Off the edge

Posted by Darren Urban on January 31, 2011 – 3:25 pm

By the time I arrived to cover the Cardinals full-time, Simeon Rice’s best Cardinals’ season was behind him, with 16½ sacks in 1999. I was in place just in time for a contract dispute and “Don’t-tell-Mike-Jurecki-come-talk-to-me!” from then-GM Bob Ferguson. Rice had only 7½ sacks in 2000 and then left as a free agent.

Since then, finding a difference-making pass rusher hasn’t been easy for the Cardinals.

They signed one as a free agent in 2004, when they got Bertrand Berry and he collected 14½ that season (including four on Giants quarterback Kurt Warner, if you recall) but then injuries and eventually age shredded Berry’s chances to reach double digits again. That year was the only one where a Cardinal had at least 10 sacks since Rice’s big 1999 season; amazingly, Berry’s five sacks led the Cards in their Super Bowl season. Defensive end Calais Campbell led the Cards this season with six.

The Cards did get pressure-by-committee more in 2009. Campbell and Darnell Dockett tied for the team lead with seven, although the Cards had 43 as a team (sixth in the NFL), the most they had ever posted since moving to Arizona in 1988. That number dropped to 33 this season, and the current problems on offense – last season, the Cards had the lead much more often, providing more chances to rush the passer – certainly had something to do with it. In any case, that one guy the other team has to fear all by himself, he remains absent.

So that brings us to where the Cards stand now. Let’s, for a moment, assume the labor issues are resolved relatively quickly. Can they get that guy now? Could they, perhaps, pry someone like LaMarr Woodley away as a free agent (although reports are that Woodley expects to remain in Pittsburgh)? Then there is the idea of someone like Von Miller of Texas A&M would be a good draft pick, because of the pressure he could provide. (There is also the idea of someone like O’Brien Schofield developing into that dynamic guy, which he was in college). For a moment, forget about specifics. To get such a player, whomever he might be, improves your secondary/pass defense, because the more pressure you can deliver without blitzing means the more defenders you have in pass coverage.

And besides, it’d be one more guy who – as coaches and players alike like to say – “makes plays.” Those are the guys who tilt the game in your favor.

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Clearing up this and that

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2011 – 2:01 pm

Here on a quiet Friday now that we know there won’t be a new defensive coordinator for at least another week, it seems like a good time to quickly touch on a couple of subjects that — given the deadness of this time of year with the Cards — seem to have inexplicably taken stronger root than they should.

— The Cardinals aren’t headed for Ireland. The Steelers could be. I could see that. When your owner is the U.S. ambassador to the country, that’s an easy dot to connect. But this story from Ireland doesn’t say one word about the Cardinals. does, citing the chances the Cards may have blackouts next season and that the Steelers just came to Arizona in 2007. Except:

  • We already covered why a team like Pittsburgh is coming back again with no Cards’ visit to Pennsylvania, and the Cards have the same “issue” with the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, Eagles, Bengals and Ravens.
  • The Cards have already been one of the few teams that played in a foreign country (Mexico in 2005) and one of the rare to already give up a home game. They won’t be asked to do it again so soon.
  • Is anyone worried the Cards would not sell out a game against the Steelers? That’s a lock to avoid a blackout.
  • If the Steelers want a game in Ireland, why wouldn’t it be their home game to be sacrificed?
  • Next year’s road schedule is already brutal (Washington, Baltimore, Philly, Cincy, Minnesota, plys the NFC West). A “road” trip overseas for a “home” game? No way.

— Larry Fitzgerald is not going to be traded to the Patriots (or anywhere) all of a sudden. This “rumor” came from this report, which included the famous second line, “In fact, no one polled for this story had any direct knowledge of whether the Cardinals have had any legitimate discussions about trading their star receiver.”

Ummm …

I don’t know what is going to happen with Fitzgerald. He avoids talking about his future. SI’s Peter King tweeted today that “he’s going to want out of Arizona” but that was a prediction rather than anything based on a Fitz conversation. I’ll say what I have always said: The Cards want to re-sign him and will do everything they can to make that happen, and I think Fitz is going to try and make sure he knows what teammates he’s going to have around him before he makes any commitments. It’s not rocket science. It’s common sense.

— Speaking of Fitz, not only did he take the two random Twitter fans to Hawaii (one of whom who turned out to be a cancer survivor) but he also paid for two other breast cancer survivors — Liz Dodson and Maureen Hanna — to join him at the Pro Bowl in honor of his late mother, who passed away from breast cancer.

UPDATE: Fitz texted me this message about bringing along Dodson and Hanna: “I obviously have a real interest in rewarding breast cancer survivors. It hit close to home when I lost my mom to the disease, and it’s truly an honor to  continue to raise awareness in the fight against breast cancer. I’m happy to bring these survivors to Hawaii with me and I hope they have a great time.”

OK. I feel better now. Back to work.

