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New DC could impact Cardinals on the nose

Posted by Darren Urban on January 16, 2015 – 1:56 pm

I don’t think we’ll be hearing anything about the Cardinals’ vacant defensive coordinator job until next week (the coaches remain off, although former defensive coordinator/new Jets coach Todd Bowles did drop by Thursday and again Friday as he settled his affairs with the organization and said goodbyes.) We’ll wait to see if the Dick LeBeau rumors come to pass of him joining the Cardinals’ staff, and who else might be impacted (if LeBeau is a consultant, does outside linebackers James Bettcher become defensive coordinator? Or defensive backs coach Nick Rapone? Or someone else?)

What kind of scheme the Cardinals use will be the first question everyone will want to know, and if LeBeau arrives, whether it’s he dealing with what the Cardinals have been running or vice versa. The scheme of LeBeau and the scheme of Bowles have some parallels but they were definitely different — especially up front, where LeBeau (and disciple Ray Horton when he was DC of the Cardinals) look to have the linemen “two-gap” and allow the linebackers to roam and make plays. Bowles was willing to let his lineman just head one way and make a play. It’s a big reason why Darnell Dockett was so happy when Bowles arrived, as I mentioned the other day, although LeBeau had used more one-gap in the last couple of years and let his 3-4 ends rush the passer more often.

Either way, a good nose tackle is important. And the Cardinals face a crucial offseason when it comes to their nose tackles. Starter Dan Williams is an unrestricted free agent. Alameda Ta’amu, who had a disappointing season coming off a torn ACL, is a restricted free agent. Ta’amu is an interesting case, because he played well in 2013 and can be kept for a minimum of a restricted free agent tender offer. He didn’t tear up his knee until the season finale in 2013 and it wasn’t that shocking he was slow to recover, but the Cardinals were still expecting more from him this season. (It’s notable that LeBeau’s Steelers cut Ta’amu last year, which is how the Cardinals got him off waivers in the first place.)

Williams is more dicey. I’d think the Cardinals want him back. Williams said he would like to be back, but again, this is about money. What will the open market bring for Williams? Williams played pretty well this season and his weight isn’t the issue it used to be. But there is already a ton of money tied up in the defensive line (at least for now) with Calais Campbell and Dockett, and that also must fit into the equation. There was a reason the Cards drafted two defensive linemen last year.

Ed Stinson and veteran Tommy Kelly can play inside but it is Williams and/or Ta’amu who are the true nose tackles on the roster for now. Someone will need to be there in May too. If it isn’t Williams, can it be Ta’amu? Or someone else?

NoseblogUSE


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Friday before the Panthers and the Wild Card

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2015 – 11:58 am

Remember the last time the Cardinals went to Carolina for a playoff game? It turned out pretty well for the Cards. They flipped Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme into a turnover-machine – six in all – as the Cards crushed the 12-4 Panthers on their Super Bowl run.

The Cardinals (and the Panthers, for that matter) are way different than that team. Only three Cardinals who were there in the 2008 season will be on the field Saturday: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (who destroyed the Panthers that night), center Lyle Sendlein and defensive end Calais Campbell, who was just a rookie.

That game didn’t start well but we knew from playing them earlier in the season we could beat them,” Campbell said this week, choosing “resilience” as the one word to describe that game.

Campbell’s current team is looking for that resilience. The Cardinals are the underdog for their playoff game – as usual, coach Bruce Arians said – but even with a two-game losing streak, they carry with them a confidence they will be fine. Everyone has the same record at this point is the message coming from the team’s locker room. It’s a fresh start.

The Cards were the underdog once upon a time too. “I remember at halftime, Kurt Warner saying, ‘We’ve got them down, we’ve just got to finish them,’ ” Campbell said of that night in January, 2009. “He didn’t talk big too often, so when he said ‘Finish them,’ we all got focused.”

We’ll see where the Cardinals’ focus is Saturday.

— Campbell was named second-team all-pro Friday, underscoring a big season in which Campbell also was named to his first Pro Bowl. Campbell got 11 votes at defensive end, trailing only Houston’s J.J. Watt (unanimous 50 votes) and Buffalo’s Mario Williams (24). (Campbell also got a vote at defensive tackle for some reason.)

Four Cardinals got a single AP vote at their respective positions: tackle Jared Veldheer, linebacker Larry Foote, kicker Chandler Catanzaro and safety Rashad Johnson.

— There isn’t much more to be analyzed about quarterback Ryan Lindley. He can’t turn the ball over, and while he shouldn’t have to throw for 260 yards in a half for the Cardinals to win, he will have to make some plays. In a lot of ways, this game feels like it will come down to the quarterbacks – The Cards need Lindley to hold up, and they need to hold down Cam Newton.

