The Cardinals made a pair of not-surprising moves Friday, cutting two players who missed all of 2013 because of injury: wide receiver LaRon Byrd and linebacker Dan Giordano. Byrd suffered a concussion in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. Giordano, an undrafted rookie last year, suffered a toe injury during the offseason and was never able to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Byrd had been waived-injured last season, but after he wasn’t picked up by anyone, he reverted back to injured reserve. He had been back at the facility working out recently. Giordano had been faithfully rehabbing daily since the season ended.
Both play positions that figure to be further addressed this offseason, either in the draft or otherwise. The Cards certainly will be adding some outside linebackers and seemingly are a lock to draft one at some point. Receiver is another spot where the Cards will add bodies, although with a top four right now of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn and Jaron Brown, it isn’t a pressing need.
Tags: Dan Giordano, Jaron Brown, LaRon Byrd, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn
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The cliché has been around awhile, some version of “It’s not about the ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ but the jimmys and joes.” And no, pizza has nothing to do with the conversation. It’s a simple concept really, one that emphasizes the reality that without players, you can draw up the best plays in the world and you still aren’t going to be successful. It came up in the context of profootballfocus.com releasing their full season stats from the NFL and the best defenses in producing unblocked pressure. The Cardinals were the best in the league midway through the season and held on to the top spot by season’s end with 82 unblocked pressures.
In the stats, the Cardinals were led by two players in particular — linebackers John Abraham and Karlos Dansby. Dansby had 13 total unblocked pressures and Abraham 12, and Dansby produced four sacks in those pressures (Abraham two). So it stands to reason with Dansby leaving for Cleveland, the Cards will be hurt in this regard in turning the role over to Kevin Minter — not as athletic as Karlos — or whomever. You lose a ‘joe,’ maybe the ‘O’ doesn’t hold up, right?
Or maybe not?
First of all, at least in this context of rushing the QB unblocked, scheme would seem to have a ton to do with it. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is doing something to confuse the other team, regardless of the players. Even “lesser” players are supposed to be accounted for every play by the offense. Of those 82 pressures, 23 came through an ‘A’ gap (the spots between the center and either guard). No one is supposed to forget the guy standing near the ball, even if he is a step or two off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes it was an overload on one side situation (35 of 82, according to PFF) and sometimes the offense simply didn’t block a guy even if there was someone there to do so (19 times).
Certainly, a talent like Dansby played into the equation, as did Abraham. You’d have to look at every play individually to really know if the result was a combination of factors, a Dansby “win” or a Bowles’ scheme result. You figure there is a mix. You figure Bowles knows what Minter can and can’t do, and while the Cardinals won’t run the same things exactly for him as Dansby, I’d guess if Minter comes free through the ‘A’ gap he’ll probably find a way to create some havoc. The Cards didn’t have the same ‘jimmys’ in the secondary once Tyrann Mathieu got hurt, but Bowles’ ‘Xs’ were good enough to fluster both the Seahawks and 49ers pretty good the final two weeks of the season.
There is a reason Steve Keim is always looking to upgrade the roster where he can. And you take Patrick Peterson and Daryl Washington off the defense, for instance, and the scheme is not going to look as good. But scheme matters too.
Tags: defense, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Pro Football Focus, scheme, Todd Bowles
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A little of this, a little of that …
– Kurt Warner captured by TMZ talking about Arizona vs. St. Louis. “I probably feel more allegiance to Arizona than St. Louis, just because of the fact there are a number of people that are still there, teammates or in the upper levels (of the organization), being the last place I played, I still live there, there is probably a little more allegiance there,” Warner said. “But still a huge fan of St. Louis and I thank them for everything they gave me.”
I’ve been asked before whether Warner, if and when he goes into the Hall of Fame, would go in as a Cardinal or a Ram. Moot point. Players don’t pick a team for their bust, like you do in the baseball Hall. I just like the fact Warner showed up on TMZ.
