Kurt Warner helped bring Eli Manning along in his rookie season in the NFL. Now Warner gets to see firsthand just how much his protege has learned when his Arizona Cardinals face the New York Giants in the teams’ season opener.
Looking for a way to revive his career after being cut by St. Louis, Warner signed on with New York before last season to give the Giants a veteran quarterback and a tutor for Manning, the top overall pick in the 2004 draft.
Understanding that his time with the Giants wasn’t expected to last more than a season, Warner earned the No. 1 job and led New York to a 5-2 start. But after he played poorly in consecutive losses to Chicago and Arizona the next two weeks, coach Tom Coughlin chose to make the inevitable switch to Manning.
The rookie struggled badly in his first few games and went 1-6 overall, but showed signs of progress in his last three starts, posting passer ratings over 100 in two of those games—and giving the Giants hope that their big investment in him was beginning to pay off.
However, the Giants’ main concern with Manning on Sunday will be his health. He suffered a sprained right elbow during an Aug. 20 preseason game against Carolina, missed the Giants’ final two exhibition contests and just participated in his first full practice since the injury Tuesday.
“I’ll just try to go out there and keep everything as normal as possible,” Manning said of the opener. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I’m not going to worry about my arm on any throws.”
Manning’s health and performance are the key for the Giants, who bolstered the roster around him during a busy offseason. Former Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress should give Manning a big target after joining New York as a free agent, and the Giants also beefed up Manning’s protection by adding 6-foot-6, 327-pound right tackle Kareem McKenzie from the Jets.
Tiki Barber will again carry the running game after rushing for a club-record 1,518 yards last season, and Coughlin may finally have someone to give the 30-year-old back a breather in Brandon Jacobs. The 6-4, 256-pound rookie is expected to help the Giants improve in short-yardage situations, one of their biggest weaknesses last season.
The return of Michael Strahan, who missed the final eight games of 2004 with a torn pectoral muscle, should toughen a defense that also added middle linebacker Antonio Pierce from Washington and impressive rookie cornerback Corey Webster and defensive end Justin Tuck through the draft. Lack of depth, though, could be a problem for New York’s defensive unit, especially along the line.
For Warner, the abbreviated run as Giants’ quarterback earned him a free-agent deal with the Cardinals, who are beginning their second season under coach Dennis Green. Although Green doesn’t expect his new quarterback to approach his NFL MVP form of 1999 and 2001, Warner does have a pair of young, big-play receivers that perfectly suit his game in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
“I expect huge things from this football team,” said Warner, who had a cordial relationship with Manning but made clear in an offseason interview that he didn’t think he should have been replaced as New York’s starter. “I expect big things from this offense with the playmakers that we have now. I think it matches up very well with teams that I have been on in the past.”
Green, known for the high-powered offenses that were the hallmark of his Minnesota Vikings teams, agreed.
“You have to understand that this is the all-time completion-percentage leader in the history of the NFL,” Green said. “This is the second all-time quarterback rating. He has been phenomenal when given the opportunity.”
Green will look to rookie J.J. Arrington to lead the ground game. The second-round pick out of California was the only collegian to rush for 2,000 yards last season.
Arizona has won the last two meetings with New York.
2004 STANDINGS: Cardinals - 3rd place, NFC West. Giants - 2nd place (tied), NFC East.
2004 CARDINALS LEADERS: Offense - Josh McCown, 2,511 passing yards and 11 passing TDs; Emmitt Smith, 937 rushing yards and 9 rushing TDs; Fitzgerald, 58 receptions; 780 receiving yards and 8 receiving TDs. Defense - Bertrand Berry, 14 1/2 sacks; David Macklin, 4 INTs.
2004 GIANTS LEADERS: Offense - Warner, 2,054 passing yards; Manning and Warner, 6 passing TDs; Barber, 1,518 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs; Jeremy Shockey, 61 receptions and 6 receiving TDs; Amani Toomer, 747 receiving yards. Defense - Osi Umenyiora, 7 sacks; Brent Alexander and Gibril Wilson, 3 INTs.
2004 CARDINALS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 104.2 yards per game (22nd in NFL); Passing Offense - 180.1 ypg (24th); Total Offense - 284.3 ypg (27th). Rushing Defense - 131.6 ypg (27th); Passing Defense - 189.8 ypg (9th); Total Defense - 321.4 ypg (12th).
2004 GIANTS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 119.0 ypg (11th); Passing Offense - 176.1 ypg (T-26th); Total Offense - 295.1 ypg (23rd). Rushing Defense - 134.8 ypg (28th); Passing Defense - 189.4 ypg (8th); Total Defense - 324.2 ypg (24th).
LAST MEETING: Nov. 14; Cardinals, 17-14. At Tempe, Ariz., Smith ran for two TDs for the first time in two seasons and Arizona sacked Warner six times, including four by Berry, to hand the Giants their third loss in four games.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - WR Boldin has 157 receptions in his first 26 career games, most in NFL history. … DE Berry earned his first Pro Bowl trip last season after recording an NFC-best 14 1/2 sacks. … QB Warner trails only Steve Young (96.8) with a 95.7 passer rating. Giants - WR Burress ranked second in the league with 19.9 yards per catch in 2004. … DE Strahan leads active players with 118 sacks. … Umenyiora, expected to play a big role at DE, had a career-high seven sacks last year.
2004 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 1-7 on the road; Giants - 3-5 at home.
INJURIES: Cardinals - OUT: LB Gerald Hayes (knee). DOUBTFUL: C Alex Stepanovich (hand). QUESTIONABLE: C Nick Leckey (ankle). PROBABLE: DT Darnell Dockett (ankle). Giants - DOUBTFUL: LB Barrett Green (knee/ankle); WR Jamaar Taylor (groin). QUESTIONABLE: CB William Peterson (knee). PROBABLE: QB Manning (right elbow).
Blog Coverage from SB Nation
John Fullington G, Brandon Person S, Zack Wagenmann LB, Corey Peters DT, Gerald Christian TE, Ifeanyi Momah TE, LaMarr Woodley LB, Rashad Johnson S, Andre Ellington RB, Alani Fua LB, Chris Clemons S, Frostee Rucker DT, Darren Fells TE, J.J. Nelson WR, Justin Bethel CB
Marcus Harris WR, Mykkele Thompson S, Bennett Jackson S, Justin Currie S, Akeem Hunt RB, Brandon Mosley G, Brett Jones C, Nat Berhe S, Corey Washington WR, Daniel Fells TE, Jerome Cunningham TE, Jayron Hosley CB, Trumaine McBride CB, Jonathan Casillas LB, Devon Kennard LB, Robert Ayers Jr. DE, George Selvie DE, Victor Cruz WR