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Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2017 – 4:01 pm

The Lions tried. They really did. They botched a bunch of special teams plays early, committed bad penalties, made mistakes. Yet the Cardinals would not take the game. When the Cards were finally ready to take the game – that third-quarter sequence in which they went on a 94-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-9 lead, and then forced a punt – the football gods spit on them.

Not only did David Johnson fumble – the second time in the game, a bugaboo he had when he got into the league but one he had seemed to have overcome – but he got hurt on the play. I mean, the guy had just gotten whacked on his previous touch, an impressive seam catch on the TD drive that got a first down at the Detroit 3. Johnson didn’t get up right away on that, but apparently he had the wind knocked out of him.

It wasn’t the wind but his wrist the second time. Fingers are crossed everywhere, from the Cards’ organization to fantasy football players across the globe. Bruce Arians didn’t indicate one way or another on Johnson’s health – or D.J. Humphries’ knee, for that matter – but in the context of Sunday, it was a crushing turn of events.

That wasn’t the reason the Cardinals lost, although it would’ve been interesting to see them try and follow up that long TD drive. The defense couldn’t hold up by the end. There was some pressure, but not enough on Matthew Stafford on key plays, and missed sacks a couple times that were costly.

— Carson Palmer took all the blame afterward. He knows he wasn’t good for too much of the game. It wasn’t so much the interceptions that were bothersome (I mean, you can’t have interceptions, but …) as much as a couple of out routes, about 12 or 15 yards down the field. Both plays I’m thinking of should’ve been easy completions. They were short. Bruce Arians lamented Palmer’s accuracy and said Palmer’s arm was fine. They’re going to need him to fix that, quickly.

— Palmer is going to be the quarterback. So anyone asking/complaining that there isn’t a switch is just yelling to nowhere.

— If Humphries is down for some games – Ian Rapoport was tweeting it’s a sprained knee that could be a few weeks – I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cards flip Jared Veldheer back to the left side and let John Wetzel play the right side. But we’ll see how that plays out.

— Arians noted it, and so did many players, but in the NFL, if you are handed red-zone possessions and don’t get touchdowns, that’s usually going to turn out poorly.

— One plus for the Cardinals was the speed of rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. He had eight tackles, and showed his range sideline-to-sideline. I also thought John Brown played pretty well too, and Andre Ellington flashed in his brief appearance. New safety Antoine Bethea looked good too, especially in the first half.

— You don’t want to see Justin Bethel, after a solid game, be on the wrong side of those two late TD passes. But that last catch by Kenny Golladay was amazing, the way he laid out.

— Long flight back to Arizona coming. It’ll be longer because of how the game went.


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Nkemdiche sitting out the opener

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2017 – 8:29 am

It’s not a surprise at this point, but defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche will not play in the opener today against the Lions because of his calf injury. He and $LB Deone Bucannon (ankle) are the two inactives due to injury. The others are all healthy scratches. Guard Mike Iupati is starting coming off the triceps injury.

Newcomer Scooby Wright will be inactive after being promoted Friday — as has been noted, veteran LB Philip Wheeler was released for Wright but that may have more to do with Wheeler’s veteran status. Any veteran on the Week 1 roster has his salary guaranteed for the season, so this way, the Cards could bring back Wheeler if they want and they would keep flexibility down the road with his spot.

The full inactive list:

— DL Robert Nkemdiche (calf)

— G Will Holden

— T Ulrick John

— LB Scooby Wright

— WR Chad Williams

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— $LB Deone Bucannon (ankle)


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The past as future, and Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2017 – 3:03 pm

The past is the past, and each team is different, and I get that. Matthew Stafford isn’t the same guy who was benched the last time the Cardinals visited Detroit in 2015, and that’s not just because he got a new mega-contract. The Cardinals aren’t the same team that floundered disappointingly in 2016.

But the past still can be fun to revisit. The last time the Cards opened up in Detroit was a memorable one for me. That was the day Anquan Boldin burst on the scene with his 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, back in 2003. How about you, Tyrann Mathieu? Do you have a memorable opening game at any point in your life?

“I always think about my rookie season and nobody thought I was going to be able to play, and I go ahead and make that big-time play against St. Louis,” Mathieu said. “That was one of those special moments for me.”

