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The bar set high for Floyd catches

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2014 – 10:25 am

Michael Floyd went catchless last game, for the first time since his rookie season, and he had a brief scare when he landed on his knee trying to make a catch on the sideline. It probably says something about Floyd — something good — that he was asked to make a couple of difficult receptions deep down the field and when he couldn’t, it was a surprise.

Floyd was targeted four times in the game. All four, in theory, could have been completed. If you are holding Floyd (and, also, quarterback Carson Palmer) to a high standard, maybe you say should have been completed.

“Wouldn’t say (Floyd) should have, but he has come up with them in the past,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Sometimes I get disappointed because some of those are great catches, but when you make great catches you set a standard, and that’s what everybody expects, as I do, for him to come down with those balls.”

– The first came in double-coverage traffic in the end zone on what would have been a 35-yard TD on third-and-13. Floyd just couldn’t hang on (as you can see in this video.) But he had a shot.

– The second came on the throw down the sideline on first-and-10 from the Arizona 48. Floyd was open. It was a nice throw. But Floyd couldn’t hang on as the ball hit him in the arms (it’s hard to tell if he would’ve been inbounds, but it would’ve been close) and then his left knee hit the ground hard. Arians said Floyd is fine, although Floyd was on the injury report (practicing full) Wednesday. It would’ve been a gain of about 35 yards again.

– Floyd missed the rest of that series, but on the first play of the next one, again, after Floyd came off hurt, the Cardinals tried to burn the Eagles with that knowledge. Arians ran a flea-flicker on first-and-10 from the Arizona 38. Floyd got behind the defenders, but Palmer overthrew him, and it certainly looked like Floyd’s knee cost him the chance to be at top speed to try and run down the pass. It’s at least a 40-plus-yard gain if the two hook up.

– The final target was a third-and-2 short slant. Floyd was open, but safety Malcolm Jenkins simply makes a nice play to hit Floyd just as the ball arrives.

If anything, it just goes to prove what the Cardinals have for available weapons. Floyd has morphed arguably into the Cards’ top receiving target. He gets shut out, and Larry Fitzgerald is the NFC’s best offensive player and Smokey Brown blows up.

FloydBlogUSE


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Patrick Peterson cleared to practice

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 1:28 pm

Patrick Peterson acknowledged he briefly was knocked out Sunday when he collided with Jeremy Maclin and Deone Bucannon, ending his game. But the cornerback has cleared the concussion protocol — he did it Tuesday — and was back at practice Wednesday as the Cardinals prep for Dallas. He even was going to golf Tuesday after he passed, which his doctor OK’d. His wife, however, did not and Peterson instead took it easy.

“I feel normal,” Peterson said. “It was a scare, but you have to move forward.”

Peterson has upgraded to a new helmet.

– Fellow defensive back Tony Jefferson has not yet been cleared through the concussion protocol, however. Coach Bruce Arians is hopeful he will be cleared by Wednesday. Running back Stepfan Taylor, in the meantime, won’t practice because of his calf injury and won’t play this weekend but said he already feels much better and called his status “week to week.”

– On a conference call, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said he wanted to play against the Cardinals but will be reevaluated daily with his back bruise suffered Monday night. If it were just a question of pain tolerance, Romo said, he’d play. But also in the equation is his ability to be an effective quarterback, and that will factor in as well.


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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

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Taylor injury thins RB options

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2014 – 9:57 am

Andre Ellington has been the Cardinals’ running back workhorse, with increasing carries the past couple of games. This team was always in a position where they needed Ellington to stay healthy and perform, given his skill set. That just becomes more important now, as Stepfan Taylor — Ellington’s backup — is expected to miss “significant time,” according to coach Bruce Arians, because of a calf injury.

(Feels like the Ellington-Taylor story might have been a jinx. … OK, not really.)

