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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.

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Taking a second to look at third downs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2014 – 10:24 am

Bruce Arians was talking about the third down the Cardinals faced last weekend in Atlanta in the third quarter when the team needed just two yards for a first down. Speedster wideout Ted Ginn’s route called for a double move and sprint down the sideline. Arians felt the Falcons’ defensive back committed illegal contact, but there was no flag. Quarterback Drew Stanton took the shot. It fell incomplete. The Cards punted.

“That’s the way we play football,” Arians said. “That’s the way (Stanton) is coached to play, and Teddy ran a good route.”

It pretty much summed up the way third downs have gone of late for the Cardinals too. It’s not like throwing a bomb on third down has been odd for this team. The 75-yard touchdown bomb to beat the Eagles was on third-and-5 (with the Cards needing just a field goal) late in the game. Risks will be taken by a B.A.-offense.

But obviously, the Cardinals have to find a way to turn third downs into first downs more often. In the past two losses, the Cards are 4-for-19. Only once did two of those conversions come on the same drive. But it was in Seattle, and the chance for a third third-down conversion bounced off the chest of wide receiver Jaron Brown in the end zone on a painful dropped pass.

Arians makes the point — which is both good and bad — that it’s not like the situations have been third-and-long most of the time. Of those 19 third downs, the Cardinals have needed six or fewer yards on 10 of them. Unfortunately, of those 10, the Cards have converted only two of them. That’s stunning.

“That’s the thing that’s kind of surprising is we were in very manageable third downs,” Stanton said. “We just had a tipped pass here, didn’t throw the ball accurately there, a lot of different things. We just need to understand why it’s happening and move on.”

The math is simple for the Cardinals. In their nine wins, they have converted 49.2 percent of their third downs. In their three losses, the percentage is just 20. Getting Larry Fitzgerald back on the field should help the cause, but regardless, the Cardinals have to find a way to sustain more drives. Yes, we’re talking the obvious here. But it’s the basics of football the Cards are searching for these days.

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Arians: Ellington likely game-day decision

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2014 – 8:20 pm

It probably shouldn’t be that big of a surprise — Bruce Arians already said running back Andre Ellington wasn’t going to practice Wednesday — but on his weekly Sirius XM NFL appearance Tuesday night, Arians said Ellington probably won’t practice all week and will likely be a game-day decision whether he plays Sunday against Kansas City. Arians called Ellington’s hip pointer “severe” and a severe anything isn’t good. That means more Marion Grice, some Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes, and perhaps some Michael Bush mixed in.

(Please, no Ray Rice suggestions. Please.)

There was good news from Arians. Left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) should be able to practice this week. Guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) is more iffy.

And there was also the revelation that the Cardinals did inquire about trading for Alex Smith when the 49ers were looking to move him in early 2013. The 49ers quickly said no, not a surprise given the division rivalry. The Cards, of course, will face Smith Sunday when they play Kansas City.


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Peterson always on an island

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2014 – 5:06 pm

You know the story at this point: Last week, on a conference call with Atlanta reporters, Patrick Peterson talked about matching up with Falcons receiver Julio Jones. During the game, Jones — covered almost always by Peterson — had 10 catches for a career-high 189 yards.

To Peterson’s credit, he talked about it afterward. Bruce Arians said he didn’t have an issue with Peterson saying things ahead of time, but that Peterson has to back it up.

Peterson’s key quotes from last week: “He won a couple battles, I won a couple battles. But I think for the most part I won the majority of those battles. (Jones is) an incredible athlete. Love the battle and the competition between us. It just brings out the best in both of us.”

Also: “Me feeling I’m the best corner in the league, I want the team’s No. 1 receiver, period. That’s where you get the opportunity to gain the respect from your peers and be recognized as one of the best and one of the greats after you are done with the game. That’s the kind of pressure I like to have for myself and as a team.”

Peterson wasn’t thrilled with how the game turned out. He clearly wasn’t happy with how his comments were portrayed when he talked about it Monday.

“Honestly, I say that every single week so I don’t know how they took it out of context,” Peterson said. “All I said was, by me considering myself the best, you want to go against the other’s team’s best receiver. My answer is not going to change week in, week out, because I am a competitor. That’s what I want. But if they took it out of context that I called him out, so be it. They wanted a little, I guess, George Foreman-Ali type thing going on but it was nothing like that. I respect Julio. I’ve been going against Julio since college so I would never call him out. I have that respect for him. For them to say I called him out, that’s totally baloney, but it is what it is.”

There are a couple of points to be made here. One, Peterson isn’t wrong. He consistently will talk about battling the other team’s best guy. He just did it with Calvin Johnson — “We’ll give the fans a great show and hopefully they’ll have their popcorn ready.” And he isn’t wrong in saying that earning respect from peers and being recognized as a good player comes from such matchups.

