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The Path Of The Passes

Notebook: Warner throws it where defense has holes; Okeafor, Breaston questionable

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The Cardinals are trying to get the ball to 1,000-yard receivers (from l to r) Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Larry Fitzgerald, although it's not always easy.
 
 
The strength of the Cardinals is their potent passing game and having three 1,000-yard receivers.

It can also be a burden.

Even in the wake of the Cards' win last weekend was talk – thrust into the national spotlight by Twitter – about how much or how little Cardinals Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald was getting the ball. But getting the ball specifically to Fitzgerald, or fellow Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin, or Steve Breaston, isn't as simple as it sounds.

"You can call plays that you might go to Anquan (or) you might think they are going to Larry," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "Then you see something on the field and it just doesn't dictate that."

Defenses are specifically clamping down on Fitzgerald, no surprise after his postseason play last year. And when Warner has other very good receivers to turn to – and Warner did set an NFL record for completion percentage in Jacksonville – getting myopic doesn't always make sense.

"It is a dangerous line to cross to try to do that," Whisenhunt said. "When you call a game or design a game plan, you have to do it based on what the defense is giving you."

Whisenhunt said he has heard his receivers talk about the fact they know they won't be able to post monster statistics every week. But he also said wideouts want the ball, a trait that makes them great.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," Whisenhunt said.

Warner said one of the trio could have 12 catches one week and two the next. He just hopes he has earned the respect with his play that they trust he will make the right decisions where to go with the ball.

That doesn't mean he's immune to their pleas. Warner said he's open to a receiver pleading his case in a game, "as long as they are legit" in reading the coverage.

"It's a hard thing to do, when you have a guy who you want to touch the ball," Warner said. "You want him happy. … You find yourself saying, 'Gosh, can I get him the ball?' "

Fitzgerald has, for two weeks in a row, downplayed the idea he is desperate for more passes. He said he remembers watching Cris Carter in Minnesota have down days for receptions but blocking for running back Robert Smith on a screen or running a clear route so Randy Moss could get open.

"It's about contributing," Fitzgerald said. "Not every week is going to be 150 yards. You are going to have not-so-glamorous games. As long as you come out victorious, that's what it is all about."

JOHNSON JOINS INJURY PARADE

Questionable will be the catchphrase for the Cardinals going into Sunday's game, with six players on the 16-man injury list receiving that designation – including safety Rashad Johnson, who was added to the list Friday after spraining his ankle in practice.

One player – defensive end Kenny Iwebema (ankle) – has been ruled out. Those questionable are Johnson, linebacker Chike Okeafor (shoulder), receiver Steve Breaston (knee), linebacker Ali Highsmith (hamstring), safety Matt Ware (shoulder) and tackle Levi Brown. Highsmith returned to limited work Friday.

Starters Breaston and Brown are expected to play, while Whisenhunt sounded optimistic about Okeafor. There will be some game-day decisions, however. "It'd be nice to have one if you didn't have all the drama," Whisenhunt said. "But that's the NFL."

For the Colts, Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders (knee) has been ruled out. Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney (back) is officially questionable, but he practiced full on Friday.

DEALING WITH DALLAS

The Colts are slightly unique with their current offensive configuration. Reggie Wayne is the Pro Bowl wide receiver and the No. 1 target. But with Marvin Harrison gone and Anthony Gonzalez hurt, tight end Dallas Clark has become even more important in a lineup with young receivers.

Clark was already a favorite of quarterback Peyton Manning. Against Miami Monday night, Clark had seven catches for 183 yards.

"It just gives you more to prepare for," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "If they are going into a gunfight, they've got plenty of bullets. Dallas Clark is one of the better receivers in the game, and what he brings to the table not a lot of tight ends are able to do."

Clark sometimes is in a normal tight end three-point stance, but often he splits out wide, creating mismatches for linebackers.

"He's versatile and that makes him more dangerous," McFadden said.

THE HYPHEN'S HITS

The Cards haven't been afraid to use 5-foot-7 rookie running back LaRod Stephens-Howling in the offense, but his biggest impact has been special teams – where the man they call "The Hyphen" already has six tackles in just two games.

"You don't have six tackles in two games if you're not a physical player," Whisenhunt said. "He has a good knack for it and he showed that early in training camp."

Stephens-Howling said he didn't do a lot of coverage work in college until his senior year, but he embraced it when he realized it would be a way to get into the NFL.

"They are doing a great job coaching me up and I am in the meeting room with (Pro Bowl special teamer) Sean (Morey) all the time," Stephens-Howling said. "I have a lot of leeway too at my position (as gunner) so I am trying to use my speed and attack."
 
 

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