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Campbell back to practice, but will he play?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2014 – 2:26 pm

Defensive end Calais Campbell was back at practice Thursday for the first time since absorbing the chop block of Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. Campbell’s MCL suffered a slight tear, and Campbell — understandably — has been cautiously optimistic in his approach of playing against the Eagles Sunday after missing two games. He wants to play, of course. He also doesn’t want to go out unprepared. Campbell already knows the knee isn’t going to be right the rest of the season. He wants to make sure it’s right enough.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had some fun at Campbell’s expense when analyzing the end’s first practice back. “He’s slow to begin with so it’s hard to tell,” Bowles said, with a big laugh. “He looks the same as when he got caught by Peyton Manning on the touchdown.”

That’s a zing. If you recall, Campbell should have had an interception return for a TD in Denver (before his injury), only to have Manning somehow knock him down near the goal line.

The Cardinals certainly could use Campbell on the field. He was having a Pro Bowl-type season when he was hurt. The Cards have to deal with a better offense Sunday against the Eagles than they have against the Redskins or Raiders in the two games Campbell has missed. But in the long run, the Cardinals must have Campbell period. If that means one more game missed, it would be understandable. All along, Arians said Campbell had to practice at least Friday to play. He looks like he’ll have Thursday and Friday (assuming no setbacks after today.) That would see to bode well for a potential Campbell play Sunday.

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Passes for everyone because no INTs allowed

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2014 – 5:22 pm

Bruce Arians was blunt. He isn’t concerned about getting the ball to any particular receiver, nor is he concerned that any receiver would be looking for that out of Arians’ offense.

“Just come see me,” Arians said. “I’ll tell you your role.”

To be clear, no wideout has made a peep about receptions or targets. Arians said that, and so did quarterback Carson Palmer, who added that if the Cardinals were throwing a bunch of incompletions, it could be an issue. But that’s not the case.

“As long as that ball’s in somebody’s hands and the chains are moving, our guys are happy and they’re blocking for each other and being used as a decoy for each other to get each other open,” Palmer said. “They’ve been very unselfish.”

The Cardinals’ leading receiver in terms of catches after six games is not Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd. It’s running back Andre Ellington, who now has 25 receptions. Fitzgerald is next with 23, Floyd with 19. Floyd has been the one with big plays — he has 353 yards — but Fitzgerald has just 283 yards and no one is on pace to get 1,000 yards at this point. Fitzgerald in particular is far behind the totals to which he once was accustomed.

(Fitz, by the way, has never complained once publicly. I can’t believe he doesn’t want the ball more, but he knows the Cardinals are winning.)

But Palmer has been all about spreading the ball around. He threw completions to nine different players in Oakland. Both Arians and Palmer acknowledged that on Sunday’s TD pass to Floyd, Palmer could have hit John Brown or Fitz (although Fitz would have been well short of the first down.) Instead, Palmer decided to take the deep shot. On another play, Palmer had Fitz open in the end zone, but a low shotgun snap threw off the timing and Palmer instead dumped it over the blitz to running back Stepfan Taylor for the score.

Palmer, as he’s said many times, reiterated he wants to get the ball to Fitzgerald more often and knows Fitz needs his touches. But he doesn’t want to force it and he definitely doesn’t want to pass up another open receiver to do so.

“In this system, you’ve got running backs who can catch it and go the distance, you have receivers that can do that, tight ends that can do that, so there are a lot of guys you have to cover,” Palmer said.

Arians said the passing game is all very simple: “You have to check your ego at the door. It’s about eliminating interceptions and taking what defenses give you. When you have the number of tools we have, we put five guys out there who are more than capable of breaking a game open, don’t force feed anybody.”

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A bootless Ellington, and finding practice time

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2014 – 2:17 pm

This can only be seen as good news for the Cardinals: Running back Andre Ellington, after his heaviest workload of the season Sunday in Oakland (30 touches), did not have to wear a boot on his left foot Wednesday — which had been a constant for Ellington, who has been dealing with a tendon problem for weeks.

“He’s not in a boot, which is nice for a Wednesday,” coach Bruce Arians said.

