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Spring Tailgate TV special, and “Groundwork”

Posted by Darren Urban on May 5, 2017 – 11:00 am

Couple of worthwhile projects put together by our excellent video department are finding their way to the public, so if you get a chance, take a look. The first is “Groundwork” a series of short web videos that will be rolled out from now (the initial piece features D.J. Humphries) through training camp. The synopsis, from our VP of broadcasting, Tim DeLaney:

“Groundwork is about the business of getting better from an individual’s perspective.  Each episode will focus on a player and what he is doing to prepare for the season – mentally and physically – in the weight room, the film room and on the field.  We’ll track the progress of the highlighted players through training camp.”

The other will be the Spring Tailgate TV special, shot the night of the third day of the draft and airing Saturday at approximately 8 p.m., following NBA playoff coverage on ABC 15. Hosted by Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley, the show features draft analysis from GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill, as well as talk about the revamped defense with linebackers Chandler Jones and Karlos Dansby.


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Humphries, Nkemdiche and Year 2

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2017 – 9:50 am

D.J. Humphries’ rookie year was a washout. He knew that, even if it made sense he needed to mature both physically and mentally when it came to playing in the NFL. His second year, he was a starter all season (until he suffered a concussion late in the season) and definitely had improvement, to the point where Humphries is the early choice to play left tackle this season. He’s anxious to build on that in 2017, which was underscored by his tweet today:

The work needed, and Humphries’ step forward in his second year, made me think of Robert Nkemdiche.

Like Humphries, Nkemdiche’s rookie season was a washout. Nkemdiche was actually active for a handful of games (unlike Humphries) but he didn’t make an impact. He knew, as did his coaches, that he hadn’t been ready for the NFL. That, according to both Nkemdiche and his coaches, improved near the end of the season. Recently, when talking about his breakout choices for 2017, General Manager Steve Keim brought up Nkemdiche. Make no mistake — the Cardinals will need Nkemdiche to take at the very least a Humphries-like step forward in his second year. Calais Campbell very well could leave as a free agent, and besides, Nkemdiche was a first-round pick — you have to have your first-round picks have significant development year to year.

It’s an important offseason not only for the Cardinals (who could have some significant defensive changes) but for Nkemdiche.

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Keim: I expect Arians, Palmer, Fitz to return

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2016 – 8:21 am

At the heart of his team, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim thinks he has a pretty good idea he will have his top trio back next season. Asked Monday on his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim said “I know Coach (Bruce Arians) is coming back.” He did say Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald should be asked directly, but “based on conversations I had with them in training camp, I’d be surprised if they didn’t play next year.”

Of course, that’s next year, and the subject of next year is on the table because after Sunday’s loss, this year is down to three games with the playoffs all but out of the question.

Keim said this feeling doesn’t compare to the embarrassment he felt during that 58-0 loss in Seattle in late 2012, right before he got the GM job. “This is a constant frustration. I have a hard time putting your finger on issues as a whole. It starts with attention to detail, and … guys we were counting on to make big plays have not shown up with any consistency. That’s also very alarming for me.”

What about going forward?

“I have a pretty good feel (for what I want to do),” Keim said. “I really do feel like our core talent on offense and on defense is in place. … These last three games are critical for a lot of reasons. I want to identify who loves it. Which guys are passionate about the game. Who are our top competitors? If you’re not going to compete and not play with passion you’re not going to be on this roster in 2017.”

— While Keim said he was proud of the team for fighting back in the fourth quarter, there was plenty to improve. “The one thing I struggle with is the missed tackles,” he said, adding that technique is involved but he also sees it as a matter of want-to.

— The patchwork offensive line was up and down, particularly the right side. He liked how both money linebacker Deone Bucannon and left tackle D.J. Humphries were playing before their injuries (ankle and concussion, respectively). He thought newcomer Sio Moore made a couple of nice plays, and also noticed rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who ended up playing 18 defensive snaps because of all the injuries. That was the most time Williams has spent on defense since the opener.