See, that moment, to me, does have some bearing. That Mathieu that burst on the scene in 2013? That Mathieu who dominated in 2015? That’s the guy we’ve been seeing in camp and the preseason. He’s a big reason why there is optimism about this defense. Sometimes, you look backward to see what is coming. With the Badger, that seems fitting as the Cardinals finally get started in the regular season.

— To me, the keys Sunday are fairly simple. Offensively, can you allow Carson Palmer to have time to throw the ball down the field once in a while, protecting against an at-best average pass rush? I know John Brown keeps saying he’s not totally healthy, but I think Smoke is healthy enough to make at least some sort of impact.

— Defensively, it’s that defensive line. If I had to guess, I’d guess Robert Nkemdiche wouldn’t play, but we are still two days away. In the end, with seven defensive linemen, at least one is probably inactive every week anyway, and I just don’t think they’ll risk Nkemdiche coming back too fast when there is confidence in the other guys. That said, they have to hold up. This defense has the pass rushers. They definitely have the playmakers in the secondary. But to get there, you have to lock down the run, something this defense has done well the last couple of years.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, on newcomer Alex Boone – who was a right guard those years in San Francisco when playing with old/new teammate Mike Iupati, and then went to the left side after Iupati came to Arizona: “We all know that’s Mike’s position,” Goodwin said with a chuckle. “Kind of funny, I was talking to Mike, he said, ‘Alex called and he wants to come here but he’s not playing left.’ ”

Reminded me of Evan Boehm insisting he wasn’t going to be displaced on the right side either.

— Goodwin said Boone fits the Cardinals’ style, but “you know I don’t like anybody,” he added. “That’s just my nature. I won’t like anybody until I’m standing on the podium holding a Super Bowl trophy. Then I’ll start liking guys.”

— The Lions have a pair of former Cardinals tight ends. Darren Fells is there as a starter, a guy who will try and get going again after having a disappointing 2016 in Arizona, which is one reason the team let him leave in free agency. The Lions also signed Hakeem Valles to the practice squad this week. Any little edge, right?

— Speaking of tight ends, Goodwin chuckled again when asked if the tight ends would be more involved in the passing game. (In my opinion, I wouldn’t hold your breath.) Goodwin knows Jermaine Gresham got a big contract, and Troy Niklas has looked solid and stayed healthy. But as he as mentioned before, from a long ago warning from Arians in a meeting, “We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) a whole lot of money.”

— Stafford’s numbers since being benched in Week 5 against the Cardinals in 2015: 50 touchdown passes, only 15 interceptions, 67 percent completions and a 99.1 quarterback rating. Also, in what is coincidence, but take it for what it is worth, that 2015 Detroit game was a late kickoff – 4 p.m. locally, 1 p.m. in Arizona. It wasn’t early, like Sunday’s will be.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, like the other coaches, is convinced Justin Bethel has earned that starting job. The reason, among others, is that health allowed him to practice.

“When you are finally healthy, and you get a whole offseason to work your craft, it does wonders how you progress as a player,” Bettcher said.

— Fitzgerald needs 82 yards receiving to become only the fifth player to have 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over a career in season openers. The fabulous four so far? Don Maynard, Andre Reed, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.

— Finally, back to Mathieu. One of the things the Cardinals lost last year when the Honey Badger was not Badgeriffic went beyond dynamic play in the secondary. It lost an emotional jet engine, which Mathieu simply couldn’t be when he isn’t playing like he knows he can. That component is back.

“I try to feel out games,” Mathieu said. “Some games I won’t say a word. Other games I’m pretty well vocal. I won’t know until I actually get to game day.”

It’s meaningful. Said Patrick Peterson, “He finds ways to pass his energy to his teammates.”

See you Sunday. The regular season is here.


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The fourth outside linebacker is around

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2017 – 11:11 am

The news Deone Bucannon won’t play Sunday — not a huge shock, even without the setback of an ankle sprain — puts on hold what the Cardinals will do with rookie Haason Reddick when Bucannon, Reddick and Karlos Dansby are all available. Reddick will be needed to play in Bucannon’s role, at least in certain packages.

But it also goes to that concern lingering as soon as the Cards cut to 53 and, at least outwardly, the team only kept three outside linebackers. What about depth? What about a fourth behind Markus Golden, Chandler Jones and Kareem Martin? Coach Bruce Arians mentioned that veteran Philip Wheeler, signed as an inside linebacker, worked in practice recently on the outside and can play both spots. Defensive lineman Josh Mauro has occasionally taken reps at OLB and could serve there in a pinch, especially on running downs. But then there is Reddick.

