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Nkemdiche returns to inactive status

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2016 – 12:59 pm

The Cardinals aren’t completely healthy, especially in the secondary, which makes some new players in play today — like safety Christian Bryant, recently elevated from the practice squad. But the defensive line is healthy, so there are changes, including a return to the bench for first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. Also noteworthy is the fact Ed Stinson, who has finally recovered from his toe, is a healthy scratch today with Xavier Williams active. Newcomer Taylor Boggs, a guard who Bruce Arians said earlier in the week would’ve made the roster out of training camp had he not gotten hurt, is active over rookie Cole Toner.

The full inactive list for the Cardinals:

— WR Chris Hubert

— CB Tharold Simon (ankle)

— S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Ed Stinson

For the 49ers, they have both RB Carlos Hyde (shoulder) and WR Torrey Smith (back) active today, despite questionable status.

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Friday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2016 – 4:11 pm

OK, maybe it’s a little strong to say this is the John Wetzel game, but it’s definitely the beginning of the John Wetzel-half season. Wetzel is the guy who is replacing left tackle Jared Veldheer (torn triceps) for the rest of the season. He isn’t the only variable over which the Cardinals may or may not make the run they need to make, but he is definitely one of the biggest.

“The thing about Wetzel that you have to get over is every time you look at him, he looks freaking miserable,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Just miserable. Makes you upset to your core too, like ‘What’s the problem?’ As long as he’s got that miserable look on his face, that means he’s ready to go, ready to play.”

Wetzel has apparently looked absolutely down in the dumps this week, so optimism reigns.

His appearance, however, is the perfect proof of how this season is different than the fun run of 2015. Somebody as crucial as Veldheer didn’t get hurt this early last season (Tyrann Mathieu’s injury came as the Cards were wrapping up the division.) All the key guys were basically healthy. The offense had no question marks. Not like now. The Cards should get better offensively Sunday, because the 49ers defense is simply bad. Can they keep up something consistent through the rest of the schedule? Through the rest of a five-road-games-in-the-final-seven-weeks schedule?

— Underscoring the injuries. The Cardinals have had 58 different players appear in at least one game this season. The Cards had only 56 players appear in at least one game all of last season.

— David Johnson ran for a season-high 157 yards against the 49ers. The Niners have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games, a ignominious NFL record. Everything points to a lot of Johnson this week.

“If you’re getting 5-to-10 (yards a try), you keep it up, but it’s hard to get 5-to-10,” coach Bruce Arians said. “If you’re giving up five, you’re not very good. Sooner or later, you’re not going to get five and your quarterback’s not in any kind of a rhythm to get a first down on third down. So, you’ve got to mix it up.”

— Granted, it’s because questions are asked, but there has been a lot of positive things spoken about both Smokey Brown and about Michael Floyd this week. The Niners aren’t exactly great against the pass either. Would it shock me to use Johnson sometimes as the decoy to open up the passing game? No.

— The Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense. It’d be nice to stay there against this opponent.

— What’s missing on offense, according to Goodwin? (Hint: It’s no surprise): “Getting those explosive plays, which we have a number we want to hit, is key to our offense,” Goodwin said. “As far as getting enthusiasm going, getting excitement going, getting chunk plays. We have to get back to that.”

Goodwin said he wouldn’t say how many the Cards want to hit per game, but it was more than five. Let’s say an explosive play is at least 20 yards — the Cardinals have 31 such plays this season in eight games. That’s less than four per game.

— No Tyrann Mathieu and no Tharold Simon mean a pretty big opportunity for either Brandon Williams or Justin Bethel. The season hasn’t gone the way either of them have wanted, not at cornerback. This is an important moment for at least one to make a mark.

— While I hope everyone got a chance to see the recent Pat Tillman “A Football Life” episode, I hope you also check out our most recent Zoom episode on Tillman. That’s the full interview that Tillman gave in the summer of 2001 that gives an insight into Tillman the person. It’s fascinating, especially in hindsight.

