“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.
My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?
First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)
But again, what if?
Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.
When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)
If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?
Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.
What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.
Still, what if?
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger, Chargers, Dennis Green, draft, Josh McCown, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Steelers
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The Cardinals never played at home in Week 1 of the NFL season during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium. Sunday night will be the seventh time in 11 seasons at University of Phoenix Stadium that the Cardinals have hosted a Week 1 game. With the Patriots coming to town for “Sunday Night Football,” it makes a difference.
The Cards have won six straight home openers and have won 10 straight home games in September. It’s interesting to note that the last time the Cardinals lost at home in September was back in 2009, when the reigning NFC Champions lost not once but twice.
You remember that season, right? The Cards lost their opener, at home, to a lesser 49ers team. A couple of weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts blew them out of the building. The Cardinals were 1-2, everyone asked “What’s wrong?” — and then they got to 10-5 before shutting it down in the regular-season finale against the Packers.
Since then, the Cards’ home opener has been in Week 1 four times (wins over Carolina in Cam’s first start in 2011, Seattle in Russell Wilson’s first start in 2012, San Diego on “Monday Night Football” in 2014 and New Orleans last year), Week 2 once (beating Detroit in 2013) and Week 3 once (beating Oakland in 2010.)
You can argue, easily, that the Patriots represent the best team the Cardinals have hosted in the home opener in that span (although the 2012 Seahawks turned out to be pretty good). But the Cardinals have made that first home game advantageous.
Tags: 49ers, Chargers, Colts, Panthers, Patriots, Saints, Seahawks, University of Phoenix stadium
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The Cardinals got a lot good work in this week while practicing in San Diego. Bruce Arians said that, his players did too. But the end result didn’t feel all that good. The offense looked ugly, which really isn’t what you’d like to see at this point of camp (and things went pretty well in the first-unit’s one series in the preseason opener, so it’s not like they were bad a week ago).
But then you throw in the news that best case scenario, linebacker Alex Okafor would have to play the season with a torn biceps tendon, and that’s only if he decides not to have surgery. That’s a tough call. Okafor is going to be a free agent after the season. If he waits on surgery, he won’t be a full strength and he’ll have to have surgery right before signing with another team. Surgery now, and he’ll have no season in which to entice teams to sign him. He called it one of the most difficult decisions he’s made (and he had to make the same exact decision already, with Arians, when he was a rookie in 2013.)
Okafor suffered the injury in practice Tuesday night. We’ll see what his choice is and what it means. Okafor is/was the third linebacker to give relief to starters Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.
— Interesting that Arians said Jaron Brown is the best receiver the Cardinals have right now. Brown did make a pair of great grabs against the Chargers. One of the few bright spots.
— Larry Fitzgerald sat with a minor MCL sprain, Arians said. It isn’t serious.
— Deone Bucannon hammered wide receiver Dontrelle Inman early in the game, a clean hit (a penalty wasn’t called and the replays I’ve seen show a hard hit to the upper chest) that knocked Inman’s helmet off. Inman was checked for a concussion and cleared, but did not return.
“I’m a physical player,” Bucannon said. “That’s what it is and I like setting the tempo for the team and making plays within the rules of football. I love playing the game with passion.”
— Couldn’t tell exactly how D.J. Humphries did at right tackle, but frankly, there wasn’t anyone on offense (except maybe Jaron Brown) that will be able to be excited about how he played.
— Cornerback Brandon Williams gave up a 13-yard pass early, but held up better in my opinion. Overall, it seemed like a better performance.
— Arians, in his postgame radio interview: “You can’t play the game without passion, energy or brains and we didn’t have any of the three.”
One more week of training camp to go.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Brandon Williams, Bruce Arians, Chargers, D.J. Humphries, Deone Bucannon, Jaron Brown, Larry Fitzgerald
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Many of the names on tonight’s not-expected-to-play list for the Cardinals are known because they have missed practice time. The biggest name is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who sat out practice Wednesday and who is resting his knee — although Fitzgerald was running sprints pregame and looked fine. Realistically, Fitz doesn’t need much time in the preseason to be ready.
It means two of the top three receivers are sitting, because John Brown is still sidelined because he has not cleared concussion protocol. Is that a concern? Of course. You hate to have one of your top pass catchers missing most of training camp and that’s what is going to happen to Smokey.
