I actually heard the news from Larry Fitzgerald at first, after the Cardinals had finished the day’s OTA, that 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree had torn his Achilles, jeopardizing his season. That I’d be standing over by the receivers lockers was fitting, in a sense, because it will now be a player who once inhabited one of those lockers who must come to the forefront for San Francisco: Anquan Boldin.
First it will be interesting to see how Crabtree’s absence impacts the 49ers and, bigger picture, the NFC West. Crabtree had a big year in 2012 — he couldn’t have been Patrick Peterson’s favorite matchup — and no matter how loaded a team like the Niners might be, losing a player of that caliber can’t be a good thing (nor is it good for Crabtree, who is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season, but that’s for the San Francisco writers to dissect.) The bargain basement acquisition of Boldin in a trade with Baltimore gives the Niners a name to plug in to the void. What does Boldin have left (he turns 33 in October) will be seen, but it’s not like Boldin’s strengths have been something that time robs. He was never a speedster. It was about smarts and power and the will to get the ball. That’s still Q.
Still, if you are the Cardinals, you have to believe Peterson would do fine one-on-one with Boldin (or Mario Manningham or A.J. Jenkins or whatever receiver the Niners have left). In the case of the Cards, you still have to find a way to puncture the Niners’ defense and stop the running game behind that huge offensive line. But losing a star skill player can’t help the Niners, which mean it can only help their division brethren.
(For a good analysis of the situation, check out Matt Maiocco’s post.)
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Peterson
Posted in Blog | 26 Comments »
So here are some quick thoughts on the Cardinals’ schedule, for what they are worth. No one knows exactly what will happen between now and when the games will be played and so much can change. Nevertheless, this is what we do, so we press on …
– What smacks me in the face first is the back-to-back games against the 49ers — in San Francisco — and the Seahawks just four days later for their NFL Network game. That’s in October (13 and 17). Those teams aren’t easy with which to deal, and to have them so close together is tough. I guess, with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson with similar games (I know Wilson doesn’t run as much as Kaepernick), the defense will be in the right frame of mind. Todd Bowles, are you ready?
– Opening in St. Louis isn’t a bad place to start. The Cards have had a ton of success there, winning seven straight before last year. These aren’t the 2009 Rams, but they aren’t the Niners and Seahawks either.
– Offenses with which the Cards must deal without suspended linebacker Daryl Washington: Rams, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers. All in all, not the worst thing.
– A bye at exactly the midway point of the season.
– The Bruce Arians-faces-his-former-Colts-team game comes Nov. 24. Will be very interesting to see where the Cards are at that point — we will be long past the storybook of the Colts season last year — and, for that matter, where the Colts stand.
– I didn’t think weather would be a big deal, but it could be chilly in Philly (Dec. 1) and Tennessee (Dec. 15). And perhaps Seattle (Dec. 22) for that matter.
– It did catch my eye that the preseason Dallas game is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I prefer that rather than night preseason games.
– A trip to Raymond James Stadium Sept. 29. Let’s see, the last time the Cards were there …
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Colin Kaepernick, Colts, Daryl Washington, Rams, Russell Wilson, schedule, Seahawks
Posted in Blog | 32 Comments »
I thought the day before free agency began was supposed to be quiet.
Instead, it most certainly has not been, not for anyone following the Cardinals. The Cards continued to make moves by cutting running back Beanie Wells — more on that in a minute — while NFC West foes Seattle and San Francisco set up trades for Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin and Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, respectively. Those teams were already set up for success and obviously, both players make them better.
(The deals, which can’t be made official before tomorrow at the earliest, are different in nature, though. The Seahawks gave up a three-pick haul for Harvin, including their first-round pick, and will need to sign him to an extension. The 49ers gave up just a sixth-round pick because everyone knew the Ravens were going to cut Boldin, and that could very well be a one-year rental depending on why direction the Niners want to go in 2014. Boldin has one year left on his contract. The Boldin deal can’t be completed before he takes a physical either, and that comes after he completes his trip to Africa with Fitz.)
