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Rams aftermath, with No. 2 on the mind

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2015 – 6:40 pm

Short weeks are just that. Short.

“I’m going to watch Minnesota (tape) on the way home,” Carson Palmer said, after the Cardinals’ win against the Rams. “We’ve got a three-hour flight, whatever it is (technically, two hours and 48 minutes). I’ll get a good jump on them tonight, but there is no celebration. We did what we expected to do. We’ve got to move on.”

Palmer is right. The Cardinals did what they were supposed to do in St. Louis: Beat up a struggling team that, simply put, has no offense to speak of. Their building was half-empty, a crowd dulled by losing and anger toward an owner who wants to move them to Los Angeles.

On the plane ride home, the Cardinals got to watch the Panthers pull out a win in New Orleans, and their possibility of running down the NFC’s No. 1 seed continued to fade. But now the Cardinals are in control of the No. 2 seed, holding a two-game edge on the Packers/Vikings. They can put the Vikings (who were hammered at home by the Seahawks Sunday) out of their misery Thursday night.

There is a lot left here. Games against the Eagles, who won in New England, and the Packers, in a game that could still mean something for the No. 2 seed, and the Seahawks (…. the Seahawks.) But the Cards control what happens to them. That’s all you can ask.

— It would’ve been nice if David Johnson could have gained 100 yards. He came up a yard short. But he was excellent Sunday. Catching the ball, blocking – his blitz pickups, while not perfect, were solid, and that was a big concern for the rookie – and running.

— Johnson was going to come out of the game to give the other backs work right around the time he fumbled, Bruce Arians said. He wasn’t benched for the fumble. In fact, Arians brushed off the fumbles of both Johnson and Kerwynn Williams, saying it was something that will happen with young players.

— Nevertheless, you would’ve liked for Johnson to get through his first start without a fumble.

— The defense made Todd Gurley their mission. One tiny slip, but otherwise, mission accomplished. And the Cardinals have allowed the last two teams (Niners, Rams) to convert just 1-of-21 third downs. Scary good.

— The Cardinals had four drives of at least 80 yards. Carson Palmer quietly had a very good game. It may be tough to displace Cam Newton and Tom Brady in the MVP race, but Palmer deserves to be in the discussion.

— It will be under the radar, but that was a Hall of Fame-type catch by Michael Floyd to gain 30 yards to convert the first third down during the 98-yard drive. I’m not saying Floyd is a Hall of Famer, but that was a manly play. That’s why the Cardinals took him 12th 13th overall in 2012.

— That last 68-yard bomb to Smokey Brown? I’m guessing his hamstring is pretty OK (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards keep him limited in practice, just in case.)

— Safety Rashad Johnson gets interception No. 5, leading the team, on great recognition on a deep route. Like Justin Bethel, Johnson was/is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Bethel got paid. Johnson is hoping he will too.

— Speaking of Bethel, he held up fine starting in place of Jerraud Powers, but there were a couple of times he lost track of the ball and that’s something I’m sure he’ll be working on.

— Three days of prep (and practice will likely be very little actual full-speed practice, if any). Then the Vikings — another game with meaning. The best part of December.

Marcus Roberson, Rodney McLeod, Kerwynn Williams


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Riddick active for the first time

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2015 – 9:31 am

The inactive list was fairy obvious this week, with the long injury list. Linebacker Shaq Riddick is active for the first time. With Ted Larsen replacing Jonathan Cooper in the starting lineup at right guard, Cooper is now the backup guard — and Earl Watford is now inactive. Bradley Sowell will back up both tackle spots.

Not sure how much Michael Floyd will push his hamstring but he will be active today, as is fellow wide receiver John Brown. That isn’t a surprise. The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— CB Jerraud Powers (calf)

— RB Andre Ellington (toe)

— G Earl Watford

— DT Cory Redding (ankle)

— DT Frostee Rucker (ankle)

— T D.J. Humphries


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Friday before the Rams, and Fitz’s 1,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2015 – 3:50 pm

There is no guarantee Larry Fitzgerald will have eight catches Sunday in St. Louis, but how fitting would it be if he did. Eight receptions would mean Fitz would reach 1,000 for his illustrious career, and he would do it in the same building where he caught his first – that flea-flicker over Cardinal-turned-Ram Aeneas Williams way back in 2004.

