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Peterson: Vets get point across in players meeting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2016 – 2:09 pm

As the Cardinals look to break a two-game losing streak — they have not lost three straight since Bruce Arians became coach — the players called a meeting Wednesday.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson said the veterans who had been around a while — guys like himself and Larry Fitzgerald — just wanted to make sure the message was sent that this was no time to have anyone “tanking it in.”

“Not saying anyone is doing it (now), but we just wanted to make aware to guys we have seen this before,” Peterson said. “We don’t want guys to fall by the wayside, make offseason plans, things like that. We just wanted to call a players meeting, make sure we got that off our chest and make sure that guys who are new to this team understands that. We still have a shot. We still have a shot in this, we just have to take care of business and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Peterson said he thought the message was well-received although he acknowledged everyone will see Sunday if it had an impact.


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Without Smoke, Cardinals have no fire

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2016 – 12:19 pm

John Brown caught a 19-yard pass on the second play of the game Sunday. But his seemingly big day never developed, Smoke later went to the sideline with hamstring issues, and the Cardinals sit here, with five games left in this season, wondering about the long-term abilities of a wide receiver who has already shown he was an important part of the offense.

To see Bruce Arians basically at a loss when asked about where Brown — dealing with a sickle-cell issue — goes from here has to be a concern. The Cardinals and Brown continue to seek a remedy that will get Brown back to where he should be — this is a genetic issue, after all, so you’d think after two solid NFL seasons and one 1,000-yard effort, there is a way to have this work out.

But as quarterback Carson Palmer said, Brown’s 2016 problems — which include the concussion that knocked him out of the preseason and set him back — have been a “big, big loss.” You can see it when Brown does play. He so easily got open much of the season last year. That separation is absent this year, either down the field or on the deeper crossing routes at which he’s been so good. Many pointed out Brown’s inability to chase down Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Rhodes’ 100-yard interception return as a red flag. That’s hard to argue.

The inexplicable season of Michael Floyd has hurt, but I would argue that Brown’s absence has been the most painful. It was Brown’s routes that most impactfully opened up spots for Larry Fitzgerald. Whether or not Brown can find his way back to full Smoke status this season, this coming offseason could be crucial in finding out what this problem could mean long-term.

“It’s been a tough year, away from football,” Palmer said of Brown. “Trying to figure out what his workload is in the week and what his workload is on Sundays, how to stop what happened last Sunday from happening again. He’s in the learning process trying to figure it out. You can just pray for him and be there for him and do whatever you can for him.”

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Kerwynn Williams finds his wildcat

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2016 – 9:50 am

Sometimes, the mother of invention is simply right place, right time. Running back Kerwynn Williams has taken snaps before in his football career. He played quarterback in high school (surprisingly, Williams said) and at Utah State he was used in some wildcat formations. But with the Cardinals, it really hadn’t come up until the week of practice heading into the game against the Vikings.

The Vikings use the wildcat. So the Cardinals were practicing against it with their scout team. Normally, practice squad running back Elijhaa Penny would have served in that role. But Penny wasn’t at practice that day, his child being born. So Williams jumped in, and apparently, coaches liked what they saw.

“I guess the rest is history,” Williams said.

The next week, Williams had a part in the offensive package. Williams was in the wildcat twice in Atlanta. He handed off to David Johnson for a 16-yard gain on the first play. The second time, Williams broke for a nice 11-yard gain, although it was wiped out on an A.Q. Shipley holding penalty. It “adds a different wrinkle to the offense,” Williams said, and there is little question that Williams has proven over his years in Arizona — even though he has been on and off the roster — that he can run the ball. That’s never really been in doubt, and it flashed again against the Falcons.

As for playing wildcat quarterback, there is also the chance to pass the ball too, right?

“I did have a little bit of the laser back in the day,” Williams deadpanned. “It’s still there. I’ve still got the fundamentals.”

Williams smiled. “But that’s what Carson is for,” he added. “He’s a great quarterback, he makes a lot of great passes. I don’t think they need me to throw the ball.”

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Humphries, Veldheer and left tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2016 – 10:31 am

D.J. Humphries was praised by both Steve Keim and Bruce Arians after his initial foray at left tackle Sunday. Looking at all of Humphries’ 71 snaps against the Falcons, the video seems to bear that out. Without knowing exactly what the play was designed to do or what the protection called for, there were only a few plays in which Humphries looked like he was beat and it caused a problem for Carson Palmer.

The first time, Dwight Freeney used a speed rush around the edge and pressured Palmer, although the ball was completed for a nine-yard pass on third-and-20. There were a couple two drives later, when the Falcons used a stunt from an inside rusher coming around the outside to get pressure, although Palmer still managed an eight-yard completion. Later that drive, Freeney’s spin move worked but Palmer had already thrown the pass.

