The past is the past, and each team is different, and I get that. Matthew Stafford isn’t the same guy who was benched the last time the Cardinals visited Detroit in 2015, and that’s not just because he got a new mega-contract. The Cardinals aren’t the same team that floundered disappointingly in 2016.
But the past still can be fun to revisit. The last time the Cards opened up in Detroit was a memorable one for me. That was the day Anquan Boldin burst on the scene with his 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, back in 2003. How about you, Tyrann Mathieu? Do you have a memorable opening game at any point in your life?
“I always think about my rookie season and nobody thought I was going to be able to play, and I go ahead and make that big-time play against St. Louis,” Mathieu said. “That was one of those special moments for me.”
See, that moment, to me, does have some bearing. That Mathieu that burst on the scene in 2013? That Mathieu who dominated in 2015? That’s the guy we’ve been seeing in camp and the preseason. He’s a big reason why there is optimism about this defense. Sometimes, you look backward to see what is coming. With the Badger, that seems fitting as the Cardinals finally get started in the regular season.
— To me, the keys Sunday are fairly simple. Offensively, can you allow Carson Palmer to have time to throw the ball down the field once in a while, protecting against an at-best average pass rush? I know John Brown keeps saying he’s not totally healthy, but I think Smoke is healthy enough to make at least some sort of impact.
— Defensively, it’s that defensive line. If I had to guess, I’d guess Robert Nkemdiche wouldn’t play, but we are still two days away. In the end, with seven defensive linemen, at least one is probably inactive every week anyway, and I just don’t think they’ll risk Nkemdiche coming back too fast when there is confidence in the other guys. That said, they have to hold up. This defense has the pass rushers. They definitely have the playmakers in the secondary. But to get there, you have to lock down the run, something this defense has done well the last couple of years.
— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, on newcomer Alex Boone – who was a right guard those years in San Francisco when playing with old/new teammate Mike Iupati, and then went to the left side after Iupati came to Arizona: “We all know that’s Mike’s position,” Goodwin said with a chuckle. “Kind of funny, I was talking to Mike, he said, ‘Alex called and he wants to come here but he’s not playing left.’ ”
Reminded me of Evan Boehm insisting he wasn’t going to be displaced on the right side either.
— Goodwin said Boone fits the Cardinals’ style, but “you know I don’t like anybody,” he added. “That’s just my nature. I won’t like anybody until I’m standing on the podium holding a Super Bowl trophy. Then I’ll start liking guys.”
— The Lions have a pair of former Cardinals tight ends. Darren Fells is there as a starter, a guy who will try and get going again after having a disappointing 2016 in Arizona, which is one reason the team let him leave in free agency. The Lions also signed Hakeem Valles to the practice squad this week. Any little edge, right?
— Speaking of tight ends, Goodwin chuckled again when asked if the tight ends would be more involved in the passing game. (In my opinion, I wouldn’t hold your breath.) Goodwin knows Jermaine Gresham got a big contract, and Troy Niklas has looked solid and stayed healthy. But as he as mentioned before, from a long ago warning from Arians in a meeting, “We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) a whole lot of money.”
— Stafford’s numbers since being benched in Week 5 against the Cardinals in 2015: 50 touchdown passes, only 15 interceptions, 67 percent completions and a 99.1 quarterback rating. Also, in what is coincidence, but take it for what it is worth, that 2015 Detroit game was a late kickoff – 4 p.m. locally, 1 p.m. in Arizona. It wasn’t early, like Sunday’s will be.
— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, like the other coaches, is convinced Justin Bethel has earned that starting job. The reason, among others, is that health allowed him to practice.
“When you are finally healthy, and you get a whole offseason to work your craft, it does wonders how you progress as a player,” Bettcher said.
— Fitzgerald needs 82 yards receiving to become only the fifth player to have 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over a career in season openers. The fabulous four so far? Don Maynard, Andre Reed, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.
— Finally, back to Mathieu. One of the things the Cardinals lost last year when the Honey Badger was not Badgeriffic went beyond dynamic play in the secondary. It lost an emotional jet engine, which Mathieu simply couldn’t be when he isn’t playing like he knows he can. That component is back.
“I try to feel out games,” Mathieu said. “Some games I won’t say a word. Other games I’m pretty well vocal. I won’t know until I actually get to game day.”
It’s meaningful. Said Patrick Peterson, “He finds ways to pass his energy to his teammates.”
See you Sunday. The regular season is here.
Tags: Alex Boone, Andre Reed, Anquan Boldin, Carson Palmer, Don Maynard, Evan Boehm, Harold Goodwin, Jermaine Gresham, Jerry Rice, John Brown, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Lions, Mike Iupati, Rams, Randy Moss, Robert Nkemdiche, Troy Niklas, Tyrann Mathieu
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All along, Steve Keim fretted about offensive line depth beyond sixth-man John Wetzel. So Tuesday, he made a big move to settle such feelings by getting veteran guard Alex Boone on one of those patented one-year contracts he has worked so well. That doesn’t mean Boone will definitely pay off. While many of these deals have worked out (Winston, Cromartie, Freeney, Dansby-in-2013-and-maybe-2017), some haven’t. Sean Weatherspoon didn’t. Evan Mathis — the veteran guard added last year — didn’t.
