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Coach patience, and the dates of hire

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2018 – 11:41 am

Michael Bidwill said he isn’t in any rush to hire a new coach, nor did he want to be. It’s not so much about going slow as much as not speeding into the wrong decision. Since I started covering the Cardinals full-time (at the time, the Tribune) back in 2000, this will be the fifth head-coaching hire. Vince Tobin was in place when I got the beat covering the team. He didn’t even last until mid-season before he was let go and Dave McGinnis was made interim boss. Here are the dates on which the hires of the four previous head coaches were official:

— McGinnis, Dec. 19, 2000 (He had the interim tag removed before season’s end.)

— Dennis Green, Jan. 7, 2004

— Ken Whisenhunt, Jan. 14, 2007

— Bruce Arians, Jan. 17, 2013

Every search is different, obviously. Of that list, only Arians was coming off a staff that had made the playoffs — and the Colts had lost Wild Card weekend — so they were all available fairly quickly. Of the current list of coaches the Cardinals have talked to, most (as of today) are still in the playoffs, and it’s possible the desired choice will remain in the postseason beyond this weekend. One interesting date to consider coming up: Senior Bowl week begins Jan. 22. Will there be Cardinals’ coaches there, or just scouts?


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Rams loss means rare early NFCW exit

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2018 – 10:22 pm

Since the Cardinals moved into the NFC West during the great NFL realignment of 2002, the division has had its ups and downs. There were a few seasons in which the division winner won less than double-digits (the Cardinals made the Super Bowl in 2008 after going 9-7 but running away with a division title) or even sub-.500 (the Seahawks going 7-9 but becoming NFCW champs in 2010.)

But Saturday night, as the West champions Los Angeles Rams — the only division team to make the postseason — lost at home to the Falcons after an 11-5 season, it meant that for the first time since that 2002 realignment, an NFC West team did not reach at least the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Even in those “down” years, the NFCW survived the Wild Card round. The Cards in 2008, that alleged “worst team to ever make the playoffs,” won the NFC Championship. Even that 7-win Seattle team, through the “BeastQuake” game, advanced to the next round. (The NFC West streak goes back further, in fact, prior to the Cardinals’ arrival, thanks to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams.)

Funny enough, the NFC West was one of only two divisions (the NFC South being the other) to have at least three teams finish at least .500 or better, thanks to the Cardinals’ two-game winning streak to close the season.


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Talking coaches, roster and a podcast

Posted by Darren Urban on January 4, 2018 – 3:18 pm

The Cardinals will be conducting coaching interviews on the road over the next few days as they move toward finding a new football boss. When it comes to the idea that Michael Bidwill pointed out yesterday — that he wanted potential coaches to have a chance to visit Arizona and the team’s Tempe facility and interact with staff — I don’t think we are talking about every single person. My guess is that you’d have to have caught the Cardinals’ eye. If the initial interview doesn’t intrigue Bidwill or GM Steve Keim, I don’t see it going further necessarily. But we will see. It’s always an interesting time of year when a potential coach could end up being busy into February if his team makes it to the Super Bowl, and then having his “new” team having to wait it out. Could that be the Cards?

— My annual roster breakdown can be found right here. It gives the contract status of virtually everyone, so yes, it includes who will be free agents in March.

— Our weekly Cardinals Underground podcast is right here. I believe it’s always a good listen with myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi (so if you can, get in the habit of checking us out, assuming you don’t already.) This week’s episode has a special treat at the end: A “Best of Bruce Arians” soundbites montage put together by Jim Omohundro. It was certainly an interesting five years.


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The workload of the Honey Badger

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2018 – 1:10 pm

Even Tyrann Mathieu had hoped he would’ve played a little better this season, but he did improve as the season went on and was healthy. And not only was the Honey Badger healthy, he played a lot. It’s remarkable that the safety, who didn’t play a full season until this year, ended up leading the entire NFL in snaps played.

Mathieu finished with 1,263 snaps on the field — 1,058 on defense and another 207 on special teams. That topped Tennessee cornerback Adoree Jackson’s 1,258 (1,022 on defense, 224 on special teams, and 12 on offense.) There were a handful of players who played more on defense (including former teammates and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) but that was in part because the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense was able to get off the field more often. It wasn’t like Mathieu rested much. He sat out only six defensive snaps all season.

Five Cardinals played at least 1,000 snaps this season — Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.Q. Shipley (who played 100 percent of the Cards’ 1,124 offensive snaps) and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the other four don’t grab the attention as much as Mathieu, who truly maximized his first season of total health.


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As he leaves, Carson Palmer aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2018 – 4:59 pm

There were rumblings in the 2013 offseason that the Cardinals might try to trade for Carson Palmer, and I didn’t see it happening at first. The team needed draft capital to build in the first offseason of Steve Keim and Bruce Arians. When the trade finally did happen, it was for nothing, really. Whatever Palmer might have been at the time, even if he wasn’t the same QB he once was, it was still amazing the Cards essentially got him for dropping 43 spots late in the 2013 draft and giving up a late seventh-round pick in 2014.

Such is the price for success, huh?

In a lot of ways, Palmer was Kurt Warner 2.0, arriving in the desert for a rebirth. He didn’t quite reach the heights of Warner in terms of a Super Bowl appearance, but he did get to an NFC Championship game. Palmer had 16,782 passing yards and 105 TDs with a 91.1 passer rating in 60 games with the Cards, Warner was 15,843-100-91.9 in 61 games. As good as Warner was, he was never in the MVP conversation any year with the Cards, not like Palmer deservedly was in 2015. When Palmer had time to throw — and his receiving corps was at its best — he was an excellent quarterback.

Maybe we will never know just how much his finger was bothering him in the 2015 playoffs (he insisted it wasn’t a factor, and there are reasons to think it both was and was not.) We definitely will never know how exactly how that 2014 season or 2017 would have turned out if Palmer hadn’t gotten hurt. Seeing how good the Cards were in 2015, and how well they played in 2014 even when Drew Stanton was QB, you have to think 2014 was a missed opportunity.

But two intangible things always struck me about Palmer. One was his love of the process. I still think his great 2015 season, coming off the 2014 ACL tear, was built from an offseason in which Palmer embraced wholeheartedly in large part because he simply enjoyed it. It was hard coming off a serious knee injury, but he used the time to improve other aspects of his game — leading to an MVP-type year — and legit had fun doing it.

The other was Palmer’s leadership. Quarterbacks are mostly natural leaders. It’s tough to make it to this level at that position otherwise. But if you drew up the guy who you wanted to lead your team, Palmer was all of that. The way he carried himself, the way he handled success and failure — “He was the most resilient guy I’ve ever coached,” Bruce Arians said. “Bad play, good play. Good play, next play” — the way he made teammates want to play with him and for him. He was private yet he was good talking to people like me, understanding exactly what we were looking for in a quote even when the question might not have been the best.

A couple of seasons ago, Palmer said he wouldn’t mind playing 10 more years — after Tom Brady had said the same — knowing it wasn’t going to happen. He had too many young kids that he wanted to devote more time to, and after 15 years, getting beat up every week wasn’t very attractive anymore. The Cards are without a quarterback again, and the one that is leaving was pretty good.


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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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