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All in on “All or Nothing”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2016 – 1:58 pm

It’s not “Hard Knocks,” and that’s something Bruce Arians insisted upon from the start. That’s why the coach always said he didn’t want to do the HBO training camp series, because of how it showed things like players being cut — a cold way to have someone’s professional life laid bare for the world to see. Michael Bidwill agreed, although both liked some of the things “Hard Knocks” did show, like the human side of players and coaches.

In a very general way, that’s how “All or Nothing,” the story of the 2015 Cardinals, came to be.

There are still a few weeks before the series is available on Amazon. July 1 is that date (if you didn’t already know), when all eight episodes will be there on demand for everyone to see. Want to binge? Go ahead. Want to space them out? Your call. Do you prefer to watch with your kids and have the sometimes harsh words of the NFL bleeped out? There will be both unrated and edited versions.

I have only seen one episode, the seventh that chronicled the win over the Packers in the playoffs. It was, as you can imagine in something put together by NFL Films, pretty epic. The original score — which has a main theme that can be heard during the Brentson Buckner portion of the trailer — is excellent. And even though you know what will happen, to see how the emotions flowed not just for the players but others (like Arians’ wife Chris) is simply riveting television.

A couple other thoughts I had about the series, based on what we saw:

— Buckner, who is a great quote and a colorful figure, sure seems like he is going to be one of the stars.

— It reminds you of who isn’t here anymore. Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson were so important to last year’s team and this will rightfully reflect that and it’s a little weird since they are no longer on the roster.

— Carson Palmer had said that even with the mics and cameras Arians “was still B.A.” all last season and, yes, that was apparent.

— Crazy to think defensive coordinator James Bettcher specifically talked to the team about defending an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary before the game, and yet Rodgers still pulled one off.

I’m looking forward to seeing the whole series. I’m guessing it will live up to the hype.


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NBC Emmy after Cardinals-Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on May 10, 2016 – 10:04 pm

Awards are handed out in many professions. As someone who has written for a living, I always thought there was one simple truth to such awards — it starts with the subject. You can write the heck out of a story, but if the subject wasn’t interesting to begin with, it’s tough to make it so.

Tuesday night the annual Sports Emmys were handed out, and the Cardinals found themselves mentioned. NBC won the Emmy for Outstanding Playoff Coverage after its broadcast of the Cardinals-Packers divisional playoff game. NBC did a great job that night, obviously, but the story — including Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary miracle and then Larry Fitzgerald’s own electrifying catch-and-run — was certainly interesting to begin with.


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Cardinals-Packers called best game of 2015

Posted by Darren Urban on April 8, 2016 – 1:16 pm

NFL.com and the NFL Network compiled a ranking of the top 20 games of the 2015 season, and the Cardinals were part of the game picked as the best.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Divisional playoff game between the Cards and Packers earned the top spot, although it took the Cards allowing an emotionally crushing Hail Mary to get there. It was played less than three months ago, so it’s not hard to remember the highlights, like Michael Floyd’s rebound TD catch, the Aaron Rodgers miracle and, of course, Larry being Larry. (I have to admit thought I had forgotten about Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard interception return that would have been legendary itself had it not been called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty). A truly classic game with many twists and a heckuva ending.

The Cardinals actually appear on the top 20 list two other times. Their 24-22 home loss to the Rams, when Todd Gurley broke out for the first time, was No. 20. The Cards’ big win in Seattle, capped by Andre Ellington’s TD run, was picked as No. 12.


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Packers aftermath, heading to NFC title game

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2016 – 1:09 am

Where to begin.

Let’s start here: I can’t recall a crazier ending for the Cardinals. Ever. That playoff win against the Packers back in the 2009 season was back-and-forth too, wild swings of emotion, but that was simply offensive football played at an incredibly high level. I’m not sure exactly what Saturday night was.

