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Chatting with Arizona Cardinals Expert Darren Urban: Mid-Season Edition

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The Arizona Cardinals have reached the midway point of their season and currently sit atop the NFC West with a 5-3 record. They're undefeated on the road (4-0), but have struggled at home (1-3). The offense, while still very good, hasn't quite lived up to the expectations garnered from last year's impressive showing. They currently rank 14th in yards per game and 12th in points per game. The defense has been somewhat up and down through eight games but overall they are preforming better than last year's unit. They're currently 21st in yards per game but a much improved 11th in points per game. In order to get more than just statistical rankings though we turn to Darren Urban, web manager for the Cardinals. If you're unfamiliar with his fine work (is that really possible?), check out the Cards' official site where he posts daily stories, blog entries and podcasts. Needless to say he's an expert on all thing Arizona Cardinals and that's why we asked him for a mid-season report.

ROTB: The Cardinals obviously sit atop the NFC West at 5-3 and they're currently the only team in the division that has scored more points than they've allowed. Despite the season opening loss to the Niners, are the Cardinals the best team in the division in your mind and how surprised would you be if they somehow squandered the division lead down the stretch?

Darren Urban: I don't think there is any question they are the best team in the division. I think the Niners are still finding themselves and building, and the Seahawks simply have been hammered by injuries again. The Seahawks are also going through a transition right now. But I thought the Cardinals were the best team before camp started too. They have the most talent and the most experience. I also think, if that opener was played again, the Cards would win, which would change the division even more. The Cards' schedule is obviously favorable down the stretch as well. If they didn't win the division -- and I think they will -- it would be a incredible disappointment.

ROTB: The offense is still potent at times but they're not in the top ten in yards per game or points per game. What are the major differences between this year's squad and last year's, and are their current problems correctable?

DA: Well, I do think there was a transition after Todd Haley left. I definitely think teams have cracked down on Fitz, and I think the lingering injuries to Breaston and Q have hurt. Don't forget, when the Cards were really building up their stats in the middle of last season, Boldin was having some big days. That's missing. I think the offensive line has been more inconsistent than I expected and Kurt Warner hasn't always been super-sharp. But more than anything, I think the Cards set a bar last year that might have been tough to reach. Sometimes, an offense just has a magical run. I think that's part of last season (and don't forget, they had clunkers last year too -- Minny, NE).

ROTB: There was a great deal of off season chatter about the change at defensive coordinator and the move to a more traditional 3-4 defense. Considering the defense is ranked 11th in points per game, it would seem like the transition to Bill Davis' scheme has been successful. What grade would you give the defense for their first half performance and is the key area that they need to improve upon in the remaining eight games?

DA: Grades are always tough. It simplifies something that is very complex. But if forced, I'd give this defense a B right now. I think there was a learning curve to what they had to do. I think they learned that if they played smart and stayed in their gaps, they could be tough. They won't be the 2000 Ravens, but they can be a top-10 defense. Fans get mad with the off coverages at the line, but the decision was made that it was better to surrender an 8-yard pass on 3rd-and-9 than get burned for a 40-yarder. Sometimes teams will convert, but overall I think it has helped. I don't know how much they can improve given the players they have, but they must remain consistent. They can't forget what got them here (that happened against the Panthers, I think). They need to keep up some sort of pass rush too, but again, they don't have that one dynamic guy who can get to the quarterback consistently. They do have a few guys who can get pressure though, and those guys can't let up.

ROTB: Since the day he was drafted there was a certain segment, some might even say a majority, of fans and media alike who thought it would just a matter of time before Beanie Wells took over the starting job. After a slow start, he's gradually learning more of offense and in the past three games he actually has more carries than Tim Hightower, despite not starting. Considering how equally the carries have been split, does it really matter who starts at tailback or will Beanie continue getting more and more carries as the season progresses?

DA: No it doesn't matter who starts. And while I am very aware the fans want Beanie to start, I think Hightower has been good this season. Beanie is improving in all aspects but Hightower is better in everything but running, and even then the gap isn't that big. That block Hightower had on the blitzing Bear to give Warner time to throw his first TD pass in Chicago to Fitz was textbook. If the offense is doing what it should, it'll be a lot like Chicago, with equal carries. The only time I think Beanie gets a chunk more is if Hightower just looks bad and Beanie doesn't. But usually, if one is running well, they both are.

ROTB: Last question, who has been the most surprising player on offense and on defense so far (good or bad)?

DA: Defensively, I will go with Calais Campbell. I wasn't sure he'd be this good this fast, but it seems to me he is already playing as well as Antonio Smith did and you can argue he is already better. That's been huge for this team. Offensively, that's more difficult. Honestly, I expected Levi Brown to take a step forward this season but he hasn't yet, and that's something this team needs. Overall, I thought the entire offense would be playing a bit better, although now we are picking at nits when you realize they are 5-3 and are coming off a 41-point game. In the end, everyone needs to realize these guys aren't machines. They are people, they are going to go through bad patches, and we can't just expect that, if the Cards just play Player X, call Play Y, or give the ball more to Player Z, they'd be 8-0 and whipping everyone. It doesn't work that way.

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Many thanks to Darren Urban for taking the time and once again, go check out the team's official site. He does great work over there and it should be a daily visit for any Cardinals fan. Thoughts?