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30 touches for David Johnson? Maybe. Likely not

Posted by Darren Urban on July 17, 2017 – 9:43 am

The subject of David Johnson and his potential touches per game this season has been a ongoing theme this offseason. It came up again this weekend when the Cardinals’ running back attended a fantasy football event (fantasy football is the No. 1 reason so many people want to know about Johnson’s touches this season, in an effort to forecast his production.)

Back at the owners’ meetings in March, Bruce Arians first talked about Johnson getting 30 touches — rushing attempts plus receptions — per game. When Johnson threw out the first pitch at a Diamondbacks game in April, he said there was no reason why he couldn’t get 30 touches a game.

“I never really got fatigued,” Johnson said then. “Those tough defense games against Seattle and the Rams, those games might feel a little sore, but that’s not until the adrenaline comes down. I never really feel too bad.”

Arians has said he’ll be smart about it. And the likelihood of Johnson averaging 30 touches a game, or even reaching that number a lot, just isn’t great.

Last season, one in which Johnson threatened to gain 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving, Johnson didn’t come close to averaging 30 touches a game. In fact, he led the league in touches at “only” 23.3. (Take out his injury-shortened finale, when he only had eight touches before going out with a scary knee injury, and Johnson still only averaged 24.3 touches a game.) Only three times did Johnson reach 30 touches in 2017, when he was the undisputed bellcow of the offense: 30 at San Francisco, 41 at home in the overtime tie against Seattle, and 32 in the late-season win at Seattle. (He had 29 at Minnesota and 27 against Washington.)

Make no mistake. Johnson will again be the centerpiece of the offense. There will be days when he gets 30 touches. But circumstances will be different each game. Defenses will create new challenges. Arians will want his receivers involved. There will be reasons at times to not overdo it with Johnson, too, something Arians has acknowledged. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense that he will average that many. Unless it’s against Seattle.


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Cardinals still blitz-happy under Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on July 13, 2017 – 1:15 pm

Bruce Arians kept his promise. The Cardinals acquired Chandler Jones last offseason (and were counting on Markus Golden taking another step forward as a pass rusher) and yet before the season he said he still wouldn’t be happy unless the Cards were blitzing.

“If we’ve got four good ones, why not send five or six?” Arians said then.

The Cards got what they wanted out of Jones (11 sacks) and Golden (12.5 sacks). But they also kept blitzing. Pro Football Focus has the numbers (and a couple of gifs for examples). NFL teams blitz an average of 30 percent of the time, PFF says, and about 38 percent in obvious passing situations. The Cardinals in 2016? Blitzing nearly 41 percent of the time (and 41.4 percent on first downs.) PFF makes the point that, in blitzing, it gives teams less chance to double-team when blocking. But in the end, Arians just likes to bring the pressure. It’s the defensive equivalent of the deep shots B.A. likes to take on offense. What, you thought because B.A. is an offensive guy that “No risk-it, no biscuit” was restricted to offense?

It’s also followed the change in DC from Todd Bowles — who blitzed a lot — to James Bettcher. With the addition of rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick (who played a pass-rushing defensive end at Temple) and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu, there seem to be more blitzing options heading into 2017.


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Post-season cancer surgery for Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on July 11, 2017 – 12:30 pm

Bruce Arians had a rough year health-wise in 2016. There was a scare in San Diego in the preseason (Arians had diverticulitis), and then another hospital check after “discomfort” in late November. Now, in his new book released today called “The Quarterback Whisperer,” Arians acknowledges there was third health concern that had to be taken care of after the season.

Arians writes that he was out to dinner with his wife, Chris, in December when he got a call from his doctor. Arians had just been to the doctor to get a hernia checked, and his ultrasound revealed a small spot on his kidney — renal cell carcinoma. Amazingly, Arians coached the remainder of the season before having surgery to remove a “small portion” of the kidney in February.

“Now I feel great,” Arians writes. “My energy has returned. I’m told I’m cancer-free again. I’m ready for at least one more season of NFL football—maybe more.”

Arians had to deal with a lot of heartbreak around that time. Both his brother-in-law and his longtime agent passed away from cancer. Arians also has a history with the disease. He battled prostate cancer in 2007, and had to have some cancerous cells scraped off his nose during his first summer work with the Cardinals in 2013.

“I now realize more than ever nothing is guaranteed in life,” Arians writes. “Every day needs to enjoyed and celebrated to the fullest. Roses need to be smelled, sunsets savored, time with family cherished. Moving forward, I want to be a beacon of hope for others struggling with cancer. My fight is their fight. I’m not coaching for myself in 2017; I’m coaching for everyone who’s dealing with cancer. This is my charge.”