Humphries did whiff on Freeney on a play right before halftime, but it was the pass to J.J. Nelson to set up the late field goal. There was one more play late in the game in which it looked like there was an offensive line miscommunication, and a blitzer was allowed to come off the edge free.

Generally, though, Humphries did his job. He did not allow a sack.

Arians was asked if Humphries could end up as the long-term left tackle. Certainly he figures to be there the rest of this season. Beyond, when Jared Veldheer comes back? That is an excellent question. It’s not like the idea of Veldheer at right tackle is far-fetched. He is making “left-tackle money,” but as long as Humphries is on his rookie deal, the Cardinals will be paying the same regardless of what side each is on. Humphries is a natural left tackle too.

But Veldheer has played left tackle virtually his whole career, and Humphries did prep all offseason through Veldheer’s trip to IR playing the right side. There are pros and cons to both situations. Arians’ response was that it was a wait-and-see approach. It’ll definitely be something to watch as the offseason workouts unfold.

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Keim: Floyd, Nkemdiche and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2016 – 8:25 am

General Manager Steve Keim lamented Sunday’s loss, noting as many have the same issues the Cardinals have suffered through all season. He was asked during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Monday if he was now going to start working on 2017. Keim wants to see wins now, but the question was unnecessary, since Keim is always looking at the future. He was doing so back in training camp. Keim has long talked about taking a three-year view on the roster.

There are things now that impact later, however. In particular, Keim talked about wide receiver Michael Floyd, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Keim was asked if Floyd’s rough season made it more likely the Cards brought him back because his price may go down, or less likely because he has struggled so much.

“I know he’s disappointed and frustrated,” Keim said. “In the past, there’s been some inconsistencies, whether it was dropped balls or other things that came with his game. At the same time he made big plays to compensate for that. That’s the one area where, quite frankly, we haven’t seen this year.”

As for Floyd’s future with the team, Keim said those are discussions that will be made internally. But “whether a guy returns to your team or not, listen, we get emotionally attached to these guys. I want the best for all of them. He’s a guy I am rooting for and hopefully he can turn it around with five games left in the season and have some success for his livelihood. You never want to see a guy underachieve or have the misfortune of hitting the market and getting underpaid. I’m hoping all these guys have success. If they have success, we have success.”

— Keim was asked whether first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche should be playing late in the season.

“Until he earns it and learns how to be a true pro, he has to sit,” Keim said.

Keim compared it to the learning year for D.J. Humphries last season. “It’s on Robert,” Keim added. “He has all the skills, which is the good news, to be a great one. But until Robert understands what comes with being a great player, he’ll be on the bench. That’s the thing Coach and I have always been committed to. Regardless what your salary is, regardless of where you were drafted, you’re going to have to earn your spot on the field.”

— More generally for the future, “we have some plans and ideas in place we think will strengthen this team going forward,” Keim said. He added that as disappointing as the season has been, he believes there are enough core pieces in place — both in age and contractually — that whatever happens after the season with player movement “I don’t think it’s a complete revamp of this team to make it better.”

— Humphries at left tackle was a bright spot, Keim said. The GM said Humphries looks natural at left tackle (which makes sense, since that is Humphries’ natural spot.) As for Ulrick John, Keim said he thought he did a “nice job” until late in the game, when some twists and stunts got to him and right guard John Wetzel.

— Keim lamented the lack of a big play when needed. He was particularly disappointed with the Calais Campbell offsides on the punt late in the game — a play in which the Cards weren’t even rushing the punter — which kept an eventual TD drive alive.

— He was asked about a possible problem with chemistry. “That’s a good question,” Keim said. “In my position, when you put together a team and you look at it on your board … and we’re potentially more talented than we have been the past three years when we had success, but at the same time these guys have to come together.

“I don’t think it’s any secret we haven’t done that yet. It’s the little things, the accountability. That’s a great question and it’s hard for me to answer. Only the 53 guys in that locker room can answer that.”


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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 5:10 pm

For a few minutes, it was exactly how Bruce Arians wanted it to be all along.

Carson Palmer, with a clean pocket, threw perfect chunk passes off play-action. David Johnson picked up six yards running just falling forward. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the first possession for the first time this season. Arians was thrilled.

“I take a lot of pride in that stat of scoring first,” Arians said.

The Cards couldn’t get a stop, though. They couldn’t get a stop all game when they really, really needed one. I take that back, they did to begin the second half – but then the offense had a three-and-out in their lone full possession of the third quarter.

That’s frustrating, Arians and everyone else asked about it will say. But that’s expected. There isn’t any one part of the game (unless you go with David Johnson himself as a part of the game) that has been excellent.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters, the one-time Falcon, shook his head at the lack of consistency. He was talking about the defense, and there is certainly reason to look at the defense that way. But the offense and special teams haven’t been able to find any either. That’s why they can shred a defense for an easy 75-yard drive to start, and have just 109 yards total in the second half.

