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A soaking wet Dolphins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2016 – 10:04 pm

The message wasn’t a surprise. Calais Campbell has been calling every game a playoff game and none of the players in the locker room were confused at exactly what was at stake Sunday. Still, when Bruce Arians brought his team together after the rainy loss in Miami and said out loud that it likely doomed its playoff hopes, “it was terrible to hear,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I don’t think that’s set in yet.”

Perhaps it was its downfall, but this team never really gave serious thought to the idea it wouldn’t make the playoffs. There are many reasons for that, one being that under Arians, this team has never been in this predicament. In his first season, the Cardinals won seven of eight down the stretch and went into the last weekend still with a slim chance to make the playoffs. The past two years, they had clinched playoff spots right around now.

No reason to belabor the point right now. The Cardinals do have three games left to play, and those last two – road trips to Seattle and Los Angeles – aren’t just any games. Those remain personal. Motivation is there.

But everyone knew the expectations of this season. Falling short of even making the playoffs wasn’t supposed to be part of the equation.

— We will see what the week brings, but left tackle D.J. Humphries left with a concussion and right tackle Ulrick John was injured on the Cards’ last offensive play. Not sure who might be left to play if both are too banged up to go. Earl Watford indeed was reinstalled as right guard in place of John Wetzel, but Wetzel ended up having to play anyway. Injuries have just torn up the offensive line.

Defensively, the Cardinals already were iffy on the return of Tyrann Mathieu and now Tyvon Branch may be down, and perhaps cornerback Marcus Cooper.

— The rain is not why the Cardinals lost, but it came down at times incredibly hard and it was weird how it did seem to kick up when the Cards had the ball.

“I swear to God it felt like every time we touched the ball it started raining,” wide receiver Brittan Golden said.

— Speaking of Golden, he got his first career TD reception, but he actually went in to the game for a play before that – at deep safety. Cooper and Branch were out and safety Tony Jefferson got banged up on a play and had to leave the field for a snap. Golden has practiced at times with the secondary, but this was the first time he actually went out there playing deep centerfield on a run play. And what went through his mind?

“Please don’t break that tackle,” Golden said with a grin.

— It was probably fitting that the loss that basically ended their hopes came in large part because of special teams woes. This week it was the kicker Chandler Catanzaro and long snapper Aaron Brewer. Couple of high snaps doomed two extra points, one of which was returned for two points. Add in the missed field goal of 41 yards, and that’s a seven-point swing in a three-point game. Killer.

Yet Cat Man mixed in a 56-yard field goal that I will admit I was shocked Arians called for, a boot that was the third-longest in franchise history – behind the 60-yarder he had in Buffalo earlier this season and the 61-yarder Jay Feely had against the Bills in Arizona in 2012.

— Sunday may be the first time in NFL history both teams faced a third-and-at-least-33.

— Larry Fitzgerald was targeted nine times Sunday but had only three catches for a scant 12 yards. He has 91 receptions this season but so many of late have been for so few yards that his per-catch average has sunk to less than 10 yards a reception – 9.8 to be exact.

— The rain made the downfield passing game terrible. Michael Floyd had 18 yards on two catches – and those were the most by any wide receiver. Fitz had his 12, Golden nine and J.J. Nelson eight. Smoke Brown played but wasn’t targeted.

— Kerwynn Williams did well in the wildcat. He took three snaps as a “quarterback,” running each time, gaining 34 yards. The Cardinals had 175 yards rushing as a team and averaged 6.5 yards a carry. But with the turnovers and the sideways special teams, it wasn’t enough.

— Three games left. We’ll see how the Cardinals play it out.

Carson Palmer, Ndamukong Suh


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Fitz in Miami, and Friday before the Dolphins

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2016 – 3:01 pm

It’s been a big week for Larry Fitzgerald. Becomes the player with the third-most catches in NFL history, is chosen as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year (and will it surprise anyone if Fitz is one of the three finalists?) and now, gets to go back to where he first had a game-winning touchdown.

You remember, right? Denny Green’s first year, Fitz’s rookie year, and the last time the Cardinals actually played in Miami. It was 2004, and Fitz’s 48-yard bomb with about a minute left set up his two-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds left. It snapped a 17-game road losing streak for the Cards (those were the days …) and got Fitzgerald to the postgame interview podium for the first time.

He didn’t like it. It was a short and, if I recall correctly, much too awkward of an interview for a guy who just scored the game-winning points. But life is much different these days for Fitz. That was the day, coming off a personal shutout in the rain in Buffalo, that Fitz started his still-active streak of 191 straight games with a catch.

