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“Best thing” for Cards now — turnover margin

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2016 – 11:33 am

Bruce Arians may have been a little salty about how the offense played in the Cardinals’ win Sunday, but he has left no doubt how he feels about the team’s turnover margin. “That’s probably the best thing we’re doing right now,” Arians said. Then again, how could he not see it that way?

Yes, there have been a couple of near-picks for quarterback Carson Palmer, but they have not been picks. So after two games, the Cardinals have yet to turn it over, and have amassed seven turnovers themselves — four interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Math and the law of averages says the fumbles won’t always bounce the Cards way, but they aren’t putting the ball on the ground themselves.

Right now, they lead the league in takeaways (Carolina, Minnesota and San Francisco each have six) and lead in turnover differential (two ahead of the Vikings’ plus-5.) Oakland and Philadelphia are the other two teams without a turnover yet.

The Cardinals were second in the league in takeaways last season with 33, and they are doing it right now without one of their dynamic back-end players playing at full Honey Badger. That’s a good sign. Another good sign? The only other time the Cards went the first two games without turning the ball in the first two games of the season since 1940 was 2008 — the year the franchise reached the Super Bowl.

(OK, as coincidences go, it’s a stretch. But we’ll see.)

turnoversplusesblog

 

 


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First home game usually means victory

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals never played at home in Week 1 of the NFL season during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium. Sunday night will be the seventh time in 11 seasons at University of Phoenix Stadium that the Cardinals have hosted a Week 1 game. With the Patriots coming to town for “Sunday Night Football,” it makes a difference.

The Cards have won six straight home openers and have won 10 straight home games in September. It’s interesting to note that the last time the Cardinals lost at home in September was back in 2009, when the reigning NFC Champions lost not once but twice.

You remember that season, right? The Cards lost their opener, at home, to a lesser 49ers team. A couple of weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts blew them out of the building. The Cardinals were 1-2, everyone asked “What’s wrong?” — and then they got to 10-5 before shutting it down in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

Since then, the Cards’ home opener has been in Week 1 four times (wins over Carolina in Cam’s first start in 2011, Seattle in Russell Wilson’s first start in 2012, San Diego on “Monday Night Football” in 2014 and New Orleans last year), Week 2 once (beating Detroit in 2013) and Week 3 once (beating Oakland in 2010.)

You can argue, easily, that the Patriots represent the best team the Cardinals have hosted in the home opener in that span (although the 2012 Seahawks turned out to be pretty good). But the Cardinals have made that first home game advantageous.

homeplayblog


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With 2016 here, a look at the 2017 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2016 – 10:51 am

Training camp officially begins tomorrow when the Cardinals get back together at University of Phoenix Stadium to hold their annual run test. The first practice of camp is Friday (keep in mind, because of the CBA-mandated “acclimation” period, the Cardinals won’t be in pads until Sunday, making these next two days a little bit like glorified OTAs.)

We know the Cardinals’ schedule for 2016, of course, which starts in the regular season with a home “Sunday Night Football” game against the Patriots.

But what about 2017, I’m sure you were about to ask? Fear not. Here are the opponents for 2017, home and away:

HOME

— Dallas Cowboys
— New York Giants
— Jacksonville Jaguars
— Tennessee Titans
— NFC South team that finishes in same 2016 divisional place as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams

AWAY

— Philadelphia Eagles
— Washington Redskins
— Houston Texans
— Indianapolis Colts
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional place as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams


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No Norman when Cardinals visit Carolina

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2016 – 3:43 pm

As if the Eagles-Browns trade wasn’t big enough news for the NFL Wednesday, this afternoon the Panthers in a stunning move rescinded the franchise tag from all-pro cornerback Josh Norman. Norman is now free to sign anywhere, and while in theory that includes back with the Panthers, it’s hard to see a scenario where that happens.

Norman had not signed his tender offer — worth nearly $14 million — and was in a position where he and Carolina had until July 15 to sign a long-term deal. Reportedly, Norman, 28, was looking for around $16M a year. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said today it had become clear to him the team and Norman would never reach a long-term contract. Still, it’s odd the team would just let him go. Norman might have threatened to sit out (without signing the tender, he wasn’t obligated to show up, even to training camp) but he wouldn’t be the first, and he just said last month he was willing to play under the tag this season.

How does this impact the Cardinals? Not directly. Norman is a free agent, but the Cards a) only have about $6.5 million of cap space, b) are already paying a cornerback a ton of money (Patrick Peterson)and c) are on deck to pay another secondary member (Tyrann Mathieu) a lot of money. Norman isn’t coming here. But the Cardinals do visit the Panthers in 2016, so no Norman figures to help the Cards’ deep receiving corps.

That doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t see Norman. Both the 49ers and Rams had been trying to sign premier cornerbacks in free agency, and the 49ers especially ($52 million in cap space) would seem to have the resources to give Norman what he wants.

NormanOut


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Chip Kelly comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 12:14 pm

It certainly hasn’t been quiet in the Cardinals’ division, even with the regular season over. The Cardinals and Seahawks are among the final eight teams in the playoffs. The Rams moved to Los Angeles. And now the 49ers, wanting to make sure no one forgot about them, went out and hired Chip Kelly as their new coach.

It’s an interesting pick. Whether Kelly was their first choice or — as some reports have said — they turned to Kelly after they couldn’t get Hue Jackson (who went to the Browns), it’s a drastic change from Jim Tomsula, that’s for sure. The immediate reaction? That assumed divorce between rehabbing QB Colin Kaepernick and the team might not happen — Kaepernick would seem to be the perfect type of QB for Kelly’s system, to the point many wondered this season if Kap was cut would the then-Eagles coach Kelly snap him up — and also how the relationship will work between Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. But we’ll see how quickly Kelly can get that team changed up after a very rough 2015.

The Cardinals have done fine against Kelly’s Eagles, winning two of three, including the division-clinching rout in Philly this season.

I’ll say this, the NFC West certainly isn’t boring.

Bruce Arians, Chip Kelly

 


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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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Leaving points, and Friday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2015 – 3:41 pm

It’s hard not to talk about the points.

The Cardinals lead the NFL in points scored, in case you hadn’t heard. They also have a league-high 176 points on the road – with still three road games left – this season, with their 22 road TDs five more than the rest of the field (Cincinnati is second with 17). They just happen to be visiting San Francisco this weekend, to play a 49ers team that they happened to score a season-high 47 points against earlier this season.

So why is it, when talking to the players or coaches, they always seem to be a bit irritated with how the Cardinals play offense? It’s simple, really. They get ticked when they don’t convert a third down, when they have a red-zone hiccup, when they turn the ball over. Perfecting the “nuances,” as Larry Fitzgerald called them.

“Scary to think if we do, how many points we could score,” Fitzgerald said.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was being asked about the running game and it needing to be more consistent. Even though the Cards have run it fine and again, most points in the league.

“It’s something good for me to get pissed off about,” Goodwin said. “Leaving points out there.”

Goodwin, and Bruce Arians, and everyone else, knows what they have (assuming Carson Palmer is healthy): A deep offense capable of scoring with a great many options, and a quarterback who knows how to make it all run.

“As long as the offensive line protects, we can dice anyone up in this league,” Goodwin said. “I stand on solid ground when I say that.”

— The Cardinals had a long injury list when the week began, but realistically, they aren’t going to be as short-handed as thought. Patrick Peterson looks like he’s going to play, receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown (Brown is “probable” for the first time in a while) both should be on the field and while they are down a couple of defensive lineman, the addition of Red Bryant should help.

— The idea of sitting players because it’s “just the 49ers” is never going to fly, by the way. The Cardinals need all these wins. If you are healthy enough to play, you play. If you aren’t, you don’t. Could that change in Week 17 if the Cards are locked into their playoff position? Sure. But not with six games left.

— Fitzgerald needs 74 yards to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season for the first time since 2011. That’s been a pretty long drought too.

— Markus Golden already had started a couple of games when Alex Okafor was out, but that starting job is his for good now that LaMarr Woodley is out for the season. Golden is turning out to have the greatest impact from the draft class, with all due respect to Rodney Gunter and David Johnson. Profootballfocus.com has him among the top 10 rookies in the league, and he’s on his way to being a key part of this defense the next few years.

“Since the beginning of the season I’m way better,” Golden said. “I’m more focused, and I’m not thinking as much.”

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said he loves the outside linebacker rotation, even with the Woodley loss. In a perfect world, he said, those guys would have snap counts in the 20s, although he said he was OK with veteran Dwight Freeney around 30 or 35 snaps.

— S Deone Bucannon was fined $23,152 for his unflagged helmet-to-helmet hit on Bengals receiver A.J. Green last week. It was a surprise the play didn’t draw a penalty. Could that have been the source of the concussion Bucannon suffered?

— One name that could appear now with Woodley out is rookie Shaq Riddick, who has been inactive every game. “We think he’s a guy who is going to be in the mix, could be this weekend, maybe the future,” Bettcher said.

— This will be Mike Iupati’s first game against his former team. If you recall, there was a chance Iupati, coming off training camp knee surgery, would debut against the 49ers, but he wasn’t quite ready that week. He admitted the game will have meaning for him.