Fitz is also just eight yards shy of getting to 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011, a dry spell that didn’t seem possible once upon a time. Now, Fitz is on pace for 120 receptions – which would be a career-best by far – and 1,442 yards, which would also be a career-best (he has surpassed 1,400 yards Larry Fitzgeraldfour times previous.)

Fitz, of course, isn’t going there. “It’s not time to start smelling the roses now,” he said. “We are in the middle of something special here.”

This is true. The fact Fitzgerald is in the middle of it so spectacularly after the last couple of seasons is one of those things where … well, let’s be honest, it’s one of those stories that is perfect for Super Bowl week and the glare of the NFL spotlight.

Just sayin’.

— The Fitz down period can be explained. In 2012, he had no quarterback. In 2013, well, Carson Palmer was learning a new system and Fitz was learning a new position.

“I think we both went through a period, year-long period, of just figuring out each other, and more importantly, figuring out the system,” Palmer said. “I think you learn by trial and error and trying to fit certain balls into him and trying not to.”

Last year, things were clicking before Palmer went down (and Fitz was hurting much of the year too.) Now, it’s all come together.

— Nick Foles will start for the Rams at quarterback – the same Nick Foles who was benched, only to be forced into playing because of Case Keenum’s concussion. Foles has been bad this season, but in his three games against the Cardinals, he has eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The defense has to make him look like the benched Foles (who has four TD passes and nine interceptions against non-Cardinals opponents.)

— Jonathan Cooper may still yet emerge as the guard the Cardinals want. But the fact he’s lost his spot in his third season, injuries or not, is not a good sign.

— Here’s a fun game you can play with your friends: More rushing yards Sunday, Todd Gurley or David Johnson? I think it’s a very good question.

— Bruce Arians, by the way, said Johnson should get around 25 touches. That may or may not come to pass, but it makes sense with Andre Ellington out.

— While 49ers defensive tackle Quinton Dial was indeed fined for his roughing-the-passer penalty he was flagged for last week — Dial thought it was a bad call; usually a league fine means the league agreed with the flag — 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone told Matt Maiocco he was not fined for his (heavy) criticism of officials after the game.

— Arians reiterated Friday that there will be defensive snaps for wide-receiver-turned-(just-this-week)-cornerback Brittan Golden. He said the same for newly signed CB Corey White, but that makes some sense. Golden’s role, it’ll be interesting to see.

— As has been the custom in recent years, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and the team will host old-school St. Louis alumni from the franchise Saturday night and then at the game. We will see if this is the Cardinals’ last trip to St. Louis, at least to play the Rams.

— A win Sunday would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. After that 11-1 1948 team you are so fond of.

— I don’t know how much J.J. Nelson will be in the gameplan, not with John Brown seemingly close to health and Michael Floyd getting better. But if he does make a catch, I’m guessing it’ll be down the field. Nelson has nine receptions this season and he’s averaging an astounding 29.4 yards per catch. And that’s with a 12-yard reception thrown in.

— The short week is coming. There would be nothing better for the Cardinals than to get a lead early and not have Sunday be as grind-it-out as it’s been against the Rams (or against the Niners last week.) Easier said than done, but it’s another source of motivation. That Thursday night game against the Vikings next week is gigantic in terms of the NFC playoff picture.


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QBs, bucket tosses and Gatorade chaps

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2015 – 9:09 am

On Fridays, the Cardinals quarterbacks (and cornerback Patrick Peterson) take part in a bucket competition — heaving passes at a trash can from about 15 yards away. It’s a friendly way to battle. But there are very real consequences. Here, let’s let Carson Palmer explain.

“It depends,” Palmer said. “If it’s a home game, and you lose that Friday bucket competition, it’s pregame dress out on the field for warmups. If it’s an away game, it’s an outfit you have to wear from here to the state we’re going to play in.”

Wearing it on the road trip isn’t too rough, since the number of people outside the organization that see it is limited (although there is a chance social media will have it go viral.) Home games, during early warmups, there are some fans and definitely media who will take notice — which is what happened when third-stringer Matt Barkley had to run out to midfield wearing what Palmer called “Gatorade chaps” prior to the Cincinnati game.

