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Keim: No such thing as disappointing win

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2016 – 8:10 am

Steve Keim was blunt.

“I don’t think there are any disappointing wins,” the Cardinals GM said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “The one thing I’ve learned in this position is to respect and appreciate every win.”

The Cardinals are back to .500 after beating the 49ers. They have huge games coming up, on the road, with playoff contenders Minnesota and Atlanta. The good news is that Keim said the Cards came out of the game “relatively healthy” — Keim was not asked about the status of Larry Fitzgerald — and in keeping with the theme of respecting every victory, he found the positives from his team’s first game of the second half of the season.

— Keim said he was encouraged by the play of two players who struggled in the first half of the season: wide receiver Michael Floyd and kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Both continued to work every day despite their issues, Keim said. Especially for Floyd, “to see a smile on his face in the locker room was exciting for all of us,” Keim said.

— The offensive line did OK. Keim said new left tackle John Wetzel “played good” although Keim acknowledged the 49ers don’t have much of an edge rush (Wetzel will most certainly face a harder test against the Vikings.) The 49ers came in with a plan to jam up the run, so even going against the NFL’s worst run defense, “do you want to run into a wall?” Keim asked rhetorically. Instead, the Cardinals threw the ball. It led to turnovers, all on passing plays — two interceptions, a fumble by Palmer trying to buy time to throw a pass, a fumble by J.J. Nelson after a catch. The turnovers are what made the game close, Keim said.

— He praised Fitzgerald. “Fitz continues to be a warrior, making plays in critical situations,” Keim said. Again, no comment (or question) about Fitz’s health.

— The big picture says the Cardinals “have opportunities ahead of us.” And the Cards did finish in a close game, something they didn’t do against New England or Seattle (or Los Angeles, for that matter.”

— Keim said there was a chance safety Tyrann Mathieu will be able to return either against the Vikings or the following week against the Falcons.

— Keim still doesn’t give much vibe one way or the other about the possibility of a Chandler Jones contract extension. “Without getting into the dialogue of negotiations, when you make a trade you’re not sure how its going to go,” Keim said. “But he’s been a great teammate, fantastic in locker room, he works hard on and off on field. He’s been great fit for us, and hopefully we can iron out something long term.”


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Niners too-close-for-comfort aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2016 – 8:24 pm

No one ever talks about “must-win” before a game, not players or coaches. But after Sunday’s nail-biting-when-you-hoped-there-be-no-nails-bitten win for the Cardinals, Bruce Arians acknowledged that the victory over the 49ers was not just vital, but that if the Cards couldn’t win that game at home, “it’s over.”

Safety Tony Jefferson paused a bit when that info was relayed to him. “I don’t know how that works,” Jefferson said. “I barely just found out who’s in the AFC and all that.” Jefferson chuckled. “I just go out there and play and try and get a ‘W.'”

The Cardinals did that. There was hope there might be some style points this week if for no other reason to build confidence. Instead, the Cardinals will have to take what they can — their field-goal unit came up with a kick it had to have. The passing game got some chunks. Michael Floyd emerged with a 100-yard game. Larry Fitzgerald was pretty awesome.

— It did not help that the Seahawks hung on in New England.

— Something to watch is Fitzgerald’s health. He had a big knee brace he was playing with by the end of the game. He landed awkwardly after one tackle by 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward. “He ended up telling me that he ended up tearing something,” Ward said of Fitz. Which is probably not good — although Fitz played the whole game.

Afterward, Fitzgerald said he’s “been better” but said he’d be ready for this week. It would stun me if he wasn’t available — the last game Fitzgerald would ever want to miss is one in his home state of Minnesota. If he’s injured he’s injured, but I’d guess Fitz makes it work.

— I’ve covered Fitzgerald his whole career and he’s always been a great player. But one thing that’s really come into focus the last couple of seasons is how tough he is. He’s been tough blocking (doing something he still will say he doesn’t like to do) and he’s been tough playing through injuries — even if he won’t come out and call them injuries. If he did tear something, anything and still had a 12-catch game, most of them in traffic, it just underscores the thought.

— Chandler Jones two more sacks. Again, he’s been good.

