On sellouts and the fans’ discontent

Posted by Darren Urban on October 31, 2011 – 4:32 pm

The Cardinals have sold out 58 games in a row at University of Phoenix Stadium — in fact, every game they have ever played there, preseason and postseason included. But with the way the season has gone in 2011 (and the way 2010 went), along with the visit from a fellow 1-6 team in the St. Louis Rams Sunday, the question has built up for a while: Will the streak continue Sunday?

Coach Ken Whisenhunt, not surprisingly, is hoping it does.

“It’s obviously something that’s important to our team,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re working hard to try to make sure we’re taking care of business, and we haven’t done that. It’s been a tough stretch for our fans, I understand that, and we’re working hard to try to get that fixed. Hopefully they’ll continue to support us. We’ve had a number of exciting games (at UoP) and they’ve been a big part of that. All I can tell you is that we’re going to have more (exciting games) there, and we sure would appreciate the support.”

That led to a follow-up question about hearing criticism coming from fans, and Whisenhunt pointed it out it’s delivered by “you guys,” as in the media, because even if he isn’t reading message boards or listening to talk radio, he isn’t unaware of what’s being said.

“I understand that’s part of this business,” Whisenhunt added. “We’re not performing the way we expect to perform and we’re not performing the way our fans expect us to perform. But let me tell you this, it’s not because out guys aren’t working and they’re not trying. When we walked off that field yesterday, our guys were crushed. It’s hard. We want to win and we’re working hard to try to do it. It’s one of those things where we have to stick together.”

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Kolb’s turf toe and other day after notes

Posted by Darren Urban on October 31, 2011 – 11:41 am

As usual, there is only so much injury info available Monday morning. Coach Ken Whisenhunt reiterated quarterback Kevin Kolb has turf toe, and while it is black and blue and swollen, what that means to Kolb’s availability for practice and/or the game is yet to be determined. He did play the whole game with it yesterday, so that’s been proven.

Fullback Anthony Sherman (ankle) and tight end Rob Housler (groin) remain as the other question marks coming out of the game. Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) was “close” but Whisenhunt — while hopeful Heap can play against the Rams — certainly wasn’t saying it was going to happen for sure. As for safety Kerry Rhodes (foot surgery), he remains out indefinitely. It still sounds like it’ll be another couple of games.

— The sacks Kolb took (six in all) were a combination of protection and Kolb holding the ball, Whisenhunt said. Already, it was out there that Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges will battle this week to be the starting right tackle. D’Anthony Batiste is the left tackle option, and Whisenhunt did leave the door open for a change with Levi Brown (although I still expect Brown to remain left tackle.)

— On cornerback A.J. Jefferson’s struggles: “He’s essentially like a rookie who is playing. Sometimes, whether you are a veteran or a rookie, you go through stretches like that and it is tough. That’s why it is so tough to play that position, not only from a physical standpoint but from a confidence standpoint. .. We have to continue to work him through this. It’s tough, when you are going against good players and they make good plays. That happens in this league, and we have to work at getting his confidence back.”

— Tuesday (tomorrow) at 5 p.m. Az time the NFL Network will replay yesterday’s game with enhanced replays and interviews. Obviously, not the rally you want to watch if you are a Cards’ fan. But maybe take a look at the first half? Just wanted to pass along the info.

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Ravens aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2011 – 6:22 pm

I’ll start with Beanie.

You could see it, every time he tried to bounce it outside, that his right knee was trouble. He had no burst of speed. He couldn’t get the corner. And a few times after he was hit, the Ravens blasted him on the leg. He couldn’t get as many carries as he normally would have. Physically he couldn’t do it.

Yet there he was, plowing into the line. There he was, going over the top for a touchdown. There he was, probably needing to come out of the game after being blasted by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata on a third-and-1 but insisting to the sideline he wanted to stay in for a crucial fourth down and cracking off a four-yard rush on the next play.

The Cardinals didn’t win, but I – and anyone else watching – had to be impressed by Wells. That is one of those tangible things you see when anyone asks about the team shutting it down during this losing streak.

Of course, that doesn’t make the losing easier. Not the way it happened Sunday. For a half, it felt like a corner had been turned. There were things that helped, with Ravens’ turnovers and Patrick Peterson’s electric punt return, of course. Kevin Kolb didn’t have exciting numbers in the first half (other than the 66-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald) but he did look more comfortable.

From there, though, the offense stumbled and the defense couldn’t stop Anquan Boldin. Hard loss.

— Larry Fitzgerald only had three receptions, for 98 yards. He was only targeted on five passes total, much too low of a number. Fitzgerald, however, said the Cards called his number “six or seven times” in the second half.

