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A Matter Of Protection

Posted Oct 22, 2009

Notebook: Keeping Giants off Warner will be crucial for Cards

Tackle Levi Brown (75) tries to keep the Giants' Justin Tuck away from quarterback Kurt Warner during last year's Cardinals-Giants game.
 
 
The New York Giants have a famed pass rush, although last season when they visited Arizona, they only sacked quarterback Kurt Warner once.

Granted, that sack created a lost fumble. And the Giants were credited with 12 quarterback hits that day, meaning Warner wasn’t unscathed. But the Cardinals know they can protect Warner enough to allow the passing game to work, something that would seem to have a major influence Sunday when the Cardinals play in New York.

The Giants, who were just torched by the Saints through the air last weekend, are painfully aware they not only couldn’t sack New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees but barely even touched him. The Cardinals know – with Giants’ linemen like Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora -- that will take some work to replicate.

“If you pass the ball a lot, it’s going to come down to manning up,” Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown said. “We want a game plan that complements our strengths but it’s not always going to be like that. We have to be ready for anything.”

Quick passes may be the key. If Warner can get out quick throws, that’s much less time Brown and his fellow linemen will have to hold off the pass rush. The Cards may be able to find holes in the secondary quickly too, given the Giants’ injury problems in the secondary.

“When you evaluate a team and know what they do well, it’s going to adjust what you do,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We would certainly like to spread everybody out and throw every down, but we can’t do that because against guys like these, you have to be careful. You have to mix your protections, you have to keep a tight end in, you have to chip with a back, you have to do a number of things to try and give Kurt time. It becomes a little bit of a chess match and that’s part of the excitement.”

Tuck told New York reporters he was “licking his chops” at a chance to get to Warner this week, thinking Warner would hold the ball. Then he said his film study showed Warner getting off passes most of the time in just over two seconds – not enough time to get pressure.

The Giants may then blitz more, but usually that plays into the hands of Warner, who believes he is at his best when heavy numbers rush, leaving him to quickly find “hot” receivers.

 “They have a lot of playmakers who, when you don’t have a lot of time and have to rush things and make quick decisions, can capitalize on it,” Warner said.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Whisenhunt talked a little bit about emergency personnel in special teams situations. The subject came up when someone asked about Beanie Wells possibly returning kickoffs. Wells has done some of that in practice, but Whisenhunt said he is an unknown quantity in that role in a game and has multiple people in front of him.

Told Wells is lobbying to return a kickoff, Whisenhunt quipped, “He wants the ball in his hands. That’s pretty clear. As long as he can hold on to it, he does a pretty good job.”

The Cardinals have also let Tim Hightower try some field goals, which he also did in training camp. Whisenhunt said the intense way kicker Neil Rackers attacks return men on kickoffs, Hightower could eventually play an important role one week.

“Neil and I have talked about protecting himself,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s made big plays for us, tackles on kicks, and I don’t want to diminish his enthusiasm or intensity. But at times, you have a concern (of injury), because he is such a weapon.”

Coincidentally, it was at Giants Stadium where the Cardinals last used a kicker in a game who wasn’t really a kicker. In 2001, kicker Bill Gramatica blew out his knee leaping high in the air after celebrating a field goal. His replacement in the game? Pat Tillman.

INJURY UPDATE

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin didn’t practice for a second straight day, although Whisenhunt said Boldin did some jogging Thursday and, assuming his right ankle sprain reacts well overnight, there is a chance Boldin will practice Friday. Tight end Stephen Spach (ankle) remained out, while receiver Steve Breaston (knee) and running back Beanie Wells (hip) were limited. Both Breaston and Wells should be OK to play Sunday.

GRAHAM’S MATES VISIT

The Cardinals hosted three coaches and the general manager from the Australian Rules Football franchise Essendon Thursday. The Aussies know Cardinals punter Ben Graham – he played the sport before coming to the NFL and was a teammate of a couple of them – and they also have been to high-altitude training in Flagstaff.

Their trip, which included time spent with the Phoenix Suns, was to learn more about how professional sports franchises are run in the United States, both on the playing and business sides.
 
 
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