– As far back as when Lorenzo Alexander signed with the Cards Bruce Arians was talking about how he had “inside and outside capabilities” at linebacker. Last year, the Cards needed him outside. Now, they need him inside, so it’s no surprise to hear that’s where they are going to play him. It’s highly likely the Cards look at outside linebacker/pass rusher again in the draft (you keep taking those guys when you are building a 3-4 and you don’t have a dynamic, young pass rusher) and depth is needed inside. You don’t know if/how long Daryl Washington might be suspended, you don’t know if Kevin Minter will be the answer. Alexander, who has played inside earlier in his career in Washington, provides depth and a guy who can spot start.
– I’ve been asked a couple of times whether the signings of LeQuan Lewis and Eddie Whitley means the Cards would be less likely to draft a cornerback. No. I thought that when they signed and that’s just underscored with the news yesterday that both two-year deals the players signed did not include a signing bonus. In other words, they can be released without any cap penalty, and in the offseason and a fluid roster, there are often a player or two signed that don’t even get to training camp. I’m not saying that’s Lewis or Whitley, but the bottom line, they are no locks either.
– Virginia Tech tweeted out photos of Arians working out QB Logan Thomas yesterday. What does it mean? It means the Cards are doing due diligence. Beyond that, please don’t get too riled up. I’d want to see what the kid could do too, especially since he’s about as raw as they come even with his considerable physical tools. The annual workout/pre-draft visit caveat: Just because the team meets/works out a guy, it doesn’t mean they are interested. I know of past connections done specifically when they knew they didn’t like the guy just as a smokescreen. And you never know how the meeting/workout went anyway — the Cards may find out they don’t like the kid for one reason or another.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Daryl Washington, draft, Eddie Whitley, Kevin Minter, Kurt Warner, LeQuan Lewis, Logan Thomas, Lorenzo Alexander, Roster
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Andre Roberts got to be a No. 2 receiver for about three weeks.
He signed with the Redskins early in free agency and make no mistake, he got the big money he was hoping for, about $8 million guaranteed on a four-year contract. He also figured, given the rest of the receiving corps, to end up as the second wideout target behind the emerging Pierre Garçon. Then DeSean Jackson hit the market, Daniel Snyder jumped on that, and Jackson is now a Redskin. He’ll team up with Garçon, and while Roberts should remain an important cog it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize Roberts is the one most negatively affected by the Jackson signing. (Well, maybe not as much as the Philadelphia Eagles.)
One of the reasons Roberts wanted to leave Arizona was not only the money, and make no mistake, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere close to the money he got in Washington here. But he also wanted to have more passes thrown his way. He said as much. And now, through a quirk of fate unseen by anyone at the time Roberts signed with Washington, that’s unlikely. It’s a difficult twist but the reality of the NFL: Teams are always looking to upgrade, and it usually costs someone else.
That’s what Kevin Minter went through last season. Obviously, it’s not the same situation. Minter was drafted, and he didn’t have the chance to pick and choose where he was going. But he couldn’t have ended up in a better place, which, frankly, is why the Cards took him. Sure Jasper Brinkley was signed here, but Minter was going to be the guy penciled in to play alongside Daryl Washington sooner rather than later. Then, again through unseen circumstances, Karlos Dansby was signed and Minter disappeared defensively, playing just one defensive snap all season. Now Minter is going to get his chance, but you never know what can happen — an unexpected release, a la Jackson, or a unexpected draft pick.
Things can change quickly in this league. The landscape is littered with examples.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Kevin Minter
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There’s no getting around it: The Honey Badger sucked me in. I let my guard down on a day I should not have, and when Tyrann Mathieu tweeted out that he ran three miles today without a brace, I dutifully retweeted the good news. Of course, he then deleted it — not after I added my “good news” note and dozens of fans retweeted that — and then Mathieu delivered the “April Fools” punchline. I knew there was optimism in his rehab. But I should’ve known better about three miles of running in April after the nasty knee blowout he had. You live and you learn. I owe him one.
Anyway, there was something real to say about the Honey Badger Tuesday — there is a new episode of the web series “Tenacious,” which is chronicling Mathieu’s rehab from his knee injury.
