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Pro Bowl, Rashad Johnson and some Friday notes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2014 – 3:26 pm

Do the Cardinals have a Pro Bowl player?

I’m not saying the Cardinals don’t have any players talented enough to make it. But usually, in seasons where your team is 11-3, there are at least a couple of locks. You would be hard-pressed to come up with any locks for the Cardinals. Offensively, the production hasn’t been consistent enough to see anyone getting a major push. Defensively, there are possibilities, but it’ll be interesting to see how many can find a way in, at least before guys start dropping out.

In the latest Pro Bowl voting numbers this week, it was interesting to see that safety Rashad Johnson — who I do agree has had a very good season for this team — has found his way into the top 10 among safeties. Johnson is eighth, and judging by those who keep tweeting that they want him to get even more votes, maybe Johnson can climb the ladder.

In fact, it’s only the secondary that is represented for the Cardinals right now, at least among the top 10 vote-getters at their positions. Patrick Peterson is eighth and Antonio Cromartie 10th among cornerbacks, while cornerback Justin Bethel is ninth among special teamers.

If you want to vote for the Pro Bowl, click here.

Now for some housekeeping items as the week comes to a close and the Cards get a mini-bye:

– Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali was fined $16,357 for hitting Cardinals QB Drew Stanton low in last week’s game. You remember the play, the one where it looked then for a split-second Stanton was lost for a long time. There have been a couple of those. Cardinals defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was fined the same amount for roughing Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman, who decked wide receiver Smokey Brown by what looked like it might have been a possible helmet-to-helmet, was not fined. He wasn’t flagged for that play either.

– Bruce Arians wasn’t backing down from his comment after Thursday’s game, when he said “I love it when nobody says you’re going to have a chance to win. There’s an 11-3 team and a team that is always 8-8. You figure it out.” Many took it as a shot to the Rams — and obviously, it wasn’t a compliment — but I took it more as a jab against the media picking against the Cardinals in the game rather than the Rams themselves.

Not that it really matters. Asked why he made such a comment, Arians responded simply, “I just tried to state the facts.”

Cory Harkey, Rashad Johnson


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The Ker-wich and Chiefs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2014 – 8:43 pm

Apparently, he calls them a “Ker-wich,” because these are the details that emerge when you have, as Larry Fitzgerald said, “storybook stuff” like the Kerwynn Williams development. A Ker-wich, you see, is the specialty meal for Williams, the guy who had never had an NFL carry before the 19 he had Sunday and just happened to pick up 100 yards in the process.

“I have a Ker-wich every day,” Williams said. “PB and J. Four stacks. Two peanut butter, two jelly, stack ’em on top of each other. Have the milk, gotta dip it in milk too.”

Maybe it’s the diet of champions. Maybe it’s just the diet of a kid who, given a chance to play, provided the Cardinals something they so desperately needed. No one is going to confuse the Chiefs’ run defense with the Seahawks or even the Rams. But the Cards hadn’t been running the ball a lick for three weeks. Sunday they did. Jonathan Cooper got his first start at left guard and left tackle Jared Veldheer was battling a sore ankle but the lanes were there much of the game and the offensive line was at the heart of it all. And it was spearheaded by Williams, and the Cards came out with a win.

The celebration wasn’t exactly going to last long at all. It can’t. The Cardinals are back at it in just a few hours from now. They travel to St. Louis Wednesday afternoon for a brutal short week – especially with all the injuries – to play the Rams. Not fun.

“You have to love the NFL schedule though,” Fitzgerald said with a smile, and I’m thinking his true feelings are pretty much the opposite of love. “Eight o’clock meetings (Monday) morning and six o’clock treatment. This is the schedule.”

A schedule that’s a lot easier to digest, frankly, after a crucial win. Ten wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1975-76. You could see it in the locker room, this was important.

– Before we flash too far back, though, a look ahead. The short week is brutal for even the “healthy” guys. What about cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was feared down with an Achilles injury? Bruce Arians said afterward it turned out to not be the Achilles (exhale now) but still couldn’t specify what was wrong.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed for him,” Arians said. That might be more optimistic for the long-term, but can he possibly turn around to play in a game in four days? Same goes for linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, who hurt his shoulder late in the game and didn’t return. We also need to see how Fitz, playing for the first time in three weeks but not at 100 percent, can bounce back on such a short week.