Taylor didn’t have a carry against the Eagles before going out with the injury in the second half. But it now means that the top two backs that were supposed to support Ellington — Jonathan Dwyer and Taylor — are not around. And this is all while Ellington is playing through a bum foot. The Cardinals have explored adding a running back through trade but nothing has been that close to happening and now, Marion Grice — a rookie sixth-round pick of San Diego who was cut and on a practice squad before the Cards signed him — is the Ellington backup. You’d think at some point, the Cards will have to add a back to the 53-man roster. Kerwynn Williams is an option from their own practice squad. Robert Hughes simply has a different role.

Of course, if Ellington can stay on the field, maybe it doesn’t matter as much. Ellington took every one of the Cardinals’ 23 rushing attempts against Philly. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin has said a couple of times he thinks Grice can play the same kind of role Ellington does. The Cardinals may have to find out, at least on a limited basis.

UPDATE: The Cardinals made a practice squad move to give them running back options, bringing local guy Zach Bauman back to the practice squad and releasing cornerback Anthony Gaitor.

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After Week 8, Cardinals best team in NFC

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2014 – 9:49 pm

Maybe the Cardinals are first and foremost survivors. Maybe they need to find more of a pass rush and be more consistent offensively. (Maybe those aren’t maybes.) Regardless, after tonight’s Washington overtime upset win in Dallas, the 6-1 Cardinals are alone at the top of the NFC standings.

It doesn’t change the impact of the coming road trip to Dallas. If the Cardinals lose, they are still in good shape as they hit the season’s midway point. But they won’t be the top team in the NFC. With nine games left on the schedule, a lot can still happen, with five games inside the division, with the Cowboys, with the 6-2 Lions coming to Arizona. Always nice to be in control of your own destiny, though.

The Cowboys game got a little more interesting, though. DeMarco Murray was great again. But Tony Romo had to leave the game with a bruised back, and while he came back in, you wonder if Romo — who had back surgery in the offseason — will have any lingering effects. Plus, the Redskins blitzed the heck out of Romo, leading Romo to comment about how much the zero blitz came. Clearly, he hasn’t watched any Cardinals’ film yet.


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Keim: Peterson protocol, and a Coop chance

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2014 – 8:13 am

There isn’t much new to report on cornerback Patrick Peterson this morning, but General Manager Steve Keim said during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Peterson was “in good spirits” as he left the stadium last night and will go through the concussion protocol before he can return to the field. “It’s not different than Drew Stanton’s (situation),” Keim said, referring to when Stanton suffered a concussion earlier this season. Stanton eventually was able to pass his concussion tests and was active the following week, although Carson Palmer was back by then and Stanton didn’t have to play. You figure if Peterson is active, he’s going to play a lot, so we’ll see how he reacts to the tests and the exertion he would have to give. Every concussion is serious, but every one is also different, and there’s no way to know right now how this will affect Peterson.

– The other “news” from Keim: Keim said Bruce Arians and the coaches have been praising how well guard Jonathan Cooper has been looking in practice and how he is beginning to look like the guy everyone in the organization was so high on last year before Cooper broke his leg.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next couple of weeks we try to work him back in there,” Keim said. “I know he was in there a little bit (Sunday) on some short-yardage stuff and some unbalanced, but he continues to improve and we certainly have not lost any faith in him.”

Keim was asked to define what he meant to work Cooper in. “Little bit of guard, and it’s been no secret Paul Fanaika has been banged up a little bit and when you have a player with Coop’s ability, you have to try and get him some snaps sooner rather than later.”

– Keim said he could’ve given a game ball to a bunch of different players, not surprising the way it turned out. “It was nice to see Larry (Fitzgerald) have such a good game,” Keim said, and agreed that veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has been a major addition. “Sometimes you worry about the amount of snaps he’s playing, but he has been a breath of fresh air,” Keim said.


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In the last-second, Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2014 – 8:31 pm

As the clock wound down and Nick Foles was trying to get the Eagles in for a touchdown and the Cardinals were trying to hang on to the lead and the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd was deafening, it was hard not to have a flashback standing on the sideline.

No, Sunday’s game in no way matches the Cards’ NFC championship win. But it was a big win, and it certainly caused a few heart palpitations of its own, given multiple throws into the end zone that ended up very close to game-winning scores. The heady play of Rashad Johnson to shove Jordan Matthews out on the final throw – Nate Poole would like to remind everyone the force-out rule was abandoned long ago – capped a win that frankly, seemed improbable the way it played out.

