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Chris Johnson’s potential IR return

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2016 – 4:29 pm

Both running back Chris Johnson and safety Tyvon Branch went on injured reserve on Oct. 4, and a potential return date — for only one of them — is the Dec. 4 game against the Redskins. For his part, Johnson said he is “ahead of schedule” in his rehab from a groin injury (Branch suffered the same injury) and is optimistic about his availability to practice two weeks before that.

The new rule this season declares that while one player can return from injured reserve (it’s always been just one), teams do not have to declare which one is coming back. So both Johnson and Branch are in play. (In contrast, when the Cardinals put Johnson on IR last year with his knee injury, they said it was IR-to-return.) If chosen to return, players can return to practice after six weeks on the sideline, and play eight weeks later.

At the time Johnson and Branch went on the list, coach Bruce Arians said the decision on which one would return — and those two are the only real options on IR right now to come back — would not only be based on rate of recovery but also positional need.

As of now, running back actually would seem to be a greater need, with the amount of touches starter David Johnson is receiving along with the depth in the secondary. While Tyrann Mathieu is still rounding into form, he isn’t leaving the lineup, and the other two safeties — Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger — are playing well. If the Cardinals can maneuver through the next four games (the bye is mixed in there), bringing Johnson back for a playoff push over the final five games makes sense.



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Cardinals getting stingy on defense

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2016 – 10:06 am

The Cardinals’ defense has become very stingy. Hasn’t allowed a touchdown in nine quarters and two games. The franchise hasn’t had a stretch where it didn’t allow a touchdown in two straight games since 1970. That’s a long time ago (and when the NFL game was a completely different animal.) The Cardinals are now fifth in the NFL in scoring defense at 15.7 points a game and second (behind Minnesota) in total defense.

The current stretch, however, has come against clearly lesser offenses. The Panthers, who the Cards visit this weekend, are fifth in the NFL in scoring at nearly 27 points a game. Carolina is not playing well enough to win, but it is scoring well enough to win (which tells you something about the Panthers’ leaky defense.)

Many teams have quarterbacks that can move a little bit. The Cards benefited from the fact Russell Wilson, with a knee and an ankle banged up, clearly can’t run around as well as he normally can. Now comes Cam Newton, who can definitely run around and has the giant frame to boot. Newton has taken a lot of punishment this season as he’s run around, so maybe that impacts the Carolina game plan, but it would be foolish to think Newton carrying the ball — either by design or scrambling — won’t be a concern.

Still, the Panthers are facing a different defense than the one they saw in the NFC Championship. The effective four-man pass rush, and the way Chandler Jones is playing, changes the dynamic. Tyrann Mathieu isn’t quite himself — Bruce Arians said on Sirius XM radio Tuesday Mathieu was about 85 percent, in his estimation, and will be better once the knee brace can come off — but at least he is on the field, unlike January. The odds aren’t with the Cards to keep the Panthers out of the end zone — although when the Panthers met the Vikings earlier this season in Carolina, the Panthers only scored 10 points.


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With Brown to IR, what to do at WR?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2016 – 3:54 pm

Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will look at their options at wide receiver now that Jaron Brown officially is on injured reserve. Brown was put there today but the Cards did not make a corresponding roster move, meaning they have a slot open. The team did bring back training camp sensation Chris Hubert, who had begun the year on the practice squad, to the practice squad. That gives the Cards two wideouts on the practice squad right now: Hubert and Marquis Bundy.

The Cardinals also worked out veteran wide receiver Aaron Dobson Tuesday, according to Adam Schefter. Dobson, a former second-round pick of New England, has 53 career catches but also had a injury-plagued stint with the Patriots. He spent time with the Lions earlier this season after the Patriots cut him after the preseason.

If everyone currently on the roster is healthy, the Cardinals could get away with not making another receiver the 53rd player on the roster. But that’s the question. Michael Floyd should play this week, but he had to play through hamstring issues against the Seahawks. Smokey Brown should be back at practice, but his sickle-cell problem gives at least a little pause. That leaves Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson and Brittan Golden. Again, if Floyd and Brown are OK, then you’re OK. But the Cards might want to cover themselves too.

