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Rams, and the season, aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 9:15 pm

That sound you heard from the direction of California Sunday night was the Cardinals exhaling. No, David Johnson hasn’t had his MRI yet, but there is optimism that the knee injury he suffered Sunday will cost him only that record of 100 yards from scrimmage in every game and nothing further. If his ligaments are intact – and Bruce Arians seemed to think they were – then he will recover in plenty of time for training camp. And at this point, that’s all that matters.

So in that regard, Sunday’s 44-6 beatdown of the Rams isn’t like the beatdown of the Eagles last season, which won a division but had an ugly hangover because of the Tyrann Mathieu ACL tear. Nobody wants any of that.

Johnson wasn’t moping or looking like disaster had struck after the game, so take that for what it’s worth.

You also take for what it’s worth the pounding of the Rams. Jared Goff is nowhere near ready to play quarterback, and certainly not behind that line he had today or with the receivers he has. Still, the Cardinals held the Rams to a crazy 2.1-yards per play today – that’s nothing – and had a sack party in the backfield.

Momentum doesn’t carry over from one season to the next. I firmly believe that (just as the NFC title loss didn’t carry over.) But confidence can. And this team has a lot of confidence going into the offseason.

Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in the offseason. But that’s to talk about for the next few months.

— The Cardinals will pick 13th overall in the draft.

— Arians confirmed earlier reports that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is set to have three head coaching interviews in the coming days. ESPN reported those teams as the Bills, Rams and Jaguars. Goodwin joked the other day of getting a couple of calls from CFL teams, but it was always expected that Goodwin would be getting interviews after interviewing with the Buccaneers last offseason.

Obviously, the Rooney Rule makes an impact with Goodwin, an African-American. But you can’t get a job without interviewing, and at some point, someone is going to decide Goodwin is the right man for the job.

— By the way, a major point in Goodwin’s favor – the amount of points the offense generated the last three games with his deep-in-the-depth-chart offensive line. Props to those players, but Goody can coach up an offensive line.

— Carson Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand after cutting it on Christmas day and getting four stiches. Palmer joked he was saving orphans from a burning building. Whatever the reason, he said it didn’t bother him.

— Safety D.J. Swearinger again made a strong argument for the Cardinals wanting him to stay. A couple of big hits, a couple of nice tackles, a sack, an interception that was lost on a questionable Kevin Minter roughing-the-passer penalty.

— Chandler Catanzaro with a nice finish: 3-for-3 on field goals, 5-for-5 on extra points.

— Justin Bethel told me recently his foot – which has been injured basically since last year and never fully healed after he hurt it again in the offseason and needed surgery – is finally feeling better. So to see him play his best two games as a cornerback the last two weeks, including a 68-yard pick-6, is gratifying. Especially after Arians called him out after the Miami game.

— We’ll finish on this note: The Cardinals finished the season with a plus-56 point-differential. That’s something that usually translates into a playoff berth, not 7-8-1. In the NFC, only Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle are better. (AFC South winner Houston was minus-49!) But that’s how this season went. We move on to 2017.

Cardinals Rams Football


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Cardinals’ opponents set for 2017

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 2:10 pm

It’s not exactly on par with the news that the Cardinals will play a game in London next season, but the opponents the Cards will play in 2017 is just about set. The only part left is Sunday night’s Packers-Lions game. The Cards will travel to play the loser of that game next season. UPDATE: The Packers beat the Lions, so the Cardinals will go to Detroit.

As always, the schedule is to be announced, although we know the London game will be either Week 7 or 8 (and will be followed by their 2017 bye). The full NFL schedule comes out in mid-April.

HOME

— Dallas Cowboys
— New York Giants
— Jacksonville Jaguars
— Tennessee Titans
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams

AWAY

— Philadelphia Eagles
— Washington Redskins
— Houston Texans
— Indianapolis Colts
— Detroit Lions
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams (in London)


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Ankle sidelines Nkemdiche in finale

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 12:57 pm

The ankle injury defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche suffered in practice this week will cost the rookie the last game of the year, as he is inactive for the finale against the Rams in Los Angeles. Other than that, a relatively normal inactive list:

— QB Zac Dysert

— WR Marquis Bundy

— CB Brian Dixon

— DT Olsen Pierre

— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Ed Stinson


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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

beforeramsblog


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Palmer bonds with ACL donor family

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 9:36 am

In 2014, Carson Palmer’s season ended with a thud, after his left ACL gave away against the Rams, derailing what had been a great season for the team. But the play — in which Palmer’s injury happened non-contact — resonated further than just the Cardinals and their fan base. The ACL tear was the second in that knee for Palmer. When he tore it the first time, back in the 2005 playoffs, it was repaired with donor ligaments of a woman named Julie De Rossi, who had been killed in a car accident in Houston.

