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As he leaves, Bruce Arians aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2018 – 7:00 pm

Bruce Arians was the Cardinals’ coach for a day or two when I happened to be in his office as he taped a video for a banquet back in his home state of Pennsylvania. I don’t recall who it was for, but I do recall that Arians got choked up delivering the lines. He admitted he was an emotional sort. It was not only an explanation, but it turned into a promise. And there he was Monday, in his final press conference, choking up again. In between, there was plenty of emotion — tears and otherwise.

B.A. had confidence. Whether he would’ve been like that 10 years ago as a coach (I suspect yes) or if it was the fact it had taken so long to get a head coaching job right as he got to the end of his career, he always was going to do it the way he wanted. That’s who the Cards hired. He won games that way, he made gutsy calls, he did things that frustrated fans. Oh, and he was incredibly entertaining all the while.

Just the other day he was talking about how close he had been in Pittsburgh with fellow Steelers assistant Ken Whisenhunt — the man he just happened to surpass as the Cardinals’ all-time winningest coach, and the man who tried to hire Arians on his Cardinals’ staff at one point — and how much he liked to trash talk the Steelers defense in practice. That carried over. When Arians stepped to the podium Sunday night and said with that crooked smile he’d often have, “Thanks for coming to my house,” that was the essence of Arians.

In an article B.A. co-wrote for The Athletic with Lars Anderson — the author of B.A.’s book — he noted he considered many different options for 2018, including coaching:

“I feel like we have so much unfinished business here with the Cardinals—the last two seasons have been major disappointments because we’ve failed to make the playoffs—and I considered renting an apartment next year in Phoenix, living alone, and making one final charge at the Super Bowl.”

Instead, the pull of family, and his grandchildren, were too much, and choosing to retire is a very human thing to do. So many coaches leave jobs claiming family when, in the end, they are just looking for a different job. In this case, it was family that truly pulled Arians from the game.

On a personal level, I have covered and interviewed many coaches (on many levels, in many sports) over the 27 years or so I’ve been writing sports. Some have been difficult, many have been good to work with. But, especially on the professional level, anyone covering B.A. understands it will never get any better. You could ask Arians any question. He may or may not answer or be detailed, although most of the time, he was very good.

In the end, Arians won. The last two years were not what he or anyone in the organization wanted. But that the Cards finished 8-8 given their injuries was remarkable, and it also says something about where the Cardinals are when .500 (or 7-8-1) is such a disappointment. GM Steve Keim said today he expects to make a couple of moves and still compete in 2018. He’s got to hope he brings in a coach that can be as good as his last hire.


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Seahawks — and the season — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 7:59 pm

It was late in Sunday’s game, right after Phil Dawson kicked his field goal to put the Cardinals ahead by two with a little more than two minutes left, when offensive coordinator/O-line coach Harold Goodwin found someone on the sideline and exclaimed, “We’ve got no linemen left.”

Goodwin smiled, because the reality was that he was right and that the Cardinals had also somehow made it work well enough to win – again – in the one place they want to win more than any other. It was also fitting given how the year unfolded. The Cardinals very well could have had issues even if everyone had played this year. But they wouldn’t be convinced they wouldn’t have overcome it and found a way into the postseason, not after getting eight wins despite their starting offensive line getting all of eight snaps together and their MVP-type running back playing less than a game and their quarterback less than half a season.

“It’s really hard to walk away from this,” Bruce Arians said. “It wasn’t hard to walk away four weeks ago, when you looked at what we were playing with. But to win three out of four, it’s very hard to walk away from that.”

Arians insisted he hasn’t made a decision. We’ll know soon enough. But for all the ups and downs of the season, it is remarkable they went 8-8.

“We’re just happy we finished the way we did,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We didn’t want to finish 7-9. We wanted to finish 8-8.”

— The Cardinals, after all that, were the only 8-8 team in the league. They will draft 15th in the first round – unless, of course, they make a trade.

— Kerwynn Williams set a career-best with 23 carries (for 75 yards) and Elijhaa Penny added 39 yards and a touchdown. The Cards, even with all the offensive line issues, ran the ball decently. They struggled late, but it was enough. Penny was huge on the winning field-goal drive.