There was one guy playing at a high level. It was Larry Fitzgerald, and that’s the best place to start. I think Fitz had already made a strong Hall of Fame case. But what he did Saturday, basically jump-starting a moribund Cardinals offense by himself, and then making that play in overtime to race 75 yards and set up the (well, his) game-winning touchdown. I know there isn’t much more to be said about Fitz that hasn’t already been said, but Saturday night? That’s how legends are made. They are made with epic playoff performances like Fitz had in the 2008 Super Bowl run, and they are made with 176 yards on eight catches in a dramatic overtime win against the Packers to put your team in the NFC Championship.

— Next, Carson Palmer. It wasn’t Palmer’s best game. During the game there were plenty in the Twitterverse that blamed Palmer’s issues with his Bengals background. There is no question Palmer was off at times and that end zone interception was, in a word, terrible. You can’t do that in that situation.

But Palmer bounced back as Bruce Arians always says he does. He was under more pressure than the Cardinals can afford to let him be under – the Packers had the better pass rush this time around. And the way Palmer miraculously spun out of what should have been a sack and somehow found Fitz on the 75-yard play was as critical and clutch as Fitzgerald’s effort on the other end.

— Palmer gets his first playoff win. It wasn’t perfect, but who cares? Not Palmer, that’s for sure.

— The first person in the end zone after Fitz’s TD to congratulate Fitz was former teammate-turned-scout Adrian Wilson. A great moment.

— Speaking of Wilson, he stood next to Justin Bethel tucked in Bethel’s locker after the game, quietly talking to the cornerback for a long time. I would guess it was words of encouragement after some tough moments for Bethel, not the least of which being Jeff Janis getting behind him to convert that fourth-and-20 play at the end of the game.

— The game was so nuts that the touchdown pass to Michael Floyd that was intended for Fitz, deflected high into the air and toward the back of the end zone, over the head of another Packer and Jaron Brown, is a footnote.

— Floyd, about that play: “I think God was on our side on that one.”

— Here’s a new one: Patrick Peterson was sitting on the floor in the locker room having athletic trainer Michael Blankenship remove tape off his ankle, when a reporter wandered over to ask him a question. Soon, Peterson was surrounded by media – so he sat on the floor, outstretched legs in front of him, propped up by his arms, doing his entire media session.

— Linebacker Kevin Minter, on watching Fitz tonight: “That’s that guy I watched growing up.”

— The Cardinals blitzed Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary. They did it from his right so he couldn’t roll into his power. And he still escaped and flung a great pass so his guy would have a chance. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the other guy. I’m guessing the Packers – after the hurt wears off – will do that with Fitz. And you have to do it to Rodgers.

— Sure, the Cardinals could have run the ball on second down, right before the two-minute warning and their final field goal. They could’ve burned up another 35 or 40 seconds. But Arians went for the kill. “I play to win,” Arians said. No risk it, no biscuit. I’m sure there are those who have issues with the call, but folks, if you are following/rooting for this team, this is what you signed up for.

— I could write more, but it’s time to go home. Got to get some sleep so that I’m up in time for Seattle-Carolina. It’s on to the NFC Championship.


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Mixed messages from the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 9:49 am

At this point, it’s become clear that, at least publicly, no one is expecting a score in Saturday’s playoff game like the first time the Cardinals beat the Packers. Still, it was weird to hear complete opposite notions come from the Packers in the last couple of days.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday: “We’re no underdog going to Arizona. I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday: “We’re going in as the underdogs. We’re going to be loose and ready to go, and it’s going to be their stadium, it’s going to be rocking, but the pressure’s going to be on them.”

Technically, the Packers are the underdog. The point spreads say so, the circumstances say so (the Cards are at home, they had a better regular season, yada, yada, yada.) But what does all the Pack talk mean? It means the talk leading up to a game doesn’t really mean much. The Cardinals have been consistent in saying the Packers are a different team than the first time they met, but other than a couple of injury situations, that’s not true. The Cards still have a deeper roster. The Packers might be playing better, but the sample size — one game — is awfully small.