– Arians took blame for a couple of play choices that didn’t pan out (and drew plenty of questions on my Twitter feed at the time — @cardschatter, if you need it). “I called a couple of really bad plays,” Arians said. He named the Robert Hughes run up the middle on third-and-1 – when the Chiefs loaded the line of scrimmage with what seemed like 15 men – and the screen down at the Kansas City 5 that lost four yards in particular.

– It’s safe to say the Chiefs feel they got the short end of the stick on the two key calls of the game – the Fasano offensive pass interference and the Kelce fumble. (Who knew the Cardinals would benefit so much from the other team’s tight ends?) The Cardinals weren’t apologizing and insisted they thought a) Fasano committed a penalty and b) Kelce definitely fumbled.

But, defensive end Calais Campbell said with a smile, “Hey, that’s part of the game. The referees are a big part of the game some times. Sometimes it goes against you, sometimes it goes for you.”

– Not ideal that rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro put not one but two field-goal tries off an upright. I’m not sure he could do that again in five attempts if he tried 100 more times. But I do like how Arians laughed it off. The Cards can’t be thrilled, but public backing is important because they are going to need him.

– Frostee Rucker with a big game Sunday. Two sacks, and he was the guy in Alex Smith’s face to force the bad throw/Alex Okafor interception. Rucker has had a solid year for the Cards.

– Okafor (the pick, another sack) has turned into a find for the Cardinals at linebacker.

– No question that the Cardinals got a huge boost because Jamaal Charles got hurt. He had that 63-yard TD run and dynamic 18-yard TD catch off a swing pass and that dude was destined for a big day. But he hurt his ankle which I assume cost him touches. Still weird they didn’t go to him more. Judging by his reaction postgame, Charles felt it was weird too.

– Drew Stanton wasn’t great, but he was good enough, and that’s all the Cards can rightfully expect. He didn’t turn the ball over (although the Chiefs dropped one sure interception), he threw a beautiful TD pass to Jaron Brown on third-and-18 and threw a beautiful bomb to Michael Floyd for 45 yards. He kept going after Tamba Hali wrenched his ankle early in the game (on a play that I thought at first might’ve ended Stanton’s season.) You cannot fault the guy’s toughness or effort.

Guess it’s time to go. Short week for everyone. Including me. But the Cards have 10 wins in the book, so that’s a nice jumping off point.

10winBlog


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Taking a second to look at third downs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2014 – 10:24 am

Bruce Arians was talking about the third down the Cardinals faced last weekend in Atlanta in the third quarter when the team needed just two yards for a first down. Speedster wideout Ted Ginn’s route called for a double move and sprint down the sideline. Arians felt the Falcons’ defensive back committed illegal contact, but there was no flag. Quarterback Drew Stanton took the shot. It fell incomplete. The Cards punted.

“That’s the way we play football,” Arians said. “That’s the way (Stanton) is coached to play, and Teddy ran a good route.”

It pretty much summed up the way third downs have gone of late for the Cardinals too. It’s not like throwing a bomb on third down has been odd for this team. The 75-yard touchdown bomb to beat the Eagles was on third-and-5 (with the Cards needing just a field goal) late in the game. Risks will be taken by a B.A.-offense.

But obviously, the Cardinals have to find a way to turn third downs into first downs more often. In the past two losses, the Cards are 4-for-19. Only once did two of those conversions come on the same drive. But it was in Seattle, and the chance for a third third-down conversion bounced off the chest of wide receiver Jaron Brown in the end zone on a painful dropped pass.

Arians makes the point — which is both good and bad — that it’s not like the situations have been third-and-long most of the time. Of those 19 third downs, the Cardinals have needed six or fewer yards on 10 of them. Unfortunately, of those 10, the Cards have converted only two of them. That’s stunning.

“That’s the thing that’s kind of surprising is we were in very manageable third downs,” Stanton said. “We just had a tipped pass here, didn’t throw the ball accurately there, a lot of different things. We just need to understand why it’s happening and move on.”

The math is simple for the Cardinals. In their nine wins, they have converted 49.2 percent of their third downs. In their three losses, the percentage is just 20. Getting Larry Fitzgerald back on the field should help the cause, but regardless, the Cardinals have to find a way to sustain more drives. Yes, we’re talking the obvious here. But it’s the basics of football the Cards are searching for these days.

thirddownsUSE


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Arians: Ellington likely game-day decision

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2014 – 8:20 pm

It probably shouldn’t be that big of a surprise — Bruce Arians already said running back Andre Ellington wasn’t going to practice Wednesday — but on his weekly Sirius XM NFL appearance Tuesday night, Arians said Ellington probably won’t practice all week and will likely be a game-day decision whether he plays Sunday against Kansas City. Arians called Ellington’s hip pointer “severe” and a severe anything isn’t good. That means more Marion Grice, some Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes, and perhaps some Michael Bush mixed in.

