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Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2017 – 3:23 pm

J.J. Nelson wore an ice bag on his side, courtesy of the first hit he took in the game Sunday. The last one left more of a mental bruise – one in which it looked like the wide receiver would make the final score look a tad better on a 29-yard touchdown catch from Carson Palmer, only to have the TD erased and the ball lost when replay showed Nelson losing a fumble at the 1 and through the end zone.

“I was just trying to make a play, stick it out there (across the goal line),” Nelson said, shaking his head. “The guy hit me, and made a nice play.”

The score wouldn’t have really made a difference, but it figured to end like that. The loss in Philly couldn’t have been much uglier (although someone on Twitter suggested it was the Cards’ worst game in 10 years, and wow, that anyone could forget the 2012 Seattle trip stuns me). All the Cardinals’ current issues were laid bare – a failure to run, problems on the offensive line, an inability to score, giving up too many big plays – and then you add it a breakdown on third down defense. The Eagles weren’t just converting third downs but long third downs.

The backbreaker, although the game was basically secured by then, was the 72-yard TD on third-and-19, with the blitzing Cardinals unable to get to the quarterback. That was a common theme. The pass rush took a step back, and whether that was Markus Golden missing or something greater, it’s not a great sign.

Bruce Arians took the blame a couple of times in his press conference. He said he didn’t have the Cardinals ready to play. From a 40,000-foot level, seems an apropos assessment.

— The offensive line started Earl Watford at left guard. At one point, when right tackle Jared Veldheer had to leave briefly with a knee issue, the line was, from left tackle to right tackle, John Wetzel, Watford, A.Q. Shipley, Evan Boehm and rookie Will Holden. Veldheer did come back into the game, although Arians said Veldheer will be sore (and said the same about DT Corey Peters, who also left for a time with a knee.)

If Veldheer is OK, and maybe D.J. Humphries and Alex Boone can come back next week …

— It did seem like Arians stuck to the run more. It still didn’t produce. Only 2.2 yards a carry.

— Larry Fitzgerald keeps grinding. He didn’t have a catch for a while until grabbing one for a reception in his 200th straight game. He finished with six receptions for 51 yards.

— The Cardinals have lost long snapper Aaron Brewer with a broken wrist/hand, Arians said. So they’ll be in the market. Josh Mauro and Boehm filled in and did OK. But the blocked field goal was because of the snap. It wasn’t bad, it was just a tick slow – which is all it takes for a guy coming off the edge.

— Haason Reddick did play some outside linebacker, but he was having trouble getting past the blocking when rushing the passer. There will definitely be a learning curve there.

— Palmer didn’t have bad stats, but they could have been. He was nearly picked off three times on plays that were broken up by his wide receivers. Nelson had one and John Brown had two, showing off two different cornerback skills. The first Smoke did a nice job simply knocking it away. The second was in the hands of Jalen Mills – and Brown timed his hit perfectly, landing a heavy body blow as Mills was coming down, jarring the ball loose.

It was a day to seek such silver linings.


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Watford returns to get start in Philly

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2017 – 8:29 am

With no Alex Boone today (he’s unable to play because of his pectoral injury) the Cardinals will turn to Earl Watford to start at left guard, after Watford made his homecoming this week — both to the Cardinals, after leaving as a free agent, and here to Philadelphia, where he grew up. It’s yet another incarnation of the Cards’ in-flux offensive line, which will feature its third different starting lineup in five games.

The Cardinals will have their other two questionable players active: Wide receivers John Brown and J.J. Nelson. Cornerback Tramon Williams, who was inactive last week, is back to active status with new addition Scooby Wright not dressing.

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— WR Chad Williams

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Scooby Wright

— T D.J. Humphries (knee)

— G Alex Boone (chest)

— DL Robert Nkemdiche (calf)


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That Philly feeling, Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2017 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals are en route to Philly right now, the fifth trip there since 2008, and the previous four have had some memorable moments. The 2008 game was the ugly Thanksgiving night beatdown, with the Cardinals losing by four touchdowns yet coming out of it not afraid at all of the Eagles (which showed a couple months later when they beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) The 2011 game was an improbable 21-17 win with John Skelton throwing a pair of perfect passes on the game-winning drive, one on a wheel route to the Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and then a bomb to Fitz. In 2013, Bruce Arians’ first year, the Cards lost 24-21 when a late pick by Patrick Peterson was wiped out by a flag on Tyrann Mathieu, a penalty the Cards weren’t thrilled was called.