— There probably wasn’t a better place for Chandler Jones to try and get two sacks to break the franchise record, but there it was – and Jones missed out on a couple more, losing one on a facemask and having another near-miss. To get 17 sacks in a season is impressive. To have Jones do it in the first year of his new contract bodes very well. That trade couldn’t have worked out better.

— After the first half, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a good shot at the NFL receptions title for a second straight season. Eight catches in the first half, but none in the second – although he was targeted. He and Drew Stanton just couldn’t connect. Fitz needed just one catch to set a career-high in a season, and instead he had 109, tying his big 2015 season.

Whether he gives it another try in 2018, well, that too is up in the air. But you knew that.

— You can argue about Drew Stanton’s ceiling but he did go 3-1 as a starter and Fitz tweeted he was playing on a torn ACL. I’m not sure how much medical background Fitz has, but that says a lot about Stanton. UPDATE: Stanton said it was not an ACL, but a bone bruise.

— Dawson bounced back so well this season. When Arians mentions winning three of the last four, he was a big reason why. He made 22 of his final 24 field goals, and one of those was blocked. It’s interesting that the Cardinals have won two games in a row in Seattle thanks to field goals.

— The Seahawks’ big second half cost the Cards’ defense a chance to be top five in the rankings. They finished sixth.

— It’s New Year’s Day tomorrow, but certainly no holiday, not for the Cardinals. Exit interviews await, as well as, well, a lot of stuff. One way or another.

“There are a ton of decisions this offseason,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Steve Keim has his work cut out for him.”

— Time to fly home. The offseason is here.


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Watford, Niklas playing; Bynes sits in finale

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 12:59 pm

The Cardinals will have offensive lineman Earl Watford (ankle) and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) in today’s season finale in Seattle. With John Brown playing again, Chad Williams will be inactive again one more time — he will be facing a big offseason heading into his second year. Linebacker Josh Bynes (ankle) was listed as questionable, but he was DNP all week so again, not a surprise to see him sit.

The final inactives for the season:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams

— LB Edmond Robinson

— LB Josh Bynes (ankle)

— C Max Tuerk

— TE Gabe Holmes

— DL Xavier Williams


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A playoff, sort of, Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2017 – 2:45 pm

One game left, and for one team, so much is on the line. “We’re anticipating by far their best game of the year,” Bruce Arians said about the Seahawks. “It’s a playoff game for them.” This is true. The Seahawks have to win and have the Falcons lose at home against the Panthers to make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

The Cardinals could spoil that. We’ll see how it goes.

“I keep telling our guys it’s a playoff game for us but I didn’t really feel a playoff this week for us,” Arians said. “I think we’re ready to play, but the playoffs are so different.”

The Cards have never really had a problem getting up for the game in Seattle. I mean, last year, the Cards were already eliminated and they still went out and played well – woefully undermanned on the offensive line – and beat the Seahawks. But the Seahawks knew they were already going to win the division. There was no urgency on their part. That’ll be different. It could have an impact.

— The Cards, however, did win last year. Their offensive line, to jog your memory, was John Wetzel at left tackle, Mike Iupati at left guard, A.Q. Shipley at center, Taylor Boggs at right guard and Earl Watford at right tackle. Boggs even got hurt, forcing rookie center Evan Boehm to fill in.

This year, it’s rookie Will Holden-Alex Boone-Shipley-Boehm-Wetzel (unless Watford is healthy enough to come back and start.) So what does last year’s win mean?

“Just to let them know it can be done,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of going out and beating your guy one-on-one.”

— The secondary was torn up last year too, with Tony Jefferson getting hurt early and Marcus Cooper down (and Tyrann Mathieu already on IR), so Brandon Williams was playing cornerback and Justin Bethel and Harlan Miller were out there. Looking back, it was indeed an impressive performance – knowing, of course, the offense had both Carson Palmer and David Johnson. Those two are on IR this year, so …

— As of right now, the Cardinals are picking 13th – right where they were choosing in the first round last year. My cursory math says they could pick as high as 11 (if they lose and a couple of other teams win), and as low as 18 (with a win and certain teams lose), but likely somewhere in between. We’ll see how that turns out.

— As for next year’s opponents, those are already set. The Cardinals have – of course, judging in December of 2017, long before next year’s rosters are set and injuries happen – a rough road schedule next year.

