Friday before the Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2012 – 3:40 pm

Dan Williams likes to joke with defensive line coach Ron Aiken from time to time, letting Aiken know “I am always ready to rush the passer if they need me.” The big nose tackle isn’t going to get that chance often, not playing in obvious passing situations. The folks at noted the big nose tackle has been playing well and that it’s unfortunate he doesn’t get to play more because of the current state of the game.

Williams shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know if I am a generation too late,” Williams said. “That’s what they brought me in here to do, to stop the run. When teams go to the extra receivers, they bring the extra DB in.”

That’s when Williams comes out. He sees himself as capable if needed in those spots. He sees nose tackles like New England’s Vince Wilfork and Green Bay’s B.J. Raji in such situations and believes he is as talented. He’s a long way from the weight-issue storyline that dominated his career – “Just for the record, I only missed weight one time and I think it was blown out of proportion,” he said – and, as noted, his play has been solid.

“If they try to throw the ball when we are in base, I am going to try to take advantage of that,” Williams said.

The Cardinals haven’t stopped the run as effectively as they have liked this season, but some of that has to do with the pass-defense-first packages they have used. This week, against the struggling Jets, the run would seem to be New York’s weapon of choice. Williams will be needed.

As for some other New York-is-next topics:

— Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was plain in his desire to get after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. “We sacked (Aaron Rodgers) on the first play, and I think he had one of his worst statistical games,” Horton said. “We hit Matt Ryan on the first third down and he didn’t have a very good game. It’s something we do anyway … when you hit the quarterback early, it gets in their mind a little bit.”

— It’s no surprise the Jets are struggling, but offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was not happy during a rare press conference this week, including making the point he was being forced to use Vlad Ducasse every third series at left guard instead of the preferred Matt Slauson. (Ducasse, you may remember, has been a bust of a second-round pick best known for the man blocking O’Brien Schofield in the Senior Bowl practice in which Schofield blew out his knee.)

Horton noticed. “I saw their offensive line coach complaining a little bit about who makes the decision on who plays,” Horton said. “We hope there is a little confusion, disarray, uncertainty there we can take advantage of.”

— Rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley was matter-of-fact talking about his four-interception starting debut last week. He wasn’t about to declare it a disaster.

“This is a results-driven game,” Lindley said. “We lost the game, I gave up 14 points myself. So it wasn’t a good game. But there were things I can look at, move forward from, and gain confidence from to take into this week.”

Lindley can make up a lot of ground if he can respond well, on the road, against the aggressive Jets. Whether he can actually pull that off, with a new starting center in Rich Ohrnberger on top of it, remains a big question mark.

— The last time the Cardinals took on a Rex Ryan defense, coach Ken Whisenhunt unveiled the no-huddle offense. That was in Baltimore in 2007, when the Cards got way behind and starting QB Matt Leinart looked very bad. Kurt Warner came in and lit up the Ravens, who were still able to pull off a win at the end.

This is an entirely different situation, starting with the reality that Kurt Warner isn’t walking through that door. As for the chance the Cards could use the no-huddle, Whisenhunt didn’t exactly sound optimistic.

“Is it something you could do? Yes,” Whisenhunt said. “Is it something you can do with a rookie quarterback? Depends on the rookie. He’s done it, worked on it in practice. It could be part of the gameplan.”

— Tight end Todd Heap wasn’t active last week, Whiz said, because he didn’t get enough reps in practice and “you have to get ready to play and that’s part of it.” Heap did practice full all last week, however, just like this week. If I had to guess, I’d think Heap plays this week, but you never know. He was officially moved down the depth chart this week. Jeff King was already ahead of him, but Rob Housler now is too.

— Some TV shows this weekend. On this week’s “Season In Focus” Saturday morning at 7 a.m. on ABC-15, cornerback Michael Adams is featured on the “Wired” segment, and there is a “Zoom” episode on running back LaRod Stephens-Howling – including The Hyphen listening to his emotional draft-day phone interview for the first time. On “Flight Plan” Saturday night at midnight on Ch. 12 NBC, Whisenhunt breaks down some video of Lindley’s first start and he and Ron Wolfley preview the Jets game.