But he also has to know that everything he says and does, which was already dissected at a high level given his draft status and subsequent Pro Bowls, only carries more scrutiny once he signed his new contract. Bruce Arians even talked about it when Peterson inked the deal: “When you are a five-star player, you better play five-star. … He wants to be the best. And he’s going to be covering the best every week so he could get embarrassed real quick.”

Peterson could stop talking, but that isn’t Peterson either — he wants to be challenged, and that’s one way he does it, by challenging himself. Peterson is often on an island out on the field. He’s on an island off it too, that island where Richard Sherman lives, where people are paying attention. There’s no getting away from that.

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Mathieu could miss time; Veldheer hurting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2014 – 12:39 pm

The broken left thumb of safety Tyrann Mathieu leaves a lot in the air about Mathieu’s immediate future, coach Bruce Arians said Monday. Mathieu was at the doctor as Arians met with the media, and the checkup was to determine the best course of action going forward for the thumb. There is a chance Mathieu, in order to properly set it, will need a pin inserted. If that happens, Arians said, Mathieu would be out three weeks. But there is also a chance Mathieu will be able to cast it up and play.

Left tackle Jared Veldheer also sprained his ankle late in the Atlanta game. He never came out it is now something Veldheer has to deal with, and Arians did not know if that meant Veldheer could miss a game. Bradley Sowell would take Veldheer’s place if that happened. Starting right guard Paul Fanaika is also dealing with an ankle sprain, leaving his status up in the air. Running back Andre Ellington (hip pointer) will miss Wednesday’s practice, Arians said, and the Cards will go from there on his status.

But there is good news. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy is coming back this week — he’s already been practicing — and will play Sunday, although Arians said the Cards will work him in and not just drop him in the lineup. And Arians said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald should practice Wednesday coming back from his knee sprain.

Injurybloguse


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Keim: “We have two options”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2014 – 8:18 am

Sunday’s game in a microcosm, said General Manager Steve Keim, came down to that 55-yard Steven Jackson run just a couple of plays into the game. It should have been for about five or six yards. Instead, Jackson rumbled all the way inside the Arizona 5-yard line, and Keim wasn’t thrilled to see how he got there.

“The 55-yard run says it all, particularly the way we played all day,” Keim said during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “A combination of poor fundamentals and bottom line, want-to. It should have been a six-yard run, and you had a couple guys come up, bounce off him, not wrap up and use proper fundamentals, and you had a couple guys who didn’t look like they wanted any part of it. Which is disappointing.

“We have two options. We can feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses about being decimated by injuries, or we can come out swinging.”

– Keim didn’t have any injury updates. To recap: Running back Andre Ellington suffered a hip injury (Bruce Arians called it a hip pointer) but didn’t think it was serious. Safety Tyrann Mathieu broke his left thumb and was wearing a cast after the game. Right guard Paul Fanaika suffered a high-ankle sprain.

– Keim thought the run game wasn’t good enough (no surprise). He thought the pass protection was above average, but he reiterated a familiar refrain on quarterback Drew Stanton, that ball placement and accuracy must improve (although he noted receivers don’t always run the right routes or run to the right depth, which impacts passing woes as well.) The Cards definitely can’t afford a play such as Michael Floyd’s fumble when the offense looks like it’s moving.

As for waiting for Stanton, the Cardinals need him to play better. They can’t afford to wait for Stanton to gain experience. There is also the reality of the situation and a reason Carson Palmer is the normal starter. “He’s got to make throws when he has to,” Keim said. “In the NFL, some of these tight-window throws not many guys can make. That’s exactly why there is a supply-and-demand at the position. It’s hard to find elite quarterbacks. … But it’s not just Drew.”

– Keim called the play of guard Jonathan Cooper a “bright spot.” “He knocked some rust off,” Keim said, and while Cooper still needs to tighten up technically, “he finally looks like the guy we drafted in terms of quickness and movement. He looked, compared to the other four offensive linemen we had out there, like he was playing at a different speed. He looked very explosive.”

Not surprisingly, Keim said he expects to see a lot more of Cooper, but with Fanaika’s injury, that may have been a given anyway.

– Keim said Patrick Peterson’s issues covering Julio Jones came down to the same issues of making sure he was technically sound, an area that Keim has previously talked about wanting to be more consistent from his cornerback. As for Peterson’s talk earlier in the week about winning a matchup with Jones, “You hate to take away a guy’s swagger,” Keim said, “but at the same time he’s got to compete and he’s got to produce.”


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Some rough Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2014 – 8:29 pm

Everything Sunday was supposed to be for the Cardinals – everything the Cards needed it to be – it wasn’t. Bruce Arians called the loss to the Falcons disappointing, lots of players called it disappointing, but more importantly, they were asking themselves why it happened the way it did when they simply couldn’t afford such a performance.

