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That’s-much-better Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 7:15 pm

Justin Bethel came flying down the field on the Cardinals’ second punt of the game and lit up return man Adam Humphries after a one-yard return, Bethel’s helmet flying off and Bethel emotionally jumping up and celebrating. Last week, Bruce Arians said Bethel had to decide if he wanted to play. This week? “He looked like Justin,” Arians said.

“It felt good to get back to my regular self, especially when it comes to special teams,” Bethel said. “I definitely felt I was myself, playing at the level I should be playing.”

Bethel might’ve been talking about everyone. The Cardinals had an off Week 1. You can talk about being overconfident or overhyped or too anxious or whatever, but the Cards clearly put that game in the rear view Sunday (Jimmy Garoppolo clearly showed this week it wasn’t a fluke of a game either, before he got hurt against the Dolphins.) It’s a week-to-week thing, and the Cards have to go cross country this week to play an early kickoff game in Buffalo. But for now, the ship has been righted. Pretty emphatically.

— Bethel said he predicted he’d have three special teams tackles in the game, and he had three tackles.

— Training camp MVP Jaron Brown was excellent Sunday. He had a huge 27-yard reception on third-and-10 that helped spark a touchdown drive (Michael Floyd’s one-yard TD catch) and, of course, hauled in the 51-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half. With Floyd’s future in Arizona uncertain because of upcoming free-agent status, Brown (who will be an unrestricted free agent himself) is an intriguing option.

“All his catches seem to be in the biggest time of the game,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t happy that David Johnson ran the wrong route in the end zone, not only possibly costing the Cardinals a TD pass but nearly costing Carson Palmer an interception when Brent Grimes dropped the ball. Palmer, however, was forgiving of his star back. “He had just run like 90 yards and broke a bunch of tackles,” Palmer said. Close — it was right after Johnson’s awesome 58-yard catch-and-run into the red zone. “I was tired from just jogging down.”

— The Cardinals, after forcing five turnovers Sunday, are now a plus-7 after two games and have yet to turn the ball over. It won’t last — not like that — but it’s impressive.

— Don’t forget coming back out to University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow for the weekly “Monday Nights at the Big Red Brew Haus” event. This week, running back David Johnson will be in the haus.

— Patrick Peterson’s first interception of the season, on a long bomb try from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, had to make Fitzgerald proud. Peterson ended up behind Evans and then expertly kept his body up against Evans, cleanly squeezing Evans until the ball got over the 6-foot-5 Evans’ hands and into Peterson’s.

Of course, later Peterson could have had a second pick, but he dropped it. On the drive, the Bucs eventually scored on a TD pass to Evans over Peterson. “Usually when you drop an interception, bad s*** happens,” Arians said.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones got a sack in the waning moments, but he had a very quiet night. The Cardinals will need more QB pressure from him going forward.

— Arians wasn’t thrilled kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point. I’m not sure of the snap on the play, but a later snap on another Cat Man kick looked a little low. Rookie Kam Canaday is going to be watched carefully after his opening game.

— After two games, no defender is playing better on the Cardinals than safety Tony Jefferson. He too is going to be a free agent after the season. Not sure what will happen with him, but he’s played excellent football.

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Nkemdiche out against Bucs; Mathis active

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 11:31 am

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given the way Bruce Arians called him a “non-factor” in his debut and then having him pop up Friday on the injury report as questionable with an ankle problem, but first-round defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is inactive today for the Cardinals. Nkemdiche hurt his ankle before training camp even started and it’s possible he jacked it up again in practice.

While Nkemdiche flashed in a couple of practices, publicly Arians has continued to push the rookie. It’s beginning to feel a little like how Arians treated 2015 draft pick D.J. Humphries. Humphries, as we all know, was inactive all last season. The hope would be that Nkemdiche doesn’t fall into the same trap, although the depth the Cardinals have on the defensive line is there to be used if needed.

One slight surprise on the active players: Newcomer cornerback Tharold Simon is indeed active after being claimed Wednesday. How much of a role he has is TBD.

The full inactive list against the Buccaneers:

— WR J.J. Nelson (shoulder)

— S Marqui Christian

— G Cole Toner

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Frostee Rucker (knee)

— LB Kareem Martin (knee)

— DT Olsen Pierre

And, apropos of nothing, the downside of losing the Bucket Challenge:


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Friday before the Buccaneers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 4:06 pm

Practice over for the week and the players going off to leave for the day, Bruce Arians said during his Friday media meeting he hoped the Cardinals would do a better job of mental preparation between then and kickoff Sunday against the Buccaneers. Asked what he could do in that regard, Arians didn’t hesitate.

“That’s their job, not mine,” he said. “I’ve already prepared them. That’s their homework.”

