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Friday before the Eagles – this time, with Andre

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2014 – 3:47 pm

The last time the Cardinals played the Eagles, the game was in Philly a few days after Thanksgiving. And Andre Ellington was not part of it.

A lot has been said about the Cardinals’ near loss to the Eagles last year, about the penalty flags the Cards questioned and the big early deficit and the inability to stop the tight ends. Often lost in the conversation is that Ellington didn’t play. That was right when Ellington was emerging as a key piece of the offense; it was two weeks later when Ellington had what Bruce Arians felt was his best game, in Tennessee.

Ellington missed the Philly game after slipping on the grass during the Cardinals’ Thanksgiving practice. He later said that, at the time, he thought he had torn his ACL. That would have certainly changed the course of the Cards’ recent history. Instead, Ellington is coming off his heaviest workload ever, with 30 touches.

The Cardinals survived losing Carson Palmer for a few games. They would survive a wide receiver missing a couple of games, or one of the linemen. Losing Ellington, though? You’d try not to think about it. Last week, Bruce Arians said he thought Ellington wasn’t going to play the second half with a rib injury. I asked Ellington about it, and he acknowledged he knows how much he is needed on the field.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, I have to admit,” Ellington said. “There is a side of me that wants to be out there for every snap. But at the end of the day, that’s why we have depth on the team. When the starters can’t go, we have guys who can step in.”

– I will be fascinated to see how Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense operates in an enclosed stadium that tends to get LOUD (underratedly so.) In case you hadn’t heard, there is no NFL home – not Seattle, not New Orleans, not Kansas City – that has generated as many false starts by the opposition since 2006 than the 119 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Getting Calais Campbell would be a massive addition to the defense. That goes without saying. But seeing that Carson Palmer was no longer even listed on the injury report this week also meant something. Palmer getting back to lifting weights with his upper body will help his strength, and while it came from a different direction than last year, it certainly seems the Cardinals are set up for a second-half improvement in the passing game. Again, not ideal. But as long as Palmer is healthy, the arrow should go up.

– On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t gotten the same play from QB Nick Foles they did a year ago. He does have 10 TD passes but he’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions (five more than last year already.) First job Sunday is to slow LeSean McCoy. After that, maybe the Cards can force Foles into some bad choices.

– The inactive lists will be crucial Sunday. Campbell is questionable, even if I think he’ll play. For the Eagles, they had three guys I didn’t think would be able to go who suddenly practiced “full” Friday. So maybe they will. Center Jason Kelce, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and running back Darren Sproles, if they can go, change the dynamics of the game.

– B.A. keeps talking about how his team hasn’t accomplished anything yet, and linebacker Larry Foote noted there are still 10 games to go in the season. But the team is 5-1 and feeling pretty good. So, Foote was asked, how do you get the message across?

“It’s impossible for young guys to understand it,” Foote said. “You have to say it and then you have to go out there and show them. Just your effort and the way you carry yourself in practice, they can feel the environment, see how older guys are playing, how serious they are with communication and in meeting rooms.”

Certainly, the Cardinals don’t want this to get away from them. With a two-game edge in the loss column, that’s nice to have in the bank. The Cards aren’t going 15-1. But it wouldn’t be bad to emerge from these next two games with at least a 6-2 record. Might as well get the one at home.

– Larry Fitzgerald was full of great quotes this week – talking about his “champagne problems” – and he had a thoughtful answer of what was more important for a successful team: talent, or confidence?

“I think it’s a healthy combination of both,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to have the confidence in yourself that you can go out and make the play, the guy next to you can make the play, and having that trust level in your teammates. That’s huge. It’s exemplified in our defense. Everyone saw the injuries and suspensions and people wrote us off, ‘There’s no way they can play at the same level’ and all they have done is the same thing.”

It’s a great point. The Cards need talent, and I think it only underscores the job GM Steve Keim has done with the depth that the Cards have been able to deal with their injured personnel. But the confidence means something. It oozes from the head coach, and it permeates the locker room. The Cards are 5-1 in part because they believe they should be, everything else be damned.