Bringing up either Bundy or Hubert is also an option. But as the Cardinals get ready to play a Carolina team with a struggling secondary, wide receivers figure to play a big role. The Cardinals want to be in position to use that to their advantage.

Aaron Dobson, Ronald Darby, Bacarri Rambo

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Keim: Special teams issues, maybe a Jones contract

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2016 – 8:19 am

Steve Keim was “disappointed” in Sunday night’s tie, and that’s probably not a surprise. “It was one of those games where I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like it,” the Cardinals’ General Manager said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

One thing Keim did make clear as well: He is frustrated with the play of the special teams. He even said, seven games into the season, that consistency on special teams is his biggest concern, especially since he likes how the defense is playing and even feels (aside from the obvious red-zone issues) that the offense seems to have found a nice balance between the run and pass.

Keim said the Cards got the punt blocked when “our wing got soft,” and has for the missed field goal in overtime, “Chandler’s got to make that kick.”

Keim didn’t rule out looking at a new kicker. But he said the Cardinals need to support Catanzaro right now, and that Catanzato knows “consistency is what creates longevity in this league.” Besides, getting a new player/kicker isn’t an automatic upgrade.

“If you can’t meet expectations, we’ll try to find somebody who can,” Keim said, emphasizing the word ‘try.’ “Now, the trying and attempting is a different story. Generally, players who are on the street right now are on the street for a reason. More than likely, it’s because they missed several field goals, or missed a kick in a clutch situation. Or have injury concerns. There are a lot of moving parts to that. It’s not as easy and probably most think. But it’s certainly something that, on a daily basis, we spend a lot of time researching.”

— Maybe a new contract at some point with Chandler Jones? Keim said the team has been talking with Jones’ agent since camp about a new deal (Jones is scheduled to be a free agent after the season). Now, contract conversations and getting a deal done can be completely different things. Just because they have been talking doesn’t mean much, and Keim certainly didn’t indicate anything was close. But they are talking. Keim said he was “proud” of the way Jones has played. As an edge rusher, Jones is “something we have not had here in years.” Jones has been excellent, and was again Sunday night.

— Jones was also part of one of the plays Keim lamented after the fact. Asked what plays might eat at him following the tie, Keim mentioned Jones’ strip-sack and wishing the Cards had been able to fall on the ball inside the Seahawks’ 5-yard line. He mentioned the J.J. Nelson catch and Nelson getting tripped up shy of the goal line. He mentioned perhaps if David Johnson had dove at the pylon, maybe Johnson scores on that late run instead of kicking the pylon.

“Never in my life have I been associated with a game like this,” Keim said. “I don’t really care to be again.”

— No real injury updates, although he said cornerback Patrick Peterson (back), while sore, was a tough guy and sounded optimistic. (That injury report figures to be pretty long come Wednesday.)

— The Cardinals are still working on a solution for wide receiver Smokey Brown and his sickle-cell trait issue. Keim said research is being done to find how much Brown can practice and still be effective but so he does not wear down. It feels like a matter of when Brown returns, not if.

— Keim was happy with the defensive play and feels like it has come together well. He also like how physical both sides of the ball were. But he was certainly in the camp where a tie didn’t work for him. “Mindset-wise, if you don’t win, what is it?” Keim said. “Everything else is inconsequential.”

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Yes, a tie: Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2016 – 12:14 am

Maybe Donovan McNabb shouldn’t have taken so much grief. That’s kind of how Frostee Rucker — who played in the infamous tie game when he was with the Bengals and they tied the McNabb’s Eagles and McNabb admitted later he didn’t know you could tie — sees it, after being in yet another tie game Sunday night.