“That’s a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said.

Indeed it was.

Are these two Miami trips going to essentially bookend Fitz’s career? He was asked this week about catching Tony Gonzalez and/or Jerry Rice on that receptions list. Gonzalez is about 200 receptions in front of Fitzgerald.

“I won’t catch either of those guys,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “I don’t plan on playing long enough to catch both those guys.”

What does that mean? It would seem to put a damper on the idea Fitz will play past 2017, since the rest of this season plus next season plus, say, 2018, would seem to put him in Gonzalez range. So at this point – although Fitzgerald was quick to say he wasn’t making any kind of retirement announcement – Fitz’s time seems to be short. He’s obviously a lot closer to the end than the beginning. Trips to Miami mark the time.

— The Cardinals may adjust their offensive line again, with the possibility of Earl Watford returning to the lineup at right guard for John Wetzel. Watford got hurt at the end of the Minnesota game, and while he was healthy enough to play the last couple games, Wetzel instead got the call. Goodwin called Watford’s year “up and down.”

“It’s probably not where he wants it, not where I want it to be,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I have high expectations of him, as a player and a person.”

Arians said Watford is healthy again, and simply, he has more experience than Wetzel. That’s a big deal going up against what can be a nasty Dolphins defensive line,

— With rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hurting his elbow in practice and missing parts of practice all week, I don’t think anyone has to wonder if this is the week he makes it back to the Sunday active list.

— Guys like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson are going back to Miami to play for the first time and are excited. John Brown is also headed home for the first time, although it’s a much different vibe. Although Goodwin said Brown played well last week in his limited snaps – Arians had noted Smoke was open deep a couple of times, although the Cards couldn’t get him the ball – he didn’t have a catch and has just 31 receptions this season.

“Just going through it is kind of frustrating,” Brown said. “But everyone in here has my back. The coaches have my back. I’ll get through it. It’s just a small bump in the road.”

Brown did say he hasn’t played in front of his family since high school, so he is looking forward to doing so.

— Fitz, on whether rest days have helped the arm of Carson Palmer. “His arm has always looked good,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s 36 years old, you know he’s capable of doing everything. You don’t need to see it every day.”

— Arians was asked about the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu — who won’t play Sunday because of his bad shoulder — and former Colts safety Bob Sanders, who had an excellent career cut short because of injuries. Sanders was also undersized.

“Totally different players,” Arians said. “Bob was a box guy who would just knock your socks off all the time, but his body couldn’t take his bravado. Ty plays the game a different way. It’s just been bad luck.”

— After failing to score on the opening possession all season, the Cardinals have scored a touchdown on the opening drive each of the last two games. Palmer said the Cards have put a focus on it. I asked what does that exactly mean, since you figure they are working on all the plays equally.

“I wish there was one reason or five reasons,” Palmer said. “There are a ton of reasons why that happens. It’s not like all of a sudden Coach put together a really good opening drive. It is not like all of a sudden we didn’t make a mistake on the opening drive. I think if you looked at that and compared it to all the other opening drives, there are probably less mistakes, but there is no rhyme or reason or perfect formula, obviously, or else everybody would be doing it.”

— With no roster moves as of yet, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will make a move with practice squad punter Matt Wile this week. So I expect Drew Butler to have his regular duties against the Dolphins.

— The Cardinals win this weekend, and the last month of this season can be very, very interesting. A loss, and you’re talking about 2017.

FITZGERALD HOWARD


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Nelson, Johnson and Redskins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2016 – 8:41 pm

It’s possible J.J. Nelson wouldn’t have even been on the field with 2:03 left Sunday, but as fate — and perhaps some virus, or bad food, would have it — Michael Floyd “was throwing up at that time,” Nelson said. So the Cardinals went with a play that could get Nelson open deep. Carson Palmer took a shot, and Nelson held on — something he hasn’t been able to do a lot of late.

“Them dropped passes I’ve had, I was like, ‘I’ve got to catch this,’ ” the wide receiver said.

He did, of course, and then the defense finished it off, and voila! The Cardinals had their win. There was so much talk about accountability and team meetings coming into this game, and maybe there was more attention to detail, but mostly, as Tony Jefferson said, it was Five Stars (as in five-star players) being Five Stars. Guys made plays. Nelson. Palmer. Patrick Peterson — who said he really didn’t think the players-only meeting impacted much tonight — with the pick. Heavy pressure on Kirk Cousins. Guys were making plays. David Johnson, at the forefront (more on him in a minute.)