Reddick, who played defensive end in college, slowly has gotten some reps as an outside ‘backer to build on his work on the inside. And once Bucannon is back, Reddick makes the most sense as a dual-threat guy, someone who can play on the inside in certain packages, who can rush the passer in certain packages, and who can also serve as that fourth guy behind Golden, Jones and Martin.

Again, versatility has been one of the hallmarks of the players GM Steve Keim has sought, especially on the defense. The linemen can play anywhere. The linebackers, mostly, can switch around. The defensive backs are interchangeable. That is how the Cards will solve that fourth OLB issue.


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Starter or not, Boone addition helps

Posted by Darren Urban on September 5, 2017 – 2:48 pm

All along, Steve Keim fretted about offensive line depth beyond sixth-man John Wetzel. So Tuesday, he made a big move to settle such feelings by getting veteran guard Alex Boone on one of those patented one-year contracts he has worked so well. That doesn’t mean Boone will definitely pay off. While many of these deals have worked out (Winston, Cromartie, Freeney, Dansby-in-2013-and-maybe-2017), some haven’t. Sean Weatherspoon didn’t. Evan Mathis — the veteran guard added last year — didn’t.

But unlike Mathis, who was signed to be the starter and when he broke down it was trouble, Boone shows up with the offensive line already set. Is Evan Boehm proven at right guard? No. But he has been there all offseason and all training camp and preseason and I can’t see the Cards making a dramatic move three days before the opener. (Mike Iupati, on the left side, did practice Monday so it looks like he will be ready for the Lions Sunday.)

If Boehm struggles, though, Boone is there to step in if needed. The Vikings were going to keep him had he taken a paycut. He didn’t so they cut him. But it’s not as if they were going to cut him outright. We’ll see what Boone got from the Cards, but Keim usually gets guys at this point at the price he wants. Boone knows the Cards well, having played against them for many years with the 49ers (and even last year while with the Vikings.) He had many a battle with Calais Campbell. Who knows, maybe he’ll battle Campbell again when the Jaguars come to town.

In the meantime, the Cards have shored up the offensive line, with Keim wanting to make sure if there are more OL injuries —  like 2016 — the Cardinals are in the best position to weather such a storm.


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Keim: The unseen factors in the cut to 53

Posted by Darren Urban on September 5, 2017 – 8:16 am

Even Steve Keim is feeling the local pride, mentioning the 11-game winning streak of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks and the four home runs hit Labor Day night by J.D. Martinez while doing his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7.

But there was Cardinals stuff for the GM to talk about too. Keim was asked about three of the most talked-about cuts: RB Chris Johnson, OL Cole Toner and OLB Cap Capi. Not surprisingly, Keim didn’t want to get into specifics. But the bottom line? No one outside can know everything with how the decisions are made.

“When you are building a roster there are so many things behind the scenes that go into it,” Keim said. “It could be your role on game day, there are so many factors many people don’t see. There is the mental side of the game, the ability to pick up assignments, how many mental errors to you have, can you line up in the right gap, you work ethic, the intangibles, the things you bring to the table in the locker room.

“There are so many factors that go into it that the fans and the media may not see, and we are privy to that information that’s so important in building the final 53.”

— Keim said his toughest work of the weekend wasn’t any particular cut, but putting together the 10-man practice squad. The 53-man roster “fell into place,” while the practice squad is more difficult, wanting to make sure it’s stocked with players that can develop into 53-man roster players, or guys who might be able to be plug and play if there is an injury.

New punter Andy Lee was “a guy we had an eye on all along,” Keim said. Coming off the 2016 season, it was no secret the Cards had to upgrade the special teams work, Keim added. Having him available now “was a great gift for us.” The relationship with K Phil Dawson (and even his friendship with college teammate Larry Fitzgerald) is just a bonus.

— Keim said backup center Daniel Munyer “might be the most pleasant surprise” of training camp. Munyer was under-the-radar as potential 53-man pick, but he might be someone who can continue to develop into starter material. As for his roster spot now, “he’s earned it,” Keim said.

— Reiterating what Bruce Arians has said, there is (surprising?) confidence in the cornerback room beyond Patrick Peterson. Justin Bethel seems to have shown big improvement in his bugaboo of awareness and finding the ball in the air — “He’s taken ownership of that,” Keim said — and both Tramon Williams and Brandon Williams showed in camp they are capable.