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Arians delivers a soft warning

Posted by Darren Urban on June 8, 2017 – 1:25 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has already created a legacy that would look pretty nice even if he walked away from the game tomorrow, but that didn’t stop him from being angry (enough that he bellowed an expletive) for not being able to bring in a catch at one recent practice of what was basically an errant throw. That’s what you notice about Fitz, how much he works whenever he is on the practice field.

You also notice that he’s always on the practice field. He doesn’t get banged up often, not in the offseason. Not every player can say the same. It’s something Bruce Arians said he noticed when it comes to soft-tissue problems.

“He knows how to train,” Arians said of Fitz. “He’s tweaked (hamstrings), but he keeps going. He knows how to train. These young guys, they don’t know how to train when they go by themselves, or they hire somebody who trains them to run track. Not move around and hit the ground and push things. So they get soft-tissue injuries when they get to (training) camp.”

Arians said there was a “long conversation” Thursday morning on the topic with the team in their final meeting of the offseason.

“You get a soft-tissue injury this year (in camp), you’re probably going to get cut,” Arians said. “It’s just too competitive.”


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Arians: London events “not going to scare us off”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 6, 2017 – 12:16 pm

The Cardinals play the Rams in London at Twickenham Stadium on Oct. 22, and they will be spending the week beforehand in the country practicing for the game. Obviously, London and the U.K. have been in the news with recent terrorist events, both with the concert bombing in Manchester and then the attack on London Bridge.

Coach Bruce Arians was asked if those attacks caused him any concern with taking the Cardinals on their trip.

“No,” Arians said. “With concern … Anytime you are apprehensive, and let ISIS or whoever it is change the way you think or what you do, they are winning. We’ll go and we’ll do everything we can to put on a great show. If something happens, it happens. But they’re not going to scare us off.”


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Peterson as punt returner — again

Posted by Darren Urban on June 2, 2017 – 8:54 am

An NFL lifetime ago, when Bruce Arians was simply a good offensive coordinator with the Steelers and the Cardinals were trying to turn Kevin Kolb into their long-awaited replacement for Kurt Warner, Patrick Peterson electrified the league with his punt returns. He scored four times that season and would’ve had five, were it not for a shoe-tip trip tackle in the season finale.

Peterson’s effectiveness at punt returning hasn’t been the same since. There are plenty of arguments why, whether it’s a safety issue — no one wants Peterson to become Jason Sehorn the sequel — or a blocking issue — Peterson intimated as much during an appearance on the “Bickley and Marotta” show earlier this week — or something else. But there is one thing Peterson still has that can’t necessarily be said for anyone else on the roster when it comes to punt returns. He has Arians’ trust.

Since Arians arrived the Cardinals have tried to find a legitimate replacement for Peterson on punt returns. Yet, as we stand here on the final day of OTAs, it looks like Peterson is headed for another season on the job. In a perfect world, the Cards would have a guy who could return kicks and punts, but rookie T.J. Logan should end up with the kick return spot and he’s never returned punts, and frankly, he probably shouldn’t start now. As excellent kick return man LaRod Stephens-Howling once emphasized, they are certainly not the same thing.

Smokey Brown is an option, although having your No. 2 receiver in harm’s way isn’t that much different than your No. 1 cornerback. J.J. Nelson has done it, but his double-whammy fumble/injury when he was doing it as a rookie in 2015 sticks in the mind. Nelson too is important to the offense and exposing his slight frame to more punishment would likely give pause.

Maybe it is as simple as getting Peterson better lanes within which to run. Maybe, as the Cardinals showed in 2015, as long as Peterson isn’t turning it over, that’s all they need in that part of the game. But getting a breakout return or 10 during the season wouldn’t be bad either.


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The “pressure” of OTAs

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2017 – 4:32 pm

Bruce Arians was talking about a play near the end of Thursday’s OTA, a two-minute drill in which the “young guys panicked.”

“When the clock’s running, we have a certain play we go to and (expletive), they lined up all over the place,” Arians said. “Those are the type of things that get you beat.”

Arians has talked about the team being more intelligent on the field. Asked if the staff didn’t emphasize that enough last year, Arians said no, simply that the Cardinals didn’t make important plays at the end of games  — in all three phases — last season as they had in 2015.

“We made mental errors in critical situations that we hadn’t made in the past,” Arians said. “That’s been a big point of emphasis.”

Hence Arians’ issues with the mistake in the two-minute drill. This is why Arians and the Cardinals like to work on specific situations here in the heat of June — so many seconds left, the team trailing by “x” amount  of points. The Cards do it in training camp and the regular season as well, but now is when the rookies and the newbies get a taste of how Arians wants things done. Obviously, as Arians noted Thursday, the pressure can still build without pads and in shorts months from football that counts.

