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Stinson active for Rams game

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2014 – 12:53 pm

Despite hurting his groin at the tail end of Friday’s practice, rookie defensive lineman Ed Stinson is active today and will remain part of the Cardinals’ defensive line rotation. As a result, the Cardinals’ inactive list became pretty predictable with the way Bruce Arians has culled his recent 46-man game day players of late. The full inactive list:

– QB Logan Thomas

– RB Stepfan Taylor (calf)

– LB Desmond Bishop (hamstring)

– LB Thomas Keiser

– LB Glenn Carson

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– TE Darren Fells

 


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Friday before the Rams, Palmer extension edition

Posted by Darren Urban on November 7, 2014 – 4:48 pm

And just when it felt like this week was going to be one of the least newsy in a long time, the Cardinals cap it off by signing quarterback Carson Palmer to a three-year extension – a move that isn’t unexpected, but one that is crucial for the team going forward.

Let’s face it, Palmer has provided the stability this team has needed at the position for a long time. He’s playing some of the best football of his career. Intelligent football. He has also become a rock-solid leader inside that locker room. That cannot be dismissed. As good as Palmer has been on the field, his leadership has been very, very important.

He’ll turn 35 next month. Reportedly, the deal guarantees $20.5 million up front between bonus and 2015 salary and nothing guaranteed after that. It gives the Cards flexibility going forward, yet makes sure they have a QB.

Another good move in a season of them for GM Steve Keim.

– The big deal Sunday will be keeping Palmer upright against the Rams. Last season when the Rams visited, Palmer hadn’t practiced all week but completed 27 of 34 passes and the Cards got a comfortable win. And that was without the currently upgraded offensive line.

– Everyone is going to want to knock off the Cardinals now. That’s part of the gig when you’ve fashioned the best record in the league.

“Every single week we’ll walk out there with a bulls-eye on our back,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “There is a big difference between being a hunter and being hunted. You have to have a much higher sense of urgency and focus to be able to deal with the pressure that comes with it.”

– The Cardinals used four-down linemen last week. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles hasn’t been shy about mixing and matching his lineups either. But Bowles said that isn’t him getting creative as much as making moves out of necessity.

“Last year we had three-down linebackers at both spots and we had (Darnell) Dockett who was on the field all the time,” Bowles said. “We didn’t have to change as much. We had (John) Abraham as a pass rusher. They were interchangeable because you let them do what they do best. This year with all the injuries, we have a bunch of moving part with different guys who do different things.”

– Bowles said safety Tyrann Mathieu (the one and only(?) Honey Badger) isn’t quite all the way back. Mathieu thinks he is. In fact, Mathieu really, really wants the decision-makers to let him take off his knee brace. I don’t think it’s going to happen — everyone wants to be smart here — but it let’s you know how Mathieu is feeling.

– Center Lyle Sendlein has had a good week. For one, he was not fined for the chop block he was flagged for in Dallas. Usually, that’s interpreted as a penalty that shouldn’t have been called (the Cardinals lost a 12-yard Andre Ellington run because of the flag, killing off a promising drive.) Regardless, the Cards won and no one dipped into his wallet.

– But the better part was the arrival of Sendlein’s first kid, a son that was born early in the week so Sendlein didn’t even have to miss practice.

“My wife is awesome, a great wife and mother,” Sendlein said. “She might let me sleep in the guest room until the season is over.”

She has to be better than that, though, after letting Sendein go with the name Crew Jack Sendlein for his newborn. Crew? Sendlein was asked where that came from.

“Well, I like the movie ‘Rad,’ ” Sendlein said, referring to a BMX racing bike movie from 1986. The main character was named Cru Jones. “It’s spelled a little different.”

– Bruce Arians was asked this week if he had ever this year drawn up any plays for cornerback Patrick Peterson on offense. The answer was no.

“(Expletive),” Arians said, “I can’t even get Jaron Brown in the game.”

