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Jets — and B.A.-Bowles — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2016 – 11:40 pm

For me, the moment was a couple of plays before Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was after Palmer had delivered a couple of lasers on out routes to Smokey Brown, passes Palmer seemed to have had some issues with earlier in the season. But here the Cardinals were on the New York 33. On first down and second down Palmer threw incompletions, and Palmer was hammered to the turf both times. Not ideal, but Palmer got up both times.

And on third down, with a decent pocket but still some pressure, Palmer stood tall. He stepped into the throw. And he delivered a bullet to Jaron Brown for a first down.

That felt like the Palmer — and the Cardinals’ offense — that had been absent. Things might go awry, but the quarterback would stand tall and deliver when needed. In some ways, the second half Monday night was vintage Palmer. It wasn’t necessarily 2015 Palmer, because the Jets were not going to let the Cards beat them deep and the Cardinals are definitely running more than ever before. David Johnson makes that smart. But while Palmer’s numbers aren’t going to fetch an MVP, they were good in context. The Cards might just be where they want to be.

It gets harder. The Seahawks come to town next Sunday night. The Seahawks, who have beat the heck out of the Cardinals in each of the three games they have played the Cardinals in Arizona since Arians arrived. But the performance against the Jets, that was one to note.

— The teacher definitely bested the student. Todd Bowles has some injuries, and he definitely doesn’t have the talent on the back end. But Bowles wasn’t going to give up the deep stuff, so the Cards ran and ran and when they threw, it was in front of the defenders. Smart playcalling by Bruce Arians, and good execution.

— Floyd had a TD catch, but it’s clear that he’s not coming back up the depth chart for now (although if Jaron Brown is banged up, that could be a factor.) The guy who made some plays Monday was J.J. Nelson, including on a couple of jet sweeps. I like that wrinkle.

— Speaking of wrinkles, having six or seven defensive backs on the field at times was interesting to watch. Justin Bethel was getting his first defensive snaps of the regular season, and Tharold Simon also got some work. Now, if Tyrann Mathieu can turn flashes into what he was pre-injury …

— Robert Nkemdiche was active and played a handful of snaps. “I couldn’t even see him out there from my angle,” Arians said, deferring his analysis until he saw the tape. “I didn’t see him on the quarterback,” Arians added with a smile. “I would’ve seen that.”

To be fair, Nkemdiche did knock down one pass and was credited with a quarterback hit.

— He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but linebacker Chandler Jones had a heck of a game.

— It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals actually had D.J. Swearinger on their practice squad for about a week last season. He’s been a nice pickup that went under the radar. His quality play is magnified with no Tyvon Branch around.

— It was a good night for DJs overall — Swearinger, right tackle D.J. Humphries and David Johnson. Not so good for Williamses (All three guys named Williams on the roster were inactive.)

— What else can you say about David Johnson, other than superstar in the making? What’s funny is he missed a blitz pickup and was dwelling on it — “(Number) 25 (Calvin Pryor), that was definitely my guy,” he said.

You don’t want your QB to get whacked on the blitz. But it feels a little bit like picking at nits. Yes, the Cardinals want Johnson humble. But everything expected of him before the season? He’s that guy. And those expectations were kinda big.


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Saturday before the Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2016 – 1:44 pm

The New York Jets are finally visiting University of Phoenix Stadium, in the building’s 11th season. The last time the Jets were in Arizona was 2004, and there is only one person in the locker room — player- or coach-wise — who remembers. Larry Fitzgerald rattled off a couple of details, including the fact Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma led the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant at Sun Devil Stadium.

“We’ve got some things we have to change about the culture,” Fitzgerald said he remembered thinking.

The culture has changed. The Jets come into town for Monday’s game and their head coach is actually from the Cardinals. Todd Bowles has a team struggling at 1-4, and he won’t find a stadium quite as inviting as the Jets did back in ’04. (Such an ugly game, too. Shaun King started at QB for the Cards and was bad. Josh McCown came in in relief but couldn’t rescue a 13-3 loss. Denny Green turned to — of course! — rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre the next week in Detroit. That didn’t go well either.)

