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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

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Campbell playing; Grice active for first time

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2014 – 11:26 am

The big if not unexpected news: Defensive end Calais Campbell is active today and will be playing for the Cardinals. That isn’t a shock with the way Campbell was talking Friday.

I know I’ve gotten more questions about a rookie sixth-round pick that was already cut once than I ever expected, but for all those waiting, Marion Grice will be active for the first time today for the Cardinals. That’s the guy the Cards pick to replace their third quarterback active, which Logan Thomas was last week. Grice, given the way the Cards would like to run the ball, could see some action today. Linebacker Desmond Bishop is also active for the first time since being re-signed.

Here’s the full Cardinals’ inactive list:

– QB Logan Thomas

– LB Thomas Keiser

– LB Glenn Carson

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– DT Bruce Gaston

– G Earl Watford

– TE Troy Niklas (ankle)

For the Eagles, RB Darren Sproles (knee) and C Jason Kelce (hernia) are inactive. Starting LB Mychal Kendricks is active.


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Friday before the Eagles – this time, with Andre

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2014 – 3:47 pm

The last time the Cardinals played the Eagles, the game was in Philly a few days after Thanksgiving. And Andre Ellington was not part of it.

A lot has been said about the Cardinals’ near loss to the Eagles last year, about the penalty flags the Cards questioned and the big early deficit and the inability to stop the tight ends. Often lost in the conversation is that Ellington didn’t play. That was right when Ellington was emerging as a key piece of the offense; it was two weeks later when Ellington had what Bruce Arians felt was his best game, in Tennessee.

Ellington missed the Philly game after slipping on the grass during the Cardinals’ Thanksgiving practice. He later said that, at the time, he thought he had torn his ACL. That would have certainly changed the course of the Cards’ recent history. Instead, Ellington is coming off his heaviest workload ever, with 30 touches.

The Cardinals survived losing Carson Palmer for a few games. They would survive a wide receiver missing a couple of games, or one of the linemen. Losing Ellington, though? You’d try not to think about it. Last week, Bruce Arians said he thought Ellington wasn’t going to play the second half with a rib injury. I asked Ellington about it, and he acknowledged he knows how much he is needed on the field.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, I have to admit,” Ellington said. “There is a side of me that wants to be out there for every snap. But at the end of the day, that’s why we have depth on the team. When the starters can’t go, we have guys who can step in.”

– I will be fascinated to see how Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense operates in an enclosed stadium that tends to get LOUD (underratedly so.) In case you hadn’t heard, there is no NFL home – not Seattle, not New Orleans, not Kansas City – that has generated as many false starts by the opposition since 2006 than the 119 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Getting Calais Campbell would be a massive addition to the defense. That goes without saying. But seeing that Carson Palmer was no longer even listed on the injury report this week also meant something. Palmer getting back to lifting weights with his upper body will help his strength, and while it came from a different direction than last year, it certainly seems the Cardinals are set up for a second-half improvement in the passing game. Again, not ideal. But as long as Palmer is healthy, the arrow should go up.

– On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t gotten the same play from QB Nick Foles they did a year ago. He does have 10 TD passes but he’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions (five more than last year already.) First job Sunday is to slow LeSean McCoy. After that, maybe the Cards can force Foles into some bad choices.

– The inactive lists will be crucial Sunday. Campbell is questionable, even if I think he’ll play. For the Eagles, they had three guys I didn’t think would be able to go who suddenly practiced “full” Friday. So maybe they will. Center Jason Kelce, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and running back Darren Sproles, if they can go, change the dynamics of the game.

– B.A. keeps talking about how his team hasn’t accomplished anything yet, and linebacker Larry Foote noted there are still 10 games to go in the season. But the team is 5-1 and feeling pretty good. So, Foote was asked, how do you get the message across?

“It’s impossible for young guys to understand it,” Foote said. “You have to say it and then you have to go out there and show them. Just your effort and the way you carry yourself in practice, they can feel the environment, see how older guys are playing, how serious they are with communication and in meeting rooms.”

