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Blocking communication an issue against Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2015 – 3:49 pm

Bruce Arians called the Cardinals’ pass protection “very iffy” against the Rams — not a total shock given the talent the Rams have up front — and said it extended to the tight ends and the running backs at various times.

“Our communication was terrible in this ball game,” Arians said. “With the three-man line and nickel blitzes, we did not do well.”

Center Lyle Sendlein acknowledged the need to communicate better. “There was a lot for us to talk about,” Sendlein said. “That’s a good defense. They did a good job disguising their blitzes, and they’ve always done a good job bringing their linebackers through if the back blocks. That’s something that lands on me, getting everyone on the same page.”

— Arians said again that running back Andre Ellington was close to playing against the Rams. It came down to having Ellington available in case versus having a healthy player active. I’d guess Ellington would be available against the Lions barring a setback this week.

— On the late TD pass to Tavon Austin surrendered by cornerback Jerraud Powers, Arians said it wasn’t Powers’ responsibility.

“Jerraud gave inside leverage to a guy who was supposed to be waiting for him,” Arians said. “Wasn’t there.”

— The holes for Todd Gurley came from various mistakes, almost all from trying to do to much. Arians said one example was rushing the passer instead of squeezing what turned into a cutback lane. In another case, linebacker Kevin Minter — who had taken much of the Gurley blame himself Sunday — tried to spin off a block and by doing so vacated his lane.

“Something as simple as that,” Arians said.

— Arians thought the Rams fumble-that-wasn’t was “obvious,” but he shrugged it off by noting the Rams fumbled moments before. “We should’ve recovered the fumble the play before and it would’ve never happened, when it was laying between our legs. We had our chances.”




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Keim: Losing is not acceptable

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2015 – 8:13 am

The Cardinals lost their first game of the season Sunday, and Monday, General Manager Steve Keim was predictably upset.

“Losing is not acceptable to me,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “I’m not very happy. and that’s the way this organization needs to be run. From the top down, we don’t want to lose. That’s what we should get our fans in a habit of having, a team that is not accustomed to losing here.”

There wasn’t a whole lot of breakdown from Keim, because, as noted, the Cardinals were minus-three in turnovers and 1-of-5 in the red zone and that’s how you lose in the NFL. “It’s pretty simple — football 101,” Keim said. The one positive was that the Cardinals still had a chance to win in the closing minutes even though they played poorly, and even that didn’t sound like it improved Keim’s mood much.

— Keim did say he wasn’t sure he had ever seen an interior defensive lineman dominate a game like Calais Campbell did (11 tackles). Keim said he thought it was “maybe his best game as a pro.” Campbell was excellent. But Keim also emphasized Campbell was the only player he was willing to say had a good game. Everyone else might have had flashes, but also mistakes.

— The offensive line was “average,” Keim said, saying he thought they did a decent job against three- and four-man fronts but had trouble if any more players were brought in and the hot receiver wasn’t found immediately.

— There was “good and bad” from guard Mike Iupati. Iupati definitely had some rust, Keim said. (He also said there was good and bad for almost every individual he was asked about.)

— Keim was disappointed in defenders getting out of their gaps and not being in run lanes, noting specifically Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon (Minter after the game blamed himself for much of it) and bringing up Rashad Johnson’s bad angle taken on one play trying to chase Todd Gurley.

— The good-and-bad applied to QB Carson Palmer too. Keim said rookie David Johnson (again, a good and bad day for him too) was “wide open” on the final fourth-down slant and Palmer just put the ball too high.

— Keim said running back Andre Ellington was close to playing Sunday, and provided he has a good week, Ellington seems to be tracking to be available against the Lions.

— Keim was not asked about this, but I noticed after the game that while he was active, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon did not play Sunday.

— Keim’s final thoughts: “I’m more disappointed for the organization and fanbase. … We’ve just got to bounce back. It’s a long season.”

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After the first loss, Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2015 – 7:25 pm

Now that it’s over, Sunday’s loss for the Cardinals reminded me so much – just from the feeling you’re left with – like a similar loss at University of Phoenix Stadium a few years back. It was the season opener, the Cardinals were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, and they were better than the 49ers team that came into the building that day. But the Cardinals played poorly, they lost 16-10, and it felt like a giant opportunity missed, especially in the division.

Of course, the Cardinals then won 10 their next 14 (even though they lost their next home game too, to Peyton and the Colts) and won the division.

There are differences now, of course. The Seahawks loom as a stout division champion, and there was nothing like that back in 2009 the Cardinals had to fend off. The Rams are going to be a tough out too, because they have a defense that is good. Very good.

