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Cardinals getting stingy on defense

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2016 – 10:06 am

The Cardinals’ defense has become very stingy. Hasn’t allowed a touchdown in nine quarters and two games. The franchise hasn’t had a stretch where it didn’t allow a touchdown in two straight games since 1970. That’s a long time ago (and when the NFL game was a completely different animal.) The Cardinals are now fifth in the NFL in scoring defense at 15.7 points a game and second (behind Minnesota) in total defense.

The current stretch, however, has come against clearly lesser offenses. The Panthers, who the Cards visit this weekend, are fifth in the NFL in scoring at nearly 27 points a game. Carolina is not playing well enough to win, but it is scoring well enough to win (which tells you something about the Panthers’ leaky defense.)

Many teams have quarterbacks that can move a little bit. The Cards benefited from the fact Russell Wilson, with a knee and an ankle banged up, clearly can’t run around as well as he normally can. Now comes Cam Newton, who can definitely run around and has the giant frame to boot. Newton has taken a lot of punishment this season as he’s run around, so maybe that impacts the Carolina game plan, but it would be foolish to think Newton carrying the ball — either by design or scrambling — won’t be a concern.

Still, the Panthers are facing a different defense than the one they saw in the NFC Championship. The effective four-man pass rush, and the way Chandler Jones is playing, changes the dynamic. Tyrann Mathieu isn’t quite himself — Bruce Arians said on Sirius XM radio Tuesday Mathieu was about 85 percent, in his estimation, and will be better once the knee brace can come off — but at least he is on the field, unlike January. The odds aren’t with the Cards to keep the Panthers out of the end zone — although when the Panthers met the Vikings earlier this season in Carolina, the Panthers only scored 10 points.

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Keim: Special teams issues, maybe a Jones contract

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2016 – 8:19 am

Steve Keim was “disappointed” in Sunday night’s tie, and that’s probably not a surprise. “It was one of those games where I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like it,” the Cardinals’ General Manager said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

One thing Keim did make clear as well: He is frustrated with the play of the special teams. He even said, seven games into the season, that consistency on special teams is his biggest concern, especially since he likes how the defense is playing and even feels (aside from the obvious red-zone issues) that the offense seems to have found a nice balance between the run and pass.

Keim said the Cards got the punt blocked when “our wing got soft,” and has for the missed field goal in overtime, “Chandler’s got to make that kick.”

Keim didn’t rule out looking at a new kicker. But he said the Cardinals need to support Catanzaro right now, and that Catanzato knows “consistency is what creates longevity in this league.” Besides, getting a new player/kicker isn’t an automatic upgrade.

“If you can’t meet expectations, we’ll try to find somebody who can,” Keim said, emphasizing the word ‘try.’ “Now, the trying and attempting is a different story. Generally, players who are on the street right now are on the street for a reason. More than likely, it’s because they missed several field goals, or missed a kick in a clutch situation. Or have injury concerns. There are a lot of moving parts to that. It’s not as easy and probably most think. But it’s certainly something that, on a daily basis, we spend a lot of time researching.”

— Maybe a new contract at some point with Chandler Jones? Keim said the team has been talking with Jones’ agent since camp about a new deal (Jones is scheduled to be a free agent after the season). Now, contract conversations and getting a deal done can be completely different things. Just because they have been talking doesn’t mean much, and Keim certainly didn’t indicate anything was close. But they are talking. Keim said he was “proud” of the way Jones has played. As an edge rusher, Jones is “something we have not had here in years.” Jones has been excellent, and was again Sunday night.

— Jones was also part of one of the plays Keim lamented after the fact. Asked what plays might eat at him following the tie, Keim mentioned Jones’ strip-sack and wishing the Cards had been able to fall on the ball inside the Seahawks’ 5-yard line. He mentioned the J.J. Nelson catch and Nelson getting tripped up shy of the goal line. He mentioned perhaps if David Johnson had dove at the pylon, maybe Johnson scores on that late run instead of kicking the pylon.

