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Bengals aftermath, with more dancing

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2015 – 12:55 am

There was more dancing for the Cardinals on a Sunday night. It doesn’t look like it’ll go viral, but that doesn’t mean that Smokey Brown’s post-TD celebration didn’t harken back to Drew Stanton’s shimmy-heard-round-the-world from last week.

“I had to bring it back,” Brown said. “I was in a little competition with Drew, but I didn’t want to tell him. I had to get my fans back.”

This is how it works when you win. Brown is still hurting with his bad hamstring, but he had three catches (and two jet sweeps) against the Bengals, and said his leg doesn’t hurt as much now as it did in Seattle. Winning always helps the pain. The Cardinals didn’t have Michael Floyd, but no worries, J.J. Nelson steps in with four catches for 142 yards and this team’s receiving depth is just underscored again.

Part of that is the quarterback, of course. Carson Palmer threw two bad first-quarter interceptions, and he knew it. But at the end of the night, he had four touchdown passes, and that doesn’t include the cool-as-a-cucumber, less-than-a-minute-left field-goal drive that he deftly orchestrated. That is why this team has so much faith in Palmer (and why I’m left shaking my head at the few fans who seem ready to hammer him with any early mistake.) It’s hard to believe any team who wouldn’t want him right now. Maybe the Patriots. The Panthers. Probably the Packers. Everyone else? They could use CP3.

Meanwhile, this team is 8-2 and opened the brutal second-half schedule with two wins against two playoff-worthy teams.

— It was a breakout night for the draft class. Markus Golden had a strip-sack. Nelson was great. Rodney Gunter had a sack. David Johnson had a TD catch. This is the time of year the Cardinals will need those guys.

— It would not be good, with Cory Redding down, if Frostee Rucker’s ankle injury kept him out. Rucker has been fantastic this season. But the hold-the-breath moment has to be with cornerback Patrick Peterson. No way to know how bad he’s hurt, and he wasn’t around to talk after. He’s having by far his best season as a cornerback. As much as there is belief in Justin Bethel, an extended Peterson absence would be bad news.

— I totally understand the Bengals not being happy with the final unsportsmanlike penalty call for barking the cadence. But I also like that they threw in that it shouldn’t have come to that. Way too easy for the Cards to complete three long passes in that situation. Palmer-to-Fitz seemed like the obvious go-to, yet twice it got big yards.

— Linebacker Kevin Minter was mad at himself for how Bengals running back Gio Bernard got off for 128 yards on eight catches. Minter said he should have played better technique in coverage. But that’s definitely a matchup that does not favor the Cardinals, technique or no.

— The Bengals had allowed exactly 10 points in each of their previous three games. The Cardinals scored 34, 10 more than the worst Cincinnati defensive performance previous this season.

— Getting Chandler Catanzaro a game-winning kick for the first time (pictured below) will be helpful down the road. A miss wouldn’t have meant a loss, necessarily, but that’s the first time Cat-Man has had to do that, and experience matters.

— Two exciting, nationally televised games in a row, both wins. Now comes a road game in San Francisco, against a struggling 49ers team and Blaine Gabbert. This week the story will be about not letting down, because the Cardinals will be heavy favorites.

“Bruce will tell us we haven’t done anything yet,” Palmer said. “I know that’s coming. He’s keeping us grounded, which is exactly what a great had coach does.”


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Smokey Brown active, Floyd is not

Posted by Darren Urban on November 22, 2015 – 4:59 pm

It turns out that no, wide receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring) cannot play tonight. He is inactive. But yes, John “Smokey” Brown is active with his sore hamstring. So the Cardinals have one of their two gimpy wide receivers. Health plays a big part in this week’s inactives — rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams is playing this week. Right guard Jonathan Cooper (knee), who was doubtful, is not. In Cooper’s place, Ted Larsen will start.

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Michael Floyd (hamstring)

— CB Robert Nelson Jr.