This one needs to end with a lot happier ending for the Cardinals. A chance at .500 awaits.

— When Bowles was hired by Bruce Arians in 2013, Arians said he was hoping Bowles would groom his DC successor because Bowles would hopefully be getting a head coaching job soon. It took Bowles two seasons, and in fact, the new defensive coordinator did come within the staff when James Bettcher was hired. So, Bettcher was asked, did Bowles groom you?

“As a position coach you are trying to do your job the best you can, because one thing about coaching, if you don’t do a great job with the job you’ve got, the next thing doesn’t come,” said Bettcher, who had been outside linebackers coach. “Todd was great about explaining the whys — here’s why I’m doing this, here’s why I think this way. I had the office right across from his, so I had the opportunity to walk in and ask, ‘Why do you see it this way.’ Not questioning what he is doing, but to understand what he is thinking.”

— The Cardinals remain the only team not to score in the first quarter this season. Arians has tired of the subject. “I’ll just take a win,” Arians said. “I don’t really care anymore.”

That doesn’t mean the message as disappeared. “Trust me, we’re harping on it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “And trust me, they are feeling the pressure.”

— Along those lines, Arians continues to script his top 30 plays, the best the Cardinals have each week. Red-zone and short-yardage also get scripted. “You could do it, bro,” Arians said to a reporter, noting that they are already picked. In fact, Fitzgerald mentioned that the scripted plays are good — the players need to execute them.

— Fitzgerald weighed in on the issues teammate and fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd is having. “Mike’s fine. Mike’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “We saw what he was able to do last year. It just takes one big plas to spark him. As a teammate, you just remind him how important he is to the offense.”

Arians has been doing the same thing, while trying to get Floyd to take too much thinking out of his game. The Cardinals will keep throwing Floyd’s way, Arians has repeatedly said.

“It’s just like lining up for a four-foot putt after missing five of them,” Arians said. “You don’t really feel good about the next one but you’ve got to make it.”

— Fitzgerald is rated as the top wide receiver in the NFL at this point by Pro Football Focus. His numbers are good — 31 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns — but they are great in a passing offense that isn’t what it was a season ago (at least, not yet.) Fitz, however, shrugged off his personal start.

“I don’t care how we win,” Fitzgerald said. “At this stage in my career, if David Johnson runs for 160 yards every week and we win, I’m good. I’m good, man. And I think everybody else feels the same way.”

— Speaking of running, Goodwin doesn’t call the plays. But make no mistake, he’ll let Arians know what he thinks. And he’s also made no secret he’s of a more conservative bent when it comes to play selection.

“I’m always going to say run it, run it, run it, run it, run it,” Goodwin said. “But we pay guys to catch balls too, so we have to be nice to them.”

Goodwin said with a smile he was definitely in Arians’ ear in San Francisco, urging the ground game. “One of these times, he’s probably going to tell me shut the hell up.”

— In case you missed it, red-hot Markus Golden (six sacks) is all about setting an example for his family.

— Terrible news Saturday that former Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, who played with the team in 2012, died in his sleep at the age of 32. Groves was a good guy. Had a giant chain with a huge lock in his locker, meant to represent his family sticking together. He was a key figure in that crazy 2012 upset of the Patriots in New England, blocking a punt and sacking Tom Brady. Rest in peace.

— Bowles, on the difference between Arians now and Arians as 30-year-old head coach at Temple back in the day: “At Temple, he probably was fiery every second,” Bowles said. “Now, he probably can go every five minutes.”

Might be a little more often than that Monday night. This is a big one for B.A.



