Here’s one benefit of playing the Lions and Bears in back-to-back weeks: The blueprint was already there for the defense, after covering Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, to deal with the Bears’ Brandon Marshall. Johnson has been a beast this season, no question, but Marshall has been fairly beastly himself, with 107 catches, 1,398 yards and 10 touchdowns already himself.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Cards will necessarily give Marshall the “vice” look they gave Johnson at times last week – when Johnson was in the slot, safety Kerry Rhodes and cornerback William Gay would basically double-team him at the line, like Johnson was a gunner on punt coverage. But who knows? We could see it again. It’ll be fun to watch this defense regardless, against a struggling offensive line and against a quarterback who has shown he can be harassed into bad decisions.
— We do know we’ll see Patrick Peterson on Marshall , as Peterson keeps making his late-season push. I don’t think he’s getting double-digit picks, but he’s closer than I thought he’d get earlier in the season. He also talked a little this week about his confidence which is obvious.
“All the good corners have confidence in their ability to go out and make plays for their team,” Peterson said. “I believe the confidence started in high school. It was something my Dad always instilled in me growing up – ‘Always be confident in your ability, confident in what you are doing at all times.’ Not cocky. There is definitely a difference.
“I’m not a guy who’s going to go out and boast and brag about my ability, but if I feel like I am doing something better than another guy or doing something at the top level, I’ll definitely let you guys know.”
Peterson added, in a question about whether he was the best in the game, “I believe I am playing at a top level right now.”
— Both Rashad Johnson (hamstring) and James Sanders (calf) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday for the first time this week. Both are questionable. I would guess at least one will play Sunday, if not both, but starter Adrian Wilson could get more playing time, defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.
“There’s never been a question of Adrian’s ability,” said Horton, although Wilson has lost snaps since the bye. Horton said Friday part of the reason for that was to reward the good play of Johnson and Sanders.
Nevertheless, Wilson understands – as do many – there is a chance this could be Wilson’s final home game Sunday, with his future with the team murky right now. Horton was asked about calling the blitz last weekend that got Wilson the sack he needed to reach the 25-25 club.
“I was aware of where he was in the (historical rankings) in the league and it was a perfect opportunity to do it,” Horton said. “It was kind of called for him.”
— If the Cardinals win Sunday, it will be Ken Whisenhunt’s 50th victory as Cardinals’ head coach including playoffs.
— Given the problems with the Bears’ offensive line and the way the 49ers play offense, this might be the week linebacker Daryl Washington wants to get that elusive 10th sack of the season. Time is running out for him to his double-digits.
— Nothing official, but yes, I expect the roof open Sunday.
— Don’t know what’s going to happen with quarterback Brian Hoyer. I still think he ends up active in one of the final two games, if not both. Does that mean he plays? Not necessarily. Whisenhunt made it plain he wouldn’t change things up and jeopardize winning just to look at Hoyer, so my guess would be if a game got out of hand, then he might be willing to test-drive the new guy. But again, he’s got to be active for that to happen. Which likely means John Skelton would be made inactive.
— While Sunday’s game doesn’t kick off until 2:25 p.m., the plaza at University of Phoenix Stadium will open early, at 10:45 a.m., so fans can get through screening. The stadium still does not open until 90 minutes prior to kickoff for non-premium seat holders, but food and beverage options will be available on the plaza, in addition to entertainment at Gate 2. Anyone with food or beverage purchased on the plaza can bring it into the stadium when the doors open.
We come to the end of another home schedule. Seems like we were just showing up for that Seahawks game in early September. Back then, Ryan Williams, Kevin Kolb and Lyle Sendlein were still around (playing, I mean) and so were hopes for the season. Now the Cards just want to finish above .500 at UoP.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bears, Brandon Marshall, Brian Hoyer, Calvin Johnson, Daryl Washington, James Sanders, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, William Gay
Posted in Blog | 14 Comments »
Two of the four players in NFL history who have four punt return touchdowns in a season will be returning punts Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I think it’s going to be fun, having Devin Hester on one end and Patrick Peterson on the other,” Peterson said. “I believe that calls for a good show.”
Whether it actually produces anything remains to be seen. Both Peterson and Hester have been quiet this season on punt returns. Hester has averaged just nine yards on 34 tries, with a long of 44. His average is well below his career average of 12.3 yards a return. Peterson, of course, has also been slowed. He has an average of 8.6 yards on 47 tries (and has lost three fumbles). Neither Peterson or Hester has a touchdown this season.
Peterson has talked a few times about trying to break out on punt returns. But he is playing well at cornerback, and the always confident Peterson will not sway from his belief the big punt return will still come.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day the Arizona Cardinals drafted me to be a defensive back. The punt returns are a plus. When my opportunities comes, I will try my best and I want to break one. But teams now are so dialed in, when (number) 21 has the ball in his hands, bottle him up on the sideline and if you don’t, have all 11 hats to the ball.”