The Cardinals will have pressure on them. When you are 13-3, you are expected to win at least one playoff game. But it’s not like they are playing, say, the Bears. They are playing a team with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a fan base that has such high expectations that some were wondering if the Packers needed a coaching change this season — a season in which the Packers won 10 games. At this point, pressure is everywhere.


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Packers aftermath, now with more sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2015 – 8:54 pm

The last time the Packers played in Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. It only made sense that this time the Packers came to Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. Actually, two. And actually, that’s the only thing those two games had in common.

That game long ago was seemingly who was going to have the ball last because Rodgers and Kurt Warner were so excellent that day (kinda ironic it ended on a defensive stop, so …) Sunday wasn’t that. Sunday was Cardinals’ domination, the kind of game that has to make any team that has to come to Arizona in the playoffs pause.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald both said they don’t think the Cardinals are peaking, and that’s in part because they would rather the team peak in about three or four weeks, when the playoffs begin. But the Cards were pretty good against an admittedly banged-up Packers team (although with the Cards without Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson, sympathy wasn’t forthcoming) and don’t have a whole lot of complaints.

Now, next week is going to be interesting. The NFL officially moved the Panthers-Bucs game to a late kickoff, matching it with the Cardinals, so the Cards can’t just base their playing time on the Panthers outcome (A Panthers loss and Cards win and the Cardinals are the No. 1 seed.) Meanwhile, you don’t know what the Seahawks are going to do. Do they definitely want to escape the sixth seed, which is still possible? The difference between going to frigid Minnesota/Green Bay or Washington in that case might mean something to the Seahawks.

So much to consider.

— There seemed to be a lot of concern about the right index finger (wrapped, as you can see below) of Palmer that was jacked up in Philly. He only missed one play, but some thought it was going to be an issue. Didn’t look like it to me.

— The Cardinals now have 57 touchdowns this season, soaring past the franchise record of 53 set in 1948. So, so many touchdowns.

— How’s this for interesting: With their nine-sack game Sunday, the Cardinals have 35 on the season – the same number as the Seahawks. The teams are tied with the Eagles for 14th in the league. The Cards are tied with Denver for fourth in scoring defense, at 18.5 points a game.

— Veteran DT Cory Redding couldn’t get to the end zone in Detroit, getting tackled after an interception after a 30-yard return down to the Lions 4. After he picked up a Packers fumble Sunday at the 36, it wasn’t going to happen again.

“I would not be denied,” Redding said. “My boys and teammates gave me a hard time the first time. Letting the quarterback tackle you, blah, blah, blah.

“I picked up the ball and tried to go as far as I could. I had a nice little convoy. (Packers RB Eddie) Lacy tried to (get me), I didn’t even know it was him. I just shoved off somebody and kept running.”

— Crazy Palmer numbers: He is now 29-8 as a starter for the Cardinals, and 26-4 in his last 30 starts. Quite a happy birthday for a guy who turned 36 Sunday.

— It was funny to see Larry Fitzgerald dress so quickly Sunday to try and do his interview at the podium. Usually Fitz is among the last but he wanted to get out of there. He was ready to go after Calais Campbell – except Dwight Freeney already thought he was next. Freeney, told he was going to go after Fitz, fixed that quickly. He pulled rank, telling Fitz he was older. So Freeney went first, and Fitz sat in the corner waiting, legs out like he was a kid waiting for his mom to finish shopping.

— Freeney has had three sacks in a game six times before Sunday, but Sunday was the first time since 2006.

— In three seasons, Bruce Arians – after taking out the Packers Sunday — has already beaten every NFC team at least once.

— Many asked during the game if David Johnson was hurt. He was not. He came out because of the big lead and Andre Ellington’s need to work. Arians said Johnson is fine.

— The amazing touchdown-to-punt ratio stat held up for another week. The tally now is 57 touchdowns for the Cardinals this season, and 55 punts. It’s hard to fathom if the Cardinals can make that hold up through the season finale.