— Keim’s special teams evaluation: “Guys that we counted on, not getting it done. Starts with the snapper. It was an issue earlier in the year and we made the change, and I thought Aaron (Brewer) for most part done done a pretty good job. I don’t know how much the conditions had to do with it but he had a few rough snaps (Sunday). But Chandler (Catanzaro) still has to make kicks and he has to show more consistency. Same goes for Drew Butler. Those positions will obviously be evaluated and if we need to make changes, we will do it.”

— When it comes to leadership, Keim said that for the most part, the message is stronger coming from the locker room than coaches. And one issue that could be a factor goes back to what Keim said earlier, that guys the Cardinals were counting on to play well have not. The best leaders also play well. If the Cards’ top leaders aren’t playing well, it likely impacts the attempted leadership.

— Keim finished off by thanking the fans for the season despite the Cardinals failing to live up to expectations. He noted the tons of Cardinals fans in Miami for the game. That was something I noticed too — there was an appreciable roar from the stands on the Cards’ final TD and subsequent two-point conversion.


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A soaking wet Dolphins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2016 – 10:04 pm

The message wasn’t a surprise. Calais Campbell has been calling every game a playoff game and none of the players in the locker room were confused at exactly what was at stake Sunday. Still, when Bruce Arians brought his team together after the rainy loss in Miami and said out loud that it likely doomed its playoff hopes, “it was terrible to hear,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I don’t think that’s set in yet.”

Perhaps it was its downfall, but this team never really gave serious thought to the idea it wouldn’t make the playoffs. There are many reasons for that, one being that under Arians, this team has never been in this predicament. In his first season, the Cardinals won seven of eight down the stretch and went into the last weekend still with a slim chance to make the playoffs. The past two years, they had clinched playoff spots right around now.

No reason to belabor the point right now. The Cardinals do have three games left to play, and those last two – road trips to Seattle and Los Angeles – aren’t just any games. Those remain personal. Motivation is there.

But everyone knew the expectations of this season. Falling short of even making the playoffs wasn’t supposed to be part of the equation.

— We will see what the week brings, but left tackle D.J. Humphries left with a concussion and right tackle Ulrick John was injured on the Cards’ last offensive play. Not sure who might be left to play if both are too banged up to go. Earl Watford indeed was reinstalled as right guard in place of John Wetzel, but Wetzel ended up having to play anyway. Injuries have just torn up the offensive line.

Defensively, the Cardinals already were iffy on the return of Tyrann Mathieu and now Tyvon Branch may be down, and perhaps cornerback Marcus Cooper.

— The rain is not why the Cardinals lost, but it came down at times incredibly hard and it was weird how it did seem to kick up when the Cards had the ball.

“I swear to God it felt like every time we touched the ball it started raining,” wide receiver Brittan Golden said.

— Speaking of Golden, he got his first career TD reception, but he actually went in to the game for a play before that – at deep safety. Cooper and Branch were out and safety Tony Jefferson got banged up on a play and had to leave the field for a snap. Golden has practiced at times with the secondary, but this was the first time he actually went out there playing deep centerfield on a run play. And what went through his mind?

“Please don’t break that tackle,” Golden said with a grin.

— It was probably fitting that the loss that basically ended their hopes came in large part because of special teams woes. This week it was the kicker Chandler Catanzaro and long snapper Aaron Brewer. Couple of high snaps doomed two extra points, one of which was returned for two points. Add in the missed field goal of 41 yards, and that’s a seven-point swing in a three-point game. Killer.

Yet Cat Man mixed in a 56-yard field goal that I will admit I was shocked Arians called for, a boot that was the third-longest in franchise history – behind the 60-yarder he had in Buffalo earlier this season and the 61-yarder Jay Feely had against the Bills in Arizona in 2012.

— Sunday may be the first time in NFL history both teams faced a third-and-at-least-33.

— Larry Fitzgerald was targeted nine times Sunday but had only three catches for a scant 12 yards. He has 91 receptions this season but so many of late have been for so few yards that his per-catch average has sunk to less than 10 yards a reception – 9.8 to be exact.

