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Friday before the (biggest) Seahawks (game)

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2014 – 4:56 pm

First, a history lesson. Or at least a flashback.

I was there in New Jersey in 2012 as the life drained out of the Ken Whisenhunt regime and the Cardinals, when Ryan Lindley started against the Jets in what might have been the ugliest game ever. You remember, when the Cards nursed a 3-0 lead into the fourth quarter and eventually lost, 7-6. The game was striking because Lindley simply could not move the offense that day, and Whisenhunt refused to put in backup John Skelton.

Lindley completed just 10 of 31 passes for 72 yards, and that, more than the four interceptions he had against the Rams in a loss the week before or his Lions start that the Cards won because of defense and Beanie Wells, is what I remember most of Lindley 1.0.

What will Lindley 2.0 look like?

He’s had a week to practice with the first unit, and he’ll be playing with a better offensive line than he had back then. Honestly, I have no idea what Lindley will do Sunday, or how he will play. Sure, we could see the guy who has the 0-to-7 TD-to-interception ratio in his career. The Seahawks can make a lot of quarterbacks look poor (Drew Stanton didn’t exactly dominate against the Seahawks in the earlier game). But maybe he’ll be enough. Maybe, in a year where the Cards simply find a way to win at home every time, he’ll make the plays. Carson Palmer threw four interceptions just about this time last year against the Seahawks – in Seattle – and the Cards still managed to win.

That was because of defense and a commitment to the run, and the Cards should have both again Sunday. Lindley doesn’t have to be Aaron Rodgers. He just can’t be Lindley 1.0.

– The biggest thing that struck me this week was the confidence around the team. I’ve been around this franchise for 15 years, in this building the last eight. I know when the mood in the locker room skews bad, or when there is concern where the team sits. And from my vantage point, that isn’t the case right now.

I don’t know if that’s confidence in Lindley, or knowledge a playoff berth is already secure regardless of the outcome Sunday, or Arians’ trickle-down mindset. But mentally, the Cardinals are in the right place. We’ll see if that translates against the Seahawks.

– The Cardinals will wear their red-and-red uniform combo for the game. I could talk about what a great record they have wearing that combo, but I’m one of those that doesn’t believe uniforms make a difference, so, yeah. They are wearing red-and-red.

– Palmer was in the locker room after practice today, walking around although noting that was about all he can do at this point. He won’t be attending Sunday’s game, he said, because after about an hour of standing his surgically-repaired knee would swell considerably. He also wouldn’t want to think about getting hit on accident on the sideline – he’s not super mobile – and hurting his knee all over again.

“I’m too old for that,” he said.

– A hint for halftime Sunday if you are going to the game: You might not want to leave your seats. A special six-minute laser light and video show that highlights the season and pays tribute to the fans will be played. It incorporates 12 laser light projectors to create graphics on the field and the roof. Should be fun.

– Goodness, these Tim Tebow fans

– Defensive end Frostee Rucker played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC, and this week, Carroll  talked about how Rucker was a tailback coming out of high school.

“When we got him we weren’t sure where to play him because he was growing at an alarming rate,” Carroll said. “He was no longer in tailback kind of profile. We moved him around. He was such a good athlete and such a good player that we finally found a place for him to play on the D-line where he wound up.

“But he dotted the ‘I’ pretty well there at tailback in the old days — wing-T, he brought it to life when he was in the game.”

Rucker smiled when told Carroll remembered back then. “That was back in my heyday,” Rucker said, noting that his position change was the best thing for him. “I still need to thank him for that.”

The Cards will too. Frostee has been a lifesaver.

– The Cards need the run game. There are some wondering if the two-game surge in running production – 141 and 143 yards the last two games – was because of Jonathan Cooper’s insertion into the lineup, and if it goes away now that Cooper is out with a wrist injury. I think Cooper might have helped. It might have helped that Ted Larsen was playing the right side. It definitely helped that Kerwynn Williams got on the field. And if the Cards take a step back, it may be more about the defense they are playing than anything else.

– Got to keep Russell Wilson contained. Can’t give the Seahawks short fields, whether off turnovers or bad special teams play or poor punts. The Cardinals do that, I think they are in this game.

And if they are in the game in the fourth quarter, we’ll see what happens.

B4seablog


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Home means so much — now, and then

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2014 – 11:40 am

The  Cardinals are 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They are 13-2 at home since Bruce Arians became coach — a meaningless, close loss to the 49ers to close out the 2013 season, and the the 34-22 loss to the Seahawks in October of last year. The home-field advantage is real for the Cards, a big reason why this team still has the optimism it does going into this game despite having to dig deep into the depth chart for a quarterback.