— In each of his three previous Cardinals seasons, Arians has had his team with a winning streak of four games, six games and eight nine games. The Cardinals have only a two-game winning streak this season so far.

— Don’t forget the annual food drive before Sunday’s game. Volunteers from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.

— The second half has arrived. The Cardinals need it to be so much better than the first.


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Needing Smoke and Floyd

Posted by Darren Urban on November 10, 2016 – 10:43 am

When Carson Palmer strongly promoted how he expected big things from wide receiver Michael Floyd over the second half of the season, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The quarterback is there to pump up/prop up his team. That’s what leaders do (which is partly where his “I know people don’t believe it and probably don’t want to hear it, but I like where we are. We’re the underdog” comment came from Wednesday) and it was also no surprise to hear Palmer talk about how wide receiver John “Smokey” Brown has responded excellently to his protocol for the sickle cell trait and looks like a different player and person.

So yes, you’d expect to hear such things from Palmer about two key wide receivers. It’s also important to note — at least from my perspective — the Cardinals need at least one of those two guys, if not both, to play like they did in 2015 for the Cards to make the playoff push they are hoping to make.

This is a different season. But you can’t take away a 1,000-yard receiver (which Brown was) or a receiver who had five 100-yard games among the last eight he played (which Floyd did) the next year without expecting at least similar production from at least one of them. Larry Fitzgerald is playing at the same level he did last season. J.J. Nelson has taken a step forward now that he’s healthy. There’s no question Palmer hasn’t been exactly himself at times, but he’s been good of late. The pass protection has had some fits and starts, and could be searching a bit now that left tackle Jared Veldheer is done.

We’ll see if Floyd can indeed “explode” and if Smoke is a different player now. If either translates into production, that’d be a big step for the Cardinals and their second-half rally.


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The Cardinals’ missing first quarter

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2016 – 12:13 pm

Last season, it was a breeze.

The very first game of 2015, the Cardinals marched 80 yards for a touchdown on their initial possession of the season, against the Saints. The next week, they didn’t even bother with a drive — David Johnson simply took the opening kickoff and raced 108 yards for a TD. In the third game, the offense didn’t score right away, but that was OK — Justin Bethel picked off a Colin Kaepernick pass on the 49ers’ first possession and ran it in for a touchdown. The Cards scored 86 points in the first quarter in 2015, 25 more than their opponent.

This year, after eight games, they have scored only seven points.

It’s a crazy stat, one that speaks to the Cards’ issues perhaps more than anything else. Last year, they played from ahead. Those seven points, by the way, came on a Johnson 58-yard touchdown run — meaning that in the first quarter, the Cardinals have yet to put together a drive that encompasses entering the red zone and then scoring. If you would’ve told me that this would be a thing halfway through the season, I’d never have believed it.

Worse, the Cards have given up 41 first-quarter points, meaning they are the ones playing from behind. The defense could use more first-quarter stops itself.

A game against the 49ers might help, although it’s fair to remember (albeit with Drew Stanton at QB) that the Cardinals would have been scoreless for the entire first half against the same struggling defense in San Francisco if it hadn’t been for a timely Chandler Jones tip/Calais Campbell interception right before halftime.


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Former Cardinal Rolle calls it quits

Posted by Darren Urban on November 7, 2016 – 2:55 pm

Antrel Rolle retired Monday, although the former Cardinals safety retired a lot like many players end up doing — the decision was pretty much made for him, with no interest out there. Rolle admitted on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” spending the back half of the 2015 on injured reserve with the Chicago Bears and being 33 didn’t help his current status.

“I’m done,” Rolle said, adding, “I’m at total peace with that.”

Rolle — who left the Cardinals after the 2009 season, and more on that in a moment — was just in Arizona this summer attending the retirement press conference of fellow former Card Darnell Dockett. (That’s Rolle to the left in the photo below, talking to Adrian Wilson.) Wilson was already retired, and another former teammate who was there — Antonio Smith — sounded like he was considering it, although Smith ended up re-signing with the Texans after J.J. Watt got hurt.

