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Wednesday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 10, 2014 – 2:02 pm

There are variables that play into the fact Drew Stanton has statistics that are noticeably different at home (a 3-0 starting record, plus one come-off-the-bench-to-lead-Cards-to-a-win-after-trailing-Rams, with six touchdowns and only two interceptions) and on the road (a 1-3 record, one TD, three picks). Bruce Arians says the noise is a factor. The teams the Cards have faced on the road are pretty tough, including the two Super Bowl teams from a season ago. Larry Fitzgerald missed two of the road losses.

Regardless of the whys, the point is Stanton has to have a better game Thursday to win in St. Louis. The Rams are playing incredibly well defensively. Yes, the back-to-back shutouts came against the Raiders and Redskins, but that doesn’t mean they are meaningless (perhaps you noticed Derek Carr just threw three TD passes against the 49ers the week after the Rams destroyed him.) Plus, when you have talent playing with confidence, it’s a scary combo.

Arians says he has to call better plays. Maybe that’s something. Stanton said he doesn’t really feel a big difference playing home or away in terms of how he does things.

“I think that it’s one of those things where communication is obviously a premium on the road,” Stanton said. “You have to be able to identify that and do that. I think that at the end of the day, like I said from the get-go, all I’m trying to do is get a win, and whatever that means, at the end of the day, that’s how you’re evaluated. We have to go on the road, and obviously the last two times we’ve gone on the road we didn’t take care of the football and we weren’t good on third downs.

“We have to go do those two things and be more productive in the red zone and come away with touchdowns instead of field goals and hopefully put ourselves in a good position at the end of the game.”

Simple enough. But as Stanton pointed out in terms of the run game – and the same can be applied here – everyone wants to do certain things, in this case, not turn it over and produce in the red zone. It’s executing that’s the key.

– Speaking of confidence, Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers was told the Rams have back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1945. “1945?” Brockers responded. “We’re about to shut out three! When’s the last time we shut out three?”

Wonder if the Cardinals heard that.

– Antonio Cromartie is a game-day decision. He didn’t blow out his Achilles, but it still seems tough to picture him being able to play after just a few days. The Cards need him, but they really need him for the Seattle showdown in 10 days, and you wonder if that could factor in to the equation.

– Speaking of injuries, the Cardinals have everyone listed as probable except for a couple of guys, but they aren’t as healthy as the Rams. Even Jeff Fisher acknowledged such. “You’re going to have to look far and long to find a team that deactivated seven healthy players last weekend like we did,” the Rams coach said. “I know injuries have been tough on Arizona. From that standpoint, we’re in pretty good shape.”

– The Cardinals haven’t won 11 games since moving to Arizona. So a win is a big accomplishment beyond its playoff implications.

– Considering both these teams got off to terrible starts this season in terms of accumulating sacks, they have both rallied big-time. The Rams have 34 sacks in their past eight games; The Cardinals have 23 in their past five.

– The trip to St. Louis used to be the one road game the Cardinals could ring up as a win. At one point after the Cards joined the NFC West, the Cards won seven of nine in St. Louis. But the Rams have won two straight there – one in 2012 when the Cards played their on Thursday night when it was impossible to protect Kevin Kolb, and then last year when the Cards blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead.

– It’s telling that Darren Fells, emerging blocker at tight end, got by far the most tight end snaps last week. I don’t know if it will remain lopsided, but I’m guessing Fells is going to be an important cog going forward.

– These teams are a lot different than they were just four weeks ago when they last played, especially with both starting different quarterbacks. It’s hard to read what that will mean. Plus, it’s a short week. Arians said he isn’t worried about his players being physically ready to handle it. We’ll see if they are mentally ready to go.

Beforeramsbloguse


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In support of Cat Man

Posted by Darren Urban on December 10, 2014 – 8:50 am

As the Cardinals walked off the field winners Sunday, one player looked less than happy. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro had just clanged a short field-goal attempt off the left upright a couple of minutes before, costing the Cards three points that could have made a big difference. That came after Catanzaro had somehow hit the right upright with a field-goal attempt earlier in the game.

Special teams coordinator Amos Jones walked off with his arm around Catanzaro, giving words of encouragement. Later, in his press conference, coach Bruce Arians waved away any thought of problems with his rookie kicker. “He hit them great, he just hit them into the post,” Arians cracked.

Catanzaro acknowledged the support mattered.

