Post-presser notes from Whiz

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2010 – 11:52 am

After a day off yesterday thanks to the Saturday game, coach Ken Whisenhunt officially had his “day-after” press conference today. Nothing earth shattering.

— TE Ben Patrick has a hamstring injury. The Cards are waiting to see how LB Joey Porter and RB LaRod Stephens-Howling are this week.

— DB coach Donnie Henderson is feeling better and back to work after fainting while driving in to the parking lot Saturday before the game. They still aren’t sure what happened, but Henderson is OK.

— The use of four down linemen on defense is mostly due to injury at linebacker. Whisenhunt wants to be able to use it, especially against the run. But it terms of flipping the scheme and becoming a 4-3 team long-term, it’s not a consideration.

— Whiz said you need to be “careful” about telling a young QB where to throw the ball, RE the lack of catches for Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. The Cards use a read-progression for their passing game, and deviating from that too much to force the ball to one place or another would hurt the offense more than help, Whisenhunt said.

— Whiz believes John Skelton’s accuracy will improve over time as he gains experience. It’s not a mechanical issue, he said.

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Breaking down draft order, 2011 schedule

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2010 – 9:38 am

With one game left — and the Cards safely out of the playoff picture — it’s a lot easier to narrow down some key portions of 2011 concerning both draft position and the schedule.

— As for the draft, the Cardinals have four teams with worse records than their own 5-10 mark. Arizona is one of seven teams with five wins. But as of right now, the Cardinals are fifth overall in the draft and “first” among those seven teams because of the Cards’ weak strength of schedule (Draft position is not broken by head-to-head or various playoff-type tiebreakers but instead the inverse — the weaker the opponents you played were, the higher pick, because the thought process is if your record is the same against weaker opponents, you are considered the weaker team and in need of a higher pick).

The Cardinals’ strength-of-schedule is so weak, in fact, that no matter any team(s) they end up tied with in the draft position, they will be choosing higher. So, for instance, even if the Cards beat the 49ers this weekend and the Seahawks lose and both the Cards and Seahawks finish with six wins, the Cards will be slotted higher in the draft. (Of course, beating the 49ers will mean the Cards end up with a better record than San Francisco, meaning the Niners will of course be ahead in the order).

Looking over the standings, the “lowest” the Cardinals will be picking will be 11th in the draft. If the Cardinals beat San Francisco, the Niners would be “ahead” of the Cards, while of the other five teams who have five wins, four could lose (two of the five-win teams play each other, Minnesota at Detroit, and I am assuming the Vikings lose in Philadelphia tomorrow night). Cleveland (hosting Pittsburgh), Dallas (at Philly) and Houston (hosting Jacksonville) are the other five-win teams.

If the Cards lose to the 49ers, they could still in theory have as high as the No. 2 pick in the draft, but that would mean Denver (hosting San Diego), Cincinnati (at Baltimore) and Buffalo (at the Jets) all won this weekend. Carolina has already clinched Andrew Lu, errr, the No. 1 pick overall.

— As for the schedule, that is always all but set. In cement are home games against the three NFC West foes, Dallas, the Giants, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will go on the road to the three NFC West opponents, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati.

The remaining road/home games set up like this: If the Cards win, they will host Tampa Bay again. (UPDATE: My mistake — if the Saints lose tonight and then the Buccaneers beat the Saints next week, the Cards would host the Saints again next year in this scenario). If they lose, the extra home game will be Carolina.

For the final road game, a Cardinal win means the Cards will play at the winner of this weekend’s Minnesota-Detroit game. A loss in San Francisco means they will travel to the loser of the Vikings-Lions.

— UPDATE II: For those confused about why the schedule, for instance, has the Cards hosting Pittsburgh again after the Steelers came in 2007 and the Cards last went to Pittsburgh in 2003, here was the info I received on the subject from the league:

“You need to look at the scheduling formula on a larger scale. it’s not as simple as just alternating the home games for every opponent – the math would not work out that way. The formula is set so that you’ll play all non-division conference opponents at least one every three years and at home at least once every six years. Also, keep in mind for non-division opponents in the conference, you’re rotating three divisions over a period of time, so if you take the original eight-year rotation, the math doesn’t work out so that it’s a straight alternating system. So by just taking selective end points and asking about ’04, ’07 and ’10, you’re not looking at a complete picture.”

Under the formula, every team within a division plays 16 games as follows:

  • Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
  • The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
  • The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
  • Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games).  These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season.  The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.