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No DC until after Super Bowl

Posted by Darren Urban on January 27, 2011 – 1:03 pm

Even with all the scuttlebutt about who Ken Whisenhunt might hire for defensive coordinator, no news is coming anytime soon. Whisenhunt, who was back in Tempe today after returning from the Senior Bowl, said he wants to wait until after the Super Bowl because he is hoping to talk to candidates from both Super Bowl teams. Obviously, that means the idea that Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles was “expected” to be the choice — as was reported this morning out in Florida — is probably off-base, since there are other possibilities (I’m not saying Bowles doesn’t get it, but if there are interviews to come and Whisenhunt is waiting, a decision clearly hasn’t been made yet).

What is interesting will be who he might look at from Green Bay, since there has long been speculation on who he will target with the Steelers. The Packers run a 3-4. Does he try to talk to defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was a DC in Carolina for six seasons? Safeties coach Darren Perry, with whom Whisenhunt coached with in Pittsburgh? Assistant head coach Winston Moss? (These are just guesses, of course. We’ll see what happens after the Packers and Steelers actually play).

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LeBeau says he wouldn’t go anywhere

Posted by Darren Urban on January 26, 2011 – 3:49 pm

It’s the up and down of the news cycle.

Earlier today, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said in a chat he thought Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would give the Cards’ DC job “serious consideration.” He even put the LeBeau-to-Arizona possibility at 50-50.

Then later today, LeBeau talked to the NFL Network and basically squashed that. “I promise you, if I’m coaching, it will be the Pittsburgh Steelers,” LeBeau said, leaving the opening for retirement with his “if I’m coaching” comment.

This story isn’t going away until a) the Cards hire someone (coach Ken Whisenhunt interviewed Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles yesterday) and/or the Steelers’ season ends and LeBeau (and Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler) are officially said to be off-limits. If that isn’t resolved, my guess is LeBeau hasn’t answered the question for the last time, with the NFL’s media decending on the Super Bowl next week.

P.S. Here’s the link to the story of Fitz flying two fans to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl — and by coincidence, one happens to be recovering from cancer.

P.P.S. We will do a live chat with QB John Skelton tomorrow at noon Arizona time.

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Bowles latest name in DC search

Posted by Darren Urban on January 26, 2011 – 9:09 am

The National Football Post reported that coach Ken Whisenhunt interviewed Dolphins assistant head coach/secondary coach Todd Bowles for the vacant defensive coordinator job while both are in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl. Bowles has a history with Whisenhunt — they were teammates on the Redskins in 1989 and 1990. Bowles was a defensive back for eight seasons in the league. He was also part of Bill Parcells’ staff in Dallas (and Whisenhunt has Parcells’ ties from his time coaching the Jets; remember coaches from his initial staff — like Todd Haley and Maurice Carthon — are from the Parcells’ tree and coached with Bowles in Dallas. Bowles was also on the Jets’ staff with Whisenhunt).

All that said (and even though the report lists Bowles as “an extremely strong candidate” for Arizona), I don’t believe anything has significantly changed. Whisenhunt had already said he was going to interview candidates this week but given the timing, it’s difficult not to think the possibilities in Pittsburgh (whether it is Keith Butler or Dick LeBeau or someone else) remain at the top of Whisenhunt’s list (or who knows, maybe even a Packers’ assistant). Why else would you have waited for an assistant on a team that didn’t make the playoffs (like the Dolphins)? If a playoff doesn’t work out, I could see Bowles (who obviously has been working with a 3-4 system).

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Pictures worth 1,000 words

Posted by Darren Urban on January 25, 2011 – 3:25 pm

Not going to lie — with players scattered and coaches in Alabama, there’s not a whole lot to write about right now. Thanks to Twitter, we know Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett flew out to the Pro Bowl today (and I am assuming Adrian Wilson did too). News on the defensive coordinator is unlikely, because as has been noted a couple of times, waiting for the Steelers to finish their season is probably part of the equation.

If there is enough interest, maybe I can do another live chat later this week.

So I leave you with this: Before this postseason, the Cardinals were the last team each of the current Super Bowl participants played in the playoffs. Perhaps you remember the games?

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The Cutler controversy

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2011 – 4:01 pm

I can’t lie – I was one of those who saw Jay Cutler on the sideline Sunday and had LaDainian-Tomlinson-versus-the-Patriots flash through my mind. Ultimately, I didn’t think too much about it, though, because like the Tomlinson situation, it was impossible to know whether the player really had a choice in the matter.

But it certainly stokes the debate about this game, doesn’t it? It definitely made me think of the situation from a lot of different angles.

— Was I surprised there were a bunch of players who basically tweeted out (or said on TV) that Cutler should have kept playing? Maybe a little. Know this: Such raised eyebrows happen inside locker rooms from time to time. It’s just that usually, no one says anything publicly. This time it was different, from Maurice Jones-Drew to Darnell Dockett to a handful of other players, past and present. (Dockett tweeted that he’d want Cutler to wait for he and his teammates to clear out of the locker room before showing up given the situation, and then later said he was just trying to say “I would of (sic) went back in the game!”)

