Whiz confident in Feely

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2012 – 8:01 am

There aren’t a lot of times when the kicker is talked about. It’s kind of like the offensive line in that way. They get the attention on a game-winning field goal. Or after a 61-yard field goal. Or, as is the case of late with Jay Feely, after a couple of key misses. It picks up steam a bit when reports get out that the Cards also tried out a kicker (although teams try out players all the time, not always to make a move.) Feely has missed a field goal in each of the last three games — one was partially blocked — but he also was coming off a stretch of 19 straight makes. Part of the problem is that points are of such a premium right now with the Cards’ struggling offense, those misses are magnified.

One person that doesn’t think there needs to be a ton of discussion — whether about or even to Feely — is his coach. Every player is different, Ken Whisenhunt said, but in Feely’s case, Whiz knows Feely realizes what is at stake and doesn’t sound worried about it at all.

“Jay is mentally a tough guy,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s been in this business a while, he’s made kicks and for the most part he has made them for us. You talk about it, but he understands. He understands the pressure being put in that position. I definitely have confidence he’ll get it done.”

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Fitz Loves being the barber

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2012 – 10:37 am

As breast cancer awareness month continues, almost everyone is aware that it’s a cause near and dear to Larry Fitzgerald’s heart after his mother Carol passed away from the disease when Fitz was in college. He’s at the forefront of many initiatives to aid breast cancer research. Sometimes, it’s done on a more organic level — or at least, as organic as one pro athlete superstar bringing in another pro athlete superstar to raise awareness can be.

We all know Fitz loves him some Minnesota, so it was no surprise that Fitz teamed up with Kevin Love, superstar forward for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, for a viral video done to raise awareness and money. Love allows Fitz to shave his head — of course, Fitz is a man of many talents — for the video that as it is spread over social media will generate money for the cause.

Of course, the real headlines would be made if Fitz let Love shave his head. But Fitz loves his hair. Don’t see that happening anytime soon.

“I have grown my hair out in honor of my mom,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s kind of my silent tribute to her.” Fitz did say he will cut his hair someday. Just not now.

As for the video, “Kevin is a tremendous humanitarian,” Fitz said. “He has a close family friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer so he knows what I have been through. I was happy to do it, hopefully raise some money.”

But, Fitz added, “I am going to keep my day job as long as possible.”

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Peterson’s pick prophecy

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2012 – 5:08 pm

Cornerback Patrick Peterson has a team-leading three interception thus far this season, already surpassing his total from his rookie year. At this point, though, it’s far short of what he was hoping for.

“I want 10,” Peterson said.

Some players stay away from the tangible goals. Others like having a good target to shoot for. Clearly, Peterson likes the tangible finish line.

“No question,” Peterson said. “My first goal was to get an interception each and every game, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Hopefully I can get an interception in all of the games that are left, but I’ll just keep studying up on all these teams and see how these guys want to attack me.”

Getting an interception Monday against the 49ers would be huge, not only because the Cards could use turnovers but because 49ers quarterback Alex Smith just doesn’t throw many picks.

The focus last year was on Peterson’s stunning punt return efforts (and this year to a point — Peterson said he’ll stay patient with his slow start in that area) but he was drafted to become a shutdown cornerback. He isn’t perfect, but he has moved in the direction of being the cover guy the Cards wanted and he usually is assigned to the best receiver the opponent runs on the field. Sometimes, the other team looks the other way instead of challenging him.

“I think I get some respect here and there from receivers and in terms of quarterbacks not throwing my way,” Peterson said. “At the same time I can’t get lackadaisical, I can’t relax. That’s what those guys are trying to get me to do and then go over my head. I don’t want that to happen. My other goal is to not give up any touchdowns and I’ve been doing a pretty good job. I don’t count that Percy Harvin touchdown.”

Peterson chuckled on the Harvin remark. He was the one covering Harvin in Minnesota when Harvin was able to come across the formation near the goal line and Peterson got caught in traffic trying to get back to coverage, one of the downsides to having him chase a particular player. Nevertheless, Peterson will be the coverage workhorse, and try and get his interceptions that way.

