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Cards will need hard look at receiving position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2017 – 12:08 pm

It’s hard not to notice, when you jump on the Cardinals’ stat page to see where Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers are and then the disparity with the rest of the receiving corps — a group that once again was expected to be a strength but like 2016, has not been. With two games left in the regular season, it is still the departed Andre Ellington (who was cut five games ago) second on the team with 33 catches. Fitzgerald’s 92 receptions is nine more catches than all the other wide receivers this season combined.

If David Johnson had been healthy all season, you’d expect a running back to be high on the receptions list, just like last year. But Johnson didn’t even make it through a game, and once he went down, the pressure went to the receivers to make up for it in the passing game. There are factors involved here — the pass protection has not been consistent, especially with all the injuries on the offensive line. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer only played half the season. But it’s clear that receiver — after only the QB spot and offensive line — will be a position of focus for General Manager Steve Keim this offseason.

Even if Fitzgerald comes back to play another season (which he has not said he will for sure yet), the Cardinals need to address wide receiver. John Brown and Jaron Brown will be unrestricted free agents. J.J. Nelson, who started strong and then struggled through inconsistency catching the ball, will be back. Chad Williams enters an important offseason after a nondescript rookie year. Brittan Golden, who is more important on special teams, has to heal from a broken arm and is also a free-agent-to-be.

After 2015, when the receiving unit was excellent and looked like it would be for a few years, the group hasn’t been the same. Losing Michael Floyd and having John Brown’s production fall off so precipitously has been a killer. Again, other spots will get more attention on offense. The quarterback thing has reached a critical point, and the long-term offensive line has to be found. But wide receiver will also be in the spotlight.


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Ellington lands in Houston

Posted by Darren Urban on November 22, 2017 – 9:19 am

Andre Ellington said goodbye after the Cardinals released him. Ellington was claimed off waivers by the Texans — the team the Cards just played, although Ellington didn’t see the field as a surprise inactive. There Ellington replaces D’Onta Foreman, who injured his ankle on his final touchdown run against the Cards. Ellington also gets to play with his cousin Bruce Ellington, a wide receiver on the Texans.

On Instagram, Ellington posted a farewell:

Special thanks to all my fans that supported me throughout my career in AZ. It’s been real! I truly enjoyed my journey as a Cardinal and playing in front of you guys. Unfortunately, some things must come to an end. To my teammates, best of luck and wish you nothing but success going forward. Much love!

 


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Foster in, Ellington sits, Stanton backs up

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2017 – 9:30 am

It turns out Drew Stanton is healthy enough to at least back up Blaine Gabbert today, and he will be active for the Cardinals against the Texans. In a surprising move, running back Andre Ellington is a healthy scratch — and former ASU star D.J. Foster will get his first chance to play this season. It’ll be an intriguing third-down possibility with Foster and the mobile Gabbert,

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams

— S Harlan Miller

— RB Andre Ellington

— LB Bryson Albright

— C Max Tuerk

— DL Corey Peters (ankle)


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Ellington, Dansby, Golden OK to play

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2017 – 12:36 pm

The Cardinals will have running back Andre Ellington back in the lineup today after he missed a game with a quad injury, as well as linebacker Karlos Dansby (finger/hamstring) and wide receiver Brittan Golden (groin). The latter helps make sure the receiving corps won’t be thin — and also helps on special teams. The full inactive list:

— WR Chad Williams (back)

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Scooby Wright

— C Daniel Munyer (toe)

— T Will Holden

— TE Ricky Seals-Jones

— DT Xavier Williams


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Ellington out against Rams, Nkemdiche will play

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2017 – 8:31 am

The Cardinals will have to do some offensive shuffling today in London, because running back Andre Ellington (quad) won’t be able to play. That should increase the role of Kerwynn Williams — D.J. Foster remains on the sideline as inactive. The good news is that defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is active, so he will finally return from his calf issue.

The weather, while chilly, also looks decent for this game. It is windy, which could impact things, but the moisture should stay away.

