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Searching for more yards each run

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2017 – 1:32 pm

What Bruce Arians said about the run game Monday in terms of the fourth-and-1 that didn’t get the 1 is what got the headlines. But before that, Arians again brought up the overall struggles of the Cardinals running the football.

“When you look at the game, that tells the story,” Arians said. “When (the Texans) have 10 out of 16 third downs and six or less, and we have three or four, whatever it was, six or less, because they’re running the ball, and we’re not. You want to stay in manageable down and distances, whether penalties or whatever, we’ve got to play the game at better, manageable third downs.”

Adrian Peterson started the game with carries of six and then seven yards. But after that, the Cardinals could not grind out yards. He had 12 carries after that, for 16 yards. Up until his final carry — the infamous fourth-down try, where he lost a yard — his four carries before that had been 3, 4, 3 and 4 yards. (So perhaps there was some reason why Arians felt the Cards could get one.) Still, the Cards need more production.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell tweeted out this stat: The Cardinals are averaging only 3.01 yards a carry this season from their running backs, and only three teams since 2001 have averaged less than that (one of which was the 2005 Cardinals and their 2.98-yard average behind Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington and throwing to Fitz and Anquan Boldin every play.)

There is a lot that goes into this — David Johnson’s injury early and the loss for the majority of the season from run-blocking tackle D.J. Humphries, in particular. That Peterson averaged 5.2 and 4.3 yards a carry in his two big games — and had 63 total carries in those games — and the average is still low just highlights the issue.

It makes it tough to get manageable third downs. One thing that sticks out to me, however, was the comment by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin a couple of weeks ago, saying from Peterson he only needs two yards and then two yards to get the offense to third-and-6. That would be something he could work with.


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Keim: Looking at receivers, and Gabbert praise

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2017 – 8:13 am

Bruce Arians said after the game Sunday he would be looking at different receivers potentially going forward. GM Steve Keim echoed that sentiment Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

“We’ve been looking at wide receivers in a lot of different scenarios,” Keim said, noting that the current group — outside of Larry Fitzgerald — haven’t made the plays they had made in the past. That includes consideration of signing guys off the street, Keim said, as well as potentially poaching one from another team’s practice squad.

Who is catching the ball is one of the storylines going forward, as is who is throwing it. Keim praised Blaine Gabbert’s play —  calling him decisive, saying he got the ball out quick and was accurate “for the most part” — as one of three players who really jumped out to him on a positive note. (The other two, of course, were Budda Baker and Ricky Seals-Jones.) He said Gabbert wasn’t helped by a lack of run game or the drops. (A quick aside: Pro Football Focus said the Cardinals only dropped two passes but it’s clear Arians and Keim thought it was more. Keim said six in his interview. I’d have to go back and watch, but at first glance I didn’t not think Sunday was as bad as the Seahawks game.)

Keim gave no hints on who might start at quarterback this coming week. He did say Drew Stanton’s knee was healing quicker than expected. He also said the quarterback decision would be made by Arians, but “we’ll talk it through and it’ll be a team decision.” (In my opinion, it sounded like Keim would lean to giving Gabbert another start. We will see.)

— The inability to run the football is getting under Keim’s skin. “Some of it is getting our tail whipped at the point of attack, some of it is fundamentals,” he said. Keim was disappointed in the blocking from the tight ends, and it the ability to block at the second level.

— Baker is “fun to watch. He plays at a different speed.” Keim loves both his explosive movement, his physical play and how much ground he can cover. He is “fantastic” in pass coverage, Keim added.

— Asked about the fourth down call, Keim said “I have a lot of faith in Coach.” Noted that Arians did drop passes, miss tackles or get dominated on the line of scrimmage, all of which were issues Sunday.

— Keim was asked about, with a 4-6 record, he was now going to focus on the future in terms of roster building and also perhaps how the Cardinals determine playing time. Keim said he’s looking at every scenario as always, scanning practice squads for other players, scouting college players, combining a look at the future as well as now. In terms of playing time, he used the Seals-Jones example of giving a guy a shot who also in term makes things better short-term. “If other guys aren’t getting it done, give other guys an opportunity,” Keim said.


