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The near-misses of Markus Golden

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2017 – 10:49 am

Chandler Jones is off to a smoking start this season, with three sacks in two games and causing consistent havoc. Markus Golden, the team’s sack leader from 2016, definitely made an uptick in pressures in Week 2, after struggling to make much of an impact in Detroit Week 1. Pro Football Focus had Golden with a single QB pressure against the Lions, and had him with five against the Colts. After re-watching Golden’s play in both games, I’ll agree with the assessment.

Originally, watching in real time, I thought Golden had missed out on maybe three or four sacks already. A review changed my mind, and put the number at two (although I’m sure Golden is disappointed he didn’t get those two.) I thought Golden was closer on one in Detroit, a third-and-12 play in which Lions QB Matthew Stafford spun away and was able to get a pass off when it looked like a sack was inevitable. Golden was close, but Corey Peters was closer and it’s still hard to believe Stafford got away.

Against the Colts, Golden’s two near-misses came early in the game. The first came with Golden face-to-face with Jacoby Brissett and getting both hands on him, only to have the QB sidestep long enough to throw the ball away. The second (pictured) was even more painfully close, although Brissett was eventually “sacked” by linebacker Josh Bynes because he was forced out-of-bounds behind the line of scrimmage. Both were second-and-long plays.

The sacks will come. As Bruce Arians said, “one thing about Junk, you know he’s going full speed.” (Junk is short for Golden’s nickname, Junkyard Dog). Watching every Golden pass rush, that’s what you notice, the effort. It’s got to land, though. With the Cardinals’ offense suffering through fits and starts, the defense has to lead the way, and Golden needs to be near the front of the line.


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Keim: Disappointing, frustrating but Cards won

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2017 – 8:21 am

Not surprisingly, General Manager Steve Keim had his issues with what he saw from the Cardinals Sunday in Indy. Things the Cards have talked about fixing — red-zone offense, cleaning up mental mistakes, fewer turnovers — have yet to be fixed.

“It’s frustrating while game is going on and next day it’s a little disappointing watching tape,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, “but at the end of the day … I don’t remember how we won the games. I just remember we won.”

— Quarterback Carson Palmer, like many on offense, was “up and down,” Keim said. The interception Palmer threw was “unacceptable,” Keim said, although that was easy to see. (Palmer has thrown a few INTs like that in his Arizona years, when the safety is just waiting there over the top. The one at the end of the Pittsburgh game in 2015 when the Cards had a chance to win that game stands out in my head.) But Keim said Palmer also made a couple of throws not every QB can make.

— I am surprised I didn’t hear about this on Twitter, because usually someone points this stuff out, but apparently backup QB Drew Stanton starting throwing on the sideline at some point during the game and Keim was asked if there was any thought of Stanton replacing Palmer. Keim said Bruce Arians hadn’t said anything to him, and that there have been multiple times when Stanton will throw a bit just to stay loose on a sideline at games.

— Running back Chris Johnson played well, Keim said, and then the GM underscored one of the reasons Johnson was likely released going into the regular season. “He showed a burst I thought quite frankly he was missing in the preseason,” Keim said,

— Keim praised Chandler Jones, who had a handful of tackles, drew a couple of holding penalties and had two sacks. Rookie safety Budda Baker also caught Keim’s eye, making an excellent tackle as gunner on a 55-yard Andy Lee punt to make it a net of 54 yards, and also making a nice tackle of a receiver short of the sticks on a third down. He was also happy with the play of new guard Alex Boone, other than “one or two snaps.”

— The pressure off the edge is good, Keim said, but the Cardinals need to do a better job getting an interior rush and helping collapse the middle. (This was an area of concern after Calais Campbell left. Robert Nkemdiche did play in his first game Sunday, getting 19 snaps, but he did not record a stat.)

— The miss by kicker Phil Dawson was a surprise, as was the one last week. Keim does think the special teams are much better, from Lee to the coverage units. Dawson can’t miss kicks like that, Keim acknowledged, but “he is the kind of guy I have a lot of faith in.”

— J.J. Nelson is still working on things, like getting off press coverage and being more consistent catching the football. But with his speed and ability to get deep, it’s “something we direly need in this offense.”