But it was the last trip that encapsulated so much with the Cardinals, especially in relation to where they are now. It was a 40-17 domination by the Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football.” The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title that night, an accomplishment that seems so much longer ago than 22 months. It was David Johnson’s coming-out party, with his Beastmode-like run and his career-best 187 yards rushing. And it was Mathieu’s devastating second ACL tear, that took all the wind from the excitement of the night and might’ve cost the Cardinals a chance at the Super Bowl.

The Cards have been a .500 team since then. Mathieu is still trying to find his groove. Johnson is hurt and cannot help. Chasing a division title is still a goal, but there is much to be fixed for that to be a topic.

— The Cardinals not only will have the early start Sunday – 10 a.m. Arizona time – but there might be a little rain. Bruce Arians doesn’t care. “They are all excuses,” the coach said in his opening statement Friday. It’ll be the first game the Cards will have played outside this season.

— After two rough games, right tackle Jared Veldheer was the highest-graded offensive lineman from the San Francisco game and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said he was “proud” of Veldheer. “The biggest thing for him is gaining confidence but I was pleased,” Goodwin said.

— Arians, who was hired as Temple’s head coach at age 30 and left the job in part because it literally was making him physically sick, was asked if in-his-30s Arians would have imagined himself still coaching now (Arians turned 65 earlier this week).

“I would hope so, if I wasn’t dead,” Arians said. “That job down there killed me.”

— Another Philly guy is Earl Watford, who just signed this week and now could be in the starting lineup at guard Sunday. It looked like Watford’s days as a Cardinal were over, having played out his contract and with both sides ready to start fresh. But here we are.

“A lot of people would think that, but it’s just another opportunity,” Watford said. “I’m glad to be back here. To be familiar with people, playbook, coaches, I’m excited to be here.”

— Linebacker Haason Reddick now finds himself in the outside linebackers meeting room, trying to cram for a new role after the loss of Markus Golden. I’m very curious to see the snap spilt between he and Kareem Martin.

— Reddick, who is technically from New Jersey but lived just five miles from Philly and went to school there at Temple, said his call for the best cheesesteak comes from Max’s and he’s going to try and get some teammates to join him there.

As for the best way to eat a cheesesteak, it’s American cheese for Reddick. “I don’t do Cheese Whiz.”

“Cheese Whiz is a tourist attraction,” Reddick said. “Anyone who is really from Philly, I’ve never seen them put Cheese Whiz on their cheesesteak. I think that’s a little bizarre.”

(To be fair, it looks like an ongoing debate.)

— Carson Palmer has taken a lot of hits – 43, officially, in four games. “Hey, I don’t want to see him get hit,” Goodwin said. “Mr. Bidwill is paying that guy a lot of money.”

Part of that is the Cards’ lack of run game. Palmer is passing so much he’s inevitably going to be hit more, just like he’s on pace to obliterate his personal highs in attempts, completions and yards. But that doesn’t absolve the pass protection – or the struggles therein. Goodwin said he woke up early last week and the protection issues popped into his mind so quickly he just got up and came to the office. It was 4:30 a.m.

“That’s my job,” Goodwin said. “I embrace the pressure though. It’ll never break me.”

— Finally, there’s the case of Fitz the Philly killer. He had a nondescript three catches for 43 yards in that 2015 blowout of the Eagles – and even with that game averaged in, he’s still averaged (including the NFC Championship game) more than six catches, 104 yards and more than a touchdown per game against the Eagles all-time.

“He’s the same guy all the time,” Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN.

The Cards wouldn’t mind some of that same ol’ Fitz Sunday.


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The (loss of) Markus Golden effect

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2017 – 4:27 pm

Earlier in the week, Bruce Arians noted that the loss of Markus Golden went beyond the field, that losing him “takes a lot of the spirit out of the defense.” That’s understandable. There are always certain guys every year that are the emotional bellweather of a team or a side of the ball. Tyrann Mathieu was that guy in 2015, which is one reason why things got sideways after his ACL injury.

Golden radiates that energy. It’s cliche to talk about a “motor” but that’s just a tangible name to give to what emanates from some players. Players like Golden. I always found it interesting to talk to Markus in terms of motivation, like in camp when I asked him about the idea of getting into a season that could be the last for guys like Fitz and Palmer. He said that’d be good, but he was looking to win a title not for those guys but for himself and the team. There aren’t many sidestreets for Golden when it comes to football. There’s one highway to race down, and that’s about going 100 percent all the time and hopefully having it mean a win.

