NFL Preview - Arizona (0-1) at Jacksonville (0-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Judging by their on-field work since making the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance this past February, the runner-up jinx has been very much in effect for the Arizona Cardinals.
As they take to the road to serve as competition in the Jacksonville Jaguars' home opener, the Cardinals hope to make a case that such a jinx is nothing but a silly superstition.
Beginning with the 2000-01 New York Giants, seven of the past eight Super Bowl runners-up have missed the playoffs the following year, and the Cardinals' 20-16 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday has put Ken Whisenhunt's club in immediate jeopardy to continue the trend.
Complicating matters for the Cardinals is that their effort to avoid an 0-2 start - and all the heightened curse-related talk that will undoubtedly come with it - is that Arizona has been a notoriously punchless team when traveling to the Eastern Time Zone.
Five of the Cardinals' seven regular season losses last season came in the East, where the team was defeated by the Redskins (24-17), Jets (56-35), Panthers (27-23), Eagles (48-20), and Patriots (47-7), though Whisenhunt and company did win at Carolina in the playoffs and fought gamely before falling by a 27-23 count to the Steelers in the Super Bowl in Tampa.
While much of the focus will be on Arizona's attempt to avoid 0-2, the homestanding Jaguars will also be looking to stay out of the same hole.
Jacksonville dropped a narrow 14-12 decision at Indianapolis in Week 1, generating just 228 yards of total offense and allowing Peyton Manning (27- of-37, 301 yards, 1 TD) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (10 receptions, 162 yards, 1 TD) to have big days offensively.
Jack Del Rio's club has now lost seven of its last eight games dating back to last season, but comes into their inter-conference battle having won 13 of their last 14 home games against NFC foes.
The Jaguars have won the only two regular season matchups with the Cardinals all-time, prevailing by a 44-10 count in Jacksonville in 2000 and earning a 24-17 decision in Arizona during the 2005 campaign.
The Jags' Del Rio is 1-0 against the Cardinals as a head coach, while Arizona's Whisenhunt will be meeting both Del Rio and Jacksonville for the first time.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
The Cardinals will take the field looking for their usual heavy contribution from the passing game, though the health of the team's wide receivers could be an issue in that regard. Anquan Boldin (2 receptions) could be limited by a hamstring injury that affected his production in the loss to the 49ers, and fellow wideout Steve Breaston is considered questionable due to a lingering knee problem. That situation places even more pressure on Larry Fitzgerald (6 receptions, 71 yards), who scored the team's only touchdown of Week 1 on a five-yard pass from Kurt Warner in the first quarter of last week's game, and Jerheme Urban (5 receptions, 74 yards). Warner, who was pressured into three sacks and tossed a pair of interceptions, will need to cut down on the mistakes in Week 2. Warner's cause will be helped if the Cardinals can get a lift from a running game that managed just 40 yards against the 49ers. Rookie Beanie Wells managed just 29 yards on seven totes in his formal debut, though Tim Hightower (15 rushing yards) did add value by catching a whopping 12 balls for 121 yards in the passing game.
Though Jacksonville had some trouble handling the Manning-to-Wayne connection, the new look Jaguars defense did some nice things in its initial foray under coordinator Mel Tucker. The Jags limited Indy's running game to just 71 yards on the ground, with pass rusher Quentin Groves (4 tackles) forcing a Joseph Addai fumble that was scooped up by rookie cornerback Derek Cox (3 tackles). Cox, a third-rounder out of William & Mary, also notched his first career interception off of Manning. Justin Durant (11 tackles) and Daryl Smith (10 tackles), the team's two inside linebackers in its 3-4 front, combined for 21 tackles in the loss, while tackle John Henderson made his presence felt with three stops in the trenches. One element the Jaguars will have to improve in Week 2 is the pass rush, which generated only one sack of Manning, that by end Reggie Hayward, who was subsequently lost for the year to a broken leg. Derrick Harvey (2 tackles), a 2008 first-round pick who has not been greatly productive to this point in his young career, will be among those under much scrutiny in Hayward's absence.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard did not exactly start what is expected to be a pivotal year for him on a strong note. Garrard kept the Jags in the game until the late stages against the Colts, but threw for a paltry 122 yards and completed only five passes to wide receivers in the game. Three of those went to new No. 1 wideout Torry Holt (47 receiving yards), who will be making his formal home debut as a Jaguar on Sunday, but opposite starter Mike Sims-Walker did not manage a catch. Garrard will try to get both players more involved this week, as well as tight end Marcedes Lewis (3 receptions, 23 yards). As expected, the Jaguars weapon who saw the ball in his hands most often was running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who had 26 touches (21 rushes, 5 receptions) for 123 yards (97 rushing, 26 receiving) and scored the team's only touchdown on a seven-yard run in the fourth quarter. Fullback Montell Owens, who had one rush against the Colts, was the only other Jaguar to carry the football. The Jacksonville o-line allowed just one sack of Garrard on the day.
Though not necessarily noted for their stifling run-stopping ability, the Cardinals come off a week in which they limited the 49ers to the weakest rushing performance in the league. Arizona held San Francisco to 21 ground yards in the game, bottling Frank Gore up to the tune of 30 yards on 21 totes. Linebackers Gerald Hayes (10 tackles) and Chike Okeafor (7 tackles) were 1-2 in tackles in the game, and Darnell Dockett provided a presence at the point of attack despite finishing with just two tackles. Okeafor and Dockett accounted for two of the Cardinals' four sacks of Niners QB Shaun Hill. The Arizona secondary allowed just one touchdown pass last week after surrendering the most in the league in 2008, but came up short in the area of big plays. Cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2 tackles) and Bryant McFadden (5 tackles) will be charged with slowing Holt and Sims-Walker, with safeties Adrian Wilson (2 tackles) and Antrel Rolle providing the last line of protection.
Cardinals starters were a mixed bag in fantasy week one, as Fitzgerald justified his presence in lineups with 71 yards and a touchdown, Boldin made a minimal impact with only two catches, and Warner got near 300 yards but hurt his total with a couple of picks. The Cardinals running game did nothing, which is no huge surprise, though Hightower's productive day through the air might bait some owners into starting him in Week 2. Probably not the wisest move, since his Week 1 production was a by-product of the 49ers' defensive approach, and the Jaguars will likely defend the backs differently. Probably worth considering using Neil Rackers, who was 3-for-3 on field goals and should get lots more opportunities.
The only bona fide starter on the Jaguars remains Jones-Drew, who will continue to get the touches you want to see out of a starting running back. Those who rolled with Holt came away a little disappointed, though given the Arizona secondary's propensity for giving up big plays, he's still worth using this week.
Adrian Wilson remarked during the preseason that the Cardinals were lacking an energy similar to the one they displayed during their playoff run in 2008, and it's hard to know when or if that energy is going to return. Chances are it won't be this week, as Arizona is forced to play in the early slot on the east coast against a Jaguars team fired up to win its home opener after a near-miss against the Colts last week. The Cards are probably the more talented team here, but until they stop showing the lethargy that has plagued them since they opened training camp, it's not wise to count on them to win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 24, Cardinals 17
09/17 13:06:08 ET