— Keim’s biggest concern right now? “Living up to expectations,” he said. The roster is solid, the locker room is solid, and Keim credited team president Michael Bidwill for providing all the resources needed. “Now it’s time to play football and win,” Keim said.

 


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Breaking down the first 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 2, 2017 – 5:57 pm

The Cardinals have a roster. I expect it to change by Sunday night, but as usual, we will see. There is a possibility they look at signing veteran punter Andy Lee, who was cut Saturday by the Panthers and who has a history as a holder for Phil Dawson. They could grab an outside linebacker, because they only kept three thus far. The likelihood is that T.J. Logan will go on IR too, so that’ll quickly create an opening.

In the meantime, some thoughts on the roster as is:

— The numbers breakdown:
QB 3
RB 5
WR 6
TE 3
OL 9
DL 7
OLB 3
ILB 5
CB 4
S 5
ST 3

— Other than Logan on the roster (I did not know a player could not be put on IR immediately and be able to return later in the season, so that was a new one for me) this was basically what was expected at running back. Chris Johnson was let go as Andre Ellington seemed to find his rookie vibe. Ellington can catch the ball better and ultimately, I think that was a big thing.

— The receiving corps ended up being the six most likely candidates, but someone will end up on the practice squad. My guess would be Carlton Agudosi, but Bruce Arians likes how Chris Hubert gets open too.

— The offensive line may have delivered the most surprises, but then again, Arians was happy with his starters plus John Wetzel and the rest was up in the air. I thought Cole Toner would be the swing guy but instead, the Cards kept C Daniel Munyer (who they liked, obviously) and T Ulrick John, as well as rookie T Will Holden. G Dorian Johnson, the fourth-round pick and the only choice not to make the roster, really struggled in camp and preseason and it cost him a chance to stick.

— The Cards only have three outside linebackers. I’d guess Cap Capi will be a practice-squad candidate, and they very well could find an outside linebacker somewhere as a cut from another team. Philip Wheeler was the guy who beat out Scooby Wright as a fifth inside linebacker. Wright could be practice squad. He does well on special teams but his athletic limits hurt Wright on defense.

— Matt Wile is the punter. Will that change?

— Rudy Ford makes it as safety over Harlan Miller. Ford has a lot of speed, and that shows up when he plays center field on defense and on special teams.


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Cardinals will labor on Labor Day

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2017 – 3:18 pm

The past couple of years, the Cardinals have followed up their final Thursday preseason game with some time off as the team transitioned from the bigger training camp roster to the regular season. After a Friday morning meeting, players would be off through Labor Day, returning on Tuesday — the normal off day during the regular season.

The thought process for coach Bruce Arians was simply that it was better to learn four days in a row heading into the first regular-season weekend. And it gave the holiday weekend for family. But the Cardinals had a handful of veterans come to Arians and ask to have the “bonus” practice day Monday this year, make Tuesday the day off, and treat the first week of the regular season like other weeks.

Arians agreed, especially after a “bunch of sports science stuff” showed that, from a physical standpoint, it’s less than ideal to practice four days in a row. Part of Friday’s team meeting, however, was a important reminder from Arians.

“(This) Monday is game plan day,” Arians said he told the group. “You can’t forget it on Tuesday and come back start over on Wednesday.”

Thanks to the 90-man rosters, the Cardinals had already gotten a jump on getting ready for Detroit anyway. Arians estimated that 60 percent of the game plan was already in, and all the players who didn’t play in Denver — all the starters and the vast majority of backups — didn’t practice in the bubble for the Broncos game and instead were outside at the same time, practicing in the heat for the Lions. (Practice next week is expected to be in the bubble.)

“It was more for me checking their conditioning on 40 plays in a row, because if you weren’t in, you were running on the side,” Arians said, lauding he intensity of the work. “Everybody got 40 reps in a row, with little breaks, like getting off the field offensively and defensively. It was hot. We were in really good shape. Some guys stayed out and did a little extra.”


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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2017 – 10:55 pm

The preseason is over. The veterans and guys who know they have locked up roster spots, it’s a great time. Football counts the next time the Cardinals play a game. But the next hours and days are hard for many of the others on the bottom half of the list. Take guard/center Cole Toner, who looked like he might be the Cards’ choice as a seventh offensive lineman but then ran into some issues in Atlanta. It made Thursday’s game in Denver a little more important.