But the Cardinals weren’t getting too giddy after beating the Eagles. Which is a big reason they’ve gotten to 6-1 in the first place. Sure, they get a Victory Monday, but the focus won’t wane.

“You know what our reward for today’s win is?” Larry Fitzgerald said. “A road trip to Dallas to play against the NFC East-leading team.”

Still, you have to wonder, as the Cowboys prepare to play the Redskins Monday night, if those players noticed that they have to play the NFC West leaders next week. The Cardinals have holes, yes. And they seem to overcome them every single time.

– The defense will not get enough credit for Sunday. They gave up a ton of yards (521). Foles threw for a ton of yards (411 – yeah, that pass defense ranking isn’t helped). But yet again, the scoreboard read only 20 points allowed. They twice forced turnovers as the Eagles smelled their goal line and another time held them out of the end zone to force a field goal – a stand that proved to be the difference in the game.

– They did all of that without Patrick Peterson. That scene, where Peterson was face-down on the turf after the helmet-to-helmet-to-helmet collision he had with Jeremy Maclin via the Deone Bucannon hit, was frightening. Peterson tweeted he was OK after the game, and Bucannon said Peterson was OK – OK in the grand scheme of things – but a scary moment. It’ll be interesting to see if he can be ready for the Cowboys.

– Peterson goes out, and that’s when you are very happy to have an Antonio Cromartie. And a quickly-getting-better Tyrann Mathieu.

– I counted eight deep shots (including the 30-yard pass to Fitz and a 25-yarder to Smokey Brown) Sunday. Palmer connected on three, including Brown’s 75-yarder at the end. There was a flea-flicker to Michael Floyd in the first half that was out of Floyd’s reach, otherwise it too might’ve been a TD. It’s a reason why Palmer completed only 20 of 42 passes.

– But 20 of 42 can be overcome when you generate 329 yards. And when you take no sacks and throw no interceptions. Another amazing day taking care of the things that hurt an offense bad.

– Oh, and to think Palmer had a nerve problem that wasn’t even letting him throw much at all three weeks ago. Could he have made the throw to Smokey Brown two weeks ago, Palmer was asked? “I’ll say yeah,” Palmer deadpanned. “Because you can’t prove me wrong.”

– The Cardinals need better pressure on the quarterback, but Arians felt moving the QB “off his spot” meant something. Unfortunately, Foles is pretty good “off his spot” – like on his 50-yard bomb on the run to Riley Cooper – but they did what they could.

“We’d like to sack him, but if he’s off the spot …. He hurt us off the spot, and we lost containment once or twice, but just to get him off the spot and disrupt the play,” Arians said.

– The Cardinals live and die with the blitz. So do the Eagles. That’s what cost them on the Brown TD.

– Interesting Andre Ellington was the only Cardinal with a rushing attempt in the game. Although 23 carries for 71 yards won’t be the production the Cardinals want or need.

– This one was memorable, for sure.

AftermathHappyUSE


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Campbell playing; Grice active for first time

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2014 – 11:26 am

The big if not unexpected news: Defensive end Calais Campbell is active today and will be playing for the Cardinals. That isn’t a shock with the way Campbell was talking Friday.

I know I’ve gotten more questions about a rookie sixth-round pick that was already cut once than I ever expected, but for all those waiting, Marion Grice will be active for the first time today for the Cardinals. That’s the guy the Cards pick to replace their third quarterback active, which Logan Thomas was last week. Grice, given the way the Cards would like to run the ball, could see some action today. Linebacker Desmond Bishop is also active for the first time since being re-signed.

Here’s the full Cardinals’ inactive list:

– QB Logan Thomas

– LB Thomas Keiser

– LB Glenn Carson

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– DT Bruce Gaston

– G Earl Watford

– TE Troy Niklas (ankle)

For the Eagles, RB Darren Sproles (knee) and C Jason Kelce (hernia) are inactive. Starting LB Mychal Kendricks is active.


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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.

EllbeforeEaglesUSE


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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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