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An Aggressive Bent

Posted Oct 27, 2009

Whisenhunt doesn't want to pass on taking chances

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt watches his offense run a play during Sunday night's victory in Giants Stadium.
 
 
The Cardinals had just forced a fumble Sunday night – Matt Ware knocking the ball loose from Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw from behind, with Adrian Wilson jumping on it – and took over on offense with 3:52 left on their own 42-yard line nursing a 24-17 lead.

The first play for the Cards left coach/playcaller Ken Whisenhunt admitting the next day a decision that “wasn’t very good by me.”

But it also showed where Whisenhunt’s philosophy stands, not just now but heading into the future.

Whisenhunt could have called a run. But he said he saw a chance and an opening for a play that would have, essentially, driven a stake into the heart of the Giants. The defense came out a bit differently, and an audible to a fade to Larry Fitzgerald was knocked down at the line of scrimmage by a blitzing defensive back.

Whisenhunt said the next day he should have called a run. It would have eaten clock. But it’s the ultimate Catch-22 for anyone dialing up a play during an NFL game. Hindsight says the Cards should have run. But, Whisenhunt said, “then you’re always thinking, ‘Well, I had a chance to make a play and I didn’t call it.’ ”

The arguments over slowing down the passing game rose to a fever pitch after the Cards hung on to beat Houston a few weeks ago despite an offense that barely had the ball in the second half. In the afterglow of a tremendous win in New York – and with Beanie Wells getting extended playing time for the first time – the three-pass sequence didn’t raise as many eyebrows.

But it did mean something to the players, especially quarterback Kurt Warner and Fitzgerald, who was in the one-on-one coverage.

“The thing I love about Coach is he is always trying to keep us in the most favorable situations,” Warner said. “It’s not just going to be exactly what the circumstances say we are supposed to do. He says, ‘Hey if we have a better match-up on the outside throwing it, then we’ll throw it.’ That’s what you like.

“It comes down to us executing. When we don’t execute, he gets second-guessed and he’s got to take the brunt of it. But that’s what players love, getting the ball in our hands.”

There has long been an assumption by many that the Cardinals will transform the offense when Warner finally retires. The theory is that Whisenhunt grew up as a player and coach in run-first situations like Gibbs in Washington, Parcells in New York and Cowher in Pittsburgh.

Besides, the thinking goes, with Wells on board and Matt Leinart the heir apparent at quarterback, running more makes more sense.

But maybe not. Whisenhunt was quick to point out Leinart threw for 360 yards in just two quarters in the preseason comeback against Green Bay. Leinart also had a 405-yard passing performance in Minnesota as a rookie.

As for his own leanings, “We’re always going to do what best fits our personnel,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s one thing I have learned.”

So that may mean more throwing.

Had the ball not been knocked down on first down, Fitzgerald would have had a one-on-one jump ball in space, something many have been hoping the Cardinals would try more often.
 
The Cardinals did throw twice more in that coulda-been-fateful three-and-out. The first was a short six-yard pass to Fitzgerald, not only making for a manageable third down but also cranking up the clock. On third down, Warner’s throw to Fitzgerald – which would have yielded a first – was incomplete while Giants defensive back Terrell Thomas might have been called for pass interference.

As always, hindsight is perfect. But the Cards’ foresight will likely remain aggressive.

“When we get a favorable situation, we know Coach is going to go to us,” Warner said. “It will be our job to make those plays.”

SOME NUMBERS

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin needs just two catches against the Panthers Sunday to surpass former running back Larry Centers as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions. Boldin has 534 career catches.

Quarterback Kurt Warner needs 238 passing yards this week to become the only quarterback in NFL history to have thrown for at least 14,000 yards for two different teams – Arizona and St. Louis.

Safety Adrian Wilson has 19 career sacks and 19 career interceptions, needing one more of each to become only the ninth player in NFL history to post 20-20.
 
 
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