“Never in my life have I been associated with a game like this,” Keim said. “I don’t really care to be again.”

— No real injury updates, although he said cornerback Patrick Peterson (back), while sore, was a tough guy and sounded optimistic. (That injury report figures to be pretty long come Wednesday.)

— The Cardinals are still working on a solution for wide receiver Smokey Brown and his sickle-cell trait issue. Keim said research is being done to find how much Brown can practice and still be effective but so he does not wear down. It feels like a matter of when Brown returns, not if.

— Keim was happy with the defensive play and feels like it has come together well. He also like how physical both sides of the ball were. But he was certainly in the camp where a tie didn’t work for him. “Mindset-wise, if you don’t win, what is it?” Keim said. “Everything else is inconsequential.”


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Keim on David Johnson: “You wonder if he’s real”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2016 – 8:15 am

Everyone knows the story now, that the Cardinals sought Ameer Abdullah in the 2015 draft and only took David Johnson a round later because the Lions jumped up and drafted Abdullah ahead of the Cards. Yes, you have to be lucky and good sometimes. But after Johnson ran through the previously No. 2-ranked rush defense in the Jets Monday, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Johnson has been so impressive both on and off the field, “you wonder if he’s real.”

It was a pure compliment. When you talk to Johnson, Keim said, he’s smart and articulate and humble. A “true professional,” Keim said. And on the field of course, he’s been excellent. “B.A. gives him a hard time” Keim acknowledged, and Bruce Arians is willing to quickly mention what Johnson needs to do to improve despite his gaudy stats. “But the things he does for this offense puts a defense in a bind.”

Keim said he’s always seen Johnson’s skillset to create mismatches in the passing game. But Johnson’s evolution into a “pure runner,” Keim said, is noteworthy.

“He has really improved, particularly his patience and vision,” Keim said.

More Keim thoughts after the Cardinals got back to .500 Monday night:

— Keim said he liked the resiliency of the Cards fighting back to .500, although there is still a long season left. The Seahawks game is big, but (not unexpectedly) Keim said it was important because it’s the next game.

— Lots of praise for the defense. He said the Jets game was the first time he had seen the unit play fast and loose with minimal mental errors. It’s a tough unit when it plays like that, Keim said. When it was suggested that the defense is morphing from a blitz-first group to one who might do a little of everything (the Cardinals certainly finally have a group that can get to the quarterback with just four, especially when the four are Jones, Golden, Campbell and Okafor), Keim said “more than anything, I just think they are starting to jell.

— Keim praised the play of Chandler Jones. “He impacted almost every play.” He also specifically named Markus Golden, fellow linebackers Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter, and the play of two of the newer defensive backs, Tharold Simon and Marcus Cooper.

— Tyrann Mathieu continues to take steps forward. Keim said he doesn’t think the safety is 100 percent back yet, not from a movement standpoint. But “you definitely see signs of improvement.”

— It would be “huge” if the Cardinals can get Michael Floyd going in the second half of the season. But Keim said the Cardinals still want to do the same with the Browns — Smoke and Jaron — and even J.J. Nelson, who contributed quite a bit Monday night.

— Speaking of Jaron Brown, Keim did not have any injury updates.

— The offensive line and new guards Earl Watford and John Wetzel “did an excellent job” considering the opponent. The Jets had only given up one rushing touchdown coming into the game, Keim noted, and the Cardinals scored three. “Those guys stepped up for the circumstance they were put in,” Keim said.

 


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Jets — and B.A.-Bowles — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2016 – 11:40 pm

For me, the moment was a couple of plays before Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was after Palmer had delivered a couple of lasers on out routes to Smokey Brown, passes Palmer seemed to have had some issues with earlier in the season. But here the Cardinals were on the New York 33. On first down and second down Palmer threw incompletions, and Palmer was hammered to the turf both times. Not ideal, but Palmer got up both times.

And on third down, with a decent pocket but still some pressure, Palmer stood tall. He stepped into the throw. And he delivered a bullet to Jaron Brown for a first down.