A little while later, linebacker Kevin Minter chuckled when that message was relayed. “He told you exactly what he told us,” Minter said. “Almost verbatim.”

“He has a point though,” Minter said. The linebacker said the practices last week — like this week — were excellent. Something got lost before kickoff in Week 1. Maybe it had to do with the emotions of the moment, with a Sunday night game, and the Patriots, and 9/11, and the season starting. “Not making excuses, but we had to calm it back down,” Minter said.

Did they?

“You get hit in the mouth like that, you better calm down,” Minter said.

Guess we’ll find out Sunday.

— So much is on the defense this week. They know they didn’t play as the should’ve last week (I’ve got the “10-for-16” burned in my brain at this point.) They face a much more dangerous passing offense in terms of explosion. They still have to find a way to go with work-in-progress Brandon Williams at cornerback. Can’t let Doug Martin get outside, but I think the Cards can handle the run game. Can they slow down Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson down the field? A couple of those TDs last week in Atlanta weren’t about bad coverage — it was Jameis Winston throwing to a tall receiver and that receiver making an incredible catch.

— The GMs in this game, Steve Keim and Jason Licht, are close friends. Wonder if there has been any trash-talking this week.

— It’ll probably be a week or two before new cornerback Tharold Simon is active for a game, but Arians said Marcus Cooper, the corner acquired in a trade a couple weeks ago, will “get action” this week. I assume that means on defense. Cooper played five special teams snaps against New England.

— The last time the Cardinals played the Bucs, it was in Tampa in 2013, the back end of a week away from Arizona. The Cardinals pulled out a late win against an inferior team because Patrick Peterson made two interceptions in the last four minutes of the game. (Why rookie QB Mike Glennon, in his first start, was throwing at that point no one knows.)

Peterson said he had forgotten about the circumstances until assistant athletic trainer Chad Cook brought it up. “Didn’t know that was in the last four minutes of the game,” Peterson said. “So that was pretty clutch.”

— Larry Fitzgerald now has 100 career touchdowns after his last one against the Pats. Fitz was asked where that TD ranks for him.

“Ranks 97 behind Jerry Rice,” Fitzgerald said. “So that puts it in perspective for me to keep working.”

As good as Fitz is, I don’t think he’s catching Rice.

— I think John Brown will be better this week than last. Not sure if he just needed a game to get the rust off, but I think you’ll see some Smoke this time. And I think the Cardinals need him.

— Peterson said the Cardinals will “definitely” bounce back after last week. “I’m not guaranteeing a win, but there is a different energy,” Peterson said. “I can feel the sense of urgency. … Good teams don’t lose twice (in a row).”

Bring on the Bucs.

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Cards know they have to tackle better

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 10:13 am

It doesn’t get much more simple in the game of football than tackling. And the Cardinals didn’t do it well enough against the Patriots to open the season. Blame the lack of work in the preseason, blame a practice environment in the NFL that doesn’t really allow pros to practice true tackling. But it has to get better. Truth be told, I believe that even with everything else staying the same from that night, even with the Brandon Williams mistake and uneven offensive play, that if the Cards had tackled better, they would have won.

“The tackling overall was an issue for us,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “There were runs that got out on us that if we made the tackle on first hit … we had them at about 95 yards after contact and that’s too much. We haven’t had that in a while around here.”

Patrick Peterson missed a tackle on a third down that was notable (although the Patriots were already in field-goal range and the way Gostkowski was kicking, were going to get the field goal they eventually made anyway. It burned time but in the end I’m not sure that made a difference.) Tyrann Mathieu missed a couple tackles. Deone Bucannon did not play the way he was capable. Bettcher and coach Bruce Arians talked about a loss of leverage in getting in the right spots and that happened too often — the Cards losing the edge. Even Justin Bethel missed a couple of tackles on special teams.

On a night when the Cards played some zone with the idea that you tackle and keep a team short of the sticks, wayward tackling doesn’t work out all that well. “We were kind of rusty on our tackling,” said safety Tony Jefferson, who was one of the players who didn’t look that way.

I’d expect it to be different this week, given the emphasis the Cards have had. It’s crucial that it improves.

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Fitzgerald uses late mother’s voice for inspiration

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2016 – 3:03 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has a new commercial out — it debuted during “Sunday Night Football” — for the University of Phoenix. If you recall, Fitz recently (and finally) finished his coursework through the school to receive his college degree. It was a promise he made to his mother before she passed away from breast cancer when Fitzgerald was still at the University of Pittsburgh.

This commercial has Fitz talking about that achievement, and how he listens to an old answering machine greeting from his mother to still talk to her. It’s an emotional spot.