Certainly, the Cardinals don’t want this to get away from them. With a two-game edge in the loss column, that’s nice to have in the bank. The Cards aren’t going 15-1. But it wouldn’t be bad to emerge from these next two games with at least a 6-2 record. Might as well get the one at home.

– Larry Fitzgerald was full of great quotes this week – talking about his “champagne problems” – and he had a thoughtful answer of what was more important for a successful team: talent, or confidence?

“I think it’s a healthy combination of both,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to have the confidence in yourself that you can go out and make the play, the guy next to you can make the play, and having that trust level in your teammates. That’s huge. It’s exemplified in our defense. Everyone saw the injuries and suspensions and people wrote us off, ‘There’s no way they can play at the same level’ and all they have done is the same thing.”

It’s a great point. The Cards need talent, and I think it only underscores the job GM Steve Keim has done with the depth that the Cards have been able to deal with their injured personnel. But the confidence means something. It oozes from the head coach, and it permeates the locker room. The Cards are 5-1 in part because they believe they should be, everything else be damned.

See you Sunday.

EllbeforeEaglesUSE


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Campbell: “If it were up to me, I’d be playing”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2014 – 1:41 pm

There is the caveat that it will come down to a coach’s decision, and coach Bruce Arians said Friday he will see whether defensive end Calais Campbell will play Sunday. Campbell is officially questionable for the game. But both Campbell and Arians sounded like guys who wanted Campbell on the field against the Eagles and in that regard, optimism abounds.

“If it were up to me, I’d be playing,” Campbell said, before again deferring to the coaching staff.

“When he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go, because there is nobody quite like him,” Arians said. “Even at 90 percent, the energy he brings, even the respect he brings, you want him on the field.”

Campbell said his biggest issue now is getting used to playing with a brace on his right leg, since he has never played with a brace before. Arians said if Campbell plays, it’ll be left up to him how much he can go, and Campbell admitted that having two limited practices total the past three weeks, he probably wouldn’t/couldn’t play the same amount of reps as normal. He also said he can’t worry about having his leg taken out again on the field of play, since it’s always a possibility.

But “there is nothing I can’t do,” Campbell said. “Just have to deal with having a brace on the knee. I feel explosive and I could play football the way I like to play football.”

– Tight end Troy Niklas missed practice again with a bad ankle and is out for the game, and clearly, Arians is ready to see him on the field again. Arians said Niklas is behind “a bunch” after missing so many practices.

“His situation, talking to the trainers, if he can push the sled he can play because he’s a damn tackle,” Arians said, drawing laughs. “He’s not a wide receiver. He doesn’t have to be worried about making cuts. He better have his ass back on the practice field next week.”

CampbellOKbloguse


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Campbell back to practice, but will he play?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2014 – 2:26 pm

Defensive end Calais Campbell was back at practice Thursday for the first time since absorbing the chop block of Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. Campbell’s MCL suffered a slight tear, and Campbell — understandably — has been cautiously optimistic in his approach of playing against the Eagles Sunday after missing two games. He wants to play, of course. He also doesn’t want to go out unprepared. Campbell already knows the knee isn’t going to be right the rest of the season. He wants to make sure it’s right enough.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had some fun at Campbell’s expense when analyzing the end’s first practice back. “He’s slow to begin with so it’s hard to tell,” Bowles said, with a big laugh. “He looks the same as when he got caught by Peyton Manning on the touchdown.”

That’s a zing. If you recall, Campbell should have had an interception return for a TD in Denver (before his injury), only to have Manning somehow knock him down near the goal line.

The Cardinals certainly could use Campbell on the field. He was having a Pro Bowl-type season when he was hurt. The Cards have to deal with a better offense Sunday against the Eagles than they have against the Redskins or Raiders in the two games Campbell has missed. But in the long run, the Cardinals must have Campbell period. If that means one more game missed, it would be understandable. All along, Arians said Campbell had to practice at least Friday to play. He looks like he’ll have Thursday and Friday (assuming no setbacks after today.) That would see to bode well for a potential Campbell play Sunday.