Only three times have the Cardinals ever won more than seven games at home in a season, the most recent being 1925 and that total (11 home wins) was helped by the fact the Cards played 13 of 14 games at home. (That is a seriously unbalanced scheduling.) The Cardinals are the only team in the league to have given up 20 points or fewer in every home game this season.

Details of what player will be the QB aside, that’s ultimately what Sunday’s game is about. If the Cardinals win, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Literally, in fact, since that would include a Super Bowl appearance. If the Seahawks win, they are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, and it almost goes without saying the home-field advantage the Seahawks have in Seattle. There’s still a chance the Packers could be the top seed, and no one wants to play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau in January.

So it’s fitting that, for the Cardinals, it’s a home game that determines future home games — and possibly the direction of the entire postseason in the NFC.

Homefieldbloguse


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Quietly, Leach a backbone on special teams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2014 – 10:56 am

The ball came down basically directly above Mike Leach’s head, and much like Smokey Brown did against the Eagles, Leach played it perfectly. Of course, Brown caught the long pass, while all Leach — the Cardinals’ long snapper — had to do was smother the Drew Butler punt, which he did perfectly. The Cards won the game of field position in St. Louis, and the punt team was a big reason.

As for Leach, the 38-year-old veteran who never makes a snapping mistakes and who still covers punts like he’s 28, it was a fantastic play. It was one of the reasons the Cards have him around. Sure, he costs a little more than a young long snapper might, but you cannot put a price on near perfection at that spot. Leach will be there for you. He will do his job and do it well. And you can forget about it and worry about other stuff, like who will play quarterback or who contain Russell Wilson.

“I want to go out and not be noticed, to be honest with you,” Leach said. “It’s the nature of our position. Do your job and keep your head down and hope nobody sees you and Cat (Chandler Catanzaro) keeps making his kicks and winning his awards and Drew keeps doing great and Justin (Bethel) keeps making all the plays and those guys can get the attention. Then I can just kind of slide back into the bricks and not be noticed, that’s fine. If something happens, and if your teammates kind of give you a pat on the back, that’s good too.”

Leach, who has played in 198 consecutive games, is able to serve as an experienced mentor for the Cards’ two young kickers — a change from last season, when kicker Jay Feely and punter Dave Zastudil gave the Cards a much more experienced special-teams trio. Leach’s years playing tight end or wide receiver (he came into the league as a tight end) has given him the background to track the ball in the air like he did on that punt in St. Louis.

(Leach does a lot in the community too, although he’s usually shying away from the attention doing those things as well.)

It’s those little things Leach stays on top of, like at the end of the punt. Leach did the great job batting it down, but the ball was still loose near the goal line when reinforcements arrived. Wide receiver Jaron Brown was the one to jump on the ball to officially kill it — and while Brown was still a couple of yards from the end zone, Leach made sure to push his prone teammate in the back, away from the goal line. Those are the things that can possibly ruin a play. This, Leach knows.

“I’ve been around a little while,” Leach said.

It’s served the Cardinals well, too.

Leach1forblog

 


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Cards feel the cost of injuries

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2014 – 10:55 am

The Cardinals are not the most injured team in the league, although there has been little argument they have been undercut by the players they have lost. In the NFL, of course, anytime you lose a starting quarterback, that automatically puts you near the top of the list.

Quantifying that compared to other teams in virtually impossible. There are dozens of ways to look at it. But here is one. Spotrac.com has compiled a list that adds up the salary cap hits each team have sitting on injured reserve, and, no surprise, the Cardinals have landed in the top five. The Cards are fourth, with eight IR’d players taking up $28.8 million in cap space. The three teams ahead of them: the Giants with $34.7M, the Rams at $30.6M and the Bears at $29.9M. The Giants are there in part because they have a whopping 22 players on IR. The Rams have one less player on IR than the Cards, but with QB Sam Bradford’s huge contract ($17.6M himself) the total is slightly ajar.

The eight Cardinals on IR: Carson Palmer, John Abraham, Darnell Dockett, Troy Niklas, Ed Stinson, Dave Zastudil, Andre Ellington and Eddie Whitley. That total doesn’t include linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, who was out eight weeks when he was on IR/designated to return.

You can argue that the money could be weighted — the Bears, for instance, just put wide receiver Brandon Marshall on IR — but the overall totals do speak to the “importance” of the players on IR, because you figure the guys with the highest cap numbers are usually the most crucial.