“It does mean a lot,” Catanzaro said. “I understand I am out there to put it through the uprights and I failed to execute that twice. I am thankful for my opportunities but hate that I didn’t capitalize. It does mean a lot for the coaches to say that on my behalf, but I just have to go out and do my job Thursday night and finish the season strong for the team.”

Since starting the season 17-for-17 on field goals and tying the NFL record for most makes in a row to start a career, Catanzaro has made only five of his last nine attempts. But he is 22-of-26 on the season and the Cardinals still feel they have a find in the undrafted rookie. That’s why it’s important to have him keep his confidence, and why what Arians (publicly) and Jones (privately) say makes a difference.

It wasn’t as if the Cat Man shanked his misses Sunday either. The final one in particular looked fine until it faded at the final moment. Catanzaro did make three field goals in the game, and he’d have to kick a long time to knock two of five field-goal attempts off an upright. The odds are astronomical.

“I’ve had a little bit of a laugh about it,” Catanzaro said. “It’s got to be some kind of record, right? But I’ve just got to forget about it and drive on.”

CatManPicUSE


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Beat the Rams, and the playoffs are all but a lock

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2014 – 9:39 am

The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.

The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.

There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:

Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:

– The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.

(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)

That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)

A win in St. Louis would be a major step.

Playoffclinchbloguse

 


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Cromartie has ankle injury, and other Keim notes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 8, 2014 – 8:19 am

The short week has started. The Cardinals are already in meetings this morning, prepping for a Thursday night game in St. Louis, even as the win Sunday against the Chiefs has barely had a chance to register. That’s what happens on a short week; Bruce Arians said the coaches probably won’t even grade the Chiefs game because it’s already time to move ahead. Today is “Wednesday” in terms of the prep schedule, Tuesday is “Thursday” and Wednesday is a combo “Friday/Saturday” with travel mixed in. Hectic doesn’t begin to describe it.

So the newsiest thing coming out of GM Steve Keim’s weekly segment on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 this morning was an update on cornerback Antonio Cromartie. When Cromartie first got hurt it did not look good, having to be helped off with help. Then it was announced it was an Achilles injury, which is really not good. A tear there and you are done for a long time.

But after the game, Arians said it wasn’t the Achilles, and Keim this morning said the preliminary diagnosis was an ankle injury affecting the peroneal tendon. Keim said at this point Cro is day-to-day, although he is getting more extensively checked out by doctors this morning.

“Things  can change, but it wasn’t on the surface as severe as I thought it looked,” Keim said.

More from Keim:

– He said he wasn’t sure how Andre Ellington’s workload will be handled next year, but that he needs to get fixed up now. The running back is will go on injured reserve as soon as today and is getting surgery on a hernia in Philadelphia.

“Sometimes in football there are those fluke injuries,” Keim said. “And there are those guys who have rough seasons in terms of durability.

“Andre has got to stay healthy and I think this is an important offseason for him in terms of strength and conditioning, getting bigger, stronger.”

– Keim said the offensive line had its best game of the season, and thinks left tackle Jared Veldheer is “having a Pro Bowl season.”

– Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy banged up his shoulder late in the game and didn’t return, but Keim said he should be OK.

– Keim said he and Arians had “several conversations” over the last few weeks whether to make running back Kerwynn Williams active. They liked what they saw on the practice field, but there was an unknown once he would get into a game. Guess Williams answered that concern.

– It was director of football administration Mike Disner — the Cardinals’ salary cap guru, among other duties — who saw the ball pop loose from Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and told Arians he should challenge. The resulting Cardinals’ recovery was a turning point in the game. Disner spends every game with the coaches in booth upstairs, and one of his duties is to help figure out replay challenges.

“Dis gave us for good information for once,” Keim joked. “Not many people know this, but one of my nicknames for him is ‘Dismal.’ Because he is the money man. So many times we are talking about potential free agents or guys I’d like to sign ad he’s the guy who gives me the thumbs up whether we can afford him or not. I call him ‘Dismal’ because too many times I get the thumbs down. (Sunday), ‘Dismal’ gave us some great news.”

– Keim opened his segment by praising the home fans. “They were a big reason why we won Sunday.”


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The Ker-wich and Chiefs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2014 – 8:43 pm

Apparently, he calls them a “Ker-wich,” because these are the details that emerge when you have, as Larry Fitzgerald said, “storybook stuff” like the Kerwynn Williams development. A Ker-wich, you see, is the specialty meal for Williams, the guy who had never had an NFL carry before the 19 he had Sunday and just happened to pick up 100 yards in the process.