They’ll see if they can keep it going in Miami.

— We knew it was coming, but props to Larry Fitzgerald for becoming No. 3 in the NFL all-time in receptions. The only two ahead of him? Jerry Rice and long-time tight end Tony Gonzalez.

— Going 10-of-16 on third downs and not turning the ball over usually is a recipe for a win.

— Calais Campbell played an excellent game. It was highlighted by his strip-sack when he collapsed the pocket, but he played so well all around.

— Lost on the last TD drive was a third-down holding call on Josh Norman on Fitz. From my vantage point on the sideline, it looked like he held. Norman said he felt he was within five yards of the line of scrimmage and thought he was in good position, but he also said he wasn’t going to blame the loss on a call.

— Why, exactly, the Redskins called a fade route to DeSean Jackson, with Peterson covering him, on the 1-yard line on third down I will never understand.

— Hey, remember when I was saying the Cardinals didn’t yet have a Victory Monday? They’ve got one now.

“There is nothing better than coming into this locker room and Coach giving us a Victory Monday in December,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s is the first Victory Monday. That is pretty bad, man.”

— Finally, there is David Johnson. What else can you say? Fitz is calling him the NFL’s MVP, Palmer is calling him the best player in the game. He’s got 15 touchdowns now, two shy of the franchise record set by John David Crow in 1962 (That’s the last time someone had at least 15.) He’s had more than 100 yards from scrimmage every game this season.

He’s got 1,005 yards rushing this season. He’s up to 704 yards receiving on 64 catches, and it does not seem far-fetched any longer to see him get another 296 yards receiving in the last four games. That’s an average of 74 a game. Definitely do-able, and it would bring him with Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only ones to do it in NFL history.

When you have Johnson, why wouldn’t you try fourth-and-1 (although Arians was right; big props to the left side of the line and those two tight ends because we have seen Johnson stuffed before.)

On a night when Fitzgerald made more NFL history, it sure feels like Johnson is rapidly becoming a player that — with health and good teammates — could end up having a chance to be a historical player himself.

afterskinsblog


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Keim: Floyd, Nkemdiche and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2016 – 8:25 am

General Manager Steve Keim lamented Sunday’s loss, noting as many have the same issues the Cardinals have suffered through all season. He was asked during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Monday if he was now going to start working on 2017. Keim wants to see wins now, but the question was unnecessary, since Keim is always looking at the future. He was doing so back in training camp. Keim has long talked about taking a three-year view on the roster.

There are things now that impact later, however. In particular, Keim talked about wide receiver Michael Floyd, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Keim was asked if Floyd’s rough season made it more likely the Cards brought him back because his price may go down, or less likely because he has struggled so much.

“I know he’s disappointed and frustrated,” Keim said. “In the past, there’s been some inconsistencies, whether it was dropped balls or other things that came with his game. At the same time he made big plays to compensate for that. That’s the one area where, quite frankly, we haven’t seen this year.”

As for Floyd’s future with the team, Keim said those are discussions that will be made internally. But “whether a guy returns to your team or not, listen, we get emotionally attached to these guys. I want the best for all of them. He’s a guy I am rooting for and hopefully he can turn it around with five games left in the season and have some success for his livelihood. You never want to see a guy underachieve or have the misfortune of hitting the market and getting underpaid. I’m hoping all these guys have success. If they have success, we have success.”

— Keim was asked whether first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche should be playing late in the season.

“Until he earns it and learns how to be a true pro, he has to sit,” Keim said.

Keim compared it to the learning year for D.J. Humphries last season. “It’s on Robert,” Keim added. “He has all the skills, which is the good news, to be a great one. But until Robert understands what comes with being a great player, he’ll be on the bench. That’s the thing Coach and I have always been committed to. Regardless what your salary is, regardless of where you were drafted, you’re going to have to earn your spot on the field.”

— More generally for the future, “we have some plans and ideas in place we think will strengthen this team going forward,” Keim said. He added that as disappointing as the season has been, he believes there are enough core pieces in place — both in age and contractually — that whatever happens after the season with player movement “I don’t think it’s a complete revamp of this team to make it better.”

— Humphries at left tackle was a bright spot, Keim said. The GM said Humphries looks natural at left tackle (which makes sense, since that is Humphries’ natural spot.) As for Ulrick John, Keim said he thought he did a “nice job” until late in the game, when some twists and stunts got to him and right guard John Wetzel.

