Jimmy Johnson: Player Personnel, Not Coaching the Problem for Arizona Cardinals

LBS recently caught up with Super Bowl and National Championship winning coach Jimmy Johnson who’s running the first annual Crown Royal Jimmy Bowl (enter here for your chance to play football at Cowboys Stadium after the Super Bowl and be coached by Jimmy Johnson!). Jimmy already told us he thinks coaching is an issue for the 49ers, but what about their Monday night counterpart? Johnson thinks the players are the problem with the Cardinals, not the coaches.

The Cardinals reached the Super Bowl under coach Ken Whisenhunt and have won the NFC West twice. Jimmy attributed Arizona’s 3-7 start to the loss of key players over the off-season, including Kurt Warner, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, and Anquan Boldin. He said the coaching is the same, but they’ve lost a lot of good players.

While losing Dansby and Rolle have hurt the defense tremendously, the biggest dropoff for the Cardinals has been at the quarterback position. Arizona has gone from starting potential Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner to using Derek Anderson and Max Hall in games. Under Whisenhunt with Warner at QB, the Cardinals have had the 7th, 3rd, and 11th most productive offense in football. This year they’re the 28th, only better than three teams. I agree with Jimmy — it’s the players that has resulted in the losing in Arizona, not the coaches.

Whisenhunt Taking Practical Approach

It’s been a rocky summer for quarterback Matt Leinart. Aside from rumors he may have been dating the bachelorette, everything has been negative. The Cardinals started off by bringing in Derek Anderson showing their lack of confidence in Leinart, and by week three of the preseason, they pissed Leinart off by benching him. Now, the reports are saying the Cardinals are trying to trade Leinart.

Leinart says the benching was unfair and that he’s outperformed the other quarterbacks. He thinks Coach Ken Whisenhunt has something against him personally. Leinart’s supporters cite the quarterback’s high completion percentage and impressive quarterback rating this preseason as evidence he didn’t get a fair shot. While I can’t argue that those particular stats look good, I do agree with Whisenhunt’s decision and handling of the situation.

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Cardinals Don’t Seem Comfortable With Quarterback Situation

As we inch closer and closer to training camp and NFL rosters start shaping up, we get a better sense of teams’ needs — or at least their perceptions of their needs.  At this point in the off-season, it would appear the Arizona Cardinals aren’t exactly feeling confident with the quarterbacks they currently have on their depth chart.  Matt Leinart’s motivation is questionable, and he was terrible in place of Kurt Warner last season with no touchdown passes and three interceptions to go along with an embarrassing passer rating of 64.6.  Leinart has never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a season with the Cardinals, and his passer rating has never exceeded 80.2, which he finished with in 2008 after only playing in four games.  Whether or not he’s ready to take the next step remains to be seen, but thus far the former Heisman winner has an unimpressive resume.  I highly doubt his attempt at MMA training is going to get him there.

Derek Anderson — who the Cardinals signed to a two-year free agent deal in March — has been a model of inconsistency throughout his young career.  He followed an impressive 2007 — in which he threw 29 touchdown passes — with passer ratings of 66.5 and 42.1 in 2008 and 2009.  If 2007 Derek Anderson were to show up, he’d almost certainly be the starter in Arizona.  The chances of that happening seem slim at this point, and if the season started today the Cardinals would seemingly be best off flipping a coin to decide on a starter.

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Anquan Boldin Wants Out of Arizona Because He Was Lied to

The offseason just got more interesting in the NFL with Anquan Boldin’s most recent comments. If you can remember back prior to the start of the season, he was a headcase and upset at the team’s management for not giving him a new contract as they had promised. The team had just got done signing Larry Fitzgerald to big money and Boldin wanted his cut. Well he never got his deal and bitched about it, but when the season started, you didn’t hear from Q. Now that the Super Bowl run is over and the offseason has begun, Anquan Boldin made his feelings evident to USA Today:

“I don’t think the relationship can be repaired with the organization. It takes more than, ‘Well, we did you wrong and we’ll pay you this.’ It’s not about the money. It was always about the principle. Guys being true to their word. I guess I was expected to uphold my end of the bargain, and it wasn’t reciprocated.”