That’s the spirit that Arians spoke about. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said he wasn’t concerned about it. “But certainly aware,” Bettcher added.

“It’s something that, when you have guys like that who run around, who chase balls from the backside, or jump on pile guys, guys that play with such a high energy or high motor, when you lose a guy like that, you are aware of that,” Bettcher said. “The challenge is for other guys to assume that identity, for other guys, whether it be Kareem (Martin) or Haason (Reddick) on the field, they need to play with their hair on fire.”

Having the next guy play hard is one thing. But to be driven like Golden is, to me that’s a personality trait and not something that can be learned. You are or are not, to paraphrase Yoda. So we will see what the defense is or is not now that Golden isn’t around.


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Jaron Brown, ACL workhorse

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2017 – 9:22 am

Jaron Brown is coming off his career-best performance, gaining 105 yards receiving on eight catches and making a pair of important grabs in overtime as the Cardinals beat the 49ers. But perhaps more impressive has been the way the wideout has come back off the ACL tear he suffered in October of 2016.

Brown played 99 snaps in the overtime game — 82 at wide receiver, 17 on special teams — to continue a heavy workload he’s had all season. With John Brown’s quad injury and J.J. Nelson’s recent hamstring issues, it’s the guy who is less than a year removed from tearing an ACL that has stepped in and up. His snap totals for each game, working backwards, have been prolific:

— 82-17
— 76-15
— 50-12
— 55-15

Brown had said as soon as the offseason started last year he was confident in being ready for 2017. Through four games he already has 205 yards receiving, just 24 yards short of his current season-best. Always a behind-the-scenes kind of personality, Brown just shook his head at the idea of a 99-snap game.

“I never really get into counting them,” Brown said. “I just wake up the next morning, get out of bed and get into the cold tub.”

He added, “I definitely feel it.”

Regardless of the ACL comeback, Brown — who is playing on a one-year deal and will be unrestricted after the season — is an important cog. This week, with the rough news of Markus Golden’s own ACL injury, Brown provides hope for a teammate that a quick recovery toward a productive season can happen.


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Keim: Managing the injuries

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2017 – 8:15 am

Sunday’s game wasn’t the textbook win, but Steve Keim doesn’t much care about that. “Anytime you can win a game ,it’s a positive,” the GM said Monday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “I would’ve preferred to win 38-10, but I think winning a game like this early in the season can do some things for your team internally to build confidence.”

The Cardinals are now 2-2, but Keim, once again could have a significant injury with which he has to deal. This time it’s linebacker Markus Golden, who is getting an MRI after hurting his knee. “I’m always fearful anytime a player can’t return to the game,” Keim said. “If I was going to bet on anyone, I would bet on Markus for two reasons. One he walked off the field and I’ve had two ACL (injuries) and I know what it’s like. And there’s no tougher player on our team in terms of playing through pain.”

UPDATE: Ian Rapaport is reporting that Golden is out for the season after tearing his ACL.

Still, Keim said it’s his job to have a “plan in place” if there is a player lost. Losing Golden would be a blow. Keim said it would be “hard to say” if left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) will be back this week. Guard Alex Boone (pectoral) might be ahead of schedule, Keim said, but he too is iffy.

— The Eagles are another team with a good pass rush and the fractured nature of the offensive line gives pause. The Cardinals managed to protect Carson Palmer pretty well in overtime Sunday as opposed to a rough afternoon the rest of the game. But Palmer was hit 16 times, which is way too many, and they have to find a way to drop that number.

— Keim wasn’t saying wide receiver John Brown, who is still dealing with the quad issue, is 100 percent healthy. But he “just brings another element to the offense that we’ve missed.” The question is how well Smoke bounces back. Brown played in the opener and found that his quad got worse. The Cardinals have to hope Brown can start playing every week.

— There was praise for Palmer — “Two weeks in a row Carson has played very, very well,” Keim said, but again, there is the obvious: Without better protection, Palmer’s success is somewhat limited.

— There were too many holding penalties on the offense, while the defense did some bend-but-not-break work to keep the Cards in it (and the way the Cards’ D performed in the fourth quarter was excellent, to force overtime.)

— Keim said running back Andre Ellington is playing with a lot of confidence, which isn’t  surprise given that Ellington is now healthy. “He is a natural fit in this offense, especially in the passing game,” Keim said.

