"When everyone's together—when you're a fist—good things happen," says Stieve.
This season the Cardinals have cut their sack allowance to 22 after nine games. Lomax went down twice against the Eagles, but Philly came in tied as the No. 2 sacking team (27) in the NFC. For much of the time, though, Lomax stood tall in the pocket, motionless, feet planted, reading his receivers, one, two, three, while the Eagle rushers spun their wheels.
"I even had time to pick out a fourth receiver on a few patterns," he says. "When you've got that much time, and a team plays a deep zone, as the Eagles did, you can't help completing your passes. On the touchdown to Tilley [an eight-yarder that made the score 17-14 in St. Louis's favor in the second quarter], I must have had six seconds."
Last year the word on the Cardinals was that if you blitzed them, Lomax would come un-glued. "Maybe one time we wouldn't pick up the blitz," he says in his defense, "or if we did, I wouldn't read it, or if I read it, then I wouldn't hit the pass. So week after week all we saw were blitzes. This spring in the mini-camp, [offensive coordinator] Rod Dowhower charted all the sacks we suffered. He said the offensive line was 50 percent responsible. The quarterback was responsible for 20 percent, the wide receivers 20 percent, the tight ends 10, the formation 10 and the coaching 10. It didn't take a math major to figure out that that added up to 120 percent, but Rod got his point across—it was everyone's fault.
"Our scheme is better now, and so are my reads. The key to our success against blitzes is overkill in practice. In camp we worked on it probably more than any other NFL team. We still do."
Lomax's specialty is the quick dump-off to the running back filling the area vacated by the blitzer. Then it's a matter of talent. Anderson is a master at making the first tackier miss him, of bleeding yardage out of nothing situations. Mitchell is a compact bundle of dynamite—5'9", explosively fast, massive through the arms and chest. He either runs away from defenders or splatters them, a modern day Buddy Young with a 6.3-yard rushing average.
Tilley is the possession receiver. Roy Green, a Pro-Bowler last year, averages 22.2 yards per catch and ranks with James Lofton as pro football's leading long-ball threat. Green says that last year he ran back-to-back 40s in 4.26 and 4.31. "He's as fast as he needs to be," says Jim Hanifan, the Cardinals' coach.
Defensively, the Cards don't blind you with talent, which is why they're 6-3 instead of 9-0. When they've got you on the run they can put the heat on, but they can have lapses, too. A month ago Miami caught them when their secondary was crippled, and Marino threw for 429 yards. The Cardinals were relatively healthy against Philly, and Ron Jaworski still nailed them for 340 yards.
But when you've got an offense that can score 30 points a game, the defense has got to screw it up pretty badly to get you in deep trouble. In this era of aerial fireworks you seldom shut people down, you outscore them. And the Cardinals are, indeed, thoroughly modern.