In the meantime, the Cardinals let Wells go. Beanie always knew it was a likely result. He believes he can rebound from his knee problems at age 24 but they have dogged him for more than a year now. When healthy — heck, even when kind of healthy in 2011 — Wells could run over opponents with the best of them. He had some runs as a rookie on that 10-win 2009 team that made you wonder why he wasn’t playing more. But when you don’t catch passes or block tremendously well, when running is mostly what you do, you need to be able to do that often. He didn’t miss a ton of games before last season but going forward, with a new offense, the marriage between the Cards and Beanie didn’t make a lot of sense to continue.
Next at running back? Ryan Williams will get a shot, I’d think, depending on free agency. The Reggie Bush buzz will be floating out there until Bush signs somewhere. Maybe it’s him. Maybe someone else. Maybe the draft makes sense. But if you are certain you will get a big name back there, remember the Colts and Bruce Arians rode Vick Ballard last year and no one knew who Vick Ballard was before that. There has been zero talk about LaRod Stephens-Howling so I’m not sure if he is still an option to be re-signed. The overhaul continues.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Percy Harvin, Seahawks
Posted in Blog | 75 Comments »
Free agency is still a couple weeks away — March 12 for those who have forgotten — but for those who want to keep track of the Cardinals’ comings and goings, here is the page to do so. On it you can see the Cards’ own unrestricted and exclusive free agents going into the offseason. I ran into free agent safety Rashad Johnson today. He sounded upbeat about his status with the Cards but he wasn’t there to sign a new deal or anything. Those deals, I would think, will be deadline-driven probably. The Cards have talked to many of the agents for free agents, but again, I don’t think anything is about to pop.
The Alex Smith trade — or the reported trade that is going to happen — to the Chiefs will give the 49ers another draft pick this season. That, along with the anticipated compensatory picks the 49ers will get for losing free agents last offseason, will give San Francisco 15 draft picks for April. The day has been littered with speculation over what the Niners will do with all those picks. It’s too many to draft. No way 15 rookies make the team. So the Niners might as well trade some of them for players (Revis? Harvin?) or to move up and get a better pick or two or nab a rookie they really want.
Speaking of comp picks, I don’t expect the Cards to have any. They lost cornerback Richard Marshall to the Dolphins (to a pretty big contract) but signed free agents like William Gay, Adam Snyder and James Sanders. So that means the Cards will likely have only their seven picks — none in the seventh round and two in the sixth round. The official list of compensatory picks usually is released during the March owners’ meetings, which this year happen to be in Arizona.
Tags: 49ers, Adam Snyder, compensatory picks, free agency, James Sanders, Rashad Johnson, Richard Marshall, William Gay
Posted in Blog | 45 Comments »
The idea that the Cardinals would explore the trade possibility for 49ers backup quarterback Alex Smith — as Kent Somers noted yesterday — shouldn’t be a shock (although I will admit I originally wasn’t sure if the Cards would surrender a pick for him). Nor would the idea that the Cardinals could/would/should look at a trade for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, a speculative concept that picked up steam yesterday after Tom Brady’s extension essentially made Mallett ever playing for the Patriots (barring an injury) unlikely.
The talk reminded me of something general manager Steve Keim recently said when it came to the QB search: “We will exhaust every resource we have.”
That, Keim said, included every draftable quarterback from the first round to the last, free agency and, of course, potential trade options around the league. There is a priority list. Given what is out there in both free agency and the draft (which, right now, doesn’t seem exciting), a trade isn’t a surprise. Besides, if the Cardinals were going to spend a draft pick on a quarterback this year anyway, why not deal one for, say, Smith?
A trade with the Niners seems unlikely, just because San Francisco would seem to have options and conventional wisdom says they’d probably rather not help a division foe. The latest out of San Francisco (via Matt Barrows) is that the Niners would want at least a high fourth-round pick for Smith. If the Chiefs offer one, that’s basically a late third, given their spot at the top of the draft. UPDATE: In the seconds after I posted this, Jay Glazer reported that the trade of Alex Smith to the Chiefs was done and would happen as soon as it could March 12. So there’s one resource off the board.