— The rain made the downfield passing game terrible. Michael Floyd had 18 yards on two catches – and those were the most by any wide receiver. Fitz had his 12, Golden nine and J.J. Nelson eight. Smoke Brown played but wasn’t targeted.

— Kerwynn Williams did well in the wildcat. He took three snaps as a “quarterback,” running each time, gaining 34 yards. The Cardinals had 175 yards rushing as a team and averaged 6.5 yards a carry. But with the turnovers and the sideways special teams, it wasn’t enough.

— Three games left. We’ll see how the Cardinals play it out.

Carson Palmer, Ndamukong Suh


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Keim: Palmer praise and Butler answer

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2016 – 8:19 am

Not surprisingly, Steve Keim was much happier today. The Cardinals won and played pretty well. One player the Cardinals General Manager mentioned during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 a couple of times was Carson Palmer. Keim said the quarterback was exceptional. Palmer completed 30 of 46 passes for 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Some of the throws he made were fantastic,” Keim said. “His arm, to me, looked yesterday as live as it’s looked in a long time.”

Keim was asked if that meant Palmer’s arm had been a concern.

“I wouldn’t say it’s as much of a concern, but some of the balls he threw, the velocity and the placement he had on them, and some of the things he did in the pocket where he escaped pressure, was excellent.”

— The question everyone always wants answers for was asked to Keim — what are his feelings on the play of punter Drew Butler Sunday. Butler only had to punt three times and did have a 50-yarder, but averaged less than 40 yards a punt and less than 35 net. His final boot of 28 yards let the Redskins start an eventual field goal drive on the Cardinals’ side of the field.

“Not satisfied at all,” Keim said. “Like any other position there are expectations, and that spot right now, we’re not living up to expectations. It’s a results-based business and if you’re not getting the job done, we’ll look and see if there is somebody who can. That’s the tough part of it. You’re in some critical situations. It’s not like we have a backup punter that you can put in if someone is having a rough day. We’ll certainly talk about that today and see where it goes moving forward.”

— Yes, he was happy with running back David Johnson (more on DJ later today.) “Every time he does things, it’s amazing to me,” Keim said, adding “the sky is the limit for that young man.”

— Like Palmer, left tackle D.J. Humphries was mentioned a couple of times as someone who had an “excellent” game. Keim also thought right tackle Ulrick John flashed at times. He has strength deficiencies, Keim said, but “what he does athletically, he jumped out with some of the things he did.”

— On Bruce Arians’ play-calling late: “Give a lot of credit to our head coach. One thing about him, he’s willing to take risks. He showed confidence in our team and they rewarded him.”

— Keim also said he liked the fact the players held a meeting among themselves last week. “Because it shows me they care. We’re all disappointed with the way the season has gone so far. Expectations were high. That’s the way they should be, that’s the way we want them here. So, to show it means something to these players, the fact we haven’t played well as a team for the most part this season, and to come out, when you face adversity, to fight and to not give up, the way we played (Sunday) … our playmakers stepped up and made plays.”


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Humphries, Veldheer and left tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2016 – 10:31 am

D.J. Humphries was praised by both Steve Keim and Bruce Arians after his initial foray at left tackle Sunday. Looking at all of Humphries’ 71 snaps against the Falcons, the video seems to bear that out. Without knowing exactly what the play was designed to do or what the protection called for, there were only a few plays in which Humphries looked like he was beat and it caused a problem for Carson Palmer.

The first time, Dwight Freeney used a speed rush around the edge and pressured Palmer, although the ball was completed for a nine-yard pass on third-and-20. There were a couple two drives later, when the Falcons used a stunt from an inside rusher coming around the outside to get pressure, although Palmer still managed an eight-yard completion. Later that drive, Freeney’s spin move worked but Palmer had already thrown the pass.

Humphries did whiff on Freeney on a play right before halftime, but it was the pass to J.J. Nelson to set up the late field goal. There was one more play late in the game in which it looked like there was an offensive line miscommunication, and a blitzer was allowed to come off the edge free.

