Archive for Thursday, October 5, 2006

New stadium, but same old Cardinals

Arizona off to 1-3 start for third year in a row despite new home

October 5, 2006


— What's the old saying? Put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig.

Well, put the Arizona Cardinals in a magnificent new home stadium and, so far at least, they're the same old Cardinals.

In his third season in the land where football careers go to die, coach Dennis Green is 12-24 and, for the third year in a row, off to a 1-3 start.

"That's what's killing me," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "This is my fourth year and this is the fourth year I've started 1-3. You just ask yourself 'Is it me? 'What is it?'"

Green is the seventh Cardinals coach since the franchise moved to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988.

So optimistic and confident when he was hired, the coach wondered aloud last week if he ever could succeed with this franchise that has had one winning season in 22 years.

"I think any time a coach doesn't win enough, he's got to think about that," he said. "I'd be crazy not to. I've won a lot of games in my career. The question is I haven't won here."

Then things went from bad to worse.

When his team fell flat in a 32-10 loss at Atlanta on Sunday, Green benched mistake-prone quarterback Kurt Warner and will start rookie Matt Leinart against Kansas City this weekend. Leinart inherits an offense that managed just three points and 187 yards against the Falcons.

The blame largely has been aimed at an underachieving offensive line anchored by 370-pound left tackle Leonard Davis, the No. 2 overall pick behind Michael Vick in the 2001 draft. Even Green lashed out at his offensive line on his radio show this week.

"They need to quit whining so much," he said. "Half those guys are making over $3 million a year. They just need to get off their butts and start doing their job."

Sounds like the line is starting to see it Green's way, too.

"My play, it's definitely got to get better," Davis said in the locker room before team meetings Tuesday. "I watch myself on film and I don't really see the same person that I've been in the past. I mean, I've got to figure out a way to get better and help the other guys, because they look at me as a leader. If I'm not playing the way I'm supposed to play, they can't really count on me."

Davis, an unrestricted free agent after this season, knows the line has been the lightning rod for the team's lack of success in recent years.

"Us as a group, it's always been we make or break the team," he said. "Right now we're breaking the team. We've got to find out what we can do to get better."

Green tore apart the old offensive line when he arrived, releasing center Pete Kendall on the eve of 2004 training camp and benching left tackle L.J. Shelton. He moved Davis from guard to tackle and gave then-rookie Alex Stepanovich the center job. The right side of the line, meanwhile, has been a merry-go-round of injuries and personnel moves.

None of it has worked.

Edgerrin James, among the most effective running backs in the league with Indianapolis, usually has found himself pummeled by defenders before he could even reach the line of scrimmage. He finished with 41 yards in 20 carries on Sunday.

There had been signs of hope.

Owner Bill Bidwill, long vilified for his penny-pinching ways, was dragged into the modern NFL largely by son Michael, a former federal prosecutor who was the point man in winning voter approval for the stadium in suburban west Phoenix.

The younger Bidwill said the building would create revenue that would allow the team to spend more on players, then backed up the claim with the signing of James. The drafting of Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner who unexpectedly fell to the No. 10 pick, added to fans' excitement.

Playing in the sweltering heat of Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium, the Cardinals hadn't sold out a home game since 2000. This year, every game at Arizona's 63,700-seat posh new home is a sellout.


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