Mallett, given that the Patriots don’t have another QB right now and comes cheap, is going to cost more, I’d guess. At least a third, where he was drafted in the first place (and I have to wonder what the Cardinals thought of him just a couple of years ago in 2011, when he was available and this team passed on him three different times. Besides, his accuracy is a question despite his big arm and some in New England didn’t think he outplayed Brian Hoyer last preseason even though the Pats dumped Hoyer in favor of Mallett.)
Much will be speculated on right now and there will be a level of truth to most of it, because the Cards are as Keim said exhausting every path trying to fix this problem. No trades can come down until March 12, nor can any free agents be signed. The draft is two months away. If Kevin Kolb doesn’t return, I can see a draft pick and a veteran added. The QB question won’t be answered until it’s answered.
Tags: 49ers, Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, Kevin Kolb, Patriots, quarterbacks, Ryan Mallett, Steve Keim
Posted in Blog | 78 Comments »
Finding an answer at quarterback is again on the agenda for the Cardinals this offseason. One potential target could be 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who is no longer needed in the Bay Area thanks to the rise of Colin Kaepernick. But Smith is under contract with the Niners, and they are going to try and get something out of him, clearly. Matt Barrows does a great job breaking down the Smith situation from the Niners’ perspective, but the Niners aren’t committing to anything. Yet.
“Are we going to trade him for sure? No, that hasn’t been decided,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said this morning here at the NFL Scouting combine.
Of course, that may mean releasing him instead, which, with my thought process, would be the probable way he’d end up in Arizona if he ever were to end up in Arizona. I don’t see the Cards trying to trade for him, not after what happened in the Kevin Kolb trade. Unless you think Smith can be your long-term answer — and as well as he was playing in SF, I don’t know how you could be confident in that — he’s going to be a short-term solution. Smith also could have other suitors, and maybe the Browns (who have Norv Turner as OC after Smith played well under Turner as OC once upon a time in San Fran) will want to deal a pick for him.
I know there are plenty of people who think Smith is a suitable choice for the Cards if the Cards could make such a move. But the QB situation remains fluid for both the Cards and the Niners and many other teams in this league. I don’t see Smith being all that thrilled being forced to be a backup next season for Kaepernick, nor do I see the Niners being thrilled with paying him some $8 million to sit. A move of some kind seems inevitable. So can San Francisco generate a trade market?
Tags: 49ers, Alex Smith, quarterbacks
Posted in Blog | 34 Comments »
The Ravens won the Super Bowl and the 49ers reached the Big Game. Both teams have long been known for their defenses, and at one point last week, I saw someone note that regardless of what big numbers guys like Brady and Manning and Brees put up, teams with strong defenses were left standing at the end. Defenses win championships.
Except it’s not true.
I’m not saying the defenses of Baltimore and San Francisco aren’t good. Of course they are, and the 49ers’ defense in particular spurred them to another great season. But you can’t have a Super Bowl end with a score of 34-31 and say defense wins championships. It’s about the teams that can be effective offensively enough these days that will win the title. The Ravens did lock down the Colts in the Wild Card round (nine points) and the Patriots in the AFC Championship (13 points), but in both cases the offense did plenty, and certainly, the Ravens’ wins against the Broncos and Niners were more about scoring points than not allowing them. The 49ers provide a greater example, allowing 31, 24 and then 35 points in three postseason games. San Fran did shut out the Falcons in the second half of the NFC Championship, but if it wasn’t for an offense that could pile up four touchdowns, that wouldn’t have mattered.
Is it any wonder, then, that teams were looking for offensive head coaches? As well as the Cardinals’ defense played this season, the offense just wasn’t enough (and yes, I realize that is the understatement of the year.) The Cardinals’ defense in the 2008 season was just OK statistically, but it had it’s moments — and it could rely on an offense that could score points with anyone. Bruce Arians is here because the offense needs a fix. The Seahawks and Niners will be favorites going into next season not because they have good defenses — which they do — but because their offenses suddenly look explosive behind young quarterbacks.
