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No Iupati against 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2015 – 11:30 am

An inability to get on the practice field fully wasn’t a good sign for Mike Iupati this week. The guard is not going to play today against his former team, his knee not quite ready to go yet after surgery. Ted Larsen remains the left guard for the Cards — although there is a change on the offensive line with Bobby Massie playing right tackle.

Because of injuries, the inactive list against the 49ers was predictable today:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR J.J. Nelson (shoulder)

— RB Andre Ellington (knee)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— G Mike Iupati (knee)

— DT Xavier Williams

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Arians picks Massie for right tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2015 – 12:17 am

Given Bruce Arians’ comments that Bobby Massie is a better pass protector – and given that Carson Palmer’s health is paramount to the success of the Cardinals this season – there was not much surprise Saturday night when Arians said Massie would be moving into the starting lineup at right tackle against the 49ers, replacing Earl Watford, who had started the first two games of the season.

“We’re going to go with Bobby Massie and see how it goes,” Arians said during his weekly TV show, “Flight Plan with Bruce Arians.”

“Earl did a heck of a job. We had a few too many hits on the quarterback. I’ll say this: Bobby is on a short leash.”

Massie missed the first two games of the season because of suspension.

“It’ll be good to get back on the field with those guys and help them win,” Massie said this week.

Arians also said he’d like running backs Chris Johnson and David Johnson to each get 10-to-15 touches this week. David Johnson only has nine touches in two games so far, including two kickoff returns.


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Friday before the 49ers, humble edition

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2015 – 4:30 pm

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was blunt talking about rookie running back David Johnson.

“He could be special,” Goodwin said. “Very special.”

That’s an easy conclusion to reach after three touchdowns on just nine NFL touches, including a 55-yard touchdown reception and a 108-yard kickoff return. One thing coaches and teammates love about him isn’t his talent – although, yes, they love his talent – but his ability to be humble. Of course, he does have to absorb some grief.

“I don’t believe no one in this locker room is really reading their press clippings,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Well, maybe David. David is probably reading his.” Mathieu chuckled. “I’d be reading them too.”

Johnson chuckled himself when he heard Mathieu’s comments. “It was a little harder this week,” Johnson said, “but the coaches made sure I stayed grounded, and the players around me reminded me it’s a long season.”

It is going to be a long season. That’s why almost everyone around the Cardinals followed Bruce Arians’ lead this week in brushing off the 2-0 start. Playing the 49ers Sunday is both a step up in opponent and a foray into the NFC West, and the Cards understand both cannot be underestimated.

— No word on the offensive line as of yet. The fact Mike Iupati still has not been able to practice fully any one day has to raise a red flag, but we’ll see if he’s able to go against his former team Sunday. As for right tackle, Arians said Bobby Massie is better at pass protection and Earl Watford is better in run blocking. He’s also noted Watford has given up too many quarterback hits. The Cards like to the throw the ball. We’ll see if that impacts the decision.

— The 49ers are a grind-it-out team. That makes sense because a) they have a talented running back in Carlos Hyde and b) quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while he has made strides as a passer, still isn’t someone you’ll lean on the majority of the time.

Then there is Kaepernick’s ability to run himself, which will force the Cardinals to be on top of things while he scrambles around back there.

“From an awareness standpoint, I think our guys have to know that any down, any distance, he could tuck the ball and run with it,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.

— Goodwin, talking about the Bears game Thursday: “Last week there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with in terms of hitting the quarterback, a couple of shots he took. (Carson Palmer) is going to get hit. We just have to minimize it.”

Friday, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was fined $17,363 for his low hit on Palmer on the flea-flicker touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. McPhee was flagged for a personal foul on the play.

Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson was also fined $17,363 for his hit to the helmet of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Johnson did not draw a flag on the play.

— Don’t forget Adrian Wilson will be inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game. What was behind Wilson growing into one of the best players in franchise history? Take a look back at my “Making of A-Dub” piece from 2010.

