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Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2011 – 4:06 pm

The term “must-win” always creates a sticky situation, unless, you know, a team must win – think, oh, the Atlanta Braves the other night after the St. Louis Cardinals won. That was a must-win. The Cardinals aren’t playing a must-win Sunday against the Giants, because the bottom line is that worst-case scenario, they would only be two games behind the 49ers in the division with 12 to play, and two games left with San Francisco. Logically, nothing is over with a loss.

Obviously, there is a sense of urgency, however, especially after the Cards came up short – painfully so – in Seattle. That was one I thought was going to be a victory, and I am pretty sure I’m not the only one. The Giants are coming off an impressive win in Philadelphia, and they are going to have defensive end Osi Umenyiora back. The momentum is on their side, especially after the Cards sputtered in the Northwest.

But oftentimes, these are the early-season home games the Cards somehow seem to win — the Steelers in 2007, the undefeated Bills in 2008 (and the Cowboys the next week), the Saints last year.

The ebb and flow of a football season can mess with emotions, especially with a week between games. The grind has a long way to go. Beating the Giants changes the vibe considerably, however, compared to the alternative – which would be a 1-3 record.

– This will be a big test for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Kolb said this week he felt like he took a step back in Seattle. Taking a step forward – against the Giants’ pass rush – isn’t an easy task. I expect, after the second-half issues with Fitz, that the Cards will work very hard to get Larry Fitzgerald consistently involved. Kolb is very aware of what the Giants’ defense is all about, having studied them as a division opponent his first four seasons (although he’s never played against them) and he got a chance to talk to Michael Vick earlier this week. Wonder if Vick was able to give him any pointers.

– Interesting to hear today that O’Brien Schofield will wear a wristband to make sure he knows the defensive plays. If that’s what it takes to get Schofield on the field more often, that’s fine. It’s not about pride, it’s about results no matter how it is accomplished.

– It sure seems Beanie Wells will be back carrying the ball this week. You got the vibe last week Wells wouldn’t be able to go and he didn’t. It’s the other way this week. Hopefully he can pick up where he left off. The Cards need that. A side boost from LaRod Stephens-Howling wouldn’t hurt either.

– It’s been two seasons, but the last time the Cards had a shot at Eli Manning, they made Manning look very ordinary up in New York in 2009 on “Sunday Night Football.” That was a game where the defense and Wells shined, more than being a Kurt Warner production. I would think that would have to be the recipe again. Tom Coughlin is conservative. If the Cards can force a couple of turnovers, I think they will be OK. If not …

– As nasty as the hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor was on Todd Heap last Sunday, it may not have been illegal. That seems to be the sentiment from the NFL after Chancellor was not fined.

– The game is a sellout, of course. On TV locally, but more importantly, loud for the home team in theory. After two straight on the road, that will make a difference.

Interesting stats from Profootballfocus.com, as they grade out the offensive lines thus far as far as pass protection. They make the point that how quickly the quarterbacks release the ball isn’t factored into the equation yet, but the Cards – by their metrics – are 29th in the league, and every offense lineman except for guard Rex Hadnot is in their bottom rankings.

– The Giants still use running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs so well. Slowing them is the key – defensive coordinator Ray Horton said as much – as long as the Cards don’t let Hakeem Nicks get deep.

– Why does this feel like a game where Darnell Dockett makes the highlights?

Remember, it’s the breast cancer awareness game, as well as alternate uniform game. So be sure to wear your best pink-and-black combo, and we’ll see if the Cardinals can get back to .500 and steady the ship a bit.


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Horton resets defense

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2011 – 2:57 pm

On the heels of an improved defensive effort last week, defensive coordinator Ray Horton said the playbook was cut back “80 percent” last week against the Seahawks.

“The players were not happy about it, but we did play better,” Horton said.

The idea, of course, was to have the Cards focus on what they do well. It worked, obviously, but Horton said it wouldn’t hold up going forward. The blitzes that were plentiful the first two games that were gone in Seattle will be returning.