“You never know what the guys are going to think of,” Barkley said of the Drew Stanton creation. “We’ve gone through almost every iteration that we can that’s legal. I feel like mine was almost illegal.”

Peterson was stuck wearing a kid’s cowboy hat once, and he had to parade out at University of Phoenix Stadium before the Monday night game. But Peterson, who asks for and receives no advantage despite the fact he isn’t a quarterback, proudly points out he has won the past two weeks (click here for video), and the week the team stayed in West Virginia.

As for the outfits, “often, it’s a collaborative effort, all of us pulling something off,” Palmer said.

“It’s all fun,” Barkley said. “As long as we are winning, I think these guys will wear whatever. I think we’ll have to tone it back, not be so racy.”

Palmer hasn’t lost yet — he warned reporters not to jinx him — and Barkley said however Palmer might have to dress, it wouldn’t be Gatorade chaps.

“He couldn’t pull that off the way I did anyway,” Barkley said with a smile.

LossOfBucketuse

 

 


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WR Brittan Golden gives DB a shot

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2015 – 10:07 am

Wide receiver Brittan Golden admitted he was surprised when he was told on the airplane ride home from San Francisco he was going to be moving to defensive back.

“I was … ‘OK, whatever. Whatever happens, I’m ready,’ ” Golden said.

It’s not as if Golden has never played defensive back. He played cornerback and safety all through high school, and even a little bit as a freshman at West Texas A&M on the scout team. But he’s a wide receiver. It’s just unfortunate he’s on a team with a lot of wide receivers ahead of him. Playing defensive back — Bruce Arians said Golden would get work at nickel — is a nod toward the thin secondary, with Jerraud Powers nursing a calf strain. It left only Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel as true cornerbacks, although Tyrann Mathieu can play corner if need be.

So the Cards moved Golden. His use became less likely when the Cards signed veteran cornerback Corey White, who replaced the cut Robert Nelson Jr. (It says something that Nelson, despite being active, got zero snaps even after Powers got hurt Sunday.) Still, Arians is looking for a reason to keep Golden active on game days because Golden is so good on special teams — and the reality is there is no place to play wide receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald, Smokey Brown, Michael Floyd, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson.

As for defensive snaps, “it’ll really depend on what they see at practice and if they think I’m ready to be out there,” Golden said. “Of course, I’m going to miss running routes. I’ve been doing that forever and it’s my favorite thing in the world. But it’s another opportunity.”

The Cards have done this before, moving Teddy Williams to cornerback from receiver (Williams, however, had started as a defensive back.) Golden said he just had to work on technique — although Smokey Brown was giving him grief about how many mental errors could pop up.

“It isn’t as bad as, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Golden said.

“In this league, it’s the more you can do and I’m just going to try and see it as an opportunity and a blessing and another chance to get on the field.”

Brittan Golden


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CJ2K down until Super Bowl, so …

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2015 – 3:49 pm

After it came out that Chris Johnson had a fracture in his knee (to be clear, it is a tibial plateau fracture, with a chip in the tibia near the knee), it was pretty clear he was going to miss some time. The Cardinals clarified that Tuesday when CJ was put on the IR-designated to return list, meaning he cannot play before the Super Bowl. You know, assuming the Cardinals can get there.

Many have asked if the Cardinals were going to sign a running back. They promoted Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad. They are hoping Andre Ellington, who looks like he’ll be week to week with a turf toe, comes back sooner rather than later. And I was reminded of what running backs coach Stump Mitchell told Chris Johnson when Johnson was considering signing with the Cardinals back in August.

“I love Andre Ellington,” Mitchell said. “I love Kerwynn Williams. I love Stepfan Taylor. I love all the running backs we have here right now. Honestly, we don’t need you to win.”

This isn’t to denigrate Chris Johnson or what he has accomplished. He is shelved with 814 yards rushing, fourth-best in the NFL for now (and sadly, he won’t be one of the few 1,000-yard rushers for the franchise since moving to Arizona. But I digress.) But assuming the Ellington problem is short-term, the Cardinals are prepared and were prepared to attack this season without CJ2K. Rookie David Johnson has looked pretty good in limited time and he looks like he’ll be the starter if Ellington is gimpy. Would they have been as successful? Hard to know — David Johnson certainly would’ve gotten more work by now — but this isn’t something they feared.