“I cover the best receivers, so I know I’ll have my opportunities,” Peterson said. “I just continue to work on my technique, continue to be patient and try and take advantage of those opportunities.”

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Stingy defenses, and the numbers to back it up

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2012 – 11:08 am

Sometimes, stats don’t tell a lot. Sometimes, one stat can tell everything. That’s how it feels for the upcoming Monday game against the 49ers.

Over the last 16 games, the top two teams in the NFL in terms of fewest offensive touchdowns allowed will face off at University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers have given up just 21 offensive touchdowns, the Cardinals just 22. If anyone is expecting offensive fireworks, that would seem to be far-fetched. The 49ers are coming off a game in which they beat the Seahawks, 13-6. The Cards, of course, lost to Minnesota but gave up just 14 points on defense.

None of this is a revelation. But it seems certain that the Cardinals will be under even more pressure to avoid errors. They probably won’t get a ton of chances to score. Last year, they dented the 49ers in their 21-19 win because quarterback John Skelton was able to get a couple of big plays, long touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet. Plays down the field have been limited for the Cards thus far this season. A couple this week would change the dynamic of the game.

— The Cards reportedly worked out kicker Josh Brown, after Jay Feely’s recent struggles. I don’t see anything happening now, but it’s an option if Feely continues to have issues. He did just complete a streak of 19 straight field goals made earlier this season — plus he made that 61-yarder — so he has produced. But on a team with which points are at a premium, misses loom much larger.

— There will be a food drive at Monday night’s game against the 49ers. Volunteers from Sagicor, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.

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Campbell feeling his hate for Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2012 – 4:21 pm

It’s 49ers week. In case you weren’t sure, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell grabbed everyone’s attention with his Sirius XM NFL interview today during the “Moving the Chains” show.

“I really felt I could have had four sacks last week (against the Vikings) and I had zero. I have to make up for that this week, especially against the 49ers, who I really hate with a passion,” Campbell said.

Surprising? No. But here we go.

“Alex Smith I have gotten him down a few times. I know he’s thinking about me a little bit,” Campbell said, and when one of the hosts mentioned that the 49ers didn’t like Campbell and the Cardinals either, Campbell said “That’s the way it is. That’s cool.”

“It’s a rival game. You’re not supposed to like each other. Off the field I don’t have anything against anybody. But on that field, come Monday night, it’s on and crackin’.”

Campbell chuckled when it was mentioned the 49ers don’t like Darnell Dockett even more. “He’s ready,” Campbell said. “He’s probably the person who hates the 49ers more than anybody on our team. Literally, when (the Niners) are playing anybody else, he’s talking trash about every single one of them every game they are playing. He hates them with a passion.”

Dockett has talked about this in the past, but my guess — because, for instance, my San Fran colleague Matt Barrows already noticed this interview too — is that the Niners are going to notice Campbell’s words. Not that they reveal anything surprising. That’s how it’s gone between these teams.

— The Cardinals made a practice squad move Tuesday, bringing back cornerback Crezdon Butler — who was re-signed for one game and active against the Bills — and releasing cornerback Greg McCoy.

— It’s time to vote. No, no, none of this Presidential stuff. It’s the Pro Bowl voting, which is of course much, much more important than picking the leader of the free world. Daryl Washington approved this message. Here’s the ballot.

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The reality of injuries

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2012 – 10:38 am

Talking injuries in the NFL is always about walking a fine line.

There are few coaches that don’t get particular the way their team’s injuries are discussed on a weekly level, and that includes coach Ken Whisenhunt. There is a reason as little information as possible is divulged as team’s go along, why a team like the Patriots used to clog the injury report with as many players as possible, why guys are often “game-time decisions” when some are and some probably aren’t. No one wants to give the other side an advantage.

But on a bigger picture, there is another way the fine line is encountered with injuries: When a team is undercut by the sheer amount that crop up, talking about how much it’s affecting the team can be a minefield.

That’s what the Cardinals are going through right now. It’s impossible to know what this team would be like with better health, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb, Todd Heap, Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges and Ryan Williams were all still available, what would it mean? Then again — and this is the fine line part — no one wants to hear about it usually. One of the biggest cliches out there is a coach or player for an injured team noting of their upcoming opponents “The (fill-in-the-blank) aren’t going to feel sorry for us.” In the Cardinals’ case, the 49ers are in the blank this week.