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Niners aftermath, before the weekend

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2016 – 11:54 pm

Is everything fixed? No. Even Bruce Arians noted, for instance, that the Cardinals have yet to break their zero-points-in-the-first-quarter streak, much to his chagrin. The Cards were 5-of-16 on third downs. But the bottom line is the Cardinals got that win they needed, within the division, on the road, with the backup quarterback. The 49ers are not a good team, but a 12-point road win still means something.

In this case, it means the Cardinals can feel better about this next week-plus as they try to climb back into the thick of things. There is time for starting QB Carson Palmer to get healthy (and there is significant optimism he will be OK by the time the Cardinals play Oct. 17 at home against the Jets). There is time to get others healthy. Or at least, healthier.

There is a big stretch coming. “Monday Night Football” versus the Jets. “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks. A road game in Carolina before the bye. This will determine if the Cardinals will be players in the second half of the season or not.

“We’re a team that can rip off a bunch of them,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.

A bunch would be nice. Tonight, about 30,000 feet up somewhere over California, one is a nice start.

— David Johnson, in case you weren’t sure, is a beast. The Cardinals needed to run against the league’s worst run defense, and they did. Johnson banged out 157 yards, and that’s what you need when you are starting the backup QB.

“I feel unstoppable, basically,” Johnson said.

He looked that way, too, basically.

— Johnson’s 695 yards from scrimmage through five games is a franchise-best. John David Crow had 665 through five games in 1960.

— I’m sure Drew Stanton would’ve liked to pass the ball better. Arians said Stanton was simply working too fast at times. But the goal – the main goal and by far the biggest goal – was engineering a win, and that’s what Stanton did. The second goal? Don’t turn the ball over. Check that box too. Goal three (OK, I’m speculating here) is ride Larry Fitzgerald. Always a good thing to do.

— Calais Campbell, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is only the second player since sacks became official in 1982 to get two sacks, an interception and a safety in a game. Baltimore’s Adalius Thomas did it in 2006.

— Markus Golden was great. He’s turning out to be a heck of a second-round pick.

— Fitzgerald was magnificent on his two TDs. Run an excellent route to shake a cornerback for one. Squeeze the cornerback until the last second before the oh-so-subtle shoulder push to create room for the second. That’s why he’s a future Hall of Famer.

–Speaking of Fitz, the chest bump he delivered to guard Earl Watford after a score knocked Watford to the ground.

“Earl always thinks he’s like a phenomenal athlete,” Fitzgerald said. “So, I always tell him, whenever I score, I’ll meet you down there and we’re going to jump as high as we both can and he’s never even close and now he fell down too. So, that was real bad for him. I’m going to stay on him for that.”

Caught on TV, it’s something the big lineman will have a tough time living down –although he’s cool enough to embrace the moment.

— The special teams has not played well and deserve the criticism they have gotten as a unit. But Thursday night, they were pretty great. J.J. Nelson breaking off a 40-yard kick return. Ifeanyi Momah causing a turnover on a kick return. Ryan Quigley booming punts that hung in the air for five seconds. Good coverage on kicks and punts. A good day all around.

— Tyrann Mathieu had his rough moments as he moved back to his familiar slot cornerback role, but he’ll live with the ups and downs after the win. “I got out of there alive, so that’s all that matters,” Mathieu said with a chuckle.

“Sometimes I felt great, other times felt I was too hesitant,” Mathieu added. “Hopefully the more I play the position the more comfortable I will be doing it.”

— Great job filling in on the offensive line for Watford and John Wetzel, although we will have to see how Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati are. Iupati hurt his ankle – that’s a player you don’t want to lose for any extended time.

But at least the Cards have a little time to sort it out. After a win.

D.J. Swearinger, Tony Jefferson, Carlos Hyde

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Honey Badger loose in the secondary

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2016 – 3:17 pm

Chris Johnson’s move to injured reserve will attract more eyeballs — and certainly, CJ2K’s loss means something, even if the running game was always going to be powered by David Johnson — but the loss of Tyvon Branch may end up with greater impact. Here was a guy signed to improve speed in the secondary and to be used like Tyrann Mathieu, able to play the slot when Mathieu couldn’t, and perhaps allow some sneaky flip-flopping from time to time.

