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Adrian Peterson’s debut, and Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2017 – 7:15 pm

The plan started on a private plane, sent by the Cardinals Tuesday to pick up Adrian Peterson in New Orleans and bring him back to Arizona. Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was on board, so that the return trip to Arizona could be spent on a crash course about the Cardinals’ offense.

“It sounded like Chinese,” Peterson said Sunday, after that five-day tutorial turned into a 134-yard rushing debut.

Peterson said Kitchens walked him through what he needed to learn, calling him at home just to go over things. By the time Peterson got to Sunday, he felt prepared, and he played that way.

Kitchens downplayed his role, saying only that he helped get Peterson in the building. And there is little question Peterson, motivated as he was to do well, had the talent if he knew what was called.

“It was the terminology of the plays,” wide receiver/Peterson landlord Larry Fitzgerald said. “You don’t tell a great back where to run.”

Fitz is going to gush about Peterson. They are friends. But Peterson deserves the praise. Not just for his production, but for the intangible vibe that surrounded this team right about the time Peterson and Kitchens were flying back from Louisiana.

“I wish he’d have been here 11 years from the beginning,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d have a Super Bowl ring already. But having him here, his leadership, his demeanor in the huddle, I think it’s reinvigorating everybody.”

— I can’t lie. I did not expect Peterson to make that kind of impact. I thought the Cards would be better. Not that much better. But when he ripped off two eight-yard runs on his first two carries, I quickly reconsidered.

— Chandler Jones got his sixth sack in six games and got a couple tackles for loss. That doesn’t do his game justice, especially early. He’s had a very good season.

— Still, you want to see the defense finish better. It’ll be interesting to see if Tramon Williams gets more playing time at cornerback.

— And not because of Patrick Peterson’s quad problem. If P2 is down, the Cards will feel it, although Peterson insisted he will be ready to play against the Rams next week. That was a big part of the fourth-quarter problems Sunday. No Patrick. Adrian isn’t the only necessary Peterson.

— The offensive line was better. It wasn’t perfect, but the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone, along with Earl Watford taking over at right guard clearly made a difference. There was a lot of emotion Sunday with Adrian Peterson and the crowd and that adrenaline helps. But if this group can stay healthy and together – that was the fifth different offensive line in six games – the Cards should be OK.

— Fitzgerald said it was kicker Phil Dawson who told him to waste some time on the onside kick recovery at the end, to make sure the clock ticked under the two-minute mark (and stoppage at the two-minute warning) so the Cards could kneel three times and be done. “That was Phil all the way,” Fitz said.

— Ryan Fitzpatrick likes putting a scare into Bruce Arians. First it was 2013 in Tennessee, then Sunday.

— Arians took the blame for Palmer’s interception, saying he insisted on throwing it deep there to go for the throat. But Arians said he needs to stay greedy. “There’s no lead big enough in the National Football League,” Arians said.

— Palmer is expecting both David Johnson and T.J. Logan to come off injured reserve, apparently, since he mentioned both running backs playing with Peterson later this season.

“I can’t help but think what B.A. will come up with when we get T.J. Logan back and Dave back,” Palmer said. “I can’t wait to see that.”

— That would be interesting. Just like the Cards were Sunday. Tomorrow, a flight to London.


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That Philly feeling, Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2017 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals are en route to Philly right now, the fifth trip there since 2008, and the previous four have had some memorable moments. The 2008 game was the ugly Thanksgiving night beatdown, with the Cardinals losing by four touchdowns yet coming out of it not afraid at all of the Eagles (which showed a couple months later when they beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) The 2011 game was an improbable 21-17 win with John Skelton throwing a pair of perfect passes on the game-winning drive, one on a wheel route to the Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and then a bomb to Fitz. In 2013, Bruce Arians’ first year, the Cards lost 24-21 when a late pick by Patrick Peterson was wiped out by a flag on Tyrann Mathieu, a penalty the Cards weren’t thrilled was called.