Generally, though, Humphries did his job. He did not allow a sack.

Arians was asked if Humphries could end up as the long-term left tackle. Certainly he figures to be there the rest of this season. Beyond, when Jared Veldheer comes back? That is an excellent question. It’s not like the idea of Veldheer at right tackle is far-fetched. He is making “left-tackle money,” but as long as Humphries is on his rookie deal, the Cardinals will be paying the same regardless of what side each is on. Humphries is a natural left tackle too.

But Veldheer has played left tackle virtually his whole career, and Humphries did prep all offseason through Veldheer’s trip to IR playing the right side. There are pros and cons to both situations. Arians’ response was that it was a wait-and-see approach. It’ll definitely be something to watch as the offseason workouts unfold.

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Keim: Floyd, Nkemdiche and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2016 – 8:25 am

General Manager Steve Keim lamented Sunday’s loss, noting as many have the same issues the Cardinals have suffered through all season. He was asked during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Monday if he was now going to start working on 2017. Keim wants to see wins now, but the question was unnecessary, since Keim is always looking at the future. He was doing so back in training camp. Keim has long talked about taking a three-year view on the roster.

There are things now that impact later, however. In particular, Keim talked about wide receiver Michael Floyd, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Keim was asked if Floyd’s rough season made it more likely the Cards brought him back because his price may go down, or less likely because he has struggled so much.

“I know he’s disappointed and frustrated,” Keim said. “In the past, there’s been some inconsistencies, whether it was dropped balls or other things that came with his game. At the same time he made big plays to compensate for that. That’s the one area where, quite frankly, we haven’t seen this year.”

As for Floyd’s future with the team, Keim said those are discussions that will be made internally. But “whether a guy returns to your team or not, listen, we get emotionally attached to these guys. I want the best for all of them. He’s a guy I am rooting for and hopefully he can turn it around with five games left in the season and have some success for his livelihood. You never want to see a guy underachieve or have the misfortune of hitting the market and getting underpaid. I’m hoping all these guys have success. If they have success, we have success.”

— Keim was asked whether first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche should be playing late in the season.

“Until he earns it and learns how to be a true pro, he has to sit,” Keim said.

Keim compared it to the learning year for D.J. Humphries last season. “It’s on Robert,” Keim added. “He has all the skills, which is the good news, to be a great one. But until Robert understands what comes with being a great player, he’ll be on the bench. That’s the thing Coach and I have always been committed to. Regardless what your salary is, regardless of where you were drafted, you’re going to have to earn your spot on the field.”

— More generally for the future, “we have some plans and ideas in place we think will strengthen this team going forward,” Keim said. He added that as disappointing as the season has been, he believes there are enough core pieces in place — both in age and contractually — that whatever happens after the season with player movement “I don’t think it’s a complete revamp of this team to make it better.”

— Humphries at left tackle was a bright spot, Keim said. The GM said Humphries looks natural at left tackle (which makes sense, since that is Humphries’ natural spot.) As for Ulrick John, Keim said he thought he did a “nice job” until late in the game, when some twists and stunts got to him and right guard John Wetzel.

— Keim lamented the lack of a big play when needed. He was particularly disappointed with the Calais Campbell offsides on the punt late in the game — a play in which the Cards weren’t even rushing the punter — which kept an eventual TD drive alive.

— He was asked about a possible problem with chemistry. “That’s a good question,” Keim said. “In my position, when you put together a team and you look at it on your board … and we’re potentially more talented than we have been the past three years when we had success, but at the same time these guys have to come together.

“I don’t think it’s any secret we haven’t done that yet. It’s the little things, the accountability. That’s a great question and it’s hard for me to answer. Only the 53 guys in that locker room can answer that.”


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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 5:10 pm

For a few minutes, it was exactly how Bruce Arians wanted it to be all along.

Carson Palmer, with a clean pocket, threw perfect chunk passes off play-action. David Johnson picked up six yards running just falling forward. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the first possession for the first time this season. Arians was thrilled.

