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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2010 – 4:13 pm

Steve Breaston isn’t going to brag. He doesn’t look all that comfortable when it’s suggested his presence “helps” Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz is a great player, Breaston knows, and that doesn’t go away whether Breaston is out of the lineup or not.

“That’s how everyone else sees it … I don’t know,” Breaston said. “I don’t know if I help him or not. I just do my part execute what the coaches give me. I hope I help everybody.”

Then again, it does make a difference with Breaston in there. “I don’t think teams were worried about some of those young players we had on the field,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said of the rookie wideouts playing when Breaston and Early Doucet were injured. Breaston does draw more attention. He does have the speed to stretch the field and open up holes for Fitz – and others – underneath.

Here’s another of my theories on Breaston and such a line of questioning (and Steve has never said this to me). Judging by his reaction, I think he’d like to start getting a little more respect for his game. He’s long been the overachiever, the guy who came out of nowhere to be so much more than a punt returner. He’s a very good receiver, a major playmaker, and I keep thinking there’s got to be a part of him who thinks, “You’re darn right I help Fitz because I will kill teams if they don’t pay attention to me.”

But hey, maybe I am over-analyzing.

– So the Cards head to Minnesota tomorrow with opportunity. Normally this trip to play the Vikings would seem to be an uphill climb, especially with the way the Cards have juggled QBs. But there is little question the Vikings are in a worse place as a team, after jettisoning Randy Moss and injury issues and stories all week about how coach Brad Childress is in trouble. If the Cards can handle Adrian Peterson – at least not let him run wild – and not turn it over, there is no reason to think the Cards can’t steal one. Here’s hoping they give themselves that chance.

– Peterson gets lost in the shuffle since everyone wants to talk about Brett Favre and, of late, Moss, but the Cards are paying attention. “He’s not a forgotten man with us,” Whisenhunt said. Peterson does lead the NFL with 776 yards rushing in seven games. “You never forget about a guy like that,” linebacker Joey Porter said. “Their offense still starts around him.”

– Tim Hightower has had his fumbling problems. So too has Peterson, although Peterson said this week the obvious: “Last year, yeah, I led the league in fumbles. It wasn’t because ‘Hey this guy is soft.’ It’s the way I play the game. I’m sure a coach would take me if I lead the league in fumbles five straight years.”

Peterson has none this year. And ESPN’s Chris Mortensen pointed out this great stat about Walter Payton (and not to compare Hightower, or even Peterson, with Payton): In Payton’s 14 seasons, he had at least five fumbles in all but one season. Payton had seasons of nine, 11, 13 and 16 fumbles. Astonishing.

– OK, so it’s in large part an indictment of the struggling offense at this point. But do you realize the Cardinals have more return touchdowns (KOR by The Hyphen, interception by DRC, four fumbles by Levi Brown, Kerry Rhodes (twice) and Gerald Hayes to total six) as they do rushing (five) or passing (five)? Those six return TDs, by the way, lead the NFL.

– When it was suggested the Cards might not have bothered to watch the Vikings games with Moss, since he is gone now, Whisenhunt said the Cards watched every game this season of the Vikings. Moss’ absence will definitely change how the Cards deal with them.

– I tried to ask about right tackle Brandon Keith’s play. It was actually praised this week by one-time offensive lineman Ben Muth on Football Outsiders. But Whisenhunt was having none of it. At least not yet.

“I’m not going to comment about that until after this game,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s a trap, because as soon as you ask me that and I say something … going into this environment … I’ll withhold comment.”

Fair enough. Noise has bothered Keith this season. The Cards need both he and Levi Brown to hold up on the outside.

– Cards quarterback Derek Anderson likes his humor. Talking about Favre this week, Anderson quipped, “Brett Favre is as old as my dad.” Anderson never necessarily idolized Favre, but liked the way he played because “he always played like a kid.” That’s what Anderson wants to be able to do. As for Favre’s crazy streak of consecutive games played, Anderson shook his head.

“It’s a testament to the lines he played behind because, whatever he’s done, 2,000 games he’s played straight, guys get beat up and a lot of times can’t even play 16 games,” Anderson said. (The streak, by the way, will be 293 once Favre takes a snap against the Cards).

– Don’t forget, with the rest of the country changing clocks in the wee hours of Sunday morning, the Vikings’ kickoff will be at 11 a.m. Arizona time and not 10 a.m. For me, it’s on to Minnesota. Guess we will hear that blasted horn soon enough.