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Texans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2017 – 4:25 pm

The focus going in to Sunday’s game was the quarterback. That made sense. The Cardinals were on their third one of the season and it is the most important position on the team. And for the most part, Blaine Gabbert acquitted himself pretty well. There were the two picks late, and you can’t have those, but the Cards were chasing 10 points by then.

No, it was the issues that have been around all season that doomed the Cards in Houston. A running game that has echoed the struggles of the pre-Adrian Peterson ground game. A defense that makes some plays but just can’t clamp down when the team desperately needs it. An offense that needs to find more consistency overall.

— Drew Stanton was healthy enough to be the backup Sunday. Could that mean he’s healthy enough to start next week – and does Bruce Arians drop him right back in? (I know the public-at-large’s answer.) Gabbert did look very comfortable, and he clearly has some chemistry with rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. That makes sense, because Seals-Jones and Gabbert have been working together on third team since the offseason. We’ll see. It’s fair to point out the Texans secondary has struggled quite a bit against the passers it has seen, and next week’s game against the Jaguars will feature one of the better secondaries the Cardinals have seen.

— Speaking of secondary, the Cardinals sure look like they have a star-in-the-making back there with rookie safety Budda Baker. He was everywhere Sunday. He was great on defense and continues to play so well on special teams – I repeat that he deserves (heavy) consideration for the NFC’s Pro Bowl special teams spot.

— Bruce Arians opened his press conference by taking the blame on the failed fourth down. I’ll admit I was on the move when the play happened, seeing it on the TV screen as I made my way down to the field. But I agree that the Cards had been stuffed all day inside. There wasn’t much to get, but the Texans made it obvious the wanted Gabbert to try and beat them. It was going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson on every run play, and the fourth-down try was only the one in the spotlight.

–Peterson ended up with 13 yards on 12 carries after his first two totes gained six and seven yards.

— I do think the absent D.J. Humphries makes a big difference when it comes to the run game.

— The Patrick Peterson vs. DeAndre Hopkins battle was exactly how it was expected to go. Peterson did give up the back-to-back big plays, finishing with Hopkins’ TD. But he broke up/defended a bunch of other tries, and nearly got a second interception late in the game with perfect technique. It’s funny that his first pick was on a pass that wasn’t even thrown to Hopkins or at Peterson. A deflection, and the right place, right time.

— Speaking of missed chances on turnovers, the Cards were there. There were a couple of other fumbles on the ground by the Texans that the Cards just couldn’t fall on, in addition to Peterson’s near-pick. Tyrann Mathieu also dropped a deep pass that could’ve been an interception, although the play was wiped out by an Arizona penalty. The Cards need all the turnovers they can get. At least they converted their two short-fields into TDs.

— Arians said he’d be going to different receivers this next week. That would seem to me that Chad Williams has a chance to be active, but other than that, I’m not sure where you turn. Maybe more Brittan Golden? I don’t see them bringing up Carlton Agudosi from the practice squad, but who knows.

— As much as Tom Savage had struggled this season, it hurts to give up a 97.1 passer rating to him, and 31 points to the Houston offense without the aid of turnovers.

— Fitz was asked about playing in 2018. He did not answer, one way or the other, and wouldn’t even say if he’s still thinking about it. So he leaves everyone in suspense – and makes sure the questions keep coming probably more often than not the rest of the season.