— Keim lamented the lack of a big play when needed. He was particularly disappointed with the Calais Campbell offsides on the punt late in the game — a play in which the Cards weren’t even rushing the punter — which kept an eventual TD drive alive.

— He was asked about a possible problem with chemistry. “That’s a good question,” Keim said. “In my position, when you put together a team and you look at it on your board … and we’re potentially more talented than we have been the past three years when we had success, but at the same time these guys have to come together.

“I don’t think it’s any secret we haven’t done that yet. It’s the little things, the accountability. That’s a great question and it’s hard for me to answer. Only the 53 guys in that locker room can answer that.”


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Calais Campbell talks low Cam Newton hit

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2016 – 10:49 am

Calais Campbell didn’t mean to hit Cam Newton low. The Cardinals defensive tackle made that clear when, during Thursday’s “Big Red Rage with Calais Campbell“, he talked about the hit heard round the world (thanks to Newton’s angry comments postgame and subsequent talk with commissioner Rogert Goodell.)

Campbell was fined $18,231 for the play, which was not flagged. The fact it wasn’t flagged is what got under Newton’s skin after the game.

“Honestly when I watched the play, I beat my man pretty clean but I kind of tangled my feet,” Campbell said. “I was trying to catch my balance. I always know you can’t hit a quarterback below the knees, you try to get him in the thigh. And actually, my initial hit was in his thigh but my momentum carried forward and I got him below.

“It sucks. I never want to get a guy in an awkward position like that, especially a guy that I respect as a football player. I respect everybody who gets out there. I know how hard everybody works to be an NFL football player. It’s not easy. We go through a lot of preparation, a lot of training to be where we are at. I never want to see a guy go down and be out for the season, especially at my doing. I definitely talked to him and apologized because it was definitely an accident.”

Newton was having none of the apology at the time, which came immediately after the play. “I probably should’ve waited until after the game,” Campbell said. “But it’s a natural reaction.”

(Cardinals DL Rodney Gunter was also fined $18,231 for his unnecessary roughness takedown of Newton prior to the Campbell hit. Some have asked about this hit by Panthers defensive back Daryl Worley on Carson Palmer was also illegal. Worley was not flagged, and he was not fined either. Cornerback Leonard Johnson was fined $9,115 for the hit in which he “removed” Palmer’s helmet. Johnson was flagged.)

Newton was already angry in the game. On an earlier running play — in which Newton dove head-first to get more yards and was met by flying safety D.J. Swearinger — Newton was upset at Swearinger’s hit, which appeared clean. Newton had words with Swearinger, Kevin Minter and Markus Golden at various times.

Later this week, Newton said he understood he doesn’t get QB protection as a runner, but felt he didn’t get enough protection from the officials when he was in the pocket — for example, the Campbell hit.

As for Campbell, he is appealing the fine.

“You have to appeal it,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t on purpose, it wasn’t malicious. And 18,000 dollars is a lot of money to spend for a bad football play.”


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Panthers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2016 – 8:02 pm

At one point – and it was very ugly for a while Sunday – someone said to me on Twitter that Sunday’s showing by the Cardinals in Carolina was worse than the one in January by the Cardinals in Carolina. Uh, no. It wasn’t at its lowest point Sunday, and then the Cardinals started to rally.

Late rallies after early bad deficits are what they are. It shows a little something, but it doesn’t wipe out what you did to tumble into the hole in the first place. There were legitimate questions of why it turned out this way – hangover from the nasty five quarters against the Seahawks, an early kickoff – but it’s really all moot.

Now the Cardinals reach the halfway point and their bye with a chance to regroup. Get a little more healthy. And try and make sure the gains they had made over the previous three games don’t go to waste.

“We’re not going to coward away,” quarterback Carson Palmer said.

They shouldn’t. The math says they are still in control of their own destiny. The Seahawks lost and aren’t looking all that powerful themselves. The problem is that the Cardinals have to pile up wins – on the road – in the second half of the season to get there. Doable, but they will have to play much more consistently from here on out.

— About the two replays. The first is simple. It was a turnover and a score. The booth was going to look at it. Both Bruce Arians and Palmer lobbied that it was a pass and not a fumble, but that’s as much as they can do. No, Arians can’t call a timeout to argue more. The booth – rightly or wrongly – decided quickly that there was no reason to look at it closely. I was stunned, and so were the Cardinals, but that was that.