The full inactive list:

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— WR Chad Williams

— RB D.J. Foster

— RB Andre Ellington

— C Daniel Munyer

— DL Olsen Pierre

— TE Ricky Seal-Jones


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Keim: Managing the injuries

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2017 – 8:15 am

Sunday’s game wasn’t the textbook win, but Steve Keim doesn’t much care about that. “Anytime you can win a game ,it’s a positive,” the GM said Monday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “I would’ve preferred to win 38-10, but I think winning a game like this early in the season can do some things for your team internally to build confidence.”

The Cardinals are now 2-2, but Keim, once again could have a significant injury with which he has to deal. This time it’s linebacker Markus Golden, who is getting an MRI after hurting his knee. “I’m always fearful anytime a player can’t return to the game,” Keim said. “If I was going to bet on anyone, I would bet on Markus for two reasons. One he walked off the field and I’ve had two ACL (injuries) and I know what it’s like. And there’s no tougher player on our team in terms of playing through pain.”

UPDATE: Ian Rapaport is reporting that Golden is out for the season after tearing his ACL.

Still, Keim said it’s his job to have a “plan in place” if there is a player lost. Losing Golden would be a blow. Keim said it would be “hard to say” if left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) will be back this week. Guard Alex Boone (pectoral) might be ahead of schedule, Keim said, but he too is iffy.

— The Eagles are another team with a good pass rush and the fractured nature of the offensive line gives pause. The Cardinals managed to protect Carson Palmer pretty well in overtime Sunday as opposed to a rough afternoon the rest of the game. But Palmer was hit 16 times, which is way too many, and they have to find a way to drop that number.

— Keim wasn’t saying wide receiver John Brown, who is still dealing with the quad issue, is 100 percent healthy. But he “just brings another element to the offense that we’ve missed.” The question is how well Smoke bounces back. Brown played in the opener and found that his quad got worse. The Cardinals have to hope Brown can start playing every week.

— There was praise for Palmer — “Two weeks in a row Carson has played very, very well,” Keim said, but again, there is the obvious: Without better protection, Palmer’s success is somewhat limited.

— There were too many holding penalties on the offense, while the defense did some bend-but-not-break work to keep the Cards in it (and the way the Cards’ D performed in the fourth quarter was excellent, to force overtime.)

— Keim said running back Andre Ellington is playing with a lot of confidence, which isn’t  surprise given that Ellington is now healthy. “He is a natural fit in this offense, especially in the passing game,” Keim said.

— As for 11? “To finish is with a kiss by Larry Fitzgerald was special,” Keim said.


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Niners overtime aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2017 – 7:53 pm

Two overtime games, two wins. It’s not ideal, the way the games got to overtime, because in both cases the offense couldn’t score the kind of points that were expected against the competition – the 49ers gave up 41 to the Rams their last game before keeping the Cards out of the end zone all the way until the final play – but the Cardinals made it work in beating San Francisco, 18-15.

It was close. A 17-play field goal drive almost sapped all of the now-10-minute overtime period before the Cardinals could even get the ball. Thanks in large part because of the previous OT game at University of Phoenix Stadium – the 6-6 tie that ate up all 15 extra minutes last year – overtime was changed to 10 minutes. Bruce Arians, on the competition committee, was part of that, and don’t think it didn’t cross his mind as time ticked down.

“I was kicking my ass for bringing up this 10-minute overtime rule, but it worked out pretty good,” he said.

Things are not perfect. At this rate, Carson Palmer will not last the season getting hit so much. He was hit 16 more times Sunday, bringing his season total to 43, with 17 sacks.

“I’m tired, but hopefully we have a walkthrough Wednesday and we don’t have to practice,” Palmer said.

There were some key penalties too, ones that prevented the defense from getting off the field in overtime, especially. But there was an offense that was clicking in the extra frame, there was a Smokey Brown sighting, a Jaron Brown career-high 105 yards, and there was Fitz. And there was a win.

— There is no official update on linebacker Markus Golden and his knee injury, but it’s never a good sign to see a guy writhing around on the ground after it happens and then later getting up to walk off. That usually means the writhing was less about pain than anger about something bad, and multiple reports say it could be torn ligaments. We will see what happens. Carson Palmer talked about Kareem Martin getting his chance, and if Golden is down, Haason Reddick can play some rush linebacker too. But losing Golden, sackless but the team’s 2016 leader, would be a rough one.