— Horton was asked if cornerback Patrick Peterson had reached the level of Jets corners Darrelle Revis (who is out for the season) and Antonio Cromartie.

“Patrick is past one of them already,” Horton said, referring to Cromartie. “He is approaching Revis with everything he does on and off the field.”

— Rams defensive end Chris Long was fined $15,750 for hitting Lindley in the head during last weekend’s game. Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar was not fined for his hit on Cardinals receiver LaRon Byrd.

— Punter Dave Zastudil has 27 punts inside the 20 this season. Only Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt (31) has more.

— One more sack by Daryl Washington and he ties the team record of 10 by a linebacker, set first by Ken Harvey. Maybe he finds Sanchez twice on Sunday.


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Receiver picture looks a little better

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2012 – 1:18 pm

Wide receiver Andre Roberts did not practice again Friday, meaning he sat out the entire week with his bad ankle. But he is still listed as questionable to play against the Jets, one of three receivers for the Cards who are questionable. On the good side, the other two questionable — Early Doucet (back) and LaRon Byrd (head) — each we’re upgraded to full practice Friday.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he also expects two other players listed as questionable to play barring an unforeseen setback between now and game day: DE Calais Campbell (calf) and running back Beanie Wells (knee). I thought all week Beanie was just precautionary, but if he is listed as questionable, perhaps not.

The other questionable player, QB Kevin Kolb (ribs), seems like a long shot to be active Sunday given his circumstances.

One of those listed as questionable for the Jets, backup QB Tim Tebow, is dealing with fractured ribs. ESPN reported Tebow will be inactive Sunday.

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Fitz, can I have a witness?

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2012 – 11:01 pm

There is little question life playing for a team in New York is different than most, with the daily crush of media attention and life in a fishbowl.  As much as athletes can enjoy that kind of thing, often they don’t.

Take Larry Fitzgerald, for instance. He’s high-profile enough to get his share of attention anyway. But he was asked whether he could imagine dealing with the New York media every day.

“It kind of comes with it when you’re on the East Coast,” Fitzgerald said. “Arizona, it’s like witness protection out here. We’ve got it pretty good in the grand scheme of things, I would say.”

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A chance to miss on Tebow once again

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2012 – 4:20 pm

The last time the Cardinals played against a Tim Tebow team in the regular season, they probably should have seen him play — but he didn’t.

You remember that game, at the end of the disastrous 2010 season. The Cardinals crushed the Broncos, 43-13, in rookie quarterback John Skelton’s first start. Skelton didn’t play well (15-for-37, 146 yards) but he didn’t turn the ball over, and the game was dominated by kicker Jay Feely (25 points, including a touchdown run on a fake field goal) and running back Tim Hightower’s 148 yards rushing on only 18 carries.

(Looking back on my story, I forgot about then-rookie Daryl Washington pulling a Leon Lett. Oops.)

Anyway, not only did the Broncos get throttled but quarterback Kyle Orton was bad, completing just 19-of-41 passes for 166 yards and three interceptions. The Broncos were going nowhere. Kind of seemed like a natural time to give backup QB Tim Tebow a chance to play. But interim coach Eric Studesville decided against it.

Flash forward to Sunday, when the Cardinals play the Jets, and Tebow again is the backup. Tebow is dealing with bad ribs, bad enough to the point where third-stringer Greg McElroy may be the wiser choice to have as Mark Sanchez’s reserve option. Coach Rex Ryan isn’t committing to anything, although he said he thinks Tebow will be able to be active Sunday. Tebow playing, in some way, would certainly add a storyline to a game that could use an extra boost. Clearly Sanchez isn’t going anywhere as the starter.

The Cardinals aren’t taking chances. “You have to prepare for (Tebow),” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Whether he plays or not, we’ll see. But you’ve got to be prepared for him. When he’s in the game, it’s different.”