See you Sunday.

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Campbell: “If it were up to me, I’d be playing”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2014 – 1:41 pm

There is the caveat that it will come down to a coach’s decision, and coach Bruce Arians said Friday he will see whether defensive end Calais Campbell will play Sunday. Campbell is officially questionable for the game. But both Campbell and Arians sounded like guys who wanted Campbell on the field against the Eagles and in that regard, optimism abounds.

“If it were up to me, I’d be playing,” Campbell said, before again deferring to the coaching staff.

“When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go, because there is nobody quite like him,” Arians said. “Even at 90 percent, the energy he brings, even the respect he brings, you want him on the field.”

Campbell said his biggest issue now is getting used to playing with a brace on his right leg, since he has never played with a brace before. Arians said if Campbell plays, it’ll be left up to him how much he can go, and Campbell admitted that having two limited practices total the past three weeks, he probably wouldn’t/couldn’t play the same amount of reps as normal. He also said he can’t worry about having his leg taken out again on the field of play, since it’s always a possibility.

But “there is nothing I can’t do,” Campbell said. “Just have to deal with having a brace on the knee. I feel explosive and I could play football the way I like to play football.”

– Tight end Troy Niklas missed practice again with a bad ankle and is out for the game, and clearly, Arians is ready to see him on the field again. Arians said Niklas is behind “a bunch” after missing so many practices.

“His situation, talking to the trainers, if he can push the sled he can play because he’s a damn tackle,” Arians said, drawing laughs. “He’s not a wide receiver. He doesn’t have to be worried about making cuts. He better have his ass back on the practice field next week.”

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Campbell back to practice, but will he play?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2014 – 2:26 pm

Defensive end Calais Campbell was back at practice Thursday for the first time since absorbing the chop block of Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. Campbell’s MCL suffered a slight tear, and Campbell — understandably — has been cautiously optimistic in his approach of playing against the Eagles Sunday after missing two games. He wants to play, of course. He also doesn’t want to go out unprepared. Campbell already knows the knee isn’t going to be right the rest of the season. He wants to make sure it’s right enough.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had some fun at Campbell’s expense when analyzing the end’s first practice back. “He’s slow to begin with so it’s hard to tell,” Bowles said, with a big laugh. “He looks the same as when he got caught by Peyton Manning on the touchdown.”

That’s a zing. If you recall, Campbell should have had an interception return for a TD in Denver (before his injury), only to have Manning somehow knock him down near the goal line.

The Cardinals certainly could use Campbell on the field. He was having a Pro Bowl-type season when he was hurt. The Cards have to deal with a better offense Sunday against the Eagles than they have against the Redskins or Raiders in the two games Campbell has missed. But in the long run, the Cardinals must have Campbell period. If that means one more game missed, it would be understandable. All along, Arians said Campbell had to practice at least Friday to play. He looks like he’ll have Thursday and Friday (assuming no setbacks after today.) That would see to bode well for a potential Campbell play Sunday.

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Passes for everyone because no INTs allowed

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2014 – 5:22 pm

Bruce Arians was blunt. He isn’t concerned about getting the ball to any particular receiver, nor is he concerned that any receiver would be looking for that out of Arians’ offense.

“Just come see me,” Arians said. “I’ll tell you your role.”

To be clear, no wideout has made a peep about receptions or targets. Arians said that, and so did quarterback Carson Palmer, who added that if the Cardinals were throwing a bunch of incompletions, it could be an issue. But that’s not the case.

“As long as that ball’s in somebody’s hands and the chains are moving, our guys are happy and they’re blocking for each other and being used as a decoy for each other to get each other open,” Palmer said. “They’ve been very unselfish.”

The Cardinals’ leading receiver in terms of catches after six games is not Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd. It’s running back Andre Ellington, who now has 25 receptions. Fitzgerald is next with 23, Floyd with 19. Floyd has been the one with big plays — he has 353 yards — but Fitzgerald has just 283 yards and no one is on pace to get 1,000 yards at this point. Fitzgerald in particular is far behind the totals to which he once was accustomed.