— Of all the records and plateaus Larry Fitzgerald has reached this season, there isn’t really anything out there in this game – save for his catch streak, which will reach 211 games and equal Tony Gonzalez for the second-longest ever. Fitz has a chance to lead the league in catches for a second straight season, however. He has 101 receptions, which trails Miami’s Jarvis Landry by two. Landry and the Dolphins play at home against Buffalo, which is trying to make the playoffs.

— A win, and Arians becomes the all-time winningest coach in franchise history, snapping the tie he has with former coach Ken Whisenhunt. Before Whisenhunt was hired by the Cardinals, he was close with Arians – Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, Arians was the quarterbacks coach. They lived in the same neighborhood, played a lot of golf together. Whisenhunt tried to hire Arians on his Cardinals’ staff at one point.

Both have 49 total wins – Arians 48 in the regular season, one in the playoffs, with Whisenhunt’s split at 45-4.

“To say I played for the all-time winningest coach and the second all-time winningest coach, that’s not really that good but it’s saying I was part of the best era in Cardinals history,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s pretty cool.”

— A lot could happen this offseason. But first, we go to Seattle.


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Rucker, Jones earn PFWA awards

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2017 – 2:27 pm

The Arizona chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association presented its annual Steve Schoenfeld Good Guy and Lloyd Herberg MVP awards today. The latter was not a huge surprise. Linebacker Chandler Jones has 15 sacks, leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for loss, and deserves to be in the conversation for defensive Player of the Year. Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson have also been excellent, but Jones was a clear-cut choice.

It is fortunate that this locker room has multiple options for a the Good Guy award. Fitz and Peterson are always good, and there are plenty of others — A.Q. Shipley and Antoine Bethea among them, although again, this locker room has a lot of options. That’s excellent for writers like myself. But in the end the award went to defensive lineman Frostee Rucker. Rucker not only was available but he is always thoughtful in his answers, and in a year where the Cardinals (and the NFL) had some bumpy times with some bumpy subjects, Rucker was a go-to quote.

The awards are named after two former Cardinals and NFL beat writers for The Arizona Republic. Herberg was the team’s first beat writer, covering the Cards from the the time they moved to Arizona in 1988 until he died of cancer in 1994. Schoenfeld covered the NFL and the Cardinals from 1988 to the summer of 2000, when he moved to a national NFL writing job. Schoenfeld was killed by a hit-and-run driver in October of 2000. The awards were presented by current Republic beat writer Kent Somers.

 


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The pursuit of happiness (for Smokey Brown)

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2017 – 12:47 pm

Here’s the thing about John Brown. He is well-liked. You could see it in the reaction after he scored his touchdown Sunday against the Giants — Drew Stanton ran into the end zone dancing, Larry Fitzgerald delivered a patented Fitz-tackle, and then Fitz and Jermaine Gresham picked Smoke up and carried him a bit in celebration. And then you heard it after the game:

“It’s great to see John come back and get that touchdown,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s still not full speed, but it meant a lot to him to get out there and play. It meant a lot to me to see him play.”

“It’s a lot of fun when you see good things happen to those guys,” Fitzgerald said. “Smoke needed that, we needed that, and hopefully, we can get a little bit more done next week.”

That’s another reason why Brown’s status is so interesting heading into the offseason. No, the fact his teammates and his coach want him to do well isn’t why, unto itself, you bring a guy back. Brown’s market — such that it will be, after two years of injury-impacted struggles, including a disappointing 21-299-3 line this season — doesn’t figure to be intense or expensive. He is light years from his first two seasons, in which he had a 1,000 yards in 2015 and multiple huge plays as a rookie in 2014. Will the Cardinals bring him back as a potential piece, a wild card bonus if he can stay healthy? Given his health history, the Cards can’t pencil him in (if he came back) high on the depth chart. But the guy, when he has been right, has proven he can make plays.

And that makes everyone happy.


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Keim: Learn from 2017, no “woe is me”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2017 – 8:16 am

The Cardinals are analyzing their free-agents-to-be and with some of them, the team has/will be formulating extension offers, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during an appearance on 98.7, Arizona’s Sports Station. The players Keim wants back are, not surprisingly, not only competitors on the field but good in the locker room. That was a focus last year as well.

“That’s an ongoing process and we have made some of those players extension offers,” Keim said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, as I said last week.

“We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year with the injuries and with some of the losses, so we have to make sure we use this season and, in particular, our issues that we have dealt with, as learning things, where we can look back and grow from it instead of having the attitude of ‘woe is me.’ That is something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only on the scouting side of it but as an organization in general.”