That felt like the Palmer — and the Cardinals’ offense — that had been absent. Things might go awry, but the quarterback would stand tall and deliver when needed. In some ways, the second half Monday night was vintage Palmer. It wasn’t necessarily 2015 Palmer, because the Jets were not going to let the Cards beat them deep and the Cardinals are definitely running more than ever before. David Johnson makes that smart. But while Palmer’s numbers aren’t going to fetch an MVP, they were good in context. The Cards might just be where they want to be.

It gets harder. The Seahawks come to town next Sunday night. The Seahawks, who have beat the heck out of the Cardinals in each of the three games they have played the Cardinals in Arizona since Arians arrived. But the performance against the Jets, that was one to note.

— The teacher definitely bested the student. Todd Bowles has some injuries, and he definitely doesn’t have the talent on the back end. But Bowles wasn’t going to give up the deep stuff, so the Cards ran and ran and when they threw, it was in front of the defenders. Smart playcalling by Bruce Arians, and good execution.

— Floyd had a TD catch, but it’s clear that he’s not coming back up the depth chart for now (although if Jaron Brown is banged up, that could be a factor.) The guy who made some plays Monday was J.J. Nelson, including on a couple of jet sweeps. I like that wrinkle.

— Speaking of wrinkles, having six or seven defensive backs on the field at times was interesting to watch. Justin Bethel was getting his first defensive snaps of the regular season, and Tharold Simon also got some work. Now, if Tyrann Mathieu can turn flashes into what he was pre-injury …

— Robert Nkemdiche was active and played a handful of snaps. “I couldn’t even see him out there from my angle,” Arians said, deferring his analysis until he saw the tape. “I didn’t see him on the quarterback,” Arians added with a smile. “I would’ve seen that.”

To be fair, Nkemdiche did knock down one pass and was credited with a quarterback hit.

— He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but linebacker Chandler Jones had a heck of a game.

— It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals actually had D.J. Swearinger on their practice squad for about a week last season. He’s been a nice pickup that went under the radar. His quality play is magnified with no Tyvon Branch around.

— It was a good night for DJs overall — Swearinger, right tackle D.J. Humphries and David Johnson. Not so good for Williamses (All three guys named Williams on the roster were inactive.)

— What else can you say about David Johnson, other than superstar in the making? What’s funny is he missed a blitz pickup and was dwelling on it — “(Number) 25 (Calvin Pryor), that was definitely my guy,” he said.

You don’t want your QB to get whacked on the blitz. But it feels a little bit like picking at nits. Yes, the Cardinals want Johnson humble. But everything expected of him before the season? He’s that guy. And those expectations were kinda big.

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Former Cardinal Cooper cut by Patriots

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2016 – 12:36 pm

Injuries undercut Jonathan Cooper in Arizona, and they have already undercut his brief stay in New England.

The Cardinals’ 2013 No. 1 pick, part of the trade that brought linebacker Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this past offseason, was released Saturday by the Patriots. Cooper hurt his foot at the outset of training camp and just came off the injury report this week. He never was able to get back into the mix for playing time after initially working as a starter in the offseason.

It’d be easy to say the Cardinals “won” the Jones trade, although the Patriots dealt Jones for many more reasons than to get Cooper. They needed salary cap room, and they knew they weren’t going to be able to bring back Jones — who will be a free agent — after this season. The Patriots also flipped the pick during the draft to the Saints to get an extra third- and fourth-round pick, and took guard Joe Thuney — who, unlike Cooper, is starting — and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

But the Cardinals definitely came out ahead with the trade from their perspective. Jones has been solid, with four sacks in five games, and played very well against the 49ers. The Cards currently lead the NFL in total sacks. It was worth the loss of a late second-round pick, and the reality was the Cardinals were ready to move on from Cooper.

It’s too bad for Cooper. He was playing well in the preseason of 2013 before he broke his leg. After that, he was never the same, and could never stay healthy anyway. I know some will ask about bringing him back given the injuries to the current guards, but Coop hasn’t stayed healthy thus far. Don’t see the Cardinals going through that availability problem again. UPDATE: Cooper was claimed off waivers by the Browns.

