What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Cardinals had just barely won a game against the St. Louis Rams 17-13. Derek Anderson threw for 297 yards and 1 TD on 22/41 (54%) and a QB rating of 85.1. Many of his misses were 10 feet away from the nearest receiver. They ended up running the ball on 33% of the total plays. You left the game feeling like, "I sure hope they don't throw the ball that much every game with D.A." Ahhhh, false hopes. A Cardinal mainstay.
Warp ahead a year later and you get another Cardinal win against Carolina 28-21. Kevin Kolb throws for 309 yards and 2 TDs on 18/27 (67%) and a QB rating of 130.0. He played a very good game and made some Kurt Warner like quick reads. One to Early Doucet went 70 yards on a big play. However this time they ran the ball 46% of the total plays. There was good balance throughout the game. Play action was far more believable and they seemed to gain some rythem from it.
There is no doubt Kolb is a gigantic upgrade from last year. He looks like he knows how to spread the ball around. He took 7 shots at Fitz, but could only connect on 3 of them as he was double teamed for most of the game. The other WR and TE seemed to pick up the slack and Kolb found them often. His 67 completion percentage is dreamy as was his no INTs. He looked lost on a couple of plays in which he prematurely jumped out of the pocket. However he did get rid of the ball better than he did in preseason to alleviate too many needless hits. On one play he avoided the rush to find Jeff King wide open for a 48 yard TD. He is making plays with his head first and then his feet. An amazing commodity to have at QB.
(Sidenote: If Cam Newton continues to play like he did today, I'm gonna look like an idiot for saying he's "the next Vince Young only smarter". Vince Young, heck, he looked more like Steve Young.)
The RBs in last years game had 20 carries for 103 yards and 1TD, while this year they had 21 carries for 100 yards and 1TD. When looking at those numbers there seems to be little to no difference. And yet anyone that watched the game knows that wasn't the case. As I mentioned earlier this year they ran the ball 46% of the time as opposed to last year at 33%. (Last year they only ran the ball 46% or more on three occasions: Oakland, Denver, and Dallas. All three were Cardinal wins) They had a more balanced attack and actually established the run early. Every QB wants a good run game to take off the heat on his receivers. That's just what happened. Beanie ran well, and too my utter surprise, ran the ball off center on numerous occasions. Last year he bumped too many plays outside. It was nice to see a more direct attack from the RB position to set up the play action. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Beanie's huge fumble in the red zone. That dude has terrible ball security and refuses to fix it. I'm wondering if we'll see a good dose of Chester Taylor some time soon to send a message.
The O-Line held well. Levi Brown gave up some sacks, but for the most part they looked good. They gave Beanie a couple of huge holes to run through, especially on the goal line. That should build his confidence in them to trust running up the gut. We'll see if they stick to that. Pass protection wasn't bad.
The WR and TE did a great job today. Last year 6 receivers caught 2-4 completions and this year 6 receivers caught 2-4 completions. The major, and I stress major, difference is that there were 41 balls thrown last year as opposed to 27 this year. Also D.A. missed guys by a mile, I swear one went 10 feet above Fitz's head, leaving the whole squad with an enormous lack of confidence. Kolb place the balls well and at least a couple were catchable balls that the receivers dropped. Still, they made huge plays when needed. The stats tell the tale; Doucet with a 70 yard TD, King with a 48 yard TD, and Fitz with a big 34 yard 3rd down conversion.
Special Teams were money again. All last year they gave the Cards a chance to win some games. This year it was Patrick Peterson's 89 yard game winning TD. The Hyphen gave them two good returns which is admireable this year with the new kickoff spot.
The D line looked great again. Again the stats: Carolina ran the ball 27 times for 74 yards for 2.7 yd/carry and a TD. The longest carry was Stewart's 13 yards scamper. That is good solid run D. They put pressure on Newton all day forcing him out of the pocket. Both Carter and Dan Williams made big plays while Dockett and Campbell made themselves known. However, this D thrives on the line getting pressure and sacks on the QB. Zero sacks isn't satisfactory and it exposed Patrick Peterson today. While I'm happy with some of it, I'm afraid I feel like it wasn't good enough.
The LB corps played very well. For being the supposed weak spot of this team they sure seemed to play unaware of that opinion. Darryl Washington was a monster with a .5 sack 7 tackles, one for a loss, a pass deflected and a big INT. He would have had to INTs but the ref saw something no one else on the planet saw when he called Marshall for a bad hit on Newton. A few plays later the Panthers scored a TD. After the game Whiz said he was never told what the call was. It was one of those plays that the Cardinals used to fold under. This year Washington just came up with a bigger play. Porter had one dumb offsides at the end with no harm done thanks to Paris Lenon (again). The rest of the game he was his former self putting tons of pressure on Newton (1 sack and 2 QB hits) Schofield some plays. Paris Lenon, once again, quietly lead the team in tackles and had a sack and a game saving tackle. Ho - hum for the most underated LB in football.
The Defensive Backs were dreadful in this game. And trust me, I'm not saying that because I thought Cam wouldn't be very good, and instead was a nightmare. I give Cam all the credit in the world for looking like a real NFL QB. In fact, after this game, he might have won a little part of me over.(but that's no different than Vince Young) No, I mean the cornerbacks played aweful. Correction: Peterson played aweful. He was rarely within 3 yards of his receiver and gave up huge plays left and right. He must learn to stay closer or we're looking at another Antrel Rolle. That is, eventually he'll move to safety. This team needs good corners to stick with receivers. They don't have to stay long, but longer than PP21 did today. Jefferson played well enough against a scrub WR. A.W. made a good appearance, but once again Rhodes outshone him. Yes, I know Rhodes gave up a huge TD by letting Steve Smith get by him. Although it looked like A.W. was supposed to give help over the top. Even with that he was a stud out there. 7 tackles, a sack, a QB hit and a tackle for a loss. He continues to play tough and lead this backfield.
All in all, not a bad game considering the offseason. Also we should consider that this is a better Carolina team than the one that beat the Cards last year. They are showing they are not the 5-11 team last year. The Cards do need improvement in most areas, but its a far cry better than this time last year. (Also, I am elated that they looked up the word 'balance' in the dictionary.)