As for the full list of walking wounded Cards, here are the guys who have missed games this season because of injuries, with the total games they have sat out thus far:

DT Dockett (14)
LB Abraham (13)
P Zastudil (12)
LB Shaughnessy (8)
QB Palmer (8)
TE Niklas (7)
DT Stinson (5)
S Tyrann Mathieu (3)
LB Alex Okafor (3)
LB Glenn Carson (3)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (2)
LB Desmond Bishop (2)
DE Calais Campbell (2)
RB Stepfan Taylor (2)
G Paul Fanaika (2)
RB Ellington (2)
DE Frostee Rucker (1)
TE Rob Housler (1)

We’ll see if the final two games bring any more surprises.

EllingtobloginjuryesUSE


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The biggest of the Red Rages

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2014 – 9:45 am

Every week (practically) during the season, Calais Campbell is the host of the Big Red Rage radio show, held over at the Majerle’s Sports Grill at Chandler Fashion Center. For an hour, Campbell and co-hosts Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley talk Cardinals with a different player guest. That changes a bit this week, in an event called the “Biggest Red Rage” — fitting because it comes before the biggest game of the season.

Thursday night, the show’s time slot has been doubled, from 6-8 p.m., and the guest list expanded to the high rollers: Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and team president Michael Bidwill.

If you can’t make it out there, the show will air live on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

BRRuse


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Another loss: Stinson goes to injured reserve

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2014 – 9:52 am

The Cardinals tried to get defensive tackle Ed Stinson rehabbed and ready, but the rookie never could quite get over the toe injury that has hobbled him for weeks now. So Tuesday, the Cards did what they had to and put Stinson on injured reserve, ending his season. Only makes sense in this unconventional year of winning despite guys going down left and right.

To fill his spot on the roster, the Cardinals promoted wide receiver Brittan Golden from the practice squad. They filled Golden’s practice squad spot by re-signing running back Zach Bauman.

Stinson was the hidden nugget of the 2014 draft class. He was playing well before the toe injury cropped up against the home game against the Rams Nov. 9. He missed the next four games and tried to give it a go Thursday in St. Louis against the Rams. He played just two defensive snaps.

“He tried to go on it, didn’t work,” coach Bruce Arians said Monday. “We’ll just see what’s in the best interest of him and us.”

The best interest was shutting Stinson down. In the search for silver linings, the Cards have essentially been without Stinson for five games and have been playing well, so they can deal with his absence. Plus, Golden did have a 63-yard catch in the Cardinals’ upset win over the Seahawks in the next-to-last game of 2013, so maybe it’s about tapping into history here.

StinsonDownBLOG

 


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Keim talks Stanton rehab, QB situation

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2014 – 8:14 am

Steve Keim had a way to put things in perspective.

“The three best records in the NFL after the fourteenth game are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ryan Lindley/Logan Thomas,” the Cardinals General Manager said Monday morning during his regular appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “It’s a credit to our organization and the job all the way down from Michael Bidwill to Bruce Arians, our coaching staff, our players, they have all done a fantastic job.”

There wasn’t a ton of specific info coming from the GM about his team’s quarterback situation. But he did acknowledge that the Cardinals will be going with some combination of Lindley and Thomas to play against the Seahawks Sunday. The Cards will add a quarterback, but it will be to the practice squad “for emergency purposes.” No, Kurt Warner is not walking through that door. (Which he never was, but I just wanted to use that line. Rick Pitino keeps on giving.)

UPDATE: The practice squad QB is Jeff Mathews, an undrafted rookie from Cornell who spent time earlier with Atlanta and Indianapolis.

Who the starting QB will be is TBA. Keim said simply “that’s a better question for Coach Arians.”

As for the injured Drew Stanton, Keim also sidestepped a timetable, because he said it’s really impossible to give one.

“With that type of knee injury, everybody heals different,” Keim said. “I know ESPN and some other outlets have put a timeline on it, which is extremely difficult to do. You can say it’s going to be four weeks, I’ve heard people say one-and-a-half weeks.

“Drew will be in there around the clock rehabbing. I know he’ll be ready to go as soon as possible.”

Keim reiterated Thomas could get a package of plays for the Seahawks game (that’s was as detailed as he’d get), so again, it sounds like both QBs could see the field. (Or the Cardinals are just building a nice ruse for the Seahawks to worry about during prep work.) Running the ball will be important, which really goes without saying.

“The thing that is extremely difficult to replace at any level is the quarterback,” Keim said. “I’ve said many times, there’s not even 32 quarterbacks to go around (to all the teams), so let alone you lose your starter — and it really hurt us because Carson (Palmer) was playing at a high level — and then you saw what Drew could do when he had the opportunity, which was win games for us and play solid football.

“To lose both those guys, it’s been extremely difficult to go through. But again, it goes back to the resiliency of our team.”

– It was the offensive line’s best game to date, Keim said. Guard Jonathan Cooper is “playing like a rookie” and needs to improve technically quite a bit, but it’s a start, Keim said.