True enough. After a big preseason, Brown has been a pick-and-choose guy, although he got his first touchdown catch against the Cowboys. “I wasn’t dropping that one,” Brown said, not after he was wide open for touchdown bombs twice this season, only to have the QB miss him.

Brown, however, only got so many opportunities in college at Clemson with a loaded roster. This isn’t new.

“I’ve been patient before, dealt with the same thing,” Brown said. “We were winning too, which always helps. I know my role. Hopefully it sets me up for down the road.”

At least he knows who is quarterback is going to be.

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There’s only one Honey Badger (U.S. edition)

Posted by Darren Urban on November 7, 2014 – 9:54 am

The tweet came across my timeline yesterday, saying that the “Honey Badger being quizzed on Welsh culture is fantastic.” And my immediate thought was, why in the heck would someone want to quiz Tyrann Mathieu on Welsh culture? I know Mathieu is popular, but that’s just odd. Of course, it turned out that it was an athlete and he was quizzed about the Welsh, but it was a different Honey Badger athlete. Apparently there is an Australian rugby player named Nick Cummins who is also named Honey Badger, and who knew?

Well, not Mathieu.

“I saw a bunch of people tagging me on Twitter (about Cummins) but I didn’t really pay too much attention,” Mathieu said.

Mathieu is going to be the Honey Badger to the NFL, to American sports fans and to himself. The thought once upon a time that he would ditch the name in the effort to pull away from his troubled college years has been gone, once Mathieu a) understood he could figure out his life regardless of what his nickname was and b) liked the nickname in the first place.

Mathieu is even working to make “Honey Badger” a little more permanent.

“I’m in the process of getting it trademarked,” Mathieu said. “They’re giving me a tough time, because they are telling me it’s an animal.”

That doesn’t make sense. When is a real honey badger going to sell a T-shirt?

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Winning in fourth, but clean-up needed

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2014 – 10:30 am

It’s inevitable, really, that most games are going to be close in the NFL. This isn’t college, where little schools can be led to the slaughter by big schools; there is a reason why point spreads are rarely double-digits in the pros even when a strong team takes on a losing team. But the way the Cardinals are winning this year both inspires confidence and can leave outsiders wondering exactly how good the Cardinals are. In the end, if Bruce Arians is hoping his players stay focused week to week and look for that extra motivation, that can only help the cause.

But there is an element of the Cardiac Cards this season. To this, it’s hard to argue.

– The Cardinals score 12 fourth-quarter points in the opener to knock off the Chargers, 18-17.

– The Cardinals score 15 points in the fourth quarter to come back and beat the Giants, 25-14.

– The Cards outscore the Niners, 17-0, in the second half and need a Chandler Catanzaro field goal with 29 seconds left to seal a win, 23-14.

– The Cards outscore the Redskins, 13-7, in the fourth to put away a 30-20 win.

– Smokey Brown’s 75-yard touchdown catch with 1:21 left beats the Eagles, 24-20.

– Two fourth-quarter touchdowns in Dallas puts a 28-17 win out of reach.

What’s funny is that Arians has brought up, consistently, the mantra that the first half has been about “seeing where the game goes” and that the Cardinals will make the halftime adjustments to go out and finish. It’s certainly played out that way. But as quarterback Carson Palmer said, the Cardinals wouldn’t mind playing a little more consistently early so, you know, maybe the second halves don’t have to be quite so hard on the heart.

“We’ve been a second-half team since I’ve been here, as long as I can remember being a Cardinal,” said Palmer (although it’s really not that far back to remember, right?)

“We were a second-half team last year. We were really a second half of a season team last year, obviously, but we’ve been really good in the second half, and it’s good and bad. It’s good because that’s when games are won, but it’s bad because you leave teams hanging in the first half when you don’t go out and execute the way you expect to. From that standpoint, there are a lot of things we can clean up. We started hot and started fast as the season started, but we haven’t started games fast and that’s something we all are looking to improve.”