At the time, De Rossi’s mother, Dorothy Hyde, found out her daughter had helped Palmer. She became a fan of Palmer’s, watching from afar as the small piece of her child lived on as Palmer played his career. When that ligament tore again in 2014 and Palmer had to have it repaired again (this time with his own tissue), De Rossi’s family figured that was the end of their connection with Palmer.

But it was not. In November, the weekend of the Cardinals’ home win against the 49ers, Hyde, her other daughter, and her grandson — De Rossi’s son — came to Arizona to meet Palmer for the first time and attend a game. It was all chronicled in a great NFL Films piece.

“She’s probably watching me play thinking about Julie,” Palmer said. “I don’t want her to lose that attachment to me and those joyous feelings she gets just because this knee no longer has her Achilles tendon. There’s part of Julie still with me.”

It’s well worth the watch.


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“Stepbrothers” Jones and Golden pile up sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2016 – 4:37 pm

The Cardinals haven’t had two players with at least 10 sacks in a season since 1984, when Al “Bubba” Baker and Curtis Greer did it. If Chandler Jones can notch at least a half-sack Sunday in Los Angeles, he and Markus Golden (who has 10 sacks already) will end that drought. The two will be linked forever in that regard — even as they are already linked now, by their own choice.

“They’re like stepbrothers walking around since day one,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “They have a great camaraderie, they’ve become close friends on and off the field. … You can see it.”

Jones said Golden reached out to him as soon as the Cards traded for Jones last March and “we’ve been tight ever since.”

“We are just two guys, we’re good friends,” Golden said. “We like the same things, we like to do the same stuff, we play the same position. We’ve got a lot in common. And Chandler is just an all-around cool dude.”

Does that relationship help on the field? “You play for your brother, for sure,” Jones said. Golden said it does help with communication, but in the end, the sacks are coming because that is what he and Jones are paid to do.

“No matter what, you’re going to go out and hunt, man,” Golden said.

stepbrothersblog


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Gurley, David Johnson, and the right situation

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2016 – 12:54 pm

Here we have the tale of two very different running backs.

Not necessarily in the way they play, although the styles of Todd Gurley and David Johnson — friends from their time in the 2015 draft — aren’t exactly parallel. No, this is about the seasons each is having, both on teams that have not been as good as expected. For Gurley, that has meant disaster. Johnson, of course, has been electric — arguably the best in the NFL.

A couple of weeks ago, Gurley noted after a Rams’ loss that the team “looked like a middle school offense.” He’s averaged just 3.2 yards a carry this season, and unless he torches the Cards’ defense for at least 155 yards, he won’t reach 1,000 for the season. Interim Rams coach John Fassel was asked about Gurley’s confidence.

“He’s struggling to maintain it,” Fassel said. “There’s really no other way around it. I’m sure he wanted more this season, and it really just hasn’t happened yet. But, he’s tough, practices every rep at practice, he’s there early and attentive at every meeting. But, there’s no doubt confidence deteriorates a little bit when you don’t have the success that you anticipate.”

Contrast that to Johnson, who is playing for an offense that is unquestionably much better than the Rams but still has struggled much more than expected this year. Yet Johnson has been spectacular, reaching 100 scrimmage yards in every game despite constant shuffles in the offensive line, threatening to become only the third 1,000-1,000 player in NFL history (like Gurley, he likely won’t reach his mark either) and scoring a franchise-record 20 touchdowns already.

The issues with the Rams’ offense were known coming into the year. L.A. has bigger offensive line problems than the Cards. But Johnson is having the kind of season running backs dream about — the kind of season everyone was waiting for Gurley to have.