To make matters worse for the Cardinals, Kurt Warner who’s been wishy-washy about returning next season, says Boldin’s presence will weigh heavily on his decision to return or retire. Even though Boldin doesn’t definitively say he won’t be back with the Cardinals, it looks pretty darn certain that he’s gone. And if I had to make a guess, Warner will still decide to come back regardless. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Edgerrin James is as good as gone? I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Cardinals won’t be back in the Bowl next year.

The Cardinals Will Win, For God Is on Their Side

I’m all for guys looking for mental edges when it comes to competing on the field. If a player thinks he’s going to win because he has one sock on inside-out, or because he watched his favorite movie the night before, or because he ate his special meal before the game, so be it. I have no problem with guys using mental ploys to try and gain an edge. The one exception I have is when it comes to religion. Why would God be invoked in a football game, particularly if players on both teams pray? Did some pray better than others? Or what about injuries sustained during the game, how are those accounted for? Kurt Warner’s gratitude for Jesus is well-documented, and Ken Whisenhunt has gone so far as to say it gives them an edge, as pointed out by my boy Arnie Spanier:

Karlos Dansby, who along with Mr. Warner is one of about 15 Cardinals that attend chapel together before games, said “you have to put God first in everything you do.”

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt went so far as to say the religious nature of his team had helped them win. “I see it as a belief that mirrors our team,” Mr. Whisenhunt said. “A team is about believing in something that is larger than yourself.”

Much like Tim Tebow with Florida, the invocation of religion/Jesus/God to football games is too much for me. And how can Ken Whisenhunt agree that it gives them an edge? Is the opposing team getting shafted? Too bad these stories about the Cardinals have to get in the way of some really good ones on their, like the great deeds of Edgerrin James.

Anatomy of a Trick Play: How the Cardinals Burned the Eagles Sunday

The Cardinals have been running flea flickers all season and have had tremendous success with it. They’ve used it in the playoffs to their advantage, scoring a touchdown against the Falcons and also the Eagles. The one in the NFC Championship went for 62 yards from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald, as always. The TD made it 14-3 and really helped Arizona build their first half momentum. While the play itself was cool, it’s the back story to the play that really is awesome in my opinion. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Three years ago, when [Saints head coach Sean] Payton and Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley were working together in Dallas, Payton introduced Haley to a play called “The Philly Special.”

It was a trick play designed specifically to burn the Eagles’ aggressive defensive scheme, and Payton had used it successfully against Philadelphia when he was coaching in New York during the Giants’ Super Bowl run in 2000-01.

Ironically, the Cowboys never used that play against Philadelphia. But Haley always kept it in his bag of tricks, and as he prepared for the biggest game in Cardinals history this past week, he knew for certain that he would pull it out.

In fact, he had even assigned third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre with the task of studying the Eagles’ game tapes, so he could advise him of the best time to use it Sunday.

And St. Pierre called for it at the moment we saw it on Sunday. Now the only part that would kill this great story is that the Eagles did have a man back to cover Fitzgerald on the play as Quintin Demps didn’t bite on the fake. Only problem is we’ve all come to find out these playoffs that you can’t single cover Fitzgerald otherwise that will happen. Here’s the play in case you missed it, or want to re-watch:
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Adrian Peterson to Arizona?

No, this is not an unfounded rumor.  Yes, I was just as stunned as you to hear it.  But none other than Adrian Peterson himself suggested that he could be drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.  On Saturday evening he joined Evan Cohen on Fox Sports Radio and was asked…

Adrian, if you had to give me two teams that you may play for — your gut feeling as to where you end up in the draft and those millions of dollars that you’re going to make would be riding on it, you tell me what two teams?

I would say Cleveland or Arizona.

Arizona you think is a possibility even though Edgerrin James is there?

Yeah, yeah, I think it’s a possibility.

Well, I guess Peterson would know better than anyone else considering he’s the one who works out and interviews with all these teams.  But with the money the Cardinals have invested in Edgerrin James, I’m skeptical to believe they would also invest top five money on Peterson.  My guess it’s one of two things:

  1. The Cardinals really are interested in Peterson but nobody knows it
  2. That was Adrian’s way of saying he’ll be a top 5 pick

I guess we’ll only find out in a week.