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Taking Their Shots

Posted Nov 2, 2009

Cardinals continue to look for plays down the field in passing game

Quarterback Kurt Warner lets one fly deep to Larry Fitzgerald during Sunday's loss to Carolina.
 
 
The plan was to look long on the very first play.

The Cardinals came out in a two-tight end set, but Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were on the outside and the idea was to try and strike deep, something that hadn’t happened much over the first six games of the season.

But “we didn’t catch the right coverage,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, and quarterback Kurt Warner ended up throwing a check-down pass to running back Tim Hightower for three yards.

The Cardinals know they have been missing those big pass plays. Anquan Boldin did have the 44-yard catch-and-run against New York, but Larry Fitzgerald’s longest reception has gone for 27 yards; Steve Breaston’s was 25.

“We’ve got some things designed but they haven’t played out like we’ve hoped,” Warner said. “So we have had to check it down.

“It’s frustrating because it makes it hard. It makes it hard to throw six- and eight-yard passes all day long and work the ball that way. You’d like to get 35-, 40-, 45-yard chunks. It makes it easier. Hopefully they will come, but we’ll keep plugging.”

Last season, Fitzgerald (78), Boldin (79), Breaston (58) and Jerheme Urban (56) all had long plays of better than 50 yards (Urban does have a 40-yarder this season). Many of those came with yards after the catch, such as Boldin’s 79-yarder against Miami (and a similar one for 71 yards in the playoffs against Atlanta). Fitzgerald had a 75-yarder against Miami and then his 78-yarder in New England, both of which were mostly runs after the catch.

Simply throwing the ball deep this season has not clicked. The Cards tool a couple deeper shots to Fitzgerald Sunday, including one jump ball into double coverage -- much like how Warner threw to Fitzgerald into double coverage in the Panthers’ playoff game.

In the playoffs, Fitzgerald came down with the catch. Sunday, he and Warner couldn’t connect.

“I agree, we do need to have more plays down the field,” Whisenhunt said. “We have tried.”

Fitzgerald’s per-catch average is down almost four yards, although he’s still on pace to top 1,000 yards and 100 receptions. Both Boldin and Breaston have been hampered by lingering injuries – Boldin a bad ankle, Breaston a sore knee – but Warner said “we’re trying not to allow any of those things to dictate what we are doing.”

While the Cardinals have done a good job of putting together extended drives – such as the 11-play, 81-yard drive for a touchdown to open their offensive performance Sunday, with no gain longer than 17 yards – that isn’t an easy task.

“It puts a lot of stress on the offense to have those 11- and 12-play drives and convert those third downs consistently week in and week out,” Whisenhunt said. 

Sometimes a defender has made a good play on the shots downfield. Sometimes the protection has broken down and a couple of times Warner has just missed his target.  Most of the time, the Cardinals say, defenses have made sure they won’t get beat deep.

“It’s just the way teams are playing us, trying to make us be patient, methodically move the ball,” Boldin said. “It’s no surprise.”

Fitzgerald said keep the game close will help the Cards’ quest for the bigger plays, something that was lost early against Carolina. Continuing to use an improving run game – the Cards averaged 5.5 yards on their 17 carries Sunday – should also help loosen coverage.

“There is no need to panic,” Boldin said. “We know what we have in this offense.”

EXTRA POINTS

Safety Adrian Wilson, who declined to speak to the media after Sunday’s game, did so again Monday. “I ain’t got nothing polite to say so I’d rather not say anything at all,” Wilson said before leaving the locker room. …

Boldin said he’ll be day-to-day with after re-spraining his ankle and will try and practice more and more as the week progresses. But he shook his head when asked if he thought taking a week off may be beneficial. “If I am good enough to play, I’m going to play,” Boldin said. “If I am able to get out there, I am going to play.” Whisenhunt said the team must weigh Boldin’s limited status against what it would lose not having an emotional leader in the lineup. …

Boldin, who surpassed Larry Centers as the team’s all-time receptions leader with 537, said he didn’t really have a strong reaction to the record. “Somebody came and told me last week that I needed two catches but I’m not big on that,” Boldin said. …

Running back Jason Wright dislocated his right thumb but got it stitched together during the game and went back in and said Monday he will be OK to play. Defensive end Darnell Dockett (ankle) also returned to play and he should also be OK to play.
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