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An anthem, the “itch” and Fitz’s return

Posted by Darren Urban on February 6, 2017 – 11:51 am

The moment, Fitz said, boiled up when Mike Phillips was playing the national anthem in Atlanta before the NFC Championship game between the Falcons and Packers. The Cardinals wide receiver said he was “just into it.”

“I was sitting there and the fire was burning,” Fitzgerald said. “I wanted to be out there.”

That’s what told Fitz he needed to play again in 2017, something he announced last week.

“I called (Bruce Arians), I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got that itch,’ ” Fitzgerald said the other night, after he was awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year. “He was like, ‘Don’t rush, don’t make a hasty decision. Take your time.’ We talked again, I had dinner with Coach (Friday) night. I love that man, I love playing for him, he brings a great energy to our team and a toughness that is contagious.”

That’s what Arians had predicted, that the players would eventually have that itch. (Of course, when Arians said that, it was after the NFC Championship game and after Fitz said he was “pretty sure” he knew his decision, so B.A. was working with inside information.) Fitzgerald acknowledged all the things expected to have impacted his wavering about playing in the first place — feeling “pretty bad” after the season both physically and psychologically.

Spending time in Houston last week wasn’t ideal either.

“It sucks coming here (to the Super Bowl) and enjoying the pageantry of the event but not actually participating in the event,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not the same. We all play for that. Hopefully we get off to a fast start and get it going this year.”

The Cardinals are waiting to hear from quarterback Carson Palmer about his status for 2017, but at this point it feels like a foregone conclusion Palmer will indeed play.

“We all hope that Carson comes back, not to put any pressure on him,” Fitzgerald said. “But we are a very, very good team when Carson is playing quarterback for us.”

6th Annual NFL Honors


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QB, if Palmer were to retire

Posted by Darren Urban on February 1, 2017 – 10:03 am

Let me start this post by saying I have all along believed Carson Palmer would play in 2017, regardless of what Larry Fitzgerald ultimately chose. (Wednesday, Palmer cleared up the idea his house in Arizona was for sale — it isn’t.) I will admit I am a little surprised that Palmer’s situation remains up in the air as it apparently is, but I still think he will play. But … if he doesn’t:

It would kind of feel a little bit like the offseason of 2013, right when Steve Keim and Bruce Arians were hired into their current spots. The Cards were going to move on from Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. They signed Drew Stanton, who was ostensibly going to be the starter (and then the Cards would draft a QB), until Palmer came along in the big trade with the Raiders.

If Palmer were to retire now, Stanton again would ostensibly be the starter. The Cardinals likely would go into the draft looking to pick a QB. But there would be a good chance Keim would look into the trade/free-agent market hard. (Mike Glennon, maybe?) In some ways, perhaps the situation would parallel even more that 2010 season right after Kurt Warner retired. You’d have the remaining veteran — Stanton playing the role of Matt Leinart — and the possibility of adding another veteran (in 2010, it was Derek Anderson). Zac Dysert is still around, but there’d likely be a rookie. In 2010, that was Skelton and Max Hall, both of whom ended up with roster spots ahead of Leinart (who by then had worn out his welcome with then-coach Ken Whisenhunt.)

Again, I think Palmer will play and the Cardinals will remain stable for another season. But as Bruce Arians said, the team is prepared for either contingency.

— Quick note for all those wondering where Stump Mitchell was going. He has reunited with Todd Bowles after taking the Jets’ vacant running backs coach job Tuesday.

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Arians and his torn rotator cuff

Posted by Darren Urban on January 23, 2017 – 10:17 am

Even Bruce Arians ended up with a significant injury this season.

The injuries hit the Cardinals much harder in 2016 — when they used a total of 70 players during the 16 games — than 2015 — when the total was 56. (The 70 players that appeared in at least one game was the most for the Cardinals, in fact, since they used 74 during the 2005 season.) That list, of course, doesn’t include Arians, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t hurt.

And we’re not talking his two separate hospital stints either. No, this was an injury — a torn rotator cuff, in fact, which Arians confirmed to azcentral’s Dan Bickley. Arians said his left rotator cuff was “torn completely through” when wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hugged him in celebration of Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal in Seattle on Christmas Eve.

Arians had hinted at such. In his final press conference, Arians noted “my shoulder that Larry screwed up. I just got it injected and will see if I have surgery on it.” He jokingly said Fitz would pay if he couldn’t golf, but apparently, Arians is making do on the course. (We’ll see how — if — he can get it done next week in the Waste Management Phoenix Open pro-am.) And unlike Fitzgerald, who wanted to let his body heal before making a decision about playing in 2017 (no decision yet), Arians knows he’ll be around in 2017, regardless of his shoulder situation.