(Fitz, by the way, has never complained once publicly. I can’t believe he doesn’t want the ball more, but he knows the Cardinals are winning.)

But Palmer has been all about spreading the ball around. He threw completions to nine different players in Oakland. Both Arians and Palmer acknowledged that on Sunday’s TD pass to Floyd, Palmer could have hit John Brown or Fitz (although Fitz would have been well short of the first down.) Instead, Palmer decided to take the deep shot. On another play, Palmer had Fitz open in the end zone, but a low shotgun snap threw off the timing and Palmer instead dumped it over the blitz to running back Stepfan Taylor for the score.

Palmer, as he’s said many times, reiterated he wants to get the ball to Fitzgerald more often and knows Fitz needs his touches. But he doesn’t want to force it and he definitely doesn’t want to pass up another open receiver to do so.

“In this system, you’ve got running backs who can catch it and go the distance, you have receivers that can do that, tight ends that can do that, so there are a lot of guys you have to cover,” Palmer said.

Arians said the passing game is all very simple: “You have to check your ego at the door. It’s about eliminating interceptions and taking what defenses give you. When you have the number of tools we have, we put five guys out there who are more than capable of breaking a game open, don’t force feed anybody.”

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A bootless Ellington, and finding practice time

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2014 – 2:17 pm

This can only be seen as good news for the Cardinals: Running back Andre Ellington, after his heaviest workload of the season Sunday in Oakland (30 touches), did not have to wear a boot on his left foot Wednesday — which had been a constant for Ellington, who has been dealing with a tendon problem for weeks.

“He’s not in a boot, which is nice for a Wednesday,” coach Bruce Arians said.

The reality is that Ellington will be dealing with the foot injury all season. And it’s possible the bootless Wednesday will be a one-week thing. But Arians, noting Ellington had a pair of drops Sunday and lined up wrong once, likes the possibilty that Ellington could practice more than he has been. Arians said Ellington, who has done very little Wednesdays, has usually been struggling during Thursday’s practices (when he again is limited.)

“It really hurts some timing in the passing game,” Arians said. “The practice time is hurting him. He’s gutting it up and is playing extremely well on Sundays, but the one week he practiced all week was, I thought, his best game. This one (in Oakland), he made a lot of plays, but again, there were more plays to be made.”

When Arians says the Cardinals would like about 70 percent of the game plan to involve Ellington, these are not small concerns.

Ellington insists he’s always familiar with the game plan and he works hard on his mental reps. The bootless development meant he’d be able to run in practice more than usual. But he acknowledged the timing in the passing game probably is hurt with little practice, especially since he isn’t a natural receiver. It’s just part of what Ellington and the Cardinals must account for this year.

“I understand it’s never going to feel good,” Ellington said. “It probably won’t feel good until January or February, whenever the season is over with. I’ll just take it day by day, try to keep it calmed down.”

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Uniform choices and the flex barrier

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2014 – 4:45 pm

It never fails that I get requests often to say which uniforms the Cardinals will wear on a given Sunday, especially at home when the black tops are in play. You can count me as one who doesn’t understand the big deal about the uniform (other than I get fans wanting to wear matching gear to their team) but people want to know. At this point, the black alternates are no longer available. The NFL doesn’t like allowing alternate jerseys once flex scheduling starts, and this year, flex scheduling began back in Week 5, earlier than before.

The decisions to pick what uniforms to wear was broken down quite well in this Sports Business Journal story from a year ago (h/t to @PhilHecken). Included in the story is this passage explaining the alternate jersey rules:

 In 2002, the league began regulating when teams could wear their third uniforms, which some teams made throwbacks and others made an entirely new jersey with alternate colors. The initial rules said that they could wear the third jerseys only twice a year, but those rules have become more prescriptive over time.

The league wants national TV audiences to see teams in their primary uniforms, so teams are allowed to wear third uniforms only in regular-season games on Sunday afternoons before the start of the league’s flex schedule. The NFL will grant exceptions on some occasions when teams make a formal request.

