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In a rush to be tested

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2013 – 11:00 am

The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.

Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).

(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.

Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.

There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.

RunDBlogUSE


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Arians checks Arians and some other notes

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2013 – 1:01 pm

It may have been the timeout that save the game (although the way the Cardinals were playing defense, it might not have been that dire). Still, Arians called timeout right before Carson Palmer threw his interception and wiped out the QB’s lone turnover. The official simply couldn’t find his whistle, Arians said, and that’s why the glitch in the snap still being made, and not because Arians called it late.

Arians said he made a bad play-call and instead of going with, he realized discretion was the better part of valor.

“It was a play with Andre Ellington in the backfield,” Arians said. “I was tired of being stuck down there (deep in the Cards’ own territory) and I wanted to try and take a shot and flip field position. It was a bad time. So I called timeout. … It was one of those gut feelings it was going to be the wrong play for that time.”

It was the wrong personnel, Arians said, the wrong time to call it on second-and-long (instead of first down) and just nothing was right no matter how badly Arians wanted to make something happen.

“At times it gets frustrating,” Arians said. “But you have to be careful (as a play-caller) and not lose your patience and lose the football game.”

— The availability of special teams ace Justin Bethel is up in the air after he suffered a concussion Sunday. He will go through concussion protocol and the Cards will see where he is at the end of the week. Fellow special teamer Teddy Williams, who tore his Achilles, will be placed on injured reserve.

— Arians talked about facing the Colts this week (and this won’t be the last time you hear about this storyline). “The prep will be easy,” he said. “It’s seeing them that will be emotionally involved because it was such an emotional year last year. You’ll get through that hopefully in warmups.”

“I was hoping this would never be on the schedule. Because there are too many emotional ties to what happened last year.”

— Arians said the coaching staff for two weeks has been talking about the possibility of using Tyrann Mathieu as punt returner instead of Patrick Peterson. Those discussions will continue, Arians said. One concern is the amount of snaps Mathieu is already playing as a rookie. Clearly, though, Peterson hasn’t been his rookie self when returning punts.

— There was talk of the Cardinals-Eagles game being flexed to “Sunday Night Football.” That was officially put to rest Monday when the league announced the Sunday night game that weekend will remain Giants-Redskins.


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About your new left tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2013 – 9:39 am

Bradley Sowell gets his first start at left tackle for the Cardinals against a familiar face — Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who leads Carolina in sacks with three, was SowellblogUSESowell’s college teammate at Mississippi for three years.

“I’ve been trying to text him,” Sowell said. “I told him, ‘(Help me) keep my job for at least one week.’ ”

That brought laughs from the surrounding media. It’s the calm before the storm with Sowell, who as the left tackle is immediately going to be under the spotlight. The expectations are probably tempered, given that Sowell came into the league undrafted and has been released once already. He played left tackle in college. That’s his natural spot (Cards teammate Bobby Massie was the right tackle for Mississippi at the time.) He knows coach Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin from his rookie season in Indianapolis, and they know him.

Arians said Sowell, playing right tackle, struggled with then-Ravens’ pass rusher Paul Kruger in last year’s playoff game. But Arians said he talked to linebacker John Abraham and other vets who have gone against Sowell in practice and “they think he’s got a great future.”

It doesn’t mean the Cards or even Sowell have a good handle on how he will perform. There’s only so much you can learn as a lineman — defensive or offensive — in practice, where hitting is limited (although the Cards have been in full pads almost every Wednesday.) Sowell admitted he’s a guy who likes to go hard in practice, and that’s a fine line that must be walked in a sport where no one wants to get hurt during the week.

“I’ve been going against our first team guys (on scout team) so I am feeling pretty confident,” Sowell said. “I’m as ready as I can be, I imagine. I won’t know until I get out there, but all I can do is try my hardest and see what I’ve got.”

