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Before the Cardinals, extra time

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2016 – 11:06 am

When the schedule comes out in April, everybody knows exactly what it means — one what holidays you play, when you have a short week, and (with just a little bit a legwork) what the situation of the teams you are playing have coming into your game. So the Cardinals understood their road tests this season. And they understood how much prep time their opponents had for them.

Saturday’s Christmas Eve game in Seattle marks the fifth time — and four of their road trips — that the Cards’ opponent has had extra time to prepare for the Cardinals. The Panthers and Falcons were coming off byes. The Redskins, Bills and now the Seahawks were coming off Thursday games.

“It is what it is,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’ve got Sunday to Saturday (to prepare). It’s better than Sunday to Thursday.”

Whether the extra time is really a factor here can be debated. The Cards came out slow in Carolina and were just bad in Buffalo. The Falcons simply outplayed them after a fairly even start. The Cards actually beat Washington in the one home instance. It’s not ideal, especially from the rest aspect, but this season, the way the Cardinals have played, the blame goes well beyond schedules.

— With all the Fitz retirement talk, I thought this week’s Cardinals Underground podcast — in which we have lots of Fitz analysis — was one of our better podcasts of the season.

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Keim: Agent talks ongoing with FAs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2016 – 8:18 am

Steve Keim noted — as was easy to see — that Calais Campbell played well in the loss to the Saints. And the Cardinals General Manager is not unaware of all the talk — including by Campbell himself — that Campbell might not be with the Cardinals next season with his free agency coming up (Campbell has made pretty clear he’d like to stay, but it’s a business.) The Cardinals have a lot of players who are about to become free agents. Keim, speaking on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, emphasized Monday it’s not like the Cards aren’t trying to be proactive with their roster.

“One thing public does not generally know, we have spoken to many agents regarding players whose contracts expire after the season and some whose contracts do not expire after the season that we’d just like to try to extend,” Keim said. “It takes two sides. Those are conversations I’ll keep to myself, that we don’t generally talk about through the media. There are several players we’d like to have back, but it takes two sides.”

— Keim said the Michael Floyd situation and subsequent release was “an unfortunate incident for both sides. Michael has moved on and we have moved on and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Keim was also asked about the reaction from the players about Floyd’s release — it wasn’t hard to see Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t thrilled with the situation — and whether the team talked to the leaders in the locker room about the move.

“No, I think the one thing, as players, you never can tell what they are thinking,” Keim said. “There is no doubt there is a tremendous amount of loyalty from player to player, which you have to respect. These guys are in the locker room and they are fighting and they are competing. There is a natural love. And listen, it’s no different as an organization, you get emotionally attached to these players. So when you have to make tough decisions it’s extremely difficult because you don’t just think of guys as football players. You also care about the person.”

(As for the reasons why Floyd was cut, team president Michael Bidwill addressed those Sunday.)

— Overall, with the playoffs officially gone, Keim said his biggest disappointment was that the team “underachieved.” He wants to use the lost season as a learning tool. Along those lines, it includes the need to build the “right kind of locker room.” Looking at a guy’s physical tools sometimes can overshadow the smarts a player has or his ability to process information, which need to be factored in.

“That’s the hardest to see as an evaluator, the heart and the mind,” Keim said.

— Keim liked what he saw from Carson Palmer Sunday, as well as Smokey Brown, Campbell and Tony Jefferson. He thought the offensive line held up “fairly well” given their circumstances. As for some of the newer/younger guys, he noticed linebacker Scooby Wright make a good block on special teams and guard Taylor Boggs hold up after being beat early. Linebacker Sio Moore was active, although Keim acknowledged he got beat a few times later in the game. As for rookies Brandon Williams and Robert Nkemdiche, Keim was muted in his praise but he still gave some, saying Nkemdiche flashed a couple of times and he still feels both will improve heading into 2017.

“Like I said last week, we’re using these last three games as somewhat of a litmus test of where you want to go in 2017 (with the roster),” Keim said.


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Saints — and playoff-hope — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2016 – 8:22 pm

OK, so the Cardinals already knew their playoff chances were basically done after the loss in Miami, but they were officially killed off Sunday. Drew Brees hadn’t done anything for two games, and then he erupted to tear apart the Cards. All the while, it was the last home game of the year and one of those games where many players understood what that meant — Calais Campbell had already been talking about it, and Tony Jefferson tweeted about it pre-game — as contracts are ending and there is so much up in the air for 2017.

Carson Palmer is under contract for 2017. He was asked about next year, and he said he expects to be playing. Larry Fitzgerald is under contract for 2017. He said he will play the final two games “as hard as I can” and then see how the offseason plays out. If Fitz is gonna stick around, he’s going to want to know he’s got a chance to make the postseason and win.