CampbellBlogComeback


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No picks thrown yet, Dixon cut and other B.A.

Posted by Darren Urban on October 13, 2014 – 1:17 pm

In five games, through three quarterbacks, the Cardinals have not thrown an interception. That’s 178 pass attempts this season, and 223 total in a row without a pick dating back to last season. Sure, Carson Palmer should have thrown one Sunday when Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo dropped one, but if, buts, candy, nuts and all that — right?

“It’s knowing where you are going with the ball,” coach Bruce Arians said. “But we’ve been lucky. We’ve had about three dropped.”

OK, that’s true. Arians did acknowledge the “experience and trust” the quarterbacks and receivers have built to make interceptions less likely. There is a luck component to it, but the same goes for making interceptions on defense (like Sam Acho’s pick off a batted pass in New York.) Arizona is only 74 passes from the NFL record for most attempts to start a season without an interception, or a little less than two-B.A.-called games.

All of that has helped the Cards to a plus-8 in turnovers thus far, third in the NFL behind New England and Green Bay, both of which are plus-9.

– Arians said he was still a little concerned about how Palmer would be after his 44 passes Sunday. “Until I saw him (Monday), Arians said. “Now, he feels great.” Arians said Palmer can “hopefully” do everything in practice this week. Drew Stanton had been ready to go in the game if Palmer had to have come out after getting poked in the eye during that sack-not-a-sack completion.

– With the health of the quarterbacks back to (almost) normal, the Cardinals cut QB Dennis Dixon from the practice squad.

– The Cardinals came out of the Redskins’ game relatively healthy. No one should miss any time from anything sustained against Washington.

– Defensive end Frostee Rucker should be OK to play, but his calf injury is going to be a constant issue he must deal with, like the foot problem with running back Andre Ellington, Arians said.

– There is a “slim chance” defensive end Calais Campbell plays this week, Arians said. I would be stunned if he played.

PicklessBlog

 

 


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Cards’ run defense must hold up

Posted by Darren Urban on October 10, 2014 – 10:26 am

Before Calais Campbell got hurt a couple of plays into the second half of last weekend’s game in Denver, the Broncos had exactly four rushing yards. On seven attempts. With Campbell out of the game, the Broncos got 88 yards rushing on 21 tries.

There were, of course, other factors. The defense eventually got tired in the fourth quarter because the Cardinals could not generate any offense and stay on the field. But make no mistake, Campbell is an important part of the run defense. So too is Matt Shaughnessy, who was playing hurt in Denver and now is out a couple months with a knee injury. How the Cardinals deal with the loss of Campbell and Shaughnessy and hold up against the run, in my opinion, is the linchpin of keeping this season together as the Cardinals deal with all their injury-related setbacks.

If the Cardinals can continue to play like a top-five run defense — and they are fifth right now — they will stay in games. Certainly, the next stretch of the schedule will test that. The Redskins have Alfred Morris. The Eagles have Shady McCoy. And the Cowboys have the leading rusher in the NFL in DeMarco Murray. Getting Campbell back sooner rather than later will help, but there no way to know right now exactly when that will be. At this point, the Cards can’t afford to wait for reinforcements anyway. They must perform with who they have.

RunDefenseBLOG


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Oh, captain, my captain — you OK?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 9, 2014 – 10:32 am

See that photo at the bottom? It’s a picture from the coin toss before the Monday night season opener against the Chargers. It is also the last time the Cardinals’ captains will have all played together in a game in 2014. It feels like the role has been cursed, right?

I mean, punter Dave Zastudil was already hurt in that game — the only reason he was active was to hold on field goals, while Drew Butler did the punting. Zastudil punted in one game (Denver, last weekend) before going on IR with his persistent groin injury, ending his season. Palmer, as we all know, has been hurting since the Chargers game and there is still uncertainty he can come back. Calais Campbell is now down with a knee injury, something that’s been at the forefront of the NFL world for a couple of days.

