Homers and Haters, Arizona edition

Note: This article was written for the Carolina Huddle fan site, and originally appeared in their forums here.

The Carolina Panthers travel to the big pink dome in the desert to take on the Arizona Cardinals this week. Like the Panthers, the Cards are 3-2 and tied for first in their division. Unlike the Panthers, Arizona fans are largely happy with their record right now.

Arizona is one of those teams that always seems to start out saying, “This is finally the year!” and go out saying “Wait until next year!” There are signs though, that this may indeed be the year for them, although some injuries may be starting to interfere with their goal of the playoffs.

In 2006 the Cardinals completed rebuilding their offense by signing Edgerrin James to complement their strong receiving corps. Unfortunately, the running game never materialized and the defense couldn’t stop the pass. The Cardinals finished 5-11, and the front office reacted by firing coach Dennis Green and bringing in former Steeler offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt also hired Russ Grimm, one of the best at his position, to coach the offensive line.

So far, Arizona’s results have been encouraging, but more because of the emergence of their defense. Their 30th ranked 2006 pass defense is now giving up 218 yards per game, which is good for 18th in 2007. The Cardinal rush defense, which was 16th in 2006 at 119 yards per game, is now 13th in the league at 101 yards. Overall, the defense has improved from the 29th ranked unit in 2006 to the 14th in 2007. On offense the running game has started to emerge, which has helped the Cards improve from 14th in the league to 10th.

The Cardinals are taking all the right steps to get to the playoffs. They have a young quarterback in place for the long haul, their star receivers Boldin and Fitzgerald are also young, and the club has a head coach in place that brings discipline and faith to the organization. However, the Cardinals have suffered injuries and still a have a work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Unless Kurt Warner rediscovers his MVP form, the club and its fans may have to go through another season of rebuilding. Here’s what you can count on seeing this Sunday.

Quarterback
Kurt Warner is once again the Cardinals’ starter, the result of a season-ending injury to Matt Leinart. The former two-time MVP has performed well so far this season, with 43 for 69 passing, four touchdowns, and only one interception. His rating of 102.3 is his highest since 1999 with the Rams. This past week the Cardinals signed former 49ers QB Tim Rattay as a backup.

Homer says: “Warner is a great quarterback if you’re playing in the 20th century. Since his knees went, he spends way too much time in the pocket and makes Drew Bledsoe look mobile. If Peppers can’t break out of his sack slump against the Cardinals, well…”

Hater says: “What is it with our luck this year? Instead of Matt Leinart and his four interceptions, once again we get to face a veteran who knows how to exploit our weaknesses. Warner’s made a living with the quick pass, and has two outstanding receivers to throw to in Arizona. He won’t get sacked because he won’t have to hold the ball long enough. Maybe we can stall him in the red zone, but he won’t have a big challenge marching down the field against our soft middle.”

Running Backs
Edgerrin James had a shaky start with the Cardinals, playing behind a poor line and putting up some of the worst numbers of his career. With Grimm’s coaching though, the offensive line is giving James time to find the holes this year and he’s starting to produce the kind of games that management hoped for when they signed him away from the Colts. Edgerrin’s yards per carry are up from 3.4 to 4.1, and more importantly he’s getting into the end zone more. James has gotten three t