“I do care about them,” said Iupati, who spent five seasons in San Francisco. “They are having a tough season. But that’s how it is. It’s football. I don’t know what’s going on over there.”

— The Cards have had a 100-yard receiver in six straight games against the 49ers – either Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd. Floyd in particular has done well in San Francisco. Perhaps he can get there again.

— Both Arians and Goodwin were hoping that the running game will find its way back after a couple of off games versus two good front sevens against the Seahawks and Bengals. The coaches are hoping for more steady plays – four yards every play, rather than getting one looking for a big one. It’s a concept running back Chris Johnson admitted isn’t always easy.

“Being the type of player I am, the type of back I am who is so used to breaking the long runs, getting big gains,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of tough being patient and waiting on it. It’s the sort of thing where you’ve got to understand the gameplan of the week and you’ve got to stick to it.”

— Johnson also said at age 30, the maintenance needed to stay ready at this point (he’s averaging 24 carries the past three games) is crucial.

“You’ve got to put more time in as far as off the field,” Johnson said, referring to massages and the training room. “You put more time in and you’ll be OK when Sunday gets here.”

— Crazy to think the Cards have had more trouble winning in San Francisco than Seattle. But a win this weekend, and the Cardinals are 3-1 in the NFC West. If there is anything Arians has yet to accomplish, it’s a winning record within the division. That’s something they’d like to check off the list.

FloydBeforeNoinersBLOG


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Bengals aftermath, with more dancing

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2015 – 12:55 am

There was more dancing for the Cardinals on a Sunday night. It doesn’t look like it’ll go viral, but that doesn’t mean that Smokey Brown’s post-TD celebration didn’t harken back to Drew Stanton’s shimmy-heard-round-the-world from last week.

“I had to bring it back,” Brown said. “I was in a little competition with Drew, but I didn’t want to tell him. I had to get my fans back.”

This is how it works when you win. Brown is still hurting with his bad hamstring, but he had three catches (and two jet sweeps) against the Bengals, and said his leg doesn’t hurt as much now as it did in Seattle. Winning always helps the pain. The Cardinals didn’t have Michael Floyd, but no worries, J.J. Nelson steps in with four catches for 142 yards and this team’s receiving depth is just underscored again.

Part of that is the quarterback, of course. Carson Palmer threw two bad first-quarter interceptions, and he knew it. But at the end of the night, he had four touchdown passes, and that doesn’t include the cool-as-a-cucumber, less-than-a-minute-left field-goal drive that he deftly orchestrated. That is why this team has so much faith in Palmer (and why I’m left shaking my head at the few fans who seem ready to hammer him with any early mistake.) It’s hard to believe any team who wouldn’t want him right now. Maybe the Patriots. The Panthers. Probably the Packers. Everyone else? They could use CP3.

Meanwhile, this team is 8-2 and opened the brutal second-half schedule with two wins against two playoff-worthy teams.

— It was a breakout night for the draft class. Markus Golden had a strip-sack. Nelson was great. Rodney Gunter had a sack. David Johnson had a TD catch. This is the time of year the Cardinals will need those guys.

— It would not be good, with Cory Redding down, if Frostee Rucker’s ankle injury kept him out. Rucker has been fantastic this season. But the hold-the-breath moment has to be with cornerback Patrick Peterson. No way to know how bad he’s hurt, and he wasn’t around to talk after. He’s having by far his best season as a cornerback. As much as there is belief in Justin Bethel, an extended Peterson absence would be bad news.

— I totally understand the Bengals not being happy with the final unsportsmanlike penalty call for barking the cadence. But I also like that they threw in that it shouldn’t have come to that. Way too easy for the Cards to complete three long passes in that situation. Palmer-to-Fitz seemed like the obvious go-to, yet twice it got big yards.

— Linebacker Kevin Minter was mad at himself for how Bengals running back Gio Bernard got off for 128 yards on eight catches. Minter said he should have played better technique in coverage. But that’s definitely a matchup that does not favor the Cardinals, technique or no.

— The Bengals had allowed exactly 10 points in each of their previous three games. The Cardinals scored 34, 10 more than the worst Cincinnati defensive performance previous this season.

— Getting Chandler Catanzaro a game-winning kick for the first time (pictured below) will be helpful down the road. A miss wouldn’t have meant a loss, necessarily, but that’s the first time Cat-Man has had to do that, and experience matters.

— Two exciting, nationally televised games in a row, both wins. Now comes a road game in San Francisco, against a struggling 49ers team and Blaine Gabbert. This week the story will be about not letting down, because the Cardinals will be heavy favorites.

“Bruce will tell us we haven’t done anything yet,” Palmer said. “I know that’s coming. He’s keeping us grounded, which is exactly what a great had coach does.”

CatManMakeBLOG


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