Now, if David Johnson gets hurt, or Ellington can’t get healthy, then there’s a problem. It’s not like this offense was anchored by Chris Johnson. This offense still revolves around Carson Palmer and the passing game. You want the running game to be effective, but there is belief that it will be (with better blocking). There is little question every single guy in that locker room is hoping CJ2K plays again this season. Both for his sake, and for theirs.

NoCJblog

 


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Report: Chris Johnson suffers leg fracture

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2015 – 5:00 pm

There is no official word from the team, but Jay Glazer — the Fox Sports NFL reporter who worked out with Chris Johnson this offseason — reported Monday afternoon that Johnson has a fractured tibia, suffered when he took a helmet to his leg during Sunday’s game in San Francisco. (Multiple reports have since echoed Glazer’s news.) Glazer said the team is still trying to determine how long Johnson might miss, but it’s probably safe to assume he’s out for now.

On a personal level, it’s rough for Johnson, who has 814 yards rushing and has heavy incentives for yardage totals and also for a Pro Bowl berth (which was looking like a lock for a while there.) He had been slowed of late — he has just 138 yards rushing total the past three games — but he was still the starter and the guy the Cards were looking to to grind out yards.

On a team level, there was already a look toward rookie David Johnson since both Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington were hurting. Ellington has a turf toe, and his return is also up in the air. The Cards might be too deep in the season for IR-scheduled-to-return, so it’s an important question of when CJ can come back, or if he can come back. That’s a roster spot that’s valuable, especially with injuries piling up.

CJtibiafracture


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Keim: MRIs pending, but hoping RBs day-to-day

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2015 – 8:12 am

Nothing certain yet on the injuries to running backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, but General Manager Steve Keim said Monday during his appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Johnson (bone bruise on his left knee) and Ellington (toe on right foot) both are believed to be day-to-day for now. Both are awaiting MRI results.

As for Sunday’s win, Keim was, not surprisingly, filled with mixed emotions. He noted a phone call he got from close friend/former co-worker/current Bucaneers GM Jason Licht, who told him when watching film of a victory not to be mad just appreciative of a win. Keim said it was good advice. Nevertheless, after watching the 49ers game, Keim acknowledged he was “a little frustrated” and has a page full of notes that “aren’t very good.”

“But a win is a win,” Keim said. “Sometimes, there are letdowns, unfortunately.”

— Keim wouldn’t say the Cardinals got beat up physically up front by the 49ers defensive line. There were times when the Cards were physically beat for sure. Mostly though, Keim said the issues were fundamental, mistakes in passing off blocks on stunts and twists, getting the face across numbers, weakness in getting off combo blocks into the second level that often create the run lanes. It echoed Bruce Arians’ comments after the game that it was about mental lapses on the blocking more than physical.

— Asked about Patrick Peterson’s move to bring in the defense today for film work despite Arians giving the players a Victory Monday off, Keim noted how Peterson has grown into a leader. It doesn’t hurt that Peterson is playing (easily, in my opinion) the best football of his career. Keim: “I don’t know if there is a corner playing better football than Pat right now.”

— There were times when QB Carson Palmer looked a little rattled Sunday. Keim said Palmer can’t be expected to play perfect football every game. “I think Carson would tell you not one of his better games, but he made some huge plays,” Keim added.

— Not a great day for punter Drew Butler or kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who for a second time missed a point-after that could have cost the Cardinals big. Keim noted that the Cards had already brought in other punters and kickers for workouts recently.

“Since then (Butler and Catanzaro) have kicked pretty well,” Keim said. “Sunday, no question that was a concern.”


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Niners aftermath, and a sigh of relief

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2015 – 10:10 pm

J.J. Nelson smiled. His thoughts on his soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback racing toward the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown?

“A sigh of relief,” Nelson said.

It’s hard to think of it any other way. This wasn’t like the 47-7 beatdown the Cardinals put on the 49ers back in September. San Francisco has a better quarterback behind center (I can’t believe I typed that, but it is true) than it did then. Still, the Cards only allowed 13 points. What was the cold water on the face Sunday was the Cards’ inability to consistently score and definitely the inability to generate a steady run game. That’s the first game all season Carson Palmer didn’t throw a touchdown pass. It’s so odd to think the Cards won the turnover battle for the first time a month-plus yet had to work so hard to finish off the Niners.

