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Niners aftermath, before the weekend

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2016 – 11:54 pm

Is everything fixed? No. Even Bruce Arians noted, for instance, that the Cardinals have yet to break their zero-points-in-the-first-quarter streak, much to his chagrin. The Cards were 5-of-16 on third downs. But the bottom line is the Cardinals got that win they needed, within the division, on the road, with the backup quarterback. The 49ers are not a good team, but a 12-point road win still means something.

In this case, it means the Cardinals can feel better about this next week-plus as they try to climb back into the thick of things. There is time for starting QB Carson Palmer to get healthy (and there is significant optimism he will be OK by the time the Cardinals play Oct. 17 at home against the Jets). There is time to get others healthy. Or at least, healthier.

There is a big stretch coming. “Monday Night Football” versus the Jets. “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks. A road game in Carolina before the bye. This will determine if the Cardinals will be players in the second half of the season or not.

“We’re a team that can rip off a bunch of them,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.

A bunch would be nice. Tonight, about 30,000 feet up somewhere over California, one is a nice start.

— David Johnson, in case you weren’t sure, is a beast. The Cardinals needed to run against the league’s worst run defense, and they did. Johnson banged out 157 yards, and that’s what you need when you are starting the backup QB.

“I feel unstoppable, basically,” Johnson said.

He looked that way, too, basically.

— Johnson’s 695 yards from scrimmage through five games is a franchise-best. John David Crow had 665 through five games in 1960.

— I’m sure Drew Stanton would’ve liked to pass the ball better. Arians said Stanton was simply working too fast at times. But the goal – the main goal and by far the biggest goal – was engineering a win, and that’s what Stanton did. The second goal? Don’t turn the ball over. Check that box too. Goal three (OK, I’m speculating here) is ride Larry Fitzgerald. Always a good thing to do.

— Calais Campbell, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is only the second player since sacks became official in 1982 to get two sacks, an interception and a safety in a game. Baltimore’s Adalius Thomas did it in 2006.

— Markus Golden was great. He’s turning out to be a heck of a second-round pick.

— Fitzgerald was magnificent on his two TDs. Run an excellent route to shake a cornerback for one. Squeeze the cornerback until the last second before the oh-so-subtle shoulder push to create room for the second. That’s why he’s a future Hall of Famer.

–Speaking of Fitz, the chest bump he delivered to guard Earl Watford after a score knocked Watford to the ground.

“Earl always thinks he’s like a phenomenal athlete,” Fitzgerald said. “So, I always tell him, whenever I score, I’ll meet you down there and we’re going to jump as high as we both can and he’s never even close and now he fell down too. So, that was real bad for him. I’m going to stay on him for that.”

Caught on TV, it’s something the big lineman will have a tough time living down –although he’s cool enough to embrace the moment.

— The special teams has not played well and deserve the criticism they have gotten as a unit. But Thursday night, they were pretty great. J.J. Nelson breaking off a 40-yard kick return. Ifeanyi Momah causing a turnover on a kick return. Ryan Quigley booming punts that hung in the air for five seconds. Good coverage on kicks and punts. A good day all around.

— Tyrann Mathieu had his rough moments as he moved back to his familiar slot cornerback role, but he’ll live with the ups and downs after the win. “I got out of there alive, so that’s all that matters,” Mathieu said with a chuckle.

“Sometimes I felt great, other times felt I was too hesitant,” Mathieu added. “Hopefully the more I play the position the more comfortable I will be doing it.”

— Great job filling in on the offensive line for Watford and John Wetzel, although we will have to see how Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati are. Iupati hurt his ankle – that’s a player you don’t want to lose for any extended time.

But at least the Cards have a little time to sort it out. After a win.

D.J. Swearinger, Tony Jefferson, Carlos Hyde

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Kerwynn Williams cut; Nkemdiche sits

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2016 – 4:05 pm

Not any surprises on the Cardinals’ inactive list. Not anymore, not when Bruce Arians made it pretty clear Friday this wasn’t a game where he thought rookie Robert Nkemdiche should be up. So he is not. And the  Cardinals also made a roster move Thursday, promoting tight end Hakeem Valles to the active roster with Darren Fells out for the game. To make room for Valles, the Cards cut running back Kerwynn Williams, who was just signed Tuesday.