— LB Shaq Riddick

— G Jonathan Cooper (knee)

— T D.J. Humphries

— DT Cory Redding (ankle)

For the Bengals, their best cornerback, Pacman Jones, is inactive with a foot injury.

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Friday before the Bengals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2015 – 4:08 pm

The Cardinals will play their 100th game at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night against the Bengals. They still have one player who has been around for all 100. In fact, Larry Fitzgerald – who, once we get there, will have played in 97 of them – actually can make comparisons, since his first two seasons were spent playing home games at Arizona State.

“I remember back in the days playing at Sun Devil Stadium when you couldn’t pay someone to watch us play out there,” Fitzgerald said. “Now you can’t get a seat in the building. It’s great to see the turnaround.”

It’s been a few weeks since the Cardinals last had a home game. That too was nationally televised against an AFC North team. The Cardinals beat Baltimore on “Monday Night Football.” Now, thanks to a flex choice, the Cardinals get Cincinnati on “Sunday Night Football.”

The 100 games – all official sellouts – includes everything: Preseason and postseason. This one will have a bit of a postseason feel too, given that the Cardinals are 7-2 and battling (for now) to keep the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the 8-1 Bengals hoping they can still catch the undefeated Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

This one should be fun, even with the Cards a little beat up. The Bengals have their issues too.

— The Cards will likely be down one starting offensive lineman in right guard Jonathan Cooper, but I’d think Ted Larsen would start for him (Earl Watford is still possible.) They will have Mike Iupati at left guard. I don’t think Michael Floyd plays after missing practice all week, and Smokey Brown isn’t at full strength. But the Bengals are also likely to not have two defensive starters in defensive end Michael Johnson and No. 1 cornerback Pacman Jones, so there’s no advantage.

If Floyd is down, J.J. Nelson will be active, and you figure he’ll be the deep threat if Brown cannot be. Besides, as long as Carson Palmer is in the pocket, the passing game will survive.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin didn’t seem particularly worried about where the injuries left the Cards.

“We don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good freaking offense,” Goodwin said.

— Bruce Arians acknowledged that he didn’t notice much of a difference last year when the University of Phoenix Stadium roof was open for “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks compared to when it is closed.

But, “do I like having it closed?” Arians said. “Hell yeah.”

— No official word about the roof status until Sunday afternoon, most likely.

— Speaking of the stadium, don’t forget there will be heightened security around the game because of recent terrorist events around the globe. Give yourself plenty of time to get into the building.

— With defensive tackle Cory Redding out with a bad ankle, there is a chance we could see undrafted rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams active for the first time this season.

— Palmer was fined $11,576 for his sideline gesture that was caught on camera in Seattle following Andre Ellington’s late touchdown run. Palmer had a couple of first pumps but then threw in a pelvic thrust toward the crowd. Palmer said after the game his reaction was toward three friends he had in the stands.

“I had my buddies on the sideline right four or five rows up,” Palmer said. “I saw them pretty excited, and it got me excited to see them excited.”

— Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was fined $23,152 for his crushing hit to the head on Larry Fitzgerald. The Seattle Times reported that Wright, who is appealing, said he apologized to Fitz and that Fitz got up laughing after the hit. (I’m not sure what that matters in terms of the fine, but …)

— ESPN did a breakdown on the luckiest and unluckiest teams in the NFL based on random events, and the Cardinals actually were called unlucky. That’s because out of their own 12 fumbles on offense, the Cardinals have recovered only four, and out of 10 opponent fumbles while on defense the Cardinals have recovered only three. Since fumble recoveries are usually luck of the bounce/right place, right time, the Cards should have more. Also, opposing kickers have yet to miss on 16 field-goal attempts.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is happy with his outside linebacker rotation of Alex Okafor, LaMarr Woodley, Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden, but he said it’s hard to get everyone the playing time they deserve. Golden only played 10 snaps in Seattle in the first game with all four players available.