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Foster in, Ellington sits, Stanton backs up

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2017 – 9:30 am

It turns out Drew Stanton is healthy enough to at least back up Blaine Gabbert today, and he will be active for the Cardinals against the Texans. In a surprising move, running back Andre Ellington is a healthy scratch — and former ASU star D.J. Foster will get his first chance to play this season. It’ll be an intriguing third-down possibility with Foster and the mobile Gabbert,

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams

— S Harlan Miller

— RB Andre Ellington

— LB Bryson Albright

— C Max Tuerk

— DL Corey Peters (ankle)


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Fitz remembers all, Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

The last time the Cardinals played in Houston in a game that counted, Larry Fitzgerald was only 22 years old, in the days when the Cards never talked about the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember. Fitz was asked this week about a 12-yard touchdown pass he caught in the game – a loss to a Texans team so bad they ended up with the No. 1 overall draft pick – and it took him no time to recall that it was the great John Navarre who threw him the pass.

“I have a photographic memory,” Fitzgerald said. “Slant route in garbage time. Fantasy owners were happy.”

Fitz proceeded to say he remembers almost every catch he’s ever made, and that’s quite a few. I mean, that’s 1,185 in his career and counting – a number that came into even sharper focus Friday morning with Fitz’s contract extension through 2018. As I said before, it’s good he’s under contract but for me, it doesn’t guarantee Fitz playing next season. Good sign, yes. But until I hear it from his mouth – I am guessing it will be a topic postgame Sunday – I can’t go all in.

This season, though, Fitzgerald is here and playing very well. If you can have a quiet 10-113 as a receiver, Fitz did last week against the Seahawks. With Blaine Gabbert starting Sunday, I’m guessing the new QB will lean on Fitz targets again, both because, duh, he’s a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, but also because of the troubles the pass catchers not named Fitz had with drops/near-catches against Seattle.

— It made a lot of sense all week that Gabbert would get the nod to play Sunday. He’s healthy. Drew Stanton is not. Bruce Arians wanted to keep Stanton in the lineup, and I do agree with B.A. that Stanton played pretty well against Seattle. Gabbert is playing because of injury but I also understand the idea of getting a chance to see what Gabbert can do, in this offense, in a game that counts.

— Fitz was asked if Gabbert’s success in the preseason gives him confidence in the new QB. It led to a long pause. “I’ve been in it a long time,” Fitzgerald finally said. “Preseason is preseason. I’ve seen him have success in regular-season games.”

— Interesting (to me, at least) that the Cards become the first team to start three QBs this season, given that it comes against the Texans. The long-ago loss in Houston, in which Navarre found Fitz? It was the only time the Cardinals have played three quarterbacks in a game. Kurt Warner started, completed all 10 of his passes (Fitz isn’t the only one who remembers all this stuff off the top of his head) before exiting with a knee injury. Josh McCown was the backup and came in, but he was horribly ill that day and he couldn’t continue. So the Cards turned to Navarre.

— Arians was asked about those receivers this week after the struggles they had collectively. “Practice is fine,” he said. “When those lights turn on … it’s going to be a big week for them.”

— The Cardinals have only played the Texans three times in the regular season. The loss in 2005, and the Cardinals getting home wins in 2009 and 2013.

— Stanton hurt his right knee when he was hit low by Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was flagged on the play (and it kept alive the TD drive that ended with the Stanton TD screen pass to Jermaine Gresham). Richardson was fined $18,231 for his play, and was not happy about it. Also fined $18,231 was Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was flagged for the hit to Russell Wilson’s jaw. Dansby is appealing, and the Seahawks are still dealing with the fallout for not properly checking Wilson for a concussion.

— Corey Peters has been solid in the middle of the defensive line this season. Not having him in the lineup is notable. The Texans are going to want to run to protect struggling QB Tom Savage. We will see who plugs the middle of the line.

— The Texans are putting former all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, their version of Fitz, into their Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday. Current star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was asked to name his favorite Johnson play. It turned out he named a reception over Patrick Peterson in Arizona in 2013.

Late in the game, Johnson was blanketed by Peterson, who actually got his hand on the ball and looked like he might get an amazing end zone interception. Instead, the ball bounced and Johnson somehow tipped it to himself and kept his feet in. (Here, look for yourself, around the 52-second mark.)

“I don’t know how he caught it,” Hopkins said.