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Buccaneers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 31, 2010 – 11:07 pm

Like everyone else, I flinched when Derek Anderson threw his final interception Sunday. At that point, I had been convinced that, despite the up-and-down nature of the game and the disaster of the first 2-and-a-half quarters, that the Cards were going to find a way to pull it out of their a…. er, pull it out of the fire.

But they didn’t.

I know everyone wants to talk about the end of the game. First down, on the Tampa 20. Cards are without LaRod Stephens-Howling, whose ribs just took a shot. Beanie Wells wasn’t in the game after hurting his back, and besides, he doesn’t play in the two-minute package. So the Cards have Tim Hightower, who already lost his starting role after having fumbling issues. Did that affect the play call, why it wasn’t a run? Perhaps. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the package had been moving the ball down the field through the air. You can’t argue that. And on the play in which Anderson threw the pick, the Cards ran double slants against the Bucs’ zone and Early Doucet was open on the play on the inner slant. The problem is Anderson decided to throw to Larry Fitzgerald. Interception. Game over.

Of course, if Max Hall doesn’t give up two TDs on picks, it would have been moot. Or if the defense had been able to hold after Anderson had led the Cards to the go-ahead touchdown instead of allowing the Bucs to go right back at re-take the lead.

The best thing the Cards can do to avoid such a problem? Don’t put yourself in that situation in the first place. Don’t turn the ball over so much, then everyone can have their beloved 28-carry Beanie game, etc., etc.

– More and more, you can see why the Cards loved Stephens-Howling. The Hyphen is a playmaker, whether it’s returning kicks, covering kicks (he grabbed that muffed punt today) or running the ball (his TD scamper was impressive).

– BTW, Larry Fitzgerald not only scored twice today, he was great blocking and finishing the block on the Hyphen’s TD run.

– Steve Breaston had three catches of at least 30 yards. The Cards had only one pass play of at least 30 yards in their first six games – which also went to Breaston, in the season opener.

– Adrian Wilson lost an interception today because he was called for pass interference. The lone replay Fox showed was terrible (high above the play) but it sure didn’t look like A-Dub did much of anything. That cost the Cards at least three points (and probably more, since the Cards would have been in scoring range before the half).

– Whisenhunt said Hightower’s playing time was affected by the flow of the game and nothing else. Yet it sure had a feel of a message being sent after the fumbles. That and a chance to showcase the Hyphen a little.

– Have I mentioned I am burned out on talking about the quarterback situation?

– Vikings QB Brett Favre left today’s game against the Patriots after a blow to the chest/head, but he said “I should be able to play next week.” That would mean the Cardinals.

– Hmm, I guess I could be in a spot to have to write about the Vikings’ quarterback every week.

– I’m spending way too much time tweeting. I should’ve finished this an hour ago. Goodnight.



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The Leinart effect

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2010 – 12:53 pm

It’s been a topic for a long time, but now that Matt Leinart is back at starting quarterback of the Cardinals, the idea that he is polarizing to the fan base — for the most part, regardless of what happens, half are for him and half are against — has blossomed again. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked about it today.

“I think you expect that,” Whisenhunt said. “Ultimately he will be judged on how he plays. The fan base, if Matt does what he is capable of doing, will be happy. It’ll come down to how he performs. Matt is aware of that and is a lot more comfortable with that now than maybe he was four years ago, because of the way he has grown.

“I understand. Anytime you lose a player like Kurt Warner who has done what he has done the last two-and-a-half years and meant what he meant to this team and this organization, you’re naturally going to have those feelings toward anyone who steps in there, because he’s not Kurt. Matt has to be the quarterback he can be and that will take care of itself.

Whisenhunt said the fans have been “fantastic” about supporting the team, and as long as the Cardinals continue on the right path, “I am comfortable with that (support) coming back around.”

Whisenhunt said it’s the nature of the quarterback position that leads to polarizing fans, pointing out how it has happened with Brett Favre, for example.

Leinart has also gotten a little more passionate, Whisenhunt said, although it can’t be forced. Whiz said he intentionally waved off the 42-yard TD completion from Leinart to Stephen Williams during Tuesday’s practice just to see how Leinart would handle adversity. “I liked what I saw,” Whisenhunt said.

– The Cardinals will go through some competitive drives during tonight’s practice, Whisenhunt said. He wants to see fewer mistakes and guys on both sides of the ball “making plays.”

– Today, as has been the worst-kept secret ever, was movie day. Players had the choice to see The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim versus the The World, Inception and The Other Guys. Whisenhunt watched The Expendables. He said it was good, noting “you know what you are getting into when you go into that type of movie and it lived up to expectations.”