“As a defensive coach, you don’t want to play more snaps, but you wish there were more snaps for guys to get,” Bettcher said.

— Profootballfocus.com said of their grades, only three cornerbacks do not have a game with a negative number this season: Carolina’s Josh Norman, and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. (PFF considers Mathieu a slot cornerback since he’s played the most snaps there.)

— Ex-Bengal and current defensive line starter Frostee Rucker has been quietly one of GM Steve Keim’s best signings. Rucker signed in 2013 to be a backup and role player, but has emerged as a highly effective starter and locker-room leader. And Rucker is enjoying his increased role.

“It’s the pat on the back that someone doesn’t have to say, because you know you’re contributing to something that’s good,” Rucker said.

It’s a feeling a lot of Cardinals have right now.

On to Cincinnati.



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Who will play receiver against the Bengals?

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2015 – 12:21 pm

The Cardinals have had excellent production from their top three receivers this season. It’ll be interesting to see just which ones will be able to help Sunday night against the Bengals. Michael Floyd looked to be sitting out practice for a second straight day Thursday, and judging by the way he came up lame on the play in which he got hurt against Seattle (if you have GamePass, it’s the fourth-quarter 10-yard reception he made at the 11:29 mark), it did not look good. We’ll see what he can do Friday, but it doesn’t seem like Floyd is trending the right way, which is too bad given how well he has played of late.

John Brown looked like he was going to at least be limited Thursday. What he can provide is also a mystery. He played 59 snaps in Seattle so it wasn’t like Smoke was limited; he was on the field for every play of the final two drives. But he didn’t have a catch. If Floyd can’t go, Brown’s ability to produce something will obviously increase in importance.

But the Cardinals and their No. 1-ranked offense do have some things that will help. One is Larry Fitzgerald, in the middle of one of his best seasons and totally healthy. Two is the way Jaron Brown stepped in and up with Floyd’s injury last week; the “other” J.B. made plays and that will help on a confidence level. Brittan Golden has made catches before, and J.J. Nelson, while inactive against the Seahawks, looked pretty good as the Smoke replacement at Cleveland a few weeks back.

Oh, the Cardinals also have a pretty good quarterback, who has some pretty good motivation this week. That alone tends to mitigate some short-term scrambling with the pass catchers.


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Palmer talks Bengals’ end, and The Stanton

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2015 – 2:34 pm

It was a very interesting press conference with Carson Palmer Wednesday. Many questions were about his time with the Bengals and especially how it ended — with Palmer saying he’d retire before playing with the team again. Palmer handled the questions deftly, saying only he and owner Mike Brown had a “very colorful, heated argument” and disagreed with each other. He declined to say more detail. When he was reminded that he said one day he’d tell his side of things, so when might that be, Palmer didn’t miss a beat. “Not in Week 11.” (More in a homepage story in a bit.)

But the presser also ended with Palmer being asked to revisit the really, really big story of the week: #TheStanton.

“I was telling Drew this morning, I think I’ve seen it roughly between 38 and 46 times,” Palmer said. “And I’ve laughed just as hard every time I’ve seen it. It was just spectacular.

“If we win this game, I’m not saying I’ll do that dance, because I can’t replicate it, but this is a big game for us and we would be very excited to win this game and I hope that dance comes back out from Drew.”

Asked if Stanton had a sense Andre Ellington was going to score on that play and thus in position to do The Stanton, Palmer shook his head.

“I don’t think that was premeditated,” Palmer said. “I think it just happened. Ballgame, game over, we won and it all came out. I think all of use were feeling that. Drew showed it.”

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Cardinals getting better in primetime

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2015 – 12:09 pm

The Cardinals will play their second straight game on “Sunday Night Football” this weekend and have their third primetime appearance in their last four games. They have at least one more primetime game coming this season when they host Minnesota Dec. 10 on “Thursday Night Football.” Thus far, they are 2-0 in those headliner games.

