The Arizona Cardinals came out of Sunday's win over the Dallas Cowboys with a lot of positive momentum. Not only did they emerge with no (known) new injury concerns, they finally beat a good team and proved that their improvements on defense are not a fluke of playing the St. Louis Rams twice.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said at his Monday press conference that he was very pleased with the way his team responded to the challenge of playing a very good opponent and they had generated a lot of confidence heading into next week's challenge, the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers.
Whisenhunt even addressed the large contingent of Cowboys fans who for the third-straight year left disappointed.
"I know they had a few fans there yesterday. Hopefully, we'll play more like yesterday and take care of that in the future," he said.
Kevin Kolb showed positive signs
Whisenhunt reported that after a shaky first half, quarterback Kevin Kolb showed a lot of promise. He made some athletic plays and nice throws and his mobility wasn't limited by the foot injury. Kolb also showed progress on something that plagued him early in the season.
"We didn't see any running out of the pockets or having to throw it away that we saw earlier this year and that's a credit to Kevin and getting more comfortable in our offense and working at it," Whisenhunt said.
To ice or to fake the ice?
Whisenhunt admitted that he was considering calling a timeout to "ice" the Cowboys kicker on their field goal attempt late in the game. In the end, he decided not to call the timeout but he was near the official pretending that he might.
Icing or not, the Cardinals recent success blocking kicks is in the minds of opposing teams.
"No question about it. And let's be honest, I think those other teams have seen what our guys have done and it's no question they are aware of that as well," Whisenhunt said.
Darnell Dockett said the same thing after the game: "Now matter how many yards they get, just keep them out the endzone. Doesn't matter if they drive all the way from the one-yard line to the two-yard line. Make them kick a field goal and we will have a good chance of blocking it."
According to Whisenhunt, Patrick Peterson almost blocked the point after try after the Dallas touchdown. His team is confident they can impact the other team's kicking game even if they don't get to every ball. So far, that seems like a far more effective strategy than calling a time out to ice a kicker.
The national media seems fixated on the Cowboys clock management late in the game and decision to call a timeout right before the final field goal attempt. That focus does a disservice to the Cardinals defense that allowed just one touchdown all game and to the offense that played well in the second half and in overtime.
The Cardinals might have been helped by a bit of luck, but a 49-yard field goal is no sure thing under any circumstances and Arizona still moved the ball 80 yards for a game-winning overtime touchdown. All the icing talk in the world can't change that.
Change in offensive identity with better defense
Twice now we've heard Kevin Kolb talk about the Cardinals defense and how important it is for him as the QB not to turn the ball over so they can have a chance to be effective. While no team wants to turn the ball over, Kolb seems to be saying that with a stronger defensive unit, he can afford to take some sacks and not try and force plays.
"You know our defense is playing great," Kolb said after the game. "You try to keep all those things in your head as you're going...The defense has told us on the offense, 'Hey, just don't turn that thing over, we're playing good right now.' You don't want to get out there and try to do too much."
Coach Whisenhunt, perhaps employing "coach speak", wouldn't go that far.
"It's always been our intention to be a good defense. In this league, championships are won with having a good defense. If we can get to that level that we appear to be moving towards as a defense, and get back to the way we've played around here as an offense, we'll be a pretty good football team. We'll be a tough team to beat and that's really what we're striving to do."
He wouldn't even admit to a change in play-calling based on having a defense that can be trusted to limit the opposition. One might think that such a luxury would allow the offense to be more conservative, which is what Kolb implied, but Whisenhunt doesn't like to give away anything that might help an opponent game plan against him so we are left only to observe and speculate.
Todd Heap missed Sunday's game with the lingering hamstring injury but Whisenhunt said he believes that Heap has "turned a corner" with the injury. We'll see.
Safety Kerry Rhodes returned to practice in a limited fashion last week doing individual drills. He status will depend on how he looks in practice this week. In his place, the Cardinals have used CB Richard Marshall as a safety in some situations and Rashad Johnson has shown consistent improvement as well.