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Defending A Rookie QB -- Again

Posted Sep 5, 2012

Seattle's Russell Wilson becomes third straight to open versus Cardinals

The Cardinals' defense will open against a rookie quarterback for a third straight season.

First it was Sam. Then it was Cam. Now it’s Russ.

It’s like déjà vu all over again for the Cardinals. For the third consecutive season, they’ll face a rookie quarterback in Week 1 of the regular season.

And as they prepared for Sam Bradford in 2010 and Cam Newton in 2011, the Cardinals will be forced to decipher preseason game film to find what – if any – weaknesses they can exploit against Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

But if history in fact repeats itself, there will be plenty of ways for the Cardinals’ defense to spoil Wilson’s debut Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“We just need to give them a couple different looks because they’re not used to a lot of looks coming from college,” linebackers coach Matt Raich said. “It’s a little bit more simple than pro coverage. I think that’s one of the things, to try to confuse them.”

But that might be easier said than done.

Wilson, who earned the Seahawks’ starting job in the third week of the preseason after beating out Matt Flynn, has already established a reputation for being a smart player. Coach Ken Whisenhunt first noticed it when he interviewed Wilson at the combine back in February.

After studying film for the past two weeks, safety Kerry Rhodes thought Wilson looks more “seasoned” than his rookie counterparts.

“I expect him to be poised and be able to make plays,” Rhodes said. “For us, we got to go at him like he’s a veteran guy, a guy that’s done it before. We’ve seen what he can do on tape and we just got to be cautious with it.”

But film of preseason games are all the Cardinals have on Wilson. Rhodes said defensive coordinator Ray Horton watched some of Wilson’s bigger college games, but the defense has mainly watched his limited action as a Seahawk.

While Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn’t tip his hand during the preseason, the Cardinals are familiar with their NFC West foes.

“When you are playing a division opponent like we are, you have an idea of how they have attacked you in the past, but you never know what they have worked on in the offseason or what kind of wrinkles they may have put in,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s tough to prepare a lot of ways, not just for a quarterback. It’s tough to prepare a run game. It’s tough to prepare as an offense looking at defense just because you don’t know for sure exactly what they are going to do. That’s a part of the first game.”

Bradford threw for 253 and Newton for 422, but the Cardinals won both games. Wilson expects the Cardinals will try to confuse him. He also knows their unfamiliarity with him can be an advantage for only so long Sunday.

“I think teams know what I can do in terms of throwing the ball and, obviously, if I escape outside the pocket,” he said. “I don’t try to change my game.”

If the Cardinals underestimate Wilson, linebacker Daryl Washington is worried Wilson will use his versatility to burn the defense.

Raich said the Cardinals need to focus on keeping Wilson contained in the pocket, which will prevent him from stepping up into the A-gap with an open field in front of him.

“I think it’s a good challenge for us going up against a rookie quarterback,” Washington said. “We’ll definitely try to keep him unstable and make sure he’s uncomfortable.”

Besides preying on Wilson’s inexperience, the Cardinals will exploit Wilson’s height. At 5-foot-11 Wilson doesn’t have the size of the prototypical quarterback but what he lacks in height, Wilson makes up in his arm strength and the ability to make plays with his feet.

Take away the physical imposition and the mobility sounds awfully similar to another rookie quarterback the Cardinals faced recently – Cam Newton. But Raich also compared Wilson to another rookie quarterback the Cardinals faced last season.

“I think he is more like (Bengals quarterback) Andy Dalton but faster than Dalton,” Raich said. “If he finds a crease and nobody is open, he can tuck it away and run. I guess he’s like Cam because he’s an athlete.”

Dalton led the Bengals to a 23-16 win in Week 16. Whether Wilson plays like Bradford, Newton, Dalton or none of the above, the Cardinals plan to confuse the rookie with various defenses.

Looking back on the last two openers, that plan appeared to work. 

“It’s luck of the draw,” defensive end Calais Campbell said of playing three straight openers against rookies. “It’s kind of nice though because rookie quarterbacks usually have a lot more jitters than a normal quarterback would.”

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