“I take a lot of pride in that stat of scoring first,” Arians said.

The Cards couldn’t get a stop, though. They couldn’t get a stop all game when they really, really needed one. I take that back, they did to begin the second half – but then the offense had a three-and-out in their lone full possession of the third quarter.

That’s frustrating, Arians and everyone else asked about it will say. But that’s expected. There isn’t any one part of the game (unless you go with David Johnson himself as a part of the game) that has been excellent.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters, the one-time Falcon, shook his head at the lack of consistency. He was talking about the defense, and there is certainly reason to look at the defense that way. But the offense and special teams haven’t been able to find any either. That’s why they can shred a defense for an easy 75-yard drive to start, and have just 109 yards total in the second half.

That’s why the Cards are stunningly only 4-6-1.

“We’re 4-and-6, that’s our reality,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’re too talented to be under .500.”

— Arians is beside himself about the receiving problems. Smokey Brown gets hurt again. Michael Floyd drew a pause and an “I don’t know” from the coach, after a game in which he could have made a huge fourth-down catch and he did not. Floyd’s season will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.

— Arians said the Cardinals used more maximum protection on pass plays Sunday than any time since he has been coach. The group was not perfect, but I did think they held up – at least until the end when the Falcons figured a pass was coming every down. I fully expect that group – from left tackle over, Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel, John – to remain the starting five.

“I really would like to see it on film, just to critique the small stuff,” Humphries said. “But I felt the way stuff was shuffled around and the wat we had to pull together in a short time, it was a good outing. But it wasn’t good enough. Clearly.”

— Mathieu talked again about accountability in the locker room. I don’t know if he has things in particular he is thinking of or if he just feels like, when you are losing, people need to go under the microscope. It may be the latter, because he said in the same breath they have to stick together. That will be tested these last five games.

— Patrick Peterson hurt his knee. He said he got kicked by the cleat of Julio Jones on D.J. Swearinger’s interception. We’ll see what that means for him this week, although he said it was “painful.”

— Swearinger’s reputation earned him that interception he made. Jones beat Patrick Peterson on the in-route but Jones was staring straight at Swearinger as Jones made his way across the middle. That moment of lost concentration – and that knowledge Swearinger lights up receivers going across the middle – caused the bobble and Swearinger was gift-wrapped an INT.

— Unfortunately, Swearinger couldn’t hold on to the interception later, which would have stalled a Falcons’ TD drive. But the way it went Sunday, that might’ve been a band-aid. Not sure the Cards could’ve stopped the Falcons enough.

— Well, the Cards and Peterson didn’t let Jones beat them. So …

— The series of plays before halftime was a well-executed as anything the Cardinals have done this season. The loss buries the plays, but after the Swearinger interception, the Cards had just 25 seconds at their own 37. A 17-yard pass to J.J. Nelson that may or may not have been incomplete. Rushing to the line to run a play and make sure it wasn’t reviewed. Then Palmer hit Fitz, who in one motion slid to catch a 10-yard pass and called timeout, using only four seconds of the five left and allowing Chandler Catanzaro to boot the 54-yard field goal.

Yes, I’m looking for silver linings.

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Floyd, Mathieu active and a new O-line

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 9:34 am

The Cardinals will have both wide receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) on the field today against the Falcons. The Mathieu news wasn’t unexpected. Floyd worked out for head athletic trainer Tom Reed before the game and looked OK. It makes the inactive list one devoid of big names, unless you want to count first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche, who has been there more often than not this season.

One other player active today is guard Earl Watford, among reports there could be changes on the offensive line today. We’ll see of D.J. Humphries gets a chance to play left tackle and/or Ulrick John plays right tackle. If there are changes now, it would seem to be production-based, since everyone is active. UPDATE: And the changes have been implemented, based on pre-game warmup. Humphries is the left tackle, Mike Iupati the left guard, A.Q. Shipley still at center, John Wetzel at right guard and John at right tackle.