— Fitz on Johnson: “He exudes class. He’s one of the best to ever do it. This is just a precursor to greater things down the road. He’s a Hall of Fame talent. I’m happy as a fan of his to witness and see it go up.”

— One final Fitz note. It was mentioned in his “A Football Life” episode that he buys suits for all the coaches. Fitzgerald said he’s been doing that “forever.”

“Our success on the field, it says our numbers, but those guys spend hours … (assistant head coach) Tom Moore is here at 4 o’clock in the morning every morning figuring out new innovate ways to be able to feature guys like myself and Adrian (Peterson),” Fitz said. “A lot of hard work was put into those schemes and you want to do right by those guys.”

“They all get custom stuff, make sure they look good. Some of them look better than others.”

See you in Houston.


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Fitz closes in on contract extension

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2017 – 5:25 pm

Multiple reports — first by Pro Football Talk — have Larry Fitzgerald closing in on a one-year contract extension with the Cardinals. (Pure coincidence, by the way, that I happened to touch on Fitz’s future — and his lack of a contract — this morning.) It’s no secret that retirement has begun to be a possibility for the wide receiver. Whether that has become less of a possibility for Fitz, I can’t say. He’s been steadfast in saying he will consider such things when the season is over.

What this move does tell me though is that the Cardinals want to make sure that if Fitz does decide to play in 2018, it is as a Cardinal. They made a similar move much earlier last year — training camp in 2016, for the one-year extension for 2017 — to get that certainty. You don’t want to be in a situation when the contract expires in the spring and Fitz doesn’t have a contract in place and he is a free agent. The Cardinals — and ownership — want to make sure Fitz stays right here as long as he is playing. We’ll see if the news comes out Friday. It would make some sense.

UPDATE: And the deal is now done.


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Larry Fitzgerald, 15,000 and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2017 – 9:41 am

With his 113 yards last week, Larry Fitzgerald surpassed the 15,000-yard mark in his career. It’s significant in and of itself, since only five other players have ever reached that milestone in their careers. It’s even better for Fitz when he became only the second player ever to have that many yards with one team. Jerry Rice — the NFL’s all-time receiving yards leader, by far, with 22,895 — had 19,247 in his time with the 49ers alone.

Fitz is having another excellent year, one magnified by the fact he’s 34. He needs only 227 more yards to put himself third all-time in the NFL, past Randy Moss. (He doesn’t figure to get another 869 yards this season needed to pass Terrell Owens into second place.) Fitz remains some 50-plus catches ahead of the also-active Jason Witten as having the third-most receptions in NFL history.

The move up the all-time lists, though, makes me think back to the interviews Fitz was giving last season. He is currently 140 catches behind Tony Gonzalez, who is second all-time. (Rice is 364 ahead.) He could shave the Gonzalez lead down to about 100 or so by the end of 2017, but he made clear “I don’t plan on playing that long to catch those guys” just last season. And in the grand scheme, you are reminded again that Fitzgerald has a future to think about, and that his contract runs out at the end of the season. This, by the way, is the latest Fitzgerald has ever gone in his career not having a contract in place for the following season.

UPDATE: How’s this for coincidence. PFT is reporting Fitz and the Cardinals are closing in on a one-year extension. It would not mean Fitzgerald definitely would play in 2018. But if he does, it makes sure it’s with the Cardinals — as if that was ever really a question.


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Keim: “I would not bet against” Stanton

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2017 – 8:11 am

Not surprisingly, GM Steve Keim didn’t have a lot of quarterback answers as he talked Tuesday morning on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. First thing was that he noted the Cardinals had yet to practice this week. The team gets a “bonus” practice today, and coach Bruce Arians will meet with the media later, with everyone wondering the health status of starter Drew Stanton’s knee.

“Drew is extremely tough,” Keim said “He’s the type of guy I would not bet against.”

If Blaine Gabbert did start, Keim said, Arians would cater to Gabbert’s strengths, which points to Gabbert’s athleticism. “I thought he looked comfortable when he had the opportunity to play early on (in preseason),” Keim said.