But it’s not like the Cardinals drove off the road, or were exposed Sunday. They moved the ball a lot. They just didn’t score touchdowns, which I think, given the first three weeks, is not going to be a long-term problem. They can’t turn the ball over, but that too is something that I don’t think will be a lingering problem.

We’ll see what comes next. It’s an interesting little stretch for the Cards now. A game in Detroit, a week in West Virginia and then a game in Pittsburgh. Then comes the Monday night home game against the Ravens. The Cardinals get the Lions on a short week, because Detroit plays in Seattle tomorrow night. Sunday was not the result Bruce Arians wanted, but it’s what they earned, and you go play the next one.

— Carson Palmer took his share of hits. He was sacked four times, after being sacked only once the first three games. But as for the physical abuse, Palmer shrugged it off.

“It’s an NFC West game,” Palmer said. “That’s the nature of it. It’s a physical game. They are a very physical team, a physical defense. I feel fine, other than obviously what happened.”

— Palmer wasn’t the only one taking some hits. Other than a couple of hard hits during play, wide receiver John Brown was basically bodyslammed on his final catch near the sideline by cornerback Tremaine Johnson. No flag was thrown, although the Cardinals sideline was upset there was not a penalty.

“I as kind of surprised, but that’s part of the game,” Brown said later. “The referees don’t call everything so you just play, do what you’ve got to do.”

— Rams coach Jeff Fisher, on whether his team’s physical play bothered the Cardinals: “We’re going to play hard. I think we can play better, but we’re going to play hard. There was some contact out there, there’s no doubt.”

— It was surprising that the Benny Cunningham fumble-that-wasn’t was blown dead as fast as it was. Watching the replay, it’s hard to believe that from the time Cunningham was first hit to the time the ball popped loose the whistle could sound. Because it was ruled that forward progress had stopped, the play was not reviewable.

— All that said, I didn’t think the officials had a huge factor in this game. That was the turnovers and the red-zone play. To not get a touchdown after first-and-goal from the 1-yard line was a killer. To not ever take the lead at any point was too hard to overcome. It was probably fitting that last drive fizzled out, although it did look like driving for a field goal to win was going to happen – if the Cardinals did anything well Sunday, it was drive into field goal range.

— I thought Calais Campbell played his best game of the year, and he filled up the stat sheet (11 tackles, three tackles for loss, half a QB sack).

— This time, it was the Rams who suffered a crucial injury. Linebacker Alec Ogletree had a team-best 10 tackles and he went out in the third quarter with an ankle injury that needs surgery. It was friendly fire too – a teammate rolled up on his leg during a play. Ogletree is a big part of that deep defense.

— That was only the second time the Cardinals have run for 100 yards in a game under Arians and they have lost. The Cards are now 14-2 in those games.

— Chris Johnson looked good running the ball again. He had 83 yards on 16 carries, 5.2 yards a tote. As for those asking why he wasn’t in the game at the end, David Johnson was in the offensive nickel package (which is what the Cards were in down the stretch) so he was on the field. David Johnson is also the better overall receiver at this point.

— Six of the next eight are on the road. Lots of airplanes in the near-future.


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No Ellington against Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2015 – 11:54 am

That game-day decision about Andre Ellington? He’s a no-go again against the Rams, which really isn’t shocking after he said he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be as of yet. No reason to run him out there with Johnson and Johnson holding down the fort at running back when Ellington isn’t healthy.

The other big decision for today’s inactives: With Mike Iupati back and starting, an offensive lineman wasn’t going to play. The choice? Ted Larsen, who goes from starting to not dressing. It’s about the numbers — Bradley Sowell is the only option at left tackle behind Jared Veldheer, Earl Watford can play guard and tackle, and A.Q. Shipley has forged a role as a blocking tight end/fullback, giving him value as active.

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR J.J. Nelson (shoulder)

— RB Andre Ellington (knee)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— G Ted Larsen

— DT Xavier Williams

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Confidently, Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2015 – 4:23 pm

Carson Palmer was asked why the Cardinals are so confident right now.

“We are confident because we are good,” the quarterback said. “And we know it.”

It was a matter-of-fact statement. Palmer followed up by saying he didn’t think it was being cocky, or a false confidence. In this case, the Cardinals are simply a good football team. They’ve been building to this point for a couple of years, GM Steve Keim has filled in some of the weak spots, and this is the year to really push.

The Cards are only three games in, but they know that. They are playing the best defense they’ve seen to date on Sunday when the Rams visit, but they know that and are prepared. After Sunday, they have six of their next eight games on the road, so a 4-0 start would be, while not necessary, at least important. They know that too.