The full inactive list:

— WR Marquis Bundy

— S Christian Bryant

— LB Sio Moore

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Robert Nkemdiche

— DT Ed Stinson

 


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Friday before the Falcons

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2016 – 3:48 pm

Steve Keim has looked at his offensive line since the day he started. He signed Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati as his most high-profile free-agent additions. He drafted D.J. Humphries with the idea he could eventually upgrade at tackle over Bobby Massie. He signed Evan Mathis as a veteran to be the other guard this season.

We know how it’s turned out so far.

Veldheer and Mathis are done for the season with injuries. Humphries has gone through growing pains this year after sitting all of last year. Iupati, banged up himself, has struggled of late. Fellow guard Earl Watford, Mathis’ replacement, has also been banged up this week. The players off the bench are inexperienced.

As Carson Palmer said this week, continuity is ideal along the line — and the Cardinals have not had continuity. Not anymore. That isn’t to say there weren’t issues anyway, but juggling up front is not what you want. The Cardinals will likely need to score Sunday in Atlanta, since the Falcons are the league’s top scoring team. We might see a steady diet of David Johnson running, but it’s not like the Falcons don’t know that either. In a season of up-and-down offensive production, the tenuous nature of the offensive line has not helped.

“We’ll have five of them out there, for sure,” coach Bruce Arians said.

— Michael Floyd might yet play Sunday even after hurting his hamstring and missing Thursday and Friday on the practice field. But it seems like anything that could go wrong for the free-agent-to-be wide receiver this season has.

— Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will have Patrick Peterson on him most of the game Sunday. Teams have sometimes had a cornerback “travel” to cover Jones, but Jones said it usually comes with a caveat.

“Teams have been trying to do that, but they’ve been playing a lot of two-man while they were doing it,” Jones said. “They’ll take their ‘OK’ corner and put him over me and then just have safety help, and try to put the better corner on the other side, try to let him lock that side down. Pat P, it’s just usually one-on-one.”

— So it turns out neither Peterson — for his unnecessary roughness call for knocking down QB-turned-WR Sam Bradford — or Tony Jefferson — for his hit on the still-trying-to-go-forward Stefon Diggs — were fined for their play. It’s fair to wonder if that means the league disagreed with the calls. Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson was fined $18,231 for his fourth-down hit on Palmer that extended the Cards’ final drive.

— The Vikings offensive linemen weren’t happy with Peterson about the hit. But Arians defended his player, not surprisingly, starting with the fact Bradford was lined up as a wide receiver and no longer had quarterback protections.

“That’s my understanding, and he just threw a flea-flicker on the exact same play, so don’t let it happen,” Arians said. “(Peterson) did what he was coached to do.”

As for the Vikings offensive linemen being upset, “Well, they shouldn’t have threw the flea-flicker the first time then,” Arians said. “He ain’t going to let it happen a second time.”

— The Cardinals are trying to get past an interception drought. They have now gone four games without one, the last time picking off an opposing QB coming way back on Oct. 17 when they nailed Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. Matt Ryan has just five interceptions this season (compared to 24 touchdown passes) but the Cardinals have gotten to Ryan in the past. He threw four interceptions against the Cardinals in Arizona in a 2013 game, and five picks in a game against the Cards in Atlanta in 2012. (Alas, the Cards still lost that 2012 matchup.)

— If Carson Palmer throws two touchdown passes, he’ll surpass Joe Montana on the all-time TD passes list. Palmer sits at 272, Montana 273.

When Palmer was asked about it, his response just reinforced to me my thought Palmer has every plan to play in 2017, regardless of how this season has gone/will go.

“What excites me about the game is the anticipation for Sunday, the process, going through and getting mentally prepared and physically prepared, obviously,” Palmer said. “There is no doubt that it would be an honor to do that, but I love playing the game because I love Sundays.”

— So atlantafalcons.com apparently does weekly simulations about the game ahead, and this week, they had the Cardinals winning the game, 21-19, behind David Johnson’s two touchdowns. So there’s that.

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