But it was the last trip that encapsulated so much with the Cardinals, especially in relation to where they are now. It was a 40-17 domination by the Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football.” The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title that night, an accomplishment that seems so much longer ago than 22 months. It was David Johnson’s coming-out party, with his Beastmode-like run and his career-best 187 yards rushing. And it was Mathieu’s devastating second ACL tear, that took all the wind from the excitement of the night and might’ve cost the Cardinals a chance at the Super Bowl.

The Cards have been a .500 team since then. Mathieu is still trying to find his groove. Johnson is hurt and cannot help. Chasing a division title is still a goal, but there is much to be fixed for that to be a topic.

— The Cardinals not only will have the early start Sunday – 10 a.m. Arizona time – but there might be a little rain. Bruce Arians doesn’t care. “They are all excuses,” the coach said in his opening statement Friday. It’ll be the first game the Cards will have played outside this season.

— After two rough games, right tackle Jared Veldheer was the highest-graded offensive lineman from the San Francisco game and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said he was “proud” of Veldheer. “The biggest thing for him is gaining confidence but I was pleased,” Goodwin said.

— Arians, who was hired as Temple’s head coach at age 30 and left the job in part because it literally was making him physically sick, was asked if in-his-30s Arians would have imagined himself still coaching now (Arians turned 65 earlier this week).

“I would hope so, if I wasn’t dead,” Arians said. “That job down there killed me.”

— Another Philly guy is Earl Watford, who just signed this week and now could be in the starting lineup at guard Sunday. It looked like Watford’s days as a Cardinal were over, having played out his contract and with both sides ready to start fresh. But here we are.

“A lot of people would think that, but it’s just another opportunity,” Watford said. “I’m glad to be back here. To be familiar with people, playbook, coaches, I’m excited to be here.”

— Linebacker Haason Reddick now finds himself in the outside linebackers meeting room, trying to cram for a new role after the loss of Markus Golden. I’m very curious to see the snap spilt between he and Kareem Martin.

— Reddick, who is technically from New Jersey but lived just five miles from Philly and went to school there at Temple, said his call for the best cheesesteak comes from Max’s and he’s going to try and get some teammates to join him there.

As for the best way to eat a cheesesteak, it’s American cheese for Reddick. “I don’t do Cheese Whiz.”

“Cheese Whiz is a tourist attraction,” Reddick said. “Anyone who is really from Philly, I’ve never seen them put Cheese Whiz on their cheesesteak. I think that’s a little bizarre.”

(To be fair, it looks like an ongoing debate.)

— Carson Palmer has taken a lot of hits – 43, officially, in four games. “Hey, I don’t want to see him get hit,” Goodwin said. “Mr. Bidwill is paying that guy a lot of money.”

Part of that is the Cards’ lack of run game. Palmer is passing so much he’s inevitably going to be hit more, just like he’s on pace to obliterate his personal highs in attempts, completions and yards. But that doesn’t absolve the pass protection – or the struggles therein. Goodwin said he woke up early last week and the protection issues popped into his mind so quickly he just got up and came to the office. It was 4:30 a.m.

“That’s my job,” Goodwin said. “I embrace the pressure though. It’ll never break me.”

— Finally, there’s the case of Fitz the Philly killer. He had a nondescript three catches for 43 yards in that 2015 blowout of the Eagles – and even with that game averaged in, he’s still averaged (including the NFC Championship game) more than six catches, 104 yards and more than a touchdown per game against the Eagles all-time.

“He’s the same guy all the time,” Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN.

The Cards wouldn’t mind some of that same ol’ Fitz Sunday.


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A banged-up OL, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2017 – 4:03 pm

Well, this is where the Cardinals are. In a week in which Friday finally felt like the day where the offensive line wouldn’t be the major topic, it became the major topic. It’s not so much that Mike Iupati is likely headed for IR – he hadn’t been playing – but Alex Boone is also missing time and Bruce Arians was anything but clear about D.J. Humphries’ availability.