“I’ve seen some really bright young players that don’t make those mistakes and are calm under pressure,” Arians said. “Pressure is usually something (where) you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. That’s why you feel it. If you know what you’re doing, you never feel it.”


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Cardinals celebrations? “Chandler likes to dance”

Posted by Darren Urban on May 24, 2017 – 1:54 pm

Here’s the thing about the new relaxed celebration rules in the NFL — I’m not sure exactly how much they’ll impact the Cardinals. They don’t exactly have a group of guys pining to make a scene post-play. On our latest podcast, we were talking about a power poll of Cardinals who were most likely to take advantage. I mean, it’s not going to be Larry Fitzgerald (“That’ll never happen,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Larry’s dance is dancing over to give the ball to the referee, which is what he’s supposed to do.”) We know Smokey Brown can dance, but his dance was already allowed in the rules and frankly, I don’t see him going much further than that. J.J. Nelson is pretty low key. David Johnson is definitely low key — it’s tough to embrace the nickname “Humble Rumble” and you know, not be humble.

Arians, in contrast to Marvin Lewis, is cool with the change. “I danced all the time when I scored touchdowns,” Arians said. “I didn’t get many. Danced my ass off when it happened.”

Arians, however, doesn’t figure to score at all these days. In terms of the current players? “I’m not really a dancing type of guy,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said, when asked about his potential plans. “I do love the fact the league is allowing players to show their personality, not putting us in handcuffs. I think it’s a great win for the players.”

Peterson’s first choice in the locker room “probably would’ve been Tony,” but alas, Tony Jefferson has moved to Baltimore.

“Chandler,” Peterson said. “Chandler likes to dance.”

Indeed, Chandler Jones came to my mind first. He’s further removed from the more buttoned-up culture of New England. He has the security of the long-term contract. And he definitely likes to have fun. Jones was asked about the new overtime rule but he said the celebration rule move was the “one that matters” to the defensive players.

Jones did say there wouldn’t be any choreography or dance practice. “That’s when it gets out of hand” and away from football, he said. But, he added, “I’ll have something cooking for sure.”

 


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An early appearance for the accountability board

Posted by Darren Urban on May 17, 2017 – 8:19 am

The accountability board is something Bruce Arians brought with him when he came to the Cardinals, in use since his very first training camp. But it always had its place — camp and then the fall. It was put away in the offseason. Until now.

Arians said he was making a new move this year, putting up the accountability sheet starting this morning — now that OTAs had started Tuesday.

“We never do it in OTAs but we’re doing it this year,” Arians said.

It falls in line with everything else Arians has talked about wanting to do differently this season, all in an effort to rebound from a disappointing 7-8-1 record in 2016. Tackle more in training camp. Prep Carson Palmer now for later. Add more leaders in the locker room. And make sure the Cardinals don’t beat themselves — hence, the accountability board earlier than normal.

“We had too many mental errors in games last year,” Arians said. “It’s a point of emphasis.”


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No QB yet — and perhaps none at all

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2017 – 9:57 pm

The Cardinals made a big trade to move up in the second round Friday. It gave everyone pause. Quarterback? Deshone Kizer was on the board. But then came safety Budda Baker. No QB there. In the third round, the Cardinals traded down, and still, no QB. Now there is a question of whether there will be one in this draft.

“Those guys aren’t always out there,” coach Bruce Arians said. What about the quarterbacks left on the board? “There are still a couple of quality arms out there,” Arians acknowledged. “Whether they are first-string arms or second-string arms is yet to be seen.”

It’s less than a ringing endorsement for a team looking for a quarterback of the future. But again, this class always was seen with warts, and the last thing the Cardinals have any desire to do is make a pick just because they feel they have to.

“Again, would you love to find one? Absolutely,” GM Steve Keim said. “But as I said, you can’t force a pick and you can’t leave better players on the board, and that would have done if we didn’t take the approach we did. It would be a disservice to the organization and everyone who works here if we were to press something that was out of the norm or to panic.”

The Cards pick eighth in the fourth round Saturday. They have five picks — one in the fourth, two each in the fifth and seventh. We will see if one is a QB.

— The Cardinals really, really wanted Budda Baker. And in the third round, they liked Chad Williams a lot. So it worked out for Keim to make the initial trade, however expensive as it might have seemed, to snare Baker. Because Williams was one of those players that the Cardinals liked probably more than most, they were able to drop down 21 spots in the third, still get him and get back a fourth-round pick.

— Arians believes with the addition of Baker, the Cardinals have one of the most dynamic secondaries in the league. He didn’t rule out drafting a cornerback Saturday — I would be a little surprised if they didn’t — but the addition of Baker gives the Cards flexibility even if there isn’t a ready-to-be-on-an-island corner across from Patrick Peterson.

 


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