Nobody coming into this season — even if you expected the Cardinals to take a step back from 13-3 — thought the Cardinals would be a pedestrian 4-3-1 at University of Phoenix Stadium. But here they were again, in a one-score game late, unable to win it like they had so many times the past two seasons at home. That’s what stuck with Bruce Arians, and that’s one of the (many) things to undo the 2016 season.

— It wasn’t his best game statistically but it was a very good game for David Johnson, tying the franchise record for touchdowns in a season and playing more regular wide receiver than normal because of a thin receiving corps. The Saints were also attuned to Johnson as a receiver, bracketing him often on passing plays — which is new for him.

“I was joking with one of their DBs and he was telling me when they were scouting us, (they said) don’t think of me as a running back, think of me as a receiver,” Johnson said. “That was cool to hear.”

— But Johnson now needs 200 receiving yards the final two games to reach 1,000, against two good defenses. So that will be tough.

— Palmer was good, and that was with an inability to hook up with John Brown on one wide-open deep pass (Brown did haul in a 30-yard TD bomb later) and with J.J. Nelson dropping what would have been a 56-yard TD bomb. It helped that the offensive line — from left tackle to right, Wetzel, Iupati, Shipley, Boggs and Watford — held up perhaps better than expected.

“I was happy with the way we played up front,” Shipley said. “There were obviously a couple things we would like back. But for a guy like Boggs who really hasn’t played and going against a top 10 pick (Nick Fairley), I thought he did admirable. There was one play early but other than that, he did a pretty good job. And Earl being in a position he hasn’t played in a long time, and Wetz, I don’t know what number combination of offensive line this is (for us) … I was happy with how the guys responded.”

— Another rough night for special teams. Chandler Catanzaro missed a long field goal and another extra point, although the latter ended up not mattering. Justin Bethel’s offsides on the field goal was painful though, as was the fact Bethel was offsides on three different kicks — the field goal and a pair of extra points, yards added on the kickoffs.

— Linebacker Sio Moore, on the questionable blow-to-Brees’-head penalty that killed the chance for the Cardinals to hold the Saints late in a seven-point game: “I didn’t even know the flag was on me until late,” Moore said quietly. “It was unfortunate timing for a call like that. I can’t argue with the refs. I’ve just got to figure what I’ve got to do so that situation doesn’t come up on my bill.”

— If you missed it, team president Michael Bidwill before the game addressed — strongly — the Michael Floyd situation.

— Campbell, in his ninth NFL season, scored on a 53-yard fumble return and that was the first time Campbell had been in the end zone since his senior year in high school when he had a four-touchdown game as a tight end. That was 2003.

— Tim Hightower is famous around these parts for scoring the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship game back in the 2008 season. He was traded away before the 2011 season, suffered a terrible knee injury and didn’t play in an NFL game from 2012-14, but has resurrected his career in New Orleans. Sunday, he scored two touchdowns in the same end zone where he beat the Eagles in 2008.

“I’m just thankful,” Hightower said. “This process has been one that has tested me in every way. … Just thinking of the last (Saints) loss here a year ago (in the 2015 opener). I wasn’t even on the roster. I was released the day before the game. It kind of had everything come back full circle. It was special.”

— Hightower was in the same Cardinals draft class as Campbell. It wasn’t surprising to see the two friends swap jerseys after the game. Campbell said he knew Hightower was behind him on his touchdown run, as Hightower tried to Beebe Campbell from behind. “I felt it,” Campbell said. “I pulled the ball up when I felt him coming for it. I told him, ‘If you had knocked the ball from my hands, we wouldn’t have been friends any longer.’ ”

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Bidwill on Floyd: “Disappointed how he handled it”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2016 – 1:39 pm

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill just made an appearance on the Cardinals radio network’s pregame show, and was asked about the release of Michael Floyd. Bidwill said there had been a way for Floyd to remain on the team, but the Cards felt Floyd didn’t react well to the incident and the decision was made to move on.

“A lot went into (the decision to cut Floyd),” Bidwill said. “We got the news from sources early, and then the media, an hour-and-a-half before Michael called us. I was disappointed with how he handled it. I thought, even the two days we took before we made the final decision we were just going to release him, the story changed, there was no remorse. We asked him to be proactive in terms of his approach to this. He was unapologetic. There were a number of things (and) I was just not satisfied how he handled it.

“We just determined, you know what? He’s just not going to play for us again. Release him, it’s better to move on. I hope he gets healthy. I like him personally. He’s a great kid. I was really disappointed with how he handled this and you know, how he was handling his approach to the game, his approach to conditioning and approach to things, and I think it was affecting him, some of his issues were affecting him on the field.”

Bidwill reiterated the Cardinals asked Floyd to “proactively address” the situation in multiple conversations with Floyd and his agent and “they just did not want to do that.”

Bidwill said that could have led to Floyd remaining on the roster. “They certainly could’ve played it a lot differently,” Bidwill said. “We wanted to give him the opportunity to address his issues.”


