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Tackling a Defensive Problem

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The Cardinals' bench can only watch as Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith apparently stays inbounds after Antrel Rolle (21) can't make the tackle on a 65-yard TD play.

Ken Whisenhunt was trying to explain why he couldn't get a clean view of the foot of Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith on Smith's controversial foot-in-or-out 65-yard touchdown.

The Cardinals' coach was looking at the coaches' tape, but Smith's foot was blocked from view because safety Antrel Rolle is diving across the screen while, Whisenhunt noted "missing the tackle."

Whisenhunt made it clear right after the Panthers' game and again Monday that the Cards lost for two main reasons: because of two key second-half turnovers, and because of a failure to tackle.

"We have to do a better job of pursuing and tackling in the secondary, and I'm not just talking about our defensive backs but I am talking about beyond the line of scrimmage," Whisenhunt said. "That's what seems to be hurting us."

Most of the big plays the Cardinals have surrendered, Whisenhunt said, have been not because of bad positioning but because of poor tackling.

Smith's touchdown – which should have been a 15-yard gain – was one. Marion Barber's 70-yard touchdown – that should have gained about 10 yards – was another.

"If we can get guys down when we are supposed to and make teams go the length of the field, teams haven't had a lot of success doing that against us," Whisenhunt said. "It's when we don't tackle and let them run 50 yards that hurts us."

Teams can't just practice all-out tackling in practice. Injury concerns won't allow that. But Whisenhunt said the defense will work in individual drills about being in the right position, bending knees and breaking down. Pursuing at the correct angles would also help; Whisenhunt acknowledged when runners reach the second level of the defense, too often defenders are relaxing too much.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby said the defense is aware of the problem and can't let it happen again.

"We've got to get the guys on the ground," Dansby said, adding his own emphasis on reaching fundamentals.  

"Angles and leverage, that's what tackling is all about," he said. "They had the good angles, and we didn't have good leverage."

INJURY REPORT

Whisenhunt said the team's tight end situation is "dramatically improved" from last week, in part because Ben Patrick (knee) continues to improve in his limited practice work and the Cards signed Stephen Spach at the position. Jerame Tuman is the team's other healthy tight end.

Tight end Leonard Pope is not healthy, however, sitting out again with his bad ankle. Whisenhunt said the hope is that Pope – whose injury is to the same ankle that he tore up last season – can practice again next week. That would seem to rule out Pope already for the St. Louis game.

DE/LB Travis LaBoy (groin) was limited again, but it isn't expected to affect his playing status. Kicker Neil Rackers hurt his right calf in Carolina, but he still practiced and should be fine, as should safety Aaron Francisco (ankle).

GO GO GADGET

As was shown Sunday, when the Cardinals attempted a fake field goal, a halfback option pass and a fake end around/full end around with Anquan Boldin, Whisenhunt hasn't been shy about trying gadget plays.

In his season-and-a-half, Whisenhunt has attempted onside kicks (that weren't necessary at the end of games), wide receiver passes and passes to defensive backs playing wideout.

"That's one of the great things I learned from coach (Bill) Cowher (in Pittsburgh), that you have to believe in those type of plays," Whisenhunt said. "(The Steelers) had a reputation offensively for running a number of gadgets but a large part of that was because coach Cowher wanted them.

"It's all part of being aggressive and believing in your players, and understanding we're not just throwing stuff up on the board and running them. We put a lot of time and effort and thought into them. For the most part, they work. And if you don't call them, they're never going to work."

EXTRA POINTS

The Cardinals can become the first team in NFL history to have three wide receivers with at least 40 receptions after eight games of the season. Larry Fitzgerald already has 43 catches; Steve Breaston has 37 this season and Anquan Boldin has 36. Two teams have had three players with 40 catches after eight games, but both teams had a running back in the mix: the 2002 Raiders (WR Jerry Rice 51, RB Charlie Garner 45, WR Tim Brown 44) and the 2006 Lions (WR Roy Williams 44, WR Mike Furrey 41, RB Kevin Jones 41). …

Rams coach Jim Haslett said running back Steven Jackson, who was limited in practice Wednesday with an injured thigh, will likely be questionable again this week. Jackson missed last week's game with the injury. …

The Cardinals re-signed WR Onrea Jones to the practice squad.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 10/29/08.

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