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Palmer active, but no John Brown against Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2016 – 3:56 pm

No surprise after Friday’s news, but wide receiver John Brown won’t play tonight against the Seahawks because of his leg issues stemming from a sickle-cell problem. I think there is optimism Brown will be back at some point. When that is is an unknown for now. Coach Bruce Arians said the team was working on a solution. Short-term, a game off makes sense.

Other than that, an expected inactives list. Jaron Brown (knee) is going to play. Carson Palmer (hamstring) is going to play. The full list:

— WR John Brown (leg)

— CB Brandon Williams

— LB Gabe Martin (knee)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Ed Stinson

— DT Xavier Williams

For the Seahawks, safety Kam Chancellor (groin) is inactive tonight. He didn’t practice all week so it isn’t a surprise, but it’s a key missing piece.

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Friday before the Seahawks, with Smoke down

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2016 – 3:38 pm

All week, the talk was Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer. Then comes the Friday curveball: Palmer should be OK to play Sunday, but Smokey Brown isn’t OK. Brown has the sickle-cell trait that is causing leg pain, coach Bruce Arians said. I’m not a doctor and there is precious little information (Brown was not in the locker room to answer questions Friday), but it doesn’t sound great. But it does sound like it can be helped now that the Cardinals and Brown know about it — plenty of NFL players have the trait. One, former Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers, tweeted he has it (and that he recently talked about it for an article.)

No, I don’t know what this means long-term or even short-term for Brown, although Arians wouldn’t rule him out for Sunday’s game. Still, it’s a jarring finish to a week that I’m sure the Cardinals would have liked to be a lot more stable heading into such a game with the Seahawks.

— At least Palmer is playing. Is he 100 percent? Clearly not. But there never seemed to be any doubt about his availability. One way to read the tea leaves when it comes to the starting QB — given that Drew Stanton is the only other QB on the roster, as long as they don’t activate Zac Dysert from the practice squad, you have to feel that they are confident in Palmer. Otherwise, they’d want Dysert available just in case.

— Michael Floyd had fallen behind Brown on the depth chart. Now, it looks like Brown might not play. And Floyd frequently does well against the Seahawks. This is his time. Will he take it?

— With Palmer dealing with his hamstring and Brown hurting, it would seem to point even stronger in the direction of heavy David Johnson Sunday. Easier said than done against a very good Seattle run defense. If you look back to the lousy games the Cards have played against the Seahawks, the terrible imbalance in rushing yards (547 for Seattle, only 86 for the Cardinals) is a big reason why. Johnson himself was held to 23 yards on 11 carries last year.

— The Cardinals (who, yes, have trailed big most of the time in those games, costing them chances to run) haven’t rushed for more than 30 yards in any of those three games. In contrast, Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown scamper in Seattle last season covered 48 yards.

— Tracking down Russell Wilson will be a key, as usual. Wilson isn’t running nearly as much (only 35 yards rushing thus far, after hurting his knee early in the season) but it’d be naïve to think losing track of him won’t kill the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals have done a great job with their four-man rush. Maybe that will help allow the Cardinals to use a robber/spy in the middle of the field to watch Wilson.

— You know the Cardinals are looking closely at the Seattle offensive line, and in particular, left tackle Bradley Sowell — the former backup here. “Bradley looks like he’s the same guy that he was here,” Arians said. “Tough, plays hard. Has had some problems, but he’ll play extremely hard against us.”

— Curious to see if the Cardinals feel there is a place to use the seven defensive backs-approach at all. The first time they used it against the Jets, it was three guys up front, money linebacker Deone Bucannon (who some might still see as a safety and therefore an eighth DB) and then a bunch of defensive backs.

It not only worked ex-Seahawk Tharold Simon into the mix but Justin Bethel saw his first defensive action of the season. If not for his foot problems, Bethel would’ve gotten a shot at that No. 2 CB job that has become Marcus Cooper’s.

“I like the fact that they came up with a package to start giving me something on defense,” Bethel said, who admitted it might not mean a lot more work. “We brought in a lot of good guys. Coop’s been playing great. Tharold has been playing great in ‘penny’ situations. As long as they’re playing the way they are, there’s no point in taking them out. I think they’ll find ways to get me out there, and I’ll do whatever I can do to help us get these wins.”