Wait, am I automatically jinxing Lorenzo Alexander now? (That’s rhetorical, folks. I don’t believe in such things.) Besides, Alexander got his bad luck last year when he got hurt, so …

Still, you have to like how coach Bruce Arians approaches the situation. When Darnell Dockett went on IR, he stayed involved. While hurt, Zastudil and Palmer have still been serving as captains. I can only guess Campbell will continue to do the same, and Zastudil too. “Dave is going to be very, very involved, like Darnell,” Arians said. “He’ll go out for the coin toss and do the things that captains do.”

And at some point, the Cardinals are hoping the other three captains are out there ready to play together on Sundays. Sooner rather than later.

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NFL: Correct call on Campbell play

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2014 – 10:15 am

There already has been a lot of speculation on how the low block on Calais Campbell, the one injuring him, was a good call. The NFL this morning said that indeed, the Campbell play was a chop block, violating Rule 12, Section 2, Article 3 in items c) and d). From the league: “The officials threw the flag for the ‘reverse chop.’  Julius Thomas blocked Calais Campbell ‘in the area of the thigh or lower,’ as specified by rule, and Ryan Clady engages Campbell high “simultaneously or immediately after the block” by Thomas, resulting in the penalty.”

“The play also violated part c) of the rule, known as a “lure.”  While Thomas chops Campbell, Clady ‘confronts the defensive player in a pass-blocking posture but is not physically engaged with the defensive player’ “

Thomas could be fined. Any fines are issued from the league later in the week. Those are usually announced Friday, unless the player fined says something about it. A look at the hit, courtesy SBNation:

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Former NFL head of officials Mike Pereira, now with Fox, had previously said he thought it was flag-worthy.


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Keim: Campbell prognosis to come, no new QB yet

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2014 – 8:12 am

General Manager Steve Keim addressed the two biggest issues facing the Cardinals following Sunday’s loss/injuryfest in Denver during his Monday morning appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports. Obviously, both were injury-related.

Defensive end Calais Campbell is getting an MRI this morning, but Keim said the belief is Campbell has a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee. Keim said Campbell’s prognosis is tough to predict because it can range quite a bit. But it felt like a little optimism. Keim didn’t even close the door on Campbell playing against Washington Sunday (although that would be amazing) although multiple games sitting is definitely possible.

Also clear: Keim wasn’t happy about the Julius Thomas low block that hurt Campbell, saying he’s never seen a player go low on what was essentially going to be a chip block before Thomas ran a pass route. “Hopefully, we’ll never see that again,” Keim said.

– As for the quarterback situation, Drew Stanton will go through concussion protocol and Carson Palmer will continue with his shoulder treatment. Because in theory both could be ready for the Redskins, Keim said the Cardinals aren’t going to add another quarterback. Not yet. That will be determined in the next 24 to 48 hours. Keim wouldn’t divulge what quarterbacks the team would be looking at if they would sign one, although he said there are a lot of considerations that go into it and what they need plays into any decision. Keim noted any practice squad addition means keeping that player for three games on the 53-man roster, which might not make sense if Palmer and Stanton are on the verge of returning (and why Ryan Lindley, on San Diego’s practice squad, might not make sense.) Keim also said it’ll depend what the Cards might be looking for — a third-string guy?  A backup? I don’t think there is any question Logan Thomas is the starter if Palmer and Stanton aren’t playing.

– Tight end Troy Niklas has a high ankle sprain. He too will get an MRI.

– Cornerback Patrick Peterson (ankle) will probably be day to day, but Keim didn’t sound concerned.

– Keim’s total of drops he counted for his receivers? Nine. More than I had. Obviously, not a good total. Keim definitely didn’t sound pleased. “You can’t play like that and expect to win,” he said.

– He didn’t sound pleased with the offensive line. Keim said they played “below average,” and didn’t play in unison.

– Keim on Logan Thomas’ play: “He’s got to learn to get the ball out quicker,” Keim said, “but that will come in time.”

– Keim was pleased with the play of draft picks Deone Bucannon and Kareem Martin. Martin improvement would be important if Campbell is sidelined.

– The injuries don’t feel good for a GM either. “It’s tough,” Keim said. “But again, no one else in the league is going to feel sorry for us.”


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