The Cardinals, by the way, will wear red uniforms with the white pants Sunday against the Eagles. No sign of red-on-red yet, although it is possible for later games.

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Cat Man drives kickoffs deep

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2014 – 10:14 am

At this point, the story of Chandler Catanzaro is pretty well known. The undrafted rookie kicker out of Clemson — who got all of a $1,500 signing bonus — is 15-for-15 on field goals, tying the NFL record for most makes to start a rookie season. He’s already got 56 points on the season, and he’s a nice blend of humility with an layer beneath of confidence. He’s not going to brag about himself, but there is no question he thinks he can be a great kicker. He’s off to a great start.

But the field goals are only part of the equation. His kickoffs — a part of the game that more than anything moved the Cardinals toward looking for a Jay Feely replacement — have been as impressive as expected.

Of Catanzaro’s 34 kickoffs so far, 30 have not made it past the 20-yard line and more importantly, Catanzaro already has 22 touchbacks. In this day and age of kickoffs being up five yards further and rules changing the way the kickoff return can be blocked, that’s not overwhelmingly surprising. Last year, the Cards had 33 touchbacks on 86 total kickoffs. Catanzaro should reach that total by mid-November.

So far, the average starting position of Cardinals’ opponents after a kickoff is the 19. That ranks second in the NFL, behind only Cleveland (at 18.1). A touchback actually helps an opponent these days.

“They are going well,” Catanzaro said. “I didn’t hit them as well (in Oakland) and I need to get better this week. But they are going well. I didn’t do them in college and I am happy with where I am. I’m confident. I did some work ever since the Orange Bowl was over last year with Clemson, working my tail off where my kickoffs are. I have to keep that up because I think that’s helping us win games. Honestly, it’s a huge testament to the kickoff team as well. They are doing an awesome job.”

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Keim loves Cardinals’ balance, nitpicks aside

Posted by Darren Urban on October 20, 2014 – 8:13 am

Balance is what Steve Keim liked the most out of the Cardinals’ win Sunday in Oakland — “I can’t remember the last time we ran it five more times than we threw it” — though the General Manager noted during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports, “it wasn’t perfect.”

Every week Keim is asked about his concerns. He talked about not wanting to beat the “dead horse” of seeking more of a perimeter edge rush. “I’d like to see us put teams away a little earlier, not make it so dramatic,” Keim added. “But that’s being nitpicky.” Indeed, the Cardinals are 5-1, so they have to be doing something right. (As Adrian Wilson once infamously said during a live radio interview, “(Expletive), it’s hard to win in the NFL.”)

– A week after saying he was hoping cornerback Patrick Peterson had more focus, Keim said he thought Peterson played well on Sunday. There were two penalties, although Keim, without saying it, clearly wasn’t all that fond on the flag Peterson was given for pass interference. “I thought Pat played excellent, played with urgency,” Keim said. “I was really, really pleased with how Pat played.”

– Keim said he thought rookie defensive lineman Ed Stinson had his best game, and added fellow rookie defensive lineman Kareem Martin did some good things too. Also getting praise from Keim were linebacker Sam Acho and safety Tyrann Mathieu, who impressed Keim with some looks-like-2013 play against the Raiders.

– Running back Stepfan Taylor not only helped create confidence in his play for the coaching staff, Keim said, but probably gave himself some confidence too. That’s important when talking about having help for Andre Ellington.

– Carson Palmer’s poise in the pocket caught Keim’s eye, crystallized by Palmer’s improvised roll-out and throw to Ted Ginn on third-and-long. Keim thought Sunday showed Palmer’s strength and velocity was returning to the shoulder/arm.

– As for the potential Palmer contract extension, Keim reiterated how the Cardinals take a three-year view on the entire roster. And Palmer isn’t the only one the Cards are considering an extension for. “We are looking at others who have expiring contracts,” Keim said.


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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2014 – 9:27 pm

If you were Jared Veldheer, Sunday’s trip to Oakland meant a lot. If you were Tommy Kelly, it meant a lot. If you were Carson Palmer, well, you tried to downplay it, but your teammates and coach weren’t so sure. It was an obvious storlyline though, with the Raiders sitting at 0-6, that Oakland writers wanted to hit the Raiders-return-home narrative.