But unlike Mathis, who was signed to be the starter and when he broke down it was trouble, Boone shows up with the offensive line already set. Is Evan Boehm proven at right guard? No. But he has been there all offseason and all training camp and preseason and I can’t see the Cards making a dramatic move three days before the opener. (Mike Iupati, on the left side, did practice Monday so it looks like he will be ready for the Lions Sunday.)
If Boehm struggles, though, Boone is there to step in if needed. The Vikings were going to keep him had he taken a paycut. He didn’t so they cut him. But it’s not as if they were going to cut him outright. We’ll see what Boone got from the Cards, but Keim usually gets guys at this point at the price he wants. Boone knows the Cards well, having played against them for many years with the 49ers (and even last year while with the Vikings.) He had many a battle with Calais Campbell. Who knows, maybe he’ll battle Campbell again when the Jaguars come to town.
In the meantime, the Cards have shored up the offensive line, with Keim wanting to make sure if there are more OL injuries — like 2016 — the Cardinals are in the best position to weather such a storm.
Tags: Alex Boone, Calais Campbell, Evan Boehm, Evan Mathis, offensive line
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When Steve Keim was named general manager of the Cardinals, he pointed to a pair of moments that went through his head that were driving forces in motivating him in his new job. One was the feeling he had standing on the turf at University of Phoenix Stadium after the Cards won the 2008 NFC Championship game, being showered by we’re-going-to-the-Super-Bowl confetti. The other was the feeling he had standing under the gloomy Seattle sky late last season as the Cardinals were getting run over by the Seahawks, 58-0.
No team in the NFL should ever endure a game like that. When it does, it signals that there is much more wrong than just a talent difference. It also tends to leave a bad taste, although for the most part, the Cardinals shrugged it off this week. Center Lyle Sendlein didn’t have much reaction, although he pointed out he was injured by that point in the season and absent. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was blunt: “Different team, different year. That’s ancient history.”
Indeed, many on the roster not only didn’t play in that game but weren’t even members of the Cardinals. The coaching staff has turned over almost completely. With the Cardinals playing the Seahawks tomorrow night for the first time since then, it doesn’t mean it isn’t remembered this week at all by the Cards still left. But it doesn’t seem to be some major rallying cry either.
“Not a lot of guys were here to experience it,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We brought it up one time in a team breakdown (post-practice) this week and we left it at that. Guys know the magnitude of this game.”
— Turnovers have been brutal for the Cards – eight of them in the three losses – and Bruce Arians certainly hasn’t been happy with it. How to fix it? “Quit doing it,” Arians said. “Hold on to the damn ball and quit throwing it to the other team. It’s really simple. It plagues some teams and right now it’s plaguing us and we have to fix it.”
Arians knows he’s stating the obvious, but especially with the fumbles, he really does believe it’s that simple. Cutting down Carson Palmer’s interceptions is more complicated, especially since Arians said because Fitzgerald has been limited in practice so much because of his hamstring problems “the timing that we had earlier in the season is gone.”
— The drives from the 49ers’ games were still bothering both Cardinals’ coordinators this week – for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, it was the failed drive on which Fitzgerald fumbled. For defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, it was the San Francisco possession right after that fumble that lead to the game-sealing touchdown.
“Man, I just feel personally, had we just scored on that second (third-quarter) drive, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Goodwin said. “We had our mojo. Anytime you turn the ball over you lose momentum and you put your defense in a bad situation. If we could just stop turning it over. You can see the development of our offense coming along. We just have to stop killing ourselves.”
Bowles said his unit’s problem was that suddenly, players started trying to do way too much and overcompensated in the idea of making a big play and ending the drive. So players were out of position and the Niners ran it right down the field.
“Guys trying to make a play and going over the top or going underneath to do something they didn’t need to do,” Bowles said. “Opening things up and we couldn’t get off the field.”
— Fines from last week’s games don’t usually get confirmed until Fridays, but a couple of players involved apparently spoke up. Mike Jurecki reported that nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was fined $10,000 for kicking 49ers guard Alex Boone, while Matt Maiocco reported Boone was dinged $7,875 after swiping at Ta’amu before the kick.
— Hard to believe the last time the Seahawks visited, Russell Wilson was quarterbacking his first NFL game. He’s built quite a résumé in a very short period of time.
— Rookie Andre Ellington is averaging 7.04 yards per carry, best among NFL running backs with at least 25 carries this season.
— I think it’d be an upset if Calais Campbell doesn’t play. I think he’s fine and his scare from last weekend won’t impact his play. Which is a good thing. Campbell always plays well against the Seahawks and the Cards need him.
— The Cardinals haven’t won a division game since beating the Seahawks here last season in the opener. However this game turns out will influence greatly how this season plays out for the Cards.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Alex Boone, Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Russell Wilson, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Todd Bowles
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