Rolle’s five years with the Cardinals were interesting, as was his departure. Drafted eighth overall in 2005 to play cornerback for Dennis Green, Rolle eventually moved to safety — a position many assumed he’d eventually play even from the time he was drafted. He had a memorable game in 2007 in Cincinnati, returning two Carson Palmer interceptions for touchdowns and actually did it a third time only to have the score called back on a questionable roughing call post-pick on none other than Smith.

He was young and brash, like Dockett and Karlos Dansby, on a defense that wasn’t always consistent but that stood up during that 2008 Super Bowl run. His six-year rookie contract was bulky though, put together in a day long before rookie slotting. So coming into 2010, with a $4 million roster bonus due and an $8 million salary, the Cardinals — who tried and failed to get an extension done — released Rolle. He became part of the star-studded exodus that offseason (Kurt Warner, Dansby, Anquan Boldin as well) that shifted dramatically the Ken Whisenhunt era.

Rolle went on to get not only his big money (there was a similar offer from the Cards Rolle turned down) but big attention in New York with the Giants, making three Pro Bowls, making many headlines with his blunt talk on a weekly radio show, and winning a Super Bowl. It turned out to be a nice career. Although his stint in Arizona feels like a lifetime ago.


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On his birthday, “Pat Tillman: A Football Life”

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2016 – 8:15 am

Had Pat Tillman not been killed, he would have been 40 years old today.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the NFL Films’ episode of “A Football Life” about Tillman that debuted on NFL Network late last month, here is your chance to see it. It’s well worth your time, even with a story many of us know by now. There is always so much you can say about Tillman — I’d guess they easily could have made a show that went two hours and not just one and had plenty of material.

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Temper flashes hot for Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2016 – 12:18 am

Bruce Arians still has his fire. It’s been there a few times on the sideline this season — for those asking where it went — and it most certainly was there in Carolina last weekend during halftime.

Arians, during his weekly coach’s show “Cardinals Flight Plan” late Saturday night, Arians said what he said in the locker room, he “couldn’t repeat it.”

“There were a lot of things thrown, and my temper was … I haven’t done that since I was 33 years old  with Temple, at Deleware,” Arians said. “I don’t really think anything gets done that way, but it was just ridiculous the way we were playing offensively.”

The Cards played better on offense in the second half, but that isn’t necessarily the point. I think it says something that Arians, who has had plenty of heated moments in games and in practices since he arrived in Arizona, got into his team harder in his mind than any time in the last 30 years. Arians is right, I think — on the NFL level, anger doesn’t help a lot, not with pro athletes — but clearly, Arians hasn’t lost his ability to lose it on his team. It also shows where his frustration level was before the bye.


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Calais Campbell talks low Cam Newton hit

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2016 – 10:49 am

Calais Campbell didn’t mean to hit Cam Newton low. The Cardinals defensive tackle made that clear when, during Thursday’s “Big Red Rage with Calais Campbell“, he talked about the hit heard round the world (thanks to Newton’s angry comments postgame and subsequent talk with commissioner Rogert Goodell.)

Campbell was fined $18,231 for the play, which was not flagged. The fact it wasn’t flagged is what got under Newton’s skin after the game.

“Honestly when I watched the play, I beat my man pretty clean but I kind of tangled my feet,” Campbell said. “I was trying to catch my balance. I always know you can’t hit a quarterback below the knees, you try to get him in the thigh. And actually, my initial hit was in his thigh but my momentum carried forward and I got him below.

“It sucks. I never want to get a guy in an awkward position like that, especially a guy that I respect as a football player. I respect everybody who gets out there. I know how hard everybody works to be an NFL football player. It’s not easy. We go through a lot of preparation, a lot of training to be where we are at. I never want to see a guy go down and be out for the season, especially at my doing. I definitely talked to him and apologized because it was definitely an accident.”

Newton was having none of the apology at the time, which came immediately after the play. “I probably should’ve waited until after the game,” Campbell said. “But it’s a natural reaction.”