Now Branch is done, at least for a couple of months. The Cardinals are fortunate that Mathieu says he wants to be Mathieu again. The Cardinals could use a dose of Honey Badger. Bruce Arians said Mathieu isn’t the only player primed to play in that spot — the coach mentioned Marcus Cooper in particular — but “no one plays it like Ty when he thinks he’s ready.”

Does Arians think he’s ready? “If he feels he’s ready, he’s ready,” Arians said.

Not that this necessarily is the panacea for all the Cardinals’ ills. The Cards still need to make sure receivers do go running free every so often. And Mathieu has nothing to do with the slow offensive starts. But if there is anything to be drawn positive from an injury-filled week — we still await Carson Palmer’s status, but it still seems like Drew Stanton will end up starting at QB Thursday night — it’s the fact Mathieu is moving toward Honey Badgerness.


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Rams (and Palmer) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 7:20 pm

These visits by the Rams.

Two years ago, Carson Palmer was left with a torn ACL. Last year, the Rams delivered a painful loss at the time. Sunday, it was both — a painful loss (one that, given the circumstances is more hurtful than last year’s) and a Palmer injury. The Palmer injury hopefully isn’t nearly as bad, although his concussion very well could keep him out in Thursday’s game at San Francisco. The Cards need their quarterback, although the hole in 2016 got much deeper in a six-minute period Sunday. Drew Stanton awaits his chance to start for the first time since late in 2014.

Bruce Arians was definitely trying to stay positive postgame. For those looking for fire and brimstone, it’s not coming. Not publicly. Not right now. Arians clearly sees a steady message as important to his team.

“Stick together,” is what Arians told all the players, one-by-one, postgame. The players are going to try and do that — “There is nobody in here saying the season is over,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said — but a win soon is crucial to help the message take full root.

— We’ll see how Palmer goes through concussion protocol. If he’s iffy at all, you’d think the Cardinals will have to put practice squad QB Zac Dysert on the active roster.

— The Cardinals did a great job on Todd Gurley running. Unfortunately, he got loose a couple of times as a receiver, including gaining 8 on a third-and-8 on the Rams’ game-winning TD drive. A stop there, and a field goal, and the Cards might’ve been just fine.

— It can be traced to Justin Bethel getting poked and going down early on the play, but again, a special teams play — this time the Tavon Austin return — hurts the Cards bad.

— It was good to see Smokey Brown break out as a receiver. Funny, but even after playing little in the first half, Michael Floyd still ended up with seven targets, tied with Fitz for second most to Brown’s 16. Floyd played well after a very slow start. Drew Stanton admittedly tried to force that one into him late, and it cost the Cardinals their one decent chance at a late rally.

— The Rams are lucky. They got two 15-yard penalties on the Cards’ last possession. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have even been in position to heave a Hail Mary.

— Best game Chandler Jones has had with the Cardinals.

— Aaron Donald is a beast.

— Remember how the Cardinals hadn’t turned the ball over at all and were plus-5 after two games? They’ve turned the ball over 10 times the last two games, and despite that early cushion are now, amazingly, a minus-1 in turnovers on the season.

— The Cardinals ran the ball well. Chris Johnson looked good until he hurt his groin. David Johnson looked good but had a costly fumble. Right now, every silver lining seems to bring with it a hefty cloud.

— Short week. Practice Monday, flight to the Bay Area Wednesday, game Thursday night. There’s going to be another NFC West game before you know it — probably with Stanton behind center — and we’ll see how the Cardinals respond.


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Fitzgerald: It’s not the play-calling

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2016 – 4:38 pm

The Cardinals are not playing as efficiently as they want on offense and the passing game has yet to truly click. But the problem is not overconfidence, veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, and it definitely is not the play-calling — including the down-the-field mentality.