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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

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Fitz in Miami, and Friday before the Dolphins

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2016 – 3:01 pm

It’s been a big week for Larry Fitzgerald. Becomes the player with the third-most catches in NFL history, is chosen as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year (and will it surprise anyone if Fitz is one of the three finalists?) and now, gets to go back to where he first had a game-winning touchdown.

You remember, right? Denny Green’s first year, Fitz’s rookie year, and the last time the Cardinals actually played in Miami. It was 2004, and Fitz’s 48-yard bomb with about a minute left set up his two-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds left. It snapped a 17-game road losing streak for the Cards (those were the days …) and got Fitzgerald to the postgame interview podium for the first time.

He didn’t like it. It was a short and, if I recall correctly, much too awkward of an interview for a guy who just scored the game-winning points. But life is much different these days for Fitz. That was the day, coming off a personal shutout in the rain in Buffalo, that Fitz started his still-active streak of 191 straight games with a catch.

“That’s a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said.

Indeed it was.

Are these two Miami trips going to essentially bookend Fitz’s career? He was asked this week about catching Tony Gonzalez and/or Jerry Rice on that receptions list. Gonzalez is about 200 receptions in front of Fitzgerald.

“I won’t catch either of those guys,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “I don’t plan on playing long enough to catch both those guys.”

What does that mean? It would seem to put a damper on the idea Fitz will play past 2017, since the rest of this season plus next season plus, say, 2018, would seem to put him in Gonzalez range. So at this point – although Fitzgerald was quick to say he wasn’t making any kind of retirement announcement – Fitz’s time seems to be short. He’s obviously a lot closer to the end than the beginning. Trips to Miami mark the time.

— The Cardinals may adjust their offensive line again, with the possibility of Earl Watford returning to the lineup at right guard for John Wetzel. Watford got hurt at the end of the Minnesota game, and while he was healthy enough to play the last couple games, Wetzel instead got the call. Goodwin called Watford’s year “up and down.”

“It’s probably not where he wants it, not where I want it to be,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I have high expectations of him, as a player and a person.”

Arians said Watford is healthy again, and simply, he has more experience than Wetzel. That’s a big deal going up against what can be a nasty Dolphins defensive line,

— With rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hurting his elbow in practice and missing parts of practice all week, I don’t think anyone has to wonder if this is the week he makes it back to the Sunday active list.

— Guys like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson are going back to Miami to play for the first time and are excited. John Brown is also headed home for the first time, although it’s a much different vibe. Although Goodwin said Brown played well last week in his limited snaps – Arians had noted Smoke was open deep a couple of times, although the Cards couldn’t get him the ball – he didn’t have a catch and has just 31 receptions this season.

“Just going through it is kind of frustrating,” Brown said. “But everyone in here has my back. The coaches have my back. I’ll get through it. It’s just a small bump in the road.”

Brown did say he hasn’t played in front of his family since high school, so he is looking forward to doing so.

— Fitz, on whether rest days have helped the arm of Carson Palmer. “His arm has always looked good,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s 36 years old, you know he’s capable of doing everything. You don’t need to see it every day.”

— Arians was asked about the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu — who won’t play Sunday because of his bad shoulder — and former Colts safety Bob Sanders, who had an excellent career cut short because of injuries. Sanders was also undersized.

“Totally different players,” Arians said. “Bob was a box guy who would just knock your socks off all the time, but his body couldn’t take his bravado. Ty plays the game a different way. It’s just been bad luck.”

— After failing to score on the opening possession all season, the Cardinals have scored a touchdown on the opening drive each of the last two games. Palmer said the Cards have put a focus on it. I asked what does that exactly mean, since you figure they are working on all the plays equally.

“I wish there was one reason or five reasons,” Palmer said. “There are a ton of reasons why that happens. It’s not like all of a sudden Coach put together a really good opening drive. It is not like all of a sudden we didn’t make a mistake on the opening drive. I think if you looked at that and compared it to all the other opening drives, there are probably less mistakes, but there is no rhyme or reason or perfect formula, obviously, or else everybody would be doing it.”

— With no roster moves as of yet, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will make a move with practice squad punter Matt Wile this week. So I expect Drew Butler to have his regular duties against the Dolphins.

— The Cardinals win this weekend, and the last month of this season can be very, very interesting. A loss, and you’re talking about 2017.