“That’s the NFL,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You face (injuries). I think part of our continuity on offense is struggling because of that. You can’t use it as an excuse. You have to move forward.”

Guard Daryn Colledge said during his years on the Packers, there were a couple of years when the team was crushed by injuries. One season, the Packers finished 6-10. The other, the Packers rallied on their way to a Super Bowl title. “It can go both ways,” Colledge said.

The reality is that no one sits at the end of the season and says, “Hey, the such-and-such only won the Super Bowl because injuries crippled such-and-such.” No, the team that wins will be the team that wins, with no asterisks. If the Cardinals can’t parlay a 4-0 start into the playoffs, no one outside of Arizona is going to care or even note it. Last year’s Bears probably make the playoffs if quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t get hurt, but that didn’t stop the Bears from making a change at general manager. It’s a harsh world to live within.

The Cards aren’t getting Brown, Bridges or Williams back. Wells is gone at least three more games. Kolb is out indefinitely. The Cards have to keep progressing tight end Rob Housler, because Heap’s return remains an unknown. In the short term, the Cards have been missing fullback Anthony Sherman, and guard Adam Snyder was limping pretty good with a quad problem after the Vikings game. Have the injuries hurt the Cards? Of course they have. That’s not an excuse as much as a fact. But it’s also a fact the Cards can’t do anything about it.

“It would be nice to have guys out there more than a week and find some continuity on offense,” Colledge said. “But again, it’s on us to find the playmakers and find ways to win games.”


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No assumptions about the Hyphen

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2012 – 4:40 pm

There was a weary smile when LaRod Stephens-Howling was asked about the assumption that, as a 5-foot-7, 180-some pound guy, he can’t be a full-time running back in the NFL.

“I am so tired of that assumption,” Stephens-Howling said. “I have to hear it every time. I just want to be a running back. I don’t know what else to say about that.”

The Hyphen doesn’t have to say much of anything. He can just point to his day Sunday, after the Cards lost to the Vikings through no fault of his own. He had 20 carries for a career-high 104 yards and a touchdown, and added another four receptions for 45 more yards. Coach Ken Whisenhunt called Stephens-Howling a “warrior” for the performance, and assuming Stephens-Howling stays in such a groove, Whiz said he doesn’t have a problem using him that much.

Stephens-Howling has been in this spot before, as situational guy. He was bounced out of a regular role in college when LeSean McCoy showed up at Pitt, which frustrated him at the time. He’s always been fine to play whatever role the Cards want, but after both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams went down with their serious injuries, the Hyphen made it clear he was looking forward to increased work. After Sunday’s use, “I feel a little beat up, but that’s how you want to feel after a game,” he said. “You want to feel like you have been in a game.”

He also wanted to feel like he was doing something productive. It hadn’t been the best season for Stephens-Howling before the Vikings’ game. He had been injured. He had struggled, at one point before the Buffalo game he had just one rushing yard on 12 carries. His first game back from his hip and groin problems he couldn’t get going against the Bills despite a start and was outperformed by William Powell. That showing was underscored when Stephens-Howling dropped a screen pass in overtime — a play that would have gained significant yardage — right before John Skelton threw the interception that ultimately cost the Cards the game.

That play “kept me up some nights,” he said, but he had to flush it out against Minnesota. So he had a fresh start, plus a strong week of practice where Stephens-Howling felt for the first time he had his moves back, going into the Metrodome. He “felt more like myself” and turned that into a 100-yard game.

So don’t get all “LaRod can’t be an every-down back” on the Hyphen. He is even keeping his weight up — an issue in the past — when he checked in at 184 pounds last Friday, his highest total since before training camp.

“I’m a solid 184,” Stephens-Howling said, crediting his girlfriend’s home cooking. But it’s good weight. “There are desserts every once in a while,” he said smiling. “Always need those to keep it going.”

— For those wondering, offensive lineman Chris Williams signed with the St. Louis Rams Monday, so he will not, obviously, be coming to Arizona.