— As for 11? “To finish is with a kiss by Larry Fitzgerald was special,” Keim said.


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Niners overtime aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2017 – 7:53 pm

Two overtime games, two wins. It’s not ideal, the way the games got to overtime, because in both cases the offense couldn’t score the kind of points that were expected against the competition – the 49ers gave up 41 to the Rams their last game before keeping the Cards out of the end zone all the way until the final play – but the Cardinals made it work in beating San Francisco, 18-15.

It was close. A 17-play field goal drive almost sapped all of the now-10-minute overtime period before the Cardinals could even get the ball. Thanks in large part because of the previous OT game at University of Phoenix Stadium – the 6-6 tie that ate up all 15 extra minutes last year – overtime was changed to 10 minutes. Bruce Arians, on the competition committee, was part of that, and don’t think it didn’t cross his mind as time ticked down.

“I was kicking my ass for bringing up this 10-minute overtime rule, but it worked out pretty good,” he said.

Things are not perfect. At this rate, Carson Palmer will not last the season getting hit so much. He was hit 16 more times Sunday, bringing his season total to 43, with 17 sacks.

“I’m tired, but hopefully we have a walkthrough Wednesday and we don’t have to practice,” Palmer said.

There were some key penalties too, ones that prevented the defense from getting off the field in overtime, especially. But there was an offense that was clicking in the extra frame, there was a Smokey Brown sighting, a Jaron Brown career-high 105 yards, and there was Fitz. And there was a win.

— There is no official update on linebacker Markus Golden and his knee injury, but it’s never a good sign to see a guy writhing around on the ground after it happens and then later getting up to walk off. That usually means the writhing was less about pain than anger about something bad, and multiple reports say it could be torn ligaments. We will see what happens. Carson Palmer talked about Kareem Martin getting his chance, and if Golden is down, Haason Reddick can play some rush linebacker too. But losing Golden, sackless but the team’s 2016 leader, would be a rough one.

— I was thinking John Brown’s two-toes-down OT catch in the end zone was going to be overturned.

— From my view, it sure seemed like the 49ers got very conservative in OT. I get it — the Cardinals had done little on offense, and you figure a field goal might be too much to overcome — but I thought the Niners should’ve gone for the kill. It end up biting them, especially when they were playing that prevent defense, for whatever reason.

— Andre Ellington did have a couple of drops, but he too had a TD-that-wasn’t that left Cardinals scratching their heads on the call, and he was huge in overtime. His catches on the first two plays, dump-and-runs gained 11 yards each and jump-started the offense.

— The Cards got good receiving production from both Ellington and Chris Johnson. Now they just need to get production in the running game.

— Fitzgerald ended the game with a game-winning touchdown. He began the game with a blocking assignment on rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, and it didn’t go well. Thomas belted Palmer on an incompletion.

“The first play, I felt so bad,” Fitzgerald said. “I had to block a defensive end and got him hit. I told him as soon as (I could), ‘Carson, I’m so sorry man. I’m sorry, man.’ ”

Understandable. That’s not why Fitz is out there. Asked why he was blocking Thomas, Fitz just said, “I don’t ask those questions.”

— Fitzgerald becomes the only player in NFL history with an overtime touchdown catch in both the regular season and the postseason.

— I want to go back at look at the video. I didn’t notice right tackle Jared Veldheer in a bad way as I had the previous two games. With the pressure Palmer was under, it doesn’t mean he was perfect. But I want to see him against the others across the line.

— Kicker Phil Dawson goes 4-for-4 on field goals. The Cards win. But he said it doesn’t make up for missing three field goals in the first three games. “There’s no getting those back,” Dawson said.

— Patrick Peterson had a big smile, telling me he was 8-0 in overtime, dropping last year’s tie with Seattle. Close, Patrick, but not quite. You’re forgetting the 2012 overtime loss to Buffalo, the game when Jay Feely booted a 61-yard field goal to tie it. Peterson is now 8-1-1 in 10 OT games since arriving with the Cards.

And the Cardinals are 2-0 this season, which keeps them breathing in the NFC West.


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Humphries will not play against 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2017 – 11:31 am

D,J, Humphries is not playing yet, and that will leave the Cardinals with a seriously depleted offensive line this week. With Mike Iupati going on injured reserve and Alex Boone unable to play after hurting his pectoral muscle, the Cards will keep John Wetzel at left tackle and use rookie Will Holden at left guard today against the 49ers. (It’s been a big week for Holden, who proposed to his girlfriend on the field after Monday night’s game.)

