Burly back Brandon Jacobs and physical receiver Plaxico Burress gave Washington headaches in the regular-season opener. The tandem of Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush prompted plenty of game planning last week. But with all due respect to Arizona running back Edgerrin James, the Redskins‘ defense is focused on trying to ground the Cardinals’ high-flying passing attack this week.
“They’re going to stress our secondary,” Redskins coach Jim Zorn said. “They have their hands full.”
The Cardinals, who rank fifth in passing, are the only NFL team to score at least 20 points in each of its last 10 games.
“Points speak volumes,” Blache said. “[Two-time MVP Kurt Warner] is playing as well I’ve seen him play. He’s rejuvenated his career, and he’s got two great receivers [Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald].”
Warner, who stepped in when 2006 top draft choice Matt Leinart suffered a collarbone injury last October and has never given the job back, earned a perfect 158.3 passer rating in last week’s 31-10 rout of Miami. Fitzgerald and Boldin teamed for 12 catches, 293 yards and three touchdowns in the romp.
“I’ve seen each of them play at that level or higher, but to see them both do that in one game, I hadn’t seen that before,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Kurt was on for us, too.”
Blache, Chicago’s defensive coordinator when Warner led St. Louis to Super Bowls XXXIV and XXXVI, knows how the 37-year-old quarterback can embarrass a defense.
“He’s in a zone right now,” Blache said. “There’s a touchdown pass where he throws it between two defenders. It was like parking a Mack truck in a regular parking spot. He’s hot. We’ve got to see if we can cool him off. He gets rid of the ball so quickly, and you’re not going to fool him with coverages. We’ve got to have tight coverage to allow the defensive linemen a chance [to get to Warner]. If you let these guys run their routes, they’re going to beat you.”
Warner, Fitzgerald and Boldin almost did that Oct. 21, 2007, in Landover, outscoring the Redskins 13-0 in the fourth quarter but losing 21-19 because of a late fumble at the Washington 10, an errant two-point pass and a missed last-second 55-yard field goal.
“They’re going to come here very confident because of the way they played against us last year,” Blache said. “I’m sure they were sick when they looked at the film and saw the mistakes they made down the stretch to allow us to win. Realistically, they beat our butts.”
Washington survived despite turmoil in the defensive backfield. Fred Smoot hurt a hamstring, Carlos Rogers tweaked a knee and Shawn Springs had missed the whole week of practice to tend to his ailing father in a Dallas hospital.
“Every time they come in with big receivers, we find a way to shut ‘em down,” Rogers said. “We gotta do what we did last year: mix up coverages, give ‘em different looks, be ready to play every snap because they’re coming at us. We gotta keep being aggressive.”
Boldin and Fitzgerald, the only players in NFL history to catch 100 passes in two of their first four seasons, have impressed Zorn.
“Fitzgerald’s powerful and very quick,” Zorn said. “He’s got great hands. He acts as though there’s nobody around him when he’s catching the ball, and there could be two or three [defenders]. Boldin is very strong, very commanding. He’s so big, it looks like he can’t run. And then he’s on you, and he’s able to get out of breaks very quick. He’s very deceptive. He has [Steve] Largentesque hands. He just hauls ‘em in.”
Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Boldin is 6-1, 217. Springs, Rogers and Smoot average 6-0, 194. But Smoot isn’t worried about a physical mismatch.
“Big, strong guys like to get in their routes,” Smoot said. “You gotta make ‘em do what they don’t like to do. If you can get between these guys and the ball, you can make some plays.”