Cards not ready for prime time yet Print
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Monday, 24 November 2008 12:35
NFL Headline News

 Kurt Warner threw for 351 yards Sunday, his fifth straight 300-yard passing game.
That's bad, not good, and demonstrates why Warner and the Arizona Cardinals flunked the ``ready for prime time'' test in their 37-29 loss Sunday to the Giants. To be an elite team, you have to be balanced - run and pass and be solid on offense, defense and special teams.
By that standard, Arizona isn't ready yet. And despite its 10-0 start, Tennessee might not be either, because it's a team that has benefited from a relatively easy schedule and doesn't have enough offensive firepower to come back when an opponent gets an early jump
This isn't to belittle the Cardinals, who are one of the feel-good stories of the 2008 season.
But while chuckling at Detroit, the current symbol of NFL futility, remember that the Cardinals have been the Lions for the better part of six decades, wandering from Chicago to St. Louis to the desert. When Arizona clinches the NFC West and plays a home playoff game, it will be its first since the Chicago Cardinals won the NFL championship game in 1947.
t knows how much progress is needed.
``That's a well-coached football team with a tremendous amount of depth that doesn't make many mistakes,'' the Cardinals coach said after losing to the Super Bowl champions. ``To me that was the key today. We just made too many mistakes.''
The ``well-coached'' also applies to Arizona. Whisenhunt led the Cardinals to an 8-8 mark last season, only their third non-losing record in 23 years. He is now 15-12 in less than two seasons and is probably on his way to being the best coach the franchise has had since Don Coryell went 42-29-1 from 1973-77 in St. Louis.
But the ``depth'' does not apply to the Cardinals. Nor does lack of mistakes. Nor does balance.
Yes, this was Warner's fifth straight 300-plus yards passing game and the second time the Cardinals lost in that stretch. In fact, nearly half the QBs who throw for 300 yards do so in losing efforts - either their team can't run or they are in catch-up mode.
Both those conditions applied to Warner on Sunday.
The Cardinals ran for just 23 yards and basically gave up trying, leaving Warner to throw 52 times.
He completed 32 of his passes, but took a horrendous beating in the process and turned over the ball twice - a fumble after a sack that led to a New York touchdown and an interception that led to a field goal. In other words, 10 points in a game that Arizona lost by nine.
ing was a much more efficient 26-of-33 for 240 yards and three TDs, numbers far more indicative of a winning effort than Warner's.
The Giants also won the special teams battle, getting kickoff returns of 83 and 68 yards from Domenik Hixon that set up 10 more points. And Hixon is an example of the depth Whisenhunt mentioned. Not only did he have those returns, but Hixon filled in after injured Plaxico Burress left early and led New York with six catches.
It wasn't just that the Titans lost for the first time, because every team throws in a clunker, as the Giants did five weeks ago in Cleveland. It was that they were pushed around so badly by the Jets, who controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes and were clearly the better team.
The Jets also exploited weaknesses: a banged-up secondary and a very ordinary receiving corps that the 10-0 record tended to obscure. Brett Favre picked apart a defense that had been allowing just 13 points a game with short passes, negating a pass rush that intimidated other opponents.
In fact, Favre is one reason why Tennessee may not be the power we thought.
played a quality opponent until the Jets - do you count Minnesota, Green Bay and Chicago, slightly better than average sides jumbled in the NFC North?
Moreover, where Eli Manning simply took over when Arizona stacked to stop the run, Tennessee couldn't do that to the Jets because its receiving corps isn't nearly as deep as New York's.
On the other hand, maybe it was the ``due to lose'' syndrome. There certainly seemed to be a sense or relief among the Titans, who should almost surely improve to 11-1 at Detroit on Thanksgiving.
``We got embarrassed at home,'' linebacker Keith Bulluck said. ``It's time for us to turn the heat up. A lot of these teams are in playoff mode, and we were sitting there at 10-0. Now it's time for us to get back to the ball that we were playing in the first five, six and seven games of the season.''
That shouldn't be a problem against the next three opponents: the Lions, Browns and Texans. And by the time the Titans get to the Steelers and Colts, they probably won't need the wins.
But the playoffs may be another story.

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