The reality is that Ellington will be dealing with the foot injury all season. And it’s possible the bootless Wednesday will be a one-week thing. But Arians, noting Ellington had a pair of drops Sunday and lined up wrong once, likes the possibilty that Ellington could practice more than he has been. Arians said Ellington, who has done very little Wednesdays, has usually been struggling during Thursday’s practices (when he again is limited.)

“It really hurts some timing in the passing game,” Arians said. “The practice time is hurting him. He’s gutting it up and is playing extremely well on Sundays, but the one week he practiced all week was, I thought, his best game. This one (in Oakland), he made a lot of plays, but again, there were more plays to be made.”

When Arians says the Cardinals would like about 70 percent of the game plan to involve Ellington, these are not small concerns.

Ellington insists he’s always familiar with the game plan and he works hard on his mental reps. The bootless development meant he’d be able to run in practice more than usual. But he acknowledged the timing in the passing game probably is hurt with little practice, especially since he isn’t a natural receiver. It’s just part of what Ellington and the Cardinals must account for this year.

“I understand it’s never going to feel good,” Ellington said. “It probably won’t feel good until January or February, whenever the season is over with. I’ll just take it day by day, try to keep it calmed down.”

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Uniform choices and the flex barrier

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2014 – 4:45 pm

It never fails that I get requests often to say which uniforms the Cardinals will wear on a given Sunday, especially at home when the black tops are in play. You can count me as one who doesn’t understand the big deal about the uniform (other than I get fans wanting to wear matching gear to their team) but people want to know. At this point, the black alternates are no longer available. The NFL doesn’t like allowing alternate jerseys once flex scheduling starts, and this year, flex scheduling began back in Week 5, earlier than before.

The decisions to pick what uniforms to wear was broken down quite well in this Sports Business Journal story from a year ago (h/t to @PhilHecken). Included in the story is this passage explaining the alternate jersey rules:

 In 2002, the league began regulating when teams could wear their third uniforms, which some teams made throwbacks and others made an entirely new jersey with alternate colors. The initial rules said that they could wear the third jerseys only twice a year, but those rules have become more prescriptive over time.

The league wants national TV audiences to see teams in their primary uniforms, so teams are allowed to wear third uniforms only in regular-season games on Sunday afternoons before the start of the league’s flex schedule. The NFL will grant exceptions on some occasions when teams make a formal request.

The Cardinals, by the way, will wear red uniforms with the white pants Sunday against the Eagles. No sign of red-on-red yet, although it is possible for later games.

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Cat Man drives kickoffs deep

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2014 – 10:14 am

At this point, the story of Chandler Catanzaro is pretty well known. The undrafted rookie kicker out of Clemson — who got all of a $1,500 signing bonus — is 15-for-15 on field goals, tying the NFL record for most makes to start a rookie season. He’s already got 56 points on the season, and he’s a nice blend of humility with an layer beneath of confidence. He’s not going to brag about himself, but there is no question he thinks he can be a great kicker. He’s off to a great start.

But the field goals are only part of the equation. His kickoffs — a part of the game that more than anything moved the Cardinals toward looking for a Jay Feely replacement — have been as impressive as expected.

Of Catanzaro’s 34 kickoffs so far, 30 have not made it past the 20-yard line and more importantly, Catanzaro already has 22 touchbacks. In this day and age of kickoffs being up five yards further and rules changing the way the kickoff return can be blocked, that’s not overwhelmingly surprising. Last year, the Cards had 33 touchbacks on 86 total kickoffs. Catanzaro should reach that total by mid-November.

So far, the average starting position of Cardinals’ opponents after a kickoff is the 19. That ranks second in the NFL, behind only Cleveland (at 18.1). A touchback actually helps an opponent these days.

“They are going well,” Catanzaro said. “I didn’t hit them as well (in Oakland) and I need to get better this week. But they are going well. I didn’t do them in college and I am happy with where I am. I’m confident. I did some work ever since the Orange Bowl was over last year with Clemson, working my tail off where my kickoffs are. I have to keep that up because I think that’s helping us win games. Honestly, it’s a huge testament to the kickoff team as well. They are doing an awesome job.”

