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Cardinals Need Matt Leinart to Grow Up, Take Charge

Aug 24, 2010 – 2:04 AM
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Thomas George

Thomas George %BloggerTitle%

NASHVMatt LeinartILLE, Tenn. -- The good news for the Arizona Cardinals is they gained a chance to measure themselves in this 24-10 preseason head-knocking dispensed by the Tennessee Titans on Monday night at LP Field.

The bad news for the Arizona Cardinals is that they will be sticking around for possibly more punishment. They practice against the Titans on Wednesday at Tennessee's complex. And if the Cardinals bring the same go-through-the-motion intensity, the same ill-advised approach on how to handle pressure, well, the Titans will be more than happy to smack them around for more exercise and amusement.

"OK, so obviously not our best effort tonight," said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, hardly amused.

"There are no ifs, ands or buts about it," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We just need to be better than that."

Wise and savvy 10-year safety Adrian Wilson surmised: "I think we are still developing an identity. It is still very much being shaped on both sides of the ball."

It starts at quarterback.
Check Box Score: Titans 24, Cardinals 10


When you feature Kurt Warner and his calm and his smarts running this Arizona offense, as Warner did when leading the Cardinals to a Super Bowl berth and two consecutive NFC West titles, you get spoiled.

When you have Matt Leinart stepping in, stepping forward, at least a little patience is required.

Leinart, 27, though he is entering his fifth season in the league, is finding his way. He looked great in his first pass of the game, an 8-yard arrow to receiver Steve Breaston. Leinart stood firm on that one and failed to flinched on a backside hit during his follow-through. But it went fairly downhill from there, with the Cardinals offense slipping and sputtering and posting a trio of three-and-outs in the first quarter, Leinart's lone action of the game.

And afterward, Leinart looked a mess.

Upset. And a look in his eyes that hinted there were a million thoughts pounding in his head.

"You've got to move the ball better and you know, it falls on the quarterback," Leinart said. "When they bring pressure, you have to make the best of it."

He didn't against the Titans.

He knows it.

His teammates and coaches know it.

"We have to adapt this offense now to fit Matt. ... We need to play to Matt's strengths ... and help him in this role."
-- Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt
Whisenhunt said, quite simply, when a team brings the blitz., brings that kind of pressure, his quarterback has to throw the ball over the top, chuck it deep and back them off. He said it like Leinart already knows it. He said it will be corrected.

Whisenhunt joined the Cardinals in 2007. Leinart was drafted in 2006 when Dennis Green was Cardinals head coach. The Cardinals were 5-11 before Whishenhunt. Whisenhunt has since gone 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 -- up, up, up, most of that with Warner as his quarterback.

He was asked about the popular notion that Leinart simply is not his guy.

"There is no truth to that, it's not relevant and there are a lot of players on this team that I was not part of drafting," Whisenhunt said. "We have to adapt this offense now to fit Matt. We were often a four-wide offense with Kurt. We need to play to Matt's strengths, which include play-action passes, and we have to help him in this role. Sure, I've challenged him to produce, but that is the same for every player on our team, not just Matt. They are all being challenged."

Leinart's teammates are looking to see how he will handle this new job, this major pressure. He was in and out of the starting lineup even when Warner was around -- but there was comfort for the Cardinals in Warner.

Leinart has every chance to build that with his teammates.

Rod Graves, the Cardinals general manager, said: "Matt has had the chance to watch Kurt and see how he approaches the game and work with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. I like the fact that we have competition at every position, including quarterback. And I like the fact that Matt has the chance to prove all of his critics wrong. They are out there. People who do not think he was worthy of being our No. 1 pick in 2006. People who don't think he worked hard enough early as a pro. People who don't think he can cut it now. So, we're going to see about that, and I'm anxious and curious to see it, too. Matt has the chance to control a lot of those answers.''

But against the Titans, he was 4 of 6 for 28 passing yards with a long completion of 11 yards. Tennessee's Vince Young was 9 of 13 for 128 yards with a long toss of 30 yards.

Derek Anderson, the former Browns quarterback, relieved Leinart and went 11 of 19 for 105 passing yards. Rookie Max Hall followed Anderson and connected on 7 of 15 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Everybody with better numbers, better production than Leinart.

Leinart talked about how he faced a second-and-long and a third-and-long and long odds on those plays. He talked about how the Titans blitzed so much and how he tried to take what they gave him in hot reads. He said there was no game-planning for this outing, none specifically for the Titans' blitzes. He is right. All of those factors skewed things.

But this is quite clear: The Cardinals are looking for Leinart to grow up, mature even faster, get them back to scoring points and being top dog in the NFC West and to playoff glory. And they don't care how he gets them there -- just that he does get them there.

That's real pressure.

And Leinart had better find a way to make the best of it.
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