David Johnson, Todd Gurley


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How safe will Cardinals be in secondary?

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2016 – 5:01 pm

Tony Jefferson, that one-time undrafted free agent who was not a happy man when he was undrafted, will wait to see what his future holds. He’s on IR after hurting his knee, his best season over after 92 tackles, 13 for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and even four tackles on special teams (the unit on which Jefferson got hurt.)

The Cardinals want to bring Jefferson back, and I believe Jefferson wants to return. But money talks, and when you have a guy who was undrafted in the first place (and then got less as a restricted free agent, with no competing offers, last offseason, much to his chagrin) money will be screaming this time around. Understandable.

The thing is, the Cards will have to figure out this complex puzzle of their secondary and safety. D.J. Swearinger is also an unrestricted-free-agent-to-be, and he too will be looking for money after falling to practice squad status as recently as last season. Tyrann Mathieu will be back next season, fully healthy without surgeries and that bodes well. Tyvon Branch should be back too, but when Mathieu goes into the slot, that leaves a spot. And that’s assuming Branch and Mathieu can stay healthy, with which both have had issues.

Jefferson is the kind of home-grown talent you’d love to keep around. He’s had a good season. But he’s also one of those players that might’ve fallen into the cracks — too good to afford to keep him, not quite good enough that you don’t think you can’t replace him. Plus there are the intangibles that are hard to measure.

safetyblog


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Keim on the future of the Cards’ receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2016 – 8:22 am

One of the big things Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim is going to have to deal with this offseason is the receivers room. It could be in major flux. Michael Floyd is already gone, Larry Fitzgerald could retire, and Smoke Brown is still trying to fully handle his sickle-cell issues. Monday, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim spoke on many of those players.

When it comes it Fitz, “he still loves the game and still plays at a high level,” Keim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he should play next year.” Of course, Keim added, that will be up to Fitz. J.J. Nelson was fantastic in Seattle with 132 yards on three catches, including two giant plays that boosted the win. As far as him as a potential No. 2 receiver, “I’m not sure what his ceiling is, I just know he is a big-play guy.” He did say he thinks receivers coach Darryl Drake has helped Nelson become more physical. (But I’d agree, I think Nelson is developing into a nice and needed piece in the offense, but I don’t see him as a potential big-volume guy week-to-week.)

As for Brown, Keim acknowledged it is “always a concern when you can’t put a finger on exactly what is happening” when it comes to Brown’s health. But he said Brown will see specialists as soon as the offseason ends so that he and the Cardinals can find the proper way for both Brown to be healthy and for him to find again what was making him special on the field. “He’s a guy we are counting on,” Keim added.

— Keim has been very impressed — other than his foolish taunting penalty — with tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Cardinals have needed some emotional fire on offense, and Gresham definitely helps with that. “His physicality, mindset and passion for the game is something that has really excited me this year,” Keim said, noting Gresham’s effort in blocking more than anything. It’ll be interesting to see what Gresham does as a free agent, after signing here for little last season when he could’ve gotten a lot more money elsewhere. (And he needs to avoid the terrible penalties because of his emotions too.)

— Not surprisingly, he had praise for the offensive line, given the circumstances. “If you told me in August we’d beat Seattle in Seattle with John Wetzel and Earl Watford at tackle and Evan Boehm at guard, it’d certainly make me wonder,” Keim said. “For the most part those guys did the job.”

Carson Palmer was under pressure more than once but he was sacked only once and physically, the offensive line stayed toe-to-toe with a much-more celebrated opponent.

— There were a couple of throws he thought Palmer would’ve wanted back, but other than that, Palmer was sharp, Keim said. “He’s a competitor and true pro,” Keim said. “He’s been very, very good the last several weeks.”

— Another young player who held up was cornerback-turned-safety Harlan Miller, who played every snap at free safety when Tony Jefferson got hurt on the punt team before he even played a defensive play. Miller, by the way, hadn’t played safety before. “It was interesting,” Keim said. “On Friday, when B.A. came into my office and I let him know we were going to put Tyrann on IR, he told me that if Tony or D.J. Swearinger went down, we’d be in trouble just from a depth standpoint. Sure enough, first play of the game, Tony Jefferson is out.