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Keim loves Cardinals’ balance, nitpicks aside

Posted by Darren Urban on October 20, 2014 – 8:13 am

Balance is what Steve Keim liked the most out of the Cardinals’ win Sunday in Oakland — “I can’t remember the last time we ran it five more times than we threw it” — though the General Manager noted during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports, “it wasn’t perfect.”

Every week Keim is asked about his concerns. He talked about not wanting to beat the “dead horse” of seeking more of a perimeter edge rush. “I’d like to see us put teams away a little earlier, not make it so dramatic,” Keim added. “But that’s being nitpicky.” Indeed, the Cardinals are 5-1, so they have to be doing something right. (As Adrian Wilson once infamously said during a live radio interview, “(Expletive), it’s hard to win in the NFL.”)

– A week after saying he was hoping cornerback Patrick Peterson had more focus, Keim said he thought Peterson played well on Sunday. There were two penalties, although Keim, without saying it, clearly wasn’t all that fond on the flag Peterson was given for pass interference. “I thought Pat played excellent, played with urgency,” Keim said. “I was really, really pleased with how Pat played.”

– Keim said he thought rookie defensive lineman Ed Stinson had his best game, and added fellow rookie defensive lineman Kareem Martin did some good things too. Also getting praise from Keim were linebacker Sam Acho and safety Tyrann Mathieu, who impressed Keim with some looks-like-2013 play against the Raiders.

– Running back Stepfan Taylor not only helped create confidence in his play for the coaching staff, Keim said, but probably gave himself some confidence too. That’s important when talking about having help for Andre Ellington.

– Carson Palmer’s poise in the pocket caught Keim’s eye, crystallized by Palmer’s improvised roll-out and throw to Ted Ginn on third-and-long. Keim thought Sunday showed Palmer’s strength and velocity was returning to the shoulder/arm.

– As for the potential Palmer contract extension, Keim reiterated how the Cardinals take a three-year view on the entire roster. And Palmer isn’t the only one the Cards are considering an extension for. “We are looking at others who have expiring contracts,” Keim said.


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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2014 – 9:27 pm

If you were Jared Veldheer, Sunday’s trip to Oakland meant a lot. If you were Tommy Kelly, it meant a lot. If you were Carson Palmer, well, you tried to downplay it, but your teammates and coach weren’t so sure. It was an obvious storlyline though, with the Raiders sitting at 0-6, that Oakland writers wanted to hit the Raiders-return-home narrative.

Was it nice to get Carson a win, Kelly was asked? “Yeah, you want Carson to win, but I think more about myself,” Kelly said. “I wanted to win for myself.”

Makes sense to me.

The Cardinals had a lot of different reasons to get Sunday’s game, not the least of which the fact both Seattle and San Francisco lost and the Cards now have a two-game lead in the loss column. The brutal part of the schedule now commences –home against Philly, at Dallas, and we go from there. A lot can still happen. Bruce Arians was quick to emphasize the Cards hadn’t won jack yet and shouldn’t overestimate themselves. Nevertheless, it’s better to be up two in the loss column right now than the other way away, and while the Cards have their warts, so too do the Seahawks and 49ers.

– The Cards do get a victory Monday. Although as B.A. makes clear, anyone in their first- or second-year still has to come in tomorrow. Something tells me a good chunk of guys will still show up to get a lift in at least. That’s what happens when a team is winning.

– It was great to hear Andre Ellington say it was his call to come out at the end of the Cardinals’ long touchdown drive – the one in which Ellington had been the ball carrier on every play – so Stepfan Taylor could get a TD shot. First, I heard from a lot of fans (I’m guessing, Ellington fantasy owners) wondering why Arians had made such a move. But it wasn’t B.A., it was Ellington asking for a blow.

More importantly was why Ellington came out. Ellington knows he doesn’t have to practice a ton because of his bad foot. Taylor has to do extra work in practice and often there’s no payoff in games because Ellington gets the snaps. That Ellington would think of his draft classmate is cool.

