The League

Desmond Bieler
Occasional Blogger, Constant Blowhard

Desmond Bieler

An assistant news editor at The Washington Post

Arizona at San Francisco, Week One


Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

If life is like a box of chocolates, drafting a quarterback in the top 10 is like an incredibly expensive box of chocolates, one that might be delicious or might taste terrible and be filled with jagged pieces of metal: You never know what you're going to get, and getting the wrong batch can be very painful.

Which brings us, torturedly, to this matchup of the Cardinals and the 49ers, which won't be featuring the talents of Matt Leinart and Alex Smith, despite the fact that they are both perfectly healthy and despite the hefty investments of time, money and draft positions in them. Smith was the first overall pick in the 2005 draft but just got beaten out in training camp by J.T. O'Sullivan, for whom the term "journeyman" seems too sedentary -- he's on his eighth professional team in six years. Leinart, the 10th pick in the 2006 draft (ironically, Leinart, not Smith, likely would have been the top pick in '05 had he opted to leave school early), lost his job to Kurt Warner. At least Leinart can say he was usurped by someone with an impressive résumé: Warner has won two NFL MVP awards, was a Super Bowl MVP and as recently as just last season played remarkably well in place of Leinart. On the other hand, Smith can say the guy who took his job is merely pushing 30, rather than 40, and, well... well, unlike Warner, at least O'Sullivan was drafted into the NFL! So there! (Rather petulant, is this imaginary Alex Smith.)

O'Sullivan actually had one outright advantage over Smith heading into training camp, in that he was already acquainted with new 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz's complex offense, having come over with Martz from Detroit. And if Martz is smart, he'll make sure O'Sullivan plays second fiddle to running back Frank Gore, who is easily the best offensive piece San Francisco has (at least until Vernon Davis stops trying to prove that drafting tight ends in the top 10 is even more of a crapshoot than taking quarterbacks there). On the other hand, the Cardinals would be well advised to have Warner fling the ball all over the lot, even if some of his flings are actually fumbles, to which he seems exceptionally prone. Arizona has some serious talent at wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and a running game led by an aging Edgerrin (Agerrin'?) James that scares no one.

Knowing Martz, though, he will talk himself into letting O'Sullivan throw with abandon by noting that Arizona finished ninth against the run last season but only 28th against the pass. The Cards did draft cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round to help with that, but they also lost pass-rushing linebacker Calvin Pace to free agency. San Francisco wasn't very good against anything in 2007, but they have to be excited about what linebacker Patrick Willis, who tackled everything that moved in his rookie season, can do in year two.

By Desmond Bieler  |  September 5, 2008; 9:30 AM ET  | Category:  Week 1 Previews Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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