Sowell is comfortable in the offense, thanks to his season with Arians in Indy. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, he’s more of an athletic tackle than power guy. He admitted he was surprised he was cut from the Colts, but acknowledged it became a numbers game. With Arians and Goodwin in Arizona, this became a natural landing spot, and, given Levi Brown’s issues, it’s probably not a shock Sowell has entered the starting lineup.

“I know Coach Goody is going to find guys to bring in that fit the system well, that fit his coaching style well,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It’s just comforting knowing that he hand-picked (Sowell).”

 


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Thoughts on a schedule

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2013 – 6:31 pm

So here are some quick thoughts on the Cardinals’ schedule, for what they are worth. No one knows exactly what will happen between now and when the games will be played and so much can change. Nevertheless, this is what we do, so we press on …

— What smacks me in the face first is the back-to-back games against the 49ers — in San Francisco — and the Seahawks just four days later for their NFL Network game. That’s in October (13 and 17). Those teams aren’t easy with which to deal, and to have them so close together is tough. I guess, with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson with similar games (I know Wilson doesn’t run as much as Kaepernick), the defense will be in the right frame of mind. Todd Bowles, are you ready?

— Opening in St. Louis isn’t a bad place to start. The Cards have had a ton of success there, winning seven straight before last year. These aren’t the 2009 Rams, but they aren’t the Niners and Seahawks either.

— Offenses with which the Cards must deal without suspended linebacker Daryl Washington: Rams, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers. All in all, not the worst thing.

— A bye at exactly the midway point of the season.

— The Bruce Arians-faces-his-former-Colts-team game comes Nov. 24. Will be very interesting to see where the Cards are at that point — we will be long past the storybook of the Colts season last year — and, for that matter, where the Colts stand.

— I didn’t think weather would be a big deal, but it could be chilly in Philly (Dec. 1) and Tennessee (Dec. 15). And perhaps Seattle (Dec. 22) for that matter.

— It did catch my eye that the preseason Dallas game is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I prefer that rather than night preseason games.

— A trip to Raymond James Stadium Sept. 29. Let’s see, the last time the Cards were there


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Youth looks like it will be served

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2013 – 3:49 pm

Until practices and the games play out, the differences between new coach Bruce Arians and former coach Ken Whisenhunt may be hard to decipher. But there is one major difference that is obvious given topics Arians has talked about — where Whisenhunt was often careful of how quickly he would play a rookie, and clearly skewed toward veteran play, Arians is the opposite. I expect the new staff to play young players early and often.

When Arians first took the job, he mentioned how many rookies and/or inexperienced players he and the Colts played last year in Indianapolis. Much of that was forced, because of injury and salary cap purges, but in the end, it worked out to an 11-win season. Arians praises the job those young players did for him. And in the shadow of the story that players can’t talk to the coaches about football until April comes the reality that, under the new rules, rookies benefit with the learning curve. Even Arians notes this.

“We found out we could play with young players,” Arians said of his time in Indianapolis. “In the past a rookie might get seven or eight reps in an OTA. Last year they got like 200 because they can go out seven days a week.  The veterans can’t work but the rookies can. They got reps even going to (training) camp, when we brought them in three days early.”

Obviously, the Cardinals aren’t going to have the rookies working seven days a week. But the Colts had a pair of rookies-only minicamps last year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that repeated here. Plus I could see Arians again wanting to bring them in early to training camp. That’s a lot of extra time with the coaches the veterans won’t get — especially if the coaches are looking to find rookies that can play right away.

You also have to wonder about the underbelly of the roster, the guys that Whisenhunt always liked to populate with veterans. Arians and general manager Steve Keim may be looking in a different direction.

ServingYouthUSE

 

 


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Arians’ former bosses speak about new Cards coach

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2013 – 11:41 am

The Indianapolis Colts released statements today from general manager Ryan Grigson — brother of Cardinals scout Dru Grigson — and head coach Chuck Pagano as their offensive coordinator Bruce Arians embarks on his new career as Cardinals head coach.