(Please, no Ray Rice suggestions. Please.)

There was good news from Arians. Left tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) should be able to practice this week. Guard Paul Fanaika (ankle) is more iffy.

And there was also the revelation that the Cardinals did inquire about trading for Alex Smith when the 49ers were looking to move him in early 2013. The 49ers quickly said no, not a surprise given the division rivalry. The Cards, of course, will face Smith Sunday when they play Kansas City.


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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2014 – 10:17 pm

Drew Stanton said after Sunday’s game the Cardinals knew it would be difficult. I’m not sure it was supposed to be quite that difficult. The game played out as an ugly, smash-em-up affair, and that was OK. The Cards can do that. But the Cards can’t make mistakes while doing that, because those are the things that swing a close game. Whether it was the dropped TD pass or the punt block or just the inability of the offense to do anything of real substance save for the end-of-the-half drive (that closed with the TD drop), the Cardinals didn’t do the basic things. The Seahawks did.

Russell Wilson was special in the second half, escaping a few times when he really didn’t have the right to escape. But the Seahawks won because they patiently waited for the Cards to hand over field position, and simply kicked field goals when they did.

It has not been a particularly good offensive stretch to be sure. No touchdowns over the last seven quarters is not going to win any games, much less divisions or championships. These are the defenses you figure to see in the playoffs, too. It makes the game against the Falcons critical next week, especially for that side of the ball. Bruce Arians has to find something that works. Quickly.

– The Cards handled Marshawn Lynch. They couldn’t handle Wilson. In the second half especially, he made some magical plays. In an offense that really doesn’t have the right to be very effective, Wilson made it enough so on Sunday.

– Not having Larry Fitzgerald didn’t help. He couldn’t run, and the question is, how soon will he be able to run? Is another week off going to be enough? It might not be.

– More importantly, you’d think Michael Floyd would step to the forefront with Fitz down, but he was only targeted a couple of times and his one catch was negated by a penalty.

– Stanton hurt his left ankle late in the game, but he said was fine. He walked off the field without any issue and said he would’ve come back in the game. “It’s not anything major,” Stanton said.

– The Cardinals had eight sacks in the first eight games. After seven Sunday – including a career-best three from defensive end Calais Campbell – the Cards have 17 in their last three games. That thing when coaches are always saying sacks come in bunches? Yeah, that.

– It wasn’t the best special teams day for the Cardinals, but their field-goal block unit got another one thanks to Tommy Kelly (his second of the season) and Justin Bethel was irritated he didn’t get a piece of the first two Seattle field goals when he thought he had near misses.

– Arians gave Jaron Brown a pat on the back after his TD drop. Realistically, Arians said, the Cardinals at halftime were “where we’re at every week, within a score, up a score or down a score. We were right were we wanted to be.”

Then came the punt block, and the Cardinals never could get things right.

– The 204 yards of offense was the lowest total of the Arians era and the lowest amount of yards in a game since the Cards had 196 in a Ryan Lindley-started 38-10 win over the Lions Dec. 16, 2012.

– Newcomer Josh Mauro added some things on the defensive line at end, I thought. And further pushed the inactive-again Alameda Ta’amu down the depth chart.

– It was the best game of linebacker Kevin Minter’s year-plus: Five tackles, a first NFL sack, two tackles for loss.

– It’s about perspective. As someone mentioned on plane home, if someone would have said before the season the Cardinals were going to be 9-2 after the Seattle trip, no one would have turned it down. The Cards need to get it back quickly, though. Atlanta awaits.

Seablog1use


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Fitzgerald to be game-day decision

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2014 – 1:32 pm

It was probably inevitable, but Bruce Arians made it official Friday: WR Larry Fitzgerald, who didn’t practice for a third straight day, will be a game-day decision for the Cardinals in Seattle. There is still 48 hours to get Fitz’s knee right (or at least right enough) and the Cards will take it to the last moment to see what they can do with Fitz. On a purely statistical level, Fitz’s 110-consecutive game streak is on the line. The Cards do not fear Fitz not playing; they are confident in what Jaron Brown can do (as well as Ted Ginn and maybe more Smokey Brown) in Fitzgerald’s absence. Maybe it will be smarter to keep Fitz out. Arians said missing practice is not a big deal for a vet like Fitzgerald, so the door is open there.