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Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2010 – 1:33 am

The penalty flag was thrown, and suddenly, I thought of Leonard Davis. No, not because big Len was on the other sideline for the Cowboys. Because I remember a sweaty September day at Sun Devil Stadium in 2005, when the Cards had reached the Rams’ 5-yard line down five points in the waning seconds. A comeback win was within reach – except Davis was called for a false start with seven seconds left. The Cards had no timeouts left, and by rule, that meant a 10-second runoff. It meant a very difficult way to lose a chance to win.

So that’s what I was thinking when the flag came out Saturday night, when the Cards had finally made it to the Dallas 25-yard line down two points. A spike, a penalty, oh God. I wasn’t the only one. Players were headed to the locker room, for goodness sake.

QB John Skelton said he didn’t know what was going on, deferring to center Lyle Sendlein, who was already barking at the officials. Sendlein said he didn’t have anything to offer other than insist there were more than the 10 seconds that were displayed on the stadium clock. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was planning to argue the same.

You can’t hear anything down on the field, although I did hear “10-second runoff.” Turns out all the ref was saying was that there would not be a runoff. Since all the players were set on the illegal formation (and not, in Davis’ long-ago case, a false start) it just cost the Cards five yards. The runoff is to prevent a team from having a penalty in order to stop the clock. Since the Cards did pull off a proper spike – again, with everyone set, even if they weren’t in the right spots – it didn’t cost them time.

And for Jay Feely, what’s another five yards?

— Holder Ben Graham did a great job pulling down a slightly high snap on the game-winning field goal.

— If you would’ve told me the Cards would win when Larry Fitzgerald would have one catch and Steve Breaston none, I’d have laughed. Fitz insisted he wasn’t frustrated. Hmmm. I am going to guess he was trying to be nice when he said that. That said, I know he was thrilled to get the win and the frustration eased considerably when Feely’s field goal split the uprights.

— Watching the replay of the game right now, the most amazing part of Fitz’s late catch is that he was drilled – helmet to helmet? – on a first-down incompletion three plays earlier and cameras caught Fitz blinking his eyes and shaking his head, as if to clear cobwebs.

— In terms of Breaston, a very odd situation. I thought there was a chance he was hurt at some point, enough so that they limited his snaps. But no. Whisenhunt said he used rookie Andre Roberts more because of blocking schemes and “we try to spell (Breaston)” more, but again, it was odd to see Breaston on the sideline and Roberts in. Roberts had a very good game, but again, just struck me as odd. The free-agent-to-be didn’t have one pass thrown his way.

— The Cardinals had a season-high five sacks, getting a decent amount of pressure when they just rushed four. For a second straight game, they used a lot of four-down linemen. It was generally effective. I’m sure it was in part because Joey Porter was out and the team didn’t have a plethora of trustworthy linebackers for a 3-4 alignment, so they tinkered. But it worked.

— Here’s a stat I heard on the radio on the way home tonight: Since 2008, there had been 75 pass plays in the NFL on fourth down needing at least 15 yards for a first down. The number of conversions? Eight. Kinda glad John Skelton didn’t know that before throwing the dart to Fitz.

— I mentioned this a couple of times on Twitter, but given the grief running back Beanie Wells has gotten for his blocking, the excellent blitz pickup he provided on the 74-yard TD pass from Skelton to Roberts was key.

— That was the Cards’ ninth TD pass. They have nine non-offensive return TDs. The battle will go down to the final game.

— DRC and Greg Toler get Pick-6s. Amazing. It’s been simple this year really. Five wins – at St. Louis, Oakland, New Orleans, Denver, Dallas. Except for the Rams game, and in that one the defense forced a bunch of turnovers, the Cards win because of those return TDs.

That’s enough. It’s 1:30 a.m. I’ve outlasted Christmas. But what a Christmas for the Cards.

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Porter, Hyphen among inactives

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2010 – 4:04 pm

As expected, linebacker Joey Porter (tricep) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) are both inactive tonight with their injuries, while Derek Anderson is set to be the third quarterback. O’Brien Schofield starts in Porter’s place, and it will be interesting to see if the Cards use more 4-3 looks tonight — Gabe Watson is active while Gerald Hayes and Curtis Gatewood join Porter as inactive linebackers. Andre Roberts will return kickoffs with The Hyphen out.

The rest of the inactive list:

  • CB A.J. Jefferson
  • CB Marshay Green
  • C Ben Claxton

As a reminder, the roof is open tonight as well.