— That’s the Floyd the Cardinals want and need. Great catches battling for the ball. The one he made on the final field-goal drive — after Carson Palmer bought some time and threw on the run, a nice play by him as well — was stellar and vintage Floyd. “Mentally I had to tell myself this is like playing in the sixth grade — going out and making plays,” Floyd said. Postgame was the first time Floyd really talked about making drops. The Cards hope it’s behind him.

— That last Palmer interception was straight out of first-half-of-2013 Palmer. He took way too long on the play he was stripped and lost the fumble too. Those are plays the Cardinals can’t afford to have Palmer make.

— Niners coach Chip Kelly said he didn’t really think about going for two with 1:55 left, instead kicking the extra point for the tie. His thoughts — which I agree with — is that a field goal still beats you and there was time for the Cards to get that field goal. “I didn’t want to lose it for them because I wanted to be a gunslinger and end up 20-19,” Kelly said.

— That 16-yard scramble Palmer had in the first half? Longest run of his career, which started in 2003.

— I thought David Johnson was going to have a huge game. And it’s funny, he still had 100 yards rushing + receiving and scored two touchdowns. Most guys would take that as a huge game. But we all know, against the league’s worst run defense, more was expected. It was a combination of things, I think. The blocking wasn’t great, no. Johnson could’ve avoided a loss a couple of times. But also, the Niners have heard for a minute now about giving up 100-yard rushers seven straight games. At some point, you gotta think there’s a little “no more” of a vibe.

That said, the Cardinals still have too many hiccups in getting yards — Sunday, it was in the air — but not enough touchdowns.

— A win is a win. It wasn’t the one everyone wanted, but I know this — it’s not a loss. I agree with Arians, it would’ve been over. But it isn’t.

fitzflipforbloguse


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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.

fitzfly


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Niners aftermath, before the weekend

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2016 – 11:54 pm

Is everything fixed? No. Even Bruce Arians noted, for instance, that the Cardinals have yet to break their zero-points-in-the-first-quarter streak, much to his chagrin. The Cards were 5-of-16 on third downs. But the bottom line is the Cardinals got that win they needed, within the division, on the road, with the backup quarterback. The 49ers are not a good team, but a 12-point road win still means something.

In this case, it means the Cardinals can feel better about this next week-plus as they try to climb back into the thick of things. There is time for starting QB Carson Palmer to get healthy (and there is significant optimism he will be OK by the time the Cardinals play Oct. 17 at home against the Jets). There is time to get others healthy. Or at least, healthier.

There is a big stretch coming. “Monday Night Football” versus the Jets. “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks. A road game in Carolina before the bye. This will determine if the Cardinals will be players in the second half of the season or not.

“We’re a team that can rip off a bunch of them,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.

A bunch would be nice. Tonight, about 30,000 feet up somewhere over California, one is a nice start.

— David Johnson, in case you weren’t sure, is a beast. The Cardinals needed to run against the league’s worst run defense, and they did. Johnson banged out 157 yards, and that’s what you need when you are starting the backup QB.

“I feel unstoppable, basically,” Johnson said.

He looked that way, too, basically.

— Johnson’s 695 yards from scrimmage through five games is a franchise-best. John David Crow had 665 through five games in 1960.

— I’m sure Drew Stanton would’ve liked to pass the ball better. Arians said Stanton was simply working too fast at times. But the goal – the main goal and by far the biggest goal – was engineering a win, and that’s what Stanton did. The second goal? Don’t turn the ball over. Check that box too. Goal three (OK, I’m speculating here) is ride Larry Fitzgerald. Always a good thing to do.

— Calais Campbell, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is only the second player since sacks became official in 1982 to get two sacks, an interception and a safety in a game. Baltimore’s Adalius Thomas did it in 2006.

— Markus Golden was great. He’s turning out to be a heck of a second-round pick.

— Fitzgerald was magnificent on his two TDs. Run an excellent route to shake a cornerback for one. Squeeze the cornerback until the last second before the oh-so-subtle shoulder push to create room for the second. That’s why he’s a future Hall of Famer.

–Speaking of Fitz, the chest bump he delivered to guard Earl Watford after a score knocked Watford to the ground.

“Earl always thinks he’s like a phenomenal athlete,” Fitzgerald said. “So, I always tell him, whenever I score, I’ll meet you down there and we’re going to jump as high as we both can and he’s never even close and now he fell down too. So, that was real bad for him. I’m going to stay on him for that.”

Caught on TV, it’s something the big lineman will have a tough time living down –although he’s cool enough to embrace the moment.