In “The King In Me,” Mathieu talks about his belief in how everybody, including himself, is a “King.” “I try and inspire people to not run from the world,” Mathieu said.
He also touches on the monotony of rehab. “I don’t try to look at the (big) picture right now,” Mathieu said. “I try to keep my mind on the first game of the season, what I am going to do when I get back on the field. That’s what I think of, because thinking about this process, it can drive you crazy.”
Tags: Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals got 11.5 sacks out of starting linebacker John Abraham and excellent edge-setting run defense from fellow starting linebacker Matt Shaughnessy last season. With both coming back in 2014, it’s hard to believe those won’t be your starters at the position. It’s also hard to believe neither were starters when 2013 opened — instead, it was Sam Acho starting over Shaughnessy, and Lorenzo Alexander instead of Abraham.
That changed early in the season, when both Acho (broken leg) and Alexander (foot) suffered season-ending injuries Week 3 in New Orleans. Oh, and that was the same day rookie outside linebacker Alex Okafor (biceps) also was lost for the season. It opened the door for Abraham — who hadn’t been thrilled with his playing time — and Shaughnessy to play a lot and ultimately play well. But it also leaves in question the roles of Acho and Alexander going forward, as well as the spot for Okafor.
It would be an upset if the Cardinals do not take a pass rusher/outside linebacker in the draft. As well as Abraham played last season, he is 35 and in the last year of his deal and the team needs to find a longer-term solution as a dynamic pass rusher. Acho and Alexander have their strengths, but neither figure to fit that bill. Okafor (who said late last week he has been officially cleared to work post-rehab) still could become that guy, although missing his rookie year set him back in his development. Acho did have seven sacks as a rookie in 2011 but only four in 2012. Alexander, meanwhile, might not end up outside. Coach Bruce Arians has talked about Alexander’s ability to move inside and right now, the Cards could use the depth there after cutting Jasper Brinkley and losing Karlos Dansby to free agency.
Like cornerback, outside linebacker (and more specifically, pass rusher) is a position at which a team will constantly throw numbers. You always need multiples, and you can never have too many. Where Acho, Alexander and Okafor fit in Year 2 of the Arians/Steve Keim era will be something to watch. The landscape is definitely different from the last time they stepped on the field.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Bruce Arians, John Abraham, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, Sam Acho
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The Cards have made a couple of trades in the past year that included draft picks and possible draft picks, but as of right now, the team’s selections are pretty straightforward: The 20th pick in each of the first six rounds, with no seventh round choice after it was dealt to Oakland in the Carson Palmer trade.
– First round (20th overall)
– Second round (52nd)
– Third round (84th)
– Fourth (120th)
– Fifth (160th)
– Sixth (196th)
As GM Steve Keim has proven, he will make trades. Given the six choices, any Cardinals trade is probably going to be to move down instead of up, in order to gain an extra choice or two. Last year, wheeling and dealing gained the Cardinals eight total picks, dealing down (and still picking up LB Kevin Minter in the second round) and ending up with bonus fourth- and sixth-round picks. Those netted them Earl Watford and Andre Ellington, and if Watford ends up starting this year, that could be some very sound trading. (Ellington alone might make this true.)
Tags: Andre Ellington, draft, Earl Watford, Steve Keim
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The Cardinals’ initial foray into free agency was offense-heavy. Not a big shock, since that side of the ball need the most work. As the draft approaches, however, the focus may just shift. Because even though Bruce Arians is an offensive guy, GM Steve Keim has a belief that the good teams in this salary cap work have a dominant side of the ball. And the Cardinals — with the No. 1 rush defense and the sixth-ranked defense overall — aren’t in that realm on the offensive side of the ball.
“Seattle was a dominant defense with a solid offense,” Keim said. “Denver was a dominant offense with an OK defense. In our situation, we are closer to having a dominant defense. So I think you have to continue to throw gas on the fire. Continue to build the strength.”