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Rams (and Palmer) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 7:20 pm

These visits by the Rams.

Two years ago, Carson Palmer was left with a torn ACL. Last year, the Rams delivered a painful loss at the time. Sunday, it was both — a painful loss (one that, given the circumstances is more hurtful than last year’s) and a Palmer injury. The Palmer injury hopefully isn’t nearly as bad, although his concussion very well could keep him out in Thursday’s game at San Francisco. The Cards need their quarterback, although the hole in 2016 got much deeper in a six-minute period Sunday. Drew Stanton awaits his chance to start for the first time since late in 2014.

Bruce Arians was definitely trying to stay positive postgame. For those looking for fire and brimstone, it’s not coming. Not publicly. Not right now. Arians clearly sees a steady message as important to his team.

“Stick together,” is what Arians told all the players, one-by-one, postgame. The players are going to try and do that — “There is nobody in here saying the season is over,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said — but a win soon is crucial to help the message take full root.

— We’ll see how Palmer goes through concussion protocol. If he’s iffy at all, you’d think the Cardinals will have to put practice squad QB Zac Dysert on the active roster.

— The Cardinals did a great job on Todd Gurley running. Unfortunately, he got loose a couple of times as a receiver, including gaining 8 on a third-and-8 on the Rams’ game-winning TD drive. A stop there, and a field goal, and the Cards might’ve been just fine.

— It can be traced to Justin Bethel getting poked and going down early on the play, but again, a special teams play — this time the Tavon Austin return — hurts the Cards bad.

— It was good to see Smokey Brown break out as a receiver. Funny, but even after playing little in the first half, Michael Floyd still ended up with seven targets, tied with Fitz for second most to Brown’s 16. Floyd played well after a very slow start. Drew Stanton admittedly tried to force that one into him late, and it cost the Cardinals their one decent chance at a late rally.

— The Rams are lucky. They got two 15-yard penalties on the Cards’ last possession. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have even been in position to heave a Hail Mary.

— Best game Chandler Jones has had with the Cardinals.

— Aaron Donald is a beast.

— Remember how the Cardinals hadn’t turned the ball over at all and were plus-5 after two games? They’ve turned the ball over 10 times the last two games, and despite that early cushion are now, amazingly, a minus-1 in turnovers on the season.

— The Cardinals ran the ball well. Chris Johnson looked good until he hurt his groin. David Johnson looked good but had a costly fumble. Right now, every silver lining seems to bring with it a hefty cloud.

— Short week. Practice Monday, flight to the Bay Area Wednesday, game Thursday night. There’s going to be another NFC West game before you know it — probably with Stanton behind center — and we’ll see how the Cardinals respond.

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Bills aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2016 – 6:10 pm

That first possession – the one the Bills had – went pretty well. A three-and-out, a Kevin Minter sack, and the Bills fans were already itchy in their seats.

But as the fruitless possessions for the Cardinals’ offense piled up, the defense couldn’t match. For a chunk of the game, it felt  like many of the East Coast games of Cardinals yesteryear. This was a team that, frankly, hadn’t been part of the Bruce Arians era. At all. Even the NFC Championship game felt like an overwhelming performance by a better team. This just felt like the Cardinals never got into sync.

It’s certainly not where you want to be three games into the season. Carson Palmer and Michael Floyd still don’t seem to be on the same page. The run defense slipped hard, especially when the Cards all but predicted LeSean McCoy and, as a scrambler, Tyrod Taylor, were going to be the key to the Bills’ offense.

Now comes two straight NFC West games in what will be a five-day window. They are crucial, against two teams you expected to find behind you in the division standings. They won’t be if the Cardinals don’t find consistency.

— Not a lot of good in the game. But the Patrick Peterson one-handed interception was an incredible athletic feat.