— The many injuries have made it more difficult to evaluate some key players here and there, Keim acknowledged, but “at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles these guys have to win.”

— Does having a chance to knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs mean a lot for Sunday? “Anytime you are playing a division rival it’s big regardless of what is at stake,” Keim said. “We are all competitors. We want to win every game. In my opinion, you can’t look at where your draft slot could potentially be. Let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to compete every week and to try and put the best product on the field. We will deal with draft and free agency when it comes. This week our mindset is to go up to Seattle and get a win.”

— The Cardinals’ first shutout since 1992 “says a lot of things about players on the field and the character in our locker room.” Keim credited the game planning of defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He also said he though $LB Deone Bucannon not only played his best game of the season, he had arguably his best game in the NFL, period. Chandler Jones provided pressure and drew a couple of holding calls, Frostee Rucker and Karlos Dansby are invaluable leaders, and safety Antoine Bethea was “exceptional” in getting a pair of interceptions.

— Keim added his thoughts to the huge game of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who Keim said took over the game offensively. “There’s no doubt he willed us to win on offense.”

— Keim added that it was nice to see John Brown contribute with a touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his two catches.


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A shutout and Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 7:54 pm

I’ve covered the Cardinals for a long time, and I’ve seen them shut out a couple of (ugly) times. But I’ve never seen them pitch a shutout before Sunday – the first time the franchise has done it since 1992 and only the second time it’s happened since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

No, the Giants aren’t very good and have lost all of their offensive stars, but it means something that the Cardinals still have that kind of consistent performance. It’s hard not to play what-if, the way this defense is performing. Win in Washington, like they probably should have, and beat the Tom Savage-Texans, like they probably should have, and next week in Seattle is much different.

But instead, the Cardinals will play spoiler, and while that isn’t ideal, it means something. If the Cards can knock the Seahawks out of the postseason, that would mean something.

— I truly believe that Larry Fitzgerald is undecided about playing next year. Actually, I think it’s not just about what he wants to do but also what this team looks like – who is coach, who is quarterback – that will play a factor. Fitz has not told me this. But it is logical.

Regardless, what a showing to close out 2017 at home Sunday. Fitz is fun to watch. Always has been. That the fun has not fallen off as he plays at age 34 – he’s the Cardinals’ best playmaker, for goodness sake – says so much about how good he really is.

— Chandler Jones didn’t get a sack, so he’ll need to do some work against Russell Wilson to get the franchise record for a season. He remains at 15, and Simeon Rice has the record at 16½. Two things on that: One, getting two sacks on Wilson –given his line and his penchant for running around in the pocket – is realistic. Also, Jones had another good pass-rushing game Sunday. He didn’t get a sack, but Pro Football Focus had him with four pressures of Eli Manning.

— The Cardinals rarely over the recent past have had teams miss field goals against them. It’s only happened twice this season. But one was Sunday, a 33-yarder from Aldrick Rosas that obviously allowed the shutout to happen. It doesn’t take away from the Cards’ excellent performance, but sometimes, you need a little luck to blank an NFL team.

— Back to Fitz. I’ve seen him throw a ton of passes over the years, in practice, in OTAs, messing around on the sideline. I’m not talk about plays, per se, but chucking the ball 40 yards on an accurate line back to one of the equipment guys after a practice catch, for instance. I’ve always felt they should try that once in a while. It doesn’t help that he’s not a threat as a runner out of the backfield, but still. The play was supposed to be a bomb to J.J. Nelson, but Nelson got knocked down and Jaron Brown instead got the 21-yard catch.

“I was hoping I was going to be able to throw it deeper, but I had to take what the defense gives me,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “That’s what I was taught.”

Said QB Drew Stanton, “He’s coming for my job probably.”

— I thought Stanton was solid. He did exactly what Arians was hoping he would do – got them in the end zone, got them a win. The one time Arians has lost in Seattle since coming to Arizona, Stanton was the starting quarterback when Carson Palmer was hurt in 2014. Stanton gets a chance to redeem that next week.

— More (happy) Fitz: He noted that Jaron Brown, with two catches (putting Brown at 30 receptions) earned a $500,000 contract incentive. (Editor’s note: I have not confirmed this is true, but Fitz tends to be accurate when it comes to money.) “I made him an extra $500,000, so I’m happy for him and his family,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad I could be a part of that. Merry Christmas, Jaron!”