— I was thinking John Brown’s two-toes-down OT catch in the end zone was going to be overturned.

— From my view, it sure seemed like the 49ers got very conservative in OT. I get it — the Cardinals had done little on offense, and you figure a field goal might be too much to overcome — but I thought the Niners should’ve gone for the kill. It end up biting them, especially when they were playing that prevent defense, for whatever reason.

— Andre Ellington did have a couple of drops, but he too had a TD-that-wasn’t that left Cardinals scratching their heads on the call, and he was huge in overtime. His catches on the first two plays, dump-and-runs gained 11 yards each and jump-started the offense.

— The Cards got good receiving production from both Ellington and Chris Johnson. Now they just need to get production in the running game.

— Fitzgerald ended the game with a game-winning touchdown. He began the game with a blocking assignment on rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, and it didn’t go well. Thomas belted Palmer on an incompletion.

“The first play, I felt so bad,” Fitzgerald said. “I had to block a defensive end and got him hit. I told him as soon as (I could), ‘Carson, I’m so sorry man. I’m sorry, man.’ ”

Understandable. That’s not why Fitz is out there. Asked why he was blocking Thomas, Fitz just said, “I don’t ask those questions.”

— Fitzgerald becomes the only player in NFL history with an overtime touchdown catch in both the regular season and the postseason.

— I want to go back at look at the video. I didn’t notice right tackle Jared Veldheer in a bad way as I had the previous two games. With the pressure Palmer was under, it doesn’t mean he was perfect. But I want to see him against the others across the line.

— Kicker Phil Dawson goes 4-for-4 on field goals. The Cards win. But he said it doesn’t make up for missing three field goals in the first three games. “There’s no getting those back,” Dawson said.

— Patrick Peterson had a big smile, telling me he was 8-0 in overtime, dropping last year’s tie with Seattle. Close, Patrick, but not quite. You’re forgetting the 2012 overtime loss to Buffalo, the game when Jay Feely booted a 61-yard field goal to tie it. Peterson is now 8-1-1 in 10 OT games since arriving with the Cards.

And the Cardinals are 2-0 this season, which keeps them breathing in the NFC West.


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A banged-up OL, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2017 – 4:03 pm

Well, this is where the Cardinals are. In a week in which Friday finally felt like the day where the offensive line wouldn’t be the major topic, it became the major topic. It’s not so much that Mike Iupati is likely headed for IR – he hadn’t been playing – but Alex Boone is also missing time and Bruce Arians was anything but clear about D.J. Humphries’ availability.

I mean, even OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin is working on the gallows humor. “I’m planning on suiting up sooner or later,” he said.

It’s not like the game is going to be canceled. If Humphries is in there, fine, but if he can’t go, it’s probable we’ll see rookie Will Holden in the lineup, with he and John Wetzel in some combo of guard/tackle on the left side. Not ideal, and that’s even if the right side of Evan Boehm and Jared Veldheer were playing well, which has not happened of late.

Carson Palmer played well last week. The Cards moved the ball. Offensively, with John Brown back to at least play a little, the Cards have some guys who can help gain yards. But the line has to keep Palmer upright. It’s not unfair to wonder how that can happen.

“As you saw, because (the media) was writing earlier in the season Carson doesn’t have it anymore, that’s not the issue,” Goodwin said. “As long as he is protected, the ball is going to come out, it’s going to go to the right place and we’re going to score points. If he’s not protected, we’re going to struggle.”

— Bruce Arians was asked, now that the Cards have been through a couple of games, when the offense most misses the injured David Johnson.

“Every play,” Arians said. “Either fake it to him hand it to him or throw it to him.”

Sounds about right.

— I am curious to see how Andre Ellington is deployed. Brown may be back and I expect J.J. Nelson to play, but both probably won’t be their explosive selves. Ellington is really that only guy right now.

— Having Larry Fitzgerald go deep for a couple of long passes Monday night was some excellent nostalgia. How much it can happen, realistically, is another story. It’s not so much Fitz can’t make the catch in traffic. You still trust him in jump ball situations. But Fitz’s ability to get down the field fast to be in position to try for one isn’t what it was, and with the problems with protection, can the Cards keep Palmer up long enough to get Fitz where he needs to be?