“Donovan McNabb got so much heat because he didn’t know the overtime rules, but who knew the overtime rules?” Rucker said, noting that the only reason he knew was because he had played in the one previous. “He took so much heat then and I wish I could say to him today, ‘You know what Don? People still don’t know.’ ”

(This is true. On the sideline late in overtime, I had at least three people — not players — ask what happened when the clock ran out.)

Then again, why would it matter? Why would a tie even come into play, on a night when the Cardinals moved the ball pretty well and stonewalled the Seahawks’ offense almost the whole way. I mean, Seattle had just 65 net yards (including penalty yards lost) in regulation. Say that again: 65 yards. The defense was excellent (especially since it was the pass rush forcing holding calls on many of those penalties.)

Instead, though, there were way too many missed opportunities — and when you get inside the 5-yard line and don’t score any points, you probably are fortunate not to lose.

I never thought I’d see a game in which a sub-30-yard field goal would win it for both teams, and both teams missed. And while I indeed did know the tie rules, I never really thought I’d see that either.

— David Johnson got his 100 yards rushing (113 to be exact), although it took him 33 carries. With eight catches too, Johnson had 41 touches, and make no mistake, they were hard touches. They needed Johnson, but there’s another rough-and-tumble front seven coming in Carolina. Something tells me Johnson will be ready for his bye week.

— Michael Floyd has had his drops, but that one he had around the Seattle 15-yard line in overtime, which would have been a first down on a drive when a touchdown would have ended it, was different. Floyd lay on his back for what seemed like a long time, upset he dropped it, and for the first time looked outwardly like his struggles bothered him. Floyd had five catches for 65 yards and made several key grabs — but this mysterious up-and-down season continues.

— Lost a bit in all this is the injuries piling up. Floyd’s hammie. Patrick Peterson’s back. Darren Fells’ ankle. Jaron Brown’s knee. Smoke’s sickle-cell problem. The injury report Wednesday will be interesting to say the least.

— It’ll be a long time until the Cards see the Seahawks again — Christmas Eve in Seattle — but that offense is going to be in trouble unless Russell Wilson’ knee gets better. When he cannot run, they are going to struggle against good defenses.

— It was the lowest scoring tie since the overtime rules were introduced in 1974. So … history. Right? It was the 21st tie in that time frame.

— The tie hurts against the Seahawks. Not as bad as a loss, of course, but when it probably should have been a win, it stings. The Cards remain two back in the loss column, so they not only have to keep winning but hope the Seahawks stumble. Had they won Sunday, you’d only have to have that happen once. Now, it’s got to happen at least a couple of times.

— Some big plays from lesser-known factors. J.J. Nelson was great (3 catches for 84 yards) and Ifeanyi Momah (2 catches for 50 yards) got open twice for giant plays.

— Arians clearly was not happy about the Bobby Wagner blocked field goal in which he leaped over long snapper Aaron Brewer. And Arians wasn’t happy when the Seahawks did it again on Chandler Catanzaro’s OT miss. “I’ll talk to the league and we’ll get some kind of explanation that’s all bulls*** like normal,” he said, and that’s probably true. It’s not like anything will change. It will, however, bring more clarity to a rule that seems difficult to understand.

— I was impressed with Palmer late with his leadership. When Floyd dropped that pass, Palmer rushed over to him and got in his face to tell him the Cards were still going to need him and not to get down. He did the same exact thing with Catanzaro after Catanzaro’s miss. I know there will be many who aren’t happy with either of those players — I’ve heard from plenty via Twitter — but Palmer is right. The Cards are going to need both. That’s what leaders should do.

The path to the playoffs is hard and probably suffered a setback with a tie. It’s not a loss. But it’s not a win either.



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Palmer active, but no John Brown against Seahawks

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

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

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

— WR John Brown (leg)

— CB Brandon Williams

— LB Gabe Martin (knee)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Ed Stinson

— DT Xavier Williams

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

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Friday before the Seahawks, with Smoke down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you Sunday.


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Cardinals have their guard(s) up

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Jets — and B.A.-Bowles — aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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