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Scott Pianowski

Monday Brunch: Raising Arizona

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

Alcoa kept the Fantastic Finishes coming Sunday and there's plenty to dissect. Let's serve the first dish in the desert, where the Cardinals and Cowboys gave us plenty to think about. Winners get first call in the bulleted content.

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Why do teams blitz Kurt Warner? It's just a gift to the house (115 rating). Warner is fantastic at recognizing the immediate threat, identifying the hot read and getting the ball out quickly, but when you rush him with more conventional packages, he tends to sit in the pocket too long and the grandfather clock tendencies take over. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, the right tack against Warner is a more deliberate approach, lull him to sleep.

Okay, Larry Fitzgerald, head to the podium. Here's your certificate, please take the yellow jersey. You're the guy, the most valuable wide receiver commodity in football. Fitzgerald doesn't have sprinter speed but otherwise this is a royal flush of tools; size, physicality, intelligence, competitiveness, fantastic instincts in the air, Velcro hands. His play against the Cowboys was a clinic from beginning to end, often beating perfect coverage. How can this guy be just 25?

I watched Steve Breaston every week at Michigan and liked him as a No. 3 wideout and a dangerous return guy in the pros. Time for a mulligan, he's better than I thought, getting better as a technical receiver right in front of our eyes. The Cardinals will welcome back Anquan Boldin, but you can't say they really miss him right now.

Edgerrin James is to Tim Hightower as Julius Jones was to Marion Barber. It's frustrating to wait it out, but that's all we can do. At least Hightower had more touches than James Sunday (11 to 9).

Give the Cowboys credit for recognizing the importance of having a quality backup quarterback. Sure, the offense will take a major downshift with Brad Johnson in the lineup, but he's been around the block, he'll make good decisions, you can win games with him. The Titans and Bucs saved their seasons because they realized the value of an experienced backup; the Patriots will ultimately fall at the sword of Matt Cassel.

With all due respect to the long catch-and-runs from Barber and Patrick Crayton, those plays were more about Arizona's disorganized secondary than anything. If the Cardinals don't get this fixed during the bye, Steve Smith is going to go ballistic in two weeks.

Felix Jones remains criminally underused, albeit the Pokes didn't have a choice when he left Sunday with a hamstring injury.

For all the coaching squatters out of the game right now, the job you want is in Dallas. Wade Phillips isn't a long-term answer, there are amazing resources and a new stadium on the way, and you'll get a roster stocked with talent. Might want to work on a Texas Twang, Bill Cowher. Remember Jon Gruden winning a Super Bowl in Tampa with Tony Dungy's setup? I could see the same thing happening in Big D. (Yes, Jason Garrett is still an option, but my hunch is that Jerry Jones will want to go outside the organization when everyone decides this Phillips thing isn't the right play.)

Maurice Jones-Drew going off in Denver was pretty much the easiest call of the year. There was some talk of Denver tweaking and improving its run defense the previous week, which made no sense to me; Tampa Bay averaged 6.3 yards a pop at Mile High in Week 5, and both of the runners were successful. Dual-threat running backs have particularly scorched this slow linebacking group, which is why I can't wait to see what the Dolphins and Falcons do against these guys in November.

Andre Johnson put up the big numbers and had some "wow" plays, but he also left a lot of yards on the field with drops and mistakes. If there were a category for "almost touchdowns," Johnson would be miles ahead of the pack.

Two encouraging notes if you own LaDainian Tomlinson - the Chargers kept him in the game very late, and he showed outstanding lateral moves on a late catch-and-run that pushed him over 100 total yards. I still don't see the LT-in-his-prime guy, though, and I doubt he's really 100 percent, so yeah, in my eyes there's a good sell-high window. Don't be overt about it, simply make it known that you're willing to move a running back and see what the other guy will pay for Tomlinson.

Coaches sure love to play Russian Roulette with their star players, don't they? Drew Brees were both on the field and handling the ball late in the Oakland blowout, something that makes no sense to me. If Brees gets hurt for any period of time, rip up the New Orleans season and I'll meet up with you next year.

I had no idea Warrick Dunn had this much left in the tank. Earnest Graham has done nothing to lose his job but I can't deny the Bucs did look formidable with Graham at fullback and Dunn at halfback Sunday. You almost get the idea that Graham's one-yard touchdown run in garbage time was Jon Gruden's way of throwing Graham a perk for being the good soldier, taking a position switch like a pro (injuries forced the move, by the way; going forward, who knows?).

Matt Ryan impresses me more and more every week. He's capable of making plays out of the pocket and with his feet but he doesn't resort to that until he needs to, somewhat rare for a young quarterback. He's recognizing coverages quickly. He knows Roddy White is his best receiver and he relies on him, but he's not making crazy forces his way. It's amazing how quickly things change in the NFL; the Falcons were a dead story with Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, but they're a legitimate club with Ryan and Mike Smith. Welcome back to the league. (My biggest pet peeve with the Falcons is that they don't use Jerious Norwood enough, but I'm optimistic that's going to change.)

Matt Cassel's poor play this year has, above all else, validated just how valuable Tom Brady really is (it also reminds us of the silly Randy Moss-for-MVP movement last December; no offense to Moss, but Brady was always the irreplaceable cog in that offense). New England's offensive line has also been exposed without Brady's wizardry in the pocket; sacks in the pro game are more about the quarterback's decision making then they are about the pass blocking.

There's no delicate way to put this - Chris Perry can't play. Cedric Benson, Kenny Watson (decent back if healthy), Ickey Woods, it's time for something else, Cincinnati.

Kyle Orton didn't play a lot the last two years but he was quietly improving, we see that now. Had the Bears seen the sneaky growth in their own practices, they wouldn't have bothered re-upping Rex Grossman. Cheer up, Chicago; the Bears are a lot better than the 3-3 record.

I've never seen a Ray Lewis-led defense miss tackles as it did against the Colts Sunday. Look for a totally different effort in Miami next week.

The Saints don't have balance on offense or major threats on the outside, and yet Drew Brees keeps posting pinball numbers. I've run out of superlatives. My MVP ballot would have Clinton Portis and Brees in the top two slots, in some order.

You're not supposed to win football games on eight first downs (and despite a 168-yard deficit), but that's what the Rams somehow did in Washington. A total fluke, no two ways about it. The Redskins, of course, won't worry too much about it; they'll stay medium. (I gotta say I really like that concept; I'd even say I love it, but that wouldn't be medium, would it?).

Don't worry, Danny Orlovsky, that endzone two-step works in the CFL, where the acreage is vast. In the meantime, enjoy your visit to the Motor City. Don't get attached to the head coach or No. 11, I don't think they'll be around too long.

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