— Speaking of incredible athletic plays, Tyrann Mathieu made one to force that fumble. If he could have only picked it up. He would’ve scored a touchdown. It could’ve been a one-score game with eight minutes left.

— There are – obviously – some decisions coming on the special teams front. Punter Drew Butler was clearly limping every time he was on the field and when he was headed to the locker room. It would seem likely they’ll need someone to at least fill in a week. The long snapper issue isn’t about injury. The Cardinals never had to worry about the position for the longest time. Mike Leach was as close to perfect as you could get. Kam Canaday is struggling. Arians had already acknowledged it. And with that position, it’s tough to wait out growing pains.

— As they did in the first two games, both Chandler Jones and Markus Golden got a sack. They each have three sacks in three games.

— The Cardinals had no turnovers. Now they have five, including four straight interceptions by Palmer to end the game.

— Painful stat of the day: Beginning with the first drive of the game, when the Bills set the Cards up with a punt and the Cardinals began at the Bills’ 36 and went nowhere, the Cardinals got to the Buffalo 36 or closer seven times but only scored twice.

Then again, most of the stats ended up painful.

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Fitz’s lone shutout, Friday before the Bills

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2016 – 2:30 pm

Larry Fitzgerald did not catch a pass, and that was only the beginning of the brutality that was the Cardinals’ last trip to Buffalo.

It was way (way) back in Fitz’s rookie year of 2004. It was Denny Green’s first season. Anquan Boldin was coming back that day after missing the first six games with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Boldin had four catches for 50 yards. Fitz, alas, was shut out – the only time in his career he has not caught a pass in a game.

“That was probably the first time in my life I didn’t catch a ball,” said Fitzgerald, whose consecutive-games-with-a-catch streak is at 181. “Ever since I started playing football. There’s a first for everything.”

(Fitz did have a rushing attempt, for four yards.)

Of course, there weren’t many completions, period. Josh McCown completed just 9-of-24 passes, Drew Bledsoe just 8-of-17, as the teams played in nasty winds up to 30 miles an hour plus rain. It was a joy to watch. (It ended with a 38-14 Bills win).

The weather isn’t supposed to be bad Sunday. The temperatures will be mild, the sun is supposed to be out, the wind at a minimum. And of course, Fitz is playing with a team 12 years later that is light years better than that group that went to New York.

— No Evan Mathis this week, cut down by the dreaded turf toe. Earl Watford gets the start in his place. That’s an interesting development, in part because …

— Sunday will be a big test for right tackle D.J. Humphries. The defense played by the Ryan brothers usually features high-pressure from the outside. Do they go after Humphries? Goodwin said Humphries is doing better, although he noted there were mental lapses both against the Buccaneers and in practice this week. “He is always going to feel the pressure from me and coach (Arians),” Goodwin said.

Now you have Watford and Humphries on the right side of the line without Mathis.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on his reaction after hearing Bruce Arians accepting the blame for the zone-first defensive philosophy in the Patriots loss: “The first thing I thought was, we needed to tackle better in that game … our communication wasn’t good enough.”

“I love coach’s input,” Bettcher added. “He is one of the smartest men I have ever worked around. Not only is he the best head coach in the National Football League, he is a smart, smart football coach.”

— The Cardinals have yet to turn the ball over. Carson Palmer should have been picked a couple of times so far – the drop by Bucs CB Brent Grimes on the bad route by David Johnson last week the most memorable – but overall the QB has been good protecting the ball. In an offense like this, where the passing game will go down the field, a minimum of interceptions is impressive.

“Experience is one thing,” Palmer said in his explanation why. “You know when to take your shots. You know whether it’s the right type of third-down situation to be in, the right time of the game. You’ve got to be smart.

“(Interceptions are) going to happen. You try to avoid them as long as you can and when they do happen, you bounce back and go down and score on the next drive. That’s something that I pride myself on.”

— While Arians said the cornerback spot across from Patrick Peterson would be shared work-wise between Marcus Cooper and Brandon Williams, Bettcher said whoever had the better week of practice was going to earn the playing time Sunday.

