Antonio Smith who? So much for all of the off season reports that listed Antonio Smith as the biggest loss in the off season. Campbell has notched 11 tackles, half a sack, knocked down two passes and blocked a punt through three games. As a reference point, Smith didn't log his 11th tackle until week six last year, his first sack didn't come until week 11 and he didn't knock down a pass all season long. Needless to say Campbell is making the naysayers look awful foolish so far.
Gerald Hayes: Even though Hayes has led the team in tackles (or at least tied for the lead) in two of the last three seasons so it's not a big surprise that he currently leads the team with 22 tackles but what is surprising is what that projects to over the course of a season. Hayes' previous career high for tackles in a season was 98 (in 2007) but at his current pace he'll end up with over 115 stops. He's also already forced a fumble and if he stays healthy and continues this pace, he'll have a career year.
Ben Graham: It's not secret that I've got a strange affinity for punters but this isn't a pick that's made with any bias. Graham has been a top five punter through three weeks with a punt average over 50 yards (4th in the league) and net average of just over 42 (7th in the league). Both numbers are right about a ten yard improvement over his 2008 stats and even more impressive is that his booming kicks are not hurting the coverage units. Opponents have returned eight punts for 62 yards (7.75 yards per return). For those that don't know those numbers are Pro Bowl caliber as far as punters go.
Steve Breaston: I had to search long and hard to find a offensive player who deserved to be on this list but Breaston is a solid candidate. He missed the first game of the season and hasn't been 100% for any game so far but his 12 catches for 177 yards are nothing to dismiss. If he maintains that pace over the remainder of the season, you're talking about a 15 game season that looks like this: 90 receptions for 1,328 yard. Not bad at all. When you add in the fact that his current yards per catch average (14.8) would set a new career high and most likely rank him among the league leaders in that category. Breaston is undoubtedly benefiting from increased defensive coverage on Larry Fitzgerald but right now he's within four yards of leading the team in receiving yards despite missing one game.
Antrel Rolle: I went back and forth on this one so I'm expecting some criticism but Rolle's peripheral stats won me over. First, going into the season he'd never recorded a single sack in his four year career but so far he's notched a sack and a half in three games. He also forced a fumble in one of those sacks (just the third FF of his career) and of course he's scored another defensive touchdown (5th defensive TD of his career). Granted Rolle has muffed a few punt returns and he hasn't been exactly stellar in his role as free safety, but I starting to wonder if Rolle is just the kind of guy who will make some spectacular plays while also giving up some back breakers.
Well you might has noticed that the "Stock Up" section didn't include many offensive players and that's for good reason. Compared to last year the offense has been putting up 30 fewer yards per game and scoring one less TD per game. As you might expect there will be quite a few more fellas from the offensive side of ball on this list.
Kurt Warner: While I don't think Warner has been the biggest disappointment on the team thus far, we all know that the QB gets more credit during the good times and more blame during the bad times. His completion percentage and yards per attempt are almost identical to his career averages so the idea that he's completely lost is ludicrous but the biggest difference between this year and 2008 have been turnovers and sacks (which consequently tend to go hand-in-hand). He's already thrown four picks and been sacked seven times and if you break it down even further, all of those mistakes came in the losses to the 49ers and Colts.
Entire Offensive Line: No two players on the Cardinals roster deserve more tongue lashings than Mike Gandy and Levi Brown but in sake of fairness, the offensive line as a whole has been wholly disappointing. The Cardinals pass protection schemes can baffle us fans at times but the fact remains that at this current pace Warner will be sacked a whopping 37 times this season (eleven more times than last year). To make matters worse, they've also accomplished something that most of thought was impossible: the running game is statistically worse that last year. They're yards per carry and yards per game are both lower than the league worst numbers that they posted in 2008. Whiz has shown quite a bit of patience with this starting five but if something doesn't change soon, you've got to expect that some sort of change is coming.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Wow, weren't we all talking about this guy having a Pro Bowl season and establishing himself as a premier corner in this league? I'm guessing if you haven't tapped the brakes on that talk you've probably missed the past three games. I honestly don't remember DRC looking this bad early in his rookie season. He's getting beat deep, he's getting beat on double moves and his tackling seems to actually have gotten worse. I'm not sure if it's a sophomore slump or if he just had a bad couple of weeks but much of the "improved secondary" talk over the off season was based around DRC becoming a star player. He's still got plenty of time to turn it around but at this point I cringe every time I see a QB throw the ball in his direction.
Bertrand Berry: It feels weird to chastise the team leader in sacks but Berry's two sacks are trumped by a bigger number (or smaller depending on how you look at it), three tackles in three games, two of which were starts. To put this in the simplest way that I can, Neil Rackers and LaRod Stephens-Howlings each have more tackles than Berry (not combined but individually they both have more tackles). Berry is still a force coming around the corner but he's no where near starting material. Whether he simply doesn't care about playing against the run or whether he's just too old to play a full game anymore, we'll probably never know but for now this team needs Chike Okeafor to get healthy.
Who has been the most surprising and most disappointing? Who did we leave off the list?