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Justin Bethel “has to decide”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Keim was blunt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Patriots aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— David Johnson looked pretty darn good.

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

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

Indeed.

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Bethel playing for Cards-Pats, Taylor sits

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2016 – 4:02 pm

The Cardinals are fairly healthy, so Bruce Arians had some choices to make with his inactive list for Sunday night’s game against the Patriots. Not surprisingly, cornerback Justin Bethel (foot) is going to give it a go. Running back Stepfan Taylor (knee) will not. The full list of inactives:

— S Marqui Christian

— RB Stepfan Taylor (knee)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Ed Stinson

— NT Xavier Williams

— LB Kareem Martin (knee)

The Patriots’ inactive list wasn’t surprising since so many guys were hurt. One healthy scratch was former Arizona State running back D.J. Foster, who won’t be dressed. Again, no Gronk, no Jonathan Cooper, no Nate Solder.


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Friday before the Gronk-less Patriots

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2016 – 3:41 pm

The last time the Cardinals played the Patriots, the Patriots had Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez when that was someone you wanted. The Cardinals had Kevin Kolb at quarterback, Ryan Williams at running back, and Quentin Groves was a key linebacker. The game was in New England. And the Cardinals won.

It was improbable yes, and took a no-way-to-predict Stephen Gostkowski 42-yard field-goal miss to make happen, but it did. (We won’t reminisce about the 2008 New England trip, the time before that the Cards had played the Patriots.)

But if the Cards can knock off a Brady-Gronk Pats team in New England, what about a Brady-less-perhaps Gronk-less Patriots in Arizona, against a much stronger Cardinals’ roster Sunday night? We’ll see. If there is any coach that can make an inexperienced Jimmy Garappolo work at QB, it’s Bill Belichick. The Patriots are still strong, although they are missing some key components.

Still, if you are as good as the Cardinals should be, this is a game you should win, at home. Really no way around that. And there is no question this team is better than that 2012 squad, despite that win in New England en route to a 4-0 start. (Yes, they finished 5-11. We all know how that ended.)

— The Providence Journal reported that Gronkowski was among a couple of questionable injured players — including former Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper — who did not fly with the team to Arizona Friday. It’s been pointed out that the Patriots have in the past and could still fly them to Arizona Saturday. But short of a private plane, you’d think it’d be easier to fly banged-up players on a big charter and let their bodies get used to the new surroundings for a day. Officially questionable, could Gronk miss this game too? It’d be a huge break for the Cardinals, for sure.

UPDATE: Gronkowski, Cooper and tackle Nate Solder have all been downgraded to out for Sunday’s game. That’s huge news.

— The story all through camp is whether newbies D.J. Humphries at right tackle and Brandon Williams at cornerback can hold up as starters. We’ll see. Humphries noted today that vet Evan Mathis is set to give him an adjustment if he messes up. Meanwhile, Kyle Odegard writes about why Williams is driven to make this NFL thing work even when people wonder about his late move to cornerback. (Hint: They are 7 and 2 years old.)

— New Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones said he didn’t have much insight he could deliver to his new team about his old team.

“One thing I do know about the Patriots, they will try to expose certain weaknesses,” Jones said. “That’s what they do. They study our weaknesses or who is the weak link on the team and they will try to expose it. that’s one thing you have to look out for.”

— Jones is going to have to play a big role. Don’t know how much the Patriots will let him get off in the pass rush, but this is the guy the Cards have been yearning for and he’s going to have a heck of a spotlight right out of the blocks.

All those times we talked about Larry Fitzgerald potentially being traded to the Patriots seems silly now, to be honest.

— Great line about starting center A.Q. Shipley from offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin, who emphasized he has a lot of confidence in Shipley: “He knows about being told he’s short, he’s fat, he’s chubby and he’s got short arms, so he’s always trying to prove everybody wrong.”

— In case you missed the first Cardinals Underground podcast of the regular season, here it is.

— What to expect from Tyrann Mathieu? Everyone, from players to coaches, talk about how the Badger is back to being the Badger. But when Mathieu talks, there is definitely a pump-the-brakes aspect to his comments. I know Mathieu was disappointed with how he played the last time he returned from a (much worse) ACL injury. He’s made no secret of that. Maybe he’s just trying to temper expectations, especially his own. But I expect Mathieu to be able to play just fine, thank you.

— The parking lots open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, for those asking.

