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Cardinals will indeed see embattled Elliott

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2017 – 2:56 pm

Considering a few weeks ago, it was the Cowboys, not the Cardinals, who were going to be missing their star running back for the teams’ “Monday Night Football” matchup, things have changed considerably. David Johnson, of course, is out after wrist surgery. Ezekiel Elliott, who was once expected to be suspended at this point, will play as his case winds through the courts.

Elliott gained only eight yards rushing last week on nine carries, a combination of Denver’s defense and the hole the Cowboys found themselves within. Elliott shrugged off the idea the Broncos might have found the blueprint of how to slow the Dallas offense.

“Every week people stack the box,” Elliott told Dallas reporters. “It’s not something we’ve seen for the first time.”

Elliott has had a doubly rough week. Already dealing with the suspension hanging over his head and then getting stuffed by the Broncos, Elliott was then seen at the end of the game stopping completely after a Dak Prescott interception, making no effort to even try to get to a tackle.

(“I would say I was just very frustrated, but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I showed on tape,” he said. “I just can’t do that. Being one of the leaders on the team and being a guy that people count on, I can’t put that type of stuff on film.” Elliott added, “I wasn’t myself.”)

The Cardinals have done a decent job against the run in their first two games. The Lions gained only 82 yards on the ground and the Colts 76. But neither team has the rushing potential of the Cowboys, with Elliott and one of the best offensive lines in the league. Holding him to less than 10 yards would be great — but unrealistic. Containing him somewhat is the goal, trying to mitigate whatever advantage an Elliott-minus-David-Johnson equation creates.


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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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With Gresham, five offensive starters out for Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 8:30 am

Bruce Arians was just talking, going into the first game of the season, how the inactive list was going to have so many healthy scratches. That isn’t the issue anymore, unfortunately for the Cardinals. Tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn’t practice all week after getting bodyslammed last week late in the game and hurting his ribs, won’t play. That means five offensive starters from the opener won’t play this week, including the now-on-IR running back David Johnson.

A quick look at the replacements in the lineup goes like this: Johnson will be replaced by Kerwynn Williams at running back. Mike Iupati will be replaced by Alex Boone at left guard. D.J. Humphries will be replaced by John Wetzel at left tackle. John Brown will be replaced by Jaron Brown at wide receiver. Gresham will be replaced by Ifeanyi Momah at tight end.

The full inactive list for the game against the Colts:

— G Mike Iupati (triceps)

— WR John Brown (quad)

— T D.J. Humphries (knee)

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Deone Bucannon (ankle)

— TE Jermaine Gresham (ribs)

On a good note, Johnson had successful wrist surgery, so step one of his process to come back has begun.


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David Johnson’s Christmas return?

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2017 – 5:51 pm

David Johnson went on injured reserve today. Teams can bring back two players total from IR in a season. They don’t have to be designated ahead of time. Johnson is an obvious candidate, and with an 8-to-12-week wrist injury and the need to stay on IR at least eight weeks before being eligible to return, that means the earliest, best-case scenario for Johnson would be a comeback on Tuesday, Nov. 7. That happens to be the week the Cards host the Seahawks on Thursday night, Nov. 9. It was always unlikely Johnson would make that initial date.

But Tuesday night, during his weekly interview on Sirius XM NFL radio, Arians said it could be much later.

“Hopefully, as miraculous as he came back from that knee injury last year, I’m hoping we can possibly get him back by Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Arians said.

That’s a show stopper.

Thanksgiving is one thing. But the Cardinals play the next-to-last game of the regular season on Christmas Eve, at home against the Giants. Even if we don’t get technical on Arians and assume he means Christmas week, that would only leave two regular-season games he could play. If not, it’s one game, the finale at Seattle. That would seem to make an assumption the Cardinals are in or have a chance to be in the postseason. Because bringing Johnson back for at most two games doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It would put also Johnson’s timetable to return at 14 weeks (Thanksgiving would be 10 weeks), which is on the far other side of 8-to-12 weeks. And it shows just how serious this injury is to the all-pro running back.

 


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(Football) life without David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2017 – 3:25 pm

So the news wasn’t good, with David Johnson (likely) sidelined for many weeks and many games because of a dislocated wrist. Bottom line, this isn’t replacing a guy who by default ended up at the top of the running-back-by-committee depth chart. This is arguably the best running back in the league. He comes out of the lineup, it makes a difference.