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Nkemdiche active against Saints

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2016 – 12:38 pm

The Cardinals had a lot of roster change this week with injuries and other moves impacting the roster, and that includes the inactive list against the Saints. Coach Bruce Arians praised the practice work of first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, and now Nkemdiche will be active against New Orleans. I’m sure he’ll have to show some things today and in practice to remain active every week the rest of the way, but it’s a good sign, and Nkemdiche could use some momentum heading into the offseason.

Young wide receiver and local product Marquis Bundy is also active, for the first time. As expected, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver John Brown are also playing. The full inactive list:

— QB Zac Dysert

— WR Jeremy Ross

— CB Tharold Simon

— DT Olsen Pierre

— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)

— DT Xavier Williams

— DT Ed Stinson


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Roof to be open for Saints game

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2016 – 12:21 pm

For the final home game of the season and for the second straight time, the roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Sunday (barring something crazy changing with the weather) when the Cardinals host the Saints.

The roof was open a couple of weeks ago when the Cards beat Washington. The Cardinals are now 15-10 all-time with the stadium roof open, including a 4-2 mark when Bruce Arians has been head coach. The weather is supposed to be 62 degrees and sunny at kickoff Sunday.

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Friday before the Saints

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2016 – 4:21 pm

Larry Fitzgerald slowly sat in the chair in front of his locker for his weekly meeting with the press.

“The body is definitely feeling Week 15-ish and 33-ish,” Fitzgerald said with a weary smile.

The season has taken a toll on the Cardinals physically. You can see that in the lengthy injured reserve list alone. An inability to reach expectations has taken a toll mentally too, and that was apparent this week with the virtual elimination from the playoffs and the Michael Floyd situation.

“When things are not going the way you expected or hoped it would go, it does feel not only worse on the body but it feels like the season is longer,” Fitzgerald said. “I remember last year, I woke up and we were in the playoffs. It was like it was fast forward the whole season. I guess that’s how it goes when you are having fun and enjoying it and things are kind of clicking.”

Things have not been clicking for the Cards, not lately, and not enough. You think back to the last time the Saints were in town and the Cardinals beat them, 31-19, in the 2015 opener in a game sealed by David Johnson’s first touchdown.

Man, that seems like a lifetime ago.

— With a ton of free agents and even the possibility of a Fitzgerald retirement, this could be the last home game for a lot of guys. One is defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who will be a free agent and as we noted last week, may be too expensive to keep. So this could be his last home game too.

“It’s only natural to think back and realize that possibility,” Campbell said on his Big Red Rage radio show Thursday night. “It’s a harsh reality but it is reality. I really want to embrace it and enjoy it. It’s sad — it’s been nine years and I’ve had an unbelievable time playing at University of Phoenix Stadium and playing with the Arizona Cardinals in front of these amazing Birdgang fans. It’s been quite the ride, so I’m looking forward to it and hopefully we can make some good things happen.”

“It’s definitely going to be emotional,” Campbell added. “Probably going to have to hold back some tears.”

— Bruce Arians said newcomer Scooby Wright will be active Sunday. The former University of Arizona star will play special teams. I don’t expect him to play defense. Sio Moore is replacing Deone Bucannon in the defensive lineup.

— It’ll be interesting to see how the new offensive line holds up and how much quarterback Carson Palmer will have to endure. This week is one thing, but the Cards face the daunting defensive fronts of the Seahawks and Rams — on the road — the final two games.

— Palmer insisted he wasn’t worried about the line. He was going to play behind whomever was out there and it would be fine. So, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, if Palmer says he’s not worried, does that make you feel better?

“If he’s not worried, I’m not worried — but I’m always worried,” Goodwin said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

— Arians wouldn’t say that rookie first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche would play Sunday, although he didn’t rule it out. He did say Nkemdiche was “working hard.” It was a more positive take on the defensive tackle. Hopefully that’s good news.

— It’s so cool to see Tim Hightower still having some NFL success. I still remember being on the field, standing on the sidelines at the 10, watching him pile into the end zone to win the NFC championship.

— This is, by the way, the 200th career game for Fitzgerald.

— One home game left. In some ways, it does seem like it flew by. But mostly, Fitz is right — kickoff against the Patriots seems years past, and not just months.

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Fitzgerald: GMs, coaches called me about Floyd

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2016 – 2:04 pm

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he got “a couple calls” Wednesday from around the league from “GMs and coaches” asking about Michael Floyd now that Floyd had been released.

“I told them my honest opinion of him, that I think he’ll be a great pickup for whoever,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got a young guy who is hungry, who is eager to make plays in a contract year, has a chip on his shoulder now — not that he didn’t already have one — and I hope he makes a big playoff run.”

UPDATE: The Patriots claimed Floyd off waivers.