– The Cards were still having some problems getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Linebacker Larry Foote got the lone sack (although the Cards a couple times seemed like they would get to Carr and Carr escaped) but headed into games against Philly’s offense and Dallas – where a great running game buys time for Tony Romo – you have to wonder how that plays out.

– I’ll be curious to see how OC Harold Goodwin analyzes Sunday’s run game. The Cards got 123 yards. Goodwin probably wanted more production, but it was the key, especially on that TD drive that took control of the game.

– Palmer throws a pick. It was going to happen. In some ways, it might be good the streak is over.

– After a few games of bad third-down conversions, the Cards converted 9 of 15 third downs Sunday. That’s excellent. The Cards also held the ball for more than 36 minutes. That’ll win games even if the offense isn’t perfectly sharp.

– Patrick Peterson got caught for a couple more penalties Sunday. He has seven in seven games – four pass interference and three holds. He’s a physical cornerback, and this is life in the NFL this days for those guys. He’ll have to continue to adapt.

– Kicker Chandler Catanzaro is now 15-for-15 on the season kicking field goals, tying the mark of the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein as the most consecutive makes to start a rookie season (Washington’s Kai Forbath made 17 to start his career, but he wasn’t considered a rookie at that point, having been on injured reserve his entire rookie season.)

“It’s pretty cool a rookie record, definitely humbling,” Catanzaro said. “It’s my job. As much as I say it, it’s my job, that’s what they signed me up for.”

– Michael Floyd went up and got a 33-yard TD catch one-on-one in a battle with Terrell Brown and it seems like he always does that these days. In fact, Floyd in the jump ball area right now feels a lot like watching Larry Fitzgerald circa 2008.

– That’s enough for this game. The Cardinals are 5-1 for the first time since 1976. An impressive start. But there are still 10 to go. A lot can happen.

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Still no Grice as inactives named

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2014 – 12:02 pm

The inactive list is out for today’s game against the Raiders. Running back Marion Grice is inactive again, which sounded about what the case would be when Bruce Arians was talking about him Friday. The full inactive list:

– RB Marion Grice

– DE Calais Campbell (knee)

– TE Troy Niklas (ankle)

– DT Bruce Gaston

– LB Desmond Bishop

– LB Thomas Keiser

– LB Glenn Carson

The Raiders have some key players inactive today: OL Khalif Barnes, DT Justin Tuck and FB Marcel Reece.


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Fitz laughs off paying-for-Pro Bowl TD story

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2014 – 11:17 am

Back in the 2012 Pro Bowl, Larry Fitzgerald — at the height of there-is-no-Pro-Bowl-defense-being-played — had three touchdown catches. The last was a 36-yarder in which Fitz easily beat Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown had somehow talked his way into playing cornerback in a game the AFC was dominating at the time. You can see the TD at about the 49-second mark of this video here.

In itself, a forgettable play in a meaningless Pro Bowl. But then this week, former NFL coach Wade Phillips was doing a radio interview in Houston. With the Steelers playing the Texans this week, Brown became a topic of conversation with Phillips. And Phillips happened to be one of the coaches for Brown in that 2012 Pro Bowl. Phillips noted Brown wasn’t a very good defensive back.

“The first pass, he breaks it up, you know, makes a great play,” Phillips told SportsRadio 610. I said, ‘Wow this guy is a pretty good corner.’ The next play the guy torches him for about 40 yards. He just stands there and watches the guy catch the ball for a 40-yard touchdown. He comes off the field and I said, ‘Antonio what are you doing?’ He said, ‘Coach, he gave me five hundred dollars if I let him catch one.’ ”

Phillips never mentions any names, but it isn’t hard to figure out Fitzgerald was the receiver on the play. Now, I find it hard to think Fitz would pay $500 to catch a Pro Bowl TD, because for all the millions he has made, Fitz and his cash do not part easily. But I asked Fitz. He had not heard that story was going around. And he laughed at the idea, saying it wasn’t true.

“It’d cost a lot more than $500 for a touchdown,” Fitzgerald said, chuckling.

Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown


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(A quiet) Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2014 – 4:46 pm

Oh, there was still drama Friday that impacted the Cardinals, but for the first time in a couple of weeks, it wasn’t directly related to the Cardinals themselves. Instead, the Seahawks traded (the guy who seemed to be a dangerous) playmaker Percy Harvin to the Jets. That means the Cards never had to play against the guy when he was in Seattle – he was injured for both 2013 meetings, and the Cards have yet to play the Seahawks this season. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about why Harvin was dumped soon – a lot of stuff out there already basically saying Harvin had worn out his welcome – but the Cards aren’t going to be dealing with him.

Otherwise, it was a boring Friday for the Cards as they prepare for their road trip to Oakland. That’s a good thing. No quarterback questions. No wondering about chop block fines. No new injuries. Just a game.

How about that?

– Bruce Arians all but scoffed at the idea of trap games, and the way he and his staff operates, that doesn’t surprise me. There has been zero looking ahead (Philly and Dallas are up next) from what I have heard/can tell. Arians did say the Cards can’t be as listless to start in Oakland as they were against Washington and I totally agree. The lesson hopefully was learned.

– Speaking of listless, the last time the Cardinals went to Oakland for a regular-season game was 2006. It was a disaster. It was a week after the Cardinals had the infamous Monday Night Meltdown and Denny popped off (hey, that eight-year anniversary, by the way, was yesterday!) The Cardinals had fallen to 1-5, but we’re playing the 0-5 Raiders and the I-don’t-give-a-flip version of Randy Moss. The Cards were terrible. Moss actually scored a TD. That was a long time ago.

– Andre Ellington believes the run game is close. He actually said he feels more fresh right now than he probably should, because his foot injury means he doesn’t do as much as practice as he normally would. Ellington has also be careful, as he was going to have to, of getting down on plays once he figures out he’s not going to gain any more yards.

It was noticeable against Washington, and I even heard from a couple of fans wondering why he was going down so easily. In the end, Ellington said, it’s about thinking big picture.

“I don’t have the strength to fight away from tackles,” Ellington said. “I try to do myself justice by getting down and getting ready for the next play.

“(Other people) are not out there taking those hits like I have to. I feel like once I get all I can get, I’m going to go down. I moreso do it on plays when I get a big gain. If it’s third-and-one, I’m going to fight for that yard.”

– Ellington also said the Cardinals would have “some surprises” in the run game Sunday. We’ll see what that means.

– Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker was fined $10,000 for ripping the helmet off quarterback Carson Palmer on that in-the-grasp-probably-should-have-been-a-sack pass completion Palmer made to Robert Hughes. Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson was fined $16,537 for a horsecollar tackle on the sideline made on safety Rashad Johnson after Johnson’s first interception. Neither play drew a flag from the officials (although Dan Williams, Jared Veldheer and Tony Jefferson tried to get in Jackson’s face after the play.)

– Running back Marion Grice got a few first-team reps at running back this week, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said, although Goodwin made it sound it was more exploratory rather a harbinger of anything imminent. Goodwin also reiterated he thinks Grice can perform all the same tasks as Ellington.

– The Cardinals are third in the NFL in run defense, meaning they moved up in the rankings even after losing Calais Campbell and Matt Shaughnessy. Now they face the next-to-last rushing team in the league.

– How about Dan Williams playing some defensive end? The nose tackle likes it. “I’ll take it where I can get it,” Williams said. “It kind of reminded me of college a little bit. I haven’t played that much end since my rookie year.”

– You just get a feeling Patrick Peterson is motivated to have a big game Sunday.

– You know the Raiders buried a football? That’s what interim coach Tony Sparano did with his team, symbolizing the end of the poor play that culminated with coach Dennis Allen’s firing.

“If you keep looking back with that same old mindset like, ‘Oh, yeah man, we can’t do it because this, this and that, we already lost five games,’ well you defeated yourself before you even tried to get on the field and to make something happen,” Raiders defensive end and former Cardinal Antonio Smith said. “I think that was the main thing that Tony was trying to symbolize when burying that ball—burying whoever you were before that day, whatever team we were before that day.”

The Raiders played better last week. But they still lost. The Cards don’t want that changing. Not yet.

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