“I’m definitely not comfy,” Toner said. “I played the whole game today, so usually that doesn’t portend good things, but honestly I don’t know.

“I’m confident. I don’t know. We’ll watch the film tomorrow. I thought I played well. I didn’t play that well in Atlanta so I needed to come back and play a better game, which I did. So I’m proud of myself for that. It’s on to the regular season — if the opportunity presents itself for me.”

That was a lot of Thursday. Some impressed Bruce Arians, like Rudy Ford and Elijhaa Penny. Some didn’t, although Arians wasn’t being specific. This is about a “final” roster, but it’s also about a lot of guys getting their dreams crushed, and Arians is cognizant of that.

— The good news is the Cards came out of the preseason fairly healthy. Rookie defensive tackle Pasoni Tasini hurt his right knee, although Arians said it was likely a sprain and not serious. That’d be good, because Tasini figures to be a practice-squad candidate.

— No decision yet on the punter, although I thought Matt Wile probably won the job.

— I thought Ford, the rookie safety, looked good playing in the second half, and Arians noted him specifically. Ford and Harlan Miller looked like they were in a battle for a last secondary spot. Both are practice squad-eligible, so maybe that’s where the one goes who doesn’t make the roster.

— Here’s my guess — and it’s just a guess, although educated after watching the last six weeks — at the 53-man roster.

— The Cardinals will meet as a team Friday morning and then the players have a few days off. That’s good because the front office has plenty to sort through with all the cuts coming. I am not sure what the schedule is for releasing guys when it comes to the Cards, but names could start trickling out as it happens. Arians has a press conference late Friday morning.


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Wednesday before the Broncos, Haden and punters

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2017 – 11:03 am

The last preseason game is upon us. None of the starters will be playing, and neither will some key backups. There are, in reality, very few spots left and while the game could mean something in a spot or two decision-wise, most of the choices could already be made now. The Cardinals know what they have. These next few days are about adjusting the roster, comings and goings that will be impacted by waiver claims, signings and maybe a trade.

— Lot of questions about whether the Cardinals would chase soon-to-be free-agent CB Joe Haden. I don’t expect it to happen, and there is a simple reason why. Haden isn’t close to the same player he was just a couple years ago, when he deserved to be in the same discussion with the Patrick Petersons of the world. He struggled last season and has struggled a lot this preseason. I’ll be interested to see what he can get on the open market, since the Browns do have a $4 million offset, and we’ll see if he signs for more than one year. But his body has been breaking down over the last couple of seasons. As with every player, I fully expect the Cardinals to at least evaluate the possibility. The likelihood of the Cards chasing him, when there are probably going to be many suitors, I would think would be low. Mostly because he isn’t the player he once was.

UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports the Steelers are signing Haden for a 3-year, $27M deal including $7 million this season. So that’s that.

— There is the punting battle between Matt Wile and Richie Leone, knowing that veteran Jeff Locke has been cut and reports say still-effective veteran Andy Lee could traded by Carolina. Lee took a pay cut, which makes his salary more manageable, and if the Panthers are willing to take a low-round pick, maybe that is a path the Cardinals consider.

— Other stuff to watch in the game, especially when the final roster, at least at the bottom, may come down to who will be active on game days (which means a lot for guys who play special teams.): Rookie Rudy Ford on special teams, since he is likely battling Harlan Miller for a final safety spot. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson on offense, against Brittan Golden on special teams. How well do guys like Cole Toner hold up on the offensive line? Can the Cardinals be comfortable with their offensive line depth?

— There will not be an injury report until a week from today. That gives three key players — G Mike Iupati (triceps), DT Robert Nkemdiche (calf strain) and LB Deone Bucannon (ankle) — one more week before we really get a sense of whether they will be ready to play the regular-season opener.

— Speaking of the waiver claims and trades that could happen (remember, any player claimed off waivers must remain on the 53-man roster for at least three weeks), in the Keim era, the Cardinals have been awarded three players on waiver claims (Thomas Kaiser, Alameda Ta’amu and Bradley Sowell) and aquired two players in trades (Marcus Cooper and Matt Barkley) during final roster cutdown time.

— I’ll post a guess at the 53-man roster soon after the last preseason game.


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