“You can’t do what we did last week for 16 games and be successful,” Horton said. “You have to come after people and we are.”


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Fitz thinking pink, and makes everyone aware of it

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2011 – 5:21 pm

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the NFL takes up the cause in a big way. At the forefront, as usual, is Larry Fitzgerald, because of both his high-profile as a player and his unfortunate circumstances, given that his mother died of the disease when Fitz was still in college.

Fitzgerald, as mentioned yesterday, will donate $1,000 per reception he grabs and $10,000 per touchdown he scores in the Cards’ four October games (they have a bye Oct. 16). He was set to do a sit-down interview with the NFL Network after practice today talking about his involvement (which he did with me yesterday).

“I just feel privileged to be a part of it,” Fitzgerald said. “I am happy the NFL has done this and raised so much awareness. It gets so much publicity. Early detection is the key I believe, and this raises awareness so women get the mammograms and get checked. If we can save one mother, one sister, one daughter, I think the NFL is doing their part.”

The death of Carol Fitzgerald, not surprisingly, impacted Larry greatly. It’s been a theme in his life too. He decided to surprise a pair of breast cancer survivors with a trip to Hawaii during the Pro Bowl this past February, and it wasn’t lost on him that a “random” follower who won a Twitter contest for another Pro Bowl trip was also a cancer survivor.

“It’s hard for me all the time, every time I think of my mother,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not the only one. (Assistant defensive backs coach) Deshea Townsend’s mom died of breast cancer. It’s around the league. I feel as though, in the position I am in and dealing with what I have dealt with, I need to take a leadership role.”


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A-Dub pays it forward

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2011 – 9:27 am

Safety Adrian Wilson has started a new program — “Pay It Forward Fridays” — that will provide some tickets for each Cardinals’ home game to someone who does a good deed. Announced on Wilson’s web site, the idea is for fans to “do a good deed for a child in need, document with a photo and a short paragraph describing the good deed done, and email to: evon@adrianwilsonfoundation.org.”

Wilson will sort through the entries, choose his favorite submission and announce the winner each week Saturday via his Twitter feed, @adrian_wilson24. A-Dub makes some possible suggestions for good deeds, such as volunteering at women and children’s shelter or hospital, donating clothes or food to a child-centric non-for profit. Be creative is the request. This way, the winner gets to go to a game, and those in need benefit.


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Fitz, Rolle and a busted nose (plus Dockett’s tickets)

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2011 – 6:26 pm

The Cardinals drafted Antrel Rolle a year after Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett, and all three grew up professionally in Arizona. They stayed together until after the 2009 season, when Rolle was cut thanks to a gigantic payday  for the final season on his contract looming. Rolle used the resulting free agency to sign with the New York Giants, and will play his former team for the first time Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I met a lot of friends,” Rolle said. “The people out there and the friendly atmosphere, it was just a great place to be.”

One of those friends is Fitz, who laughed Wednesday when talking about the long history he had with Rolle, dating before they became pro teammates. When the two played against each other for the first time in college — in 2002, when Rolle’s Miami Hurricanes beat Fitz’s Pitt Panthers, 28-21 — Rolle sent Fitzgerald off at one point with a bloody nose.

“He busted my nose and it was leaking all down my shirt,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s always been a running joke, the last 10 years, me telling him, ‘I’m gonna bust your nose back.’ I’m going to try and get him.”

Fitz was smiling as he said it of course, but making him bleed on national TV was something his friends wouldn’t let him forget, and he makes sure Rolle knows about the grief he caused. Just not on the field, because Fitzgerald said he won’t trash-talk with Rolle. “You know those Miami guys,” Fitzgerald said, using his hand to indicate the constant chatter. “I prefer to let the results speak for themselves.”

Fitz noted he had a TD in his “nose” game, even though Miami won.

Dockett calls Rolle “my boy” even though they played at arch-rival schools (Dockett went to Florida State). “He sent me a text message talking trash,” Dockett said. “Then he asks me for tickets.