— There was a players-only meeting Monday after the 49ers game. “I think a lot of good things we said in there,” Arians said during his appearance on the “Bickley and Marotta” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, and it was probably some important things. When you are having issues communicating – which especially has happened on defense a few times – and there is a need to refocus on the tackling, such a meeting can help. If nothing else, it was a chance for guys to clear the air and make sure the most important message was heard: It’s not easy to get to the playoffs or win in them. Don’t squander the opportunity with self-inflicted mistakes.

— Arians said he doesn’t want the defense to feel it has to do extra just because Lindley is at quarterback. Interestingly, that’s the opposite of what former Buccaneers coach-turned-ESPN-analyst Jon Gruden said he did once upon a time.

“The year we won the Super Bowl (in the 2002 season), we had to beat Chicago in Week 16 with our backup quarterback, and we had never won a game in below‑freezing temperature,” Gruden said. “So what I did is I went down to Warren Sapp’s locker and Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and said we’ve got to play some defense tonight.

“That’s what Bruce Arians has to do. You’ve got to go get Calais Campbell, you’ve go get your star players on defense, hopefully Larry Foote is ready to go, get Patrick Peterson and Cromartie and say, ‘Let’s pick it up, let’s play the game of the year on the road.’ Go down to Ted Ginn and say ‘Return a punt just like you did against the Giants.’ Let’s get after them in the kicking game, as well. Let’s run the ball.  Let’s not be afraid to punt the football, and let’s take our shots here and there when we strategically get the one‑on‑one isolations that we want. Don’t turn it over, play great defense, and find a way to win.”

— The chance for rain on game day has shrunk to 50 percent. It’s also warmer in Charlotte than it is in Phoenix.

— The Panthers did finish on a four-game win streak, but they played four sub-.500 teams – the Saints, Bucs, Browns and Falcons. Something to consider.

— Getting Larry Foote back at inside linebacker is more important than most realize, I think.

— The Cards, if they win, won’t know where they are playing until Sunday. A Cowboys win Sunday and the Cardinals would travel to Seattle. A Lions win, and the Cards would travel to Green Bay.

Of course, they’ve got to win first.

prepanthersuse


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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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Sizzling Campbell knows he could be better

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2014 – 9:48 am

Defensive end Calais Campbell is playing exceptionally well. He deserves to be considered for the Pro Bowl. He had three sacks last week in Seattle, and then this is how Bruce Arians evaluated Campbell’s game: “Calais played his normal game. He could play better. He had potential for a five-sack day. Three sacks is nice when it comes to sacks, but he’s a better player than that.”

Not exactly a huge pat on the back — and Campbell said B.A. said exactly what he should say.

“It’s true,” Campbell said. “I didn’t do enough to help my team win. I missed tackles, coach gave me credit on the sheet for two missed tackles but there were three or four other plays I could’ve made but I didn’t. I have a lot of pride in my game and I want to make those plays. I am glad Coach has high standards for me. I love his honesty. Otherwise it lets me take a step to be less that I was.”

Campbell missed two games with a knee injury and has been wearing a brace (and dealing with pain and a not-100-percent knee since). Yet he’s tied for the team-lead in sacks (six, coincidentally the same as linebacker Alex Okafor, who missed three games with injury this season), a team-high eight tackles for loss and leads all defensive linemen in tackles, with 37.

Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles like the way Campbell is playing, but both see a guy who is dominant and should produce on a dominant level all the time. Campbell embraces that line of thinking.

“If (Arians) was ‘Calais played great’ and I didn’t feel I played great, eventually I might be like, ‘Well, at least coach is happy,’ ” Campbell said. “Not to say he wasn’t happy, because he was, but he should expect more from me, because I expect more from me. I respect that part of him, because he knows how good I can be.”

CampbellBlogUSE

 


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Both Peterson, Cro crack Pro Bowl top 10

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2014 – 10:23 am

In the most recent results of the ongoing Pro Bowl voting, both of the Cardinals’ starting cornerbacks show up among the top 10 for their position. Patrick Peterson is seventh among cornerbacks, while Antonio Cromartie appears 10th on the list. It is good to see Cromartie there because he has played at a high level all season.

Peterson and Cro aren’t the only Cardinals in the top 10. Andre Ellington is eighth among running backs. Chandler Catanzaro is ninth among kickers. And Justin Bethel is eighth among special teamers.

Alas, Calais Campbell is still not in the top 10, despite having a Pro Bowl-type season (although as he said previously, he’d rather not play if it means the Cards are preparing for the Super Bowl.)

You can vote for the Pro Bowl here.

ProBowlPPCroyse


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CAPTION THIS – What is Calais Campbell saying to the team?

Posted by since1898 on November 19, 2014 – 10:33 am

DET-CAPTION

BACK TO #since1898


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Cards pop up in Pro Bowl votes – but not Campbell

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2014 – 10:30 am

Four Cardinals have appeared among the top 10 at their positions in the first release of Pro Bowl voting this season. Andre Ellington is ninth among running backs (ahead of LeSean McCoy at No. 10), Patrick Peterson is sixth among cornerbacks, Justin Bethel is seventh for special teamers, and rookie Chandler Catanzaro is fifth among kickers.