I mean, even OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin is working on the gallows humor. “I’m planning on suiting up sooner or later,” he said.

It’s not like the game is going to be canceled. If Humphries is in there, fine, but if he can’t go, it’s probable we’ll see rookie Will Holden in the lineup, with he and John Wetzel in some combo of guard/tackle on the left side. Not ideal, and that’s even if the right side of Evan Boehm and Jared Veldheer were playing well, which has not happened of late.

Carson Palmer played well last week. The Cards moved the ball. Offensively, with John Brown back to at least play a little, the Cards have some guys who can help gain yards. But the line has to keep Palmer upright. It’s not unfair to wonder how that can happen.

“As you saw, because (the media) was writing earlier in the season Carson doesn’t have it anymore, that’s not the issue,” Goodwin said. “As long as he is protected, the ball is going to come out, it’s going to go to the right place and we’re going to score points. If he’s not protected, we’re going to struggle.”

— Bruce Arians was asked, now that the Cards have been through a couple of games, when the offense most misses the injured David Johnson.

“Every play,” Arians said. “Either fake it to him hand it to him or throw it to him.”

Sounds about right.

— I am curious to see how Andre Ellington is deployed. Brown may be back and I expect J.J. Nelson to play, but both probably won’t be their explosive selves. Ellington is really that only guy right now.

— Having Larry Fitzgerald go deep for a couple of long passes Monday night was some excellent nostalgia. How much it can happen, realistically, is another story. It’s not so much Fitz can’t make the catch in traffic. You still trust him in jump ball situations. But Fitz’s ability to get down the field fast to be in position to try for one isn’t what it was, and with the problems with protection, can the Cards keep Palmer up long enough to get Fitz where he needs to be?

— Deone Bucannon won’t be playing all the time, not yet, but this is where we get to see how the Cardinals want to deploy him with Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby. I want to see the package – assuming there is one – that has both Bucannon and Reddick. DC James Bettcher said you don’t want to have too many specific packages, because it hampers the other nine or 10 players who would be on the field.

— Two numbers that, to me, are poison to the Cardinals right now: Allowing opponents to score TDs on 87 percent of red-zone visits, and averaging 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball. One on each side of the ball. They have to change.

— Don’t forget Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame bust will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday from 12-4 p.m. if you want to get a picture. Warner will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday’s game.

— Holden proposed to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line after the Monday night game.

“Football has been a big part of my life and a big part of her life now,” Holden said. “She’s been with me since day one at Vanderbilt. I felt like that was a special place.”

— See you Sunday. The Cardinals want to at least be .500 after the first quarter of the season. Even though the 49ers are 0-3, that’s not a lock.


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The original offensive line?

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2017 – 5:07 pm

D.J. Humphries was upbeat. “Can’t wait to get out there,” the tackle said Wednesday, although technically he had just been out there for practice. The Cardinals didn’t go hard just two days after a game — Bruce Arians called it a walkthrough, although the guys had helmets, unlike what I would consider a normal walkthrough — and Humphries needs to be in the mix in a harsher environment. So too does guard Mike Iupati (although Iupati has been practicing limited the last couple of weeks even though he hasn’t been playing.)

If Humphries and Iupati can play, however, does that get the Cardinals their original, anticipated offensive line on the field. From left to right, it was supposed to be Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Boehm, Veldheer. That’s what it was in the opener for a little bit, until Humphries had his leg rolled up on and suffered his knee sprain. Iupati was never 100 percent, with the triceps injury lingering since training camp. (Alex Boone, who hurt his pectoral muscle, is a guy Arians said will be reevaluated Thursday, and frankly, if there is a guy who would try and play through something, Boone is that guy — especially against the 49ers, his former team.)

The problems with the offensive line aren’t a secret or even very hard to see. The right side, with Boehm and Veldheer, is struggling, and that has nothing to do with injuries. I’ll admit, I am surprised at the Veldheer issues. Out of whatever concerns you might have had about the line as constructed, Veldheer would’ve been last on the list, regardless of a move to the right side. If he and Boehm don’t significantly up their level of play, the rest of the line won’t matter. But it would be something to see the Cardinals’ original lineup on the field for a whole game and see what it might mean.