As previously noted by coach Bruce Arians, receivers Smokey Brown (quad) is active for the first time since the opener, and J.J. Nelson (hamstring) will also play. How much each is able to play will be something to monitor.

Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, who has played little the first three games, is also inactive for the first time.

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— RB D.J. Foster

— WR Chad Williams

— CB Tramon Williams

— T D.J. Humphries (knee)

— G Alex Boone (chest)

— DL Robert Nkemdiche (calf)

 


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Painter promoted as Iupati goes to IR

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2017 – 11:56 am

Bruce Arians had said a roster move was likely with the news Mike Iupati was likely headed to injured reserve, and the Cardinals did so Saturday, promoting tackle/guard Vinston Painter from the practice squad. Iupati was officially placed on IR with a triceps injury.

Painter was just added to the practice squad a couple of weeks ago, and has been around in his brief NFL career. Painter — 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds — was a sixth-round pick of Denver in 2013. Since then he has spent time with the Browns, Giants, Dolphins and Redskins. With all the injuries, another offensive lineman was needed. If D.J. Humphries can’t go Sunday and Will Holden has to play, Painter would join Daniel Munyer as the only healthy backups on the line.


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A banged-up OL, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2017 – 4:03 pm

Well, this is where the Cardinals are. In a week in which Friday finally felt like the day where the offensive line wouldn’t be the major topic, it became the major topic. It’s not so much that Mike Iupati is likely headed for IR – he hadn’t been playing – but Alex Boone is also missing time and Bruce Arians was anything but clear about D.J. Humphries’ availability.

I mean, even OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin is working on the gallows humor. “I’m planning on suiting up sooner or later,” he said.

It’s not like the game is going to be canceled. If Humphries is in there, fine, but if he can’t go, it’s probable we’ll see rookie Will Holden in the lineup, with he and John Wetzel in some combo of guard/tackle on the left side. Not ideal, and that’s even if the right side of Evan Boehm and Jared Veldheer were playing well, which has not happened of late.

Carson Palmer played well last week. The Cards moved the ball. Offensively, with John Brown back to at least play a little, the Cards have some guys who can help gain yards. But the line has to keep Palmer upright. It’s not unfair to wonder how that can happen.

“As you saw, because (the media) was writing earlier in the season Carson doesn’t have it anymore, that’s not the issue,” Goodwin said. “As long as he is protected, the ball is going to come out, it’s going to go to the right place and we’re going to score points. If he’s not protected, we’re going to struggle.”

— Bruce Arians was asked, now that the Cards have been through a couple of games, when the offense most misses the injured David Johnson.

“Every play,” Arians said. “Either fake it to him hand it to him or throw it to him.”

Sounds about right.

— I am curious to see how Andre Ellington is deployed. Brown may be back and I expect J.J. Nelson to play, but both probably won’t be their explosive selves. Ellington is really that only guy right now.

— Having Larry Fitzgerald go deep for a couple of long passes Monday night was some excellent nostalgia. How much it can happen, realistically, is another story. It’s not so much Fitz can’t make the catch in traffic. You still trust him in jump ball situations. But Fitz’s ability to get down the field fast to be in position to try for one isn’t what it was, and with the problems with protection, can the Cards keep Palmer up long enough to get Fitz where he needs to be?

— Deone Bucannon won’t be playing all the time, not yet, but this is where we get to see how the Cardinals want to deploy him with Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby. I want to see the package – assuming there is one – that has both Bucannon and Reddick. DC James Bettcher said you don’t want to have too many specific packages, because it hampers the other nine or 10 players who would be on the field.

— Two numbers that, to me, are poison to the Cardinals right now: Allowing opponents to score TDs on 87 percent of red-zone visits, and averaging 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball. One on each side of the ball. They have to change.

— Don’t forget Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame bust will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday from 12-4 p.m. if you want to get a picture. Warner will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday’s game.

— Holden proposed to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line after the Monday night game.

“Football has been a big part of my life and a big part of her life now,” Holden said. “She’s been with me since day one at Vanderbilt. I felt like that was a special place.”

— See you Sunday. The Cardinals want to at least be .500 after the first quarter of the season. Even though the 49ers are 0-3, that’s not a lock.


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