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Vikings aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2012 – 5:34 pm

Early last week, guard Daryn Colledge talked about how the offense had to play better, but that the defense was always going to keep the Cardinals in the game. Then came Sunday, what may have been the harshest way to demonstrate the point.

I’m not sure what the hardest thing to handle was for the Cardinals. The first stop that led to a punt giving the Cards the ball first in Minnesota territory, only to have the drive go nowhere? The following long drive into the red zone that ended with a fumble and no points? The gift interception at the end of the first half – why on God’s green earth were the Vikings throwing at that point anyway – only to have Jay Feely’s field goal miss? The pick-6 to start the second half that made it a two-score game?

“The plays that were there to be made were being made earlier in the year,” quarterback John Skelton said. “Now we are missing.”

It’s going to be hard not to re-play what could have been in the collective minds tonight.

— The Cardinals have now lost two games this season in which the opposing quarterback had fewer than 10 pass completions (the Rams’ game was the other.) That’s unheard of in today’s NFL. The Vikings ended up with a net of 43 passing yards.

— Those 43 net passing yards – and Christian Ponder’s 58 gross – were the fewest allowed in an NFL game this season, by the way. The Cards hadn’t allowed so few in a game since giving up 37 net passing yards to the Ravens in December of 2000 – a game the Cards also lost, 13-7, to the Trent Dilferific Super Bowl-bound bunch.

– The Cards had the ball for more than 10 minutes more than the Vikings, including holding the ball for more than 11 minutes of the 15-minute third quarter.

— LaRod Stephens-Howling had been off to the worst start of his career running the ball, but he was back on track Sunday. Yes, it was partly due to the Vikings’ defensive alignment, but that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of his first 100-yard game. You figure next week’s game against the 49ers will be much more difficult, but considering where the Cards were when they lost both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, it’s a start.

— Guard Adam Snyder was limping around pretty good because of the quad contusion that sent him out of the game and brought Rich Ohrnberger in for relief. You know Snyder is going to badly want to play against his former teammates a week from tomorrow. We’ll see if he can recover in time.

— Adrian Peterson sure didn’t look like a guy who had ACL surgery less than a year ago. He looked like 2008 Adrian Peterson with his 153 yards on just 23 carries, ramping up to full speed seemingly as soon as he was handed the ball in the backfield.

— Larry Fitzgerald called the offense’s overall lack of production scoring “disheartening.” It seems like the Cards have had more issues this year getting Fitz freed up than ever before. The offense is missing that kind of playmaking.

— I know the TD came late, but Andre Roberts quietly had a productive day (7 catches, 103 yards).

— The one thing Kevin Kolb was doing really well when the Cards were winning – and what has gotten lost a bit when the Cards ended up on the wrong side of things a couple weeks ago and then again today with John Skelton – is the turnovers. They cost at least 10 points today, with the Vikings getting seven on the interception return and the Cards losing at least three on the red-zone fumble by Skelton. Many teams can’t afford turnovers, but for the Cards, that margin is even smaller. The Cards generated a pair of turnovers themselves, but couldn’t win the turnover battle.

That’s enough from 30,000 feet. The Cards will have an extra day to regroup for the 49ers. That game was always big. Now it’s probably something that will determine where they go the balance of the season.

UPDATE: The Cardinals aren’t going to work out quarterback Vince Young, despite rumors to the contrary.

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Heap remains inactive

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2012 – 8:38 am

Tight end Todd Heap remains inactive with his bad knee today against the Vikings, on an inactive list that is filled up with injured players.

Only guard Senio Kelemete is a healthy scratch. Sitting out are QB Kevin Kolb (ribs), S Kerry Rhodes (back), CB Greg Toler (hamstring), FB Anthony Sherman (knee), and LB Reggie Walker (concussion). Rashad Johnson is starting in place of Rhodes, while Regan Maui’a is starting in place of Sherman.

The Vikings have all their key players available who were on the injury report, including RB Adrian Peterson, DE Jared Allen and WR Jerome Simpson.

— Also this morning, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Cardinals are expected to work out free agent QB Vince Young this week. If true — and I haven’t heard anything about it — it’s an interesting turn. Young, given his background and recent play, wouldn’t have been a guy I’d think the Cards would consider as an option.