If I had to guess right now, I’d think Fitzgerald wouldn’t play, but with Fitz, I’ve been burned there before. He’s going to want to get out there even if he can’t do everything. Maybe the Cards will want him out there just so the Seahawks have to think about him. Maybe the next 36 hours does wonders and he’s better than anyone can anticipate. We’ll see.

Arians did rule defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) out. So there’s that.

FitzPrayUSE

 


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Cooper not yet “one of the best players”

Posted by Darren Urban on November 12, 2014 – 1:32 pm

Bruce Arians was asked why specifically he had no interest in putting guard Jonathan Cooper in the starting lineup. His answer, as always, was blunt.

“If he was one of the best players, it’d be different,” Arians said. “He hasn’t shown he is one of the best players. He’s gotten a lot better than he was and I think he has a great future as long as he continues to do what he’s doing.”

Why isn’t the 2013 No. 1 draft pick one of the best, Arians was asked.

“The consistency in everything, staying off the ground, everything that goes into playing,” Arians said. “He gets his hands full with Calais (Campbell) every day on the scout team so I see improvement there. But there is nothing glaring where you’d say, ‘Take him out, put him in.’ That would be easy.”

Starting guards Ted Larsen and Paul Fanaika have not always been consistent, Arians and GM Steve Keim have said in the past. The line has to be better in the run game, Arians said. But the line isn’t going to include Cooper. Not now (which Arians has steadfastly said all season.)

“If I thought (playing Cooper) would fix it, hell yeah, I’d make the move,” Arians said. “I ain’t an idiot.”

– Defensive lineman Ed Stinson (groin, toe) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) aren’t practiced today. DT Dan Williams, RB Stepfan Taylor, RB Andre Ellington, LB Lorenzo Alexander and S Deone Bucannon all are limited in practice today, Arians said.

CoopBlogUSE

 


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Palmer done for season after knee injury

Posted by Darren Urban on November 10, 2014 – 1:09 pm

Much more to come on azcardinals.com, but the worst fears of the Cardinals and quarterback Carson Palmer were comfirmed: Palmer indeed tore the ACL in his left knee against the Rams, ending his season. Drew Stanton is now the quarterback going forward, backed up by Logan Thomas and a likely third-stringer. Bruce Arians said the Cards are looking at candidates, but it figures to be someone that knows the system, like a Dennis Dixon or a Ryan Lindley.

It’s a gut-punch to a team having a wonderful season and one to Palmer, who talked about how much fun he is having and how much this hurts him emotionally. He also said, despite just signing a contract extension Friday, he hopes to still be around next year. I’m pretty sure that’s the plan, but Palmer is no dummy. He knows how the NFL works, and how teams do what is best for the franchise. Still, Arians has been talking about Palmer in 2015, so there’s a good reason to think Palmer isn’t going anywhere.

The good news is that the ACL tear is only an ACL tear. It’s not the complete explosion in the left knee that Palmer suffered when he was hurt back in January, 2006. Palmer said doctors have told him the surgery for his current injury has become routine, like setting a bone. Both he and Arians talked about Palmer returning possibly for OTAs next summer. Wouldn’t that be something.

“I’m going to play football again,” Palmer said. “I hope it’s here.”

I’ll have the full story up on the site as soon as possible (and click here for the story). The full Carson Palmer press conference will be posted later this afternoon as well.


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Friday before the Rams, Palmer extension edition

Posted by Darren Urban on November 7, 2014 – 4:48 pm

And just when it felt like this week was going to be one of the least newsy in a long time, the Cardinals cap it off by signing quarterback Carson Palmer to a three-year extension – a move that isn’t unexpected, but one that is crucial for the team going forward.

Let’s face it, Palmer has provided the stability this team has needed at the position for a long time. He’s playing some of the best football of his career. Intelligent football. He has also become a rock-solid leader inside that locker room. That cannot be dismissed. As good as Palmer has been on the field, his leadership has been very, very important.

He’ll turn 35 next month. Reportedly, the deal guarantees $20.5 million up front between bonus and 2015 salary and nothing guaranteed after that. It gives the Cards flexibility going forward, yet makes sure they have a QB.

Another good move in a season of them for GM Steve Keim.

– The big deal Sunday will be keeping Palmer upright against the Rams. Last season when the Rams visited, Palmer hadn’t practiced all week but completed 27 of 34 passes and the Cards got a comfortable win. And that was without the currently upgraded offensive line.

– Everyone is going to want to knock off the Cardinals now. That’s part of the gig when you’ve fashioned the best record in the league.