— A reminder that the parking lots will open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

— Another reminder: One week from today the NFL Network will premiere its “A Football Life” episode about Pat Tillman.

— One more thing to reflect upon with the Seahawks coming to town: Last year, the Cardinals actually were only down 10-6 in the second quarter (they missed an extra point) before it got sideways. In 2014, the incredibly short-handed Cards were leading 3-0 midway through the second quarter. It’s not just about matching the Seahawks’ intensity to start but matching it through the whole game. We’ll see if the Cardinals can make that happen.

See you Sunday.


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Cardinals have their guard(s) up

Posted by Darren Urban on October 20, 2016 – 9:43 am

It was not good when both Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati got hurt in the same game, something that could have crippled the Cardinals’ offensive line. But perhaps it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

Earl Watford slid in to Mathis’ spot — the spot that, in theory, Watford was drafted to play back in 2013, bookending with hopeful future left guard Jonathan Cooper. John Wetzel, a tackle by trade, filled in nicely for a game-and-a-half for the hobbled Iupati. All the Cardinals did in those two games was dominate in the running game.

Bruce Arians gave the entire offensive line (and running back David Johnson) game balls for the 171 rushing yards against the Jets.

Iupati should be back this week, sending Wetzel back to the bench. But if there is another injury at some point, the Cardinals have to be much more comfortable if Wetzel has to come in and play guard. Thinking long-term, however, the Cards may have some options beyond 2016. Iupati will still be around, but Mathis’ career is likely over, his one season in Arizona never really getting going because of multiple injuries. Watford is going to be an unrestricted free agent. Maybe he is brought back, the man to replace Mathis in 2017. If not, perhaps Wetzel is a candidate to fill in on the line, another big lineman who has really come out of nowhere to be a viable possibility.


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Keim on David Johnson: “You wonder if he’s real”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2016 – 8:15 am

Everyone knows the story now, that the Cardinals sought Ameer Abdullah in the 2015 draft and only took David Johnson a round later because the Lions jumped up and drafted Abdullah ahead of the Cards. Yes, you have to be lucky and good sometimes. But after Johnson ran through the previously No. 2-ranked rush defense in the Jets Monday, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Johnson has been so impressive both on and off the field, “you wonder if he’s real.”

It was a pure compliment. When you talk to Johnson, Keim said, he’s smart and articulate and humble. A “true professional,” Keim said. And on the field of course, he’s been excellent. “B.A. gives him a hard time” Keim acknowledged, and Bruce Arians is willing to quickly mention what Johnson needs to do to improve despite his gaudy stats. “But the things he does for this offense puts a defense in a bind.”

Keim said he’s always seen Johnson’s skillset to create mismatches in the passing game. But Johnson’s evolution into a “pure runner,” Keim said, is noteworthy.

“He has really improved, particularly his patience and vision,” Keim said.

More Keim thoughts after the Cardinals got back to .500 Monday night:

— Keim said he liked the resiliency of the Cards fighting back to .500, although there is still a long season left. The Seahawks game is big, but (not unexpectedly) Keim said it was important because it’s the next game.

— Lots of praise for the defense. He said the Jets game was the first time he had seen the unit play fast and loose with minimal mental errors. It’s a tough unit when it plays like that, Keim said. When it was suggested that the defense is morphing from a blitz-first group to one who might do a little of everything (the Cardinals certainly finally have a group that can get to the quarterback with just four, especially when the four are Jones, Golden, Campbell and Okafor), Keim said “more than anything, I just think they are starting to jell.

— Keim praised the play of Chandler Jones. “He impacted almost every play.” He also specifically named Markus Golden, fellow linebackers Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter, and the play of two of the newer defensive backs, Tharold Simon and Marcus Cooper.

— Tyrann Mathieu continues to take steps forward. Keim said he doesn’t think the safety is 100 percent back yet, not from a movement standpoint. But “you definitely see signs of improvement.”

— It would be “huge” if the Cardinals can get Michael Floyd going in the second half of the season. But Keim said the Cardinals still want to do the same with the Browns — Smoke and Jaron — and even J.J. Nelson, who contributed quite a bit Monday night.

— Speaking of Jaron Brown, Keim did not have any injury updates.