Another side note: That win against the struggling Tebow team also snapped a seven-game losing streak. Maybe history has a chance to repeat itself Sunday against another struggling Tebow team.

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Dockett there for Schofield after freak play

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2012 – 4:37 pm

O’Brien Schofield was back in the locker room Wednesday after practice, getting around after ankle surgery on a motorized scooter that looked much more fitting for one of those older women on a late night TV commercial selling such things than a 250-pound NFL linebacker.

“At first it was frustrating because I couldn’t believe I got hurt again, but I tried to put it in perspective,” Schofield said. “This gives me time to get my shoulders right, my knees right and completely heal up.”

Schofield only had ligament damage – it was torn. There was no fracture, but he wasn’t going to be able to come back. Still, not fun considering the freak nature of the play, where teammate Darnell Dockett fell on his leg as both were chasing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the game at Green Bay.

Dockett, though, apologized, even if he didn’t have to.

“Dock has been good through this,” Schofield said. “He’s been hitting me up, checking to see how I have been doing. He put my number on the back of his helmet, which was cool. He told me when I started rehabbing, if there was anything I need, just let him know.

“It wasn’t his fault at all. It was a freak accident. The way he has been, I appreciate his generosity.”

Dockett downplayed his post-injury role.

“That’s my brother,” Dockett said. “I’m like that with all my teammates. If they need anything to get better, especially off of injuries and stuff, I want to help.”

Dockett said he was going to let Schofield use his personal hyperbaric chamber to help speed Schofield’s recovery.

“He’s a good player, he came back (from a bad knee) and had a freak accident,” Dockett said. “We were just trying to do the same thing at the same time. As a friend, as a leader, as a brother outside of football, anything I can do to help him get back. He would do the same for me.”

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Pro Bowl update, and some other tidbits

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2012 – 10:08 am

The struggles to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball and for Patrick Peterson to break loose — not to mention the Cards’ struggle to win a game — seem to be reflected in the latest Pro Bowl balloting. Both Fitz and Peterson were among the top five in their positions the last time voting was noted. This time around, both have dropped out of the top five in the NFC at their respective positions. Only linebacker Daryl Washington remains on the list, at third for inside linebackers behind the 49ers’ Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Voting continues right here, and is ongoing through Dec. 17.

— After the nice piece by Josh Weinfuss on rookie right tackle Bobby Massie’s arrow pointing up, chimes in with the statistical data.

— For those wondering about former Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer now, here’s an interesting story from the New York Times. Jake wanted to escape the NFL limelight when he left the game. Now, apparently, he wants back in.

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Missing Fitz in plain sight

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2012 – 11:12 am

Larry Fitzgerald was open.

He was open a few times against the Rams, down the field early when rookie Ryan Lindley missed him down the left sideline. He was open when Lindley woefully underthrew a pass near the Cardinals’ sideline that was intercepted. He was open down the field on another interception and again on a play that could have gotten big yards but didn’t because  a line mistake led to a sack.

Fitzgerald made three receptions for 31 yards on the Cards’ first drive but couldn’t get a catch after that. It’s been a brutal stretch of late for Fitz in terms of production, and when Fitzgerald is open and can’t get the ball, the frustration is there fore everyone involved.

“It’s hard, because you don’t know how much goes in to trying to work to get these situations, and then when you do get them and they come up and you have it there and we don’t execute on it …,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, leaving the end of the thought to the obvious.

“You have a chance to make a layup, you work hard to get it, and the ball bounces out,” Whisenhunt added. “You’re frustrated that you didn’t get it done, something that you think is, I won’t say simple, but something you put a lot of work into doing and you expect to do it. There are a lot of those things that happen that people don’t see.”

Whisenhunt’s example was the sack, in which Lindley had to slide to his left because of a blocking mistake, costing him a clean look at the open Fitzgerald down the field. “You look at that play, and it’s something that you work to set up and Larry’s behind everybody and that’s where Ryan is going to go with it but we have a breakdown. That’s been happening too much to us.”