The primetime games have become much more prevalent for the Cardinals since 2006, when University of Phoenix Stadium opened (the Bengals game, by the way, is the 100th game at UoP, including preseason and postseason. Cards have sold out each one.) The willingness to try and put more teams on those games — including the choice to give every team at least one Thursday game — helps, as does the fact the Cards have been more competitive.

Before the last two games, there were some concerned about the Cardinals on primetime. “They don’t do very well” was the worry. True or false? True. At least in the past. This team is proving different.

The Cardinals have played in 17 regular-season primetime games since 2006. Their record? It’s only 7-10, and that’s with the two wins this season. However, they have under Arians won 4 of 6. (Another note: 10 of those primetime games have been against NFC West opponents, including a “Monday Night Football” stretch of five in a row.)

On the other hand, the Bengals are 4-8 in primetime games with Andy Dalton as starting quarterback, and 8-16 in primetime games under coach Marvin Lewis. Most of those, like the Cardinals, were different teams in different years and don’t have much to do with this week. Take it for what it’s worth.



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The top offense in the NFL

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2015 – 11:40 am

The Cardinals have the No. 1 offense in the NFL.

Yes, the official measure is by yards, and yards don’t win games. But it’s usually a pretty good measure of effectiveness, and with their 421.1 yards-per-game average, the Cards are the tops in the league (the Patriots are second at 418.7.) If you want to measure by points, the Cards are second in the NFL, with their 302 just one behind New England. The point is, the Cards move the ball well, and the sample size is big enough to understand this is reality in 2015.

(A quick side note: It will be an interesting matchup Sunday against the Bengals. Yes, Cincy laid an egg against the Texans, but it only allowed 10 points, and the Bengals have given up only 10 points in each of their last three games.)

The Cardinals have gained at least 414 yards in each of the last four games. The have at least 400 yards in seven of nine games — after gaining at least 400 yards in a game just six times total from 2010 through 2014. They’ve rushed for at least 100 yards in all but one game. With the league’s third-ranked defense (316.1 yards a game), the Cardinals outgain their opponents by more than 100 yards a game.

This is about balance. This is about an abundance of weapons (The Seahawks shut out John Brown and Michael Floyd got hurt and suddenly Jaron Brown stepped up.) It’s about good health, of course. It’s also about a quarterback who has been pretty magnificent thus far.

Of the seven defenses left on the schedule, four are top 11: Bengals (11th), Vikings (9th), Rams (6th) and Seahawks (2nd.) Of course, the Cardinals just lit up Seattle’s defense for 39 points and 451 yards. Assuming no major injuries, the Cards have shown they can move the ball on anyone.



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Turnovers and a trip to Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2015 – 9:30 am

It’s Seattle week. More specifically, at Seattle week, a game the Cardinals have been anxious to play for a long time now that Carson Palmer is healthy. It’s interesting that the Cardinals are coming off that four-turnover game in Cleveland, a game in which they won — because the last time they had turned the ball over four times in a road game, they had also won. That game was the 17-10 stunner in Seattle near the end of the 2013 season, the one in which Palmer threw four interceptions yet found Michael Floyd for a touchdown pass late in the game for the clinching points.

The Cardinals are now 2-1 in four-turnover road games under Bruce Arians. The one loss was a 32-20 defeat in San Francisco in 2013, a game that is remembered for a crucial Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cards driving for a go-ahead score — but what might be better remembered for the 18-play, smashmouth TD drive of the 49ers that took up 9:32 and 11 of the plays (including the final eight) were runs up the gut.

The point is that there are always ways to overcome even messy turnover days. The three-turnover games that led to the Cards’ two losses this season weren’t based on the turnovers alone — in both cases, the Cardinals still had chances to win the game late.

But turnovers make the job so much harder. The Cardinals have 14 turnovers total in eight games and 10 turnovers in the aformentioned three games — the win in Cleveland, the losses to the Rams and Steelers. Other than the Packers and Bengals, the Cardinals (while facing a much harder schedule) don’t see a lot of great offenses. None that match up to what the Cards can bring on that side of the ball. But turning it over can change those odds quickly.



