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Stretching The Field

Cards know deep passes could open things up -- although it's not cure-all

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A long pass attempt to Larry Fitzgerald goes over the receiver's head in the third quarter of Sunday's loss to Indianapolis.
 
 
During the Cardinals? postseason run of last season, each of the team?s playoff games were marked by a reoccurring theme: A long pass from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald, every time sparking the offense.

Flea-flicker against the Falcons. Catch in double coverage against the Panthers. Touchdown bomb off the double pass against the Eagles.

When the Warner-to-Fitzgerald deep hookup just missed in the third quarter against the Colts ? ?That was a game-changer right there,? Warner said of his overthrow of the wide-open Fitzgerald ? it underscored one of the elements the Cards have been missing.

When the Cards are clicking, they know how to stretch the field.

?Just the way I play my game, down the field stuff, it gets guys excited and the offense motivated and it gets the crowd into it,? Fitzgerald said. ?But (opponents) are not stupid. They know what I like to do, they know what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are. They are going to play to that. We have to take advantage when we have opportunities but not be stupid and take ill-advised shots either.?

Fitzgerald isn?t the only potential stretch-the-field element. The knee injury that has slowed wide receiver Steve Breaston, who also emerged as an alternate deep threat last year, has limited Breaston?s (and the offense?s) options.

So too has the pass rush and the Cards? protection, which has at times not given Warner enough leeway to allow deep routes to develop.

?(When) you don't get the opportunity to hit the big play that changes momentum and swings field position, then it becomes more of a dink-and-dunk and having to make play after play after play -- and that's hard to do in this business,? Warner said. ?There's no question, you get quick pressure, it stops you from really taking some shots down the field -- even if that's a 15 or 20-yard throw and not a bomb, just stretching the field and putting pressure on those guys on the backend so now they're playing back on their heels and other things become open.?

Much has been made of Fitzgerald?s statistics this season as they wait for the unrealistic weekly production he had in the playoffs, when he put up totals worthy of eight games in just four: 30 catches, 546 yards, seven touchdowns. Even Fitzgerald has set the bar high, acknowledging ?I don?t think I am playing on that same level I was playing on last year.?

But a downfield game doesn?t necessarily cure all woes, and stretching the field remains only one aspect the Cards want to improve.

?When you get big plays down the field, (problems) get overlooked because you can throw it 50 yards downfield and make big plays,? running back Tim Hightower said. ?The big play makes it easier.

?But to be the offense we want to be, you?re not going to be able to throw the ball 70 yards down the field every single game. It?s not the big play as much as consistency.?

Hightower?s thoughts echo a similar one from Warner, who noted that the Cards? big pass plays a year ago often got them out of trouble and ultimately masked some mistakes.

That would have been what happened with the overthrown Colts? bomb. The Cardinals had struggled in the second quarter especially against the Indy pass rush. Yet at the time of the deep throw, the Colts led just 21-10, Indianapolis had just bounced a field-goal attempt off an upright and the crowd was buzzing anyway. Then the Colts? defender trailing Fitzgerald on the play fell down.

Fitzgerald, whose longest catch this season has been 25 yards, would have had a 63-yard touchdown ? until the ball sailed too far over his head.

?It?s unfortunate because you know the way teams are playing you there are going to be limited amount of shots and you work all game to set them up,? Whisenhunt said. ?But it?s no different than when you get inside the 10(-yard line) and fumble the football. The end result is the same.?

EXTRA POINTS

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie fractured a finger against the Colts and had it immobilized, but Whisenhunt said the starter is not supposed to miss any games. The wrap is to make sure he doesn?t hurt it further during the bye weekend, Whisenhunt said. ?

Running back Beanie Wells, who missed practice Wednesday to tend to a personal matter, was back at work Thursday. ?

The Cardinals are now off until a practice Monday that will be similar to the two conducted this week. Players are off again Tuesday before starting back to regular work again Wednesday.

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