“I think if you ask the team, this is our fourth training camp, you would get 100 percent affirmation we need to do this. I think the first year they didn’t quite know what to think. Now, from the first day of camp, they start talking about when is movie day.”

– Live chat in 30 minutes right here.


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A predictor of Leinart’s success

Posted by Darren Urban on July 8, 2010 – 1:57 pm

We’ve analyzed and dissected what it means for the Cards to have Matt Leinart starting at quarterback this season a bunch of times already, and training camp hasn’t even arrived yet.

But hey, it’s the summer. The players are gone. So here’s another thought.

SI.com has a story posted today about the “Rule of 26-27-60″ as a guide (although not a guarantee) of NFL quarterbacking success. And, according to the rule, Leinart should work out. The idea? If a guy scored at least a 26 on the infamous Wonderlic exam at the combine, had at least 27 college starts and completed at least 60 percent of his collegiate passes, usually, it means the guy can succeed on the NFL level.

Leinart scored a 35 on the Wonderlic. He started 39 games in college. And he completed 64.8 percent of his passes. Check. Check. Check.

Among current names that also accomplished all three parts of the “rule?” Both Mannings, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Drew Brees. Among the names that fell short in at least one category? Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, David Carr, Joey Harrington, JaMarcus Russell.

Now, there are always exceptions. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre have all done pretty well. And you may not be printing Super Bowl tickets if Ryan Fitzpatrick or Kyle Orton (both of whom reached all three benchmarks in college) is your QB.

But it’s a talking point, and one to consider. Until gets a chance to wed significant playing time with his acknowledged more mature preparation methods, we won’t know for sure either way. UPDATE FOR THOSE WONDERING: Here are the numbers for the other QBs on the roster, again with the caveat that this “rule” isn’t the end-all-be-all. Derek Anderson 19-38-50.7, John Skelton 24-41-58.8, Max Hall 38-39-65.3.


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Don’t even ask

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2010 – 9:44 am

I guess I should have doused this yesterday, when it picked up steam and for some unknown reason became fodder for the ESPN talking heads, but Kurt Warner isn’t going to come back. All this started, by the way, through pure rumor on profootballtalk.com, not because Kurt said something ambiguous. This is what Warner said last night on Twitter: “Why does everyone think I am coming back? Do I have the wrong definition of ‘retirement’ or has it been changed in recent years?”

He’s not Brett Favre, people.

P.S. Speaking of things that make you shake your head, there is Beanie Wells’ shaved head (which you can see in this video at the 57 second mark). It’s hot outside, right? Makes all the sense in the world. But Beanie ‘fessed up, admitting the shiny dome look wasn’t intentional. Beanie apparently cuts his own hair and apparently went a bit too far up the hairline in the front. So it all had to come off. Of course, he can pull it off. I’d be afraid to unleash that look on the world. Which is probably why I don’t try to cut my own hair.


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Warner retirement aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 29, 2010 – 5:56 pm

In the end, it all seemed kinda anticlimactic.

Kurt Warner walked out and said, right off the top and with no big buildup, that he was retiring. And, save for a couple of moments when it sounded like he might get a little dusty talking about his wife and kids, there was nothing close to tears.

I suppose that’s how I am so certain Warner a) is making the right decisions and b) doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to pull a Favre. It seems to me guys cry at retirement press conferences most of the time because, down deep, they don’t want to be saying goodbye. They would rather keep playing, but for some reason can’t. I don’t think that’s the case for Warner, who made it clear Friday.

“There is no question in my mind I am leaving at the right time,” he said, and while it probably pained coach Ken Whisenhunt and the rest of the Cardinals’ organization (and many, many fans), who are we to argue?

We’ve all known for a while this was a possibility. I’ll be honest, knowing how much Kurt liked to play the game and how hard he fought to pull his career up by the bootstraps after it was basically dead halfway through the 2006 season, I thought he’d play out his current contract. He said as much when he signed the deal in March. Obviously, though, things changed during the season. And truthfully, there isn’t anything else for him to accomplish that he hasn’t already. Would he have liked to have won a Super Bowl in Arizona? Sure, but those aren’t odds you can bet on, and when he said today he couldn’t – mentally or emotionally – handle playing another season, then you have to move on.

Another key point, something that is always possible as a player ages (Warner will be 39 in May): “I don’t know if I could have handled playing at a lesser level. I think that would have frustrated me.”

