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2007 Coaching Changes
Fantasy Impact: Arizona Cardinals

New Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt
(PIT OC: 2004-2006; TEs Coach: 2001-2003; NYJ TEs Coach; 2000; CLE STs Coach; 1999; BAL TEs Coach: 1997-1998)
Previous Head Coach: Dennis Green (2004-2006)

Whisenhunt's career in the NFL began as the Atlanta Falcons’ 12th round pick in 1985. He played 7 seasons in the league before retiring as a New York Jet after the 1992 season. Whisenhunt's first foray into coaching came at the college level with the Vanderbilt Commodores where he served as a member of Rod Dowhower's staff during the 1995 and 1996 seasons. Following his two-year stint with the Commodores, Whisenhunt returned to the NFL in 1997 as tight ends coach for the Baltimore Ravens. He spent two seasons with their organization before going to the Browns in 1999 as their special teams coach. He then spent a year as the tight ends coach with the New York Jets before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers as a member of Bill Cowher's staff in 2001. Whisenhunt spent his first three seasons in Pittsburgh as their tight ends coach before he was promoted to the offensive coordinator position when the Bills hired Mike Mularkey to be their head coach during the 2004 off-season.

In Whisenhunt's first year as a coordinator with the Steelers, he worked with rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and veterans Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward to guide an offense that contributed to Pittsburgh's 15-1 finish. Aided by the support of a dominating defense, Pittsburgh running backs carried the ball an amazing 533 times. As a unit, the offense finished the 2004 season ranked first in carries (618), and second in yards rushing (2464). They also finished with 16 rushing touchdowns, ranking them seventh in the league in that category.

With the combination of their strong defense and a powerful rushing attack, there was little reason for Pittsburgh to put games on the arm of their rookie quarterback. While the offense only ranked 28th in the league with 2970 passing yards, they still managed to get a productive season out of Roethlisberger. In 14 games, the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft threw 17 touchdown passes while keeping his interception total to a respectable 11. He also set a rookie NFL record among quarterbacks by winning the first 13 starts of his career.

The following year Pittsburgh again relied on the play of their strong defense, coupled with a time- consuming ground game to earn their victories. The final result was a trip to Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks, a game the Steelers won by a score of 21-10. Willie Parker emerged that year as the team’s featured back, and led the way with 255 carries for 1202 yards. He also rushed for 4 touchdowns while Jerome Bettis added 9 scores with 368 yards rushing. As an offensive unit, Pittsburgh again ranked first in carries for the second straight season with 549. They also finished fifth in rushing yards (2223) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (21). The passing game wasn't productive from a statistical standpoint, but the Steelers managed to get another solid season from their young quarterback. Roethlisberger finished the season with just 2385 passing yards in 13 starts throwing 17 touchdowns with an impressively few 9 interceptions.

Last season was the first under Whisenhunt in which the Steelers offense threw for more than 3105 yards in a season. Roethlisberger threw for a career high 3513, while back-up quarterback Charlie Batch tacked on another 492 yards, placing the Steelers 8th in the league in total passing yards. Considering they ranked no higher than 25th in the league the previous two seasons, the jump in production was unexpected. There is a good reason behind the increase however. While the Steelers defense was among the most elite in the NFL the past two years, there was a drop off in their level of play during the 2006 season. During an 8-game stretch that spanned from week 3 through week 12, the defensive unit allowed an average of 28.5 points per game. With the offense trailing so often, they were forced to go to the air more than they had in Whisenhunt's two prior seasons as coordinator. The need to throw more contributed to an overall decrease in the output of the ground game. But Willie Parker still had a strong year, finishing the season with 1494 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

Whisenhunt's Impact on the Offense:

Quarterbacks: Matt Leinart; Kurt Warner; Shane Boyd

If there is one thing Whisenhunt's tenure as the Steelers offensive coordinator has shown, it's that he can run an offense successfully with a young quarterback calling the plays under center. Leinart enjoyed early success last season when he replaced a lackluster Kurt Warner as the starter in week 5. He struggled through a couple games in which he completed just 40.3% of his passes, but was able to rebound with solid performances during the last 7 games. During that span he averaged 235 passing yards per game, completed 60.3% of his attempts, and threw for 6 touchdowns.

