It doesn’t take much to change the outcome of a game. Ray Horton has seen that a couple of times, in a couple of instances when it couldn’t have been on a bigger stage.
In doing an interview with the Cards’ new defensive coordinator the other day, the subject of the little things – and Super Bowls – came up. Don’t forget, Horton was on the defensive staff of that Steelers’ team that beat the Cards a couple of years ago. We started talking about the interception return of linebacker James Harrison right before halftime (careful, don’t throw things at the computer screen).
Afterward, Horton said, he figured the coaching staff watched that play 50 times over and over. He can tell you exactly where everyone on both teams was and ended up. Despite claims by Kurt Warner to the contrary, Horton said the Cards lined up for that play just like they had all season. But Harrison, a linebacker, decided not to blitz as called and for some reason stayed home.
(This is the stomach-punch part of the post, so if you’re faint of heart, look away now).
“You can look at each guy and think, ‘If one guy does one thing different, he doesn’t score,’ ” Horton said of Harrison’s 100-yard touchdown. “It was a dramatic play and it turned the game around. It won or lost that Super Bowl.
“Really, if James Harrison would have done what he was supposed to do … the play (the Cards called) was a perfect play and they would have scored, walked in and probably won the game. But because one guy did something different … the ramifications …”
Horton knows of ramifications. Because if you ask him what play during his 10-year NFL career sticks out, it’s a play just like that – and for Horton, it had the same painful type of result.
He was playing for the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, the one where Montana hit John Taylor for a game-winning 10-yard touchdown with 30-some seconds to go – just barely past the outstretched fingers of a diving Horton.
The play the Bengals had called was to double-team both Taylor and Jerry Rice (who had 11 catches for 215 yards that day), the right call for the formation. But then Rice went in motion – a change-up – and Horton thought, “We’re screwed.” He thought about calling time out but didn’t, which still sticks with him.
While we talked, Horton jumped up to scribble the play on a white board to explain what happened. Safety David Fulcher was supposed to come across for Taylor. Horton was supposed to stay with Rice, but he quickly realized Rice was the diversion. He tried to jump back and make the play. He just missed the ball, and was lying in the end zone as Taylor finished off the play.
“We are sitting on the bus on the way back and David said, ‘Ray, I could’ve picked that ball, I had nothing to do,’ ” Horton remembered. “I said, ‘I know. I know.’
“It still haunts me.”
Tags: 49ers, Bengals, David Fulcher, James Harrison, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, John Taylor, Kurt Warner, Ray Horton, Steelers, Super Bowl
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Took part in a mock draft (it’ll be on Patriots.com sooner rather than later) today and got another version of the top four. I wasn’t told who took who, but by the time my “pick” came up, these were the four gone — Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus and Blaine Gabbert.
(That was the order listed too; it’d be interesting to see if that matches the teams. Miller to Denver? Dareus to Buffalo? Gabbert to Cincy?)
I stayed chalk with my thought process in that regard. I stuck with defense and went with cornerback Patrick Peterson. But … obviously, wide receiver A.J. Green remains on the board in that scenario. Anyone reading my stuff knows I think receiver here is highly unlikely. Highly unlikely. The Cards already have a top receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and they clearly want/expect him to be here long-term. Bringing in a second such playmaker at that position — especially when you very well should be able to find a playmaker at another position (like Peterson, for instance) — makes little sense to me. You aren’t even sure you have a QB who can get it to Fitz yet, much less to two such guys.
That being said, there are those who’d like to see it (I’m looking at you, Georgiebird) and there are arguments that can be made, as long as you operate under the assumption the Cardinals see Green as an exceptional, off-the-charts talent. (I’m not saying they do, and there are those who don’t even think Green is better than fellow draftee-to-be Julio Jones). For the moment, let’s make that assumption.
The Cardinals aren’t sure if they can keep Fitzgerald, whose contract runs out after the 2011 season, long-term. He needs to sign an extension, and while both he and the team have said many times they want it to happen, Fitz has also made plain his desire to win, and that involves the fluid situation of finding a QB. Even if Fitz is a lifetime Card, the rest of the receiving corps is still in question. Steve Breaston doesn’t have a contract. Early Doucet hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Andre Roberts, as well as he finished the season, hasn’t proven he will succeed.