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Seeking protection, and Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2017 – 11:28 pm

The lights came on, the tension seemed to be lifted once the Cardinals chose to lock arms and not kneel for the national anthem, and then Carson Palmer started dealing like it was 2015 again. The Cardinals made the Cowboys look pretty beatable in those first 15 minutes, and the Cards looked like a new team. But there was a missed field goal in there too, which wasn’t ideal, and like the Detroit game, it was a situation where the Cards should have been ahead by a lot more but weren’t.

When it was over, Dak Prescott showed why he’s already on the verge of quarterback stardom – as good as Ezekiel Elliott is, to me, there is no question who the guy is that will make the Cowboys a contender, and it’s all about the quarterback – and the Cards were left trying to figure out how to keep their own QB upright. According to Pro Football Focus, both tackles, Jared Veldheer and John Wetzel, gave up one sack and eight pressures.

Palmer said he held on to the ball too long a couple of times, and that is true. But the pocket is collapsing much too fast too often. “Block better,” was Bruce Arians’ response on improving the protection. And hey, Dan Dierdorf is not walking through that door.

“We only have seven guys out there, so they’re the only ones that can play,” Arians said.

D.J. Humphries is walking around a lot better so hopefully he has a chance to return this week against the 49ers. But Alex Boone got hurt late in the game, Palmer said (no word on what it is or severity), so the injury thing is still a thing.

— Chris Johnson did indeed get the start at running back. He could not find any room nor create anything, gaining just 17 yards on 12 carries. We will see what happens but Andre Ellington looked like the best back out there, and who knows? Maybe there will be a fourth different starter in four games next week. (My early guess is still CJ2K for another week, but we’ll see.) Still, Arians was asked if Ellington would get more touches next week.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said, after Ellington got 59 yards on five catches and 22 yards rushing (leading the team) on five carries.

— There was time to recover but the 15-play drive that ended with no points was a gut punch. You think you get a second Palmer-to-Jaron Brown TD pass but a Veldheer holding call wipes it out. (To be fair, I don’t know if Palmer is able to get outside the pocket to make the play without the hold, so it is what it is.) Then Phil Dawson misses another field goal inside 40 yards. A 14-0 lead would’ve been huge. Making sure Dawson gets right, quickly, is probably even more important.

— Patrick Peterson was targeted just once all night, according to Pro Football Focus, and none when he was guarding Dez Bryant. Peterson gave up a two-yard catch to Elliott.

— I was surprised Arians went for it on fourth down at the end of the game down 11 points. A field goal makes it eight points and you’ll have to get an onside kick regardless. That said, with the Cardinals at the Dallas 2 and their pass protection doing poorly, I can see the argument that you go for the TD being so close.

— You could tell J.J. Nelson wasn’t himself with the sore hamstring. He got a couple of late “go” routes and nearly had an incredible sideline catch. But when he couldn’t go deep, it hurts. Between the injured speed receivers and the pass protection problems, the Cards aren’t going to scare many teams down the field – even with Fitz making crazy jump-ball grabs.


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Saturday before the Cowboys

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2017 – 4:29 pm

When the Cowboys visit Arizona of late, it’s provided quite the show. The last three times, it’s been decided at the very end.

* In 2008, the game goes to overtime, and the Sean Morey blocks a punt, with Monty Beisel recovering in the end zone for a 30-24 win;
* In 2010, on Christmas night, the Cardinals blew a 21-3 lead and then got a Jay Feely field goal with five seconds left for a 27-26 win;
* In 2011, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey misses a 49-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and the game went to overtime. LaRod Stephens-Howling then grabbed a Kevin Kolb dump pass and raced 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Whether we’ll see that kind of drama Monday night is unlikely, but you can’t really know. This is a game where you figure to get a much better read on the Cardinals. No early start time to gum up the works, no road game. If the Cards are going to show more than they have, this is the time and place.