A team still needs a good defense. The Ravens still needed a crucial stop at the end of the game in New Orleans to clinch their title. A poor defense gets you nowhere near a Super Bowl no matter what your offense is like (right, Saints?) But the days when a team can ride a defense practically alone to a title are long gone, like the 2000 Ravens did. The rules don’t allow it, and at some point, points are needed. These days, you need a championship offense to win a championship.
Tags: 49ers, Ravens, Seahawks, Super Bowl
Posted in Blog | 40 Comments »
The Super Bowl run-up this week — on both TV and in print — will be filled with a handful of the obvious stories this week: The last game for Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, and, with the 49ers becoming explosive on offense with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick, there will be plenty written and said about the read-option offense.
The conventional wisdom has long been that running quarterbacks will have a hard time having long-term success in the NFL. Defenders are faster and stronger in the pros than college. The chances of a quarterback getting hurt — and the chances that a coach wants to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get hurt — are high. Of course, that all got turned on its head this season, with Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson (to a lesser degree) all making the read-option incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses.
Where does it go from here?
It’s impossible to know for sure. I do know that defensive coordinators are going to have an entire offseason to prepare to defend it. If you are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who could/will see some version of it up to seven times in 2013 — the Niners twice, the Seahawks twice, the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Jake Locker) and Eagles (with new coach Chip Kelly) — you know the Cards are going to study the strengths and weaknesses carefully. There have been comparisons made to the Wildcat offense, and that version became a lot less effective the year after it hit the scene hard.
Then again, the Wildcat was done in a situation where the main ballhandler wasn’t a quarterback. The threat of the pass was only that, a threat. It wasn’t normal. That’s what makes the read-option so difficult, because the quarterback could instead fade for a quick throw. That’s why Kaepernick and Griffin and Wilson have been so good. It’s not because they run the ball well — although they do do that — but because they are accurate passers and can make defenses pay through conventional ways too. (In other words, Tim Tebow they are not.) As more and more college quarterbacks find ways to do both, it will inevitably find its way into the pro game.
Injury concerns are legitimate. The Redskins understand this. The more hits a QB takes, the more chance he gets hurt. Simple math. Maybe the success can be sustained on a football level, but on a player level, the quarterback won’t last as long. Or maybe the QB has to morph after a few years, like Michael Jordan went from going to the hoop every time into one of the best jump shooters. Pocket passers aren’t going away. It’s really about what the talent is coming from colleges and what coaches are willing to do to adapt. I doubt every team suddenly starts running the read-option, but I don’t see it going away.
Tags: 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, Eagles, Panthers, read-option, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Seahawks, Titans, Todd Bowles
Posted in Blog | 62 Comments »
The Cardinals, for a second straight season, played three of the teams in the NFL’s final four. It helps that division brother San Francisco has made it in, and the Cardinals had their trouble with the 49ers this season, whether Alex Smith was the quarterback or Colin Kaepernick was calling signals. The games against the other two opponents that have made it to the championship games went a little bit better. The trip to Atlanta was a loss, yes, but it should have been a win with the way the defense played that day, amid the controversy of the benching-Skelton-for-Lindley situation. Obviously, the trip to New England was the Cardinals’ signature victory of the season, complete with late-game dramatics and a heart-stopping ending.
(And a game that seems like it was four years ago, not four months ago.)
It’s the same 1-3 record the Cards had against final four opponents last season. It’s hard to make a lot of comparisons with the way those teams are playing now to when the Cards met them. Even though the 49ers last game before beating up the Packers Saturday night was against Arizona, the game plan devised by the Niners with Kaepernick looked so deadly the other day. The Cards didn’t play great in that finale, but Kaepernick at least didn’t look like a Hall of Famer like he did against Green Bay. The Patriots, who lost tight end Aaron Hernandez early that day against the Cards, have clearly smoothed out the offense. The Falcons just don’t scare anyone, even in their dome, and everyone seems to agree — the Niners are road favorites against the No. 1 seed, for goodness sake.