— The offensive line and new guards Earl Watford and John Wetzel “did an excellent job” considering the opponent. The Jets had only given up one rushing touchdown coming into the game, Keim noted, and the Cardinals scored three. “Those guys stepped up for the circumstance they were put in,” Keim said.


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Jets — and B.A.-Bowles — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2016 – 11:40 pm

For me, the moment was a couple of plays before Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was after Palmer had delivered a couple of lasers on out routes to Smokey Brown, passes Palmer seemed to have had some issues with earlier in the season. But here the Cardinals were on the New York 33. On first down and second down Palmer threw incompletions, and Palmer was hammered to the turf both times. Not ideal, but Palmer got up both times.

And on third down, with a decent pocket but still some pressure, Palmer stood tall. He stepped into the throw. And he delivered a bullet to Jaron Brown for a first down.

That felt like the Palmer — and the Cardinals’ offense — that had been absent. Things might go awry, but the quarterback would stand tall and deliver when needed. In some ways, the second half Monday night was vintage Palmer. It wasn’t necessarily 2015 Palmer, because the Jets were not going to let the Cards beat them deep and the Cardinals are definitely running more than ever before. David Johnson makes that smart. But while Palmer’s numbers aren’t going to fetch an MVP, they were good in context. The Cards might just be where they want to be.

It gets harder. The Seahawks come to town next Sunday night. The Seahawks, who have beat the heck out of the Cardinals in each of the three games they have played the Cardinals in Arizona since Arians arrived. But the performance against the Jets, that was one to note.

— The teacher definitely bested the student. Todd Bowles has some injuries, and he definitely doesn’t have the talent on the back end. But Bowles wasn’t going to give up the deep stuff, so the Cards ran and ran and when they threw, it was in front of the defenders. Smart playcalling by Bruce Arians, and good execution.

— Floyd had a TD catch, but it’s clear that he’s not coming back up the depth chart for now (although if Jaron Brown is banged up, that could be a factor.) The guy who made some plays Monday was J.J. Nelson, including on a couple of jet sweeps. I like that wrinkle.

— Speaking of wrinkles, having six or seven defensive backs on the field at times was interesting to watch. Justin Bethel was getting his first defensive snaps of the regular season, and Tharold Simon also got some work. Now, if Tyrann Mathieu can turn flashes into what he was pre-injury …

— Robert Nkemdiche was active and played a handful of snaps. “I couldn’t even see him out there from my angle,” Arians said, deferring his analysis until he saw the tape. “I didn’t see him on the quarterback,” Arians added with a smile. “I would’ve seen that.”

To be fair, Nkemdiche did knock down one pass and was credited with a quarterback hit.

— He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but linebacker Chandler Jones had a heck of a game.

— It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals actually had D.J. Swearinger on their practice squad for about a week last season. He’s been a nice pickup that went under the radar. His quality play is magnified with no Tyvon Branch around.

— It was a good night for DJs overall — Swearinger, right tackle D.J. Humphries and David Johnson. Not so good for Williamses (All three guys named Williams on the roster were inactive.)

— What else can you say about David Johnson, other than superstar in the making? What’s funny is he missed a blitz pickup and was dwelling on it — “(Number) 25 (Calvin Pryor), that was definitely my guy,” he said.

You don’t want your QB to get whacked on the blitz. But it feels a little bit like picking at nits. Yes, the Cardinals want Johnson humble. But everything expected of him before the season? He’s that guy. And those expectations were kinda big.


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Nkemdiche gets to play against Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2016 – 3:58 pm

So, after all that, rookie Robert Nkemdiche will be active tonight against the Jets.

It was will-he-or-won’t-he all week, with Nkemdiche and Bruce Arians both sounding optimistic the defensive tackle would be active for the game and then Arians on Saturday sounding less so. But now that we are here, Nkemdiche will be dressed out. How much he plays is another story. It’s Nkemdiche’s first game since the opener, when he got 10 snaps against the Patriots. Since then, he not only was healing from his ankle but also battling himself when it came to prep and knowing the plays. He’s passed the test this week.