“Nobody’s opinion really matters outside of this locker room,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve had a lot of success with the way we play ball, and we’re not going to change the way we play our game. We’re a big-shot team, we’re always going to take our shots, that’s part of our makeup, and they will come.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit, who breaks down game video weekly, noted that often the Cardinals’ “pass concepts worked, but catch-throw didn’t quite connect.” Obviously, the Cards can’t get away with missing opportunities, but it’s why they feel the offense needs focus rather than a change.

Bruce Arians emphasized this week that every pass play has a deep shot component — but every play has multiple levels for which quarterback Carson Palmer can read. It’s Palmer’s choice to go for the home run or go shorter.

“We’ve just got to make first downs,” Fitzgerald said. “What we have scheduled in terms of play-calls, they are great calls. They have worked for years and years. We just need to execute them better.”


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Arians believes in his brutal honesty

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2016 – 12:48 pm

In case anyone hasn’t been paying attention yet this season, Bruce Arians has never been shy of being blunt (including with himself.) It’s been apparent since the day he arrived, and I have noted before how amazing it has been to watch a coach who can be so hard on a player on the practice field and be able to let it go moments later. He makes his point, and then it’s over.

“Because I think guys like honesty,” Arians said. “If it’s brutal, it’s still honest.”

Arians said when he walked in the door he just wanted to be straightforward with players. He threw some people this week when he publicly called out David Johnson (never forget, Arians doesn’t say anything publicly he hasn’t already said privately.) But Johnson was on the same page with his coach, lamenting missed opportunities when it looked like Johnson had played pretty well. He has said things about Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Calais Campbell. It’s hard not to think of a player who didn’t get mentioned in such a way since Arians arrived in 2013.

And like his need for honesty, there really isn’t any subtext to Arians’ callouts.

“The method is to get guys to do the right thing,” Palmer said.  I don’t think it’s a motivational thing. I know it’s not to prove a point like, ‘I can yell at anybody.’ It’s he expects it to be done right, whether it’s David, Andre (Ellington), Chris (Johnson), myself, Larry, whoever it is. He expects things done right and when they’re not, he’s not subtle about it. You’re going to find out.”


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Arians takes blame, “Bettch took a bullet”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2016 – 9:52 am

The Cardinals were better defensively against the Buccaneers — NFL.com’s NextGenStats had them blitzing more than 43 percent of the snaps, highest in the league, against Tampa Bay — and Bruce Arians was happy about that. The Cardinals played a lot of zone the previous week against the Patriots, and Arians wasn’t happy about that. Especially since it was his call.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said last week the breakdowns “start with me.” But the defense was better in Week 2, Arians said, because “I got out of it.”

“I got too involved in the New England (defensive) gameplan,” Arians said on Sirius XM NFL radio. “That’s not my forte. Bettch took a bullet for playing more zone than we normally play. I had a lot to do with that. It was my mistake. We were playing our style of defense (against Tampa).”

Here’s a guess the Cardinals will stay aggressive defensively. Arians certainly didn’t sound like he’d be delving back too deep into the defensive gameplan anytime soon.

“It’s happened once and it didn’t go too well,” Arians said.


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That’s-much-better Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 7:15 pm

Justin Bethel came flying down the field on the Cardinals’ second punt of the game and lit up return man Adam Humphries after a one-yard return, Bethel’s helmet flying off and Bethel emotionally jumping up and celebrating. Last week, Bruce Arians said Bethel had to decide if he wanted to play. This week? “He looked like Justin,” Arians said.

“It felt good to get back to my regular self, especially when it comes to special teams,” Bethel said. “I definitely felt I was myself, playing at the level I should be playing.”

Bethel might’ve been talking about everyone. The Cardinals had an off Week 1. You can talk about being overconfident or overhyped or too anxious or whatever, but the Cards clearly put that game in the rear view Sunday (Jimmy Garoppolo clearly showed this week it wasn’t a fluke of a game either, before he got hurt against the Dolphins.) It’s a week-to-week thing, and the Cards have to go cross country this week to play an early kickoff game in Buffalo. But for now, the ship has been righted. Pretty emphatically.