“It’s not like they’re not calling my number,” Fitzgerald said. “The ball has to go where the ball needs to be depending on the coverage. If Kevin forces the ball and (Ravens safety) Ed Reed is over the top of me, time and time again, Ed Reed makes people pay for those types of mistakes. The calls were there.”

Fair enough. The Cards have to find a way though.

— The Ravens’ defense harasses quarterbacks better than any defense in the NFL, but Kolb has to complete more passes. Under 50 percent for a game in today’s NFL – where you really need to be at least at 60 percent to be better than average – isn’t going to get it done.

— The Cards had a defensive sub-package that had Richard Marshall at safety instead of Rashad Johnson. After A.J. Jefferson’s tough game – he was the one covering Boldin most of the time when Boldin went off — Marshall took Jefferson’s spot on the last drive when Jefferson was kept on the sideline. Marshall still gave up the bomb that sealed the Cards’ fate.

— Jefferson, meanwhile, tweeted this out afterward: “Only so many people actually know the schemes n game. I do what I’m told, If I had it my way… Well it’d be my way. #ItisWhatItis ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

— One last cornerbacks thought: Peterson likes playing physical, but in the NFL, it’s going to get you penalties more often than not. That’s going to be part of his learning curve – until/if he becomes a star and they let him get away with it more often.

— Right tackle Brandon Keith was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Jeremy Bridges. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he didn’t know if it’d be permanent. “We made a move because we had, obviously, given up two plays there and weren’t getting the job done,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll work this week and whoever practices better will be the guy that plays there.”

— Boldin insisted again after the game playing the Cardinals meant nothing extra. No, I don’t believe him either.

— Linebacker Terrell Suggs, the ASU product from Chandler who everyone thought was going to be drafted by the Cards until the Cards traded on draft day, 2003, was the opposite. He admitted it does mean something to go against the Cards. He played like it – 13 tackles, a sack, four tackles for loss.

— I don’t know if Sam Acho or O’Brien Schofield will ever get to that level, but they each got a sack in the first game Joey Porter missed. Acho has two sacks, one more than Porter, in much less playing time.

— If FB Anthony Sherman’s left ankle injury is a lingering problem, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cards do at the position. There are no other fullbacks. And with Todd Heap and now Rob Housler gimpy, they are short on tight ends too.

— I don’t know how bad the Kolb foot injury is. (UPDATE: I have been alerted Whisenhunt said on the postgame radio show Kolb has turf toe.) He played the whole game, and even had that gutsy first-down scramble late in the game, prior to the Cards’ final punt. Between that and Beanie’s injury – and Wells thinks his knee is going to be an issue the rest of the season – ouch.

— Of course, that’s what the day was too.


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Beanie active, Heap and Porter out

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2011 – 8:49 am

A week ago the Cards feared RB Beanie Wells was lost for the season with a knee injury. Today, Wells will be active for the Cardinals, although they will have all four of their running backs — including LaRod Stephens-Howling, Alfonso Smith and Chester Taylor — active, just in case. Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) is out, however, taking away that reunion potential. LB Joey Porter (knee) is also out, and will be replaced by rookie Sam Acho (and no O’Brien Schofield) in the lineup.

The rest of the Cards’ inactive list today:

  • QB Rich Bartel
  • WR Stephen Williams
  • S Kerry Rhodes
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • DE Ronald Talley

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Friday before the Ravens

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2011 – 4:07 pm

The question was about quarterback Kevin Kolb taking “heat” – or too much of it – given the way the first six games had gone. Coach Ken Whisenhunt shook his head, although his answer wasn’t just about Kolb.

“I don’t think anybody can take too much heat when your record is where it is,” Whisenhunt said. “We have to be very clear about it. Our expectations are not to be where we are as a team. We are disappointed. It hurts. We hurt all the time, because we want to be good. We want our fans to be proud of our team. We haven’t done that.

“Criticism is justified. That’s this game. If fans weren’t out there caring then we’d be concerned. All I’ll tell you is that we are working hard and we that we believe we are going to get it fixed.”

Getting it fixed this weekend in Baltimore is a major task. The time change shouldn’t be an issue – I write this at 30,000 feet on the flight east on Friday – although playing better is. I remember the last time the Cards played in Baltimore/played the Ravens. That was the 2007 visit, in which Kurt Warner had his initial “Wow, maybe he’ll have a rebirth” thoughts has he shredded the Ravens splitting time with Matt Leinart (Anquan Boldin, coincidentally, had 14 catches for 181 yards that day too).