Injuries, actually, play a big role in the inactive list for tonight:

— QB Carson Palmer (concussion)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— TE Darren Fells (shoulder)

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Ed Stinson (toe)

— DT Josh Mauro (chest)

Frostee Rucker will make his return after missing the last few games. Not having Mauro hurts; he’s a guy that, if he’s not playing because of injury, you know he has to be pretty banged up.

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Palmer-less Wednesday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2016 – 4:01 pm

Carson Palmer isn’t going to be ready. That was Bruce Arians’ gut reaction after the quarterback was concussed against the Rams Sunday and that was reality Wednesday as the Cardinals climbed aboard their flight to the Bay Area for Thursday night’s game against the 49ers. So it’ll be Drew Stanton at the helm as the Cards try to snap a two-game losing streak — they have never lost three straight under Arians, and only previously lost two straight three times.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald tried to stay lighthearted a bit with the quarterback situation. “Carson wouldn’t like me saying this, but if Drew plays, he’s probably a little bit better athlete,” Fitz said. “A little bit better. Last year Carson tripped on the goal line getting to the end zone with no one around (in San Francisco). Drew would never trip like that.”

The truth is Stanton did play a good chunk of 2014 with these receivers. That doesn’t mean he’s Palmer, but at this point, with the Cards’ offense less than they want it to be, perhaps Stanton can create a new dynamic.

Arians said Palmer was getting better and argued a bit for the chance to play, but it was a no go. Palmer hadn’t even been officially cleared by the time Arians spoke Wednesday. Optimism is there for Palmer to be OK the next time the Cardinals play, which won’t be until Oct. 17 on “Monday Night Football” versus the Jets.

— The record isn’t anywhere close to what the Cardinals hoped. But they remain in the top 10 in the NFL in both total offense and total defense, and have a plus-12 in point differential. That doesn’t point to a terrible season.

— Stanton had arguably his best game as a Cardinal against the 49ers back in 2014 when the Cards won in Arizona, 23-14. Stanton was 18-for-33 for 244 yards and two touchdowns.

— It’s been noted that, of all the guys who have thrown touchdown passes to Fitzgerald, Stanton is not one. Maybe that changes this week.

— One thing the Cards are missing this season; Playing from ahead. That goes hand-in-hand with their first-quarter woes (they are the only team in the NFL without a first-quarter point), but that was a big reason for success last year. The Cardinals scored the first time they touched the ball six times last season, and held a first-quarter lead 10 times.

— An under-the-radar move this week, all things considered, is the ascension of Brittan Golden to the roster. “Britt will be core special teamer,” Arians said. “He’ll help our special teams a bunch.” Arians also said Golden will likely take over on kickoff return from Andre Ellington, now that Ellington will be needed more at running back post-Chris Johnson’s injury.

— Here’s this week’s Cardinals Underground podcast.

— Someone asked Fitzgerald about fans upset with the Cardinals’ start. Fitzgerald smiled. “Funny, I drive down the street and I see people’s garages and they have the Cardinals flags out and I see some of those flags down now,” he said. “That’s disappointing, man. But we have to do our job so the people put the flags back up.”

— It doesn’t sound like Robert Nkemdiche is going to be active. Arians left the door cracked for that possibility, but also noted that — while Nkemdiche’s ankle is fine — the rookie defensive lineman might not be ready for an offense that can break huge run plays if not played correctly. Nkemdiche has yet to be active since playing a handful of snaps against the Patriots opening night.

— This is the first of three straight games for the Cardinals in prime time. “Thursday Night Football” is followed by “Monday Night Football” against the Jets and then “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks. The other two games will be at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Bay Area awaits.


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Honey Badger loose in the secondary

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2016 – 3:17 pm

Chris Johnson’s move to injured reserve will attract more eyeballs — and certainly, CJ2K’s loss means something, even if the running game was always going to be powered by David Johnson — but the loss of Tyvon Branch may end up with greater impact. Here was a guy signed to improve speed in the secondary and to be used like Tyrann Mathieu, able to play the slot when Mathieu couldn’t, and perhaps allow some sneaky flip-flopping from time to time.

Now Branch is done, at least for a couple of months. The Cardinals are fortunate that Mathieu says he wants to be Mathieu again. The Cardinals could use a dose of Honey Badger. Bruce Arians said Mathieu isn’t the only player primed to play in that spot — the coach mentioned Marcus Cooper in particular — but “no one plays it like Ty when he thinks he’s ready.”