“The Cowboys are apparently ‘America’s Team’ so there will be a lot of eyes on this matchup,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.

In a weekend in which I’m guessing a lot of eyes will be everywhere on the NFL after the President’s comments and the league-wide reaction to them, Cardinals-Cowboys will cap what will likely be an emotional weekend all around. A win would do wonders for the Cards’ emotion too.

— I like the concept from Frostee Rucker about the Cardinals staying together one way or the other when it comes to potential protest. The idea that sports can stay separate from where we are as a country, though, that’s long past.

— As expected, John Brown is going to sit again (so will D.J. Humphries), and so J.J. Nelson becomes important again. Not ideal that he’s listed as questionable, or that your speed merchant is dealing with a hamstring. If I had to guess, I’d think Nelson plays, but if he was limited all week, there has to be concern with how much he can do.

— It looks like the Cards finally get Deone Bucannon back. As for the questionable Mike Iupati, after the job Alex Boone did last week, if you aren’t sure, it makes sense to me to stick with Boone again.

— Speaking of Boone, there was some learning-on-the-fly last week. “I’m not even kidding, there was a play where I was like, ‘I have no idea what’s going on,’ ” Boone said. “Carson (Palmer) looked at me and told me and was like ‘SET, GOOOO!’ Hey man, trial by fire, right?”

–All this talk about offensive line play – the Cardinals certainly have had their share – there was a great quote by Browns stud left tackle Joe Thomas this week.

“As offensive linemen, we consider ourselves mushrooms because we get thrown in the corner of a dark room and people pile poop on us and then expect us to grow,” Thomas said. “So that is why we are mushrooms.”

I have not had a chance to run the mushroom analogy past any of the Cards’ linemen.

— One lineman who actually played tight end this week was rookie guard Will Holden, who played 15 snaps at tight end last week because Jermaine Gresham was hurt and he was a better blocking option in heavy packages than Ifeanyi Momah. Holden said he’d never played tight end before. Ever. In college, he came in for similar heavy packages but he played inside while they had another offensive lineman be the tight end.

“I felt fine,” Holden said. “It’s a little different view of the defense because you’re wider out and it’s a little harder to hear. But once you settle into the game, you’re just playing football.”

Holden said he was happy with his play, although he was willing to allow, smiling, that how well he did was “up for debate.” OL coach Harold Goodwin said Holden needed to finish blocks better. Holden probably won’t be needed this week now that Gresham is back, but it’s an option going forward.

— The last time the Cardinals hosted the Cowboys on “Monday Night Football” was 1995, when Larry Centers made his incredible leap, Buddy Ryan left before the game was over and cameras were capturing footage later used in the movie “Jerry Maguire.”

“Everybody loves Jerry Maguire,” Larry Fitzgerald said. “ ‘Show me the money.’ It’s what Monday night is all about.”

(Speaking of Maguire, it makes you think back to Rod Tidwell, right?)

— Bruce Arians, after the win in Indy, now has 42 victories as Cardinals head coach. It ties him with Don Coryell for second-most in team history (Ken Whisenhunt has the top mark with 49.) B.A. was asked what he thought of that.

“It was a bad team for a long time,” Arians deadpanned. Seriously, though, “to be even mentioned with Coach Coryell, that’s mind-boggling to me,” Arians added. “He was one of my great idols and watching that team play.”

— A random tidbit Fitz revealed this week, of which I have no recollection: He played special teams as a rookie. He was on punt return, as an outside blocker taking on the opposing gunner.

“I played hold-up guy,” Fitzgerald said. “I was pretty good at it too. Me and Nate Poole, we held it down out there.”

Poole, if you remember, was on the receiving end of the famous McCown-to-Poole TD pass in the last game of 2003 to knock the Vikings out of the playoffs and send the Cards from the No. 1 overall pick to No. 3. Probably got them Fitzgerald in the first place. Now that’s drama.