— Bettcher said the defensive line has a “great rotation” right now, and that includes some snaps for Calais Campbell at nose tackle. In reality, the Cards don’t really use a true nose tackle – Xavier Williams has been inactive, and starter Rodney Gunter (whom Bettcher said is doing well) is more like a Campbell. Again, the Cards were going for versatile on the line this season.

— Campbell makes it on Sports Science.

— Will Larry Fitzgerald go off again this week? Who knows? Arians is always coming up with different things. Even Fitz knows things can change.

“Coach Arians is like a mad scientist,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s always finding ways to get guys involved, to create mismatches for his playmakers.”

— Anquan Boldin gets another chance at his former team. He’s said in the past playing the Cardinals is just another game, but frankly, I don’t believe him. Q is too intense along those lines to have it be otherwise.

“He’s a physical receiver,” Mathieu said. “He’s 100 percent for 4 quarters. I’ll be matched up with him so I have to bring my big boy pads.”


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No right tackle news yet

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2015 – 1:35 pm

Bruce Arians admitted he has an “pretty good idea” who will start at right tackle for the Cardinals Sunday. But he isn’t saying who. Arians declined to name his starting offensive line Friday. “We’ll wait and see what is best,” he said when it came to whether Mike Iupati is going to be able to go at left guard and whether right tackle is manned by Bobby Massie or Earl Watford.

Whoever starts at right tackle is the right tackle. There will not be any switching “unless it’s a problem,” Arians said. Iupati is officially listed as questionable, and he has yet to practice fully since returning to the field. The Cards may end up erring on the side of caution with him Sunday.

One minor upset: Running back Andre Ellington (knee) was limited in practice and Arians is calling him a game-day decision. There’s no need to rush him back, Arians acknowledged, but if he is ready to play he’ll play, because he provides a skillset David Johnson and Chris Johnson do not have. Ellington is listed officially as doubtful.


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Cardinals make run, at least 10 yards at a time

Posted by Darren Urban on September 24, 2015 – 11:46 am

Last season, there was no explosion to the Cardinals’ running game. Andre Ellington was hobbling before the regular season even began, and there was really no one else on the roster to break one loose consistently. That showed by the end of the season, when the Cardinals had only 32 total runs of 10 yards or more.

This season, the Cardinals already have nine such runs in just two games.

It helps that Ellington was healthy to start the season — he had four runs of at least 10 yards all by himself in the opener, and he didn’t even play all of it before hurting his knee. You’d like to think that Ellington can take his time returning, making sure that explosion is there. Last year, the Cardinals had to have him. This year, they have Chris Johnson — whose entire career has been built on explosive runs — and rookie David Johnson, who in a very small sample size is beginning to look like explosive runs is what he is all about.

The breakdown of the 10-yard-plus runs thus far:

Andre Ellington 18, 16, 14, 10
Chris Johnson 12
Carson Palmer 12

David Johnson 13T, 14, 13

It’s questionable Ellington can return this week against the 49ers . (Arians made it sound like he’d miss at least one more game.) The Niners also have a better run defense than what the Cardinals have seen. But when the Cards can take a seam and make it worth something, it’s a big reason why the offense is clicking and why Palmer has some room to operate throwing the ball.



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Dockett in SF victim of first-round pick

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2015 – 12:31 pm

This week was once going to be the return of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett to University of Phoenix Stadium, after the Cardinals released him in March and he subsequently signed with the San Francisco 49ers a short time later. But that didn’t quite work out when Dockett found himself released by the 49ers at the end of the preseason. Dockett remains a free agent.

The reason Dockett is no longer playing in San Francisco is simple, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. It was the drafting of fellow defensive lineman Arik Armstead in the first round.