General Manager Ryan Grigson

“We congratulate Bruce on this great opportunity with the Arizona Cardinals. The exceptional job he did this past season in keeping this team focused, combined with his long record of accomplishment, made him a very attractive candidate for a head coaching position and we congratulate the Cardinals on their good judgment in selecting him. BA did a remarkable job last season, filling in for his friend and head coach in a time of need. Without BA’s selflessness, leadership, football acumen, and competitive spirit, we couldn’t have had the season we did. We surely will miss BA’s presence as a coach and a friend but we’re delighted for him and we wish Bruce, Chris, and their entire family nothing but the best as they embark on their new journey.”

Head Coach Chuck Pagano

“We are excited for Bruce, Chris, and his entire family. This is an opportunity of a life time and I know he will do a great job. Arizona hired a great coach but a better man. What he did in my absence was truly remarkable. I am forever in debt to Bruce. He is and always will be a great friend and I wish him nothing but the best as he begins this new chapter in his life.”

 


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Arians thinks Cards give him “heck of a feeling”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2013 – 2:07 pm

Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is interviewing with the Cardinals today, and as has been custom to candidates who have come to Tempe, he met with the media this afternoon. He’s wanted to become a head coach for a long time and admitted he isn’t sure why he hasn’t garnered more interest before now, but he’s taking advantage of his visits. The Bears, during Marc Trestman’s press conference today, acknowledged Arians was the runner-up for that job. The Cards are the lone job left open, and Arians is the latest candidate — following Ray Horton, Jay Gruden, Todd Haley, and Darrell Bevell of the known guys left available.

He just went through an emotional season with the Colts, making the playoffs and serving as interim head coach as Chuck Pagano went through leukemia treatments. He admitted it wouldn’t be easy to leave Indianapolis. “I told my agent early, when he was setting up interviews, ‘I’m going to have to have a heck of a feeling about that organization, owner, general manager, team, to leave where I am right now,’ ” Arians said.

So someone asked the obvious: Does he have that feeling in Arizona?

“Yes I do,” he said.

— Arians said he couldn’t really comment on what would happen with defensive coordinator Ray Horton or any assistant still under contract if he got the job. “It’s too early in the process,” he said.

— He said he would hire an offensive coordinator if he were head coach. But he said he would call the plays himself until he found someone who could do it better. Not a surprise. That’s what Ken Whisenhunt did when he first arrived in Arizona. He said, doing it with the Colts, “it’s easy. There are plenty of hours in the day.”

— A team is always looking for a good quarterback. You try and find that. But until you do, Arians said you have to coach up the players in front of you and “make them better.”

— He’s had to learn how to delegate, when serving as interim HC for the Colts.

Being a head coach, “it’s not as hard as it’s supposed to be.”

We’ll see if that means he will get a chance in Arizona. I don’t know who is the favorite, so please don’t ask. Nor do I know when this is going to be resolved. Obviously, with Jacksonville hiring Gus Bradley Thursday morning, the Cards have the only remaining head coaching vacancy. I have a full Arians story on the homepage.

 


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As the coaching info turns

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2013 – 11:47 am

With Steve Keim in place as general manager, the Cardinals now need to find a head coach. That is ongoing, and there was some spark thrown into Wednesday morning with conflicting reports about the Cardinals and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Some reported there was an interview happening, others said no. (Or absolutely no.) What we know is that the Cards have talked to Ray Horton and Mike McCoy and are going to talk to Jay Gruden Thursday. President Michael Bidwill said all those things Tuesday. The team has been pretty transparent with all their interviews once they are lined up. Then again, Haley might want this kept quiet (which doesn’t necessarily prevent leaks, not when it is fellow coaches apparently saying what is going on.)

The Cards, in the Haley case, are not commenting.

(UPDATE: Steelers president Art Rooney said Haley is interviewing. Feels like a solid source.)