Does Arians think he’s ready? “If he feels he’s ready, he’s ready,” Arians said.

Not that this necessarily is the panacea for all the Cardinals’ ills. The Cards still need to make sure receivers do go running free every so often. And Mathieu has nothing to do with the slow offensive starts. But if there is anything to be drawn positive from an injury-filled week — we still await Carson Palmer’s status, but it still seems like Drew Stanton will end up starting at QB Thursday night — it’s the fact Mathieu is moving toward Honey Badgerness.


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Keim: “It’s OK to take this thing personal”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2016 – 8:28 am

Steve Keim is, admittedly, not happy.

“We have a chance to create sustainable success and I hold myself as accountable as anybody,” the Cardinals General Manager said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “It’s OK to take this thing personal.”

“This” is the Cardinals’ 1-3 start, after Sunday’s loss to the Rams. Keim, like everyone in the building, is trying to figure out how the Cardinals can fix their issues, knowing they play again Thursday in San Francisco and starting quarterback Carson Palmer is unlikely to play after suffering a concussion. The Cardinals had been winning these close games, especially at home, during the Bruce Arians era.

“Those were different teams and this is a different time,” Keim said. “We will find out what we are made of quickly.”

Keim did say — and acknowledged it sounded weird — that he saw a lot of good things against the Rams. There was a good run defense, the Cardinals were the more efficient team in total yards. But the same issues continue to plague the team. Miscommunication in the secondary. Turning the ball over. Missed tackles. Finishing drives. Those things aren’t new, “which is difficult to deal with,” he said.

“There were signs that let me know we have, one, a talented football team, and number two, we have time on our hands,” Keim added. “At the same time, we can’t mess around. We are in a position, as we all know, that it better start changing quickly.”

— Keim called it “embarrassing” the Cardinals had already lost two home games. The Cards went 6-2 at home last season.

— Asked directly if the Cardinals were missing the leadership of former safety Rashad Johnson on the secondary, Keim said no. “I think we have enough leaders back there and have guys that can get people lined up,” Keim said. “It’s a matter of execution.”

— The pass rush was decent, Keim said, but he said he was bothered that when guys did get pressure they didn’t keep their eyes up, allowing Rams QB Case Keenum to move in the pocket or scramble for yards.

— Keim said his interpretation of panicking is doing things out of the ordinary, and he doesn’t see the need to do that at this point. “I think we have good football players that need to play better,” he said, “and guys that need to get their heads straight in terms of preparation off the field. The mental side of it.”

— There was no update on the condition on Palmer. My guess is that there won’t be today, other than he’s going through the concussion protocol. Again, Arians said Palmer was likely to miss Thursday’s game.

— Most of what Keim talked about was overall with the team. Few names were mentioned. He said he thought Deone Bucannon played well, but fellow linebacker Kevin Minter made some mistakes. He said he thought overall, the offensive line held up. The Rams definitely beat them a few times, but with talents like Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, that was going to happen.

— Keim said rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was still not 100 percent on his bad ankle, one of the reasons he remained inactive. But Keim also said Nkemdiche needs to “continue to grow” off the field, including studying the playbook.

— Keim said he thinks Arians will be meeting with the captains and leaders, and he would guess there will be meetings among the players themselves. “There was definitely anger in the locker room after the game,” Keim said. “In a good way.”

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Rams (and Palmer) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 7:20 pm

These visits by the Rams.

Two years ago, Carson Palmer was left with a torn ACL. Last year, the Rams delivered a painful loss at the time. Sunday, it was both — a painful loss (one that, given the circumstances is more hurtful than last year’s) and a Palmer injury. The Palmer injury hopefully isn’t nearly as bad, although his concussion very well could keep him out in Thursday’s game at San Francisco. The Cards need their quarterback, although the hole in 2016 got much deeper in a six-minute period Sunday. Drew Stanton awaits his chance to start for the first time since late in 2014.

Bruce Arians was definitely trying to stay positive postgame. For those looking for fire and brimstone, it’s not coming. Not publicly. Not right now. Arians clearly sees a steady message as important to his team.

“Stick together,” is what Arians told all the players, one-by-one, postgame. The players are going to try and do that — “There is nobody in here saying the season is over,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said — but a win soon is crucial to help the message take full root.