– Keim called defensive end Frostee Rucker “an unsung hero” for his work of late. I’d second that. Rucker has been crucial in his role this season.


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Packers loss gives Cards-Seahawks extra meaning

Posted by Darren Urban on December 14, 2014 – 3:11 pm

The Cardinals won in St. Louis Thursday, and can spend Sunday watching the rest of the NFC playoff picture unfold. Already, they caught a break. The Green Bay Packers went to Buffalo and lost, 21-13, to fall to 10-4 and a game behind the Cards. Ultimately, what does that mean? It means that regardless of the result of the Seahawks-49ers game going on right now, because of all the tiebreakers the Cardinals have spent the year building, if the Cardinals can beat the Seahawks a week from tonight on “Sunday Night Football,” the Cardinals will clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

It would be an incredible feat given the injuries the Cards have absorbed.

(UPDATE: The Seahawks did beat the 49ers. As expected.)

A loss against Seattle would not necessarily eliminate the Cards from the No. 1 seed, but the math is much more simple if they win (and a loss versus the Seahawks would mean the Cards would need a lot of help as well as a season finale win in San Francisco.)

A No. 1 seed would mean a ton, from a first-round bye (time to heal Drew Stanton) to home-field advantage for as long as the Cardinals remained in the playoffs — including, of course, the Super Bowl if they got that far.

– ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning Stanton is expected to be out four weeks with his knee injury. The Cardinals have declined to get into specifics of Stanton’s issue other than it is his right knee that’s injured. The Cards do expect him back at some point.


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Pro Bowl, Rashad Johnson and some Friday notes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2014 – 3:26 pm

Do the Cardinals have a Pro Bowl player?

I’m not saying the Cardinals don’t have any players talented enough to make it. But usually, in seasons where your team is 11-3, there are at least a couple of locks. You would be hard-pressed to come up with any locks for the Cardinals. Offensively, the production hasn’t been consistent enough to see anyone getting a major push. Defensively, there are possibilities, but it’ll be interesting to see how many can find a way in, at least before guys start dropping out.

In the latest Pro Bowl voting numbers this week, it was interesting to see that safety Rashad Johnson — who I do agree has had a very good season for this team — has found his way into the top 10 among safeties. Johnson is eighth, and judging by those who keep tweeting that they want him to get even more votes, maybe Johnson can climb the ladder.

In fact, it’s only the secondary that is represented for the Cardinals right now, at least among the top 10 vote-getters at their positions. Patrick Peterson is eighth and Antonio Cromartie 10th among cornerbacks, while cornerback Justin Bethel is ninth among special teamers.

If you want to vote for the Pro Bowl, click here.

Now for some housekeeping items as the week comes to a close and the Cards get a mini-bye:

– Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali was fined $16,357 for hitting Cardinals QB Drew Stanton low in last week’s game. You remember the play, the one where it looked then for a split-second Stanton was lost for a long time. There have been a couple of those. Cardinals defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was fined the same amount for roughing Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman, who decked wide receiver Smokey Brown by what looked like it might have been a possible helmet-to-helmet, was not fined. He wasn’t flagged for that play either.

– Bruce Arians wasn’t backing down from his comment after Thursday’s game, when he said “I love it when nobody says you’re going to have a chance to win. There’s an 11-3 team and a team that is always 8-8. You figure it out.” Many took it as a shot to the Rams — and obviously, it wasn’t a compliment — but I took it more as a jab against the media picking against the Cardinals in the game rather than the Rams themselves.

Not that it really matters. Asked why he made such a comment, Arians responded simply, “I just tried to state the facts.”

Cory Harkey, Rashad Johnson


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Stanton only has knee sprain

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2014 – 11:16 am

Multiple reports — first coming from Mike Jurecki but then spreading through a ton of national media — say quarterback Drew Stanton has a right knee sprain and will be week-to-week, which is a big deal and definitely not the bad news it could have been. Bruce Arians will speak at 12:15 to clarify, but there will likely still be a vague part of all of this. The good news is that Stanton has a couple of extra days to heal (and even extra hours on the back end, since the Cardinals next play on a Sunday night) before the Seahawks game. But will he be mobile enough to face a Seattle defense? Something tells me this will remain a mystery all week.

But the Cardinals are basically in the playoffs after Thursday night’s win, and this injury news sure makes it sound like Stanton has a chance to be back for at least those games — if not sooner.

UPDATE: Arians comfirmed Stanton’s knee injury is not season-ending. But the coach declined to put a timetable on Stanton’s situation and said Stanton was on crutches. Stanton figures to return. But when? And what could it mean to the Cardinals’ playoff positioning?

CartDrewuse


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