— The past is the past, but under Bruce Arians, the Cardinals are 25-5 outside of the NFC West and 10-2 against AFC teams. The AFC East, of which the Patriots are part of and the Cards face this season, is the lone division the Cardinals have not played under Arians.

Here we go. Safe to say this is the most anticipated season for the Cardinals since they arrived in Arizona (2009, when the Cards were coming off the Super Bowl, was close, but no one thought that team was as good as this team.) See you Sunday.

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Top questions for Cardinals – answered?

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2016 – 10:06 am

Before training camp got underway, I posted 10 of the top questions facing the Cardinals — Part I and Part II — as they began their season. Now that the games that count are here, were those questions answered? Let’s take a brief look:

— Can Carson Palmer do it again? Clearly this isn’t something that could be answered yet. The preseason had some rough moments. But Palmer is unflinching and so is his coach and his teammates. The confidence is there that the quarterback will be just fine.

— Who is the starting center? It’s A.Q. Shipley, and it was never really even close. Rookie Evan Boehm is getting better, but he doesn’t look like he’s close to usurping Shipley. And the Cardinals never looked on the street for another option. It’s possible that could change, but Shipley is entrenched for now.

— Will D.J. Humphries become the right tackle? Yep. Again, never really was a question once it was all said and done. There was no real competition, and to Humphries’ credit, he improved as camp went on. In my opinion, while he won’t be perfect, Humphries should be fine.

— How much will David Johnson carry the offense? Again, we’ll only know once the games start, but it’s hard to think he won’t be the anchor to how this all goes down. Looked good in camp and the preseason.

— How important was it to keep every single skill player? This matters when there was worry about the offense. The idea is that they know each other well. So hopefully, even though Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown played little in the preseason, they know what to do. And the other skill vets like Jaron Brown showed why it’s good to have their knowledge too.

— Who will be the cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson? Brandon Williams, almost by default, because of the injuries to Justin Bethel and Mike Jenkins. The rookie will get tested early and often. He had a strong start to camp and then slowed a bit, and his work is going to be under the microscope.

— What will be the impact of Chandler Jones? More TBD, but you have to love how he looked during camp.

— How is the health of the Honey Badger? Healthy enough that he’ll start and is expected to be full go against the Patriots. We’ll see how Tyrann Mathieu looks compared to all-pro-pre-ACL-tear Badger of 2015.

— Can Robert Nkemdiche play a big role right away? Maybe not a big role, not after missing a chunk of camp with an ankle sprain. But he’ll definitely play a role.

— What is Larry Fitzgerald’s future? You never know what he’ll do after the season, but at least the Cardinals made sure, if he plays in 2017, it’ll be in Arizona.

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First home game usually means victory

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals never played at home in Week 1 of the NFL season during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium. Sunday night will be the seventh time in 11 seasons at University of Phoenix Stadium that the Cardinals have hosted a Week 1 game. With the Patriots coming to town for “Sunday Night Football,” it makes a difference.

The Cards have won six straight home openers and have won 10 straight home games in September. It’s interesting to note that the last time the Cardinals lost at home in September was back in 2009, when the reigning NFC Champions lost not once but twice.

You remember that season, right? The Cards lost their opener, at home, to a lesser 49ers team. A couple of weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts blew them out of the building. The Cardinals were 1-2, everyone asked “What’s wrong?” — and then they got to 10-5 before shutting it down in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

Since then, the Cards’ home opener has been in Week 1 four times (wins over Carolina in Cam’s first start in 2011, Seattle in Russell Wilson’s first start in 2012, San Diego on “Monday Night Football” in 2014 and New Orleans last year), Week 2 once (beating Detroit in 2013) and Week 3 once (beating Oakland in 2010.)

You can argue, easily, that the Patriots represent the best team the Cardinals have hosted in the home opener in that span (although the 2012 Seahawks turned out to be pretty good). But the Cardinals have made that first home game advantageous.

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Keim: Looking at QBs Murray, Dysert

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2016 – 8:01 am

The Cardinals are still looking for a young quarterback. So it made sense, said GM Steve Keim Tuesday, that the Cardinals pick up a couple of quarterbacks for the practice squad. The signings of Aaron Murray and Zac Dysert were officially announced Tuesday morning and Keim talked about bringing both in while on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. He said Murray and Dysert were the two highest-rated quarterbacks out there that were practice-squad eligible. It’ll be about taking a look at both over the next few weeks and see what they have.