Was it nice to get Carson a win, Kelly was asked? “Yeah, you want Carson to win, but I think more about myself,” Kelly said. “I wanted to win for myself.”

Makes sense to me.

The Cardinals had a lot of different reasons to get Sunday’s game, not the least of which the fact both Seattle and San Francisco lost and the Cards now have a two-game lead in the loss column. The brutal part of the schedule now commences –home against Philly, at Dallas, and we go from there. A lot can still happen. Bruce Arians was quick to emphasize the Cards hadn’t won jack yet and shouldn’t overestimate themselves. Nevertheless, it’s better to be up two in the loss column right now than the other way away, and while the Cards have their warts, so too do the Seahawks and 49ers.

– The Cards do get a victory Monday. Although as B.A. makes clear, anyone in their first- or second-year still has to come in tomorrow. Something tells me a good chunk of guys will still show up to get a lift in at least. That’s what happens when a team is winning.

– It was great to hear Andre Ellington say it was his call to come out at the end of the Cardinals’ long touchdown drive – the one in which Ellington had been the ball carrier on every play – so Stepfan Taylor could get a TD shot. First, I heard from a lot of fans (I’m guessing, Ellington fantasy owners) wondering why Arians had made such a move. But it wasn’t B.A., it was Ellington asking for a blow.

More importantly was why Ellington came out. Ellington knows he doesn’t have to practice a ton because of his bad foot. Taylor has to do extra work in practice and often there’s no payoff in games because Ellington gets the snaps. That Ellington would think of his draft classmate is cool.

– The Cards were still having some problems getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Linebacker Larry Foote got the lone sack (although the Cards a couple times seemed like they would get to Carr and Carr escaped) but headed into games against Philly’s offense and Dallas – where a great running game buys time for Tony Romo – you have to wonder how that plays out.

– I’ll be curious to see how OC Harold Goodwin analyzes Sunday’s run game. The Cards got 123 yards. Goodwin probably wanted more production, but it was the key, especially on that TD drive that took control of the game.

– Palmer throws a pick. It was going to happen. In some ways, it might be good the streak is over.

– After a few games of bad third-down conversions, the Cards converted 9 of 15 third downs Sunday. That’s excellent. The Cards also held the ball for more than 36 minutes. That’ll win games even if the offense isn’t perfectly sharp.

– Patrick Peterson got caught for a couple more penalties Sunday. He has seven in seven games – four pass interference and three holds. He’s a physical cornerback, and this is life in the NFL this days for those guys. He’ll have to continue to adapt.

– Kicker Chandler Catanzaro is now 15-for-15 on the season kicking field goals, tying the mark of the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein as the most consecutive makes to start a rookie season (Washington’s Kai Forbath made 17 to start his career, but he wasn’t considered a rookie at that point, having been on injured reserve his entire rookie season.)

“It’s pretty cool a rookie record, definitely humbling,” Catanzaro said. “It’s my job. As much as I say it, it’s my job, that’s what they signed me up for.”

– Michael Floyd went up and got a 33-yard TD catch one-on-one in a battle with Terrell Brown and it seems like he always does that these days. In fact, Floyd in the jump ball area right now feels a lot like watching Larry Fitzgerald circa 2008.

– That’s enough for this game. The Cardinals are 5-1 for the first time since 1976. An impressive start. But there are still 10 to go. A lot can happen.

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Still no Grice as inactives named

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2014 – 12:02 pm

The inactive list is out for today’s game against the Raiders. Running back Marion Grice is inactive again, which sounded about what the case would be when Bruce Arians was talking about him Friday. The full inactive list:

– RB Marion Grice

– DE Calais Campbell (knee)

– TE Troy Niklas (ankle)

– DT Bruce Gaston

– LB Desmond Bishop

– LB Thomas Keiser

– LB Glenn Carson

The Raiders have some key players inactive today: OL Khalif Barnes, DT Justin Tuck and FB Marcel Reece.


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