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Keim: Learn from 2017, no “woe is me”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2017 – 8:16 am

The Cardinals are analyzing their free-agents-to-be and with some of them, the team has/will be formulating extension offers, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during an appearance on 98.7, Arizona’s Sports Station. The players Keim wants back are, not surprisingly, not only competitors on the field but good in the locker room. That was a focus last year as well.

“That’s an ongoing process and we have made some of those players extension offers,” Keim said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, as I said last week.

“We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year with the injuries and with some of the losses, so we have to make sure we use this season and, in particular, our issues that we have dealt with, as learning things, where we can look back and grow from it instead of having the attitude of ‘woe is me.’ That is something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only on the scouting side of it but as an organization in general.”

— The many injuries have made it more difficult to evaluate some key players here and there, Keim acknowledged, but “at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles these guys have to win.”

— Does having a chance to knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs mean a lot for Sunday? “Anytime you are playing a division rival it’s big regardless of what is at stake,” Keim said. “We are all competitors. We want to win every game. In my opinion, you can’t look at where your draft slot could potentially be. Let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to compete every week and to try and put the best product on the field. We will deal with draft and free agency when it comes. This week our mindset is to go up to Seattle and get a win.”

— The Cardinals’ first shutout since 1992 “says a lot of things about players on the field and the character in our locker room.” Keim credited the game planning of defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He also said he though $LB Deone Bucannon not only played his best game of the season, he had arguably his best game in the NFL, period. Chandler Jones provided pressure and drew a couple of holding calls, Frostee Rucker and Karlos Dansby are invaluable leaders, and safety Antoine Bethea was “exceptional” in getting a pair of interceptions.

— Keim added his thoughts to the huge game of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who Keim said took over the game offensively. “There’s no doubt he willed us to win on offense.”

— Keim added that it was nice to see John Brown contribute with a touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his two catches.


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A shutout and Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 7:54 pm

I’ve covered the Cardinals for a long time, and I’ve seen them shut out a couple of (ugly) times. But I’ve never seen them pitch a shutout before Sunday – the first time the franchise has done it since 1992 and only the second time it’s happened since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

No, the Giants aren’t very good and have lost all of their offensive stars, but it means something that the Cardinals still have that kind of consistent performance. It’s hard not to play what-if, the way this defense is performing. Win in Washington, like they probably should have, and beat the Tom Savage-Texans, like they probably should have, and next week in Seattle is much different.

But instead, the Cardinals will play spoiler, and while that isn’t ideal, it means something. If the Cards can knock the Seahawks out of the postseason, that would mean something.

— I truly believe that Larry Fitzgerald is undecided about playing next year. Actually, I think it’s not just about what he wants to do but also what this team looks like – who is coach, who is quarterback – that will play a factor. Fitz has not told me this. But it is logical.

Regardless, what a showing to close out 2017 at home Sunday. Fitz is fun to watch. Always has been. That the fun has not fallen off as he plays at age 34 – he’s the Cardinals’ best playmaker, for goodness sake – says so much about how good he really is.

— Chandler Jones didn’t get a sack, so he’ll need to do some work against Russell Wilson to get the franchise record for a season. He remains at 15, and Simeon Rice has the record at 16½. Two things on that: One, getting two sacks on Wilson –given his line and his penchant for running around in the pocket – is realistic. Also, Jones had another good pass-rushing game Sunday. He didn’t get a sack, but Pro Football Focus had him with four pressures of Eli Manning.

— The Cardinals rarely over the recent past have had teams miss field goals against them. It’s only happened twice this season. But one was Sunday, a 33-yarder from Aldrick Rosas that obviously allowed the shutout to happen. It doesn’t take away from the Cards’ excellent performance, but sometimes, you need a little luck to blank an NFL team.

— Back to Fitz. I’ve seen him throw a ton of passes over the years, in practice, in OTAs, messing around on the sideline. I’m not talk about plays, per se, but chucking the ball 40 yards on an accurate line back to one of the equipment guys after a practice catch, for instance. I’ve always felt they should try that once in a while. It doesn’t help that he’s not a threat as a runner out of the backfield, but still. The play was supposed to be a bomb to J.J. Nelson, but Nelson got knocked down and Jaron Brown instead got the 21-yard catch.

“I was hoping I was going to be able to throw it deeper, but I had to take what the defense gives me,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “That’s what I was taught.”

Said QB Drew Stanton, “He’s coming for my job probably.”

— I thought Stanton was solid. He did exactly what Arians was hoping he would do – got them in the end zone, got them a win. The one time Arians has lost in Seattle since coming to Arizona, Stanton was the starting quarterback when Carson Palmer was hurt in 2014. Stanton gets a chance to redeem that next week.