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DB coach Henderson taken to hospital

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2010 – 3:24 pm

After arriving at University of Phoenix Stadium today, defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson fainted as he walked drove down the ramp into the player parking lot, hitting one of the cement ballards in place. He was alert and conscious, but he was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation. If there is any further information later, I will pass it along.

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‘Twas the Friday before the Cowboys

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2010 – 4:34 pm

’Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the complex,

Not a creature was stirring, errr, except for Larry Fitz;

OK, there were others, the whole team in fact,

Prepping to play the Cowboys, win some pride back;

With Porter maybe on the shelf and The Hyphen banged up,

Roberts must kick return, Schofield hoping to erupt;

Skelton the Cowboy-hater gets start No. 3,

A first touchdown pass would provide needed glee;

(Attempting to rhyme lines here isn’t an easy chore,

Not when trying to be newsy and not be a bore)

There will be no Romo, no playoffs on the line,

It’s still about winning plus getting young guys time;

We’re waiting to see what the offense will bring,

Maybe Hightower? More Beanie? Breaston on the wing?

Slowing Felix Jones on the ground a defensive key,

At the same time, can’t allow Witten to run free;

The stadium roof will be open this time,

Closing the season in temperatures just fine;

Frankly, on Christmas Eve, I need to cut this short,

Family is waiting, that’s of more import;

I’ll have more later when NFL Net puts on a show,

A battle between Cardinals and Cowboys to follow;

Hopefully hearing Dockett shout as he finishes the fight,

“Merry Christmas to all, damn it was a good night!”

— I hope everyone has a good holiday (and so do the Cards).



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Christmas at home, and other stuff

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2010 – 12:09 pm

Merry Christmas Eve from Cardinals-land:

Normally, the Cardinals spend the night before a game in a hotel, even home games. But not tonight. Not Christmas Eve.

“I feel it’s important, especially with the guys who have young children, that they spend Christmas morning with their families,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We are fortunate we don’t have to be on the road. There are so few times when you get a chance to spend Christmas morning home with your family in this profession that when you have a chance to do it, it’s the right thing to do.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the holiday makes things easy with a game looming less than 24 hours away.

“It takes away from your study time,” Whisenhunt said, noting the team will come back for a night meeting at the facility this evening. “You hate to say Christmas is a distraction, but when you are working, that’s what it is. … With the number of mistakes we’ve made this year, you have to get in the books and study and try to eliminate those things.”

— It’s been a semi-popular topic of late — just where did wide receiver Stephen Williams go? He’s not inactive on game days, but there have been some DNP-coach’s decision on his resume. Honestly, it’s not a surprise, not when you are the fifth wideout (behind Fitz, Breaston, Doucet and Andre Roberts) and you don’t make an impact on special teams. Now that Early Doucet is on injured reserve, however, you figure Williams will get a little work these last two games — and he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s what I have been waiting for,” the undrafted rookie said. “I’ve been practicing good and making plays, it’s just that I’ve been doing it on the (practice) field with the guys, the media sees but not people on the outside. It’s kind of frustrating but you have to keep pushing through.”

Williams was one of the stars of training camp, and with early injuries to Doucet and Fitz, he was forced to play a lot early in the season. Then everyone got healthy, Roberts emerged after a rocky training camp and first month, and Williams was the odd man out.

“It’s  been hard, getting the feet wet, getting to play and then when all the guys returned it was like, ‘You’ve got to take a seat,’ ” Williams said. “Just got to wait my turn. Listen and learn.”

— Linebacker Joey Porter (tricep) did some limited work today, and his status for tomorrow will be a game-time decision. It was always going to be about whether Porter has enough strength to defend himself in a game; I’d still guess he’d take a one-game sit and then get ready for San Francisco (like Dockett did with his shoulder). LaRod Stephens-Howling sat and is doubtful. Whisenhunt said if The Hyphen did anything, it’ll be kick returns, but I am guessing that’s a long shot. Derek Anderson will dress, although whether he is second or third QB is still TBD, although “probably” he will be the third, Whiz said.

— Because of the Saturday’s game, this week’s “The Ken Whisenhunt Show” will air tonight at 10:35 on KPNX Ch. 12 (NBC)  following the late local news. Included will be the Larry Fitzgerald sit-down in which Fitz discusses the milestone catches in his career.

