Green puts team under the knife in bye week

Thursday, October 14th 2004, 8:03 pm
By: News On 6

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) _ By his own admission, Dennis Green is not a patient man, and he is not about to settle for the slow progress he's seen from his Arizona Cardinals' offense.

So, Green said, major surgery was in order in the team's bye week.

``We've been running with two wheels on, two wheels off,'' Green said. ``Now we're going to get all four on the road.''

The Cardinals staggered into their off week 1-4 on the heels of a 31-28 overtime loss to San Francisco, a game Arizona led 28-12 with five minutes left in regulation.

It was the Cardinals' 16th consecutive road loss, the longest active streak in the NFL.

``I was telling Coach Green today that it's still been hard for me to get rid of that one,'' quarterback Josh McCown said after Thursday's workout, the last practice before a three-day break. ``Every loss is tough, but those especially.''

It's no stretch to say the Cardinals should be at least 3-2. They lost at Atlanta 6-3, fumbling away the ball three times inside the Falcons 20, and they led going into the fourth quarter in their opener at St. Louis.

Exactly what Green is talking about when he talks about major changes is unclear. He won't say, other than to indicate no personnel changes are planned.

``When we get halfway through the season, we want to be rolling real well,'' Green said, ``and to do that we had to go in and really make some heavy-duty changes.''

He hinted the changes involve working with his assistants to make sure everyone understands what he wants from an offensive scheme Green believes he helped develop a decade ago with Minnesota.

``I'm disappointed. I'm drawing up a new game plan,'' Green said. ``I was counting on a couple of things that didn't take place. I'm not a baby. You don't get everything you want. Now we have to really recalculate everything. I've done this for years and years. It's that when you get a new staff, it doesn't come together easily. The issue is really our system.''

Arizona's offense has shown improvement. After scoring 25 points combined in their first three games, the Cardinals had 62 in their last two.

Against the 49ers, McCown threw his first three touchdown passes of the season, one to rookie Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has not fully recovered from an ankle injury that sidelined him in training camp, and Green doesn't believe his star receiver will be 100 percent until next season.

But the rookie still leads the team in receptions with 22, and said every Sunday brings new lessons.

`I've learned so much in these last five weeks it's unbelievable,'' Fitzgerald said, ``from different coverages, to where you want to catch the ball in routes on certain coverages, just little things that you only learn by repetition.''

The offense will get a major boost soon with the return of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, last season's rookie of the year. Boldin underwent surgery in August to repair torn knee cartilage.

He won't be back for Arizona's next game, Oct. 24 against Seattle, but could return the following week at Buffalo.

``You're talking about adding a Pro Bowl player to your lineup,'' McCown said. ``He raises the level of everybody on the team when he's on the field. He brings an intense passion for the game.''

Boldin, Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson will give Green the three wide receivers he envisioned as the centerpiece of a big-time passing offense.

Green, who still talks about making the playoffs, set a high standard for a franchise that has had one winning season since coming to Arizona in 1987.

``I just love to watch Indianapolis and Minnesota play,'' Green said. ``They are running this offense the way it should be run, and right now we're not.''

Of course, Green doesn't have Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Daunte Culpepper or Randy Moss. Instead, he has McCown _ a starter for just eight games, five in Green's system.

McCown has studied tapes of the Colts and Vikings, learning how Manning and Culpepper make their decisions.

``He's definitely gotten a lot more confident,'' Fitzgerald said. ``He's giving us playmakers a chance to make plays.''

A prime example of McCown's development came against San Francisco, when he audibled out of a running play when he saw Fitzgerald facing single coverage, then lofted a 24-yard touchdown pass to the rookie.

``There's a trust factor and a faith factor that I know he can go get the ball,'' McCown said. ``He's always said, `Have faith in me, I can go get the ball.'''

It's the kind of chemistry Green is counting on to transform the Cardinals.

``I've come into this season with very high expectations about our offensive productivity, and those remain with me,'' Green said. ``I think Emmitt (Smith) will be a thousand-yard rusher. I think that Troy (Hambrick) is going to have a significant impact our team. I think Josh is starting to come on.''