— More (happy) Fitz: He noted that Jaron Brown, with two catches (putting Brown at 30 receptions) earned a $500,000 contract incentive. (Editor’s note: I have not confirmed this is true, but Fitz tends to be accurate when it comes to money.) “I made him an extra $500,000, so I’m happy for him and his family,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad I could be a part of that. Merry Christmas, Jaron!”

— Deone Bucannon looked great, and that’s important. You want to see him continue to come back from the ankle surgery that clearly set him back. Robert Nkemdiche too, getting involved, will hopefully be a spark to get him going into next season. Oh, and the signing of veteran safety Antoine Bethea has been a good one. Five picks? And he’s done a solid job all year.

— I could go on but I won’t. It’s Christmas Eve. Hopefully you’re reading this, but I’ve got a family to get home to. Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to all.


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John Brown returns, Kerwynn active

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 1:02 pm

Wide receiver John Brown, who has been dealing with a toe injury that has kept him out four games, will return to the field today against the Giants — which hopefully, combined with Drew Stanton back at quarterback, will aid a passing game and an offense that is trying to get a touchdown for the first time in more than 10 quarters.

Running back Kerwynn Williams and linebacker Karlos Dansby, both of whom were questionable to play, are also both active.

A full list of the Cards’ inactives here on Christmas Eve:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams (illness)

— LB Gabe Martin (hamstring)

— LB Josh Bynes (ankle)

— G Earl Watford (ankle)

— TE Troy Niklas (ankle)

— DL Xavier Williams


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TDs on the wish list, Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2017 – 3:04 pm

Who wouldn’t want a touchdown for Christmas?

The Cardinals certainly do. They’d like for the move to Drew Stanton to mean a TD on their first possession. They’d like to break that paydirt drought that has grown to more than 10 quarters. It’s gonna be Christmas Eve, after all. Are the Cards ready to do that? Bruce Arians hopes so, but he can’t predict it.

“You don’t know until you get in a game,” Arians said. “It’s totally different than practice. (Red zone) is one of the looks that’s hard to get from the scout team.”

Of course, it doesn’t have to be in the red zone. They’d take a 50-yard Stanton-to-J.J. Nelson bomb. They’d take a one-yard Elijhaa Penny plunge. They’d take another Ricky Seals-Jones end zone sighting. They’d certainly take a Fitz fade.

“B.A. talks about it, I talk about it, it’s simple execution,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “You go back to last week (in Washington), there are plays there to be made. Ball is a little high or (tackle) Will Holden gives up a sack, little things. Many opportunities, and we didn’t get it done. I kick myself all the time, we score one touchdown, we probably win that game.”

We know what’s on the Cardinals’ wish list.

— The roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Sunday for the game. Temperatures are supposed to be in the upper 60s, so dress accordingly.

— When Carson Palmer went down, the Cardinals knew they were going to have to rely on their defense. The defense knew this, and they have basically played like it. Starting with the Seahawks game in Week 10 (the Cards still only allowed 10 points the game before against the 49ers), the Cardinals are the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They haven’t been perfect, but if the offense had been able to do a little more against the Seahawks, Texans and Redskins, the Cards would be in a different place, even with all the injuries.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones said he’s happy with his 15 sacks so far because it accomplishes his goal – which is an improvement over the previous season. “It was always to do better than last year,” Jone said.

The bar is going to be pretty high for 2018, then.

“Exactly,” Jones said. “Because I know next year around training camp, you guys are going to be asking me, ‘What’s your goal?’ And I’ll say,  ‘Better than last year, uhhhhh.’ ”

— In what could be Larry Fitzgerald’s final home game, he needs eight catches for 100 on the season and 18 yards for 1,000. It would be fitting for him to get both.

— The Giants have three players from near the Cardinals’ practice facility. Defensive end Avery Moss played at Tempe Corona del Sol, linebacker Devon Kennard played across the freeway at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, and running back Paul Perkins is from Chandler High School.

— Karlos Dansby likely will play Sunday, but with Josh Bynes out, rookie Haason Reddick has a chance to play some inside linebacker for the first time since moving outside following Markus Golden’s season-ending injury. That would be good. Reddick’s future is inside in this defense.

— A better draft pick awaits if the Cardinals lose out, but the players would like to climb back to 8-8 (especially because it would mean beating the Seahawks in Seattle.), Besides, “you don’t want to put bad things on tape,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have great guys in this locker room that understand that.”

— For all you seeking a retro look, the Cardinals will finally be wearing their red pants with their red jerseys Sunday. It’s a festive look after all.

See you Christmas Eve.

 


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Waiting on Nkemdiche

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2017 – 12:53 pm

Robert Nkemdiche, who hurt his wrist last weekend, was back on the field for the open portion of practice today, so he seems to be trending toward getting ready to play against the Giants. That’s always a good thing for the former No. 1 draft pick who has battled injuries and has yet to really make a mark as he comes to the end of his second NFL season.