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Game day is here

Posted by since1898 on August 9, 2013 – 11:45 am


BACK TO #since1898

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Friday before the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2012 – 4:16 pm

I always love when the Cardinals play the Packers because their game notes – fitting a team that’s been around for so long and is steeped in tradition – carry the name “The Dope Sheet,” a phrase directly out of the 1920s. The Packs’ explanation:

Two years after he co-founded the Packers with Curly Lambeau, George Calhoun began writing a piece called The Dope Sheet, which served as the official press release and game program from 1921-24.

Need any Packers’ info? Check The Dope Sheet. This week it has a lot of information about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is arguably the best in the NFL right now. I think he’d have my vote. If he had a healthy receiving corps this would be a monster task for the Cardinals Sunday. He doesn’t, and that does leave some room for a Cardinals’ team that needs a win. The bye comes after this week for coach Ken Whisenhunt’s crew, and while it would have been great to have it exactly at the halfway point in the schedule, if the Cards can steal one at Lambeau Field before getting some down time, that wouldn’t be too bad.

Here’s some more of my own Cardinals’ dope:

— Defensive coordinator Ray Horton spoke Friday, and a few questions in – and indirectly, since the question that spurred his answer was about clamping down in the red zone – he got to the heart of what he considered the matter.

“I’m surprised the first question wasn’t ‘What happened against San Francisco?’ Tackling,” Horton said. “They threw a number of balls that were short of the first-down marker and we missed tackles and they scored. That’s it. There’s nothing wrong schematically. We have to make the play in front of us. All (of Alex Smith’s) yardage was missed tackles. We had guys in position to make tackles and we didn’t.”

Certainly that’s something that can’t happen against the Packers, although Rodgers and Green Bay tend to throw the ball further down the field in the first place.

— Horton did say the Cards, as much as they could in an NFL world where practice contact is relatively limited, worked on tackling this week.

“An old sage, (Steelers DC) Dick LeBeau, said (tackling) is just want-to,” Horton said. “Guys on this level understand technique and what they are supposed to do. Sometimes it’s ‘I’m going to get this guy on the ground and nobody else.’ Losing four games is disappointing but I was disappointed how we performed tackling San Francisco 49ers.”

— Running back Beanie Wells is supposed to be able to start practicing next week, although because of the bye week, I’d guess he’d start slow. The Cardinals will be limited as it is, with practices scheduled only for Tuesday and Wednesday before getting a few days off. That doesn’t surprise me, given how beat up the roster is. This is a later bye than the Cards have had recently. A break will do some good.

— Daryn Colledge said Packers’ DC Dom Capers will be “out for blood,” which doesn’t sound good when it comes to holding up against the pass rush but could create some lanes for Larry Fitzgerald. Of late, teams have rushed only four or even three, knowing they can get pressure and yet have a bunch of guys for coverage. If the Packers blitz sometimes, you figure there will be more chances for Fitz. But they have to convert.

— It’s the flip side of only nine rushing attempts for seven yards, which is what the Cards ended up with against the 49ers (second fewest rushing yards in a game ever, behind the minus-1 the Cards had against the Giants in 1953), but quarterback John Skelton set personal highs in both attempts (52) and completions (32) last weekend. Obviously, in an ideal world, the Cards won’t have to pass as much.

— The Packers already have their inactive list practically done. Six guys are already listed as out, five of whom are starters – Jennings, Woodson, Kuhn, Perry and Shields. With Jennings already sidelined, the Pack also probably won’t have receiver Jordy Nelson, who didn’t practice all week with a bad hamstring (and with the Packers’ bye waiting too for extra rest.)

— That’s why the Cards need to make sure tight end Jermichael Finley doesn’t go off. Finley hasn’t been the same player since erupting on the Cardinals back in the playoff game of the ages. The Pack are trying to remind him he can be that guy.

— Comon, Money Mike. How about creating some deja vu?

— A gut prediction: Fitz gets 100 yards this week.

— With a road game in a tough place, it’s not difficult to imagine a good start would be a replication of what the Cards did in New England. They only got a field goal on their opening drive, but they ate up clock and took the crowd out of it early. That would be ideal at Lambeau.

