Paulie Pigskin's Sideline Report: Cards shock San Francisco
"Well, that has a special place in your heart," admitted Coach W in our postgame radio conversation. "But, to be honest with you, Paul, I hadn't even thought about it. I knew, because people had talked about it, but it was more important to me that we get the win and it was all about our team and what they did against a very good football team today."
Putting the "Foot" into Football? Or, Putting the "Ball" into Football: Guess who was getting props on the Cards sideline for playing thru pain? Answer - Dave Zastudil. That's right, the punter getting real-life respect for being a tough guy. That's no small feet, err, feat, considering that punters are usually referred to as "specialists" (read: non-football player). When I asked Zastudil whether he was going to suffer a permanent crease in his bicep and ruin his beach muscles, he made some comparison to Popeye before the crowd noise drowned us out. (Note: yet again, Paulie Pencilneck is asking Santa for a set of biceps. Even if they're torn, we'll take ‘em.)
"Nice Hands, err, Block, Larry!": Of course, after the punter & kicker (sorry, Jay Feely), the next demographic of football player least likely to be labeled "physical" has to be the "Diva Wide Receiver" demo, right? Except, hang on. Don't you dare place Larry Fitzgerald into that category, lest he decleat you in the open field like that Niners DB who was chasing Early Doucet (that is, until #11 smashcaked him with a blindside block).
"I was just holding my breath to hope I wasn't going to get a penalty because that would've been the worst thing," Fitzgerald said. "But I wanted to make that I got him blocked. And Early had a clear path to the end zone…"
When I asked Doucet for his reaction to Larry "Road Grader" Fitzgerald clearing a path for him? "That's great," said Doucet during our postgame radio chat. "I'm going to have to go back and check out the film and give him his props for that. Anytime you get a guy like him giving you a crack-back block, that's big." (BIG, BIG block!)
By the way, with the news of Todd Haley being dismissed by the Chiefs, I can't help but think how impressed the former Cards offensive coordinator would be of his former pupil that he once (in)famously called "One-Trick Pony."
"Walking Ladder": Calais Campbell got a chuckle out of the latest Ron Wolfley moniker bestowed upon him - "Walking Ladder." That's what happens when you bat down two more passes (9 deflections total in 2011).
"Sometimes, it's not even if you can get a good pass rush," said the 6-foot-8 Walking Ladder. "You want to, but sometimes in situations where you know they have to throw the ball, you just try to get in front of ‘em and get my hands up and bat the ball down."
Then, when I asked Campbell what he likes most about the Cards defense, he responded instantly: "The way we respond, that's the biggest thing. When we give up a play here or there, the way we respond is huge. Settle down, regroup and keep playing football, that's special. And that's something we didn't do earlier in the year that we're doing now. Earlier, I felt like we went ‘quicksand.' When something went wrong, then something else went wrong, something else went wrong, etc. Now, if something goes wrong, we line up and go back to work."
"D" in Defense Stands for "Develop": In fact, in talking with various members of the Cards defense over the past few weeks, a couple of themes emerge. First, the defense has cut down on the big plays. As one coach told me - "a big mistake now isn't a blown coverage, it's a missed tackle." The other big difference is that the opposing offense has to account for every member of the AZ defense as a potential pass rusher. Not too long ago, with limited knowledge of the scheme, only a handful of Cardinals defenders truly had the ability to blitz.
Paulie Chicken: Finally, did I want to ask Coach W about his Harbaugh Handshake? Most definitely. Did I have the, uh, gumption to pose the question. Dang. (Note to Self: I need to get tougher, like a punter or a receiver…)