Then there is the idea — again, depending on the grades we won’t know — that Green would be the best player available, too good to pass up. We’ve played this game before, back in 2007, when it was Levi over Peterson when Edge was around. Need was above “best player,” and maybe this year the need — other than QB — lies on the defense.
(But even then it’s not always cut-and-dried even when it works. Cards went BPA in 2004, because Fitz was the BPA. Would the Cards, who already had star-in-the-making Anquan Boldin, been better off with a top three class of Roethlisberger, Dansby and Dockett instead? Sure, Kurt Warner came along a year later, but it’s interesting food for thought).
I reiterate, I think the Cards go defense. I think Peterson would be the pick over Green. But there’s always room to speculate.
Tags: A.J. Green, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals, Bills, Blaine Gabbert, Broncos, Cam Newton, Darnell Dockett, draft, Early Doucet, Julio Jones, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Steve Breaston, Von Miller
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No, we’re not talking former Cardinals cornerback Robert “Top Five” Tate, who used to put together top five lists all the time — including football lists, which inevitably included himself. Instead, we’re talking about the guys who will be considered for the top five picks in the draft. It sure seems like this is the list:
- QB Cam Newton
- QB Blaine Gabbert
- DT Marcell Dareus
- WR A.J. Green
- DE Da’Quan Bowers
- LB Von Miller
- CB Patrick Peterson
I don’t include DT Nick Fairley anymore because it doesn’t seem like anyone else is either. It leaves us with seven names, and the all-powerful quarterback situation. In Carolina, my man Darin Gantt believes there are only three legit possibilities for the No. 1 pick, and he has long believed it will end up being Cam Newton. For Denver, the pull has been strong for Dareus, since a) John Fox has always been a guy who likes to build up front; b) the Broncos were so porous and c) they have Elvis Dumervil coming back from injury so Miller might not be as necessary. Although Miller and Peterson have been mentioned (It has to be defense in Denver, right?).
Buffalo could use a QB, but Chan Gailey seems to want defense, so Miller has been a popular possibility for a team that uses the 3-4 and needs a pass rush. If the Cards want Miller, it seems the Bills will be the key. The Bengals figure to go offense, whether a QB or WR. The Cards, who have hinted many times they aren’t necessarily looking QB early, still don’t seem to make sense with a pick like that. Here’s the question, assuming Miller is gone: Could you make Bowers work in your defense? Is Peterson good enough? Do you reach outside the above list of names? By the time we get to the draft, would my list above change?
I wonder what Top Five Tate’s list would look like?
Tags: A.J. Green, Bengals, Bills, Blaine Gabbert, Broncos, Cam Newton, Da'Quan Bowers, Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Panthers, Patrick Peterson, Robert Tate, Von Miller
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With one game left — and the Cards safely out of the playoff picture — it’s a lot easier to narrow down some key portions of 2011 concerning both draft position and the schedule.
– As for the draft, the Cardinals have four teams with worse records than their own 5-10 mark. Arizona is one of seven teams with five wins. But as of right now, the Cardinals are fifth overall in the draft and “first” among those seven teams because of the Cards’ weak strength of schedule (Draft position is not broken by head-to-head or various playoff-type tiebreakers but instead the inverse — the weaker the opponents you played were, the higher pick, because the thought process is if your record is the same against weaker opponents, you are considered the weaker team and in need of a higher pick).
The Cardinals’ strength-of-schedule is so weak, in fact, that no matter any team(s) they end up tied with in the draft position, they will be choosing higher. So, for instance, even if the Cards beat the 49ers this weekend and the Seahawks lose and both the Cards and Seahawks finish with six wins, the Cards will be slotted higher in the draft. (Of course, beating the 49ers will mean the Cards end up with a better record than San Francisco, meaning the Niners will of course be ahead in the order).