— Wide receiver Early Doucet (concussion) and newcomer offensive lineman Mike Gibson (calf) — who apparently got hurt in practice this week after re-signing — are both out Sunday. The Cardinals have a bunch of players questionable, although both safeties Rashad Johnson and James Sanders were upgraded to limited Friday. In addition to those two, the questionable list includes T Nate Potter, FB Anthony Sherman, LB Quentin Groves, TE Rob Housler, DE Ronald Talley and NT Dan Williams.
The Bears will be without LB Brian Urlacher. DT Henry Melton is doubtful. Questionable are NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings, LB Blake Costanzo, WR Earl Bennett and T Jonathan Scott.
Tags: Anthony Sherman, Bears, Dan Williams, Devin Hester, Early Doucet, James Sanders, Mike Gibson, Nate Potter, Patrick Peterson, Quentin Groves, Rashad Johnson, Rob Housler, Ronald Talley
Posted in Blog | No Comments »
The playoffs are a long-ago dream, but the Cardinals still can have a hand in it. This week, the Bears — reeling as they are — come to town losers of 5 of their last six after a 7-1 start. Once the playoffs seemed a foregone conclusion. But if Minnesota pulls off an upset in Houston in an early game Sunday, then the Cardinals would eliminate the Bears from the postseason if they can beat Jay Cutler’s crew.
“In order for us to be relevant, we have to win,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “This time of year everybody knows what has to happen for their football team. We are aware of the path we have to take.”
The Cards actually could be in position to do some damage in both the final two games. In the finale at San Francisco, the 49ers could have something on the line. If the Niners lose in Seattle this weekend, they could actually lose the division title the following week if the Cards won. Even if the Niners clinch this weekend by toppling the Seahawks, San Francisco will likely have a chance to clinch a first-round bye on the line in the final week.
What’s amazing is the difference a week makes. The Lions, playing poorly, came into University of Phoenix Stadium as the favorite last week because the Cardinals were on their nine-game losing streak. Now, it seems, many believe the Cardinals have a good shot to knock off the Bears and cripple their playoff chances. At this point, it’s what the Cards have to play for.
Tags: 49ers, Bears, Lions, Lovie Smith, playoffs, Seahawks
Posted in Blog | 29 Comments »
Hard to believe this Sunday will be the first time since 2006 that the Bears have visited University of Phoenix Stadium.
“You know, I’m getting up in age … it’s hard for me to remember some things,” Bears coach Lovie Smith deadpanned, “but I do remember we came back and were able to win a big game out there.”
We won’t go over every detail — especially since I’ve done it before — but needless to say, that evening lives in infamy, at least around here. The defense dominated, and while the offense made crucial turnovers, everything that could go exactly wrong did for the Cards on a night where that was the only way the Bears were going to win.
The team coming in this year is in a much different place. That 2006 Bears team was 5-0 and later appeared in the Super Bowl. This year’s squad was 7-1 and is now 8-6, scrambling to make the playoffs and possibly save Smith’s job. The Cards, meanwhile, have just three players left on the roster from that long-ago evening: Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson (pictured here emoting against the Bears during the better part of that night.)
UPDATE: Here’s some Fitz — who was inactive that night and didn’t play — on the subject: “I remember everything about it. That was a rough one. We had ’em.” Someone said “Were they who you thought they were?” Fitz smiled. “I’m not going to touch that. You know I love Denny Green. I’m not going to touch that.”
(An aside — the Cards started in a four-receiver set that night: Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson, Troy Walters and Carlyle Holiday.)
Times change. The Cards are a lot different than even the last time these teams met, a 41-21 Cardinals’ thrashing of the Bears in Chicago in 2009 when Kurt Warner sliced-and-diced Smith’s Cover 2. Now, we’re talking about Wilson’s future now, and even if the Bears make the postseason I don’t think anyone is expecting them to topple the NFC’s best and make it to another Super Bowl.
And I’m guessing, regardless of what happens, we won’t see a Ken Whisenhunt version of this, either.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bears, Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith
Posted in Blog | 14 Comments »
The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.
Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”
Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.
But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.
The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)
Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.
Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).
While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.
Tags: Bears, Darnell Dockett, Dennis Green, Karlos Dansby, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Lovie Smith, Matt Leinart, Neil Rackers, Revisionist history, Rex Grossman, Tom Brady
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »
In the middle of waiting for the labor problems to be resolved comes the news the 2011 regular-season schedule will be released tomorrow — Tuesday — at 4 p.m. Arizona time (which is 7 p.m. Eastern). I know, I know, there are some of you who feel “What’s the point” until there is a labor agreement, and clearly, the NFL has taken part of that into account. Another game in London, between the Bears and Bucs, has been scheduled for Oct. 23 — except there is a caveat that the game will move back to Tampa Bay if a new labor agreement hasn’t been reached by Aug. 1.