(Cardinals DL Rodney Gunter was also fined $18,231 for his unnecessary roughness takedown of Newton prior to the Campbell hit. Some have asked about this hit by Panthers defensive back Daryl Worley on Carson Palmer was also illegal. Worley was not flagged, and he was not fined either. Cornerback Leonard Johnson was fined $9,115 for the hit in which he “removed” Palmer’s helmet. Johnson was flagged.)

Newton was already angry in the game. On an earlier running play — in which Newton dove head-first to get more yards and was met by flying safety D.J. Swearinger — Newton was upset at Swearinger’s hit, which appeared clean. Newton had words with Swearinger, Kevin Minter and Markus Golden at various times.

Later this week, Newton said he understood he doesn’t get QB protection as a runner, but felt he didn’t get enough protection from the officials when he was in the pocket — for example, the Campbell hit.

As for Campbell, he is appealing the fine.

“You have to appeal it,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t on purpose, it wasn’t malicious. And 18,000 dollars is a lot of money to spend for a bad football play.”

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Of Cardinals, Cubs and championships

Posted by Darren Urban on November 3, 2016 – 8:14 am

First of all, it was cool to see (given that I really didn’t have a rooting interest) that big Cardinals fan Joe Maddon, who happens to be the manager of the Chicago Cubs, led his team to the World Series title. Maddon has been a fan of the franchise since 1963, and stayed with them even from their move to Arizona in 1988. He was rooting for them in their Super Bowl run in 2008, and when the Cardinals were in Chicago last season, he popped over to the Cardinals’ team hotel to talk to Bruce Arians.

Secondly, yes, I saw the graphic.

It was hard to miss, as Fox put it up for the world to see after the Cubs won. (If I would’ve missed it, I had plenty of Twitter followers who wanted to send me a copy.) The fact had already been floating around since the Cubs won Game 6 — if the Cubs won the whole thing, the Cardinals would be the pro sports franchise with the longest title drought. The Cards last won in 1947. The Indians, oh so close Wednesday night, were next at 1948.

The feeling is a little different because the franchise has moved twice since then, although I have talked to plenty of fans who ache even if they became fans in ’88 after the move West. It’s why for many, any part after Larry Fitzgerald’s amazing 64-yard catch-and-run in Super Bowl XLIII is just a blurry memory. It’s why Fitzgerald was so upset in the locker room following last year’s NFC Championship loss. It’s hard to even get a chance to win the whole thing.

But it’s also the great thing about sports, something the Cubs have done for a long time. Each season is a chance renewed. And as Arians said the other night even about this season — which obviously hasn’t gone the way anyone expected — “This is just another good challenge.” This year’s chase isn’t over yet.


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Mathieu “pretty good” after shoulder injury

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2016 – 3:08 pm

Safety Tyrann Mathieu is going to miss some time with his shoulder injury, but he was in good spirits Tuesday after the Cardinals had meetings and their annual team photo. Mathieu hung out with some teammates in the locker room for more than an hour after the photo and said his mindset was “pretty good” even though he got hurt.

“It’s not something that’s going to keep me out for the rest of the season,” Mathieu said, echoing Bruce Arians’ thoughts previous.

Mathieu said he was in on a tackle trying to pull a Panther down and in the course of trying to brace himself, both his weight and the Panthers player’s weight fell on his arm.

“I kind of popped it back in, and then it felt like I lost some strength in it,” Mathieu said. “I played one more play and then I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’ ”

Mathieu left after playing 16 defensive snaps. He was originally listed as probable to return, but he did not. Arians said Mathieu could miss up to 3-to-6 weeks, but Mathieu said he was hopeful it would more like 2-to-3. Arians seemed certain Mathieu would miss the Cardinals’ next game Nov. 13 at home against the 49ers, but there is a chance Mathieu could be back for the Nov. 20 road game in Minnesota. Mathieu will have to play with a harness once he returns.

“Once my shoulder gets stable, I’ll be good to go,” Mathieu said.

Tyrann Mathieu


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