– In the head coach search, Jay Glazer reported the Cards want to talk to Broncos OC Mike McCoy for a second interview. He was interviewed in Denver the first time so you’d figure everyone would want to get him in the building so he could actually see the physical situation.
Tags: 49ers, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Falcons, Packers, Patriots
Posted in Blog | 29 Comments »
Next week, Ray Horton figures to get at least one if not several inquiries to interview for vacant head coaching jobs. He already had one last year – with the Rams – and as a minority candidate whose unit has played very good football this season, Horton figures to attract interest.
Horton didn’t want to necessarily go there today, his final day of meeting the media this season.
“I would say today I’m just trying to be the best D-coordinator in the league and I didn’t do it (this season),” Horton said. “We didn’t accomplish our goals. The rest of that stuff usually takes care of itself and usually teams that win more are rewarded that well.”
That said, when asked when he would know if he was ready for a head coaching job, Horton acknowledged, “A couple years ago – (although) you never know until you get there.”
Horton’s interview with the Rams reportedly went well and he had no reason to think he wouldn’t duplicate the feat. “I think if you are confident in what you do, every interview would be good,” he said. “I feel I’m prepared, smart, knowledgeable, humble and whatever goes with whatever that entails.”
None of that means Horton won’t be defensive coordinator in Arizona next year. A lot will happen across the league over the next few weeks. There is a lot of unknown about the Cards themselves. Horton said he isn’t thinking about that.
“All I know is I am going to San Francisco in the morning and I’m not going there to get any sourdough bread,” Horton said. “I’m going there to play a football game.”
– With left tackle Nate Potter upgraded to limited Friday and listed as questionable to play, we’ll see who gets the call at the spot – him or D’Anthony Batiste. You wonder how much the 49ers will work to get Aldon Smith the three sacks he needs to tie the NFL record in that stat, and you wonder if Brian Hoyer – who looks pretty aware in the pocket – can make a difference with his decision-making.
– It does help that the 49ers will be without DT Justin Smith, however.
– Horton said he thought the 49ers have changed their playcalling after installing Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback in place of Alex Smith.
“You don’t see as many shifts, as many extra linemen in the game,” Horton said. “(Kaepernick) adds an element to run the ball. It will be an interesting experiment to see what they think after the season is over.”
– In case you missed it, here’s the list of 2013 opponents for the Cards, home and away.
– Heading into the league’s final weekend, the Cardinals currently have the ninth pick in the first round of the draft. Given the matchups in the final game – and given the Cards’ fairly strong strength of schedule – it’s going to be difficult to move much higher if the team loses to the 49ers (a win would drop them mid-first-round. About 15 or 16, I would guess). There might be a chance to move to No. 7, realistically.
– Veteran defensive end Vonnie Holliday – who could be playing in his final NFL game Sunday as he contemplates retirement once again – has high hopes for a lot of the younger defenders on the Cardinals and what they can become.
One of those guys is nose tackle Dan Williams, about whom Holliday is bullish about his future.
“He can be one of the best nose guards in this league,” Holliday said. “Because of his athleticism, because of his size and strength. And now he’s become a student of the game.”
– For this week’s episode of “Season In Focus” (airing Saturday at 7 a.m. on ABC-15), there will be Adrian Wilson Wired, the best of Cardinals Chronicles for 2012, the best moments of the season at University of Phoenix Stadium, and a spotlight on record-breaking punter Dave Zastudil.
– I will admit I hope Daryl Washington can get his 10th sack.
– The Cardinals had all kinds of problems tackling the 49ers the last time they met, one of the reasons Smith’s 18-for-19 passing day turned so effective (232 yards, three touchdowns). Can’t have that happen again.
– The 49ers have a lot on the line. We’ll see if the Cardinals can mess with that at all.
Tags: 49ers, Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, D'Anthony Batiste, Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, draft, Justin Smith, Nate Potter, Ray Horton, Vonnie Holliday
Posted in Blog | 45 Comments »