Fitzgerald isn’t going to say anything. He talked after the game about not pointing fingers and refusing — even after Lindley took the blame on missing Fitzgerald on a couple of passes — to throw Lindley under the bus. Even generally, when asked about the frustration about getting open but being unable to get the ball, Fitz wouldn’t bite.

“It’s football,” he said. “Things happen. Assignments are missed. When I’m perfect, I can start calling people out on their flaws and mistakes. But I’m not. We have to do a better job offensively executing when we have our opportunities.”

Fitz isn’t perfect. Fitz, according to Stats Pass, has three drops this season. Obviously he couldn’t come up with that one at the end of the Atlanta game, although the Stats people didn’t consider that a drop; they give him one each in each of the two Rams’ games, and one against the 49ers.

Still, what resonates as a Fitzgerald memory up until this point this season is an opening and then a pass too far over his head or too far out of bounds for him to make the play. Mike Sando broke down the targets to Fitz from the Cards’ three QBs; while Kevin Kolb couldn’t get it to Fitz all the time (61.5 percent completions of Fitz targets), the duo of Lindley and John Skelton have missed Fitzgerald on 34 of 57 targets. Lindley in his brief time has throws Fitz’s way 17 times but completed just four passes (with three interceptions.) Lindley had his misses against the Rams and Skelton — who had a few throws to Fitz out of bounds down the sideline over the weeks — had the now infamous miss of the open Fitz in the end zone.

Thus far, Fitz has just 55 catches for 627 yards, a pace for 80 receptions (which would equal last year) but just 912 yards, 499 yards less than last season. If he wants to complain — and goodness knows those of us asking the questions have given him multiple chances to do so — he has shown remarkable restraint in not.

“Larry’s been great,” Whisenhunt said. “He works hard every day. He wants to be successful and it hurts him when he’s not. We are all frustrated, but it hasn’t affected Larry from the standpoint of how he has dealt with his teammates, how he works in practice, the positive things he talks with the quarterbacks.

“Listen, he wants the ball. He comes over and talks about things during the game. (But) he is a true professional.”

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Losing Lyle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2012 – 4:50 pm

First, a disclaimer: I think Lyle Sendlein is a good guy.

Sure, the center and I hail from the same high school — the local football powerhouse Scottsdale Chaparral. (Although Lyle, being much younger, was actually a part of building the program to where it is today. When I went to school there, a .500 season was tremendous and often the team would get kicked around by the likes of Mesa Mountain View, but my graduating class did have Darrell Bevell as quarterback, and he was good enough in the sport to eventually reach his current post as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator.)

Yet I digress.

The high school gave us an immediate connection, but Sendlein was also a great story, son of a former NFL player who was undrafted in 2007 (and not happy about it) yet worked to eventually become a key starter for a Super Bowl team and a man who not only has been the team’s starting center for a few years but has earned the respect of his teammates to the point he has been named one of the captains for a few years now. He’s a stand-up guy who is always willing to answer questions, win or lose, knowing that people want answers either way. You know he’s tough, after playing almost the entire 2008 season with a torn labrum. Is he a Pro Bowl center? Maybe not. But he has been steady, and he has been an important cog to the Cards’ offense.

The news that he is done for the season hurts the Cards. Yes, some of you will point out the offensive line has not played well, and to that I cannot argue. But much like the loss of Levi Brown, the benefit of Sendlein, I believe, will be felt much more with his absence than anyone could tell with him in the game. Now, I don’t know if the “wheels just might come off” now that Sendlein (No. 63, pictured below) is out, but it will make an impact and it’s arguable it will make the greatest impact of all the offensive line injuries this season, including Brown’s triceps and Adam Snyder’s quad.

(It’d be a good argument, because Brown’s absence has certainly been felt.)

If nothing else, it’s losing a veteran player who means something as a presence both on the field and in the locker room. On a team that needs that steadying influence during a losing skid, that can’t be good.

