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In West Virginia, Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2015 – 9:16 pm

You know how it is when you’re packing for a trip. There are just times when you forget to stuff something in the suitcase. That’s what happened to Carson Palmer on the way out to Detroit – forgot to put his knee brace in his bag. So for the first time since he hurt his knee last year, Palmer played without it Sunday in the easy win.

What’s the best way to make that work? Run the ball. And that’s exactly what the Cardinals did: 187 yards on the ground. I mean, there were only 25 rushing attempts, and three of those were Drew Stanton kneeldowns to end the game, but the Cardinals only went back to pass 20 times total anyway.

(That’s what happens when the offense is efficient and the defense gets turnovers for short fields; 45 offensive plays, compared to 89 for the Lions. Detroit threw 70 passes, for goodness sake.)

Palmer was efficient, knee brace or no. He was 11-for-14 for three touchdown passes. But that run game … the Cardinals were fairly sure Chris Johnson had something left but like this? He has 405 yards in five games, and that’s after barely playing the opener. Toss in Andre Ellington – who showed what he can do with his 63-yard touchdown romp – and the Cards are in better shape running the ball than … well, a long time. I’ve been covering this team since 2000, and it’s easily the best running game the Cardinals have had since then.

— The Cardinals have to hope the calf injury of Alex Okafor isn’t serious. They need him as a pass rusher. It’s eerie – when Okafor suffered a serious biceps injury in 2013 against the Saints, it was in the game that was the front end of the Cards’ week away from Arizona. Let’s hope it’s not a repeat. Sean Weatherspoon doesn’t play that spot, although Weatherspoon will need to play given Kenny Demens’ knee injury. Weatherspoon hasn’t played special teams. Does that change now, with Demens – who was very good on special teams – down?

— Fitz had his quietest day of the year, but he had five catches for 58 yards and his sixth touchdown. And the 26-yard catch he had to set up his own TD? What hands, what concentration.

— Tight end Darren Fells scored the first touchdown of the game for the Cardinals on a nice catch of his own. It has to be an emotional time for Fells, whose brother Daniel, a New York Giants tight end, is battling a bad staph infection in his foot. Fells said he’d rather not talk about the situation.

— Arians said defensive line coach Brentson Buckner recognized the Lions’ formation and was able to predict the screen pass that was intercepted – oh so nimbly – by defensive end Cory Redding. Arians later said it was really a lucky guess, when he was asked if the Lions’ plays were telegraphed.

— The gutsy bomb from the Cardinals’ own end zone from Palmer to Smokey Brown, which went for 49 yards, was pure Bruce Arians. Sometimes I think Arians loves taking deep shots from deep in his own end more than anything.

— Patrick Peterson, who is one of the guys who runs the players-only defensive meeting Fridays, said if he would have realized Redding had been drafted by the Lions and played his first six years in Detroit, he would have had Redding speak. “It was a big game for him,” Peterson said, and Redding punctuated it with his pick.

— It’s late here in West Virginia. The Cardinals, for the first time on these East Coast-stay-back-a-week trips, have won the first leg (Lost in Washington in 2008, lost in New Orleans in 2013.) There’s work ahead at The Greenbrier, and the Cardinals will try for the sweep in Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, stay tuned to azcardinals.com. We’re here all week, chronicling the stay.


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“One of the young guys” will be defensive coordinator

Posted by Darren Urban on January 26, 2015 – 1:56 pm

The announcement won’t come until after the Super Bowl, Bruce Arians said Monday, but he knows who his defensive coordinator is going to be — and it’ll be, as expected, a in-house hire.

“The defensive coordinator will come off our staff,” Arians said during an appearance on ESPN’s “NFL Insiders” show. “It’ll be one of the young guys. And we’ll bring in some guys to help him.

“We’ll wait until the Super Bowl is over but we’ve got everything in place and we’re ready to go.”

Looking at the “young guys” on the Cardinals’ staff — and young can be a moving target on a staff that features the 62-year-old Arians and a couple of coaches well into their 70s — the possibility of outside linebackers coach James Bettcher seems to fit the bill. Bettcher has long been highly thought of among the coaches he has worked for. (Along the “young” lines, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner would also qualify, but I’d think Bettcher would be the candidate.)

As for bringing in “some guys to help,” that could be anyone now that Dick LeBeau has passed up the chance to come to the Cardinals. But again, that’s been the thought this whole time, that the Cards would have a younger DC and have a mentor with him. It now just sounds like it’ll be a waiting game until next week — Monday maybe? — to get official word.

— Arians reiterated he hopes Carson Palmer is the quarterback for the Cardinals “for about three more years,” and that he again really likes the future potential of Logan Thomas. Arians added that Palmer is about a month ahead of schedule coming back from his ACL injury.


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Taking the time to run (and Buck dances)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2014 – 11:59 am

It has been a constant subject for the Cardinals (and frankly, many other teams around the league). The effort to run the ball and committing to the run. I’ll preface this by saying I agree with Bruce Arians’ philosophy, which is basically, you need to run well enough to win. Sometimes, that may mean 20 attempts but big yards. Other times, it may mean grinding the ball 40 attempts even if you are only getting 3.5 yards a carry. I do not believe in the “Teams that run it 30-plus times win 70 percent of the games” or whatever the stat is because it isn’t cause and effect. Usually, you can afford to run a ton because you are winning. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to run, but it does mean you are going to run more with a lead.