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Palmer the best on third downs

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2014 – 10:13 am

Against the Cowboys, the Cardinals shouldn’t have even been in a third down situation at one point. Quarterback Carson Palmer found Michael Floyd about eight yards downfield on a pass and it looked like Floyd just had to turn upfield and he’d get the two remaining yards needed for a first. Instead he ran back a few yards, and then he fumbled, forcing the Cards into a third down. No matter. Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 20-yard gain the next play.

The Cardinals’ offense hasn’t been as consistent as Bruce Arians would like, but one area the quarterback has excelled within is third-down passing. The Cardinals converted 9 of 15 third downs in Dallas, and Palmer’s improvement on third downs is Exhibit A why. Palmer currently is the highest rated quarterback on third downs this season, with a passer rating of 129.5, well above that of No. 2 Tony Romo at 122.5. (Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers round out the top five.)

Palmer — who has missed three of the Cards’ eight games with his shoulder problem — has completed 42-of-64 third-down passes for 609 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception.

It’s those last two stats that capture the most attention, and underscore the improvement Palmer has made since last season. In 2013, playing every snap for the Cards, Palmer ended up only 29th in the league in third-down passing, with a passer rating of 77.1. He completed 94-of-163 passes for 1,233 yards, but the other numbers are notable. Last year, Palmer only threw nine touchdowns on third down in 16 games. He also threw nine interceptions.

Obviously, with half a season to go, Palmer can’t afford to slide backward, but he’s been excellent up until this point. The Cardinals were four-of-four in the red zone against the Cowboys, and all four touchdowns came on third down plays. Three were Palmer touchdown passes — only the second time Palmer has thrown three TD passes in a game since coming to Arizona. And his pair of second-quarter TDs showed both sides of Palmer’s abilities on third down.

On a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson, the Cowboys only rushed three and Palmer calmly waited in the pocket until Carlson was able to find a void in the zone coverage. On a 11-yard TD to Jaron Brown, a four-man rush pushed the pocket but Palmer rifled the ball to Brown in between three defenders on a perfectly timed throw. In was third-and-long for both (six needed on the Carlson play, 10 on the Brown play). Palmer made it happen. It’s the kind of third-down production that teams need to win.

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Teachers plentiful for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2014 – 10:52 am

Ken Whisenhunt’s final coaching staff with the Cardinals numbered 17 members. With Bruce Arians, the number has ballooned to 24. It’s gone up just since Arians arrived, when he showed up in Tempe preaching how he wanted to teach and how he wanted his staff to be teachers as well. Arians’ theory is simple, and perhaps a given since Arians once thought he was going to get into middle school teaching and coaching: Smaller class sizes work. That goes in the NFL too, so why wouldn’t the offensive line benefit with three coaches (Harold Goodwin, Larry Zeirlein and David Diaz-Infante) instead of one. Why wouldn’t the defensive line need two coaches (Brentson Buckner, Tom Pratt), or there be a separate coach for inside (Mike Caldwell) and outside (James Bettcher) linebackers?

The Cardinals and president Michael Bidwill had to give the OK, of course, but Arians’ called it a “very easy sell.”

“Guys who have big position groups need more teachers,” Arians said. “I wish our school systems would take that approach.”

(I know my wife, who teaches high school down the street, agrees, as do many of her colleagues. But that’s something for another day, and probably another blog.)

“Michael has been great about it,” Arians added. “Rather than having one (coach) make this much money, give me three and let them make this much money. I’m not going to spend any more money, just give me more guys and we don’t care who’s sitting on whose desk in the office space.”

It has made for much more crowded football side of the team’s Tempe facility, but it’s worked. It’s not the only place things have changed with the organization. The personnel department has also grown in size, as has scouting. Heck, the building itself is growing, with new construction ongoing to enlarge the weight room, the cafeteria, the training/medical area and eventually, the locker room.

It’s hard to think anything other than that focused teaching has helped the Cardinals for the past year-and-a-half, that it’s helped a team overcome the kind of personnel losses this team has suffered, and keep playing at a high level.