FITZGERALD HOWARD


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Cardinals will bring in punter for tryout

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2016 – 1:46 pm

On the heels of General Manager Steve Keim saying the Cardinals would evaluate the punter position after a rough outing from Drew Butler Sunday, coach Bruce Arians said the team will bring in a punter for a tryout. He did not name who.

“You can’t have guys kicking 28-yard kicks when you sit out there at practice, 50 (yards), 50 every day and then you get in a game (and struggle),” Arians said. “Drew brings a lot of other things but he’s still got to kick the damn ball.”

Butler had three punts Sunday. The first was 41 yards but was a line drive and returnable. The second was a good kick of 50 yards, but the third went the aforementioned 28 yards and allowed Washington to start a drive on the Cardinals’ 48-yard line.

“Kicking is a funny game,” Arians said. “And most of it is mental.”

Butler has struggled much of the season. He dealt with a bad ankle injury earlier in the year, was released, and then brought back. In six games, he has averaged 41.3 yards a punt, with a net average of 35.4. Arians emphasized a tryout did not necessarily mean a change. Holding on Chandler Catanzaro is part of the job description.

“He can be a hell of a punter, if he doesn’t hold, he ain’t getting the job,” Arians said.

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Roof expected to be open Sunday

Posted by Darren Urban on December 3, 2016 – 3:36 pm

For the first time this season, the University of Phoenix roof is expected to be open for a game when the Cardinals host Washington Sunday. The temperature is supposed to be about 65 degrees outside at kickoff.

The roof has been open 24 times previous since the stadium has opened; the Cardinals have won 14 of those games. It has been open five times previous since Bruce Arians became coach. A list of those outcomes:

— 12/10/15 Minnesota W 23-20
— 11/22/15 Cincinnati W 34-31
— 12/29/13 San Francisco L 23-20
— 12/8/13 St. Louis W 30-10
— 10/17/13 Seattle L 34-22

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Work ethic and Friday before Washington

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2016 – 4:41 pm

It’s been a week of criticism and accountability, of players meeting and talk of needing just one win. And as Bruce Arians talked for the final time before the last-gasp-for-now Washington game Sunday about such things, he veered to a message that wasn’t really asked about but something he clearly wanted to say.

“I love this team’s work ethic,” the coach said. “I never have to bitch about work ethic. They come to work Wednesday through Saturday. It’s a shame it hasn’t all shown up on Sundays, but I couldn’t ask any more on the field and in the classroom than what they are giving.”

Ultimately, the talk during the week is just talk. Something else that keeps popping up when Arians – and players – speak about everything that’s happened this week: No one knows what it all means until Sunday.

It doesn’t mean all is right with the win, or that it was a disaster of a week with a loss. But the on-life-support playoff hopes need a win to make sure they don’t head to the morgue, and it doesn’t get much more desperate than that. The Cards are working for that. Arians is sure of it. But that’s not really been a complaint all season. Just the results.

— There’s been speculation that the pounding Carson Palmer has taken this season could influence him to retire after the year. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since he’s talked often about playing as long as he possibly could, and just said last week how much he still enjoys the prep during the week and game days.

But I asked him if indeed, the added hits could play a role in him deciding to retire.

“I don’t know,” Palmer said. “I’ll have to let you know, if I get there. If I get there.”

— I’m glad Fitz acknowledged he always knows where he is when it comes to stats because if he had said he didn’t, those who have been around him would’ve known otherwise. Look, Fitz desperately wants to get a Super Bowl title – the one thing he doesn’t have. But yes, the numbers have always been very important to him. He’s not catching Jerry Rice. He might not even catch Tony Gonzalez. But he’s had an amazing career.

(Yes, you can only imagine what it could have been with a good QB situation from 2010-2012, or a more steady situation in 2014, but we play the Cards we are dealt. He did have a huge 2011 season, though, when John Skelton just started throwing it to him down the field over and over.)

— How much does Josh Norman cover Fitz Sunday? And exactly what will be Patrick Peterson’s duties when he is on the field?

— Arians was asked about the lack of production from the draft class. The coach said they were all picks made for the future, with a deep and veteran roster. He noted that only injuries forced Brandon Williams into the lineup early this season.

“(The class) was more guys we felt we could develop and not need right away,” Arians said. “Hopefully that’s every draft from here on in.”

— Don’t forget there is a toy drive at Sunday’s game. Bring an unwrapped toy or donations to any stadium entrance.

— In case there was uncertainty about bringing Tyvon Branch back from IR, the uncertainty of Tyrann Mathieu as we go along probably should clear that up. Plus – and importantly – Branch plays special teams.

— David Johnson needs one touchdown to reach 14 this season. No Cardinal has done that since Roy Green did it in 1983.

