Dennis Green brought a reputation for being a strong offensive coach when he came to the Arizona Cardinals. It has been defense, however, that has sparked the team’s turnaround.
Green and the Cardinals, whose defense has keyed a two-game winning streak, look to continue their momentum when they visit the Carolina Panthers.
Arizona has equaled its win total for all of last season, and is one game out of first place in the NFC West. The Cardinals have won three of four, thanks to an opportunistic, hard-hitting defense.
“We’ve been able to develop a style of play here,” Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry said, “and the fans really respond.”
In a 24-23 win over the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago, Arizona returned an interception for a touchdown, and had three sacks and a fumble recovery as it ended a 17-game road losing streak.
The front four has been perhaps the brightest spot on the resurgent defensive unit.
In his first season, Green has changed the attitude of the franchise.
“I think we are a step closer to being a good team,” Green said.
Arizona’s offense, however, has been slower to develop, surprising considering Green’s success on that side of the ball while coaching the Minnesota Vikings. On Sunday, the Cardinals managed just 178 yards of offense, and only 90 through the air.
Young quarterback Josh McCown has made fewer mistakes as the season has progressed, and he is still getting comfortable with Green’s system and his three talented receivers, Anquan Boldin, rookie Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson.
The constant on offense has been veteran running back Emmitt Smith, who scored two touchdowns in a game Sunday for the first time since leaving the Dallas Cowboys two years ago. Smith has eight touchdowns on the season.
However, Smith is questionable for this game, along with defensive end Bertrand Berry and linebacker Karlos Dansby, after all three missed practice on Thursday.
Smith and Dansby haven’t practiced all week, and Berry bruised a thigh in practice Tuesday.
Smith sprained his left ankle late against the Giants, and Dansby, the starting outside linebacker, strained his neck while tackling Ron Dayne during the game.
“At the time I didn’t think it was all that serious,” Smith said. “Then about 2 in the morning on Monday, I got up and I couldn’t walk.”
Berry and Dansby accounted for all six of the sacks for the Cardinals against New York’s Kurt Warner.
Carolina earned its first win in more than six weeks Sunday, beating lowly San Francisco 37-27.
Morgan and Kasay are out this week. Jeff Chandler was activated off the practice squad to kick field goals and extra points, with punter Todd Sauerbrun expected to stay on kickoff duty.
Delhomme didn’t take any snaps in practice during the week, and was expected to test the thumb on his throwing hand during Saturday’s walkthrough.
“He’s day-to-day and he’ll take snaps tomorrow,” Panthers head coach John Fox said Friday. “I’m still optimistic. That will be a game-day decision. Right now, we’re going forward like Jake’s going to be the starter.”
The defending NFC champions had lost six consecutive games and 11 players to season-ending injuries.
Going into last week, the Panthers were 1-7 and trying to avoid comparisons to their 1-15 campaign in 2001.
Beating the 49ers relieved a lot of pressure, Fox said.
“I’m sure that lingers, because there are guys on this football team that were here for that experience—it all lingers, a lot of it is mental,” Fox said. “I’m sure it is somewhere in their brains, the guys that were here for that.”
Also, the Panthers put running back Joey Harris on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring. Harris is the team’s 12th player on IR, and the fourth running back—after Carolina’s top three backs, Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster and Rod Smart.
The Panthers filled Harris’ spot on the 53-man roster by signing linebacker Sean Tufts from the practice squad.