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Keim: Fitz looking beastly

Posted by Darren Urban on November 3, 2014 – 8:21 am

Larry Fitzgerald caught the pass just about at the first down marker up the middle on third-and-5 against the Cowboys, stiff-armed safety Barry Church to the ground and then crashed into safety J.J. Wilcox. Wilcox went down in a heap. Fitz, who was tackled moments later for a 20-yard gain, jumped up and swung his arms at his bench, looking to send his emotion toward his teammates.

“That safety came up and almost looked like (Larry) put him to sleep,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. After the Cardinals beat the Cowboys, Keim found Fitz on the bus as the Cards were leaving AT&T Stadium to tell him so. ” ‘Larry, you’re starting to look like a tight end out there,’ ” Keim said with a chuckle. “I don’t think he took that as a compliment.”

But it was. Keim loves Fitzgerald’s emotion, and his physical play. The GM complimented all the receivers and their ability to block — also crediting receivers coach Darryl Drake — but the continued reinvention of Fitzgerald is hard not to notice. Fitz always has had his moments of emotion over the years, but it used to come just after big plays. Now, it seems, Fitz goes looking for contact if he’s in close quarters, dishes out some punishment, and then gets visibly psyched for all to see. Keim said he can tell it affecting the Cards, and you can tell.

Fitz also had another solid game, with five catches for 70 yards. Maybe he and Carson Palmer are finally finding a groove.

Other Keim notes:

– Nose tackle Dan Williams played his best game as a pro (which was easy to see.)

– He called out the defensive line as a whole and Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Antonio Cromartie in particular for having good games, but added that the whole defense impressed.

– He liked Palmer’s ability to have a short memory, allowing the QB to come back strong after his early interception.

– Overall, Keim admitted there was some frustration with the offense’s “self-inflicted issues.” The drops were one thing. Key penalties. And he said the interior of the offensive line struggled with the stunts and twists of the Cowboys’ defensive line.

Larry Fitzgerald


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Atop the NFL, some Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2014 – 6:01 pm

If the fact that fullback Ron Wolfley got a carry for the Cardinals the last time the franchise had gone to Dallas and won a regular-season game doesn’t grab you, the fact 22 players on the current roster weren’t even born the last time the Cards won there catches the attention.

Of course, all those “last times” don’t mean much right now, since this current Cardinals team took care of the Cowboys at Jerry’s World and don’t care about much of anything except what’s right in front of them. Again, Sunday’s game wasn’t one you’d bronze. There were a lot of good things, but some divots, especially offensively. But it doesn’t matter after yet another win, and a 7-1 record that stands as the best of not only the NFC but the NFL after the Broncos were knocked around in New England.

No, Tony Romo didn’t play. To that, the Cardinals basically said, so? “We don’t really want to hear the excuses right now,” locker-room sage Frostee Rucker said. (The Cardinals have done the play-with-the-backup-quarterbacks thing. They made it work.)

“It’s just a great day to be a Cardinal,” Rucker said.

– The Cardinals stopped DeMarco Murray from reaching 100 yards, the first team to do so this season. It wasn’t as if Murray was ineffective, with 79 yards on 19 carries. But it was a goal to end his streak, and certainly, that fourth-down stand was the game in a microcosm – stop Murray, and you stop the Cowboys. Especially with Brandon Weeden as QB.

– Meanwhile, Andre Ellington outplayed Murray. If it wasn’t for the goal of getting Marion Grice some work, Ellington (95 yards on 21 carries) would have had his first 100-yard game. I thought Ellington battled for extra yards even better Sunday as well. He’s having an excellent season.

– Ellington did get his eyes checked during the game. Bruce Arians said he feared Ellington might be out with a concussion, but Ellington said his helmet came down over his eyes and blurred his vision for a moment.

– Red-zone troubles? No red-zone troubles here. When the Cardinals got there Sunday, they cashed in. Four trips inside the Dallas 20, and Chandler Catanzaro only came on the field for extra points. Even better, all four scores – three of them on Carson Palmer passes – were converted on third down.