“I think Robert can be a heck of a player,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s just got to learn that this is the NFL, not college. He does well in practice, and then he goes a little rogue in games and just thinks he’s going to ‘out-athlete’ everybody. And he has to use his technique, but the talent is there.”

The Cardinals would like to see something more soon from Nkemdiche, who will be this week’s guest on the Big Red Rage with Karlos Dansby tonight at 6 p.m. He has yet to record a sack in the pros, and has been credited with 10 tackles in 10 games this season. He played 10 snaps before getting hurt against Washington. In the previous two games he played 20 and 14, respectively. It is  — obviously — not what a team wants to get out of a first-round pick. Arians clearly has optimism. Nkemdiche is the one who has to make sure he puts to better use what he is learning.

UPDATE: Nkemdiche speaking on the Big Red Rage, said injuries have undercut his progress. “Once I find my groove, I’ll be dominant.” He said he will play Sunday. “I feel like overall I’ve had a season that, to me, is inconsistent,” he added. “I haven’t been on the field enough and doing things in the right perspective to be consistent. … I don’t think I’m where I want to be.”

 

 


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Cards will need hard look at receiving position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2017 – 12:08 pm

It’s hard not to notice, when you jump on the Cardinals’ stat page to see where Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers are and then the disparity with the rest of the receiving corps — a group that once again was expected to be a strength but like 2016, has not been. With two games left in the regular season, it is still the departed Andre Ellington (who was cut five games ago) second on the team with 33 catches. Fitzgerald’s 92 receptions is nine more catches than all the other wide receivers this season combined.

If David Johnson had been healthy all season, you’d expect a running back to be high on the receptions list, just like last year. But Johnson didn’t even make it through a game, and once he went down, the pressure went to the receivers to make up for it in the passing game. There are factors involved here — the pass protection has not been consistent, especially with all the injuries on the offensive line. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer only played half the season. But it’s clear that receiver — after only the QB spot and offensive line — will be a position of focus for General Manager Steve Keim this offseason.

Even if Fitzgerald comes back to play another season (which he has not said he will for sure yet), the Cardinals need to address wide receiver. John Brown and Jaron Brown will be unrestricted free agents. J.J. Nelson, who started strong and then struggled through inconsistency catching the ball, will be back. Chad Williams enters an important offseason after a nondescript rookie year. Brittan Golden, who is more important on special teams, has to heal from a broken arm and is also a free-agent-to-be.

After 2015, when the receiving unit was excellent and looked like it would be for a few years, the group hasn’t been the same. Losing Michael Floyd and having John Brown’s production fall off so precipitously has been a killer. Again, other spots will get more attention on offense. The quarterback thing has reached a critical point, and the long-term offensive line has to be found. But wide receiver will also be in the spotlight.


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Stanton, Gabbert and the QB position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2017 – 3:42 pm

Bruce Arians changed his mind, and now Drew Stanton will be back in the lineup. The coach emphasized many times it wasn’t necessarily a knock on Gabbert. At the same time, if Gabbert had completed 60 percent of his throws with a touchdown, he probably is still starting Sunday against the Giants and Stanton is not. But the Cards are in this red-zone rut, and Arians is trying to get out of it.

There are a lot of arguments here — and I’ve heard most of them on social media, bellowing from both sides. Arians thinks Stanton is better positioned to get a win against the Giants. If he doesn’t do well enough, would I be shocked with Gabbert going back to the lineup in Seattle? No. But as for evaluating Gabbert, I’m not sure how much more you learn from Gabbert in seven games that you haven’t already seen in five.

We won’t talk about the tanking vs. winning. (Today, Arians called wanting to lose to better your draft spot “bulls***.”) Maybe Stanton doesn’t appreciably increase the odds of winning over Gabbert. The rest of the pieces on the team remain the same, overwhelmed — especially on offense — with injuries.

I’m not sure this has a significant impact on what happens going into 2018. The search for a long-term QB was always part of the offseason play, regardless of how Gabbert played. Gabbert could still be brought back in 2018. There are so many moving parts — does Carson Palmer return? — that it figures to be a fluid situation, no matter who was going to start the final couple of games in 2017.


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Paydirt drought, and Washington aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2017 – 4:36 pm

It was the kind of catch you just expect Larry Fitzgerald to make, because he’s simply done it so many times before – fourth down, a gotta-have-it-grab from the guy you go to when you gotta have it. But the ball dribbled out as Fitz hit the ground. So close, just like the rest of the day for the Cards.

“None bigger than the one I needed to make at the end of the game there,” Fitzgerald said. “Going a whole 60 minutes not scoring a touchdown offensively, that’s obviously below standard.”

