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On Wednesday, Chandler Jones gets another sack

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2017 – 11:03 am

Sure it’s midweek, but Chandler Jones just got another sack.

The linebacker is having a great season anyway, but no, he’s not so good as to take a QB down when there’s no game being played. In the fourth quarter, Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was credited with a run for a loss of two yards, with defensive lineman Frostee Rucker being credited with the tackle. But it wasn’t Rucker but Jones who made the stop, and it was on a pass attempt, so Elias officially called it a sack. It was Jones’ second sack of the game.

It also means Jones now has seven sacks in six games, a Cardinals’ record for most sacks in the first six games of a season. Curtis Greer held the previous mark with 6½ sacks in six games in 1983. Jones already has five multi-sack games with the Cardinals in 21 games with the team.

Jones was great against the Bucs even without his sacks. His pressure on the QB has been consistent all season and he’s even stood strong against the run. After his huge contract extension this offseason, Jones is showing why he got all that money.


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Adrian Peterson’s debut, and Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2017 – 7:15 pm

The plan started on a private plane, sent by the Cardinals Tuesday to pick up Adrian Peterson in New Orleans and bring him back to Arizona. Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was on board, so that the return trip to Arizona could be spent on a crash course about the Cardinals’ offense.

“It sounded like Chinese,” Peterson said Sunday, after that five-day tutorial turned into a 134-yard rushing debut.

Peterson said Kitchens walked him through what he needed to learn, calling him at home just to go over things. By the time Peterson got to Sunday, he felt prepared, and he played that way.

Kitchens downplayed his role, saying only that he helped get Peterson in the building. And there is little question Peterson, motivated as he was to do well, had the talent if he knew what was called.

“It was the terminology of the plays,” wide receiver/Peterson landlord Larry Fitzgerald said. “You don’t tell a great back where to run.”

Fitz is going to gush about Peterson. They are friends. But Peterson deserves the praise. Not just for his production, but for the intangible vibe that surrounded this team right about the time Peterson and Kitchens were flying back from Louisiana.

“I wish he’d have been here 11 years from the beginning,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d have a Super Bowl ring already. But having him here, his leadership, his demeanor in the huddle, I think it’s reinvigorating everybody.”

— I can’t lie. I did not expect Peterson to make that kind of impact. I thought the Cards would be better. Not that much better. But when he ripped off two eight-yard runs on his first two carries, I quickly reconsidered.

— Chandler Jones got his sixth sack in six games and got a couple tackles for loss. That doesn’t do his game justice, especially early. He’s had a very good season.

— Still, you want to see the defense finish better. It’ll be interesting to see if Tramon Williams gets more playing time at cornerback.

— And not because of Patrick Peterson’s quad problem. If P2 is down, the Cards will feel it, although Peterson insisted he will be ready to play against the Rams next week. That was a big part of the fourth-quarter problems Sunday. No Patrick. Adrian isn’t the only necessary Peterson.

— The offensive line was better. It wasn’t perfect, but the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone, along with Earl Watford taking over at right guard clearly made a difference. There was a lot of emotion Sunday with Adrian Peterson and the crowd and that adrenaline helps. But if this group can stay healthy and together – that was the fifth different offensive line in six games – the Cards should be OK.

— Fitzgerald said it was kicker Phil Dawson who told him to waste some time on the onside kick recovery at the end, to make sure the clock ticked under the two-minute mark (and stoppage at the two-minute warning) so the Cards could kneel three times and be done. “That was Phil all the way,” Fitz said.

— Ryan Fitzpatrick likes putting a scare into Bruce Arians. First it was 2013 in Tennessee, then Sunday.

— Arians took the blame for Palmer’s interception, saying he insisted on throwing it deep there to go for the throat. But Arians said he needs to stay greedy. “There’s no lead big enough in the National Football League,” Arians said.

— Palmer is expecting both David Johnson and T.J. Logan to come off injured reserve, apparently, since he mentioned both running backs playing with Peterson later this season.

“I can’t help but think what B.A. will come up with when we get T.J. Logan back and Dave back,” Palmer said. “I can’t wait to see that.”

— That would be interesting. Just like the Cards were Sunday. Tomorrow, a flight to London.


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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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Colts aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

When the game ended and Tyrann Mathieu was leaving the field, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett found his Sunday overtime nemesis for a moment.

Seems that when Mathieu was at LSU and Brissett was at Florida in 2011, Brissett’s first college start came against the Tigers and Mathieu picked him off that day. Then Sunday, in Brissett’s first start for the Colts, there was Mathieu again.

“He was like, ‘Damn, bro, every time I start, why you have to pick me off?’ ” Mathieu recounted. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know why you threw it at me then.’ ”

The Honey Badger smiled, because it was humorous and it was also the kind of story you really only tell after a win. The Cardinals did that with the 16-13 overtime squeaker – and props to my cohort Kyle Odegard, who on our podcast this week talked about how the Cards would be happy even with a 14-13 win and oh, was he close – and so Mathieu could be happy. He made the big play and Phil Dawson finished the rest.

No one is proclaiming the Cardinals in a good place. They have to score more, they have to force more turnovers. But if it wasn’t for a bad leverage penalty on a field-goal block try by Rodney Gunter, the Colts still would not have a touchdown this season. The defense did OK (the Cowboys are going to be a much sturdier test next week). The offense is what it is right now, trying to find itself through injuries and with a quarterback who is not playing anywhere near the level they need.

“The quarterback has to play better,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Simple.”

The protection has to be better too, Arians said, but everyone knows it starts at QB. Palmer got better when he needed to – that 45-yard throw to Nelson for the touchdown was gorgeous – but he can’t make the forced interception like he did, either.

— Kerwynn Williams has shown he can gain yards in this league, but it sure looked like the Cardinals’ best course of action at running back with David Johnson down will be to use veteran Chris Johnson. CJ2K gained four yards a carry on 11 carries, and looked comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arians ends up more comfortable with a lot of CJ too.

— So many near-sacks again. Markus Golden had a couple early. Chandler Jones too. The defense did well most of the game, but they need to finish off some of these sacks. A turnover before overtime would help too.

— J.J. Nelson has become a significant weapon. Arians is right, it’s not important in John Brown’s absence, it’s important regardless.

— The Cardinals didn’t appear to get anyone injured, which is a good result after the carnage in Detroit.

— The Cardinals had a third-and-1 on the drive that ended up being Nelson’s 45-yard TD catch. Whatever the play was supposed to be, Palmer fumbled the snap on an awkward-looking play to begin with. Somehow, the middle of the defense parted, and Palmer picked up the ball and fell forward four yards for a first down.

“That wasn’t a quarterback sneak, that was a total FUBAR,” Arians said, “from the coaches on the sideline getting the right players in the game to the right players staying in the game and executing the play. We were lucky.”

— Not sure if Jared Veldheer is still having comfort issues on the right side of the line, but he was beat a couple of times. Not that the other guys don’t make plays – Jabaal Sheard is proving to be a pretty good player – but they are expecting more (and needing more) from Veldheer.

— Surprising Phil Dawson missed the first one. He also mentioned he had heard so much about last year’s Cards’ kicking woes it “built up.” The last thing the Cardinals need is for the new guy to be impacted. Hopefully the OT kick gets things smoothed over.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a big smile after the win. He didn’t do much – three catches, 21 yards – but they won. And that made everyone happy.


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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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