“I’ve always respected everything Darnell has done on the football field,” Tomsula said. “He got here, and quite frankly, didn’t realize we’d be drafting a defensive lineman in the first round. From there, didn’t really realize how quick Arik’s progression was going to be. Coming out of Oregon, he was one of those trimester guys (rookies can’t participate in the offseason work until their school year ends) so you’re thinking we’re not going to have him for anything in the offseason.

“Then Arik got in here … that was a tough one, man.”

Dockett remains a free agent. (He is not expected to be brought back to Arizona.) He hasn’t gone away — recently he took part in this video piece about his search for the murderer of his mother, who was killed when Dockett was 13.

Darnell Docket


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Kerwynn Williams cut as Massie returns

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2015 – 1:01 pm

The Cardinals had to make a roster move to create room for reinstated tackle Bobby Massie, so Tuesday the team cut running back Kerwynn Williams — who had just been promoted from the practice squad Saturday. It wasn’t the only move. On the practice squad, the Cardinals released guard Anthony Steen and tight end Brandon Bostick, and signed to the practice squad running back Mike Gillislee, who had spent time with the Miami Dolphins.

With Massie back and Williams out, it means the Cardinals have decided to keep 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster. It’s a big group, especially considering that Mike Iupati is likely healthy enough to play. So there are no injuries of those 10 linemen. Who is active on Sunday against the 49ers will be an interesting choice. You figure first-round pick D.J. Humphries will remain an odd man out, but there are a lot of other variations available.


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Hidden yards of Smokey Brown’s PI calls

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2015 – 9:54 am

The gains will be lost over time, because penalty yards have no way of appearing on either the Cardinals’ passing offense or John “Smokey” Brown’s personal statistics. But there is little arguing that the two pass interference calls Brown drew against the Bears Sunday were crucial. One went for 42 yards, one for 38. The first ball was in a perfect spot, until cornerback Kyle Fuller simply karate-chopped Brown’s arms down before the ball got there. The other was a little underthrown, and Brown smartly stopped and came back into cornerback Alan Ball, who was then forced to hit Brown just before the ball arrived.

More importantly, the first set up a six-yard inside screen touchdown to wide receiver Jaron Brown, while the second set up Larry Fitzgerald’s first of three touchdowns.

Technically, Smokey Brown had only five catches for 45 yards in the game, but those penalties were worth 80 yards and put the Cards into the red zone twice from long range. He said wide receivers coach Darryl Drake has pounded that into the receivers heads all through training camp, about working back to the ball if it is underthrown to try and draw a penalty.

“That’s the mindset that coach Drake and coach Bruce Arians, they tell me, draw attention back into them,” Brown said. “I’ve been doing a great job of that.”

He’s not wrong. Brown also drew a 17-yard pass interference in the end zone in the game against the Saints (a call that was a little more suspect), setting up a 1-yard Andre Ellington touchdown run. So in two games, Brown has already accounted for 97 yards down the field on three plays for which he will never have credit.

“Hey, I’m about winning,” Brown said. “I’m not much about stats. As long as we’re winning, I’m fine.”


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Keim: Watford has earned time

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2015 – 8:07 am

Bobby Massie comes back from suspension today, and so the question has to be asked: Does Earl Watford remain the starting right tackle for the Cardinals?

General Manager Steve Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday, said that later today he, coach Bruce Arians and offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin will discuss the lineup. Keim acknowledged he usually defers to the coaches in such situations.

But, Keim said, “I know this: Earl has earned the right to be on the field.”

Watford has held up well in two games (against admittedly weaker defenses in the Saints and Bears), especially in run blocking. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is that Arians said it was Watford’s job to lose when Watford was inserted into the starting lineup. It’s hard to think Watford has done anything to lose the job.

As Keim said, “we’ll have some options” at offensive line. Left guard Mike Iupati is expected back this week from his knee surgery, and while Keim said he likes the job Ted Larsen has done, it’s hard to believe the big free-agent signee of the offseason won’t get back to the lineup once he’s ready. Especially going against his former team in the 49ers.