— As for the Greg Olsen catch on the sideline that by TV replay looked incomplete (and ultimately cost the Cards four points, because the Panthers ended up getting a touchdown instead of a field goal), Arians said the Cardinals did not get a replay that showed something to be challenged. It doesn’t sound like they necessarily get the TV replay.

— The bye comes at a good time, because the Cardinals are hurting. It’s never good when your starting left tackle leaves the game, and Jared Veldheer has been so tough since he showed up you have to figure something really had to be wrong with his right arm to come out. That’s one that bears watching. If Veldheer was hurting long-term, D.J. Humphries may slide over to the left side and John Wetzel – who replaced Veldheer Sunday – could be on the right side.

— The Cards also have to see how safety Tyrann Mathieu is with his shoulder and if whatever that sent Larry Fitzgerald to the sideline hobbling (he came back in) is something that lingers.

Yes, a bye is a good thing for a wounded team.

— Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was not happy earlier in the season by some hits he was taking and said something about it, wasn’t happy after the game again. At one point after a run he had words with linebacker Kevin Minter and safety D.J. Swearinger, and then he was very upset after defensive tackle Calais Campbell got him between the knees and ankles on a pass attempt, pulling Newton down in an attempted sack. No flag was thrown.

Campbell had stumbled through the blocking – it did not look like he intentionally dove at Newton’s knees – and he tried to say something that looked conciliatory after the play.

“I could have torn my ACL,” Newton said. “That’s the breaking point.”

Newton added, “It’s really taken the fun out of the game for me, honestly. It really is because at times, I don’t even feel safe. Right? And enough is enough. I plan on talking to Commissioner Roger Goodell about this.”

— Michael Floyd played, but he didn’t have a catch (save for one wiped out by penalty). We’ll see where he is with his hamstring, but he looked OK running around. John Brown got his first touchdown of the season but Arians said he’s still not playing like Smoke. J.J. Nelson, however, played very well, and Arians said someone is going to have to take Nelson’s playing time away at this point.

— An early hole made it harder to stick with the run, but what really made it hard was that the Panthers’ run defense swarmed David Johnson Sunday. Between that and the eight sacks, it was not a good day for the offense line. To their collective credit, they owned up to it.

— Cards are down 16, but there is still a quarter to go and they have momentum. So:

1) Earl Watford is called for holding on a no-yard run on first-and-10;
2) Veldheer is called for illegal formation on first-and-20;
3) Palmer gains six yards on a pass to make it second-and-19 and then drills Andre Ellington for a 27-yard gain but D.J. Humphries is called for hands-to-the-face and Palmer pops off (pretty mildly, though – “Another freaking flag”? draws a flag?) and suddenly, the Cards aren’t inside the Carolina 30 but at their own 20 on second-and-44.

— Sure the Cards had their chance late after the Jefferson fumble and before the Palmer tipped interception, but that penalty sequence really undercut the comeback. You can be upset with the flags being thrown, but ultimately, you have to avoid them in the first place. Usually the Cards are good at that.

— I’ve rambled long enough. Eight games to go. We’ll see if the Cardinals can find a way to be playing beyond New Year’s Day.

Carson Palmer, Kawann Short


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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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Analyzing the initial 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2016 – 4:55 pm

The Cardinals have gotten down to the 53-man roster. Surprises? Perhaps a couple, although the way the wind was blowing over the last few days of the preseason, maybe not so much. Once we got to the end of the fourth preseason game, it was looking good for undrafted ILB Lamar Louis, and the knee injury of Kareem Martin might have helped ILB Gabe Martin on to the final roster (as well as his pick-6), although Martin has caught their collective eye for a while. I think cornerback Cariel Brooks had a good chance to make the team until he played so poorly against the Broncos.

The one legit surprise — in my eyes — was the Cardinals keeping Olsen Pierre, meaning there are nine defensive linemen on the final 53. Nine! That’s on a team with a 3-4 base defense that will use Chandler Jones as a defensive end in some passing situations. Then again, this could be partly for the future, not wanting to lose Pierre (and thinking he can play) when both Frostee Rucker and Calais Campbell are going into the last year of their contracts.