All that said, the Cardinals — who went 10-6 this season — had 422 rush attempts as a team. (Yes, that includes kneel-downs and it also is some scrambles that were called passes, but let’s not get too deep in the weeds here.) That marked the most rushing attempts by the team in 10 years, since the Cards ran it 475 times in Denny Green’s first season of 2004.

Percentage-wise, it was the third-most rushing attempts over the last decade:

2004 45.4 percent rushes

2006 41.9

2013 40.7

2011 39.1

2009 37.1

2007 35.6

2012 34.6

2010 34.4

2008 34.1

2005 33.5

Arians isn’t going to start shying away from throwing the ball (and I would guess if he can get Carson Palmer and the unit clicking a little more, along with a pass protection upgrade, he might throw it a little more.) The Cardinals got the running attempts this season, though, and averaged (without Palmer’s three yards-on-27 “attempts”) an acceptable 3.9 yards a carry.

— The All-NFL team was announced from the Pro Football Writers Association. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and special teamer Justin Bethel got the nod (and were the only Cards on the all-NFC team as well.)

— Finally, to close, we have this old-school NFL Network promo ad featuring current defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. Just because.

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Cardinals have their coaches

Posted by Darren Urban on February 5, 2013 – 1:34 pm

The Cardinals finally released a list of their new coaching staff Tuesday. They had already announced, after the hiring of head coach Bruce Arians, the addition of assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Now comes 13 new names, along with keeping four holdover coaches:

— Special teams coordinator: Amos Jones (last job, special teams coach, Pittsburgh Steelers)

— Quarterbacks: Freddie Kitchens

— Wide receivers: Darryl Drake (receivers coach, Chicago Bears)

— Running backs: Stump Mitchell (head coach, Southern University)

— Tight ends: Rick Christophel (head coach, Austin Peay)

— Assistant tight ends, assistant special teams: Steve Heiden (tight ends coach, Concordia University)

— Assistant offensive line: Larry Zierlein (OL coach, Hartford of UFL; was Steelers’ OL coach from’07-’09)

— Defensive line: Brentson Buckner (intern DL coach, Steelers, 2010-12)

— Pass rush: Tom Pratt (consultant, IMG Academy)

— Linebackers: Mike Caldwell (linebackers coach, Philadelphia Eagles)

— Outside linebackers: James Bettcher (special assistant to head coach, Indianapolis Colts)

— Defensive backs: Nick Rapone (defensive coordinator, University of Deleware)

— Cornerbacks: Kevin Ross (safeties coach, Oakland Raiders)

— Defensive assistant/assistant defensive backs: Ryan Slowik

— Offensive assistant: Kevin Garver (offensive assistant, University of Alabama)

— Strength and conditioning: John Lott

— Assistant strength and conditioning: Pete Alosi

An interesting note: the offensive line doesn’t have a offensive line coach per se. Duties teaching the line will be split between Zierlein, Moore and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who has spent his coaching career as an offensive line coach.

Kitchens had been coaching tight ends under Ken Whisenhunt, but moves to quarterbacks, a position Kitchens played in college. Slowik was outside linebackers coach on the last staff, and of course, Lott and Alosi remain in their former jobs. The staff of 21 is four more coaches than was on Whisenhunt’s staff. Arians said he preferred to have extra coaches on staff, and said he likes the diversity of experience and youth. The group moved into offices and began their meetings today. More in a bit on azcardinals.com, including more background on the new group. (And here it is.)

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Coaching staff roundup, as of now

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2013 – 11:11 am

The Cardinals still have not officially announced their full coaching staff, past the the three top assistants. Usually the team likes to wait until everything is finalized with everyone before putting out the full list, as opposed to putting it all out piecemeal. But that doesn’t mean word hasn’t gotten out here and there as coaches are at the Senior Bowl or talk to hometown newspapers or the like. So, from that, here are the names circulating in various spots:

— Wide receivers: Darryl Drake, long-time receivers coach for the Bears;

— Running back: Todd McNair, former USC running backs coach who played in the NFL and for Arians at Temple;

— Tight ends: Rick Christophel, who had been head coach at Austin Peay;

— Defensive line: Brentson Buckner, a former 12-year defensive lineman in the NFL in his first NFL job (he interned with the Steelers from 2010 to 2012, and Arians was there a couple of those years);

— Linebackers: Mike Caldwell, who had been on the Eagles’ staff with new DC Todd Bowles and played for the Cardinals in 1997;

— Pass rush: Tom Pratt, who has been working with potential draftees at IMG in recent years;

— Defensive backs: Nick Rapone, who had been DC at the University of Deleware and coached with Arians at Temple;

— Special teams: Amos Jones, who worked with Arians in Pittsburgh;

— Offensive quality control: Kevin Garver, formerly of Alabama.

There is also holdover coach Freddie Kitchens, who was coaching tight ends but now is expected to coach quarterbacks. Kitchens played quarterback at Alabama and was a senior starter there when Arians was offensive coordinator in 1997. There are other spots still open, too, obviously, as we wait for official word.

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