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Pre-Season Week 3 Recap: Cards Win 14-9

Derek Anderson stands tall and delivers a pass against the Chicago Bears during the Cards' week 3 pre-season win.

Amidst all the speculation, confusion, and quarterback hype, the Cardinals pulled out a much better performance against the Bears in week 3 of the pre-season as they moved to 2-1.  Also, before I get to the recap, I’d like to apologize to the readers that may have been looking for a recap either Saturday night or Sunday.  I was not near a computer for most of the weekend, though I of course kept myself abreast of the action; so let’s go.

Let’s get right to the quarterback controversy and get it out of the way, starting with Derek Anderson and his line for the night: 7/12, 94 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 111.1 rating.  Although Anderson struggled a little with accuracy at times, he obviously had a very strong debut as the Cardinals “starting” quarterback.  Here’s a more detailed look.

Anderson quickly got the chains moving by hitting tight end Steven Spach for an 11-yard gain on the first offensive snap.  The first drive stalled, however, when Anderson failed to connect with Steve Breaston on a short pass over the middle.

Anderson’s second drive went nowhere, with one incomplete pass to Breaston and a couple of failed runs.  On the third drive, the Cardinals hit pay dirt with Anderson going 5/7 for 67 yards, finally connecting with rookie wide receiver Steven Williams for a 27-yard TD completion.  Anderson ran play-action and hit Williams with a laser beam as the rookie broke on his slant pattern.  Williams then made an inside move and scampered to daylight.  It should be noted, however, that Anderson missed a wide-open Early Doucet down the seam two plays before the TD completion.  This up-and-down performance is what most likely concerns Whisenhunt about starting Anderson.  He looks so bad on one play and then follows it up with a rocket TD completion to Williams.  This is where I give the edge to Leinart as the starting quarterback come week 1 of the regular season; more on that later.

Anderson’s fourth and final drive was again derailed by a poorly executed running play.  The Cards punted on fourth down after facing a difficult 3rd and 18.  Anderson, therefore, exited the game with the Cardinals up 7-0 with 2:09 left in the first half.  In all, the Cardinals gained four first downs and one touchdown under Anderson’s direction.

When Anderson exited, Matt Leinart, of course, stepped in to have his crack at running the offense.  Let’s get the “second string” quarterback’s line out of the way: 9/10, 84 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 135.0 rating.  Like Anderson, Leinart definitely had a very fine showing.

Leinart started fast by gaining two immediate first downs.  He ran the two-minute drill and took the Cardinals from the Bears’ 42 yard line down to the Bears’ 8 yard line by connecting on 6/7 passes for 45 yards.  The Cards’ were poised to score on Leinart’s first possession, but Beanie Wells was stripped and fumbled on the Chicago 7 yard line with fifty-two seconds left in the half.  The Bears took a knee to end the half.  It’s clear that Wells still has to work on ball security.  Fumbles hurt, but fumbles in the red zone kill, especially for a team trying to establish some consistency on offense.

Leinart stayed hot on his second possession as he started to move the chains immediately once again.  He connected on his first pass of the second half , an 18-yard completion to rookie tight end Jim Dray.  The drive hit a bump in the road when Leinart was dropped for a four-yard loss; the Cards punted.

Like Anderson, Leinart broke through for a TD completion on his third (and final) possession.  After a Bears punt, Leinart started the drive at the Chicago 48 yard line.  Tim Hightower got things going with two consecutive carries, the first for 29 yards, the second for 13 yards.  On his long gain, Hightower bounced around right end and put a great move on strong safety Chris Harris to gain daylight up the right sideline.  Although Leinart was sacked on the Bears’ six yard line, he showed determination and poise by coming right back to the line of scrimmage to throw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston.  Leinart had all day to deliver the ball and Breaston made a dramatic leaping effort to get himself across the goal line.

So in less than a week, the Cardinals went from having two terrible performances at quarterback to two vastly improved performances at quarterback.  “It’s a good problem to have,” Whisenhunt said.  “Sometimes, when you change things up … tonight it worked.  I’m not saying it was necessarily the change at quarterback.  We made a number of changes in different spots, but it was good to see us move the football and makes some plays.”

As for naming a week 1 starter at this point, don’t count on it.  Whisenhunt apparently isn’t in a hurry to make his decision, noting that he has to evaluate the film and team-wide factors.  “This evaluation covers more than just the game,” Whisenhunt said.  “We’ve had a lot of practices, a lot of reps.  That will be taken into account.”

Stephen Williams continues his push to become the fourth wide receiver on the roster.  He finished the game with 5 receptions for 79 yards and 1 TD.  In addition, Max Komar, who’s also battling for a roster spot, had six receptions for 76 yards.  There’s no doubt that Williams and Komar are making the most of their playing time this pre-season.  I expect Stephen Williams to win a roster spot, but Komar may still have some work to do as he continues to battle Onrea Jones for a spot on the team.

On the ground, as previously mentioned, Hightower finally got the ball moving with 62 rushing yards on eight carries.  Wells only had 14 yards on eight carries with 1 fumble.  On another ball security note, Justin Miller and John Skelton also fumbled during the game, bringing the total to three fumbles too many.

The offensive line, overall, had their best showing of the pre-season.  It still stings that the quarterbacks were dropped three times, but the line opened up some holes up front and both quarterbacks more or less had time to pick out their targets on the majority of snaps.

I think we can move to the defensive side of the ball now.  In short, the defense played very, very well.  Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Greg Toler shined as both intercepted Jay Cutler.  The timing couldn’t have been better for Toler, who was given the start over Trumaine McBride for the first time this pre-season.   In addition, Cutler had pressure on him all night and he was sacked four times by the Cardinals’ defense.  The sacks were recorded by Michael Adams, Darnell Dockett split with Clark Haggans, Calais Campbell (forced fumble), and Gabe Watson.  In addition, Campbell also recorded a blocked field goal, giving him quite a performance in week 3.  The Cards’ defense is quietly having a very solid pre-season.  In fact, the first team defense did not allow a single point to the Bears.

The Cardinals will wrap up their pre-season at home against Washington.

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