“Harlan trots on to the field, and to his credit, the guy has never played safety before, coach Nick Rapone and James Bettcher put him in a position where he made a few plays and didn’t hurt the team. He’s another young guy who stepped up.”

— Finally, a good day for special teams. “That’s a group that’s been maligned and rightfully so,” Keim said. “But they stepped up to the plate.”


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Merry Christmas! Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2016 – 9:28 pm

Harlan Miller wasn’t necessarily supposed to play. Heck, he wasn’t even going to be on the roster, if Tharold Simon hadn’t been cut last week. And he’s a cornerback.

But there he was, after Tony Jefferson – one of the few defensive backs who has stayed healthy all season – sprained his MCL on his first play, on punt coverage. Tyrann Mathieu was already on IR, Tyvon Branch too. Marcus Cooper was out. Justin Bethel used to be a safety, but he was needed at corner. So they sent Miller in to play free safety.

Keep in mind, Miller hasn’t practiced at safety.

“The only thing I could remember was (defensive backs) coach (Nick) Rapone in the safeties meeting telling them to stay deep,” Miller said. “That’s pretty much what I did.”

“I kind of know what a safety does. I just listened a lot.”

It was that kind of game Saturday. Fill in where you can. Hope it holds up. No, the secondary isn’t going to put this on the wall of fame, not with the way Russell Wilson diced them up in the second half. But within the circumstances, it was exactly what they needed. Justin Bethel played much better. Brandon Williams struggled, but he did enough – and his effort on the Tyler Lockett bomb, while unfortunately sending Lockett off injured on a cart, stopped the Seahawks from scoring any points given the Cards’ goalline stand.

— The offensive line too, Evan Boehm, in at right guard for Taylor Boggs who was in for Earl Watford who was in for Evan Mathis. Everyone who thought the Cardinals would be able to score 34 points in Seattle under those circumstances, raise your hand.

— Carson Palmer was great. His stats weren’t as gaudy as Wilson, but Palmer was a man who led his team in a situation where they needed it. Palmer already said he is coming back. Yes, I think the Cardinals should and will draft a quarterback of the future. But to anyone who thinks Palmer should step away and not quarterback this team in 2017, I think that’s crazy.

— Larry Fitzgerald was not a happy man the last couple of weeks. The losing had reached him, the Floyd situation, and he just looked down in the dumps. When the retirement stuff came up, it’s understandable why he’d consider it. I don’t think anything was determined Saturday – but it was a happy Fitz in the locker room. Everyone was happy, but it was particularly nice to see with No. 11.

— J.J. Nelson makes the best of his touches, doesn’t he?

— David Johnson cracks 100 yards. I didn’t think it was possible with the way the game was going, and then he blew past it late. Aside from his fumble – which was three-points-costly – he was the rock on offense. Grinding, grinding, grinding, near 100 yards rushing alone. And then that 29-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal – MVP-esque.

“I was messing with Steve (Keim) earlier, we need to get his contract done right now, because after every game he getting more and more expensive,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s going to be like ten percent owner of the franchise.”

— (Just as a reminder, Johnson’s contract cannot be re-done or extended until after the 2017 season, per the CBA.)

— Boehm made a mistake on the Cards’ next-to-last drive, blowing his assignment to let Palmer get hit and force an incompletion. Center A.Q. Shipley let him know about it as they came off the field.

“That was on me,” Boehm said. “I thought I lost the game for us. Told myself if we got another opportunity I had to reprove myself that I belonged out there.”

— Fellow rookie offensive lineman Cole Toner got his first work on offense too, just like Boehm had done earlier in the season – as a lead blocker for Johnson.

— With the schedule a little warped this week and players off Monday, I’ll hold my weekly chat Monday afternoon at 3 p.m.

— Have to be happy for Chandler Catanzaro. It’s been a rough year, and I know sometimes fans don’t want to hear this, but he is loved in that locker room  and there isn’t a guy in there who wasn’t happy to see him come through.

— The Cardinals are now 3-0 with Palmer in Seattle. They have a confidence now.

— This is way too long on Christmas Eve. We’re heading back to Phoenix as I post this, and soon the Cardinals (and myself) will be headed home to be with our families. It’ll be a much better holiday for all involved.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

afterseablog


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