— The roster breakdown, right now, looks like this:
QB – 2
RB – 4
WR – 5
TE – 3
OL – 9
DL – 9
LB – 9 (counting Bucannon; sorry Deone)
CB – 4
S —  5
ST – 3

— So many wondered if Matt Barkley would stick, but as I have said many, many, many times, Drew Stanton was the No. 2 and Barkley simply didn’t show enough to pass him up. The Cardinals will have a QB on the practice squad — it could be Barkley — but it was clear listening to Bruce Arians over the time in camp he was disappointed Barkley didn’t come along faster.

— The trade for Marcus Cooper underscored the need for a veteran cornerback. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards kept looking at that position.

— The same goes for backup tackle, although John Wetzel showed enough to stick for now.

— Only one draft pick wasn’t kept, cornerback Harlan Miller. I wouldn’t be surprised if Miller came back on the practice squad, but if you are Miller, knowing how much the Cards needed cornerbacks, you have to be disappointed you couldn’t make inroads in making the roster.

— When in doubt, teams go younger. That’s how you stay competitive.

— Teams will start making waiver claims tomorrow. There is still a (good) chance this 53 won’t be the 53 when the Cardinals return to practice Tuesday.

53blog


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Veldheer restructure would help cap space

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2016 – 9:01 am

The Cardinals have been tight up against the salary cap — overthecap.com estimates they have (had?) only about $2.2 million in space, the NFLPA puts the number around $3.4 million — and usually at this time of year, GM Steve Keim likes to have more wiggle room than this. That’s partly to account for unknowns (IR players, needing to sign veteran help) and for potential other plans (like a contract extension.)

That’s why it was interesting but not altogether shocking to see the Field Yates tweet this morning saying the team had converted $6M of left tackle Jared Veldheer’s $7.25M salary into a signing bonus. It would be an immediate win-win. Veldheer gets his money now instead of in 17 installments over the season, the Cardinals create $4M more of salary cap room (although they push some of Veldheer’s cap hit into future years, so there is a down side.)

It becomes a little more interesting after Bruce Arians’ comment on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday that the Cardinals are hoping to have another three or four extensions done at some point. That may be overly optimistic, but we will see — the Cards certainly have a laundry list of players who are up after the season. The Cards also might want to add a vet for depth on the offensive line too, although in my opinion D.J. Humphries is progressing just fine at right tackle. But the final decisions at center and right tackle remain up in the air for now.

There’s another point to be made about extensions too, and that’s any bigger one probably could lower the current salary cap number for a particular player, say a Chandler Jones (who I would guess be next of the big names the Cards would want to try and lock up) or a Michael Floyd or Calais Campbell. Their cap numbers for this year, respectively, are $7.8M, $7.3M and $15.25M. The recent Palmer and Fitzgerald extensions didn’t impact the cap. Those moves were about gaining roster certainty for 2017.

In any event, Keim now would have some room to do any number of things as the Cards set up for what they hope is a deep run this season.

CapSpace


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Thoughts after the Red-White practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 4:56 pm

Here we are after the Red-White practice, the annual first real break point of training camp. From here on out — save for the bye week — the Cardinals will have a football game every week. That starts this coming Friday with the preseason opener at home against Oakland.

But first, a few thoughts and analysis after the Red-White work, which featured a lot more live play than I was expecting. It was good to see real football again. I know Andre Ellington agrees.

— Among the “stars” Saturday was wide receiver Jaron Brown, who made several nice catches — including a 25-yard TD reception from Larry Fitzgerald on the WR option pass. Brown is one of those guys who could easily be with another team making more plays than he does in Arizona. He simply has too many talented guys ahead of him.

— Ellington also looked very good as a receiver. The Cards’ passing game looked pretty sharp all around.

— Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones caused havoc up front as the practice went on. Jones continues to show he will be a great pass rusher.

— Not a great sign considering both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have said short-yardage improvement is a priority, but during “live” play in the middle of the field Chris Johnson was stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-1 run.

— And in the goal line “live” drill, the first-string offense failed to score in three tries. There was an incomplete play-action pass, and then David Johnson was swamped under on two other runs. Linebacker Kevin Minter got Johnson the first time (Minter had a smile about it, as you can see in the picture), while veteran DT Red Bryant led the charge to blow up the final attempt.

— The second-unit offense was more successful in goal line, scoring twice on runs by Chris Johnson and Elijhaa Penny.

— Despite all the hitting/tackling, no one seemed to get hurt, although guard Mike Iupati did go down on a play when it looked like someone rolled up on his legs. Iupati was able to get back in after one play though, so crisis averted.

— Crowd was estimated at 25,000.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and resume practice Monday.

MinterSmileUSE


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