— The Cardinals flew out on Saturday instead of Friday despite the 10 a.m. Arizona start in Sunday. Usually in such situations, they leave Friday. Keim said a couple of things went into the decision, including the extra-long camp and how much time away from family everyone has had. But he added that it shouldn’t matter. “We have to be ready to play,” Keim said.

— Keim said he talked to David Johnson after the running back had surgery. Told Johnson he can’t get caught up in all the speculation of how much time he will miss. “Nobody can froecasat how much time, especially when you are such a genetic freak like him,” Keim said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if David heals faster than most.”


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The fourth outside linebacker is around

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2017 – 11:11 am

The news Deone Bucannon won’t play Sunday — not a huge shock, even without the setback of an ankle sprain — puts on hold what the Cardinals will do with rookie Haason Reddick when Bucannon, Reddick and Karlos Dansby are all available. Reddick will be needed to play in Bucannon’s role, at least in certain packages.

But it also goes to that concern lingering as soon as the Cards cut to 53 and, at least outwardly, the team only kept three outside linebackers. What about depth? What about a fourth behind Markus Golden, Chandler Jones and Kareem Martin? Coach Bruce Arians mentioned that veteran Philip Wheeler, signed as an inside linebacker, worked in practice recently on the outside and can play both spots. Defensive lineman Josh Mauro has occasionally taken reps at OLB and could serve there in a pinch, especially on running downs. But then there is Reddick.

Reddick, who played defensive end in college, slowly has gotten some reps as an outside ‘backer to build on his work on the inside. And once Bucannon is back, Reddick makes the most sense as a dual-threat guy, someone who can play on the inside in certain packages, who can rush the passer in certain packages, and who can also serve as that fourth guy behind Golden, Jones and Martin.

Again, versatility has been one of the hallmarks of the players GM Steve Keim has sought, especially on the defense. The linemen can play anywhere. The linebackers, mostly, can switch around. The defensive backs are interchangeable. That is how the Cards will solve that fourth OLB issue.


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After practice: Hurting John Brown “can’t rush it”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2017 – 5:32 pm

For the first time in a couple of weeks, John Brown worked in 11-on-11 situations in practice Tuesday. He didn’t run every rep he normally would, because he is, by his own admission after practice, not healed from his quad injury. It was a sullen Smoke who talked about his situation. He clearly knows his absence is felt, and he realizes many want him back on the field. But the wideout made it plain he wasn’t going to rush the process.

“I understand the situation at receiver but I’m just going to come back when I’m ready,” Brown said.

Brown knows his injury history. He’s also key to this offense. If he can get healthy in another week or two, that’s probably good enough. He needs to be healthy when the games count.

“I can’t rush it,” Brown added. “My body is different than others. They expect me to come back fast, but I can’t.”

All the receivers heard Bruce Arians’ message from the day before. Larry Fitzgerald was supposed to have a rest day Tuesday. He was out there practicing. On one touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hubert — who didn’t catch the ball as much as he was forced to catch the ball, barely turning around before a Trevor Knight laser lodged in his stomach — Fitzgerald bellowed “We’ve got 12 who can play! We’ve got 12 who can play in the league!”

— It wasn’t a perfect day for on-notice receivers. Rookie Chad Williams got two yards behind a defender and QB Blaine Gabbert dropped in a gorgeous 39-yard bomb perfectly, only to have the ball go through Williams’ arms. But the dropsies went both ways. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, safety Harlan Miller and linebacker Cap Capi all dropped sure interceptions. Capi would easily have had a pick-6 on a throw to the flat.

— Robert Nkemdiche was getting reps in one-on-ones against offensive linemen every time through a unit — first-string, second-string, third-string. The last time through he exploded into and through the chest of rookie guard Dorian Johnson. Clearly, Nkemdiche still needs to work on proper technique. But if he doesn’t get it, it won’t be for lack of coaching.