Fitzgerald said today it wasn’t hard for him to share his mom’s voice with the public, because her voice — and his memories — inspire him all the time.

“I listen to it a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “My mom is someone I use constantly for inspiration. A lot of things she went through … I’m hurting, I’m sore, I’m not feeling great and I don’t want to practice or deal with something, I remember my mom. For instance, going through chemotherapy and I’d come upstairs and I see her throwing up in the bathroom and I still see her wipe her mouth and clean herself up and go to work and carry on with her business.

“That’s the kind of mentality and discipline she had no matter what the obstacle was and I kind of try to use that as inspiration. Whatever life throws at you, you can either lay down or you can get up and keep fighting.”


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Winston’s day at Cardinals facility “just great”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2016 – 8:10 am

Jameis Winston hasn’t yet played the Cardinals in his career. But he has played football at their practice facility.

The Buccaneers’ quarterback, who will be at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday, was in Tempe in March as one of the celebrity QBs for Kurt Warner’s annual charity flag football event. Cardinals Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Drew Stanton and Patrick Peterson were also QBs for their own teams.

“I can take so much from those guys, just seeing their true passion and love for the game,” Winston said. “I really enjoyed Kurt Warner’s event, because it was football. It was flag football. You reach so many people. You gave men the opportunity to play with guys that they never thought they would ever play with. That was just great. That really helped me out.

Winston got a chance to mingle with the other players, speaking with Palmer (pictured below) before the event got started, and interacting with veterans like Fitzgerald and Peterson. “I’m trying to learn and hopefully be like them one day,” Winston said.

About Winston, Palmer told Tampa reporters “I love his game” and said he’s played like a veteran already.

That day in March, Winston wanted to win the tournament — the final came down to the teams of Warner and, coincidentally, the quarterback for the Cardinals’ opponent next week, Tyrod Taylor — and you could see it during the day-long affair. At one point during a break, when most teams were, you know, taking a break, Winston had his team on the field working on plays while coaching them up.

“I don’t really discriminate,” Winston said. “I don’t care if I was playing against three-year-olds.”

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The history of Fitz touchdowns by QB

Posted by Darren Urban on September 14, 2016 – 10:32 am

So, one game into his 13th season, Larry Fitzgerald has 100 touchdown catches. He’s a long way from pulling in his first, a 24-yarder from Josh McCown in San Francisco on Oct. 10 of 2004. Not surprisingly, he’s caught more from Kurt Warner than anyone, and of course, his total does not include his postseason haul — which included his bonkers seven during his playoff rampage after the 2008 season.

But here is a list of each quarterback from whom Fitz has caught a touchdown (props to media relations wizard Mike Helm for compiling this list):

— Kurt Warner (39)
— Carson Palmer (23)
— Josh McCown (12)
— John Skelton (7)
— Kevin Kolb (5)
— Matt Leinart (5)
— Derek Anderson (4)
— Brian St. Pierre (1)
— Max Hall (1)
— Richard Bartel (1)
— John Navarre (1)
— Shaun King (1)

Drew Stanton has yet to make the list. Disappointingly, Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas and Brian Hoyer did not make it. Fitz really has played with a lot of quarterbacks.

There are four teams Fitzgerald has not yet scored a touchdown against, although he has a chance to rectify that against only one this season: The New York Jets. The other three are the Ravens, Steelers and Broncos.

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Justin Bethel “has to decide”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 13, 2016 – 7:58 am

Justin Bethel had said this summer he played with a small stress fracture in his foot. He was fine. He rested up on it, and then got back to working out early in the offseason. That’s when it gave out, when Bethel had to have surgery, and left him where he is now. The veteran cornerback and Pro Bowl special teamer was supposed to earn the cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson. The foot derailed that plan.

Now, Bethel is trying to play with his sore foot, and after 22 special teams snaps against the Patriots (none on defense), coach Bruce Arians didn’t think that went all that well either.

“Justin has to decide that he’s going to play with that foot,” Arians said. “He was just an average spectator on special teams (Sunday night). He missed two tackles. If he’s going to play, he needs to play better. Or he shouldn’t play.”

The Cards need Bethel. Even if he can’t go at cornerback — meaning rookie Brandon Williams will stay in and take his lumps, unless newcomer Marcus Cooper gets in the mix — Bethel is a decorated special teamer on a special teams unit that did not play well in the opener. When Bethel is right, he can change the game in transition. It’s a situation to watch as the season plays out, since, as Arians has noted, Bethel likely will have to play with the foot issue all year.

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Keim: Dealing with “sky-is-falling” Monday

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2016 – 8:19 am

Steve Keim was blunt.

“It’s ‘The-sky-is-falling’ Monday and we have to use that as a chip on our shoulder to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” the Cardinals General Manager said during his appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7.