— We’ll see how Palmer goes through concussion protocol. If he’s iffy at all, you’d think the Cardinals will have to put practice squad QB Zac Dysert on the active roster.

— The Cardinals did a great job on Todd Gurley running. Unfortunately, he got loose a couple of times as a receiver, including gaining 8 on a third-and-8 on the Rams’ game-winning TD drive. A stop there, and a field goal, and the Cards might’ve been just fine.

— It can be traced to Justin Bethel getting poked and going down early on the play, but again, a special teams play — this time the Tavon Austin return — hurts the Cards bad.

— It was good to see Smokey Brown break out as a receiver. Funny, but even after playing little in the first half, Michael Floyd still ended up with seven targets, tied with Fitz for second most to Brown’s 16. Floyd played well after a very slow start. Drew Stanton admittedly tried to force that one into him late, and it cost the Cardinals their one decent chance at a late rally.

— The Rams are lucky. They got two 15-yard penalties on the Cards’ last possession. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have even been in position to heave a Hail Mary.

— Best game Chandler Jones has had with the Cardinals.

— Aaron Donald is a beast.

— Remember how the Cardinals hadn’t turned the ball over at all and were plus-5 after two games? They’ve turned the ball over 10 times the last two games, and despite that early cushion are now, amazingly, a minus-1 in turnovers on the season.

— The Cardinals ran the ball well. Chris Johnson looked good until he hurt his groin. David Johnson looked good but had a costly fumble. Right now, every silver lining seems to bring with it a hefty cloud.

— Short week. Practice Monday, flight to the Bay Area Wednesday, game Thursday night. There’s going to be another NFC West game before you know it — probably with Stanton behind center — and we’ll see how the Cardinals respond.


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Brandon Williams, Nkemdiche sitting vs Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 11:57 am

After a week in which Bruce Arians talked about young players needing to follow the example of the veterans more often, the inactive list is filled with rookies — including cornerback Brandon Williams, who has gone from starter to inactive in the last three weeks. Marcus Cooper is the starter there now, with Tharold Simon apparently primed to get some defensive snaps if necessary.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche remains inactive as well as the Cardinals look to avoid a second straight loss.

The full inactive list for the game:

— P Drew Butler (calf)

— CB Brandon Williams

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Frostee Rucker (knee)

— NT Xavier Williams

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Friday before the (memorable) Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2016 – 3:10 pm

It’s the Cardinals vs. the Rams, a game that in Bruce Arians’ time as the Cards’ coach has often provided some memorable moments over six meetings.

  • In 2013 in St. Louis, Arians’ first game as coach, Tyrann Mathieu had his famous forced fumble from behind, although it wasn’t enough in a Cardinals’ loss;
  • In 2014 at home, Carson Palmer tore his ACL but the Cards, thanks to Drew Stanton and the defense, poured on late TDs to move to 8-1;
  • In 2014 on the road, Stanton suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury, and the defense was brick-wall-esque in a brutal 12-6 win. That’s the game in which Arians talked about a team “always 8-8.”
  • In 2015 at home, Todd Gurley broke out and the Rams managed a big upset over the undefeated Cardinals.

What comes this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium could determine the direction of the season. A 1-3 start is a difficult hole out of which to climb. The Cardinals are 2-2 — especially with a short week and trip to San Francisco coming Thursday — and life is much more settled.

— It will be helpful, to say the least, to have guard Evan Mathis in the lineup against that defensive line.

— I know the Cards knew the Bills were going to run last week and the Bills still killed them on the ground. I know Gurley is good. But I’m betting this defensive performance will look more how the Cardinals dealt with Gurley in St. Louis than that out-of-control 144-yard half in Arizona last year.

— Usually, no one pays attention to the long snapper. That hasn’t been the case with the Cardinals, and newcomer Aaron Brewer — who snapped for the Super Bowl champion Broncos last season — would like for that to change.

“Hopefully everybody forgets who I am and I kind of fall away into the shadows,” Brewer said. “That’d be the best. … That means you do your job well, when no one knows who you are.”

— It’s not ideal when two of the three pieces in the kicking operation changes in one week, but kicker Chandler Catanzaro said he’s already found a comfort level with Brewer and new holder/punter Ryan Quigley. “I understand the business of it, that it is a production business and things have happened,” Catanzaro said. “That’s something I can take on my shoulders and we can fight through it. That’s part of the deal as a specialist.”