— DT Frostee Rucker was also supposed to have an off day but like Fitz, he practiced. Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Karlos Dansby sat. G Mike Iupati stopped taking reps midway through practice — not sure if it was injury-related, but Cole Toner worked with the first unit — and linebacker Josh Bynes also left practice early. Linebacker Markus Golden (ankle) missed a second straight practice.

— Finally, if there was any question about how hard it is to cover running back David Johnson on pass plays, it was painfully evident. Linebackers have no chance — Johnson twisted up Haason Reddick, Chandler Jones and Scooby Wright at different times. It’s not fair, really.


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Cardinals still blitz-happy under Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on July 13, 2017 – 1:15 pm

Bruce Arians kept his promise. The Cardinals acquired Chandler Jones last offseason (and were counting on Markus Golden taking another step forward as a pass rusher) and yet before the season he said he still wouldn’t be happy unless the Cards were blitzing.

“If we’ve got four good ones, why not send five or six?” Arians said then.

The Cards got what they wanted out of Jones (11 sacks) and Golden (12.5 sacks). But they also kept blitzing. Pro Football Focus has the numbers (and a couple of gifs for examples). NFL teams blitz an average of 30 percent of the time, PFF says, and about 38 percent in obvious passing situations. The Cardinals in 2016? Blitzing nearly 41 percent of the time (and 41.4 percent on first downs.) PFF makes the point that, in blitzing, it gives teams less chance to double-team when blocking. But in the end, Arians just likes to bring the pressure. It’s the defensive equivalent of the deep shots B.A. likes to take on offense. What, you thought because B.A. is an offensive guy that “No risk-it, no biscuit” was restricted to offense?

It’s also followed the change in DC from Todd Bowles — who blitzed a lot — to James Bettcher. With the addition of rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick (who played a pass-rushing defensive end at Temple) and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu, there seem to be more blitzing options heading into 2017.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.


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Cardinals celebrations? “Chandler likes to dance”

Posted by Darren Urban on May 24, 2017 – 1:54 pm

Here’s the thing about the new relaxed celebration rules in the NFL — I’m not sure exactly how much they’ll impact the Cardinals. They don’t exactly have a group of guys pining to make a scene post-play. On our latest podcast, we were talking about a power poll of Cardinals who were most likely to take advantage. I mean, it’s not going to be Larry Fitzgerald (“That’ll never happen,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Larry’s dance is dancing over to give the ball to the referee, which is what he’s supposed to do.”) We know Smokey Brown can dance, but his dance was already allowed in the rules and frankly, I don’t see him going much further than that. J.J. Nelson is pretty low key. David Johnson is definitely low key — it’s tough to embrace the nickname “Humble Rumble” and you know, not be humble.

Arians, in contrast to Marvin Lewis, is cool with the change. “I danced all the time when I scored touchdowns,” Arians said. “I didn’t get many. Danced my ass off when it happened.”

Arians, however, doesn’t figure to score at all these days. In terms of the current players? “I’m not really a dancing type of guy,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said, when asked about his potential plans. “I do love the fact the league is allowing players to show their personality, not putting us in handcuffs. I think it’s a great win for the players.”

Peterson’s first choice in the locker room “probably would’ve been Tony,” but alas, Tony Jefferson has moved to Baltimore.

“Chandler,” Peterson said. “Chandler likes to dance.”

Indeed, Chandler Jones came to my mind first. He’s further removed from the more buttoned-up culture of New England. He has the security of the long-term contract. And he definitely likes to have fun. Jones was asked about the new overtime rule but he said the celebration rule move was the “one that matters” to the defensive players.

Jones did say there wouldn’t be any choreography or dance practice. “That’s when it gets out of hand” and away from football, he said. But, he added, “I’ll have something cooking for sure.”

 


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On NFLN Top 100, Chandler Jones checks in

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2017 – 6:51 pm

It’s that time of year again, when the NFL Network compiles a list of the Top 100 players in the league (based on the previous year, mind you) and opening up the door to debate all the way through. The first Cardinal showed up on tonight’s season premiere when linebacker Chandler Jones came in at No. 85.

Jones made the list last year too, although he was coming off a year with the Patriots. He was 48th last year, following his 12½-sack year in New England. So he tumbled quite a bit even though he still had 11 sacks. My guess is that had more to do with how the team did rather than Jones’ play in particular. It’ll be interesting to see if teammate Markus Golden, who had 12½ sacks, makes this list at some point.

