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The Even-Keeled Approach

Posted Nov 3, 2009

Whisenhunt careful in managing ebbs and flows of season

Coach Ken Whisenhunt holds a press conference after the win earlier this season against Houston at University of Phoenix Stadium.
 
 
The last time the Cardinals played the Bears, well, everyone remembers what happened.
 
It was a difficult loss for the Cards, and emotions were raw.

But difficult losses in the NFL aren’t unique. Every team experiences at least one or two during the season. Every coach deals with it a little differently.

After watching Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt for two-and-half seasons, it’s safe to say the ghosts of Dennis Green’s rant won’t revisit the team’s postgame podium. Frustrated fans sometimes want to hear an edge to Whisenhunt’s public comments, but he remains even-keeled after every game. He stays that way for wins and does it again after losses, even disappointing ones such as Carolina.

“I think our team has seen me get upset a few times when I’m with the team (in the locker room),” Whisenhunt said. “Maybe they need to see that a little bit more from the standpoint of being able to establish that consistency.

“(But) I don’t really buy into that. We have enough good football players that … no matter what the temperature of the game, we can play the style of football that can allow us to win.”

Players believe it as well. This isn’t the college game, where one or two losses can derail the season of a national contender. Most years, even the best NFL teams are saddled with at least three or four losses. A team with seven losses – while not ideal – has even proved it can reach the Super Bowl.

The entire league has long showed itself to be a week-to-week proposition, and there are enough outside forces making snap judgments of greatness after a particular win or doom after a particular loss. So Whisenhunt clearly feels it’d be a detriment to fall into a pattern of emotional ups-and-downs.

“A coach shows faith in your team when you are even-keeled,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “When you are down real tough on a player after a loss they can lose focus. For the most part, if you are consistent with who you are after wins and losses, I think players respect you more.

“I am sure if we continue to go bad and get worse, he’ll get harder. But we’re professionals and it’s our job to figure out what we did wrong.”

That doesn’t mean Whisenhunt doesn’t see the value of emotion helping a team. The Cardinals had that boost when they traveled to Seattle against a team that has turned into a bitter rival, especially in a place where the Cards had long struggled. The Cards gained an emotional edge again in New York for the nationally televised game against the Giants.

But that emotion – and Whisenhunt acknowledged the Cards play better “when we have a chip on our shoulder” – is not going to be there all the time. It’s impossible. That’s when a team must fall back on discipline and technique, issues that were lacking against the Panthers.
 
“You can’t get too high or too low,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said, emphasizing Monday with the loss to Carolina “we can’t do nothing about it now.”

“Those are games you are supposed to win and good teams win games they are supposed to win,” Boldin added. “Obviously we let one go. There’s nothing we can do about it now but let it go and move on.”

That sounds like the message Whisenhunt would have handed down. It’s certainly the vibe he left during press conferences both after the game Sunday and again Monday.

There’s a long-held belief that a coach knows he’s getting through to his players when the points he makes behind closed doors are repeated by players as their own thoughts when speaking to the media. Whisenhunt doesn’t want to overreact, week to week, and his players have embraced that ideal.

“I don’t think you need a coach to be rah-rah or be the exact opposite,” tight end Ben Patrick said. “I think it’s up to the players to police themselves. The coach is definitely and overseer with the game plan and things like that, but as far as the approach to the game, that has to be among the players to know you have to get the job done.”

SOME NUMBERS

Quarterback Kurt Warner, who now has 14,004 yards passing as a Cardinal, is the only player in NFL history to have thrown for at least 14,000 yards with two teams. He had 16,501 while playing for the Rams.

Running back Jason Wright had a career-high four special-teams tackles last week despite a first-half thumb dislocation that left the bone sticking through the skin.

The first-ever 300-yard passing game for the Cardinals was by Pat Coffee, who had 306 yards against the Bears in 1937. No Cardinal has passed for 300 yards against the Bears since – a span of 54 games heading into Sunday’s matchup.
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