As a quick reminder, the Cards’ home schedule includes the NFC West teams, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Carolina, Cleveland and the New York Giants. The away schedule includes the NFC West, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington.
Tags: Bears, Bengals, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Panthers, Ravens, Redskins, schedule, Steelers, Vikings
Posted in Blog | 27 Comments »
So there were — understandably — big questions about the Seahawks taking their 7-9 record despite an NFC West title and winning anything. Every single one of their nine losses were by at least 15 points, for heavens sake!
Then they knocked off the Saints.
And suddenly, you look at the NFC playoff landscape and think, “Have I seen this before?”
Back in 2008, after the Cards won their first playoff game (at home) they went to play at 12-4 Carolina (the No. 2 seed) as the No. 4 seed. It was the perfect matchup, because they had already gone to Carolina earlier in the season and even though they lost, 27-23, to a man the Cardinals felt they had blown that game against the Panthers and were a better team. At the same time, the No. 6 Eagles were going to the No. 1 Giants, and while New York was having a fine season as defending NFL champs, Philly had just beat them in New York.
We know how that turned out. The Cards ended up with one of the most improbable NFC Championship home games ever.
This season, some of the details are transposed, but there is a chance the result could repeat. The No. 4 Seahawks are at the No. 2 Bears, and Chicago was the site of Seattle’s most notable regular-season victory when they beat up the Bears earlier this year. And while the No. 6 Packers lost at the No. 1 Falcons a few weeks ago, Green Bay easily could have won a tight game. If the Packers and Seahawks both win (and the latter isn’t out of the question), Seattle might find itself hosting the NFC Championship. Improbably. Once again.
Tags: Bears, Eagles, Falcons, Giants, NFC Championship, Packers, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks
Posted in Blog | 50 Comments »
The Cards just had their first practice back after coming home from Chicago. No, coach Ken Whisenhunt did not announce a starting quarterback yet. He said both will play in the preseason finale against Washington “unless something changes” (and no, that isn’t some hint to a trade or something). Whiz has no timeline on his announcement and said that a few times. Whiz also reiterated that the offense wasn’t playing well in the first two games of the preseason and he changed things up to see what would happen. Obviously, something worked.
Matt Leinart said after practice “I really want an explanation” for the situation, but acknowledged he has yet to approach Whiz to discuss the subject.Leinart also said he has “outplayed the competition” in camp. Derek Anderson, meanwhile, continues to be low-key in talking about the situation. I will have a bigger story in a bit.
In other news:
— Whiz did say it is “always dicey” to have a rookie as a backup, should something happen and the Cards decide to move one of their veterans. But he did say both Max Hall and John Skelton have impressed him and he feels more comfortable about such a possibility than he did before camp.
— TE Ben Patrick (knee) was back at practice, slowly getting back into the groove. WR Andre Roberts (shoulder) remains out, while RBs Jason Wright (toe) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (concussion) were out. Both aren’t expected to be long-term injuries; the Hyphen rode a bike yesterday and did OK and was getting further tests today.
— WR Larry Fitzgerald is wearing a smaller knee brace but he will not play Thursday.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Bears, Ben Patrick, Derek Anderson, Jason Wright, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Leinart, Max Hall
Posted in Blog | 142 Comments »
Life on the charter flight. I write this version of the Aftermath well after midnight Arizona time, sitting in the back of the plane as flight attendants Billi and Candice serve dinner and fullback Reagan Maui’a sits across from me, playing his ukulele at 30,000 feet.
But we must go on to the game. That’s what you’re here for.
— I don’t know exactly what Ken Whisenhunt was aiming for when he decided to start Derek Anderson this week over Matt Leinart, but whatever his intention, it worked. Both played well, and frankly, I don’t envy Whisenhunt’s decision going forward. Nothing was made easier Saturday night in the Chicago win, although Whiz was clearly feeling better about life than in the Tennessee game.
“I take my hat off to (the QBs),” running back Tim Hightower said. “A lot of people they can say whatever they want to about Matt, but he showed a lot. D.A., he played well, and when he had opportunities, he capitalized. But Matt came in and did his thing and he handled himself well.”
It was interesting that twice, Whisenhunt noted the quarterback choice will come down to chemistry with the team and how the QB handles things when he is in the fray – and that it won’t necessarily be about stats. Given that Leinart has completed 19-of-23 preseason passes and not turned it over, Whiz’s comments seem to pump the brakes on the idea Leinart could be the favorite. One of the issues swirling around Leinart for a while has been whether he is able to inspire the team.