The full list of inactives:

— CB Brandon Williams

— RB Kerwynn Williams

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Xavier Williams

— G Mike Iupati (ankle)

— TE Hakeem Valles

— DT Ed Stinson (toe)

For the Jets, linebacker David Harris is out but cornerback Darrelle Revis is active. ESPN is reporting Revis will cover Larry Fitzgerald. Also, Patrick Peterson lost the bucket challenge this week:

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Saturday before the Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2016 – 1:44 pm

The New York Jets are finally visiting University of Phoenix Stadium, in the building’s 11th season. The last time the Jets were in Arizona was 2004, and there is only one person in the locker room — player- or coach-wise — who remembers. Larry Fitzgerald rattled off a couple of details, including the fact Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma led the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant at Sun Devil Stadium.

“We’ve got some things we have to change about the culture,” Fitzgerald said he remembered thinking.

The culture has changed. The Jets come into town for Monday’s game and their head coach is actually from the Cardinals. Todd Bowles has a team struggling at 1-4, and he won’t find a stadium quite as inviting as the Jets did back in ’04. (Such an ugly game, too. Shaun King started at QB for the Cards and was bad. Josh McCown came in in relief but couldn’t rescue a 13-3 loss. Denny Green turned to — of course! — rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre the next week in Detroit. That didn’t go well either.)

This one needs to end with a lot happier ending for the Cardinals. A chance at .500 awaits.

— When Bowles was hired by Bruce Arians in 2013, Arians said he was hoping Bowles would groom his DC successor because Bowles would hopefully be getting a head coaching job soon. It took Bowles two seasons, and in fact, the new defensive coordinator did come within the staff when James Bettcher was hired. So, Bettcher was asked, did Bowles groom you?

“As a position coach you are trying to do your job the best you can, because one thing about coaching, if you don’t do a great job with the job you’ve got, the next thing doesn’t come,” said Bettcher, who had been outside linebackers coach. “Todd was great about explaining the whys — here’s why I’m doing this, here’s why I think this way. I had the office right across from his, so I had the opportunity to walk in and ask, ‘Why do you see it this way.’ Not questioning what he is doing, but to understand what he is thinking.”

— The Cardinals remain the only team not to score in the first quarter this season. Arians has tired of the subject. “I’ll just take a win,” Arians said. “I don’t really care anymore.”

That doesn’t mean the message as disappeared. “Trust me, we’re harping on it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “And trust me, they are feeling the pressure.”

— Along those lines, Arians continues to script his top 30 plays, the best the Cardinals have each week. Red-zone and short-yardage also get scripted. “You could do it, bro,” Arians said to a reporter, noting that they are already picked. In fact, Fitzgerald mentioned that the scripted plays are good — the players need to execute them.

— Fitzgerald weighed in on the issues teammate and fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd is having. “Mike’s fine. Mike’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “We saw what he was able to do last year. It just takes one big plas to spark him. As a teammate, you just remind him how important he is to the offense.”

Arians has been doing the same thing, while trying to get Floyd to take too much thinking out of his game. The Cardinals will keep throwing Floyd’s way, Arians has repeatedly said.

“It’s just like lining up for a four-foot putt after missing five of them,” Arians said. “You don’t really feel good about the next one but you’ve got to make it.”

— Fitzgerald is rated as the top wide receiver in the NFL at this point by Pro Football Focus. His numbers are good — 31 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns — but they are great in a passing offense that isn’t what it was a season ago (at least, not yet.) Fitz, however, shrugged off his personal start.

“I don’t care how we win,” Fitzgerald said. “At this stage in my career, if David Johnson runs for 160 yards every week and we win, I’m good. I’m good, man. And I think everybody else feels the same way.”

— Speaking of running, Goodwin doesn’t call the plays. But make no mistake, he’ll let Arians know what he thinks. And he’s also made no secret he’s of a more conservative bent when it comes to play selection.

“I’m always going to say run it, run it, run it, run it, run it,” Goodwin said. “But we pay guys to catch balls too, so we have to be nice to them.”

Goodwin said with a smile he was definitely in Arians’ ear in San Francisco, urging the ground game. “One of these times, he’s probably going to tell me shut the hell up.”

— In case you missed it, red-hot Markus Golden (six sacks) is all about setting an example for his family.

— Terrible news Saturday that former Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, who played with the team in 2012, died in his sleep at the age of 32. Groves was a good guy. Had a giant chain with a huge lock in his locker, meant to represent his family sticking together. He was a key figure in that crazy 2012 upset of the Patriots in New England, blocking a punt and sacking Tom Brady. Rest in peace.