– The Cardinals swept the NFC East. After sweeping the AFC South last year.

– Frostee was a little frosty on the sideline at the end of the game, hacked off that he and his teammates couldn’t stop the final Dez Bryant touchdown. It was meaningless, except it wasn’t.

“Me and (Darnell) Dockett were just talking about it, that’s the stuff you look back when the season is over and that’s the difference in being number one in something or being number three,” Rucker said. “Don’t give that up. Don’t give them anything.

“But I’m happy with the performance of all the guys. The team won this game today.”

– With John Carlson, Jaron Brown and Marion Grice all scoring Sunday, the Cardinals have had 12 different players score for them already this season though eight games.

– It was not a good day for the AT&T Stadium press box announcer. The Honey Badger as “Tyson Mathersly”? But it was worse for Cantanzaro, who was a couple of things – “Chancer Catanzaria” for one – before the guy gave up and just said, “Number 7 on to try the extra point.”

– Mathieu gets his first interception. He is certainly doing Honey Badger things again.

– Nose tackle Dan Williams was excellent, beyond his first sack of the season. “I would probably say it’s my best game,” Williams said. “I think I’ve been playing well thus far, doing the things coaches ask of me and make sure we get upfield. I think I actually played like I do each week, it’s just that the guys were cutting back into me, I made a few tackles. Today, I was pretty much just the clean-up man.”

– Larry Fitzgerald with another quietly solid game, with five catches for 70 yards. He fell short of surpassing Michael Irvin on the all-time yardage list, but more important was the touchdowns and a step toward better offensive production.

“We were able to score a little more consistent today,” Fitzgerald said. “But we are still finding out what we are capable of. We took a little bit of a step today. We pride ourselves on being a very smart, intelligent football team.”

– Not great were the five drops, three coming from tight end John Carlson. Carlson did have a touchdown catch, but combined with a holding penalty, it wasn’t his best game.

– This time, all the players earned a Victory Monday. Even the young guys.

– Your walk-off quote, courtesy of Arians: “Having been 1-7 before, 7-1 feels a lot better.”

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Jefferson, Niklas both playing; Romo sits

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2014 – 9:26 am

The Cardinals had two questionable today, and both guys are playing: safety Tony Jefferson (concussion) and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) are both playing. The only injury-related absence for the Cards is running back Stepfan Taylor, who is out with his bad calf. New running back Kerwynn Williams is active, along with Marion Grice and Robert Hughes as Andre Ellington’s backups.

Still waiting on the Cowboys’ inactive list, but multiple reports have Tony Romo (not unexpectedly) sitting out with his bad back.

UPDATE: Romo is indeed out today. Also out are starting tackle Doug Free and starting guard Ronald Leary. The Cards’ defense needs to take advantage.

The full Cardinals’ inactive list:

– QB Logan Thomas

– RB Stepfan Taylor

– LB Thomas Keiser

– LB Glenn Carson

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– G Earl Watford

– TE Darren Fells

 


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Cards promote RB Williams

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2014 – 10:32 am

With Stepfan Taylor out with a calf injury and Robert Hughes more of a fullback in the way the Cardinals use him, it leaves only Andre Ellington and his you-can-never-be-quite-sure foot injury and Marion Grice as the only other running backs. So it wasn’t really a surprise that the Cards elevated Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad Saturday, releasing defensive tackle Bruce Gaston in the process.

It makes sense to bring up Williams, and you figure he will be active Sunday to give the Cards some leeway against the Cowboys. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Gaston, assuming he clears waivers, to return next week, whether it would be to the practice squad hole left by Williams or back to the 53-man roster. Taylor said his calf issue is week to week, so it’s TBD to see how long Williams lasts on the roster. Bruce Arians has said how much he likes the small (5-8) Williams and how he’s looks since being signed Sept. 18.

Of course, with the amount of carries being given to Ellington, the reserve running backs might not matter that much.


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