So would finding a win. Somehow.

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An equation for sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2012 – 10:54 am

The math seems pretty simple.

The Cardinals and Packers are currently tied for the NFL lead with 26 sacks each, and each have a dynamic linebacker who is leading the way (Daryl Washington has eight for the Cardinals, Clay Matthews has nine for the Packers). On the flip side, while it’s known around these part the Cardinals have surrendered the most sacks while on offense (39), the Packers have allowed the second-most sacks (28).

“(The Cardinals) have a have a uniqueness to their pressure in that their interior three guys are all very good pass rushers, which you don’t always see in a 3-4,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and certainly it seems that Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett can create more havoc than most 3-4 ends. “This is a unique challenge because it’s a defense that kind of throws a different pressure package at you, so it’s been an intense week of preparation.”

Given all that, it would sure seem like the team that can best protect its quarterback Sunday would gain an advantage. It may not be easy. It also isn’t a surprise to note both teams have had trouble running the ball this season, another way opposing teams can amp up its pass rush — knowing a pass is coming. Of course, in this matchup, props must also belong to defenses that know how to get to a passer. The Cards and coordinator Ray Horton can bring pressure from a lot of different places, and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers can do the same.

“Dom is one of those guys who wants blood,” said Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge, a former Packer. “He’s got a couple of guys who can rush the passer and the way we are doing pass pro right now, I’d assume those guys want to rush the passer too.”

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As Fitz is declared top 10 (seventh, actually)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 27, 2012 – 3:24 pm

The NFL Network’s summer tour of the top 100 players — as chosen by a vote of players — wraps up tonight. Somewhere in the final 10, Larry Fitzgerald will have his named called.

(The show airs at 5 p.m. Arizona time. And I am sure we will have Fitz’s segment available on the site soon after. … And here it is.)

Last year, Fitz was No. 14. Where will he be in a couple of hours? Don’t know. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis remain. I will be interested where Fitz is in relation to Johnson. Something tells me that could get the fans riled up. I already know — since I watched it unfold on Twitter — that people aren’t thrilled Calais Campbell/Adrian Wilson/Darnell Dockett didn’t make the list. Only Patrick Peterson will join Fitz.

Is Campbell or one of the others one of the current 100 best players in the league? An argument can be made, sure. I don’t know how many players participated in the voting, but someone came up with this list. (I mean, is Eli Manning really only the 31st best player? Worse than James Harrison? Or Wes Welker? Um, no.) This is about talking about the NFL in the deadest time of the NFL calendar, however. Don’t ever forget that. Lists are popular to make because they generate such conversation. And we are certainly talking about it, right?

UPDATE: Fitz was seventh. Calvin Johnson was third, behind Rodgers and Brees. Said Fitz on Twitter, “Honored 2 b voted a top 10 player by my peers. Congrats 2 all others. I will continue striving 4 perfection. 6 spots 2 go. #FaithFocusFinish

UPDATE, THE SEQUEL: Fitz had an even longer — and poignant — response on Facebook:

“Having been voted a Top 10 NFL player for the 2012 season is a cherished honor because the selection was made by my peers, and a player can have no greater accolade nor satisfaction than knowing that those he lines up against for 60 minutes every week value to the highest degree his talent, competitiveness, effort, productivity and achievement.

“I’ve completed 8 NFL seasons, & while I am somewhat satisfied with personal achievements, I have come close only once to achieving the ultimate team goal.

“Being a productive WR is no longer enough. I’ve grown into a position of leadership as a Cardinals team captain and have tried to expand my role as a mentor and example for our core of young players.

“My sincere hope is that we can get back to the playoffs on a regular basis and become Super Bowl Champions.

“Our team was 2minutes away from that goal on February 4, 2009, and similarly, my 7th rank of NFL top players leaves room for improvement.

“I will strive as always to expand my role and contributions to team success, be as productive as possible,and win a Championship…..”

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