See everyone Monday night.


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Colts aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

When the game ended and Tyrann Mathieu was leaving the field, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett found his Sunday overtime nemesis for a moment.

Seems that when Mathieu was at LSU and Brissett was at Florida in 2011, Brissett’s first college start came against the Tigers and Mathieu picked him off that day. Then Sunday, in Brissett’s first start for the Colts, there was Mathieu again.

“He was like, ‘Damn, bro, every time I start, why you have to pick me off?’ ” Mathieu recounted. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know why you threw it at me then.’ ”

The Honey Badger smiled, because it was humorous and it was also the kind of story you really only tell after a win. The Cardinals did that with the 16-13 overtime squeaker – and props to my cohort Kyle Odegard, who on our podcast this week talked about how the Cards would be happy even with a 14-13 win and oh, was he close – and so Mathieu could be happy. He made the big play and Phil Dawson finished the rest.

No one is proclaiming the Cardinals in a good place. They have to score more, they have to force more turnovers. But if it wasn’t for a bad leverage penalty on a field-goal block try by Rodney Gunter, the Colts still would not have a touchdown this season. The defense did OK (the Cowboys are going to be a much sturdier test next week). The offense is what it is right now, trying to find itself through injuries and with a quarterback who is not playing anywhere near the level they need.

“The quarterback has to play better,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Simple.”

The protection has to be better too, Arians said, but everyone knows it starts at QB. Palmer got better when he needed to – that 45-yard throw to Nelson for the touchdown was gorgeous – but he can’t make the forced interception like he did, either.

— Kerwynn Williams has shown he can gain yards in this league, but it sure looked like the Cardinals’ best course of action at running back with David Johnson down will be to use veteran Chris Johnson. CJ2K gained four yards a carry on 11 carries, and looked comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arians ends up more comfortable with a lot of CJ too.

— So many near-sacks again. Markus Golden had a couple early. Chandler Jones too. The defense did well most of the game, but they need to finish off some of these sacks. A turnover before overtime would help too.

— J.J. Nelson has become a significant weapon. Arians is right, it’s not important in John Brown’s absence, it’s important regardless.

— The Cardinals didn’t appear to get anyone injured, which is a good result after the carnage in Detroit.

— The Cardinals had a third-and-1 on the drive that ended up being Nelson’s 45-yard TD catch. Whatever the play was supposed to be, Palmer fumbled the snap on an awkward-looking play to begin with. Somehow, the middle of the defense parted, and Palmer picked up the ball and fell forward four yards for a first down.

“That wasn’t a quarterback sneak, that was a total FUBAR,” Arians said, “from the coaches on the sideline getting the right players in the game to the right players staying in the game and executing the play. We were lucky.”

— Not sure if Jared Veldheer is still having comfort issues on the right side of the line, but he was beat a couple of times. Not that the other guys don’t make plays – Jabaal Sheard is proving to be a pretty good player – but they are expecting more (and needing more) from Veldheer.

— Surprising Phil Dawson missed the first one. He also mentioned he had heard so much about last year’s Cards’ kicking woes it “built up.” The last thing the Cardinals need is for the new guy to be impacted. Hopefully the OT kick gets things smoothed over.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a big smile after the win. He didn’t do much – three catches, 21 yards – but they won. And that made everyone happy.


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Defensive opportunity, Friday before the Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm

So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.

It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.

“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.

“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”

The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.

“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”

This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.

— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.

“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”

— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.

— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.

— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.

— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.

— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.

“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”

Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.

— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.

— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.

“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’

“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”

See you in Indy.


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Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2017 – 4:01 pm

The Lions tried. They really did. They botched a bunch of special teams plays early, committed bad penalties, made mistakes. Yet the Cardinals would not take the game. When the Cards were finally ready to take the game – that third-quarter sequence in which they went on a 94-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-9 lead, and then forced a punt – the football gods spit on them.