Philip Rivers is among those not playing for the Chargers.
The full list of those not expected to play tonight. (Some injuries haven’t been specifically announced):
— CB Alan Ball
— CB Justin Bethel (foot)
— WR John Brown (concussion)
— C Taylor Boggs (calf)
— CB Elie Bouka (hamstring)
— WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee)
— WR Brittan Golden (hamstring)
— DT Iosia Iosia
— CB Asa Jackson (ankle)
— CB Mike Jenkins (hand)
— S Tyrann Mathieu (knee)
— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)
— LB Alex Okafor
— DT Frostee Rucker (foot)
— DT Ed Stinson
— G Earl Watford (knee)
Tags: Chargers, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, training camp
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The work in San Diego is almost over. The Cardinals have their preseason game against the Chargers Friday night, and to be frank, the attention has shifted from what the team might do this week and to what Bruce Arians might do after his health issues. The reality is that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was already set to call plays, and Arians had joked previously that he doesn’t have much to do during a game in those cases anyway. Still, all eyes are going to be on B.A. That’s only natural.
— Because of Arians’ illness, there wasn’t much discussed about the how the game will play out in terms of snap distribution, but the first units will probably get a chunk of the first quarter you’d figure. It always depends on how they perform, but maybe two or three series, depending on the number of plays. I’d expect this game to be a lot more Drew Stanton at QB, as Carson Palmer’s big third preseason game looms and the fourth game likely will be all Matt Barkley and Jake Coker.
— Another big game for CB Brandon Williams. Also curious to see what veteran Mike Jenkins can do now that he’s back on the field, albeit with a cast.
— Another guy to watch is DT Corey Peters, who returns to a game for the first time since blowing out his Achilles after just one preseason game in 2015.
— Not only were there no fights during the two practices between the Cards and Chargers, no situation really ever came close as far as I could tell. Don’t know if it was because Arians and Chargers coach Mike McCoy made such a big deal about no fights or if the Arians situation changed how practice was approached. Question is, does Friday night get chippy at all?
— Arians has said there are four inside linebackers fighting for one spot, which includes Chargers castoff Donald Butler. But you figure the Cards are going to have Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter in there. I’m guessing Chris Clemons, who has been working behind Bucannon, likely is in. So that would leave Butler vs. Alani Fua vs. Gabe Martin vs. Lamar Louis. So again, a battle to watch.
— One more week of training camp to go. Four more open practices.
Tags: Alani Fua, Brandon Williams, Bruce Arians, Chargers, Chris Clemons, Corey Peters, Deone Bucannon, Donald Butler, Gabe Martin, Kevin Minter, Lamar Louis, Mike McCoy, training camp
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The No. 2 cornerback for the Cardinals remains a work in progress.
Justin Bethel came off the PUP list this week but still isn’t ready to practice. Mike Jenkins finally returned to practice this week, although the surgery for a broken bone in his hand means he has to wear a cast. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Williams remains the starter and still figures to be the best bet to be starting Sept. 11 even with his growing pains.
That’s why Williams should’ve benefited big from a couple of practices against the Chargers, to work against different receivers than just the Cardinals and to see different looks. Williams got a healthy dose of Amari Cooper last week and now Keenan Allen — who has been a tough cover in practice — was this week.
“(Brandon) is a guy who were are going to lean on in the season so we want to see how he was living, how he was going to respond when the ball is coming his way,” all-pro cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Not to toot my own horn, but after the year I had last year, if there is a rookie defensive back, nine times out of 10 they’re going to pick on the young pup. So (cornerbacks) coach (Kevin) Ross wanted to throw him into the fire and to see how he would respond.”
Peterson is right, of course. Whomever is playing across from Peterson will be targeted often. Look at what happened to Bethel late last season. That’s not going to change in 2016, whether it is Williams or Bethel or someone else.
“I can only imagine how tough it is getting 13, 14 targets a game,” Peterson said. “That’s tough for anyone. biggest thing is keeping the confidence up and relying on the technique. You are prepared for the moment, it’s just about taking what you learned on the practice field to the game. That’s the biggest thing for young cornerbacks.”