“I  miss all my boys I came in with, Karlos (Dansby), Antonio Smith, Calvin Pace. Business is business and you can’t keep them around forever, but as far as being friends, me and Antrel, we talk all the time about life issues, not about football.”

Except this week. “He talked his trash, and then he wants tickets,” Dockett added, shaking his head. So will he get them? “Yeah man. He’s my boy.”

 


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After three, the tight end matters

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2011 – 10:24 am

We’ve covered some of this ground before, but if there is any question about the change in tight ends for the Cardinals and its impact on the offense, try this one on for size: After three games, the Cards’ tight ends — which right now means Jeff King and Todd Heap — have already gained 206 yards receiving.

Last year, the Cardinals’ tight ends as a whole gained 210 yards for the entire season.

In fact, it’s clear the Cards will blow past their tight end production for much of the recent past. In 2009, tight ends gained 245 yards on the season. In 2008, it was 237. In 2007, it was all the way at 357 yards. In 2006, it was 296 (with former DE/OT Fred Wakefield getting 24 of those — glory days!). The last time Cards tight ends cracked 400 yards in a season was 2005, when the Adam Bergen/Eric Edwards/Teyo Johnson gained 432 yards as a group.

Right now, King has four catches for 97 yards and Heap nine for 109. King also has two touchdowns, after tight ends got none in 2010. And the Cards have yet to utilize rookie Rob Housler, which figures to happen at some point.


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Whisenhunt to PP: You can make it happen

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2011 – 9:30 am

As rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson hauled in his first NFL interception at his own 7-yard line on the final play of the first half, he immediately went down to protect the ball. Moments later, coach Ken Whisenhunt came out to Peterson to let him know Peterson, as a playmaker, needed to try and make something happen.

“You want to try and keep that play alive because you have a much better chance of running around and having something positive happen for us against an offense (trying to tackle) as opposed to a coverage team,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s something you learn from going forward.”

Whisenhunt compared it to putting a return man back on a long field-goal attempt (because those too can be returned if missed). To be fair to Peterson, he was told almost immediately by safety Adrian Wilson to get down after the interception, in order to avoid a fumble.

Peterson wasn’t going to offer up that it was Wilson, but when asked directly he admitted it was the safety. “He’s the captain of the defense,” Peterson said, smiling. “I have to obey my elders.”

But Peterson added he did think about the return. “As soon as I caught it I looked out and scanned the field to see what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t see anything in front of me except five O-linemen and five defensive linemen and the quarterback, so I thought I had a chance. But you do what you need to do.”

Peterson has already shown his open-field return skills with his first-week punt return. Letting him loose on the length of a field when the other team is spread out so much seemed like an automatic invite. Nevertheless, Peterson was thrilled to get his first pick.

“I am happy it is out of the way,” Peterson said. “I am happy it came early rather than late. I’m looking forward to getting more.”


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Black is back Sunday

Posted by Darren Urban on September 26, 2011 – 2:54 pm

For everyone who has been asking — and it seems like I have been asked quite a bit — the Cardinals will be wearing their black jerseys again Sunday against the Giants. The Cards are trying to get into the win column with the third alternate jersey, having fallen while wearing them last year against the Bucs and 49ers.

A quick refresher: Black came on board in part because players for the longest time had wanted to wear the color. The rules for the third alternate jerseys were altered this season. No longer can they be worn in preseason, and they have to be worn (a max of twice) before the flexible scheduling begins in mid-November, so the timeframe to pick them obviously is a lot shorter.


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Following up with Whiz

Posted by Darren Urban on September 26, 2011 – 11:34 am

A few quick notes after coach Ken Whisenhunt’s Monday presser and before the locker room opens up and we have some player availability:

– As expected, the idea behind sitting RB Beanie Wells was to avoid it becoming a month-long problem. Perhaps he could have played Sunday, but if he wasn’t ready and ruined himself after three carries, the Cards would have a much bigger issue to deal with. Whiz said he thinks Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling will be available against the Giants, but as always, both will have to go through practice for the week to see where they stand.