The sentiment summed up Sunday night’s loss to New England. Keim didn’t see a whole lot that everyone else didn’t, but had the reaction that many fans are feeling. Asked if there was such a thing as a good loss, Keim didn’t hesitate. “Not when you are playing a backup quarterback missing some playmakers, and it’s a home game.” It was not the way the Cardinals or Keim planned on starting the season, and you could hear it in his voice.

“You wake up Monday morning angry, disappointed, embarrassed and that’s the way we all should feel,” Keim said.

— On special teams, Keim said they were “very disappointing, in every area.” It was a rough night. In addition to the missed field goal, the Cards could not make the kickoff returns work and Drew Butler didn’t punt well.

— Keim said the defensive play, especially on third downs, was “very frustrating.” He wasn’t particularly surprised it was hard to pressure Jimmy Garoppolo because of three-step drops, but “the cushion that we played with, the isolations that they got with some of their inside slot receivers on safeties and the lack of leverage, the inability to tackle in space, those were all extremely disappointing.”

— Two of the three sacks Carson Palmer absorbed were coverage sacks, Keim said, and overall, Keim thought the offensive line play was OK. Too many times Palmer and his receivers weren’t on the same page, and in the first half specifically the offense wasn’t in sync.

— “More than anything, we did not tackle well” on defense, Keim said.

— Safety Tyrann Mathieu needs to knock the rust off. Keim said he doesn’t think Mathieu’s knee is an issue. As for cornerback Brandon Williams, “there were some mistakes he made that were very, very critical to the game.” Keim likened Williams’ play to an offensive lineman who holds up the vast majority of plays but gives up a couple of key sacks.

— So the Cardinals, for so many a favorite to make the Super Bowl, are 0-1. “The thing is, I don’t place hype on our team,” Keim said. “My job is to try and produce the best roster that I can and I know we have a talented bunch. At the same time, if they don’t play to their level, we’re going to have disappointment. That’s what happened (Sunday). We have to regroup.”


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Patriots aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2016 – 11:04 pm

No way around it: That one hurt. You can say over and over that it’s the Patriots and Bill Belichick is the arguably the best coach in NFL history, and I do think the Cardinals worked hard this week on avoiding overconfidence, invoking last year’s painful loss in Pittsburgh. Still, losing to the Brady-less (and Gronk-less) Pats would be easier to take if the Cardinals played well and they were outplayed. It didn’t feel that way, though. Losing on a missed field goal actually seemed apropos for the evening. Close, but not enough. The Cards looked off in all three phases.

The last time they lost an opener at home, it was a disappointing outing against the 49ers in 2009. The Cards won 10 games that season. We’ll see how this one plays out.

— Would Mike Leach have delivered a better snap on the final field goal? Probably. But I will say this, I have big-time respect for Kam Canaday, a rookie from Portland State who hasn’t had many chances to be interviewed period but who stood there in front of a flood of cameras and reporters answering questions about a play he’d rather soon forget. He’s in the NFL and it comes with the job, but still, he manned up.

(And props to Chandler Catanzaro too, not only for doing the same but also saying publicly it wasn’t the rookie’s fault.)

— It’s too bad the field goal was missed because a win would have been one of those epic, Fitz-put-us-on-his-back victories. On a day the retirement thing came up again to boot. The vet was spectacular when they needed him.

— Speaking of which, if you get a chance, watch again Fitz’s 21-yard catch on the Cards’ final drive. Down on the field near where Fitz caught it, I have no idea how he did. The ball was on him before he got his head all the way around — it seemed to surprise him how quick it was there — yet he unbelievably snagged the pass and turned it into a 21-yard gain.

— Rough debut for rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who blew a coverage on a touchdown and had a couple other mistakes. Justin Bethel, dealing with the sore foot, only played special teams I believe. You have to wonder if Bethel getting healthy or newcomer Marcus Cooper getting more practice will change the lineup at any point.

— Bruce Arians said J.J. Nelson could have returned with his shoulder injury. We will see. But there was Jaron Brown making a clutch catch at the end, setting up the final field-goal attempt. He’s there when the Cardinals need him.

— David Johnson looked pretty darn good.

— The defense, overall, didn’t. Or at least, it didn’t look like everyone expected. The Patriots had 363 total yards and converted 10 of 16 third-downs, and it was that last drive that was the killer. The Cards get the lead and then allow Jimmy Garoppolo to convert a 3rd-and-15 from his own 20? Can’t happen. Especially for a 32-yard gain. A stop there, and it’s hard not to think the Cards would’ve been in great shape even only up one with 8 minutes left.

“Back to the lab,” linebacker Kevin Minter said.

Indeed.

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