Keim said the idea of putting Gabbert in just to see what Gabbert can do going forward — balancing against the Cardinals having the best chance to win — is not a simple question. “You can go back and forth with that question,” Keim said, saying that if you turned permanently to Gabbert now and he struggled, “would you go back to Drew?” After Carson Palmer got hurt, Keim added, Stanton gave the Cardinals the best chance to win. Thursday was a good example, Keim said, because “Drew couldn’t have played much better. The receiving corps, frankly, let us down.”

— An interesting note with who could come off injured reserve. Keim called the process “fluid” and said there were five potential players who could still come back (the Cardinals can bring two players back total): Palmer, running backs David Johnson and T.J. Logan, guard Mike Iupati and … long snapper Aaron Brewer.

— Keim said there was no reason to overthink the signing of QB Matt Barkley. With Stanton banged up, it was an easy pickup of someone who has spent more than a year in the Arians offense and, if Stanton was out and Gabbert started and went down, Barkley “gives you an opportunity if he was forced into playing.”

— The move of Jared Veldheer back to left tackle was obvious at this point because the Cardinals wanted to have their best five offensive linemen on the field. “The sad part for me is that D.J. Humphries was playing so well,” Keim said. Keim reiterated Arians’ statement that Humphries should be healthy once the Cardinals’ offseason program commences in the spring.

— The Cardinals were already trying to get rookie safety Budda Baker more defensive snaps “because he earned it” but that will be accelerated with Tyvon Branch’s season-ending injury. Branch’s loss hurts on the field and the locker room, Keim said, but there is an excitement in seeing more from Baker, who has been the Cards’ best special teams player. “His ability to cover ground really puts him in a place where he can be a special player, in my opinion,” Keim said.


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Cast comes off for David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2017 – 1:49 pm

David Johnson’s cast officially came off Monday, and the running back tweeted about it. That part has been expected. Now the wait is on a couple of other factors as to whether Johnson actually could/will return this season. There is no disputing Johnson wants to get back on the field. But he did acknowledge rehab has to still take place — Carson Palmer was talking Saturday about the loss of strength and muscle in that area for himself and Johnson. That’s a major factor, especially for a guy who needs power and strength in his wrist to both hold the ball and pass protect if needed. No way to really know how long that would take.

The other part is where the team fits into the equation. As with Palmer, one of the factors for a Johnson comeback is the very basic notion of, for what? Whenever Johnson comes back, it needs to be for a reason. Will the Cardinals still be in playoff consideration? Even if they are not, is there reason to want to get him back on the field for another reason, like to see how he’d work with Adrian Peterson? Perhaps.

The cast had to come off first though. And it has.


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Stanton hurts knee, Gabbert could play

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2017 – 10:13 am

Multiple reports Saturday morning (first by Chris Mortensen) say Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton sprained his knee against the Seahawks Thursday night. Everyone could see the play — it came at the tail end of the first quarter, when Seahawks defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson hit Stanton low on an incomplete pass. Richardson was flagged for roughing the passer, one of a handful of penalties the Cards had on their initial touchdown drive. Stanton threw a TD pass on a screen to tight end Jermaine Gresham two plays later. In fact, Stanton played the rest of the game, throwing 47 passes, although he was clearly favoring the leg at times.

The Cardinals will reportedly re-sign Matt Barkley as a third-stringer, which makes sense because Barkley spent a season with the Cards in 2015. (UPDATE: Barkley tweeted Saturday night he was back with the Cardinals.)

Meanwhile, Blaine Gabbert could get a start or two depending on Stanton’s health. The Cardinals don’t play again until a week from Sunday in Houston. That would certainly resonate with the part of the fan base who have been begging for Gabbert to play. It doesn’t sound like Stanton has been ruled out for the Texans game. Players are off until Tuesday, so there will likely be a few days before this is officially addressed and even longer, I would think, before Stanton’s status for the next game is sorted out.


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