– He knows the Cards didn’t get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald in the second half, but felt like had the Cards found some open receivers on the other side of the field because of the Seattle double-team, that would have forced the defense to honor the others and create some lanes for Fitz.

– The reason the Cards didn’t go back to the no-huddle was because of a handful of mistakes during the touchdown drive in which the Cards did run it. “There were plays where we got lucky,” Whisenhunt said during the no-huddle sequence. The Cards just haven’t had enough time to install/practice the package yet. He also said there the Cards had a personnel issue on the third-and-long quick screen to Andre Roberts, which went nowhere and forced Jay Feely’s long FG try that was short. Someone didn’t hear the check into the play and didn’t do what he was supposed to, hampering the outcome.

– He made sure to tell Patrick Peterson on Peterson’s end-of-half interception to keep the play alive, with the Seahawks’ offense on the field and spread out all over. Peterson is a playmaker and could have made something happen. Instead, he went down right away to protect the ball — and to be fair, it looked like he was being encouraged to do so by Adrian Wilson.

– No new significant injuries to report, Whiz said.

I’ll have more later.


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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2011 – 8:39 pm

It just felt, by the time the Cards got to the fourth quarter Sunday, that everything offensively was going to be so hard. Yes, they had the ball and yes, they moved it a little, but each play – even if it gained yards – didn’t seem to correspond with the effort that was going into it.

The quarterback took the brunt of the blame, and certainly, it wasn’t Kevin Kolb’s finest day. This was one you knew would come at some point, that hiccup because in all fairness he just hasn’t been in the offense long enough nor does he have the experience yet to overcome everything. You would wish it didn’t come in such a winnable game against a division foe.

“Sometimes I am trying to hold on to it a little too long, or get it out a little too quick,” Kolb said. “I am looking at myself right now and I think a lot of those mistakes (on offense) could be fixed if I just play right.”

I don’t think the absence of Beanie Wells can be understated. The Cardinals still could have and should have won even though Wells didn’t play. But that extra element of Wells, especially the way he had been running, I think would have impacted the offense’s ability to sustain drives. I don’t think the Cards would have failed on three third-and-1s – getting the first down on fourth down on the third – with Beanie.

But you get the defense playing better and the offense stalls. That’s how you end up with a 1-2 record and a getting-healthier Giants team coming to Arizona. Next Sunday just got that much more important.

– The no-huddle seemed to click – it was what the Cards were running when they had their long TD drive – but they never went back to it for a whole drive. Kolb said the Cards should use it going forward, but Larry Fitzgerald also added some perspective. “We felt good with it and moved the football,” Fitz said, “but we have to execute our base offense regardless. We don’t want to have to rely on that.”

– There were mistakes in running certain plays – coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t say who was at fault – but the frustration overall was evident from center Lyle Sendlein. “We just have to score more than 10 points,” Sendlein said. “We can’t expect our defense to do everything. We have to finish drives, protect Kevin better, run the ball better. There’s a lot of things we need to do better.”

– Kicker Jay Feely sat in his locker waiting. He knew, after two missed field goals, we would have questions for him. He could have bailed – by the time Whisenhunt was done with his press conference and the locker room was open, Feely had long since dressed. But he stayed because he knew he should. That’s not easy after a tough day, and he should get props for that.

– Having Sidney Rice back for the Seahawks obviously helped them. He had eight catches for 109 yards and for most of the day, it felt like they were coming at the expense of cornerback A.J. Jefferson. The Cards got to QB Tarvaris Jackson most of the time and piled up some sacks, but Rice was his security blanket and, on what turned out to be the game-winning TD drive, Jackson had too much time to throw. That’s what happened on the biggest play of that drive, when Jackson had all day to throw on a third-and-15 and he was able to complete one for 20 yards. That was a killer.

OK, that’s enough. There was frustration in the locker room and I know there is frustration out there for those watching this team. Whisenhunt noted that he was up saying the same thing this week as he did last – it’s tough to watch a game slip away on the road when you think you should have won.

There is no question about that.


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