— Generally, players aren’t thrilled when they are criticized by the media. Many deal with it. They know it’s part of the deal. But I couldn’t help but wonder, had the roles been reversed, how they would have handled someone saying the same thing about them. I figure they’d probably say that’s the whole point – the same thing wouldn’t have happened to them. But that makes for an intriguing perspective.

— Many people have made the point Cutler – in this circumstance – may be a victim of his own personality. Over the years, he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to media, fans or players. Does that make him a bad person? I have no idea. But perception means a lot. And I agree that who Cutler is (or who he is believed to be) fed into the criticism. If it was Kurt Warner to which this happened, no way it blows up like this.

— It’s also fascinating to break down what this is about (besides the injury, of course). Is it about toughness? Is it about love of the game? Can you separate the two?

— I’m trying to think of the most memorable games I’ve seen (in person) of players dealing with a significant injury. I remember Donovan McNabb throwing four TD passes against the Cards in 2002 on what was later discovered to be a broken ankle suffered the third play of the game.

— The thing is, I don’t think it mattered. I think the Bears lose anyway. I think the last Chicago TD drive came in part because the Packers’ defense lost a little focus up 14 points against the third-string QB. I could be off base, but if Cutler had stayed in, I think the Packers stay after him.

Regardless, it’s certainly been the most discussed topic in the NFL today.

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What Sunday means (like Fitz to Hawaii)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 23, 2011 – 7:47 pm

In light of today’s happenings, some meaning on a Cardinals’ level:

As mentioned yesterday, the Cardinals got a third player in the Pro Bowl today as Larry Fitzgerald goes yet again (for the fifth time and fourth season in a row) as a replacement for the Packers’ Greg Jennings – who obviously has better things to do prepping for the Super Bowl. Fitz joins S Adrian Wilson and DT Darnell Dockett.

— With the Steelers winning it once again impacts the Cardinals’ search for a new defensive coordinator. There seems to be little question there are candidates from Pittsburgh. Linebackers coach Keith Butler and even defensive backs coach Ray Horton have been mentioned repeatedly in reports, and now, after ESPN talked today about famed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau having his contract expire after this season, the Hall of Famer’s name is now floating around.

Of course, all are off-limits for another two weeks (coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was planning on interviewing a “couple of guys” at the Senior Bowl this week, and I am assuming that means guys other than possible Pittsburgh men). Does that mean those guys are out of contention? Or does Whisenhunt feel confident enough he can get someone that he’s willing to wait?

— Speaking of ESPN reports, there is the story today about Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer expected to demand a trade (and threaten to retire to get it done). If Palmer were to go on the market – and again, the Bengals don’t have to send him anywhere – I am sure the Cardinals would have serious discussions about trying to get him.

Then again, a player can’t be traded until there is a new collective bargaining agreement, and given the current landscape, that could be a while.

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Dockett going to Pro Bowl

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2011 – 2:36 pm

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate last month, is headed to the game. He’ll replace Minnesota’s Kevin Williams (who had already replaced Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh) and join teammate Adrian Wilson in Hawaii (plus, if the Packers beat the Bears in the NFC Championship, Larry Fitzgerald is expected to replace Green Bay’s Greg Jennings for the Pro Bowl, since Jennings will obviously have other things to do next week.

This is Dockett’s third Pro Bowl.

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Talking DC at the Senior Bowl

Posted by Darren Urban on January 20, 2011 – 2:14 pm

As I wrote earlier in a story, Ken Whisenhunt will be interviewing multiple candidates for defensive coordinator at the Senior Bowl next week. And there are candidates from current playoff teams too (No, he didn’t say. Yes, I would be shocked if at least one of them isn’t working for the Steelers).

As an FYI, permission is required right away to talk to any assistant coach. If a guy is under contract, getting that permission is necessary. If a coach’s contract is expiring, obviously, he is a “free agent” like a player would be, but there is a lag time of about a week-and-a-half before he is “free.” Before then — for instance, if you want to talk to a guy right away after his season ends, whenever that might be — permission must still be granted.

It’s no shock the Senior Bowl will be an interview time. So many coaches are there, it’s simply very convenient to talk to candidates down there (and a little more out of the spotlight, if so desired).

For anyone panicked about the speed of things, it’s interesting to note Todd Haley was hired as offensive coordinator (and Clancy Pendergast retained as defensive coordinator) on January 25 in 2007, after Whisenhunt had talked to candidates at the Senior Bowl. If the Cards went to the scouting combine without coordinators, that would be a problem. That won”t happen.

And when Whisenhunt talks about fit, he is also keeping in mind any possible work stoppage that could dramatically shorten the offseason. Defensive terminology that is similar to what the Cards have had is part of this equation, so that players who might not be around can still absorb what is needed to be absorbed for the 2011 season.

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