Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart completes a pass during Thursday night's preseason opener against New Orleans.
For a game in which the statistics and result matter not at all, Matt Leinart's performance in Thursday night's preseason opener carried with it pressure.
Playing in a game for the first time since October of 2007, trying at once to fend off backup Kurt Warner and the critics who believe it is Leinart who should be second-string, the third-year quarterback had a good performance in what turned out to be a 24-10 loss to New Orleans at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"It felt good to get in a game again," Leinart said. "We just have to keep getting better. I thought we did some good things as an offense.
"We have to clean up some stuff. But it's a good start."
Leinart finished 7-of-8 for 91 yards, directing a 63-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Tim Hightower 1-yard run. He showed patience in his reads, waiting out wide receiver Steve Breaston on one crossing pattern that turned into a 34-yard completion and calmly dumping a pass to tight end Leonard Pope for a 1-yard gain instead of forcing a pass.
"He was accurate and in control," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He looked smooth in the pocket and his footwork was good. I was impressed.
"It was good to see him do that in a game-type situation," Whisenhunt added later.
"When you are comfortable and you know what you are doing," Leinart said, "the game slows down."
Leinart was in for 15 plays, and Whisenhunt followed through on his plan to sit Warner rather than play him with backup offensive linemen or risk injury.
Warner knew about it ahead of time and sounded fine with it prior to the game, acknowledging there was little that he could prove in the preseason.
Still, his shadow hovers over Leinart.
"A guy like Kurt pushing me is only going to make me better," Leinart said.
The Cards had a handful of players who seemed to impress. Second-string receivers Breaston and Jerheme Urban both performed well in their quest to earn the third wideout role. Urban had four catches for 32 yards and Breaston three catches for 50. Neither dropped a pass.
Hightower established himself – at least at this early point – as Edgerrin James' backup. The fifth-round pick had 23 yards and his score on five carries.
"It helped starting off on kickoff (coverage) getting the jitters out," Hightower said. "I am not even thinking about depth chart. I just want to improve every day."
Whisenhunt also had to be encouraged by the play of rookie defensive linemen Kenny Iwebema and Calais Campbell. Iwebema, known more as a run defender, came up the middle to sack Saints quarterback Mark Brunell on a fourth-and-1 play. Campbell was active, at one point chasing down a runner from behind 15 yards past the line of scrimmage.
But Campbell was also guilty of a 15-yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit, as penalties came in to bite the Cards – the most penalized team in the NFL in 2007 – again. The Saints' opening 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive was helped by three penalties on Arizona's starting defensive line, two of which gave the Saints a first down.
The Cardinals had five penalties in the first half and eight for the game, costing the team 70 yards.
"We can't have a 15-yard penalty early on (the first drive) that gives them a first down," Whisenhunt said. "That's something we have to correct.
"If we are not better, with those guys, if we have repeat infractions, then we have to address it."
While the Cards employed the normal "vanilla" defensive schemes, the Saints' top two quarterbacks – Drew Brees and Mark Brunell – carved them up. The duo completed 16-of-19 passes for 159 yards, with Brees directing the initial TD drive and then heading to the sideline for the night.
Third-string Saints quarterback Tyler Palko also delivered a 60-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to Robert Meachem as the third-string defense was unable to tackle Meachem.
The Cardinals' second-string defense did get a highlight in the first half, when linebacker David Holloway led a charge to stone Saints running back Pierre Thomas at the goal line on fourth down.
"We have to learn how to win," said Whisenhunt, who graded his team as "average."
"It is important for us to win some preseason games. But I am pleased we got out of the game without getting anybody hurt, and we played hard."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 8/7/08. Updated 8/7/08.