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Getting Physical

Cards building up tough edge as playoffs approach

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Cardinals running back Tim Hightower delivers a stiff-arm to Vikings safety Madeau Williams during Arizona's win Sunday night.
 
 
Tim Hightower sprinted to the outside and, as Vikings safety Madeau Williams closed in, the Cardinals' running back delivered a straight arm or two to Williams.

"When you get a chance," Hightower said, "you want to punish them as much as you can."

Physical is the word used often around the Cardinals right now. It's done with a purpose.

For two straight weeks the Cards have played teams that have made a reputation on physicality. The loss in Tennessee could have been a playoff game with the intense hitting, and the win Sunday night over Minnesota evolved – the Cards believe – because they won the physical battles.

"I know we throw the ball a lot, but we have some tough guys on this team," Hightower said. "I don't think we're a finesse team at all, but for whatever reason, that's been the word on us. The more you watch us, the more I think you'll see that's not the case."

Encouraging was the fact the Cards seemed to get that hard edge everywhere on the field. Hightower's stiff arm. Defensive lineman Alan Branch pushing back the pocket. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald breaking through and dragging six different Vikings to turn an eight-yard reception into 15 yards. Defenders constantly collapsing on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

"We're built," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, "to beat teams down."

Veteran tight end Anthony Becht knows about physical, having come into the NFL with the Bill Parcells-Jets. One of the reasons coach Ken Whisenhunt imported Becht this offseason was to get a physical edge at the position.

Becht recalled playing the Cards as a member of the Buccaneers in 2007. That Cardinals team, Becht said, tried to be physical but did so more after the whistle. Now, Becht said, the Cards are smarter and bang on opponents the right way – and have been doing so for close to two months.

"It's an attitude," Becht said. "With the o-line, I try to stake my claim with them and let them know, that's what it's going to take. Physically beat teams up. When you do it on a consistent basis, teams know it. Teams watch tape. It's evident.  But you've got to want to do it. You have to want to give a little extra."

Tackling has been improving, leading to an added physicality. The running game, which has become a factor on the offense, also helps – giving the linemen a chance to thump on the defenders rather than always falling into pass-blocking.

"You'd like to think at this time of the year, that's got to be the mindset," Whisenhunt said. 

Dockett credits strength coach John Lott for making a difference and preparing the Cards to play such a game. The players have also embraced the idea.

"You're going to hear a lot of thunder and lightning out there," Branch said.

It's interesting that the Cardinals are playing arguably at their most physical level going into the game against the 49ers, a team that spent training camp with old-school beat-'em-up drills instituted by coach Mike Singletary.

Now, the 49ers' offense has used more spread principles thanks to new quarterback Alex Smith, using less of a physical bent on that side of the ball. Defensively San Francisco hasn't changed, but the Cards are clearly relishing a chance to face them a second time.

"For the most part," tackle Jeremy Bridges said, "we want to hit you in the mouth."

EXTRA POINTS

Quarterback Kurt Warner, limping after hurting his hip Sunday night, was in better shape Monday, when he was able to lift weights and work on an elliptical trainer.

"It actually feels good today," Warner said. "I'm still a little sore, but I'm a lot better than I expected it to be. We'll be fine." …

While praise continued through the locker room for fill-in Bridges, the man he replaced at left tackle –Mike Gandy – was hoping he will be able to practice this week with his pelvic injury.

"I feel pretty good," Gandy said. "We'll take it day by day, see what happens when I start practicing. It's something that's been bothering me all season. You just deal with it and keep going." …

With the Cardinals playing "Monday Night Football," Whisenhunt is pushing the work week back a day. Practices will be on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. "We'll get that extra day of rest," Whisenhunt said.

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