— Washington is feeling good about itself. Their offense, even if Jordan Reed isn’t going to play, has moved the ball. This is not a simple game. Seeing how the Cardinals react to the events of their week – and the spot they are in at 4-6-1 – is intriguing. We haven’t been here in the Arians era. Everything is new.

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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 5:10 pm

For a few minutes, it was exactly how Bruce Arians wanted it to be all along.

Carson Palmer, with a clean pocket, threw perfect chunk passes off play-action. David Johnson picked up six yards running just falling forward. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the first possession for the first time this season. Arians was thrilled.

“I take a lot of pride in that stat of scoring first,” Arians said.

The Cards couldn’t get a stop, though. They couldn’t get a stop all game when they really, really needed one. I take that back, they did to begin the second half – but then the offense had a three-and-out in their lone full possession of the third quarter.

That’s frustrating, Arians and everyone else asked about it will say. But that’s expected. There isn’t any one part of the game (unless you go with David Johnson himself as a part of the game) that has been excellent.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters, the one-time Falcon, shook his head at the lack of consistency. He was talking about the defense, and there is certainly reason to look at the defense that way. But the offense and special teams haven’t been able to find any either. That’s why they can shred a defense for an easy 75-yard drive to start, and have just 109 yards total in the second half.

That’s why the Cards are stunningly only 4-6-1.

“We’re 4-and-6, that’s our reality,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’re too talented to be under .500.”

— Arians is beside himself about the receiving problems. Smokey Brown gets hurt again. Michael Floyd drew a pause and an “I don’t know” from the coach, after a game in which he could have made a huge fourth-down catch and he did not. Floyd’s season will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.

— Arians said the Cardinals used more maximum protection on pass plays Sunday than any time since he has been coach. The group was not perfect, but I did think they held up – at least until the end when the Falcons figured a pass was coming every down. I fully expect that group – from left tackle over, Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel, John – to remain the starting five.

“I really would like to see it on film, just to critique the small stuff,” Humphries said. “But I felt the way stuff was shuffled around and the wat we had to pull together in a short time, it was a good outing. But it wasn’t good enough. Clearly.”

— Mathieu talked again about accountability in the locker room. I don’t know if he has things in particular he is thinking of or if he just feels like, when you are losing, people need to go under the microscope. It may be the latter, because he said in the same breath they have to stick together. That will be tested these last five games.

— Patrick Peterson hurt his knee. He said he got kicked by the cleat of Julio Jones on D.J. Swearinger’s interception. We’ll see what that means for him this week, although he said it was “painful.”

— Swearinger’s reputation earned him that interception he made. Jones beat Patrick Peterson on the in-route but Jones was staring straight at Swearinger as Jones made his way across the middle. That moment of lost concentration – and that knowledge Swearinger lights up receivers going across the middle – caused the bobble and Swearinger was gift-wrapped an INT.

— Unfortunately, Swearinger couldn’t hold on to the interception later, which would have stalled a Falcons’ TD drive. But the way it went Sunday, that might’ve been a band-aid. Not sure the Cards could’ve stopped the Falcons enough.

— Well, the Cards and Peterson didn’t let Jones beat them. So …

— The series of plays before halftime was a well-executed as anything the Cardinals have done this season. The loss buries the plays, but after the Swearinger interception, the Cards had just 25 seconds at their own 37. A 17-yard pass to J.J. Nelson that may or may not have been incomplete. Rushing to the line to run a play and make sure it wasn’t reviewed. Then Palmer hit Fitz, who in one motion slid to catch a 10-yard pass and called timeout, using only four seconds of the five left and allowing Chandler Catanzaro to boot the 54-yard field goal.

Yes, I’m looking for silver linings.

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Arians “a lot better,” gets back to work

Posted by Darren Urban on November 22, 2016 – 12:17 pm

Bruce Arians is back at work today, after spending the night in the hospital Sunday following the Cardinals’ trip to Minnesota. Tuesday is always a big game plan day, so it’s nice to see the head coach in the office (as you can see yourself with video shot Tuesday.) It’s also nice to know that whatever was ailing Arians, the doctors deemed him fit enough to work.

So Arians is back getting ready for the Falcons, and he taped his weekly TV show today as usual. Asked how he was feeling, Arians said “a lot better.”

“More relief than anything,” Arians said. “It was a scare. You have to listen to your body — I never did that when I was younger. You just push through things. This one was a little bit different. All the tests came out great. It really is a blessing.”

Arians will speak more about the subject, undoubtedly, after practice Wednesday.


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