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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2012 – 4:58 pm

Trips to Minnesota since I’ve been covering the Cardinals have frequently ended poorly. OK, not frequently. Always. My first trip there was for a 2000 preseason game, where four or five Cardinals suffered serious injuries on the one-time crappy turf, including the ACL tear for wide receiver Rob Moore. There were not very close losses in 2000 and 2006 (although the Cards were a Hail Mary away at the end to get an amazing comeback). There was the 2010 loss, which looked like it was in the bag with a two-touchdown lead with six minutes left (Favred!) and then last year, when the Cards simply melted down in the first quarter.

Year-to-year doesn’t matter – it’s a new team here, the Vikings are a new team, and for the most part, nothing carries over – but that’s at least the backdrop for the Cards this weekend. I don’t need to get into the schedule again (but if you forgot, it’s Niners, Packers, Falcons in the next three games) but this is important. The coaches know it. So do the players.

— This is an early game, kickoff 10 a.m. Arizona time. The Cards had one of those in New England, but that was after flying in on a Friday. The Cards don’t fly to Minnesota until tomorrow. They can’t afford to sleepwalk through the first quarter.

— I watched the video of Vikings defensive end Jared Allen meeting with the Minnesota media. Not surprisingly, he was asked multiple times about the Cards surrendering 22 sacks the past three games and the opportunity he had. Not surprisingly, he dodged bulletin-board material. Who knows? Maybe he actually made a good point:

“I’ve been in this league for so long, I’ve played teams where they’ve given up … I always go back to the Texans, who had given up, like, 50 sacks and we came in there like Week 10 or Week 11 (when he was with the Chiefs),” Allen said. “All we saw were bootlegs. Teams also know that. So you can’t sit there and say, ‘We’re going to lick our chops and get after the quarterback,’ because you’re going to get burned in the run.”

The Allen pass rush – he’s only got four sacks this season, below expectations — will be under the microscope Sunday, whether it is against D’Anthony Batiste or Bobby Massie.

— Linebacker Daryl Washington repeated the same message over and over: We have to stop 12 and 28. That’s Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, in case you weren’t sure. Obvious, yes. But last year, quarterback Donovan McNabb was god-awful against the Cards (another reason why it confounds me a Cardinals fan would suggest signing McNabb) and yet the Vikings rolled. Peterson was awesome (three first-quarter TDs) and Harvin is a Swiss knife of a playmaker.

— Speaking of Peterson, it is still amazing he has returned from ACL surgery so quickly (he blew out his knee Christmas Eve 2011). He already has 499 yards rushing. “He’s not quite as bombastic in what he used to do,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton said, “but he still has our full respect.”

“He just never ever doubted,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “The only time he showed any doubt was when we were flying back from the game when he was injured in Washington. But after that it was full speed ahead from a mental standpoint and he’s never regressed.”

— The Cards are allowing just 16.2 points a game, fourth in the NFL behind the Bears, 49ers and Seahawks. Whatever the rest of the stats say, that works for Horton. “That’s the only stat that should be measured,” Horton said.

— It hurts to be missing safety Kerry Rhodes, down with the bad back. That means the Cards will have gone through a game without Rhodes, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett so far. It’d be nice to have all the key pieces in place, and Rhodes is having a pretty good year. Horton more or less shrugged it off. “Hopefully we’re not built like a house of cards where one guy gets hurt it is doom and gloom,” he said. “I don’t think we are built that way.”

— In case you missed it, my visit this summer to Minnesota turned into this story about how Larry Fitzgerald loves his home state. (But don’t worry, he loves being in Arizona too.)

— Minnesota native Michael Floyd isn’t getting the kind of work he was hoping – 7 catches, 84 yards – but he’s hanging in there. “The ball doesn’t come that way often, so when it does, you have to make the play,” he said. Floyd made the spectacular catch against the Bills after failing to come down with one a couple of weeks previous. Both Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Mike Miller say Floyd is doing fine in his steps forward.

“If we were doing better offensively (overall), he’d probably be more involved, have more statistics,” Whisenhunt said.

John Skelton, you’re up.

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