— Given that Whisenhunt acknowledged Monday that the fear was that running back Beanie Wells was done for the season when he first hurt his knee last weekend against the Steelers, it’s amazing to me he was able to practice as much as he did this week. I thought there would be three DNPs, and instead, Beanie got in a pair of improving “limited” showings. Will he play Sunday? I think he is about as truly “questionable” as a player can get – which is 50/50.

— Speaking of questionables, I can’t see how tight end Todd Heap doesn’t make it back on the field. He downplayed going back to Baltimore, but at the same time, admitted it’s hard to not carry the knowledge of playing his former team. (Plus, Heap made a big deal this weekend by taking out a full-page ad in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.)

His former Ravens mates are looking forward to seeing him too. “The love is always going to be there off the field,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Of course, once you put on a different colored jersey, here we go again. If the ball comes his way, and it just happens I’m there, I might tap him on his shoulder a little bit.”

— Speaking of carrying the knowledge of playing his former team, I don’t believe for a second Anquan Boldin is treating this like any other game.

— And speaking of Heap, he was at the center of that 2007 game. The Ravens won that game by kicking a field goal right at the end of the game after Heap made an impressive catch – and somehow held on when Adrian Wilson absolutely blew him up on a hit (pictured below). Wilson was flagged (I still don’t think it should have been a personal foul given the rules at the time, although these days, it might be) and the Ravens got 15 free yards toward their field goal.

— It was the story of Ravens tackle Michael Oher that was immortalized in the movie “The Blind Side.” The Cardinals have their own tie – practice squad cornerback Marshay Green is close friends with Oher, having played together in college at Ole Miss.

“He was one of the first people I met and ever since then we’ve been tight,” Green said. Green spent a ton of time with the family, including Oher’s adoptive parents Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. Then, the movie came out.

“It was crazy,” Green said. “I had spent my whole college career with the guy, we joked around, all kind of stuff, playing video games — I never thought it’d be a movie.”

— Given the Ravens’ status as the No. 1 defense and their own offensive troubles, this is a huge game for the Cards’ own defense. Darnell Dockett declined to speak this week – he is from the Baltimore area and it’s safe to say this game means a ton to him – but he did tweet at one point, in part, “I gave 6 games to give the other cats some now its time to give 90 a run.” Not sure if that means Dockett is getting more free reign or what, but he will be one to watch Sunday.

On to Baltimore.

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Beanie, Heap game-day decisions in Baltimore

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2011 – 12:29 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said RB Beanie Wells was indeed able to do more work on his sore knee Friday, and with both he and TE Todd Heap (hamstring) “progressing,” they will be part of the group of players that will be game-day decisions for the Cardinals. Included in that will be LB Joey Porter, who is dealing with a chronic knee issue. They are among six players — WR Early Doucet (quadricep), WR DeMarco Sampson (hamstring) and TE Jim Dray (pectoral) as well — who are officially questionable for Sunday’s game in Baltimore.

S Kerry Rhodes (foot) is obviously out. CB Michael Adams (hand) is probable.

The hope is that Heap and Beanie get better, but Porter’s problem is something that isn’t going away. “It’s something it depends how he responds week-to-week,” Whisenhunt said of Porter. “We’ve been giving him time off at practice. It depends on whether he takes a shot in the game or what happens gamedays. It’s indicative of a lot of older players around the league.”

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Fitz’s yards per catch climbs

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2011 – 8:04 am

There is little doubt the Cardinals have been trying all season to get the ball to Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and they would still like to get it to him more often. But for all the talk of having a second receiver to stretch the field for the Cards, the quest to get Fitzgerald down the field has worked so far this season.

Fitzgerald has 505 yards receiving on 31 catches, a 16.3 per catch average. Fitzgerald’s career average coming into the year was 13.4, and his career-high came in 2008 when he averaged 14.9 yards a reception (his career-best 1,431 on 96 receptions). The last two seasons, it was 11.3 in 2009 and 12.6 in 2010.

“We’ve been behind in a couple of games and we’ve got to take some shots and I’ve been lucky a couple of times,” Fitzgerald said. “But I’d rather have my yards per catch be 10.0 than us be 1-5, to be honest. It’s frustrating not being able to go out there and have the success we’ve had in the past.”

That’s the most important corollary, of course. His best season scoring touchdowns — 13 — came during his worst season averaging yards per catch in ’09. But as the Cards’ offense struggles, having Fitz with more “explosive” downfield plays not only helps, it’s necessary if the Cards have hope to climb out of their funk.