“I don’t know what the decision will be made on,” Leinart said, smiling. “I feel like I have a great relationship with my guys, my team for four, five years now. Like I said, I can only control what I control, and that’s playing good football and being a leader. I have a great relationship with all my teammates and I don’t think it should be based on that because I feel like I am doing a good job in that department.”
— Arguably, the guy with the biggest stake in the quarterback position is Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. His thoughts on the QB controversy/competition? Fitz told this to ace beat man Kent Somers: “I’m just a hired hand, man. I’m just a pawn on the chess board.”
Something tells me Fitz has his opinions.
— Hightower ran the ball well (62 yards on eight carries). Beanie Wells didn’t have the greatest night. He gained 14 yards on eight carries, dropped a pass and, most crucial, fumbled the ball late in the second quarter inside the Bears’ 10-yard line when it looked like the Cards were going to drive for a TD. Replays seemed to show Beanie might have been down a split-second before losing control, but it wasn’t overturned, and Whisenhunt wasn’t happy considering Beanie’s fumbling issues as a rookie.
“That is something with Beanie we have made progress with and he obviously was criticized for not paying more attention to the ball there,” Whisenhunt said.
— Deuce Lutui logged significant time with the starting offensive line at right guard, although Reggie Wells started. Given all the talk about Anderson, Greg Toler and Daryl Washington moving into the starting lineup, you wonder if Deuce is next.
— All four guys who can play nose tackle – Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Dan Williams – logged time there by early in the second quarter. It’s beginning to look like the Cards could very well keep them all, and seven defensive linemen overall (Campbell, Dockett, Iwebema).
— Speaking of the defensive front, they again played well and sparked the overall good defensive night (four sacks and two picks of QB Jay Cutler and Mike Martz’s latest attempt to revive the Greatest Show on Turf, except on grass).
— I’m not sure Stephen Williams has had a bad day since training camp started. Anderson played well, but he owes a little something to the rookie receiver for coming up big in traffic.
— Awesome play to score your touchdown, Steve Breaston (pictured below). Oh, don’t ever leap like that in a preseason game again. Your legs looked like they were going to snap as you went up and over the goal line.
— QB Max Hall looked sharp at the end. And I’m beginning to think Max Komar will be the second rookie receiver to stick around, if they decide to keep six receivers. All he does is make plays. (UPDATE: Oops. Forgot Andre Roberts is a rookie. He will make it too).
— Offensive linemen David Moosman and Casey Knips haven’t gotten into a game yet. That doesn’t bode well with a cut of five coming Monday. And speaking of not boding well, the fact tight end Dominique Byrd didn’t play Saturday usually isn’t a good sign either.
Wow, I wrote a lot there. Might have to take Sunday off.
Tags: Alan Branch, Andre Roberts, Beanie Wells, Bears, Bryan Robinson, Calais Campbell, Casey Knips, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, David Moosman, Derek Anderson, Deuce Lutui, Dominique Byrd, Gabe Watson, Greg Toler, Jay Cutler, Ken Whisenhunt, Kenny Iwebema, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Leinart, Max Hall, Max Komar, Mike Martz, Reagan Maui'a, Reggie Wells, Stephen Williams, Tim Hightower
Posted in Blog | 158 Comments »
We briefly interrupt our talk about Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart to discuss a couple other things:
— Very interested to see how linebacker Daryl Washington responds to playing with the starting unit tonight. All along I didn’t think Washington would get to the starting lineup by the beginning of the season but it turns out I may be wrong on that. In many ways, it makes sense. If you aren’t sure of what you’ll get from the rest of the linebackers, maybe you just get the top talent on the field and live with a few mistakes.
— The Bears don’t usually blitz, so I don’t expect a repeat of what the Titans did to the offense and offensive line Monday night. Still, the line needs to hold up against someone like DE Julius Peppers, who has apparently played pretty well thus far. Obviously, regardless of it’s Anderson or Leinart, they need to run the ball a little better. Or a lot better.
— OK, maybe there are a couple of real sponsor-esque things to get to. The NFL, trying to fight childhood obesity and promote the game, has put together a new campaign called “Back to Football Fridays.” The idea is that offices have a Friday tailgate or something else to make people think about being active/football. I’m guessing most people wouldn’t mind having time away from the cubicle. There is even a drawing to enter to have a past or current player visit the office during one of these times.
— Speaking of meeting players, there is still time to get a ticket for Wednesday’s Kickoff Luncheon at University of Phoenix Stadium. You’ll sit at a table with a player or two, have a chance to walk around and meet everyone if you want, and be able to bid on auction items all on the floor of the stadium. Always a cool experience.
Tags: Bears, Daryl Washington, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart
Posted in Blog | 14 Comments »