Tags: Amari Cooper, Brandon Williams, Chargers, Justin Bethel, Keenan Allen, Kevin Ross, Mike Jenkins, Patrick Peterson, training camp
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The Cardinals are taking part in their practice in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium, but their head coach isn’t with them. Soon after reaching the stadium, he started experiencing stomach pain and told the team’s medical staff. He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation. The Cards will provide more updates as they become available.
In the meantime, assistant head coach Tom Moore looked like he talked to the Cardinals some at the outset of practice against the Chargers, and then Chargers head coach Mike McCoy addressed both teams as a whole. The practice has gone on as planned.
UPDATE: Here is a story on Arians. There is optimism he will be OK.
UPDATE II: Arians was released from the hospital Wednesday morning and is resting at the team hotel in San Diego.
God bless Louisiana. & Get well Mr. Arians
— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) August 17, 2016
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chargers, training camp
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Since training camp started, there was the possibility — given the inexperience of right tackle D.J. Humphries, and in total, the inexperience of every tackle on the roster not named Jared Veldheer — the Cardinals would bring in a veteran tackle to shore the position up. The Cards have already done that at cornerback, although rookie Brandon Williams has been basically unchallenged for a starting role. Mike Jenkins got hurt, and Alan Ball hasn’t done anything to change the equation (and Justin Bethel remains on PUP.)
After a first preseason game where both Humphries and Williams had rocky moments, might that change? General Manager Steve Keim said no. And he’s got a good reason.
“There’s nobody on the waiver wire that has these guys’ skillset,” Keim said bluntly on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Unless you can tell me somebody we can find out there, I mean, we’re always looking at the waiver wire to try and improve this team and we’ll be aggressive and pro-active. But when you take 90 (men on a roster) and times it by 32 (teams), you tell me who’s out there, and when you look at who’s out there, why are they out there.”
Now, that might and very well could change once cuts start coming. But for now, pickings are slim.
On the other hand, Keim reiterated he and Chargers GM Tom Telesco will get together this week when the Cards and Chargers have their joint practices and discuss the two rosters, each team’s deficiencies, “in hopes where we can talk about, ‘Hey, is there an area where we can help each other improve?’ ”
Maybe that could mean a trade.
Tags: Brandon Williams, Chargers, D.J. Humphries, Steve Keim, trade, training camp
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The Cardinals finally have a game to play.
The preseason opener will start a week that will feature two games and a week in San Diego, plus a couple of practices against the Chargers. First though come the Raiders, which will be a typical preseason matchup — a handful of snaps for the main vets, and then a training ground for the inexperienced.
Some thoughts as we head into the first game:
— Yes, you are going to watch D.J. Humphries at right tackle, which is how it should be. But I think I’m more interested in Brandon Williams at cornerback. Humphries is important, but he at least already played four preseason games a year ago. He’s done this. Williams not only is a rookie but he’s still only about a year into playing the position. Plus, it just feels — at least to me — that his performance will end up playing a larger role in the outcome of this team than Humphries.
— That doesn’t mean Humphries isn’t one to watch (or isn’t important for the outcome of this season.) He’s already a pretty good run blocker, and he’s shown a want-to that was missing a year ago. I’m not saying Humphries is ready to be an all-pro, but I think as a replacement for Bobby Massie, he will be fine.
— Some other new (and returning) players I’ll be watching: CB Alan Ball, CB Harlan Miller, G Antoine McClain, all the ILBs not named Kevin Minter — that’s a wide-open battle — TEs Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah, and WR Chris Hubert.
— Matt Barkley is going to get a lot of playing time. We’ll see if he can leave an impression.
— And as always, let’s just not have anyone get too banged up.
Tags: Alan Ball, Antoine McClain, Brandon Williams, Chargers, Chris Hubert, D.J. Humphries, Harlan Miller, Ifeanyi Momah, Matt Barkley, Raiders, Troy Niklas
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Like the Cardinals, the Chargers have released their training camp dates. That includes info on the one open practice in San Diego for the Cardinals, who will spend a week in San Diego prior to their preseason game there. The open practice will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 16 at Qualcomm Stadium from 6 to 8 p.m. against the Chargers. The two teams play at Qualcomm that Friday night.
As with the practices at University of Phoenix Stadium, parking and admission will be free in San Diego.
Tags: Chargers, training camp
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