Two former Cardinals made the list tonight as well. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell, coming off his solid final season with the Cards, was actually No. 83 on the list. And one-time linebacker Lorenzo Alexander turned his career year with the Bills into No. 91 on the list.


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Comings, goings, kickers and Dansby

Posted by Darren Urban on March 9, 2017 – 5:21 pm

Free agency started Thursday and it was busy. As expected, Calais Campbell left, as did Tony Jefferson. And D.J. Swearinger. The Cardinals kept center A.Q. Shipley, and they found a new safety in Antoine Bethea. Things are moving at a rapid pace all across the league. That’s pretty normal.

— The safety trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea should be OK if Mathieu and Branch can stay healthy. That’s the hope.

— It’ll be Boehm vs. Shipley for starting center. Nick Mangold isn’t walking through that door. Don’t forget that the Cardinals felt comfortable with the job Shipley did last season. Boehm will get his chance, but I don’t think the Cards are worried if Shipley is the starter again this season.

— Bethea was released, so he does not count in the compensatory pick equation. Campbell, Jefferson and Swearinger will, and with the large deals Campbell and Jefferson got, the Cardinals are well ahead in the 2018 comp pick game. So there’s that.

— It looks like linebacker Karlos Dansby could end up with a third tenure with the Cardinals. That’s huge, man. Huge. Mostly because Kevin Minter — the man who replaced him after the 2013 season — is a free agent and who knows if he will return. Dansby had more than 100 tackles with the Bengals last season, so he’s still plugging along.

— Dansby is older (he’ll be 36 during the season) but not as old as kicker Phil Dawson, the former 49er who looks like he’ll be coming to Arizona as well. If Dawson does, that’s the steady kicker the Cards didn’t have a season ago. The Cards have moved on from Chandler Catanzaro.

— Like Catanzaro, tight end Darren Fells was a restricted free agent whom the team did not tender. Fells is going to visit the Lions.

— Should hear something soon on the official front with the Chandler Jones extension, but judging by reports it’s going to look a lot like Olivier Vernon money ($80+M in potential value, $50+M in guarantees.) Which makes sense, because Vernon’s deal always was the likely benchmark for an extension.

— On the first day of the new league year, the NFLPA had the Cardinals with $21.3 million of salary cap space. That’d be prior to Bethea and Shipley signing (and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who officially signed his contract Thursday as well.)

Day one is done. Hopefully.


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On free agency eve, the Cards’ FAs-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2017 – 4:07 pm

By this time tomorrow the Cardinals and the NFL will be well into free agency. The “tampering” period has given everyone plenty of opportunity to get a head start on signing players, although no visits are supposed to have been set up and no players — just agents — are supposed to have talked to teams yet.

What has floated around the Cardinals is all about their own guys so far. Linebacker Chandler Jones, who isn’t going anywhere because he was franchise tagged, is reportedly close to a contract extension with the Cards. That would help cap space, but there is nothing official yet and we’ll see how quickly it can get done. Calais Campbell has been linked to the Jaguars, Bucs and maybe Broncos, but nothing concrete, while Tony Jefferson can apparently break the bank in Cleveland if he wants, while the Ravens and Jets are also showing interest.

Reports also have cornerback Marcus Cooper getting interest from the Jets and safety D.J. Swearinger possible interest from  the Bears.

Where does that leave the Cards? Still with a long list of free agents who will hit the market officially at 2 p.m. Arizona time Thursday unless the team re-signs them beforehand. That current list:

— RB Andre Ellington
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Stepfan Taylor
— TE Darren Fells
— G Taylor Boggs
— C A.Q. Shipley
— OL Earl Watford
— DT Calais Campbell
— DT Frostee Rucker
— LB Kevin Minter
— LB Sio Moore
— LB Alex Okafor
— CB Marcus Cooper
— S Tony Jefferson
— CB Mike Jenkins
— S D.J. Swearinger
— K Chandler Catanzaro

Free agency has arrived.


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