— Deone Bucannon won’t be playing all the time, not yet, but this is where we get to see how the Cardinals want to deploy him with Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby. I want to see the package – assuming there is one – that has both Bucannon and Reddick. DC James Bettcher said you don’t want to have too many specific packages, because it hampers the other nine or 10 players who would be on the field.

— Two numbers that, to me, are poison to the Cardinals right now: Allowing opponents to score TDs on 87 percent of red-zone visits, and averaging 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball. One on each side of the ball. They have to change.

— Don’t forget Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame bust will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday from 12-4 p.m. if you want to get a picture. Warner will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday’s game.

— Holden proposed to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line after the Monday night game.

“Football has been a big part of my life and a big part of her life now,” Holden said. “She’s been with me since day one at Vanderbilt. I felt like that was a special place.”

— See you Sunday. The Cardinals want to at least be .500 after the first quarter of the season. Even though the 49ers are 0-3, that’s not a lock.


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Seeking protection, and Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2017 – 11:28 pm

The lights came on, the tension seemed to be lifted once the Cardinals chose to lock arms and not kneel for the national anthem, and then Carson Palmer started dealing like it was 2015 again. The Cardinals made the Cowboys look pretty beatable in those first 15 minutes, and the Cards looked like a new team. But there was a missed field goal in there too, which wasn’t ideal, and like the Detroit game, it was a situation where the Cards should have been ahead by a lot more but weren’t.

When it was over, Dak Prescott showed why he’s already on the verge of quarterback stardom – as good as Ezekiel Elliott is, to me, there is no question who the guy is that will make the Cowboys a contender, and it’s all about the quarterback – and the Cards were left trying to figure out how to keep their own QB upright. According to Pro Football Focus, both tackles, Jared Veldheer and John Wetzel, gave up one sack and eight pressures.

Palmer said he held on to the ball too long a couple of times, and that is true. But the pocket is collapsing much too fast too often. “Block better,” was Bruce Arians’ response on improving the protection. And hey, Dan Dierdorf is not walking through that door.

“We only have seven guys out there, so they’re the only ones that can play,” Arians said.

D.J. Humphries is walking around a lot better so hopefully he has a chance to return this week against the 49ers. But Alex Boone got hurt late in the game, Palmer said (no word on what it is or severity), so the injury thing is still a thing.

— Chris Johnson did indeed get the start at running back. He could not find any room nor create anything, gaining just 17 yards on 12 carries. We will see what happens but Andre Ellington looked like the best back out there, and who knows? Maybe there will be a fourth different starter in four games next week. (My early guess is still CJ2K for another week, but we’ll see.) Still, Arians was asked if Ellington would get more touches next week.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said, after Ellington got 59 yards on five catches and 22 yards rushing (leading the team) on five carries.

— There was time to recover but the 15-play drive that ended with no points was a gut punch. You think you get a second Palmer-to-Jaron Brown TD pass but a Veldheer holding call wipes it out. (To be fair, I don’t know if Palmer is able to get outside the pocket to make the play without the hold, so it is what it is.) Then Phil Dawson misses another field goal inside 40 yards. A 14-0 lead would’ve been huge. Making sure Dawson gets right, quickly, is probably even more important.

— Patrick Peterson was targeted just once all night, according to Pro Football Focus, and none when he was guarding Dez Bryant. Peterson gave up a two-yard catch to Elliott.

— I was surprised Arians went for it on fourth down at the end of the game down 11 points. A field goal makes it eight points and you’ll have to get an onside kick regardless. That said, with the Cardinals at the Dallas 2 and their pass protection doing poorly, I can see the argument that you go for the TD being so close.

— You could tell J.J. Nelson wasn’t himself with the sore hamstring. He got a couple of late “go” routes and nearly had an incredible sideline catch. But when he couldn’t go deep, it hurts. Between the injured speed receivers and the pass protection problems, the Cards aren’t going to scare many teams down the field – even with Fitz making crazy jump-ball grabs.


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Defensive opportunity, Friday before the Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm

So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.

It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.

“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.

“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”

The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.

“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”

This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.

— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.

“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”

— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.

— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.

— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.

— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.

— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.

“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”

Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.

— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.

— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.

“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’

“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”

See you in Indy.


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