Looking over the standings, the “lowest” the Cardinals will be picking will be 11th in the draft. If the Cardinals beat San Francisco, the Niners would be “ahead” of the Cards, while of the other five teams who have five wins, four could lose (two of the five-win teams play each other, Minnesota at Detroit, and I am assuming the Vikings lose in Philadelphia tomorrow night). Cleveland (hosting Pittsburgh), Dallas (at Philly) and Houston (hosting Jacksonville) are the other five-win teams.
If the Cards lose to the 49ers, they could still in theory have as high as the No. 2 pick in the draft, but that would mean Denver (hosting San Diego), Cincinnati (at Baltimore) and Buffalo (at the Jets) all won this weekend. Carolina has already clinched Andrew Lu, errr, the No. 1 pick overall.
– As for the schedule, that is always all but set. In cement are home games against the three NFC West foes, Dallas, the Giants, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will go on the road to the three NFC West opponents, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
The remaining road/home games set up like this: If the Cards win, they will host Tampa Bay again. (UPDATE: My mistake — if the Saints lose tonight and then the Buccaneers beat the Saints next week, the Cards would host the Saints again next year in this scenario). If they lose, the extra home game will be Carolina.
For the final road game, a Cardinal win means the Cards will play at the winner of this weekend’s Minnesota-Detroit game. A loss in San Francisco means they will travel to the loser of the Vikings-Lions.
– UPDATE II: For those confused about why the schedule, for instance, has the Cards hosting Pittsburgh again after the Steelers came in 2007 and the Cards last went to Pittsburgh in 2003, here was the info I received on the subject from the league:
“You need to look at the scheduling formula on a larger scale. it’s not as simple as just alternating the home games for every opponent – the math would not work out that way. The formula is set so that you’ll play all non-division conference opponents at least one every three years and at home at least once every six years. Also, keep in mind for non-division opponents in the conference, you’re rotating three divisions over a period of time, so if you take the original eight-year rotation, the math doesn’t work out so that it’s a straight alternating system. So by just taking selective end points and asking about ’04, ’07 and ’10, you’re not looking at a complete picture.”
Under the formula, every team within a division plays 16 games as follows:
- Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
- Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
Tags: 49ers, Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Cowboys, draft, Lions, Panthers, Saints, schedule, Seahawks, Texans, Vikings
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After the mini-drama of Beanie this afternoon, a fun little anecdote. Seems wide receiver Steve Breaston was talking about going against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this morning, and for the most part, Breaston was praising DRC. Then the question came about getting frustrated going against someone like DRC. Now, Breaston is as mild-mannered and relatively ego-less as they come. But you get to this level, and he couldn’t let it go.
“I don’t get frustrated,” Breaston said. “I beat him sometimes. I ain’t gonna say that, that he locks me down. I get some. I’m not going to short myself here.”
It was noted that DRC was holding Breaston something fierce on a play during the morning practice. “It happens,” Breaston said. “We compete. Lot of people think it’s Larry and DRC out there but we have several other talented receivers, Steven Breaston being one of them.”
Breaston punctuated that statement with a huge laugh. I mentioned the fact he went all third person on us. “I did, I am sorry I went third person,” Breaston said, still smiling. “I got lost in the question. (The reporter) was all over me, I took offense. I’m sorry about that. … I get open. I’ve got to speak a little bit.” Then Breaston paused. “I was watching the Bengals yesterday, and I think that’s what happened. I was watching Chad and T.O. Got caught up in the moment.”
Just don’t forget the Cards’ weapons — Steven Breaston being one of them.
P.S. Just to see where Steven Breaston ranks on his own team, check out the newly released depth chart with the first preseason game approaching. No surprises. John Skelton is third-team QB over Max Hall. Ben Patrick is the official starting tight end. O.J. Jones remains a No. 2 receiver while camp star Stephen Williams still has to prove some things as a fourth-unit wideout. Andre Roberts is officially the top punt returner right now.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Ben Patrick, Bengals, DRC, John Skelton, Max Hall, Onrea Jones, Stephen Williams, Steve Breaston, training camp
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