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Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2015 – 1:37 pm

There is nothing better than the bye at the true midway point in the season. Getting through a chunk of the games before you are off is invaluable both mentally and physically for a team — although as Carson Palmer said this week, there is no such thing as a bad bye. (Of course, Palmer was not a member of the 2001 Cardinals, who, because of an odd number of NFL teams at the time, drew the short straw and had a bye in Week 1 of the regular season. That’s right — 16 straight games after. That was an emotional time too, because 9/11 happened the Tuesday following Week 1 and games were canceled. The Cards had nearly a month between their last preseason game and their first regular-season game.)

But I digress.

The Cardinals are going to lament the two losses, games that frankly, they should have had, no matter what happens. They hope they don’t cost themselves something significant come playoff time. But it was a good first half of the season, and regardless of opponents, the Cards have proven to be a good team and one that should be in the postseason mix.

— What has surprised me in the first half of the season? Let’s start with Larry Fitzgerald’s big numbers. I thought Fitz had an excellent training camp and I thought he had a chance to get to 1,000 yards, but the Cards have gone to him more than I expected. Part of that started. I’d guess, because of Michael Floyd’s hand injury, but Fitz has looked terrific. Bruce Arians said a big reason is that he has stayed healthy, and if that’s what it took, that’s a good sign for the Cardinals because Fitz remains healthy.

— I’m surprised that Sean Weatherspoon hasn’t been a bigger part of the defense. I don’t see that changing much unless there is an injury. Deone Bucannon, at this point, is a linebacker. It makes for intriguing roster decisions beyond this year.

— I’ve never covered a Cardinals team (since 2000, mind you) that doesn’t say they have plans to significantly upgrade the running game going into a season. But this was the year it’s actually turned out that way. Chris Johnson has been marvelous. When you have a healthy Andre Ellington and he can barely get touches, that’s saying something about your depth.

— Take a listen to the latest Cardinals Underground podcast for talk between myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi about the first half that was.

— This team will learn a lot about itself the next two games. In the national spotlight both weeks, at the defending NFC champion and hosting the sure-to-be undefeated Bengals (Cincy hosts Houston after 10 days to prepare.) The game against the Seahawks is paramount; you put Seattle in a tough, tough spot if you can knock them off in their place.

That’s next week, though. I’m going to enjoy a rare fall weekend off.



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Ravens make first trip to University of Phoenix Stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2015 – 9:42 am

There are only four teams left that have never played at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Ravens — who come in for “Monday Night Football” this week — are one of them. (When the Cincinnati Bengals come to Arizona in late November, it’ll be the first time they have come for a regular-season game, although they were here in 2014 for a preseason game. And the Patriots have never been here for a regular-season game, last visiting in 2004, but they of course have played two Super Bowls in the stadium.)

The others on the list, all AFC teams (of course): Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans.

It’s the quirk of the rotating schedules and the fact the NFC West got flip-flopped at one point between home and road trips to help spread out Eastern teams’ travel. The last time the Ravens (and the Bengals, for that matter) played a regular-season game in Arizona was 2003. The Ravens won that game, 26-18. The Bengals lost that year to the Cardinals, 17-14. The Cards played in both cities in 2007 and 2011.

The last time the Jaguars played in Arizona was 2005, a 24-17 Jacksonville win (there have been trips to Florida in 2009 and 2013). The last time the Jets came to Arizona (and Sun Devil Stadium) was 2004, a dreary 13-3 Cardinals’ loss. The Cards played at the Jets in 2008 and 2012. The Titans played in Arizona last in 2005 — a 20-10 Cardinals’ win — with the Cards going to Tennessee in 2009 and 2013 (in the regular season; there was also a preseason trip mixed in there.)

In 2016, the Jets and the Patriots will get their first meeting at University of Phoenix Stadium with the Cardinals.

Terrell Suggs



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