“You can never tell, particularly at that position, until you spend time with them,” Keim said.

Keim added that the practice squad, like the bottom of the 53-man roster, will continue to be churned in an effort to find players who can help.

— As for Matt Barkley, Keim said “I’m not going to say the opportunity wasn’t there” for Barkley to return to the Cardinals practice squad. Barkley instead signed to be on the Bears’ practice squad. “He probably saw the opportunity in Chicago as a better fit, and we wish him well,” Keim said.

— Why keep nine defensive lineman? If there isn’t a great trade opportunity, Keim said, you don’t want to give away good players even if there are many at one position. Plus, he added, defensive line is one of those spots where injuries do crop up. Last but not least, Keim mentioned having young players under contract for the future (and it should be kept in mind that both Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker are unrestricted free agents after the season., so if they left, the Cards still have a nice group of D-linemen.)

— Keim said there were talks about trading a defensive lineman but the offers the Cards got were not in the Cards’ “best interest.”


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Analyzing the initial 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2016 – 4:55 pm

The Cardinals have gotten down to the 53-man roster. Surprises? Perhaps a couple, although the way the wind was blowing over the last few days of the preseason, maybe not so much. Once we got to the end of the fourth preseason game, it was looking good for undrafted ILB Lamar Louis, and the knee injury of Kareem Martin might have helped ILB Gabe Martin on to the final roster (as well as his pick-6), although Martin has caught their collective eye for a while. I think cornerback Cariel Brooks had a good chance to make the team until he played so poorly against the Broncos.

The one legit surprise — in my eyes — was the Cardinals keeping Olsen Pierre, meaning there are nine defensive linemen on the final 53. Nine! That’s on a team with a 3-4 base defense that will use Chandler Jones as a defensive end in some passing situations. Then again, this could be partly for the future, not wanting to lose Pierre (and thinking he can play) when both Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell are going into the last year of their contracts.

— The roster breakdown, right now, looks like this:
QB – 2
RB – 4
WR – 5
TE – 3
OL – 9
DL – 9
LB – 9 (counting Bucannon; sorry Deone)
CB – 4
S —  5
ST – 3

— So many wondered if Matt Barkley would stick, but as I have said many, many, many times, Drew Stanton was the No. 2 and Barkley simply didn’t show enough to pass him up. The Cardinals will have a QB on the practice squad — it could be Barkley — but it was clear listening to Bruce Arians over the time in camp he was disappointed Barkley didn’t come along faster.

— The trade for Marcus Cooper underscored the need for a veteran cornerback. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards kept looking at that position.

— The same goes for backup tackle, although John Wetzel showed enough to stick for now.

— Only one draft pick wasn’t kept, cornerback Harlan Miller. I wouldn’t be surprised if Miller came back on the practice squad, but if you are Miller, knowing how much the Cards needed cornerbacks, you have to be disappointed you couldn’t make inroads in making the roster.

— When in doubt, teams go younger. That’s how you stay competitive.

— Teams will start making waiver claims tomorrow. There is still a (good) chance this 53 won’t be the 53 when the Cardinals return to practice Tuesday.

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Quietly, Clemons among a handful of cuts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 2, 2016 – 3:41 pm

The Cardinals have until Saturday afternoon to make their final cutdown to 53 on the roster, and Bruce Arians made clear earlier today that he wasn’t going to forthcoming with any information. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinals didn’t make a few moves — aside from the agreed-upon trade for Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper, which I would guess wouldn’t be official until Cooper passes a physical.

The team still hasn’t officially announced anything, but there were a handful of cuts listed on the official NFL transactions list today. Two veterans are out — S Chris Clemons (a minor surprise, given that he had been Deone Bucannon’s summer-long backup at moneybacker) and LB Donald Butler. They will each immediately become unrestricted free agents. That likely means good news for undrafted rookie ILB Lamar Louis. Waived were CB Cariel Brooks, RB Kerwynn Williams, T Rob Crisp, WR Marquis Bundy and G Antoine McClain. The team also had an injury settlement with C Taylor Boggs, who had been dealing with a calf injury.

That would be eight players off the roster of 75 in the quest to get to 53. The Cards actually have to move on from 23 total players, because Cooper is coming in. The other cuts will come out at some point Saturday.


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