Leinart’s poise is Cards’ missing ingredient

By Paul Eide  |   Tuesday, December 05, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

Arizona Cardinals
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The general tone of the Arizona Cardinals' 34-20 victory over the Rams in St. Louis last Sunday was like walking into the DMV on your lunch hour and wishing you were somewhere else.

Complete with white noise and the occasional screaming patron, the Cardinals' opening drive -- 13 plays, 90 yards in over seven minutes -- sucked the air out of the Edward Jones Dome before the game even started. The central figure in the team's success was rookie QB Matt Leinart. In the first half, Leinart was 11 of 15 for 118 yards, had a QB rating of 118.2 and led the Cards to a 17-3 halftime lead that they would not relinquish.

"We're hitting our stride a little bit," said Leinart. "We stop ourselves sometimes but when we can run the ball effectively, like we did, it is scary. We proved last week that we almost won a game just throwing the ball and we proved this week we can run the ball a lot more and we had some big passes and the offensive line is doing a tremendous job. They're playing unbelievable."

Watching Leinart, it's hard to believe he is only one year removed from the ranks of the NCAA, where he compiled a 37-2 record for USC running a pro-style offense that is a variation of the one Dennis Green has implemented.

A week after setting an NFL single-game rookie passing record with 405 yards, Leinart didn't finish with overly impressive numbers (15 of 24 for 187 yards and one TD) but his poise and understanding of the offense are two direct contributions that can't be statistically quantified.

The Cardinals have tried everything during their existence and continue to flounder, but the one thing they no longer lack is a face. The name "Matt Leinart" is synonymous with success and resonates around the league more than the likes of Roy Green or Neil Lomax ever could.

What Leinart brings to the team that it's never had before is a commanding presence that players can rally behind, forcing victories to transpire as an act of will, not some happenstance occurrence that takes place once every three to six weeks.

"I think we're getting better every week," added Leinart. "It is obvious, and it was great to finally get a road win. We made some big plays when we needed to on offense, defense and special teams. It was all around a great win."

Leinart is a winner, plain and simple. Since he was inserted into the starting lineup, his impact has made more of a difference than a misleading 2-4 record implies. If two last-second losses to Kansas City and Chicago in consecutive weeks are converted, the Cardinals are talking playoffs and Green would be assured of his job next season.

Leinart has also elevated the performance of his teammates. The Cardinals much-criticized offensive line gave up 13 sacks in four games when it was protecting statue-like Kurt Warner. In nine games since being named the starter, Leinart has only been sacked nine times and running back Edgerrin James has enjoyed his two most productive rushing games of the season.

Green may get fired at the end of the season but in five years, Cardinals fans will realize he made at least one good decision during a tenure defined by disappointment; Leinart has "It" and Cards fans hope "It" is a recipe for success.
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