That’s why cornerback Antonio Cromartie shot to the top of the to-do list after he was cut by the Jets. The move surprised the Cards — they did not think New York would let him go — but rallied to understand the situation and aggressively court him. It was only a one-year contract, but the team proved last year with linebacker Karlos Dansby that could be a golden type of situation. There are still spots defensively that need shoring up (like the need for a safety or inside linebacker depth), and there is also Keim’s quest to get longer and more athletic with his 3-4 defensive ends and the pass rushers outside. The draft could very well provide those things. But when you start looking at the top end talent on the roster, it is the defense that claims many of the spots, whether it is Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell or Daryl Washington. (Or even, as Ron Wolfley points out, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who fortunately for the Cards did not get a head coaching job.)
The offense isn’t going to be ignored — “We know we have areas we need to fix and it certainly needs to catch up with the defense,” Keim said — but a defensive juggernaut is the first goal. It’s what has put the Seahawks and 49ers into the stratosphere they are in, and why the Cards returned to relevance last season.
Tags: 49ers, Antonio Cromartie, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, defense, draft, Patrick Peterson, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Todd Bowles
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The Cardinals grabbed a headline when they signed a speed receiver in Ted Ginn. And Larry Fitzgerald remains at the top the receiving food chain in Arizona, especially after he restructured his contract. But the team leader in yards and yards per catch last season was former first round pick Michael Floyd, who broke out in his second season to surpass 1,000 yards and remains — because of the lengthy shadow of Fitzgerald — somewhat under the radar.
That can change, coach Bruce Arians thinks, because Floyd is still developing.
“He became a 1,000-yard receiver,” Arians said, “but he can improve as much this year as he did last year.”
If Floyd legitimately makes as big a leap in his third season as he did in his second, the Cardinals would be looking at a superstar. The Cards could use that on multiple levels, one of which being what could happen with Fitzgerald’s future given his unwieldy 2015 salary cap number. Because of the way the Cards run the offense and the way they want to use Fitzgerald now that he has moved inside because of his age, Floyd will get the shots down the field (although some figure to go to Ginn). At some point, defenses may start to see him as a double-team candidate, but can they risk leaving Fitz one-on-one? Or Ginn deep? Or Ellington split out wide? These are the problems the Cards are trying to create.
Floyd can get better. Arians wants to see more consistency, although Floyd had a stretch last season where he looked pretty darn consistent, grabbing first down catch after first down catch. He is so physical in his battles with defenders.
“He learned how to play hurt, play through injuries, but he lost some big plays,” Arians said. “We have tape for him to watch when he gets back. A real good one and a real bad one. He needs to eliminate the real bad one.”
That should be a natural progression anyway.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn
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About five weeks into the season last year, Carson Palmer approached coach Bruce Arians to talk about rookie running back Andre Ellington.
“Let’s make him a wideout,” Palmer said.
“No,” Arians responded. “We can use him as a wideout as a running back.”
Arians recounted the conversation Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. Ellington’s receiving skills are not only well-known but have been discussed quite a bit, by Arians, Palmer and Ellington. “We are going to have a lot of fun this spring because his skill set is so unique,” Arians said. Once again, Arians talked about the Ellington workload and the fine line between riding the running back and not subjecting him to too much punishment.
“He is still not a guy who you will pound up the middle 30 times a game and survive,” Arians said. “He can run the football 30 times a game if you do it correctly, but you’d rather have him have 10 catches and 20 carries and let Stepfan Taylor or (Jonathan) Dwyer have the rest of the carries pound the rest of the ball up in there.”
(Noteworthy that Arians didn’t mention Ryan Williams as a possibility? Perhaps.)
Arians said the mismatches offensive coordinators find these days with tight ends used to be the ones for running backs, naming old-school guys like Ronnie Harmon and Todd McNair. “It will be fun with Andre, see how people play him,” Arians said.
One other Ellington note: Arians said the staff has to be careful with how much of the offense is actually built around the back. “You’ve got to watch that you don’t create too much stuff and then he sprains an ankle and you don’t have any offense because you put too much in one basket,” Arians said. “You still have to have your cinch-it-up, grind-it-out football.”
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, owners meetings
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