— Yes, punter Drew Butler was supposed to hold but his bad calf won’t let that be possible. I don’t know what happens if Quigley impresses. Arians said this week Butler would remain on the roster unless an injury forced a move.

— Roy Green will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday (we will have a story posted Saturday about Green.)

— Much talk this week about Mike Leach coming out of retirement. The former long snapper told the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports he actually went out and practiced snapping at his house with a helmet and pads on, to see if he could still do it. He could — except the way his body felt the next day reminded him why he retired. Few know how much time Leach spent in the training room the past few years getting his body ready to play every week.

— If you missed it, here’s the Cardinals Underground podcast from this week.

Black uniforms Sunday.

— This point was brought up to me by a fan, that the passing game stumbles through the first three games is reminiscent of similar issues Kurt Warner and the Cardinals had through three games in 2009 after big expectations. That year, the Cardinals found their rhythm and won nine of their next 12 games (although the passing game never quite reached 2008 levels.)

This isn’t about streaks right now, though. The Cardinals just want one win, at home, against a team they’ve played generally well against (even in last year’s loss the Cards moved the ball, they just lost the turnover battle and stalled in the red zone.)

— In 2002, the Rams — coming off a tough Super Bowl loss and bringing back basically the same powerful team — ended up starting 0-5. Then-quarterback Kurt Warner has said (and reiterated this week on Arizona Sports 98.7) it was because the Rams were pressing too hard to show how good they were.

Warner said he thinks that is happening to the Cardinals. Arians agreed. Now we’ll see if the Cards can adjust that and fix the direction they are going.


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Fitzgerald: It’s not the play-calling

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2016 – 4:38 pm

The Cardinals are not playing as efficiently as they want on offense and the passing game has yet to truly click. But the problem is not overconfidence, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, and it definitely is not the play-calling — including the down-the-field mentality.

“Nobody’s opinion really matters outside of this locker room,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve had a lot of success with the way we play ball, and we’re not going to change the way we play our game. We’re a big-shot team, we’re always going to take our shots, that’s part of our makeup, and they will come.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit, who breaks down game video weekly, noted that often the Cardinals’ “pass concepts worked, but catch-throw didn’t quite connect.” Obviously, the Cards can’t get away with missing opportunities, but it’s why they feel the offense needs focus rather than a change.

Bruce Arians emphasized this week that every pass play has a deep shot component — but every play has multiple levels for which quarterback Carson Palmer can read. It’s Palmer’s choice to go for the home run or go shorter.

“We’ve just got to make first downs,” Fitzgerald said. “What we have scheduled in terms of play-calls, they are great calls. They have worked for years and years. We just need to execute them better.”


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Floyd knows he needs to ramp up

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2016 – 3:24 pm

Michael Floyd was back on the practice field Wednesday, saying he was fine after going through concussion protocol. But what about his slow start through three games?

“Some of those 50-50 balls (thrown to him), we wouldn’t be having this conversation if I had come down with them,” the wide receiver said. “That’s just how it is now. Got to look for it next week, because I know they will come to me every week.”

Floyd did have four catches for 65 yards in Buffalo, but he couldn’t come down with one crucial jump ball deep down the field early in the game (the ball was underthrown by quarterback Carson Palmer), he dropped the very first pass of the game setting a rough tone, and later, ran the wrong route late in the game leading to a Palmer interception. Floyd knows the Cardinals need him — thus far, he has nine catches for 134 yards and a touchdown — and it would help if Floyd could become that guy who strung together a bunch of 100-yard games last season.

Bruce Arians said Floyd need to be more consistent, a word the Cardinals’ brass has used often over the years about Floyd. Palmer was giving Floyd nothing but support when he was asked about him. “I have a ton of faith in him,” Palmer said. “I expect every ball I throw to him for him to make a catch or jump over someone to make a catch. He’s made tons of plays, and that’s that.”

Floyd acknowledged he’s made some mistakes early this season, and like his teammates, pledged to get better. It’s an important year for him, given that he will be a free agent after the season. No one knows that better than him.

“I think (free agency) is always in someone’s head,” Floyd said. “In my head for sure. I can only control what I can control.”


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