That’s why the Cards are stunningly only 4-6-1.

“We’re 4-and-6, that’s our reality,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’re too talented to be under .500.”

— Arians is beside himself about the receiving problems. Smokey Brown gets hurt again. Michael Floyd drew a pause and an “I don’t know” from the coach, after a game in which he could have made a huge fourth-down catch and he did not. Floyd’s season will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.

— Arians said the Cardinals used more maximum protection on pass plays Sunday than any time since he has been coach. The group was not perfect, but I did think they held up – at least until the end when the Falcons figured a pass was coming every down. I fully expect that group – from left tackle over, Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel, John – to remain the starting five.

“I really would like to see it on film, just to critique the small stuff,” Humphries said. “But I felt the way stuff was shuffled around and the wat we had to pull together in a short time, it was a good outing. But it wasn’t good enough. Clearly.”

— Mathieu talked again about accountability in the locker room. I don’t know if he has things in particular he is thinking of or if he just feels like, when you are losing, people need to go under the microscope. It may be the latter, because he said in the same breath they have to stick together. That will be tested these last five games.

— Patrick Peterson hurt his knee. He said he got kicked by the cleat of Julio Jones on D.J. Swearinger’s interception. We’ll see what that means for him this week, although he said it was “painful.”

— Swearinger’s reputation earned him that interception he made. Jones beat Patrick Peterson on the in-route but Jones was staring straight at Swearinger as Jones made his way across the middle. That moment of lost concentration – and that knowledge Swearinger lights up receivers going across the middle – caused the bobble and Swearinger was gift-wrapped an INT.

— Unfortunately, Swearinger couldn’t hold on to the interception later, which would have stalled a Falcons’ TD drive. But the way it went Sunday, that might’ve been a band-aid. Not sure the Cards could’ve stopped the Falcons enough.

— Well, the Cards and Peterson didn’t let Jones beat them. So …

— The series of plays before halftime was a well-executed as anything the Cardinals have done this season. The loss buries the plays, but after the Swearinger interception, the Cards had just 25 seconds at their own 37. A 17-yard pass to J.J. Nelson that may or may not have been incomplete. Rushing to the line to run a play and make sure it wasn’t reviewed. Then Palmer hit Fitz, who in one motion slid to catch a 10-yard pass and called timeout, using only four seconds of the five left and allowing Chandler Catanzaro to boot the 54-yard field goal.

Yes, I’m looking for silver linings.

Cardinals Falcons Football


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Floyd, Mathieu active and a new O-line

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 9:34 am

The Cardinals will have both wide receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) on the field today against the Falcons. The Mathieu news wasn’t unexpected. Floyd worked out for head athletic trainer Tom Reed before the game and looked OK. It makes the inactive list one devoid of big names, unless you want to count first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche, who has been there more often than not this season.

One other player active today is guard Earl Watford, among reports there could be changes on the offensive line today. We’ll see of D.J. Humphries gets a chance to play left tackle and/or Ulrick John plays right tackle. If there are changes now, it would seem to be production-based, since everyone is active. UPDATE: And the changes have been implemented, based on pre-game warmup. Humphries is the left tackle, Mike Iupati the left guard, A.Q. Shipley still at center, John Wetzel at right guard and John at right tackle.

The full inactive list:

— WR Marquis Bundy

— S Christian Bryant

— LB Sio Moore

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Ed Stinson

 


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Friday before the Falcons

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2016 – 3:48 pm

Steve Keim has looked at his offensive line since the day he started. He signed Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati as his most high-profile free-agent additions. He drafted D.J. Humphries with the idea he could eventually upgrade at tackle over Bobby Massie. He signed Evan Mathis as a veteran to be the other guard this season.

We know how it’s turned out so far.

Veldheer and Mathis are done for the season with injuries. Humphries has gone through growing pains this year after sitting all of last year. Iupati, banged up himself, has struggled of late. Fellow guard Earl Watford, Mathis’ replacement, has also been banged up this week. The players off the bench are inexperienced.

As Carson Palmer said this week, continuity is ideal along the line — and the Cardinals have not had continuity. Not anymore. That isn’t to say there weren’t issues anyway, but juggling up front is not what you want. The Cardinals will likely need to score Sunday in Atlanta, since the Falcons are the league’s top scoring team. We might see a steady diet of David Johnson running, but it’s not like the Falcons don’t know that either. In a season of up-and-down offensive production, the tenuous nature of the offensive line has not helped.

“We’ll have five of them out there, for sure,” coach Bruce Arians said.

— Michael Floyd might yet play Sunday even after hurting his hamstring and missing Thursday and Friday on the practice field. But it seems like anything that could go wrong for the free-agent-to-be wide receiver this season has.

— Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will have Patrick Peterson on him most of the game Sunday. Teams have sometimes had a cornerback “travel” to cover Jones, but Jones said it usually comes with a caveat.

“Teams have been trying to do that, but they’ve been playing a lot of two-man while they were doing it,” Jones said. “They’ll take their ‘OK’ corner and put him over me and then just have safety help, and try to put the better corner on the other side, try to let him lock that side down. Pat P, it’s just usually one-on-one.”

— So it turns out neither Peterson — for his unnecessary roughness call for knocking down QB-turned-WR Sam Bradford — or Tony Jefferson — for his hit on the still-trying-to-go-forward Stefon Diggs — were fined for their play. It’s fair to wonder if that means the league disagreed with the calls. Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson was fined $18,231 for his fourth-down hit on Palmer that extended the Cards’ final drive.

— The Vikings offensive linemen weren’t happy with Peterson about the hit. But Arians defended his player, not surprisingly, starting with the fact Bradford was lined up as a wide receiver and no longer had quarterback protections.

“That’s my understanding, and he just threw a flea-flicker on the exact same play, so don’t let it happen,” Arians said. “(Peterson) did what he was coached to do.”

As for the Vikings offensive linemen being upset, “Well, they shouldn’t have threw the flea-flicker the first time then,” Arians said. “He ain’t going to let it happen a second time.”

— The Cardinals are trying to get past an interception drought. They have now gone four games without one, the last time picking off an opposing QB coming way back on Oct. 17 when they nailed Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. Matt Ryan has just five interceptions this season (compared to 24 touchdown passes) but the Cardinals have gotten to Ryan in the past. He threw four interceptions against the Cardinals in Arizona in a 2013 game, and five picks in a game against the Cards in Atlanta in 2012. (Alas, the Cards still lost that 2012 matchup.)

— If Carson Palmer throws two touchdown passes, he’ll surpass Joe Montana on the all-time TD passes list. Palmer sits at 272, Montana 273.

When Palmer was asked about it, his response just reinforced to me my thought Palmer has every plan to play in 2017, regardless of how this season has gone/will go.

“What excites me about the game is the anticipation for Sunday, the process, going through and getting mentally prepared and physically prepared, obviously,” Palmer said. “There is no doubt that it would be an honor to do that, but I love playing the game because I love Sundays.”

— So atlantafalcons.com apparently does weekly simulations about the game ahead, and this week, they had the Cardinals winning the game, 21-19, behind David Johnson’s two touchdowns. So there’s that.

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Potential of Humphries playing left tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2016 – 1:33 pm

In training camp, Bruce Arians had said if Jared Veldheer ever got hurt, D.J. Humphries would move from right tackle to the left side. That didn’t happen when Veldheer went down for real — John Wetzel moved into the lineup. But perhaps that could change now.

Thursday, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin did not rule out the possibility of Humphries moving to the left side now. Both starting guards — Mike Iupati (knee) and Earl Watford (shoulder) have been limited in practice. Wetzel can play guard, and the Cards also have Ulrick John, a right tackle whom they acquired earlier this season.

As far as Humphries moving, “we’ll see,” Goodwin said. “Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. He’s an athletic guy. He had some flubs last week in the red zone, especially on third down. But he’s getting smarter. I don’t know what we’re going to do. We will see on Sunday.”

The Cards have a lot of younger offensive linemen in play now. Goodwin’s approach? “Try and keep the curse words to a minimum and be positive at all times.”

As for what linemen will start against the Falcons, Goodwin was mum.

“We just have to have five guys out there, and I’ve got to do the best I can do coach them up,” Goodwin said.

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Arians blunt on Nkemdiche evaluation

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2016 – 2:34 pm

First-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche has been inactive the last two games — a healthy scratch, in hockey parlance — after playing the three games before that. The defensive lineman has only played in four games this season, earlier in the year derailed by a lingering ankle injury but of late hurt only by his own doing.

The Cardinals have plenty of defensive linemen, even when one or two are hurt, so Nkemdiche has been forced to earn playing time. And he’s not doing it. Coach Bruce Arians was asked about Nkemdiche’s progress.

“Talent, not an issue,” Arians said. “Maturity is. It’s just maturing.”

Arians said the same things about 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries, and the tackle never was made active the whole season. (Then again, since so many defensive linemen play and you usually stay static at tackle, it is in theory easier to get on the field as a D-lineman.) A few weeks ago, Arians was asked if the two situations were similar and he said yes. His evaluation has changed. Asked again if Nkemdiche’s spot was similar to Humphries, Arians quickly said “no.”

“D.J. worked harder,” Arians said.

It was a short yet emphatic statement about Nkemdiche’s place, especially since there were plenty of times last year when the Cardinals talked of Humphries’ need to mature. Arians likes to say rookies are usually ready to contribute by Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving eve, it does not sound like Nkemdiche is that close.

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