“I have a Ker-wich every day,” Williams said. “PB and J. Four stacks. Two peanut butter, two jelly, stack ’em on top of each other. Have the milk, gotta dip it in milk too.”

Maybe it’s the diet of champions. Maybe it’s just the diet of a kid who, given a chance to play, provided the Cardinals something they so desperately needed. No one is going to confuse the Chiefs’ run defense with the Seahawks or even the Rams. But the Cards hadn’t been running the ball a lick for three weeks. Sunday they did. Jonathan Cooper got his first start at left guard and left tackle Jared Veldheer was battling a sore ankle but the lanes were there much of the game and the offensive line was at the heart of it all. And it was spearheaded by Williams, and the Cards came out with a win.

The celebration wasn’t exactly going to last long at all. It can’t. The Cardinals are back at it in just a few hours from now. They travel to St. Louis Wednesday afternoon for a brutal short week – especially with all the injuries – to play the Rams. Not fun.

“You have to love the NFL schedule though,” Fitzgerald said with a smile, and I’m thinking his true feelings are pretty much the opposite of love. “Eight o’clock meetings (Monday) morning and six o’clock treatment. This is the schedule.”

A schedule that’s a lot easier to digest, frankly, after a crucial win. Ten wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1975-76. You could see it in the locker room, this was important.

– Before we flash too far back, though, a look ahead. The short week is brutal for even the “healthy” guys. What about cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was feared down with an Achilles injury? Bruce Arians said afterward it turned out to not be the Achilles (exhale now) but still couldn’t specify what was wrong.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed for him,” Arians said. That might be more optimistic for the long-term, but can he possibly turn around to play in a game in four days? Same goes for linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, who hurt his shoulder late in the game and didn’t return. We also need to see how Fitz, playing for the first time in three weeks but not at 100 percent, can bounce back on such a short week.

– Arians took blame for a couple of play choices that didn’t pan out (and drew plenty of questions on my Twitter feed at the time — @cardschatter, if you need it). “I called a couple of really bad plays,” Arians said. He named the Robert Hughes run up the middle on third-and-1 – when the Chiefs loaded the line of scrimmage with what seemed like 15 men – and the screen down at the Kansas City 5 that lost four yards in particular.

– It’s safe to say the Chiefs feel they got the short end of the stick on the two key calls of the game – the Fasano offensive pass interference and the Kelce fumble. (Who knew the Cardinals would benefit so much from the other team’s tight ends?) The Cardinals weren’t apologizing and insisted they thought a) Fasano committed a penalty and b) Kelce definitely fumbled.

But, defensive end Calais Campbell said with a smile, “Hey, that’s part of the game. The referees are a big part of the game some times. Sometimes it goes against you, sometimes it goes for you.”

– Not ideal that rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro put not one but two field-goal tries off an upright. I’m not sure he could do that again in five attempts if he tried 100 more times. But I do like how Arians laughed it off. The Cards can’t be thrilled, but public backing is important because they are going to need him.

– Frostee Rucker with a big game Sunday. Two sacks, and he was the guy in Alex Smith’s face to force the bad throw/Alex Okafor interception. Rucker has had a solid year for the Cards.

– Okafor (the pick, another sack) has turned into a find for the Cardinals at linebacker.

– No question that the Cardinals got a huge boost because Jamaal Charles got hurt. He had that 63-yard TD run and dynamic 18-yard TD catch off a swing pass and that dude was destined for a big day. But he hurt his ankle which I assume cost him touches. Still weird they didn’t go to him more. Judging by his reaction postgame, Charles felt it was weird too.

– Drew Stanton wasn’t great, but he was good enough, and that’s all the Cards can rightfully expect. He didn’t turn the ball over (although the Chiefs dropped one sure interception), he threw a beautiful TD pass to Jaron Brown on third-and-18 and threw a beautiful bomb to Michael Floyd for 45 yards. He kept going after Tamba Hali wrenched his ankle early in the game (on a play that I thought at first might’ve ended Stanton’s season.) You cannot fault the guy’s toughness or effort.

Guess it’s time to go. Short week for everyone. Including me. But the Cards have 10 wins in the book, so that’s a nice jumping off point.

