The Cardinals offense showed necessary improvement Saturday in a 33-20 home loss to Houston.
Matt Leinart got some tough love from coach Ken Whisenhunt this past week at practice.
That's what happens when the starting quarterback struggles like he did in the preseason opener and the first-unit offense follows suit.
So Leinart responded – twice.
First, he gave Whisenhunt a slip of paper Friday that predicted Leinart would be 10-for-10 throwing the ball Saturday. Then Leinart proceeded to complete all seven of his passes before coming out of the Cards' 33-20 loss to Houston at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"He was told to pick up his game and he responded," Whisenhunt said, before adding with a smile, "Obviously he didn't make his goals."
Offensively, the Cardinals (0-2) mostly got the crisp game Whisenhunt wanted. Defensively, Whisenhunt was more disappointed with a group that had a tough time creating a pass rush and couldn't stop the Texans (1-1) from converting a couple of long third downs.
But getting Leinart steadied was the Cards' No. 1 priority.
He wasn't involved on the first play, when Whisenhunt called a wide receiver pass from Anquan Boldin to Larry Fitzgerald that drew a 55-yard pass interference penalty.
But from there, Leinart managed the game well, gaining 70 yards on his seven completions and tossing a nice five-yard touchdown pass to running back Edgerrin James on a checkdown play before leaving after two series.
"(Whisenhunt) has been on me pretty hard but it's a good thing because he is pushing me to become better," Leinart said. "I was a little upset about how I played against Oakland.
"I thought myself and this starting offense did very well in our brief time we were in there."
When backup quarterback Kurt Warner came in to get some reps with the first-unit offensive line, he remained razor-sharp, completing 7-of-9 throws for 89 yards and leading the Cards to a field goal right before the half.
"The first two drives we had were pretty nice," Boldin said. "We should have come up with 14 points."
The Texans were similarly sharp, however. Quarterback Matt Schaub marched the Texans on an 85-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter in which he completed first-down passes on third-and-11 and again on third-and-9.
"Defensively, we didn't get done what we wanted to get done," Whisenhunt said. "I know we're playing a lot of base defense out there, but that is the kind of situation where you have to win some one-on-one matchups."
Said linebacker Karlos Dansby, "We didn't play up to our expectations as a unit. We've got to get them off the field on third down. We have to go back to it and perfect our craft."
Whisenhunt said he had been hoping for more of a pass rush off the edge, but that it may have been understandable with the Cards keeping their defense vanilla. But, looking for positives, Whisenhunt said the fact the Cards held twice inside the red zone and forced field goals was important.
The issues cornerback Antrel Rolle had – he was burned on a 39-yard completion over his head and was called for another pass interference – was in part because of a lack of pass rush, Whisenhunt said.
"What I don't like is when he arm-barred the guy out of bounds (on the pass interference)," Whisenhunt said. "That is technique."
But , added Whisenhunt, "Antrel is competing."
The Cardinals are off Sunday before heading back to Flagstaff for a final week of training camp this coming week. San Diego visits Saturday in the third preseason game and the last one in which the starters will play significant time.
Now that Leinart looks right, Whisenhunt already knows what he wants to accomplish against the Chargers.
"In two games, we had a chance to swing the momentum and we couldn't finish it off," Whisenhunt said. "That is something we have to get better at as a football team."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org