Other Keim comments:

— He said the Cardinals saw some similarities between David Johnson coming out of Northern Iowa and the Bears’ Matt Forte. You have to say Johnson was the more effective running back Sunday when the Cards and Bears played.

— Keim on the Cardinals’ 2-0 start: “More than anything we have a chance to be a pretty good football team if we eliminate the mistakes.”

— The blown coverage that led to the Bears’ first touchdown, Keim said, was a miscommunication between Patrick Peterson and Jerraud Powers trying to cover out of a bunch formation.

— He said he liked the cuts and patience of running back Chris Johnson, and also his toughness in pass protection.

— Keim’s call on quarterback Carson Palmer: “He’s been a godsend for this organization.”

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Bears aftermath, and Fitz’s legacy

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2015 – 6:14 pm

Larry Fitzgerald was walking on the sideline having just come off the field after scoring his third touchdown Sunday when he looked my way – I was down there, about 30 feet away – and yelled at me. I looked at him, and he yelled at me, “Working on my legacy.”

It was a reference to his comment he made to me a couple of weeks ago, when I talked to him right before the season for (yes, shameless plug – so click here!) a story about him and his legacy. Since then, Fitz has played two games, leads the Cardinals in catches (14) and yards (199) and now touchdowns (3, all coming against the Bears, and one more than he had all of last season.) The trust is there between he and Carson Palmer. It took a while to make it click, and there were some injuries that got in the way, but this is the kind of production he was having last season in that happy place he and Palmer found post-shoulder/pre-ACL problems.

— David Johnson is still a work in progress, but he looked excellent again Sunday, and not just because of the 108-yard kickoff return. His 13-yard touchdown run was nice as well, so patient before hitting the right hole. It’s hard not to see Johnson getting much more work sooner rather than later, although Chris Johnson was fine (20 carries, 72 yards.) David Johnson, with 42 yards on five carries, just looks like a star waiting to happen.

— Smokey Brown didn’t have gaudy numbers – five catches for 45 yards – but he had two other plays that generated 80 yards in pass interference penalties. Both were near catches. Palmer slightly underthrew one, when Brown had Kyle Fuller beat. But Brown has gotten better at coming back through the defender even if the play won’t be there, forcing the defender to interfere because he’s not looking back at the ball.

— The kings of efficiency: The Cardinals have made seven trips to the red zone this season. They have scored touchdowns on all seven.

— The Cardinals did not allow a sack against the Bears Sunday, after not allowing one against the Saints in the season opener. Since sacks were made an official stat in 1982, it marks only the fourth time the Cardinals have gone at least two games without a sack. The last time was the final two games of the 2007 season.

— Bruce Arians took the blame on the Palmer interception right before the half. It was an amazing play by linebacker Jared Allen, who leaped in the air on the quick wide receiver screen to bat the ball up and then pick it off.

“I got a little greedy,” Arians said. “We wanted to put a nail in that one. I jinxed him. I told him the screen is going to be wide open. Do not let them tip it.”

Allen tipped it. Arians said he called the same play for wide receiver Eric Moulds “32 years ago” and the same thing happened. “It was a flashback, ‘Oh (expletive).”

— An exhausted Frostee Rucker talked about the defense finding itself after a couple of leaky moments early. One couldn’t be avoided, the veteran defensive end said – the zone-read runs of quarterback Jay Cutler, before Cutler got hurt.

“If Jay Cutler is going to keep the ball, you can’t account for a guy like that,” Rucker said. “You don’t think the opposing team would risk getting their guy hurt. If those are going to be the plays to beat us, they’re going to get that.”

— The Cardinals again averaged more than four yards a carry. The running game wasn’t great, but it was enough.

— There were no sacks on Palmer, but he was hit more than the Cards would want, including the flag-inducing low hit by Pernell McPhee that always gives everyone pause. But Palmer is going to have to absorb some of that. That’s Arians’ offense, and that’s playing quarterback.

Signing off from 30,000 feet.



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