No Fitz, although he’s just now starting to round into form, and no Antonio Cromartie, who is playing well. And no Calais Campbell.

I know Campbell missed two games and doesn’t have eye-popping numbers. But he was a star against the Rams last week, and at this point in his career, it would be a shame if he didn’t get more attention as a Pro Bowl candidate. Not that Campbell really is thinking about it.

“This time of year I don’t pay too much attention to it,” Campbell said. “I just want to do what it takes to win the game, and typically that means (I) play well. Pro Bowl comes with playing well. … I hope I get to avoid playing in the Pro Bowl because we are playing in the Super Bowl. That’s my ultimate goal. But you do want recognition when you are playing well.”

Of course, then Campbell downplays how he has done, noting his missed games and the knee that isn’t going to be quite right all season, even as he plays at a high level.

“I just can’t wait to be healthy so I can try to take over a game,” Campbell said. “We need a big play, and I want to be able to dig deep and come up with the big play.”

To vote for the Pro Bowl, click here or go to http://www.azcardinals.com/fan-zone/official-2015-pro-bowl.html.

CampbellSackDanceUSE


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Rams — and Palmer knee — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2014 – 10:53 pm

I remember, when Calais Campbell got hurt in Denver – at the same time Matt Shaughnessy got hurt – and Campbell said something along the lines that he’d eventually be back, Shaughnessy would eventually be back, Carson Palmer (who still wasn’t back) would eventually be back, and it would all be part of this amazing story of the 2014 Cardinals when they made their playoff run.

The Cards can stop adding hurdles they need to overcome.

Carson Palmer will have an MRI Monday on his left knee. We’ll see what happens, but while you hope for the best, you prepare for the worst, and the worst would be losing Palmer for the season. When your team is 8-1 and talking – legitimately – about a possible playoff run, losing a starting quarterback is vicious.

The positive is that Drew Stanton has played well when he’s had to play. He did it again Sunday. But the last time, it was as a placeholder until Palmer came back. What happens if there is no coming back for Palmer?

Lost in it all was the fact Palmer just signed his contract extension Friday, which obviously is seen in a much different light with an injury. That said, all those wondering if the Cardinals re-signed Palmer too quickly? No. Not in my opinion, not unless you are now predicting serious injuries.

The Cardinals made the right move. They were just hit with bad, bad luck.

— Arians had this to say about Palmer’s new contract: “He’s the leader of our franchise right now and it will stay that way.”

— On a short-term note, it’s too bad Palmer got hurt because it overshadowed the job the defense did against the Rams. I keep going back to the thought the Rams had 40 yards rushing on their first-quarter touchdown drive – and just 70 rushing yards total for the game. The defense simply clamped down, and since the Rams had a rookie QB, St. Louis had no chance.

— Yes, Patrick Peterson has figured it out. That pick-6 was unreal – watch carefully how he tipped it to himself, an amazingly athletic play. “For the first time in a long time I felt 100 percent,” Peterson said. “I just got tired of hearing all the criticism, people not knowing the situation.”

— Calais Campbell was a monster Sunday. As well as Peterson played, Campbell was the best guy on defense.

— Campbell had two sacks of the Cardinals’ six in the game. The Cards had just eight sacks in the first eight games.

— The Rams have not had a very good run defense. So it’s a concern the Cardinals could not run against the Rams. At all. The Cardinals had only 28 yards on the ground, and Andre Ellington got a mere 23 yards on 18 carries. That won’t work for many wins going forward, especially if the Cards have to turn to Stanton.

— Larry Fitzgerald was the backbone of the receiving corps, Yes, Smokey Brown made a beautiful  TD catch, but it was Fitz making multiple crucial catches through the first part of the game, and he’s on a solid path for 1,000 yards now.

— Brown probably shouldn’t have been able to catch that TD. A fantastic individual effort. That kid catches key touchdowns, whether it was the game-winner against the Chargers, 49ers, Eagles and now Rams.

— Michael Floyd got off to a good start this season. But man, he has become MIA. He made a nice catch Sunday for a first down and took a hellacious hit. After that, though, he wasn’t involved.

— Ed Stinson is dinged up, with a groin issue and a toe issue, but he dropped an interception with three minutes left that was right in his hands.

— As I wrap this up, I’m watching Tom Jackson and Cris Carter on ESPN talk about the Cardinals. They are talking about the team under the assumption Palmer is lost and Stanton will be the starter from here on. And both said they can still see this team with the ability to make a playoff run.

It says a lot about this team and the impression it has left nine games into the season.

PalmerThumbUSE


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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.

 

PressureBlogUSE


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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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