Regardless, nothing has changed with the hiring time frame, which was that there was no time frame. Bidwill reiterated that notion. “The timetable is the timetable that gets us the right coach and the right decision for the team to move us forward,” team president Michael Bidwill said during Steve Keim’s introductory press conference Tuesday.

One final interesting note, which comes via Geoff Mosher from CSN Philadelphia, via tweets that make me think he too has been hit with many questions from concerned fans about no head coach yet hired, in his case with the Eagles.

“KC was first NFL team last year to hire HC, on Jan. 9. Chiefs went 2-14, fired Crennel. Colts hired Chuck Pagano on Jan. 25. Made playoffs”

Mosher makes the point of various successful coaches over the years and their hire dates: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin Jan. 22 (’07); Baltimore’s John Harbaugh Jan. 19 (’08); Denver’s John Fox Jan. 13 (’11); Atlanta’s Mike Smith Jan. 24 (’08); and Seattle’s Pete Carroll Jan. 11 (’10). Again, I’m not trying to say every coach hired is the right one, or that waiting always is a benefit. But clearly, it’s not like taking time crushes chances for success. Of the seven teams that need new coaches, only two have hired new coaches, and that doesn’t include the possibility Jacksonville could change coaches now that they have a new GM.

— One final outlier here: After the Cowboys fired DC Rob Ryan Tuesday it became popular — driven by media speculation — that Horton could be a candidate to replace him. Horton was wooed by Jason Garrett to be on staff two years ago as Horton was coming to Arizona as DC. Here’s the problem: If the Cards don’t hire Horton has head coach, I’m pretty sure they want him to stay as defensive coordinator. Now, that can always change depending on who the head coach is, but with Horton still under contract for another season, he can’t go anywhere (except as a head coach) if the Cards don’t want him to. And I just don’t see the Cards allowing a lateral move, even if Horton did (of which I’m not sure either).


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The AFC at UoP with Whiz

Posted by Darren Urban on October 10, 2012 – 10:21 am

Ken Whisenhunt coached in Pittsburgh for six seasons before coming to the Cardinals and knew what he’d be seeing when the AFC teams played his new team in Arizona. That’s worked out well.

The Cardinals have been a good home team since Whisenhunt’s arrival in 2007, and no place does that show up more than when AFC teams come to visit, like will happen Sunday when the Buffalo Bills will be the opponent. It’s the second and final AFC visitor of the season, and of the 11 previous AFC teams to come to town, the Cardinals have beaten nine of them and will be the favorite Sunday against the reeling Bills.

The only two home AFC losses in Whiz’s tenure came in 2009, when the powerful Colts beat up the Cards on “Sunday Night Football” and last year, when the Steelers caught the Cardinals at arguably their lowest point in the season in a 32-20 Pittsburgh win. Because of the way the schedule has worked out, the Cards have seen repeat AFC visitors in that time. The Cards have beaten Miami twice, Cleveland twice, along with a then-undefeated Buffalo (when Adrian Wilson knocked QB Trent Edwards out of the game, below), Houston (late goal-line stand), Oakland (Janikowski’s shocking missed field goal) and Denver (the Jay Feely score-a-thon.)

Next season, the AFC teams who will visit Arizona are the Texans and Colts again.


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Before 2012, a glance at 2013 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 17, 2012 – 1:22 pm

Yes, yes, I know I am early. Way early. But as long as the info is out there — and while we still have a little bit before we get to training camp — here is a look at who the Cardinals’ opponents will be for the 2013 season.

HOME

— Indianapolis (Andrew Luck!)

— Carolina (Cam Newton!)

— Houston (Arian Foster.)

— Atlanta (Roddy White?)

— NFC North team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings

— and of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

AWAY

— New Orleans

— Tampa Bay

— Jacksonville

— Tennessee

— NFC East team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings

— and, of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

I was going to do a little analysis, but then I realized how foolish that was this far out.


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