— If one of the big storylines for Sunday is how the Cardinals protect Palmer, it doesn’t sound like max protection – keeping everyone in to block save for a couple of receivers down the field – is a legit option.

“It’s not a lot of who we are,” Palmer said. “We get into big personnel groups to run the ball, not to try and fake you out and take shots with one or two receivers. We will take shots with five receivers in the game.”

— This is one of those games that feels like, as long as the Cardinals don’t hurt themselves with bad turnovers or bad blocking, they will be fine. Even last year, when the Rams had a great defense and Palmer was knocked from the game, the Cardinals still won because of defensive pressure and timely offense. Since Bruce Arians arrived, it’s hard to beat the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Mike Iupati is back. He’ll start Sunday, and Arians finally has the offensive line – although it’s funny, it wasn’t the original projected line. Remember, by the time Iupati signed, center Lyle Sendlein had been released. Still, it’ll be good to get the team’s premier free agent on the field, in a game you know the Cards want to run.

— The Cardinals’ five- and six-defensive back packages would seem to come in handy against an offense that struggles to run the ball yet whose passing game seems to rely more of short passes and runs.

— Through three games: Larry Fitzgerald, five touchdowns. St. Louis Rams offense, four touchdowns.

— This is the best three-game start of Fitzgerald’s distinguished career, by the way: 23 catches, 333 yards and those five scores. In all three categories.

— Left tackle Jared Veldheer committed three early penalties last week, including a hold that wiped out a 44-yard bomb to Michael Floyd.

“We can’t have penalties, especially Jared, that’s unlike him,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin admitted. “It’s just refreshing as a coach to be able to yell at him because other times you don’t get opportunities.”

— Anyone worried about punter Drew Butler? (That’s rhetorical, because I hear from plenty of you.) Guess who isn’t: Arians.

“He’s been kicking well,” Arians said. “Had the one bad kick but he’s been doing a good job kicking inside the 20, which is what we want him to do.”

— The lack of Rams’ offense would seem to bode well for the Cards in this regard: Under Arians, the Cardinals are 20-2 when the opponent scores 20 or fewer points.

— Although the Cardinals don’t officially announce sellouts anymore (no need, since the NFL no longer blacks out games locally), this will be 97-for-97 in terms of sellouts of Cardinals games at University of Phoenix Stadium.

— This will be a great test for the Cards’ huge red-zone start. So far, the Cards are 11-for-12 in the red zone, and the only “miss” was a field goal at the end of the first half last week in which the Cards had a first down at the San Francisco 4-yard line.

— The Cardinals will wear their black jerseys Sunday. And it’s their Breast Cancer Awareness game too, so black-and-white with pink accents. In case you need to color coordinate.

See you Sunday.


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Cards really (really) making most of turnovers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2015 – 12:27 pm

The Cardinals lead the NFL in interceptions after three weeks. They have seven (Mathieu 2, Peterson, Powers, Rashad Johnson, Bethel, Jefferson). They have yet to recover a fumble. On the other side, Carson Palmer has thrown two interceptions, and the Cards have lost two fumbles. Their plus-3 in the turnover ratio is fine, but not overwhelming.

What is overwhelming is how the Cardinals have dealt with both sides of the equation.

Of the four turnovers, the Cardinals have allowed a mere six points — the two field goals at the end of the first half in Chicago, despite the Bears getting the ball in the red zone twice after a Palmer pick and a J.J. Nelson muffed punt. Yet the Cards have turned their seven takeaways into 41 points. It doesn’t hurt that three of the interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, but the Cards have scored every single time they have stolen the ball. The ultimate underscore of this three-game stretch came against the 49ers. Palmer threw an interception — a bad one — near the end of the half. Yet Tyrann Mathieu picked the ball back moments later, setting up a field goal (on what was headed to be a touchdown drive if the Cardinals hadn’t run out of time.)

It’s a ratio that isn’t going to be sustained all season (you wouldn’t think.) But it’s a crucial way to give you leads in games, and yet another thing to point at with a 3-0 record.



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Keeping Palmer in, and not letting up

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2015 – 12:43 pm

The Cardinals had built a 31-7 halftime lead over the 49ers, but Bruce Arians was blunt with his team, and was willing to share his message to the broadcast reporters who checked in with him at halftime.

“If you relax, I’ll be looking for new players,” Arians told his players. “Keep your foot on their throat.”