Some other thoughts here in the wake of Warner saying farewell:

– It was interesting to hear Warner talk about the time frame of his retirement contemplation – especially with the idea that the concussion in St. Louis, while it played a part, was only just a piece of the puzzle and that he was already leaning toward it being his last season by then.

– Warner thanked all three teams he played for – the Rams, Giants and Cards – for giving him opportunities. “It took three different teams taking a chance on me at three different times, three different situations, to allow me to accomplish what I accomplished,” Warner said. When you think about it, all three teams did take a chance. Warner was an NFL nobody when he got his start with the Rams, he seemed to be a broken-down player when the Giants brought him in, and when the Cards got him, it seemed like Warner’s glory was well in the past. You could see why ending his career strong – and changing the perceptions so many had of him (and which Warner hated) – was so important.

– I would be shocked if Warner doesn’t make the Hall of Fame. Whether he makes it on the first go-round after the 2014 season is something different. If Brett Favre retires this season (and I mean really retires, not retires until mid-August), that’s a big-time quarterback who’ll be in before Warner and then it’ll come down to who else is eligible. But Warner will get in sooner rather than later, I believe.

– Warner said his newfound free time will be spent preaching his religion and speaking to groups, writing (hey, maybe he can do some work for azcardinals.com!) and perhaps some TV or radio. Plenty to keep him busy. He did say he wants to have a hand in football in some way, but emphasized anything he does will have to work around him having plenty of family time. So once again, forget about him coaching.

– Classic Kurt, but he also said he doesn’t necessarily want to be remembered for football. “ I hope people remember anything is possible. I hope that’s what people remember more than anything else. Not the way I threw the football, not the games I won, but they remember here’s a guy that believed, that worked hard, and while things didn’t always go in his favor, he continued to press through and was able to accomplish great things.”

How could you forget that about the grocery bagger?

– If you’re looking for more, there’s a photo gallery from the press conference, a top 10 list of Kurt’s best games in an Arizona uniform, and a timeline of Warner’s years as a Cardinal.

– The retirement aftershocks will be an ongoing story with regard to the team. There is a lot to write about Matt Leinart and the QB position and where this team goes from here. But like Whisenhunt repeated once or twice after Warner’s announcement, there will be plenty of time to talk about that. It’s only January. Today was about Warner, and his amazing story.

As Warner was bouncing around to do the various radio and one-on-one TV interviews after the press conference, myself and the Republic’s Kent Somers caught him quickly just to shake his hand and say thanks. As has been noted many times, if a media member could draw up the perfect athlete, it was Kurt. As we delivered our thank yous, Warner actually apologized for not returning text messages we each had sent earlier in the week. Warner was on vacation in Mexico, and while he could receive texts, he couldn’t send them, he said. I had to smile. I just assumed he wasn’t going to answer the text. I am guessing he got more than a few text messages this week. Besides, what high-profile athlete apologizes for such a thing?

Kurt Warner.


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Now, Campbell is fine with sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2009 – 10:19 am

Admittedly, Calais Campbell was thinking of his bank account, and it may be costing him the team lead in sacks right now.

Campbell’s goals before the season were to lead the Cards in sacks and reaching double digits in the category. Campbell has six sacks right now, with linemate Darnell Dockett totaling seven.

Flash back to the final play of the first half in Tennessee, where Darnell Dockett tracked down a scrambling Vince Young for a sack, the clock running out and costing the Titans a chance at a field goal? That was one of Dockett’s sacks. Campbell should have been the one who got Young on that play. Somehow, Campbell – who had a similar play in Jacksonville when he allowed David Garrard to escape what looked like a sure sack – didn’t bring Young down.

In this case, Campbell thought Young threw the ball.

“Usually you still throw him to the ground, let him know you’re there, but I didn’t want to get fined,” Campbell said. “So I gave him a love tap to let him know I was there, and I turned around to see where he threw the ball, and I saw it was still in his hand. I was like, ‘Man, I should’ve taken him to the ground.’ That hurt. But I thought about the fine.”

Campbell tried to put such thoughts out of his head after that. A week later, Campbell tossed Vikings quarterback Brett Favre like a rag doll on a sack, and while he wasn’t flagged, he was fined $5,000 for the extra emphasis.

“I learned the last couple weeks, you just play and if the fine comes, you go with it,” Campbell said. “Sacks are critical, so if you have a chance to make it happen, you have to get it.”


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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2009 – 5:15 pm

It’s Friday again, and the Cardinals are all about looking forward. Looking back – given the angles of this weekend’s game against the Vikings – doesn’t give a whole lot of warm and fuzzies.