— Deone Bucannon looked great, and that’s important. You want to see him continue to come back from the ankle surgery that clearly set him back. Robert Nkemdiche too, getting involved, will hopefully be a spark to get him going into next season. Oh, and the signing of veteran safety Antoine Bethea has been a good one. Five picks? And he’s done a solid job all year.

— I could go on but I won’t. It’s Christmas Eve. Hopefully you’re reading this, but I’ve got a family to get home to. Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to all.


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John Brown returns, Kerwynn active

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 1:02 pm

Wide receiver John Brown, who has been dealing with a toe injury that has kept him out four games, will return to the field today against the Giants — which hopefully, combined with Drew Stanton back at quarterback, will aid a passing game and an offense that is trying to get a touchdown for the first time in more than 10 quarters.

Running back Kerwynn Williams and linebacker Karlos Dansby, both of whom were questionable to play, are also both active.

A full list of the Cards’ inactives here on Christmas Eve:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams (illness)

— LB Gabe Martin (hamstring)

— LB Josh Bynes (ankle)

— G Earl Watford (ankle)

— TE Troy Niklas (ankle)

— DL Xavier Williams


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TDs on the wish list, Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2017 – 3:04 pm

Who wouldn’t want a touchdown for Christmas?

The Cardinals certainly do. They’d like for the move to Drew Stanton to mean a TD on their first possession. They’d like to break that paydirt drought that has grown to more than 10 quarters. It’s gonna be Christmas Eve, after all. Are the Cards ready to do that? Bruce Arians hopes so, but he can’t predict it.

“You don’t know until you get in a game,” Arians said. “It’s totally different than practice. (Red zone) is one of the looks that’s hard to get from the scout team.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be in the red zone. They’d take a 50-yard Stanton-to-J.J. Nelson bomb. They’d take a one-yard Elijhaa Penny plunge. They’d take another Ricky Seals-Jones end zone sighting. They’d certainly take a Fitz fade.

“B.A. talks about it, I talk about it, it’s simple execution,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “You go back to last week (in Washington), there are plays there to be made. Ball is a little high or (tackle) Will Holden gives up a sack, little things. Many opportunities, and we didn’t get it done. I kick myself all the time, we score one touchdown, we probably win that game.”

We know what’s on the Cardinals’ wish list.

— The roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Sunday for the game. Temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 60s, so dress accordingly.

— When Carson Palmer went down, the Cardinals knew they were going to have to rely on their defense. The defense knew this, and they have basically played like it. Starting with the Seahawks game in Week 10 (the Cards still only allowed 10 points the game before against the 49ers), the Cardinals are the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They haven’t been perfect, but if the offense had been able to do a little more against the Seahawks, Texans and Redskins, the Cards would be in a different place, even with all the injuries.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones said he’s happy with his 15 sacks so far because it accomplishes his goal – which is an improvement over the previous season. “It was always to do better than last year,” Jone said.

The bar is going to be pretty high for 2018, then.

“Exactly,” Jones said. “Because I know next year around training camp, you guys are going to be asking me, ‘What’s your goal?’ And I’ll say,  ‘Better than last year, uhhhhh.’ ”

— In what could be Larry Fitzgerald’s final home game, he needs eight catches for 100 on the season and 18 yards for 1,000. It would be fitting for him to get both.

— The Giants have three players from near the Cardinals’ practice facility. Defensive end Avery Moss played at Tempe Corona del Sol, linebacker Devon Kennard played across the freeway at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, and running back Paul Perkins is from Chandler High School.

— Karlos Dansby likely will play Sunday, but with Josh Bynes out, rookie Haason Reddick has a chance to play some inside linebacker for the first time since moving outside following Markus Golden’s season-ending injury. That would be good. Reddick’s future is inside in this defense.

— A better draft pick awaits if the Cardinals lose out, but the players would like to climb back to 8-8 (especially because it would mean beating the Seahawks in Seattle.), Besides, “you don’t want to put bad things on tape,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have great guys in this locker room that understand that.”

— For all you seeking a retro look, the Cardinals will finally be wearing their red pants with their red jerseys Sunday. It’s a festive look after all.

See you Christmas Eve.

 


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