With Ken Whisenhunt now running things in Arizona, expect him to emphasize the running game within the offense. In order to do so however, he'll need much improved blocking from the men up front. With the selection of offensive tackle Levi Brown, in the 1st round with the 5th overall pick, the Cardinals already took a step towards improving in that area. He'll also need improved play from the defense however, if he wishes to establish a consistent and strong rushing attack.

The Cardinals defense finished last season ranked 30th in total yards allowed (30th against the pass, 16th against the run), and allowed an average of 24.3 points a game to be scored against them. If they don't begin holding teams to 20 points a game or less, it will be difficult to build the offense around their rushing attack. With that in mind, and knowing the teams run blocking needs to show improvement, Leinart may be throwing the ball more than Whisenhunt would prefer. The good news however, is that the Cardinals have great talent at the wide receiver position. Taking everything into account, figure on Leinart throwing for somewhere between 3250 and 3500 yards this season. Expecting something close to 20 touchdown passes from him is reasonable as well.

Running Backs: Edgerrin James; Marcel Shipp; J.J. Arrington

Edgerrin James returns coming off what many considered a sub par season for the former Indianapolis Colts running back. It wasn't until week 13 that James rushed for more than a hundred yards in a game. He followed it up with another 100-yard outing, and finished the season with three 100-yard rushing performances during the last 5 games of the year. For the season, James carried the ball 337 times for 1159 yards. His 3.4 yards per carry was the lowest of his career, and his 6 rushing touchdowns were his fewest since the 2002 season. He also had less than 44 receptions for the first time since his injury shortened 2001 campaign.

With Whisenhunt running things in Arizona, it's likely the 28-year old James will carry the ball more than 300 times for his fifth consecutive season. How productive he can be remains to be seen. The Cardinals allowed left tackle Leonard Davis to leave via free agency during the off-season. They then signed veteran offensive lineman Mike Gandy to replace him. They also signed former Dallas Cowboys center Al Johnson, and drafted Levi Brown. If the new additions prove effective, James should improve upon his totals from last season. For the time being, expect roughly 1200 yards and about 8 touchdowns from the vet. He should be good for 35-45 receptions this season as well.

Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin; Larry Fitzgerald; Bryant Johnson; LeRon McCoy; Sean Morey; Steve Breaston

As mentioned, if the Cardinals defense isn't able to hold opponents under 20 points a game, expect them to pass the ball quite frequently this season. The more they pass, the more receptions to go around for wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Bryant Johnson. Last season Boldin and Fitzgerald combined to record 151 receptions for 2144 yards and 10 touchdowns. Just imagine what those totals would have been if not for a hamstring injury that forced Fitzgerald to the sideline for 3 games.

While Whisenhunt certainly understands the importance of a strong running game and what it can do for an offense, he won't waste the talent he has at wide receiver. Boldin and Fitzgerald is the best young wide receiver tandem in the league and they'll both get their fair share of receptions. We may not see them reach the impressive totals they've averaged for themselves the last two seasons, but they're more than capable of it. Both remain threats for 80-plus receptions and 1100 or more receiving yards. Bryant Johnson should be able to contribute with close to 40 receptions again, but don't expect him to average another 18.5 yards per catch this year.

Tight Ends: Leonard Pope; Ben Patrick

Prior to the 2005 season when Pittsburgh used their first round pick on tight end Heath Miller, the last productive tight end that found himself involved in the passing game under Whisenhunt's guidance, was Eric Green during the 1997 and 1998 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Since then, most of the tight ends Whisenhunt has worked with have been known more for their blocking ability rather than their ability to catch a football.

In the last two seasons however, Whisenhunt showed he could work the tight end position into the offense, as Miller totaled 73 receptions for 852 yards and 11 touchdowns within that span. In Pope, Whisenhunt has a 6'8", 265-pound monster of a man at the position to work with. Whether Pope is capable of matching the type of production seen from Miller the past two years remains a question for now, but expect Whisenhunt to have more than a few plays called for the big man when the Cardinals are near end zone.