— Bowles, on the difference between Arians now and Arians as 30-year-old head coach at Temple back in the day: “At Temple, he probably was fiery every second,” Bowles said. “Now, he probably can go every five minutes.”

Might be a little more often than that Monday night. This is a big one for B.A.



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The Cards and playing in primetime

Posted by Darren Urban on October 14, 2016 – 8:43 am

The Cardinals are in the midst of a three-game stretch of primetime games — “Thursday Night Football” in San Francisco, “Monday Night Football” against the Jets early next week, and then a home “Sunday Night Football” game against the Seahawks. These games under the lights have been fairly good for the Cards, and it’s been suggested that this is a franchise that flourishes in such matchups.

To be sure, Bruce Arians has done a nice job in his tenure. The Cardinals are 8-3 in primetime games since Arians arrived in 2013, and that’s including the Seattle “SNF” loss in late 2014 when injuries — particularly at quarterback — undercut that matchup before it even arrived.

But the Cardinals have also been a good team under Arians, and, as with most situation, the Cardinals do well under the lights when the team is good — and struggle when the team isn’t as good.

Starting with the University of Phoenix Stadium era — the 2006 season — the Cards have played a total of eight “Monday Night Football” games and 12 games on either Sunday or Thursday night. Their overall record? 10-10. Last year’s excellent team went 5-0 in such games, just another ancillary highlight from a fantastic season. It doesn’t mean there weren’t other memorable nights, win or lose — like the Monday Night Meltdown, how Derek Anderson takes certain things serious, finding a way to beat the ageless Brett Favre or how one team is always 8-8 — but these days, it’s always about the result and how the Cardinals can improve their playoff chances.

Certainly, these next two games, even if they were played 9 a.m. on a Friday, will be crucial. The Cardinals are hoping their latest primetime run of six wins of their last seven carries over.


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Slow starts cost Cardinals later Carolina time

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2016 – 1:22 pm

It wasn’t — somewhat surprisingly — made a primetime matchup, given the fact that the Cardinals and Panthers met in the NFC Championship game. But the Oct. 30 game in Carolina was given the late kickoff — 1:25 p.m. Arizona time, 4:25 p.m. in North Carolina — ostensibly so it could be showcased on Fox.

Then the Cardinals had their issues with a 2-3 start and the Panthers have struggled mightily, falling to 1-4 after a “Monday Night Football” loss at home against the Buccaneers. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Wednesday the NFL officially moved the Cards-Panthers kickoff, up to 10 a.m Arizona time. The Falcons (who are playing well and lead the NFC South) host the Packers that day in a game that was originally at 10 a.m. Arizona time and now gets that open 1:25 p.m. slot on Fox.

What it means is a much earlier start for the western team, and the one game the Cardinals had with such a time this season didn’t go so well (an ugly loss in Buffalo.) The Cards will leave on Friday that weekend to try and get acclimated, but it is an early start.

(Then again, the Cards got a night start in Carolina in January, and that didn’t turn out well either. So …)


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Kerwynn Williams, and juggling the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2016 – 10:09 am

The life of a player on the fringe of the roster is not easy. Kerwynn Williams knows this. The running back was re-signed by the Cardinals Tuesday. He had been signed a week ago after Chris Johnson went on IR, and then when the Cardinals needed an extra tight end because Darren Fells was injured — the Cards promoted practice squad tight end Hakeem Valles — Williams was the one they cut, just a few hours before kickoff against the 49ers. Now that Carson Palmer is just about healthy, the Cardinals found a roster spot for Williams again, letting go of quarterback Zac Dysert.

Williams lives a tough reality. He’s not a special teamer (he can return kickoffs, if needed) so he’s not a guy that makes sense to be active unless you need him to run the ball. He’s no longer practice-squad eligible. But he’s proven many times he can run the ball, and run it well. If he had been PS-eligible, he very well would have made it over Elijhaa Penny.

But with Johnson down (at least for now; there is a chance CJ2K will return this season) Williams makes a lot of sense as an extra runner. Andre Ellington will be David Johnson’s official backup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams finds a way to get some carries over the next few weeks.

That is, of course, assuming the Cardinals don’t need to find a roster spot again.


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