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With Kolb an unknown, Lindley to start vs Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2012 – 11:34 am

Kevin Kolb made progress in practice last week but still was having soreness. His availability for this weekend’s game in New York against the Jets is very much in doubt with an entire week of practice to go. With that in mind, coach Ken Whisenhunt said today Ryan Lindley will get a second straight start in the New York game.

Now, we’ll have to see, if Kolb keeps progressing, if that could change. Whiz never came out and said Kolb would start if healthy. He just said he didn’t know where Kolb would be health-wise.

“For this week, yes, we stay with Ryan,” Whisenhunt said. “You can’t have the interceptions. But in the first half, I thought he did a really nice job.”

As for Kolb, “He still had soreness, and you have to weigh that against taking a hit in the pocket,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s going to happen in this league even when you get throws off. It has to be a safety concern there as well.”

— Whiz said he expects defensive end Calais Campbell to play against the Jets. And in response to a question about tight end Todd Heap being a “healthy scratch” on Sunday, Whiz said “I think Todd is just about to the point where he can play now (after a knee injury). It’s been disappointing we haven’t been able to get him back but we’ll see how he does in practice this week.”

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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2012 – 8:25 pm

The Cardinals know the criticism is coming, know it has been coming, know what’s being said. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was acknowledging speculation on his job security was “part of the business.” Linebacker Quentin Groves, meanwhile, was saying the Cards have to pull together because that’s their only option.

“We’re all we got,” Groves said. “We have to stick together as a family, as a team and then just say we’re all we got. The fans turn on you, the media turns on you, and at the same time those 62 guys in the locker room (it’s 61, counting practice squad, to be accurate) have to band together with the coaches as well as say we’re all we got, and go out and play.”

There isn’t much more to say on that. Obviously I’ve been through these losing streaks the last couple of years (and yes, so too have you) and I know what’s coming from you and in the comments below. No need to rehash them weekly. Sunday was a bad loss, especially after building early leads. Two road games are coming, in New York and in Seattle. Nothing simple about breaking the streak in either place.

Anyway, on to some game specifics:

— Ryan Lindley looked so … solid on that first drive. He was accurate. He was smart. And then it went off the rails. The interceptions, save for the last one (which I didn’t get a good look at), all looked like throws a rookie quarterback would make. The last pick-6, trying to throw something deep off a back foot, that looked particularly like a rookie. Doesn’t make it OK, but it wasn’t surprising.

The question is what now? Whiz acknowledged he thought about  taking Lindley out but didn’t. It’s tough for a team, though, knowing Lindley was in there two weeks in a row with a lead and the job could not be finished. The Rams didn’t come after Lindley right away. You have to wonder, with a Jets team reeling and with nothing to lose, what Rex Ryan might unleash on an inexperienced QB.

— Somehow, the Cards lost two games to the Rams this season when quarterback Sam Bradford completed a total of 15 passes in two games. Never thought that’d be possible.

— Having Beanie Wells made a difference early, but it felt like the Rams finally said defensively they wanted to make Lindley beat them, and he couldn’t, and that was that.

— Daryl Washington got his ninth sack and Patrick Peterson his fourth interception, and both were nice plays and helpful at the time. But defensively, the Cards let the Rams flip field position too many times. The big plays, like the first time against the Rams, bit the Cards. So too did Steven Jackson’s 139 yards rushing.

— Interesting that the game in which Todd Heap is essentially a healthy scratch, Rob Housler ends up with his best game so far (8 catches for 82 yards). Whether it was the defensive scheme or not, Lindley seemed to have a comfort level with Housler.

— Clearly, LaRod Stephens-Howling was having issues with his sore ribs. So William Powell got more time and chipped in six catches for 63 yards in that third-down back role.

— The question of the week will be Kevin Kolb’s health and Lindley’s status. As of now I’d assume Lindley is staying in there if Kolb isn’t healthy, but to be honest, Whisenhunt didn’t say that. The Jets will have extra time to prepare, but they’ve been pretty bad. Next week will be interesting. I don’t have much more to say about this week.

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