It’s a message that often has to be repeated in games that have gone extremely well in the first half. That’s not necessarily unique to Arians. But it underscores the Arians mentality — and underscores why, in the last two weeks as the Cardinals have easily put away both the Bears and 49ers, starting quarterback Carson Palmer has played all but three snaps.

There is concern — and it’s fair — from the outside wondering if Palmer, so valuable to this team’s chances, should be coming out when the Cardinals have the game in hand. Part of the issue is that Arians, not unlike many coaches, has a different perspective of when a game is in hand.

“That’s the way I coach, the game is never over until it’s over,” Arians said after the Bears game.

The last time the Cardinals played in Chicago in 2009, they also built a big lead and then-coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to put in backup quarterback Matt Leinart. Leinart threw an interception and Whisenhunt actually put Kurt Warner back in after just one series, with the Bears cutting the lead to 13.

Against the 49ers, Palmer’s last drive was conservative in terms of Palmer’s exposure. On a 13-play touchdown drive — which consumed a big part of the final 15 minutes — the Cards ran it 10 times. The only pass play that wasn’t a quick throw was Palmer’s pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham at the outset of the drive. If the Cardinals do manage to get a big lead against the Rams Sunday (and most of the time, this will be moot because usually games are close week to week), perhaps Palmer comes out. But maybe he doesn’t, with Arians choosing to not let up at all. He doesn’t want his player relaxing, and I’m guessing Arians doesn’t think he should relax either.

Jim Tomsula, Bruce Arians


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For Cardinals, a running game takes root

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2015 – 12:34 pm

The Cardinals ran for 120 yards against the Saints, 115 against the Bears and 139 Sunday against the 49ers. It is the first time the Cardinals have rushed for at least 115 yards in each of the first three games of the season since 1988. The 374 rushing yards are the most for the franchise in the first three games of the season since the Cards had 416 in 2002. (That 2002 start was aided by Thomas Jones’ 173 yards in the first regular-season game ever at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, a Cardinals’ win, the second week of the season. The Cardinals had 249 yards rushing in that game alone.)

The Cardinals have done it with nearly equal contributions from Andre Ellington — who looked great against the Saints before he got hurt — and David Johnson and Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the 49ers, and showed plenty of burst just a couple of days after his 30th birthday. Better yet, after Bruce Arians said that generally Earl Watford was a better run blocker than Bobby Massie at right tackle, the Cards had their best rushing game against San Francisco with Massie in there. And this team hasn’t even gotten to see what guard Mike Iupati — arguably their best run blocker — has to offer yet.

“It’s just a start,” veteran center Lyle Sendlein said. “You can’t just show up and expect you’ll get that kind of yardage every week.

“Obviously it had a level of importance in the offseason that they had been working on, and when I got here (in training camp) it was pretty apparent we were going to commit to getting yardage in the run game.”

Under Arians, the Cardinals are 14-1 when rushing for at least 100 yards. That can be misleading; Arians always says being committed to balance only counts in the first three quarters and then the game itself dictates how the fourth quarter will be called. Against the 49ers, for instance, the Cardinals went into the fourth quarter with a 40-7 lead and 10 of 13 Arizona offensive plays were runs as they drove for one more touchdown. (The final “drive” was three Drew Stanton kneeldowns, which count as “runs” but also screw up the stats with minus-one yard on each kneel.)

Like everything else, Sendlein emphasized it’s only a start. But it’s a start. The Cardinals, since 1995, have ranked higher than 21st in the NFL just once — 15th in that 2002 season — and haven’t been higher than 23rd since 2004. Seven times they have been ranked 30th or lower. This year, the Cards are currently 11th in the NFL.



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Keim: Scouting success and fine wine

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2015 – 8:09 am

The Cardinals are 3-0, and without any significant injuries coming out of the dominant win over the 49ers (go ahead, you can knock on wood) the appearance of General Manager Steve Keim on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday morning was less about news and more about GM analysis. And, it is noted, also a shout-out from Keim to his scouting department, from vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough to director of college scouting Dru Grigson to director of pro scouting Quentin Harris and everyone down the line.

Keim noted the contributions the Cardinals are getting from college players found at Presbyterian (Justin Bethel), Deleware State (Rodney Gunter), Northern Iowa (David Johnson) and Pittsburg State (John Brown), and veteran free agents like Chris Johnson and Jermaine Gresham. “From top to bottom, (the scouting staff) is as good as anyone in the league,” Keim said.

— As if the statistics and score didn’t make the point, Keim liked his offensive line play. He said right tackle Bobby Massie played well, as did right guard Jonathan Cooper, and added that Gresham has made a big difference in the run game setting the edge as a blocker. Gresham, Keim said, has given the Cardinals something they haven’t had at tight end in while. (Side note: The Cardinals are hoping Troy Niklas develops into that kind of edge blocker.)