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The always bumpy quest to find a quarterback

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2011 – 10:05 am

Thanks to some obvious rhyming and a “can’t miss” quarterback prospect, the phrase “Suck for Luck” has become all the rage among the fan bases of poor teams this season in the NFL. It’s catchy to a point, although for all the reasons expected, it’s never true. Sure, there are going to be bad teams and someone indeed will be bad enough to end up with the No. 1 pick, but there are never players who are thinking about who their team might draft the following April. If you are on that bad of a team, sweeping changes usually come to the roster anyway — so there is no reason to do anything but play hard and try to win. If someone is seen dogging in on video, who’s going to want them going forward?

But what I really found interesting in the whole Luck talk was what former QB Phil Simms said about the 0-7 Colts and whether Peyton Manning will try to come back this season from his neck injury: “There is no way if Peyton Manning is given a clean bill of health — I’m going to go on that assumption — that he is going to let them draft Andrew Luck.” If Manning does come back late this season, he’s going to find a way to win a couple games, you’d think.

Even though Manning is one of the best quarterbacks ever and just signed a new contract, Simms pointed out the pressure that would come in Indy with Luck lurking on the bench. “In this day and age, even with Peyton Manning, people would be crying, ‘We’ve got to see Andrew Luck.’ ”

To which I say, that’s absolutely true.

Think Favre-Rodgers, and how messy that got in Green Bay. Heck, more than a few eyebrows were raised in New England in April when the Patriots drafted Ryan Mallett, and that was with an extra third-round pick and not the first choice overall. I am reminded of an interview I had with Kurt Warner a couple weeks before the 2006 draft, when it seemed very possible the Cardinals would take a quarterback. Warner clearly did not want the Cards to take a QB. He had just been through the Eli Manning thing in New York a couple of years before. He wanted to play a few more years and get back to the Super Bowl.

“What’s the best way to do that?” he said. “Not to take a guy who is going to take over my job. Go get somebody who can help us next year.”

The Cards did take a QB, obviously, Matt Leinart (and they would have taken Jay Cutler had Leinart been gone). Warner wasn’t thrilled, and his concern about the pressure to play the rookie came to bear when Warner was bad in the first 3 1/2 games (fumbling 10 times!) and then being replaced. That doesn’t mean Manning will have the same problem. But it illustrates — especially knowing what we know now of how Warner/Leinart/post-Warner played out — how finding that good quarterback to carry you can be complicated. Even if you already have one of the greatest ever, yet still have ended up sucking for Luck.

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Beanie sits out of practice

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2011 – 3:07 pm

Not surprisingly, running back Beanie Wells sat out practice today with his sore knee. Whether Wells plays Sunday is unknown, but as usual, if he can’t practice all week, playing is a longshot. Having Beanie available or not makes a big difference. The Jaguars were able to topple the Ravens Monday night in large part because of their defense, but also because on offense, they fed Maurice Jones-Drew 30 times to take pressure off quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Beanie could be that guy too, if he could play.

Having a pair of receivers sitting out — Early Doucet (quadricep) and DeMarco Sampson (hamstring) — isn’t great either. At least tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) was back to work, at least on a limited basis. Go here for the full injury report.

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Peterson’s improvement

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2011 – 11:33 am

A lot was expected of rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson this season. Frankly, had Greg Toler not gotten hurt, Peterson would not have played as much as he did early (and for all those screaming for him to start right away, the growing pains through which he has played is exactly why the Cardinals’ coaches are hesitant in throwing rookies out there).

Did he turn a corner — pun intended — against the Steelers? His job was to cover speedy Mike Wallace and he did pretty well. The big play by Wallace, the 95-yard bomb, it was Richard Marshall and not Peterson on Wallace (and, after watching the replay, it looks like Marshall got caught cheating up and thinking about jumping an underneath route — the intended play to the Steelers fullback Ben Roethlisberger talked about afterward — which was too deadly of a start for Marshall to keep up with Wallace).

The rest of the day, Wallace didn’t make much of an impact.

“Patrick was very effective in the scheme,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He’s rough around the edges and he still has a lot of things to learn, but he’ll get better.”

Few teams have a pure deep guy like Wallace. Peterson obviously will have to work into other parts of his game, and he still needs to show more flashes of physical play that the Cards count on in this defense.  But it’s the right direction. There is a long way to go with both he and A.J. Jefferson — Jefferson played pretty well in Minnesota, but he struggled against the Steelers — although both are going to get plenty of work the rest of this season to learn. (A better pass rush wouldn’t hurt either.) Bottom line, Peterson was the No. 5 overall pick — the Cards need him to turn into a star.

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