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Injuries, illness and stepping away

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2010 – 2:00 pm

Linebacker Joey Porter (tricep) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring) improved a bit and coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was encouraged by their efforts. “Whether that means they play Saturday, that’ll be tough,” Whisenhunt said. The players seem matter-of-fact about their situations — “Can’t do nothing about it,” Porter said — although with only two games left, there has to be optimism they can at least return for the San Francisco game, because otherwise, the team might just find another option and put them on injured reserve.

— Quarterback Derek Anderson and tight end Stephen Spach also were absent today because they were ill. But in the spirit of the season, Whisenhunt, while talking about Anderson, deadpanned “it wasn’t reported like Tom Brady was, when he was out with the flu, but it’s a similar situation.”

— Whisenhunt touched on the notion of giving some playcalling duties to passing game coordinator Mike Miller, saying it is a natural progression that will only continue to grow for Miller.

“There are a lot of things going on on game day you have to be on top of, and fortunately we have a number of good coaches on the staff to help with that,” Whisenhunt said. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction when you call good plays or call a game with good success. That’s part of what I have done successfully for a number of years and it’s hard to step away from that.”

— The next-to-last Big Red Rage is tonight. Adrian Wilson’s guest is kicker Jay Feely for the broadcast, which is live at 6 p.m. at Majerle’s Sports Grill at Chandler Fashion Center (give yourself time withe the traffic, if you plan on going). It will be aired live on Sports 620 KTAR (and also streamed live right here).

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Promoting a dream

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2010 – 10:50 am

In the end, it’s usually a single line of type in a newspaper, a note at the bottom of the story, a move few notice: A practice squad player getting elevated to the active roster. This time of year, it’s not uncommon although usually it makes little impact on the field.

But for the player who is promoted, this is his whole world. Linebacker Curtis Gatewood got that news this week, a promotion in part because Joey Porter’s injury means the probable need for an extra ‘backer against the Cowboys.

“It’s a rush, literally and figuratively,” Gatewood said. “Something I have been waiting for my whole career. To actually be on a roster says a lot and it is humbling to me. It’s exciting, so many emotions. Ultimately, that’s the goal, to be on a 53-man roster.”

It’s not like this is brand-new for Gatewood. As a rookie out of Vanderbilt, he appeared in six games for Kansas City in 2008. That was after spending time with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent. Post-Chiefs, Gatewood has spent time with the Lions, Eagles, Steelers, Redskins (where he was briefly on the 53-man roster, but inactive for all three games) and then the Cardinals – twice.

Sitting on the practice squad most of that time, Gatewood was anonymous, just like many practice-squad inhabitants. Some are a little more well-known, the rookies who stuck around after training camp and received some publicity. Guys like Gatewood, though, come in later and float well under the radar – both with the team and outside it.

“It’s a very tough role for a free-agent guy, an uphill battle,” Gatewood said. “But to be on a practice squad and for them to have confidence to bring you up, it means a lot in my world.”

In this case, it’s Gatewood’s own Christmas miracle. A chance to play Saturday on national TV against the Cowboys, and a big bump in pay, at least for a week – his salary jumped from $5,200 a week to about $23,000.

“My girlfriend did ask for an upgrade in her gift for Christmas,” Gatewood said with a smile. “I am assuming my Mom will be next.”

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Porter not done, Anderson returns, a sellout

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2010 – 2:11 pm

Turns out LB Joey Porter’s triceps injury is a strain and not a full tear as coach Ken Whisenhunt first feared. So Porter will rehab. He was out Wednesday and frankly, I will be surprised if he can make it back for Saturday, but the finale, perhaps. Whisenhunt said Porter already is feeling better, so who knows. LB O’Brien Schofield would get the chance to start in Porter’s place, an amazing turn of events considering where Schofield was earlier this season rehabbing from knee surgery. RB LaRod Stephens-Howling did pull a hamstring and sat Wednesday. Whisenhunt said he wasn’t sure The Hyphen will be back for Saturday either, but he’s not being ruled out.

Quarterback Derek Anderson was finally back on a limited basis, but Whisenhunt wouldn’t declare him the No. 2 before seeing how practice goes this week. Even if Anderson is healthy, I won’t be surprised if they keep Rich Bartel as the No. 2, so if a change has to be made, they can take a look at Bartel.

The game Saturday, by the way, is officially a sellout. It will be televised on NFL Network and, locally, also over the air on KUTP MY45/Ch. 9.

Finally — and I will flesh this out in my notes on the homepage in a bit — QB John Skelton won Valley fans over quickly by declaring that, even though he is from Texas, he has always rooted against the Cowboys. Maybe he was born to be a Cardinal.

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