Here’s all you need to know: Bruce Arians gave the players a Victory Monday off — and immediately, Patrick Peterson jumped in and told the defensive players they have to be in by 11 Monday. “We’ve got to fix this,” he said.

— I’ve been wracking my brain since the sequence happened early in the second half, but I cannot remember a weirder sequence than the one during which the Cards scored their first touchdown – nor can I remember a sequence in both sides were frustrated.

It started with a first-and-goal at the SF 3. The Cardinals ended up running nine plays inside the 5. Four were from the 1. And the Cardinals couldn’t push it in. No worries – the 49ers were flagged for four penalties, including three pass interference calls, all of which were automatic first downs. The Cards even tried trickeration, putting Drew Stanton in at QB and splitting Palmer out wide as a receiver, only to have Stanton hand the ball to Chris Johnson for a one-yard loss.

— The plays spotlighted the short-yardage issues the Cards had all game trying to run. Ironic that the score eventually came via the ground, with David Johnson punching one over. But the line of scrimmage was not won by the Cardinals’ offensive line most of the game.

— The Cards ended up with bigger problems running backs-wise than just missed third-and-1 tries. Chris Johnson exited with a left knee injury, and on the same drive, Andre Ellington left with a right foot injury. Their status is TBD. There is a reason the Cardinals built their running back depth, and rookie David Johnson isn’t a bad guy to turn to if the other two are sidelined.

But it’s a concern. Johnson tweeted out a handful of praying hands emojis after the game, although he said he doesn’t think it’s serious. What he is praying about is left to the imagination for now. They will get fully evaluated back in Arizona. Johnson has had issues with his knee all week.

— Tyrann Mathieu was all over the field Sunday with 13 tackles and he picked off Gabbert. He wasn’t satisfied – he was upset he allowed the touchdown pass the 49ers had – but he continues to have an all-pro season.

— The thin cornerback corps could get thinner. Bruce Arians said the Cards are hoping Jerraud Powers’ injury is a calf and not an Achilles issue, but either way, it puts Justin Bethel up again. Thank goodness for the Cards that Patrick Peterson looked fine on his injured ankle.

— It turned out not to matter, but that missed extra point by Chandler Catanzaro really, really could’ve mattered. Cat Man sees again how you can go from hero to near-goat in an awful hurry as a kicker.

— Larry Fitzgerald had 14 targets and 10 catches. He never could get loose – with 66 yards, he is still eight yards shy of 1,000 for the season – but he became the short-yardage answer on third downs when the Cards realized they couldn’t run it.

— On eight run plays in which the Cardinals needed three yards or less, the Cards lost yards on five of them. They were stopped for no gain on two. The other was David Johnson’s one-yard TD at the end of that nine-plays-inside-the-5.

— The 49ers are ticked off about the officials. The Cardinals weren’t thrilled either, but certainly not to the level of the game’s loser. It was not a great day for the officials in terms of making things clear, but their calls impacted the game. No doubt about that. I didn’t get a chance to study the Dial hit on Palmer on replay, but it’s not surprising a flag would be thrown. That’s the NFL we live in these days.

— Wide receiver Smokey Brown looked better than he has in weeks, running full speed down the field, his hamstring apparently not a problem. “I’m almost there,” he said. He had five catches for 99 yards.

— The Seahawks came from behind to win. The Vikings won. It was an important day for the Cards not to give up ground. Now a trip to St. Louis, where physical is going to be the word of the day. More NFC West fun.

J.J. Nelson, Jimmie Ward


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Bucannon, Floyd to play in SF

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2015 – 12:28 pm

The defensive line is thin today, but the Cardinals will have safety Deone Bucannon (coming off concussion symptoms) active, as well as cornerback Patrick Peterson on defense. On offense, Ted Larsen will stay at right guard with Jonathan Cooper still out, but receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring) is playing as expected.

The defensive line will need newcomer Red Bryant to be a factor and Calais Campbell will probably be leaned on to play more than usual. The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— LB Shaq Riddick

— G Jonathan Cooper (knee)

— T D.J. Humphries

— DT Cory Redding (ankle)

— DT Ed Stinson (groin)

— DT Frostee Rucker (ankle)


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