“Every single week we’ll walk out there with a bulls-eye on our back,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “There is a big difference between being a hunter and being hunted. You have to have a much higher sense of urgency and focus to be able to deal with the pressure that comes with it.”

– The Cardinals used four-down linemen last week. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles hasn’t been shy about mixing and matching his lineups either. But Bowles said that isn’t him getting creative as much as making moves out of necessity.

“Last year we had three-down linebackers at both spots and we had (Darnell) Dockett who was on the field all the time,” Bowles said. “We didn’t have to change as much. We had (John) Abraham as a pass rusher. They were interchangeable because you let them do what they do best. This year with all the injuries, we have a bunch of moving part with different guys who do different things.”

– Bowles said safety Tyrann Mathieu (the one and only(?) Honey Badger) isn’t quite all the way back. Mathieu thinks he is. In fact, Mathieu really, really wants the decision-makers to let him take off his knee brace. I don’t think it’s going to happen — everyone wants to be smart here — but it let’s you know how Mathieu is feeling.

– Center Lyle Sendlein has had a good week. For one, he was not fined for the chop block he was flagged for in Dallas. Usually, that’s interpreted as a penalty that shouldn’t have been called (the Cardinals lost a 12-yard Andre Ellington run because of the flag, killing off a promising drive.) Regardless, the Cards won and no one dipped into his wallet.

– But the better part was the arrival of Sendlein’s first kid, a son that was born early in the week so Sendlein didn’t even have to miss practice.

“My wife is awesome, a great wife and mother,” Sendlein said. “She might let me sleep in the guest room until the season is over.”

She has to be better than that, though, after letting Sendein go with the name Crew Jack Sendlein for his newborn. Crew? Sendlein was asked where that came from.

“Well, I like the movie ‘Rad,’ ” Sendlein said, referring to a BMX racing bike movie from 1986. The main character was named Cru Jones. “It’s spelled a little different.”

– Bruce Arians was asked this week if he had ever this year drawn up any plays for cornerback Patrick Peterson on offense. The answer was no.

“(Expletive),” Arians said, “I can’t even get Jaron Brown in the game.”

True enough. After a big preseason, Brown has been a pick-and-choose guy, although he got his first touchdown catch against the Cowboys. “I wasn’t dropping that one,” Brown said, not after he was wide open for touchdown bombs twice this season, only to have the QB miss him.

Brown, however, only got so many opportunities in college at Clemson with a loaded roster. This isn’t new.

“I’ve been patient before, dealt with the same thing,” Brown said. “We were winning too, which always helps. I know my role. Hopefully it sets me up for down the road.”

At least he knows who is quarterback is going to be.

PalmerBeforeramsUSE


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Teachers plentiful for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2014 – 10:52 am

Ken Whisenhunt’s final coaching staff with the Cardinals numbered 17 members. With Bruce Arians, the number has ballooned to 24. It’s gone up just since Arians arrived, when he showed up in Tempe preaching how he wanted to teach and how he wanted his staff to be teachers as well. Arians’ theory is simple, and perhaps a given since Arians once thought he was going to get into middle school teaching and coaching: Smaller class sizes work. That goes in the NFL too, so why wouldn’t the offensive line benefit with three coaches (Harold Goodwin, Larry Zeirlein and David Diaz-Infante) instead of one. Why wouldn’t the defensive line need two coaches (Brentson Buckner, Tom Pratt), or there be a separate coach for inside (Mike Caldwell) and outside (James Bettcher) linebackers?

The Cardinals and president Michael Bidwill had to give the OK, of course, but Arians’ called it a “very easy sell.”

“Guys who have big position groups need more teachers,” Arians said. “I wish our school systems would take that approach.”

(I know my wife, who teaches high school down the street, agrees, as do many of her colleagues. But that’s something for another day, and probably another blog.)

“Michael has been great about it,” Arians added. “Rather than having one (coach) make this much money, give me three and let them make this much money. I’m not going to spend any more money, just give me more guys and we don’t care who’s sitting on whose desk in the office space.”

It has made for much more crowded football side of the team’s Tempe facility, but it’s worked. It’s not the only place things have changed with the organization. The personnel department has also grown in size, as has scouting. Heck, the building itself is growing, with new construction ongoing to enlarge the weight room, the cafeteria, the training/medical area and eventually, the locker room.

It’s hard to think anything other than that focused teaching has helped the Cardinals for the past year-and-a-half, that it’s helped a team overcome the kind of personnel losses this team has suffered, and keep playing at a high level.

CoachesBlogUSE

 


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