— Bethel said he predicted he’d have three special teams tackles in the game, and he had three tackles.

— Training camp MVP Jaron Brown was excellent Sunday. He had a huge 27-yard reception on third-and-10 that helped spark a touchdown drive (Michael Floyd’s one-yard TD catch) and, of course, hauled in the 51-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half. With Floyd’s future in Arizona uncertain because of upcoming free-agent status, Brown (who will be an unrestricted free agent himself) is an intriguing option.

“All his catches seem to be in the biggest time of the game,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t happy that David Johnson ran the wrong route in the end zone, not only possibly costing the Cardinals a TD pass but nearly costing Carson Palmer an interception when Brent Grimes dropped the ball. Palmer, however, was forgiving of his star back. “He had just run like 90 yards and broke a bunch of tackles,” Palmer said. Close — it was right after Johnson’s awesome 58-yard catch-and-run into the red zone. “I was tired from just jogging down.”

— The Cardinals, after forcing five turnovers Sunday, are now a plus-7 after two games and have yet to turn the ball over. It won’t last — not like that — but it’s impressive.

— Don’t forget coming back out to University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow for the weekly “Monday Nights at the Big Red Brew Haus” event. This week, running back David Johnson will be in the haus.

— Patrick Peterson’s first interception of the season, on a long bomb try from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, had to make Fitzgerald proud. Peterson ended up behind Evans and then expertly kept his body up against Evans, cleanly squeezing Evans until the ball got over the 6-foot-5 Evans’ hands and into Peterson’s.

Of course, later Peterson could have had a second pick, but he dropped it. On the drive, the Bucs eventually scored on a TD pass to Evans over Peterson. “Usually when you drop an interception, bad s*** happens,” Arians said.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones got a sack in the waning moments, but he had a very quiet night. The Cardinals will need more QB pressure from him going forward.

— Arians wasn’t thrilled kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point. I’m not sure of the snap on the play, but a later snap on another Cat Man kick looked a little low. Rookie Kam Canaday is going to be watched carefully after his opening game.

— After two games, no defender is playing better on the Cardinals than safety Tony Jefferson. He too is going to be a free agent after the season. Not sure what will happen with him, but he’s played excellent football.



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Cards know they have to tackle better

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 10:13 am

It doesn’t get much more simple in the game of football than tackling. And the Cardinals didn’t do it well enough against the Patriots to open the season. Blame the lack of work in the preseason, blame a practice environment in the NFL that doesn’t really allow pros to practice true tackling. But it has to get better. Truth be told, I believe that even with everything else staying the same from that night, even with the Brandon Williams mistake and uneven offensive play, that if the Cards had tackled better, they would have won.

“The tackling overall was an issue for us,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “There were runs that got out on us that if we made the tackle on first hit … we had them at about 95 yards after contact and that’s too much. We haven’t had that in a while around here.”

Patrick Peterson missed a tackle on a third down that was notable (although the Patriots were already in field-goal range and the way Gostkowski was kicking, were going to get the field goal they eventually made anyway. It burned time but in the end I’m not sure that made a difference.) Tyrann Mathieu missed a couple tackles. Deone Bucannon did not play the way he was capable. Bettcher and coach Bruce Arians talked about a loss of leverage in getting in the right spots and that happened too often — the Cards losing the edge. Even Justin Bethel missed a couple of tackles on special teams.

On a night when the Cards played some zone with the idea that you tackle and keep a team short of the sticks, wayward tackling doesn’t work out all that well. “We were kind of rusty on our tackling,” said safety Tony Jefferson, who was one of the players who didn’t look that way.

I’d expect it to be different this week, given the emphasis the Cards have had. It’s crucial that it improves.


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