— As we go, don’t discount the idea that newcomer Tharold Simon could also start to get some defensive snaps at cornerback.

— Former Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, now 33 years old, is starting in Buffalo and has 1½ sacks and nine tackles in two games, plus a forced fumble and tackle for loss. “Lorenzo is playing really, really well,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He’s got a sack and a half and he’s missed two or three. Just missed.”

— So far, Markus Golden is keeping up with the higher-profile Chandler Jones in sacks. Both have two in two games. Golden shrugged off his pace, but admitted he’ll be looking at it at season’s end.

“At the end of the year, of course, numbers mean something to everybody,” Golden said. “You want to do stuff people didn’t think you could do, so of course the numbers matter, but I feel like if you compete at the high level and play to win, you’ll get the numbers no matter what.

“Just got to keep hunting.”

Buffalo awaits.

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That’s-much-better Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 7:15 pm

Justin Bethel came flying down the field on the Cardinals’ second punt of the game and lit up return man Adam Humphries after a one-yard return, Bethel’s helmet flying off and Bethel emotionally jumping up and celebrating. Last week, Bruce Arians said Bethel had to decide if he wanted to play. This week? “He looked like Justin,” Arians said.

“It felt good to get back to my regular self, especially when it comes to special teams,” Bethel said. “I definitely felt I was myself, playing at the level I should be playing.”

Bethel might’ve been talking about everyone. The Cardinals had an off Week 1. You can talk about being overconfident or overhyped or too anxious or whatever, but the Cards clearly put that game in the rear view Sunday (Jimmy Garoppolo clearly showed this week it wasn’t a fluke of a game either, before he got hurt against the Dolphins.) It’s a week-to-week thing, and the Cards have to go cross country this week to play an early kickoff game in Buffalo. But for now, the ship has been righted. Pretty emphatically.

— Bethel said he predicted he’d have three special teams tackles in the game, and he had three tackles.

— Training camp MVP Jaron Brown was excellent Sunday. He had a huge 27-yard reception on third-and-10 that helped spark a touchdown drive (Michael Floyd’s one-yard TD catch) and, of course, hauled in the 51-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half. With Floyd’s future in Arizona uncertain because of upcoming free-agent status, Brown (who will be an unrestricted free agent himself) is an intriguing option.

“All his catches seem to be in the biggest time of the game,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t happy that David Johnson ran the wrong route in the end zone, not only possibly costing the Cardinals a TD pass but nearly costing Carson Palmer an interception when Brent Grimes dropped the ball. Palmer, however, was forgiving of his star back. “He had just run like 90 yards and broke a bunch of tackles,” Palmer said. Close — it was right after Johnson’s awesome 58-yard catch-and-run into the red zone. “I was tired from just jogging down.”

— The Cardinals, after forcing five turnovers Sunday, are now a plus-7 after two games and have yet to turn the ball over. It won’t last — not like that — but it’s impressive.

— Don’t forget coming back out to University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow for the weekly “Monday Nights at the Big Red Brew Haus” event. This week, running back David Johnson will be in the haus.

— Patrick Peterson’s first interception of the season, on a long bomb try from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, had to make Fitzgerald proud. Peterson ended up behind Evans and then expertly kept his body up against Evans, cleanly squeezing Evans until the ball got over the 6-foot-5 Evans’ hands and into Peterson’s.

Of course, later Peterson could have had a second pick, but he dropped it. On the drive, the Bucs eventually scored on a TD pass to Evans over Peterson. “Usually when you drop an interception, bad s*** happens,” Arians said.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones got a sack in the waning moments, but he had a very quiet night. The Cardinals will need more QB pressure from him going forward.

— Arians wasn’t thrilled kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point. I’m not sure of the snap on the play, but a later snap on another Cat Man kick looked a little low. Rookie Kam Canaday is going to be watched carefully after his opening game.

— After two games, no defender is playing better on the Cardinals than safety Tony Jefferson. He too is going to be a free agent after the season. Not sure what will happen with him, but he’s played excellent football.

