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The Cards' Options Versus Titans

Posted Nov 27, 2009

Notebook: Warner feeling better, more confident he'll play Sunday

The Cardinals handled the Rams' Steven Jackson OK last week, but the Titans' Vince Young and Chris Johnson create whole new problems.
 
 
The option isn’t a popular play in the NFL, not when defenses are so fast they can cover so well laterally and so focused they’d take every chance to drill the opposing quarterback.

But the Titans have broken out the concept with a great running quarterback in Vince Young and the NFL’s top rusher in Chris Johnson, leaving the Cardinals with a significant chore Sunday when the teams meet in Tennessee.

“Honestly, If I was the head coach or their offensive coordinator, I’d be doing the same thing,” Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “You’ve got to get the ball into the playmakers’ hands.”

Johnson has been spectacular since Young re-entered the lineup. Johnson has averaged 161.5 yards rushing in each of Young’s four starts. Young, meanwhile, ran for 73 yards against Houston last week in a combination of the option and scrambles from the pocket.

The Titans are the top-rushing team in the NFL.

“It doesn’t change the focus, but you just have to be aware with the kind of athletes they have back there,” linebacker Clark Haggans said. “Obviously they have a lot of speed in the backfield with the quarterback and running back. We know if we are not on our game, it won’t turn into a first down, it’ll turn into six points.”

Dockett said he got some pointers about the Tennessee offensive line from former teammate Antonio Smith, now with the Texans. Some of the preparation is simply theory – “I don’t think there are many people that can give you the look of Vince Young, but we did the best we could,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said – and the Cardinals have rarely seen this version of an offense.

Haggans said the Cardinals can’t alter their pass rush because of Young’s ability to run, only that they have to remain aware of his lanes.

The closest the Cardinals have played to a running quarterback was in Jacksonville, where David Garrard escaped a handful of sacks and ran for 27 yards on four carries. Discipline will be crucial, and that’s assuming an option play is as inventive as the Titans get.

“When you have a guy like myself and Chris Johnson in the backfield, who can make a lot of plays and put a lot on the defense, you never know what is going to happen,” Young said.

WARNER: “I’M PROBABLY GOING TO PLAY”

After practice, as usual, the Cards’ three quarterbacks and coach Chris Miller played a game that looks like a version of hackeysack with a football, getting in a tight circle and using feet and other body parts to keep the ball in the air.

Kurt Warner avoided using his head, though.

“I kind of stayed away from the headers,” said Warner, recovering from a concussion. “Granted, I’d be in trouble if I did a header with a football and got a concussion. Something would definitely be wrong. But just for precaution’s sake, I stayed away from too many headers.”

Half-jokes aside, Warner said his stiff neck was better Friday than earlier in the week and said that, barring any setbacks, “I’m probably going to play.”

“All indications are that direction but I don’t want to give anyone the false sense I definitely am,” Warner said. “We’re going to keep monitoring it. All signs are leaning in that direction, but again, it’s all about how you respond.”

OKEAFOR SHOULD BE READY

The Cardinals should be in good shape to have almost everyone available for Sunday’s game, aside from linebacker Will Davis, who is out after knee surgery.

Linebacker Chike Okeafor (back) was limited again Friday but Whisenhunt said there was a “good chance” Okeafor will be in the lineup.

“Whenever you get on a plane and fly across the country, you never know what will happen,” Whisenhunt said, in waiting to declare Okeafor absolutely good to go.

Kicker Neil Rackers (groin) was also limited and is questionable but he too should play – especially since the Cards don’t have another kicker on the roster. Cornerback Bryant McFadden (knee) and defensive end Kenny Iwebema (thumb) were also limited, but both are expected to play.
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