Not only did David Johnson fumble – the second time in the game, a bugaboo he had when he got into the league but one he had seemed to have overcome – but he got hurt on the play. I mean, the guy had just gotten whacked on his previous touch, an impressive seam catch on the TD drive that got a first down at the Detroit 3. Johnson didn’t get up right away on that, but apparently he had the wind knocked out of him.

It wasn’t the wind but his wrist the second time. Fingers are crossed everywhere, from the Cards’ organization to fantasy football players across the globe. Bruce Arians didn’t indicate one way or another on Johnson’s health – or D.J. Humphries’ knee, for that matter – but in the context of Sunday, it was a crushing turn of events.

That wasn’t the reason the Cardinals lost, although it would’ve been interesting to see them try and follow up that long TD drive. The defense couldn’t hold up by the end. There was some pressure, but not enough on Matthew Stafford on key plays, and missed sacks a couple times that were costly.

— Carson Palmer took all the blame afterward. He knows he wasn’t good for too much of the game. It wasn’t so much the interceptions that were bothersome (I mean, you can’t have interceptions, but …) as much as a couple of out routes, about 12 or 15 yards down the field. Both plays I’m thinking of should’ve been easy completions. They were short. Bruce Arians lamented Palmer’s accuracy and said Palmer’s arm was fine. They’re going to need him to fix that, quickly.

— Palmer is going to be the quarterback. So anyone asking/complaining that there isn’t a switch is just yelling to nowhere.

— If Humphries is down for some games – Ian Rapoport was tweeting it’s a sprained knee that could be a few weeks – I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cards flip Jared Veldheer back to the left side and let John Wetzel play the right side. But we’ll see how that plays out.

— Arians noted it, and so did many players, but in the NFL, if you are handed red-zone possessions and don’t get touchdowns, that’s usually going to turn out poorly.

— One plus for the Cardinals was the speed of rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. He had eight tackles, and showed his range sideline-to-sideline. I also thought John Brown played pretty well too, and Andre Ellington flashed in his brief appearance. New safety Antoine Bethea looked good too, especially in the first half.

— You don’t want to see Justin Bethel, after a solid game, be on the wrong side of those two late TD passes. But that last catch by Kenny Golladay was amazing, the way he laid out.

— Long flight back to Arizona coming. It’ll be longer because of how the game went.


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Cardinals will labor on Labor Day

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2017 – 3:18 pm

The past couple of years, the Cardinals have followed up their final Thursday preseason game with some time off as the team transitioned from the bigger training camp roster to the regular season. After a Friday morning meeting, players would be off through Labor Day, returning on Tuesday — the normal off day during the regular season.

The thought process for coach Bruce Arians was simply that it was better to learn four days in a row heading into the first regular-season weekend. And it gave the holiday weekend for family. But the Cardinals had a handful of veterans come to Arians and ask to have the “bonus” practice day Monday this year, make Tuesday the day off, and treat the first week of the regular season like other weeks.

Arians agreed, especially after a “bunch of sports science stuff” showed that, from a physical standpoint, it’s less than ideal to practice four days in a row. Part of Friday’s team meeting, however, was a important reminder from Arians.

“(This) Monday is game plan day,” Arians said he told the group. “You can’t forget it on Tuesday and come back start over on Wednesday.”

Thanks to the 90-man rosters, the Cardinals had already gotten a jump on getting ready for Detroit anyway. Arians estimated that 60 percent of the game plan was already in, and all the players who didn’t play in Denver — all the starters and the vast majority of backups — didn’t practice in the bubble for the Broncos game and instead were outside at the same time, practicing in the heat for the Lions. (Practice next week is expected to be in the bubble.)

“It was more for me checking their conditioning on 40 plays in a row, because if you weren’t in, you were running on the side,” Arians said, lauding he intensity of the work. “Everybody got 40 reps in a row, with little breaks, like getting off the field offensively and defensively. It was hot. We were in really good shape. Some guys stayed out and did a little extra.”


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