“We didn’t wake up,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “It was like we were asleep the whole game. We’ve just got to do better, man. Do what got us here, as far as hitting people in the mouth, just playing hungry, playing nasty – play like we are one of the top teams in the league, which we supposedly were until these last two games. We’ve just got to wake back up and get back on this winning train.”

The offense wasn’t good, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But from the time that Steven Jackson – Steven Jackson? – reeled off a 55-yard run on the game’s first possession, it was the defense that simply didn’t do enough Sunday. No, the offense didn’t do enough either, but this year, with this team, the defense is held to the higher standard. The defense will be what takes the Cardinals however far they will go.

Jackson gained 101 yards. The Cardinals never give up 100 yards to a running back. Julio Jones put Patrick Peterson on blast to the tune of a career-high 189 yards, and Harry Douglas added 116 himself – you know, as long as Roddy White was hurt, why not?

The last time the Cardinals gave up at least 100 yards in a game to a running back and two receivers? Way (way) back on Nov. 12, 2000, when Robert Smith rushed for 117 yards, Cris Carter had 119 yards receiving and Randy Moss has 104 for the Vikings. Of course, that was for a bad, bad Cardinals team that went through a midseason coaching change. This was by a defense that not only is better, but when it is playing well is one of the best in the league.

Adversity has come to visit, linebacker Larry Foote said. With four games left – including the last three within the division – the Cardinals have to figure out how to overcome. It starts on defense.

– Stanton did seem to find a little bit of a groove after a very slow start. But the Cards kill themselves over and over. A Michael Floyd fumble here. A Ted Larsen holding penalty there. An incomplete bomb to Ted Ginn on third-and-2. The first thing Stanton talked about after the game was converting third downs, of which the Cards did only once Sunday.

– Andre Ellington said he’ll be OK after his hip pointer – he said it was a different injury than the one he has been dealing with – but the run game didn’t help again. Falling behind so big so early didn’t help, but Ellington and backup Marion Grice combined for just 10 rushing attempts, for just 35 yards.

– There were too many important players standing out of uniform on the sideline during the game – Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, John Abraham – to not make you think if all the injuries are starting to catch up to this team.

– The Cardinals do get linebacker Matt Shaughnessy back this week and he can play against the Chiefs. That isn’t a small thing.

– Jaron Brown had his best game, with a team-best seven catches for 75 yards in Fitz’s absence, and absorbed one wicked blow late as he was tackled. Brown was fine with that, he said. He wasn’t fine with the ball that glanced off his hands early in the game, which turned into the Falcons’ first interception. The pass looked too high from Stanton, but to that Brown shrugged off.

“That catch I should have made,” he said. “It hit my hands. Those tips are something we can’t have.”

– Lyle Sendlein, who used to be an offensive captain before Carson Palmer took a foothold in the locker room, is wearing the “C” on his uniform again now that Palmer is out for the season.

– With the high-ankle sprain of Paul Fanaika, it sure looks like Jonathan Cooper will be in the lineup as a starting guard for a little while at least. Even before Fanaika got hurt, Cooper was swapping series with Ted Larsen at left guard. It looked like the effort to reintroduce him into the lineup had begun.

– Arians said he didn’t challenge the 41-yard catch by Julio Jones in the second half – the one in which numerous fans mentioned to me on Twitter Jones only got one foot down – because the coaches upstairs never saw a replay. Peterson was called for holding on the play, but a challenge could have saved the Cards 36 yards if the catch had been negated.

– The punt team nearly was burned on a 70-yard punt return touchdown by Devin Hester. But Hester was called for a facemask while trying to straight-arm punter Drew Butler, and then the Falcons were flagged for another 15-yard penalty for complaining about that call. Cost the Falcons four points in the end (Atlanta later got a field goal). Hester afterward insisted it was a bad call.

– That’s it from 30,000 feet. The Cardinals go back to work tomorrow, trying desperately to right what’s wrong.

AfterBruceuse

 


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Fitzgerald inactive again for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2014 – 12:39 pm

It isn’t a big surprise but wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will miss his second straight game with his knee sprain. It’s only the second time Fitz has missed back-to-back games in his career — the first coming in 2006. He wasn’t going to play if he couldn’t do everything, coach Bruce Arians said, and clearly, Fitz can’t do everything yet. New running back Michael Bush, still learning the system, is also inactive.

Today also marks the first NFL game for rookie undrafted linebacker Glenn Carson, who is needed on special teams with Kenny Demens (hamstring) out.

The full inactive list:

– WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee)

– RB Michael Bush

– LB Desmond Bishop

– LB Kenny Demens (hamstring)

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– DT Ed Stinson (toe)

– TE Matthew Mulligan

The Falcons have their own high-end receiver sitting out: Roddy White will be inactive with an ankle injury.


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