— The defensive line, with their major rotation, dominated on its end too. Keim specifically mentioned Gunter and defensive end Frostee Rucker.

— Not surprisingly, there was praise for the older guys like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and even Chris Johnson, who celebrated his 30th birthday Sunday with 110 yards on 22 carries. “Like fine wine they get better with age,” Keim said. “It’s fun to see.”

— Keim was asked about some of the grumbling around the league when the Cardinals gave Fitzgerald $22 million guaranteed in February for two years, considering Fitz was older and his production was on the decline. It’s not on the decline anymore. Not that it matters, Keim said, because the outside talk can’t matter to him.

“Internally you have to continue to trust in what you believe in,” Keim said.

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Domination, and 49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2015 – 7:27 pm

It had been 47-7, a dismantling of an NFC West rival, and Calais Campbell was happy. But not too happy.

“My message the whole time will be, ‘Keep putting work in, keep respecting the process,’ ” the defensive end said. “We have a long way to go. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

Those weren’t just words to Campbell. As he spoke, he used his hands to emphasize his point. There were some laughs last week about Bruce Arians telling his team they weren’t (insert bleep noise here), and more chuckles Sunday when Arians said his team now smells just a little bit better. But the idea that the Cardinals will keep their heads about them even though they have scored a ton – 126 points in three games, seven points better than the high-flying Patriots – and dominated two weeks in a row.

“The kind of guys we have on this team now, no one is going to get carried away,” said long snapper Mike Leach, who is playing in his 16th NFL season and has a good pulse on such things. Leach noted that the best part of the Cardinals is that even in spots where they are young, there are vets who have taken guys under their wing.

Plus they have a coach who, while he might smile a bit when he says it, is willing to say they ain’t (need that bleep again) and mean it.

That isn’t to say the Cardinals didn’t play really, really well Sunday.

— The Cardinals have 17 touchdowns in their first three games, only the fourth team in NFL history to do so. The last was the Cowboys, who had 18 touchdowns in the first three games of 1968. Kind of mind-boggling.

— Carson Palmer is now 16-2 in his last 18 starts with the Cardinals. He made one really bad decision – he said he was trying to throw his interception out of bounds but instead, the floater was not even close to anything but 49ers cornerback Kenneth Acker – but had a bunch of nice throws. Plus he had two dropped, including what would have been a 28-yard TD to Smokey Brown.

— Chris Johnson turned 30 Sunday and he averaged 5.0 yards a rush and gained 110 yards on the ground. And he’s the youngster in the offensive trio that lit up the 49ers, alongside Larry Fitzgerald (9 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns) and Palmer (311 yards passing and the two TDs.)

— He’d never ever say it, but I can’t help but think Fitz is sitting back having “I told you so” thoughts to the NFL world.

— Tyrann Mathieu. “Savage season” indeed.

— Justin Bethel not only had his first interception of his career for a touchdown, but it came on his first defensive snap of the season. Plus he forced a fumble on a kick return (the 49ers kept it) and downed a punt. What a day.

— Drew Butler did not hit a great punt that ended up being returned inside the Cardinals’ 20-yard line and set up San Francisco’s only touchdown. But he did strike a good punt on the play where Bethel caught it cleanly at the S.F. 1, held for a beat, and then tossed it back so he wouldn’t take it in the end zone.

The officials first threw the beanbag around the 4 where the Cards ending up grabbing the ball, but Leach was there to help.

“They were just discussing it and I was just letting them know, reminding them what the rule was just in case,” Leach said.

The Cards had the same play last year with Bethel against the Lions. Leach wasn’t going to forget. And on the next play, the Cardinals swarmed Carlos Hyde for a safety.

— That punt-and-return by the Niners for their only score was the only time the 49ers crossed the 50 the whole game.

“The passion the defense plays with is … unbelievable,” Leach said.

— Colin Kaepernick was bad. The Cardinals made him look so with the four INTs. But Torrey Smith had no catches against cornerback Patrick Peterson. And Anquan Boldin was held to two catches for 16 yards.

— There were a ton of good performances, but linebacker Kevin Minter stood out again too. It felt like a make-or-break year for Minter. Three games in, it feels like he’s making it.

So … the last time the Cardinals put a defensive back in their Ring of Honor, it was at halftime of the game against the 49ers, which the Cardinals won. And then they later reached the Super Bowl. Just sayin’ …



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