As for Floyd being released in the first place, Fitzgerald said he sees Floyd as a family member.

“I can’t give you my true feeling because people might get upset with what I really feel,” Fitzgerald said. “But Mike is like my brother. I’ve known him since he was 13 years old, we come from the same place. I love him dearly. Like any other family member, I never turn my back on him no matter what. I”m going to support him.”

Fitzgerald said he saw Floyd Wednesday and would be seeing him again today.

“It’s important during these times to support people when they are going through some stuff,” Fitzgerald said.

He also took issue with some descriptions of Floyd. “Contrary to reports, Mike was never an immature guy,” Fitzgerald said. “He had his incident in college, but we all make mistakes … Mike is a good young man. He’s someone I highly respect and care about deeply. I just hope he finds himself in a situation he is happy with and he has a long and prosperous career.”

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Notes and thoughts after Floyd

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2016 – 10:13 am

The Cardinals moved on from Michael Floyd quickly after his arrest for suspicion of DUI, and maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The team’s president is, after all, the chairman of the NFL’s conduct committee, and Michael Bidwill has strong feelings on off-field conduct. The circumstances had morphed for Floyd from the beginning of the season, when it was likely the free-agent-to-be was looking for a long-term contract that was probably going to be too rich for the Cards’ budget, to now, when he struggled every step of the way and had undercut his own open market — even before Sunday night’s/Monday morning’s incident.

But that part is over now. As for some of the details of the aftermath:

— This is the kind of thing that shakes up a team. “Obviously, this whole year has been kind of rough,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “And then seeing stuff like that happen, I think we’re all shocked and kind of in disbelief. We’ve got three games left to play so we’ve got to stay focused.”

— Yes, had the Cardinals carried Floyd through the end of the season and let him leave as a free agent, he likely would have figured in the equation for comp draft picks in 2018. But it isn’t a one-for-one thing. A team’s entire free-agent haul is compared (through a super secret formula based on the new contract and production) to what free agents were lost, and then the picks are distributed. With Floyd’s play this season, it was highly likely he was going to sign a relatively cheap, one-year contract anyway for 2017, in an attempt to rehab his value on the market and then try again in 2018.

Would he have been a comp pick factor? Probably. But it’ll be hard to tell how much.

— If Floyd is picked up on waivers, which we will know soon, he’s due $1.2 million. If not, he’ll be available as a free agent. UPDATE: The Patriots claimed Floyd off waivers.

— Carson Palmer was asked directly if he thought Floyd — who also had a DUI in college — had a problem. Palmer, who had already noted Floyd was a friend, quickly said no. He does face a possible suspension of a couple of games next season from the league.

— Where to now for the receiving corps these last three games? Coach Bruce Arians said Smokey Brown can “hopefully” get more snaps this week. J.J. Nelson has played better, but he still has to show he can do it consistently. Brittan Golden, you’re going to get some time. And this, more than any other reason, is why David Johnson may be a 1,000×2 guy after all.

— This was probable even if Floyd wasn’t released, because like I said I didn’t expect his return, but the Cardinals will have to look seriously at drafting a bigger receiver now. Floyd won’t be around and Larry Fitzgerald’s status has reached year-to-year.

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The case for David Johnson’s 1,000-1,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 14, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals will still play to win the games. Bruce Arians said it, and I’m sure Herm Edwards approves. But there are other things to look at besides results when the postseason isn’t really in play. One of those things is David Johnson’s quest to become the third player to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season.

Johnson already has 1,000 yards rushing, at 1,085 to be exact. It is in the receiving column where he faces the uphill climb — he has 745 yards (on 69 catches), and gaining 255 yards through the air in the last three games isn’t a given. But it’s not impossible, either. There are reasons to think the Cardinals will push for it, at least in an attempt to get it done.

— I’ve had more than a few fans ask about powering down Johnson’s touches over the last three games, to protect him for the future. I don’t see that happening, not if you are playing to win games. He’s their best player — you’ll need him.
— With all the wide receiver woes right now — Michael Floyd’s issues on and off the field, Smokey Brown’s leg problems, even Larry Fitzgerald battling aches and pains — Johnson is clearly one of the team’s better pass catchers. Forget his own stats, he’s necessary in the aerial game.
— Because he is your best player and your best runner, teams gear up to stop him in the run. The pass game is the easiest way to circumvent that and still have him make a difference.
— Oh, and Johnson wants to reach that double mark too.

I’m not saying the Cardinals will target him 15 times a game, the rest of the game plan and/or defense be damned, just to reach that mark. But that’s the best part about this whole thing — the Cards don’t have to do a whole lot out of the ordinary. In the first six games of the season, Johnson had no more than four catches in a game. Since then — seven games — Johnson has never had fewer than five catches in a game, and at least seven five times. This still could come organically, and that’d be the best way for it to happen and for Johnson to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig.

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