10winBlog


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Ellington done for the season

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2014 – 6:07 pm

Bruce Arians confirmed the pre-game speculation that running back Andre Ellington is out for the season. Ellington is suffering from a hernia that needs surgery — Ellington is flying to Philadelphia to get the procedure done — and will be placed on injured reserve. We’ll see what the corresponding move will be (I’d think there’s a good chance Michael Bush is brought back, but we will see.)

It’s a harsh blow for the Cardinals but perhaps the best seeing all the injuries that have piled up on Ellington, from his previous hip problem to the foot issue that he has dealt with all season. Maybe it’s a good thing it came on a day in which the Cardinals rushed for 141 yards as a team, which is a season-best, and a day in which practice squad product Kerwynn Williams rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries. Not sure the same running lanes will be there against St. Louis/Seattle/San Francisco, but given the circumstances, the Cardinals have to be happy. As happy as you can be losing a key part of the offense.

 


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Fitzgerald active for Chiefs’ game

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2014 – 12:35 pm

Larry Fitzgerald will play.

That’s the best news out of an ugly injury week as the Cardinals announced their inactives for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. It’s a list that wasn’t that hard to figure, since Bruce Arians announced Friday four of the guys who were already going to be out: Andre Ellington, Paul Fanaika, Ed Stinson and Tyrann Mathieu. But Fitz will play. We’ll see how effective he can be — understand that his knee is not 100 percent, but all along, everyone involved said Fitzgerald wouldn’t play unless he could help.

The full inactive list:

– S Tyrann Mathieu (thumb)

– RB Andre Ellington (hip)

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– G Anthony Steen

– DT Ed Stinson (toe)

– G Paul Fanaika (ankle)

– DE Kareem Martin

It’s been a rough year for Martin as the Cards’ third-round pick. He’s made much less of an impact than the Cardinals were hoping. Running back Kerwynn Williams is one of the active players. So is linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, after Shaughnessy missed eight games.

And as a postscript, the roof will be closed today.


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Friday before the Chiefs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2014 – 3:48 pm

It’s been a while since the Chiefs have come to Arizona. The last visit was in 2006, in the first season of University of Phoenix Stadium. It, like this Sunday’s visit, comes a week after the Cardinals made a trip to Atlanta and lost. Back then, the Chiefs’ game was the first NFL start of a first-round draft pick – quarterback Matt Leinart. This week it’s the first NFL start of first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper.

It’s an interesting parallel even if it doesn’t relate directly to Sunday’s game. Leinart actually played well that day with a couple of touchdown passes (even though Larry Fitzgerald left with a hamstring injury that would ultimately keep him out three games, the longest down-time of his career) and should have had a third if Bryant Johnson didn’t let a throw go right between his arms.

But that was then, this is now. Game-day decision Fitzgerald should play against the Chiefs after missing the last two games – keeping that three-game stretch back in 2006 as his career-high (or low?). And Cooper’s play, while important, won’t be as important as the play of quarterback Drew Stanton, who needs to bounce back. The QB is in the crosshairs, especially with the Cardinals without running back Andre Ellington and his problem hip.

– If the Cardinals win, they remain the NFC’s top team, regardless of any other game, with three games to go. If they lose, they will no longer be the NFC’s top team regardless, because Philadelphia and Seattle play each other and a win with a Cards’ loss puts either ahead in the standings. The Cardinals don’t want that.

– One running back the Cards won’t have is Michael Bush, who was released Friday. That could be a short-term thing, but for now, the non-Ellington backfield will feature Stepfan Taylor—who will get the start in a running-back-by-committee scenario — and Marion Grice. Arians had some praise for Grice Friday. And all season, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said he saw Grice as a player who could fill the Ellington role. Now he has to.

“We have a lot of trust in him,” Goodwin said.

– This is interesting: Cardinals punter Drew Butler was fined $8,268 for facemasking Falcons punt returner Devin Hester on Hester’s 70-yard punt return for a touchdown that was called back. It was called back because Hester was flagged for facemasking Butler. Except … Hester wasn’t fined for the penalty.

– So to recap, the man who was penalized was essentially exonerated with no flag, and the man who should have been flagged wasn’t. Throw in the fine-but-no-penalty for William Moore on Cards’ wide receiver Jaron Brown, and it doesn’t seem like the officials had the best game.

– For those who want to know, the Cardinals will again wear their red pants Sunday (with the normal red home jersey.)