It’s been a whole 60 minutes two games in a row. Plus the second half of the game before that. It’s not that the offense is doing nothing. The Cards had 141 yards rushing Sunday, and reached the red-zone six times. It’s that they can only get three points at a time, which makes winning so hard.

Blaine Gabbert will remain the starter at quarterback. Gabbert took the blame but had no specifics on why the offense stalls so much. As well as Gabbert began his games as a Cardinal, the recent work, even behind the beat-up offensive line, will give the Cardinals’ braintrust a lot to consider when looking at Gabbert for the future

— Larry Fitzgerald is 18 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving this season, and he would have been a lot closer had he been able to make that catch.

— Speaking of missed catches, tight end Troy Niklas was understandably upset with himself for not pulling in that last would-be touchdown. He was a stand-up guy to talk about it. Truth be told, if he doesn’t pull a sure interception away from linebacker Zach Vigil early in the drive, he wouldn’t have even had a chance to get the TD.

— Bruce Arians was right. One touchdown would’ve been enough. I think of two specific times: After the long onsides kick to open the second half – the fans, who booed the Redskins off and on all day even though they led the whole game, were ready to turn if the Cards could’ve put it in the end zone – and then, of course, right before the half. Two straight plays to D.J. Foster were open for TDs. Foster didn’t look soon enough for the first one – off his helmet incomplete, and it’s possible he and Gabbert didn’t see the same hot read – and the second one was batted away with Foster by himself in the end zone. Epic levels of frustration there.

— If Brittan Golden was going to end up with a fractured arm on his last excellent punt return of 15 yards to set up a short field, it would’ve been nice to reward him with a win. Golden is one of those guys you root for, busting his butt to have whatever role he can fill.

— Chandler Jones sack counter: He got one Sunday, giving him 15 on the season, putting him third on the franchise single-season list and putting him 1½ shy of Simeon Rice’s franchise record with two games left. Jones also pressured Washington QB Kirk Cousins a ton of other times.

— You know D.J. Swearinger wanted this one. And he made sure to let the Cardinals sideline – and coach Bruce Arians – know it on one of the last plays of the game, an incompletion to Fitz on third down, the play before Gabbert’s final throw.

— Speaking of that final throw and Swearinger, there was a moment where Swearinger’s emotion almost cost the Redskins dearly. After the ball came loose from Fitz – on fourth down – Swearinger ripped his helmet off in celebration. The problem? You can’t take your helmet off on the field. If it had been third down, the Cards would have had an automatic penalty. But because it was fourth down and it came after the incompletion, it ultimately didn’t hurt Washington.

— Phil Dawson seems to be well past his accuracy problems, right?

— Speaking of special teams, Andy Lee has had a tremendous second half of the season. He’s punting like he did when he was dominating as a 49er all those years (and making life miserable for the Cardinals).

— If you would’ve told me the Cardinals would outrush Washington, 141-31, I would’ve expected a win going away. The defense did enough to win.


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With Gresham ill, Seals-Jones should play more

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2017 – 9:29 am

The Cardinals’ inactive list isn’t that difficult to figure out, given the number of players listed out by the time we got to Saturday night. The latest man added to that group was tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was downgraded to out Saturday because he is sick. That meant the Cardinals promoted tight end Gabe Holmes from the practice squad — and he is active — but what is likely more important will be increased snaps for rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.

How much more Seals-Jones plays will be something to watch. Holmes is a little bit thicker than Seals-Jones and might serve the Cards a little better as a blocker.

Defensive lineman Corey Peters also returns from his ankle injury today after missing the past four games.

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR John Brown (toe)

— CB C.J. Goodwin

— LB Gabe Martin (hamstring)

— G Earl Watford (ankle)

— TE Jermaine Gresham (illness)

— DL Josh Mauro (ankle)


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Jones, Baker top positions in NFC Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2017 – 1:46 pm

Fan voting — which accounts for a third of the Pro Bowl vote — ended this week, and the Cardinals had a pair of players that ended up with the most votes at their position in the NFC. Both Chandler Jones at outside linebacker and Budda Baker on special teams got more votes than anyone else in the conference, which usually is a pretty good harbinger of Pro Bowl status.

We will see — the coaches get another third of the vote and the players the final third, so there is a still a chance for it to go drastically different, especially on special teams when only one player per conference is chosen. In all, the Cardinals had five players to finish in the top 10 at their position in the fans’ Pro Bowl vote. The Cards’ complete list:

— OLB Chandler Jones (fourth in voting in the NFL, first in the NFC)
— ST Budda Baker (1,1)
— WR Larry Fitzgerald (5,3)
— CB Patrick Peterson (7,4)
— FS Tyrann Mathieu (7,4)

The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Tuesday at 6 p.m. Arizona time. The game will be played Jan. 28.


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