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Friday before the Gronk-less Patriots

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2016 – 3:41 pm

The last time the Cardinals played the Patriots, the Patriots had Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez when that was someone you wanted. The Cardinals had Kevin Kolb at quarterback, Ryan Williams at running back, and Quentin Groves was a key linebacker. The game was in New England. And the Cardinals won.

It was improbable yes, and took a no-way-to-predict Stephen Gostkowski 42-yard field-goal miss to make happen, but it did. (We won’t reminisce about the 2008 New England trip, the time before that the Cards had played the Patriots.)

But if the Cards can knock off a Brady-Gronk Pats team in New England, what about a Brady-less-perhaps Gronk-less Patriots in Arizona, against a much stronger Cardinals’ roster Sunday night? We’ll see. If there is any coach that can make an inexperienced Jimmy Garappolo work at QB, it’s Bill Belichick. The Patriots are still strong, although they are missing some key components.

Still, if you are as good as the Cardinals should be, this is a game you should win, at home. Really no way around that. And there is no question this team is better than that 2012 squad, despite that win in New England en route to a 4-0 start. (Yes, they finished 5-11. We all know how that ended.)

— The Providence Journal reported that Gronkowski was among a couple of questionable injured players — including former Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper — who did not fly with the team to Arizona Friday. It’s been pointed out that the Patriots have in the past and could still fly them to Arizona Saturday. But short of a private plane, you’d think it’d be easier to fly banged-up players on a big charter and let their bodies get used to the new surroundings for a day. Officially questionable, could Gronk miss this game too? It’d be a huge break for the Cardinals, for sure.

UPDATE: Gronkowski, Cooper and tackle Nate Solder have all been downgraded to out for Sunday’s game. That’s huge news.

— The story all through camp is whether newbies D.J. Humphries at right tackle and Brandon Williams at cornerback can hold up as starters. We’ll see. Humphries noted today that vet Evan Mathis is set to give him an adjustment if he messes up. Meanwhile, Kyle Odegard writes about why Williams is driven to make this NFL thing work even when people wonder about his late move to cornerback. (Hint: They are 7 and 2 years old.)

— New Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones said he didn’t have much insight he could deliver to his new team about his old team.

“One thing I do know about the Patriots, they will try to expose certain weaknesses,” Jones said. “That’s what they do. They study our weaknesses or who is the weak link on the team and they will try to expose it. that’s one thing you have to look out for.”

— Jones is going to have to play a big role. Don’t know how much the Patriots will let him get off in the pass rush, but this is the guy the Cards have been yearning for and he’s going to have a heck of a spotlight right out of the blocks.

All those times we talked about Larry Fitzgerald potentially being traded to the Patriots seems silly now, to be honest.

— Great line about starting center A.Q. Shipley from offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin, who emphasized he has a lot of confidence in Shipley: “He knows about being told he’s short, he’s fat, he’s chubby and he’s got short arms, so he’s always trying to prove everybody wrong.”

— In case you missed the first Cardinals Underground podcast of the regular season, here it is.

— What to expect from Tyrann Mathieu? Everyone, from players to coaches, talk about how the Badger is back to being the Badger. But when Mathieu talks, there is definitely a pump-the-brakes aspect to his comments. I know Mathieu was disappointed with how he played the last time he returned from a (much worse) ACL injury. He’s made no secret of that. Maybe he’s just trying to temper expectations, especially his own. But I expect Mathieu to be able to play just fine, thank you.

— The parking lots open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, for those asking.

— The past is the past, but under Bruce Arians, the Cardinals are 25-5 outside of the NFC West and 10-2 against AFC teams. The AFC East, of which the Patriots are part of and the Cards face this season, is the lone division the Cardinals have not played under Arians.

Here we go. Safe to say this is the most anticipated season for the Cardinals since they arrived in Arizona (2009, when the Cards were coming off the Super Bowl, was close, but no one thought that team was as good as this team.) See you Sunday.

beforepatsblog


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