– The Cardinals are holding their annual toy drive Sunday at the game. Partnering with The RoomStore, volunteers will join cheerleaders to collect unwrapped toys and donations for underprivileged children outside each entrance at University of Phoenix Stadium.

– If the Cardinals win, they will have seven home victories. That would be the most for the franchise since 1925, when the Cards had 11. Eleven home wins. It helps that the Cards that year played 13 of 14 games at home (which was in Chicago at the time.)

– In 59 career games before he infamously lost the tip of his finger trying to make a tackle in New Orleans, safety Rashad Johnson had three interceptions. In 22 games since, he has seven interceptions. To be fair, Johnson didn’t start really playing a lot until the second half of the 2012 season, but still.

– Larry Fitzgerald, asked if he takes pride in his run blocking in the offense: “I take a lot more pride in catching passes.”

Fitz laughed as he said it, and he did say he does want to help with his blocking. But let’s not confuse this. Later, Fitz said “I have nothing to do with the run game. I’m a wide receiver.”

– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said the game in Atlanta was a “bad day at the office” for his unit. Bowles said they forgot it quickly, and have to move on. The defense needs to. They will be crucial down the stretch, especially as offensive injuries mount.

– Bowles was on the staff of Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid in Reid’s final year as Eagles’ head coach. It didn’t go well – the Eagles were bad, and Bowles, who eventually took over as interim defensive coordinator, was hammered by fans and media as the defense struggled – but Reid said now Bowles was the best interview he’s ever had. Bowles returned the compliment.

“It was great working for him,” Bowles said. “I probably learned more from him in one year than I have from a lot of people over a long time.”

– Hopefully for the Cardinals, it also means Bowles learned Reid’s tendencies. The Cards need every advantage.

See you Sunday.

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RB Bush cut as Shaughnessy rejoins roster

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2014 – 3:01 pm

The Cardinals made a somewhat surprising move today by cutting recently signed running back Michael Bush. The Cards were going to have to create a roster spot for linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, who is coming off IR/designated to return. But the Cards also decided to promote running back Kerwynn Williams back to the active roster from the practice squad, so cutting Bush and new tight end Matthew Mulligan were the moves made.

Bruce Arians had been hesitant to say if Bush was playing this week, and this probably is the reason why. Stepfan Taylor is getting the start at running back in place of the injured Andre Ellington, who heads up a long list of injured players. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate Bush from coming back — it’s possible he’s just not up to speed yet, not like Williams, who knows the offense, and this is a game-to-game thing — although it’s also possible the Bush experiment simply didn’t work out.

Arians said the running backs will be worked in as the game dictates. I’d anticipate Marion Grice getting a chunk of work even with Taylor starting. We’ll see if the Cardinals can make headway running the ball against what has been a bad Chiefs’ run defense.

“The runs that are working pretty good are the ones downhill,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “We have to be better at the ones that go sideways, as far as zone plays.”

Ellington (hip), starting right guard Paul Fanaika (ankle), defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb surgery) are all listed as out.

Arians also said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has been making progress but who is still not 100 percent, is going to be a game-day decision again — so no lock Fitz plays. Fitzgerald did practice fully Friday for the first time since his knee injury, however.


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Jaron Brown hit costs Falcons safety

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2014 – 4:15 pm

In the locker room after the loss to the Falcons, wide receiver Jaron Brown shrugged off the shot he took from Falcons safety William Moore late in the game — a play in which Brown held on to the 23-yard pass and jumped right back up after he was leveled.

“Wasn’t no big hit,” Brown said.

It did come with a big fine, though. While no penalty flag was thrown on the play (and coach Bruce Arians angrily asked the officials about that at the time) Moore was fined $22,050 by the league for the play. The NFL said he struck Brown with the crown of his helmet. Moore wasn’t happy about that turn of events either.

“I’m proud of myself because I didn’t get a flag on that play,” Moore told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That was more important to me. I’ve been working on playing within the rules and that’s what I’m proud about; I didn’t cost the team 15 yards. That was huge.”

Moore is appealing the fine.

“I watched it a few times and I’m trying to play within the rules,” Moore said. “I pride myself in trying to be a class act and play the game how it’s supposed to be played. I still try to play hard-nosed. I don’t know what to do if they are going to fine us for everything that we do. Is it really about the players is what I have to ask?”

Maybe it wasn’t too big a hit for Brown. He did make another two catches for 16 more yards after the blow.

Jaron1hit

 


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