— The special teams has not played well and deserve the criticism they have gotten as a unit. But Thursday night, they were pretty great. J.J. Nelson breaking off a 40-yard kick return. Ifeanyi Momah causing a turnover on a kick return. Ryan Quigley booming punts that hung in the air for five seconds. Good coverage on kicks and punts. A good day all around.

— Tyrann Mathieu had his rough moments as he moved back to his familiar slot cornerback role, but he’ll live with the ups and downs after the win. “I got out of there alive, so that’s all that matters,” Mathieu said with a chuckle.

“Sometimes I felt great, other times felt I was too hesitant,” Mathieu added. “Hopefully the more I play the position the more comfortable I will be doing it.”

— Great job filling in on the offensive line for Watford and John Wetzel, although we will have to see how Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati are. Iupati hurt his ankle – that’s a player you don’t want to lose for any extended time.

But at least the Cards have a little time to sort it out. After a win.

D.J. Swearinger, Tony Jefferson, Carlos Hyde


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Palmer-less Wednesday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2016 – 4:01 pm

Carson Palmer isn’t going to be ready. That was Bruce Arians’ gut reaction after the quarterback was concussed against the Rams Sunday and that was reality Wednesday as the Cardinals climbed aboard their flight to the Bay Area for Thursday night’s game against the 49ers. So it’ll be Drew Stanton at the helm as the Cards try to snap a two-game losing streak — they have never lost three straight under Arians, and only previously lost two straight three times.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald tried to stay lighthearted a bit with the quarterback situation. “Carson wouldn’t like me saying this, but if Drew plays, he’s probably a little bit better athlete,” Fitz said. “A little bit better. Last year Carson tripped on the goal line getting to the end zone with no one around (in San Francisco). Drew would never trip like that.”

The truth is Stanton did play a good chunk of 2014 with these receivers. That doesn’t mean he’s Palmer, but at this point, with the Cards’ offense less than they want it to be, perhaps Stanton can create a new dynamic.

Arians said Palmer was getting better and argued a bit for the chance to play, but it was a no go. Palmer hadn’t even been officially cleared by the time Arians spoke Wednesday. Optimism is there for Palmer to be OK the next time the Cardinals play, which won’t be until Oct. 17 on “Monday Night Football” versus the Jets.

— The record isn’t anywhere close to what the Cardinals hoped. But they remain in the top 10 in the NFL in both total offense and total defense, and have a plus-12 in point differential. That doesn’t point to a terrible season.

— Stanton had arguably his best game as a Cardinal against the 49ers back in 2014 when the Cards won in Arizona, 23-14. Stanton was 18-for-33 for 244 yards and two touchdowns.

— It’s been noted that, of all the guys who have thrown touchdown passes to Fitzgerald, Stanton is not one. Maybe that changes this week.

— One thing the Cards are missing this season; Playing from ahead. That goes hand-in-hand with their first-quarter woes (they are the only team in the NFL without a first-quarter point), but that was a big reason for success last year. The Cardinals scored the first time they touched the ball six times last season, and held a first-quarter lead 10 times.

— An under-the-radar move this week, all things considered, is the ascension of Brittan Golden to the roster. “Britt will be core special teamer,” Arians said. “He’ll help our special teams a bunch.” Arians also said Golden will likely take over on kickoff return from Andre Ellington, now that Ellington will be needed more at running back post-Chris Johnson’s injury.

— Here’s this week’s Cardinals Underground podcast.

— Someone asked Fitzgerald about fans upset with the Cardinals’ start. Fitzgerald smiled. “Funny, I drive down the street and I see people’s garages and they have the Cardinals flags out and I see some of those flags down now,” he said. “That’s disappointing, man. But we have to do our job so the people put the flags back up.”

— It doesn’t sound like Robert Nkemdiche is going to be active. Arians left the door cracked for that possibility, but also noted that — while Nkemdiche’s ankle is fine — the rookie defensive lineman might not be ready for an offense that can break huge run plays if not played correctly. Nkemdiche has yet to be active since playing a handful of snaps against the Patriots opening night.

— This is the first of three straight games for the Cardinals in prime time. “Thursday Night Football” is followed by “Monday Night Football” against the Jets and then “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks. The other two games will be at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Bay Area awaits.

beforeninersblog


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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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