Even with a change at quarterback, the Cardinals haven't made a drastic overhaul to the offense.
Maybe more fullback. Perhaps more two-receiver sets. Definitely a lot more running.
These were the assumptions made about the Cardinals-offense-to-be this offseason in the wake of the Kurt Warner retirement. In that light, "I think that's natural for people to think that," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
All along, though, Whisenhunt told people the offense wasn't going to change a lot. He wanted more balance, yes, but not an overhaul. It didn't make sense.
"We are just trying to do what we think is best for our team," Whisenhunt said. "There are different games that call for different things, and we are trying to be flexible enough to do that."
Some things have changed since the offseason, of course. When the questions first came up over the offensive identity, Matt Leinart was slated to be the starting quarterback. Obviously, the position has morphed from Leinart to Derek Anderson to now, rookie Max Hall.
None are Warner. Generally, the Cards have had more balance this season. In the past, the Cards seemed to build up their rushing attempt totals – and their run/pass ratio – late in the game after building a lead via Warner's arm. This season, trailing big in all three losses, potential balance has been lost in a hailstorm of rally-induced throwing.
Against Seattle, up until the Cardinals fell behind 22-10 with 7:28 left, the Cardinals ran 20 first-down plays. Twelve were runs, eight were passes. On 15 second downs up until that point, the Cards ran it eight times and passed seven.
But Whisenhunt doesn't believe in a team running it 70 percent of the time, not even with a rookie quarterback, because it is too easy to defend. When your best player is a wide receiver – in this case, Larry Fitzgerald – it's not wise to take away that option so often either.
"That's not who we are," Fitzgerald said. "That's not the kind of team we are and I don't think we'll ever go that way. I think it's nice to have that component, where if we have a third-and-short we can bring in a package and get what we need to get, but I don't think that'll ever be our team."
With strength at wide receiver – when healthy, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet remain potential weapons too – it makes sense to Whisenhunt to use different formations, including multi-receiver sets, and exploit the defense.
"Look at some of the better offenses, the Saints, Indianapolis, they are always flexing people out, moving people around, because that makes it harder to defend," Whisenhunt said. "It is about matchups. We have a good solid base in doing those things. Can the quarterback operate in those? That's really what it comes down to and obviously we feel comfortable enough with Max to think we can still do some of those things."
Even after Hall's troubles in Seattle Whisenhunt said Hall was "ahead of the curve, in my opinion, as a rookie quarterback in a number of things." He acknowledged the offense might be cut back a bit to make things a little easier for Hall going forward.
The structure of the offense isn't going to change, however. It's the framework put in place since minicamp in May, and Whisenhunt can look at 2008 and 2009 to see its success. The offseason guesses of a major tweak (and I was one of those making such a guess) never were on the mark.
LaRod Stephens-Howling leads the NFL with 719 kickoff return yards this season, and The Hyphen is averaging 41.3 yards per return over his last six runbacks.
The Cardinals have lost three straight Halloween games, with their last Oct. 31 win coming in 1977 with a 28-0 shutout of the Giants.
The Cardinals have five return touchdowns – one kickoff return, three fumble returns and an interception return – to tie New England for the most in the NFL.
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