Take last year’s visit from the Vikings, when Adrian Peterson was All Day – 165 yards rushing – and the normally pedestrian Tarvaris Jackson threw for four touchdown passes. The Vikings came to University of Phoenix Stadium the week after the Cards clinched the NFC West title and walked away with a 35-14 win that wasn’t even that close. It was 21-0 before the first quarter was even over. “I don’t remember that game,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “I would rather not talk about that game. The game was over in the first quarter. We didn’t have a chance after the first 10 minutes.”

Then there was the last time the Cards saw Brett Favre. It was better remembered for the game Anquan Boldin nearly lost his face, but in that Jets’ rout Favre threw a career-high six touchdown passes. “I think that was just a bad day all around as far as communication in the secondary and our play all around,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.

Then there was last week, a heartbreaking loss in Tennessee capped by that 99-yard drive at the end. “You can’t go back and re-live that game,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to continue to hear about it.”

So the Cards move on to “Sunday Night Football,” hoping their national TV performance is more New York than Indy.

– The big storyline is the Kurt Warner will-he-or-won’t-he guessing game. Fans, friends, even co-workers want to know what I think. I think I don’t know. Wouldn’t put money on it either way and have a hard time even hazarding a guess. I think the expectation is that Warner will start, but that was the expectation last week at this time. The fact Matt Leinart got much more practice time shows the Cards want to hedge their bets this time around, and Leinart will be in a lot better position if he has to play.

I’ve heard the arguments about sitting and keeping Warner fresh and healthy for the 49ers, and I have heard the arguments about getting him in there for a win. To me, this is much more clear cut: If Warner is healthy, he plays. If not, he sits. It’s a concussion, and if Warner doesn’t think he’s ready to play, I wouldn’t want him out there. Don’t lose sight of the fact Warner has now taken his role in the whole concussion discussion within the league very seriously. That may push him to playing it safe. He sees himself as a role model for other players with this issue.

– Minnesota, by the way, has an NFL-best 40 sacks. What a way for Jeremy Bridges to make his debut as a starting left tackle in the NFL.

– These are two of the best defenses on third down in the league. The Vikings are tops, allowing just 32.8 percent conversions. The Cards are third – behind Miami – at 33.1.

– It was disappointing to see Beanie Wells mishandle the pitch last week for a fumble. It was a fixable problem, but one that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. “He just went too steep,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He didn’t go flat enough. The play design was good and it was going to be a big play. But he went downhill too much which shortened the angle of the pitch.”

– Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice is having a Pro Bowl-quality season, with 56 catches, 964 yards and four touchdowns. Maybe Larry Fitzgerald is to blame. Fitz invited Rice to be part of that “receivers camp” Fitz held in Minnesota this summer. “You know how when you see a friend do something and you are just genuinely happy to see him do it?” Fitzgerald said. “That’s kind of how I feel.”

– Speaking of Fitz, he’s tight with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, and when I asked him about the difficulty of going up against a friend in a violent sport like football, he just smiled. “(Cornerback) Antoine Winfield and I are close friends, we talk all the time. I want to beat him more than some guy I don’t know because I know what kind of player he is.”

Fitz then broke out his Blackberry to show the back-and-forth texts he and Winfield shared this week.

Fitz: “How u feeling? U want to give it a go this weekend? I need 2 know where I’m at playing against the best in the biz”

Winfield: “What’s up homeboy? I’m going 2 b good 2 go this week. Looking forward to the challenge. Tell my man Beanie watch running the ball to my side. C u out there Sunday.”

“I’ll give it my best, he’ll give it his best and after the game, the numbers don’t lie,” Fitzgerald said. “Bragging rights. And at the club, he’s buying the drinks.”

– The key to this game is getting a lead or staying within a touchdown. If the Cards get zapped early – like against the Vikings last season – it’s going to be tough sledding. But if they hang tight, whether Warner or Leinart is playing, the crowd (which I am sure will have more than a few purple jerseys, unfortunately) will rally to the Cards’ favor.

Somehow, I see Minnesota boy Fitzgerald having a big impact. Hopefully it’s for a couple of touchdowns so he can finally get that regular-season win against his hometown team for which he’s been looking.


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200 TD passes for Warner

Posted by Darren Urban on November 15, 2009 – 5:13 pm

That beautiful back-shoulder TD pass for 18 yards to Larry Fitzgerald — Fitz gets big props for finding where he was on the field and reaching across the goalline — was Warner’s 200th career TD pass. Warner becomes the 29th player in NFL history to reach that mark. Four other active QBs are on the list: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb.


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