The Cardinals have to find a way to run the ball going forward. That will be some combination of Andre Ellington and Kerwynn Williams, I’m thinking. Reports that the Cards are signing D.J. Foster from the Patriots practice squad makes sense; Foster could in theory become a punt returner. The Patriots tried him a little bit there in preseason (Foster did not return kicks or punts at Arizona State.) If Williams is playing a lot of running back, I’m not sure he’ll stay with such a big return role. J.J. Nelson is an option back there, or Brittan Golden. (The punt return job can’t help but not be settled, right? It’s one thing or another.) Elijhaa Penny would be an option as a big back, although Sunday, after Johnson got hurt, Williams was still used inside on a couple of up-the-gut short-yardage plays.

The offense could look a lot more like the 2013/2014 model, before Johnson was drafted and before Chris Johnson’s resurgent 2015 season. The Cardinals didn’t run as effectively as they wanted to those seasons, but they made it work and they won games. Now, it’s about making whatever you can work, and hope Johnson can return late in the season for a playoff push the Cards still hope they can develop.


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Keim: Bad day in Detroit, no injury updates

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2017 – 8:20 am

Never fun for the General Manager to do his weekly radio appearance after a bad loss like Sunday’s in Detroit, but there was Steve Keim on the “Doug and Wolf” show Monday morning, reiterating a lot of what we already knew: Carson Palmer played poorly, as did the team. He was actually OK with the defense, putting most of the end-game Lions scores on short fields and stamina after the offense had its bad game.

He had no update on the injuries to running back David Johnson (wrist) or left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee). Both are getting MRIs today. He said Humphries walked out of the stadium Sunday night so “who knows?” He said he couldn’t base anything coming off the information they had last night, and it would be “hard to forecast” if either had any shot at playing Sunday in Indianapolis. Various reports don’t have great news in that regard for either player. Hopefully Bruce Arians will have more when he talks at 12:15 today.

UPDATE: The news on Johnson was not good.

— Keim said the Cards came in with goals this season, four of which being better in the red zone, eliminate turnovers, improve special teams, and execute better by playing smarter. Keim thought the special teams was OK — although he knows Phil Dawson can’t miss a field goal — the Cards failed in those other areas.

“You can’t win like that,” Keim said. “Every time we had a chance to accelerate momentum, we shot ourselves in the foot.”

— Keim said when watching the film, he is “trying to be real” and wanting to be honest not only with himself but when talking to Arians and team president Michael Bidwill. Honestly, he said, a lot of things were disappointing. (Which may be an understatement in itself.)

— Palmer has to play better. “I don’t think it’s any secret Carson was off,” he said. Keim said Palmer usually bounces back after a game like that. Keim thought Palmer looked antsy in the pocket (I’d concur) and, like I mentioned yesterday, Keim brought up those few out routes that should have been completed on the sideline. Those are mechanical issues that can be fixed, Keim added, but need to be completed. Palmer also made some poor decisions.

— The running game wasn’t much better. Backup left tackle John Wetzel “had his struggles.” While the offensive line has to be better, Keim noted that Palmer also held the ball too long at times and reiterated that the passing game/pressure on Palmer, is subject to the entire offense executing. “They all have to work in unison together.”

— Keim liked what Haason Reddick flashed but also talked about the pressure and missed sacks, because Reddick had one. Chandler Jones could’ve had four, Keim said.

— Keim didn’t want CB Justin Bethel getting beat deep on the last touchdown. But he also brought up, on the defensive side, similar discussion about working in unison. Bethel allowed on third-down conversion when Stafford escaped the pocket and moved left. Keim said linebacker Markus Golden was supposed to loop outside on the play and have contain on Stafford’s left. Had he done that, Keim said, Golden would’ve had a sack or at least forced Stafford to throw it early. Instead, Golden stayed inside and Stafford could wait for the receiver to get away from Bethel.


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Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2017 – 4:01 pm

The Lions tried. They really did. They botched a bunch of special teams plays early, committed bad penalties, made mistakes. Yet the Cardinals would not take the game. When the Cards were finally ready to take the game – that third-quarter sequence in which they went on a 94-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-9 lead, and then forced a punt – the football gods spit on them.

Not only did David Johnson fumble – the second time in the game, a bugaboo he had when he got into the league but one he had seemed to have overcome – but he got hurt on the play. I mean, the guy had just gotten whacked on his previous touch, an impressive seam catch on the TD drive that got a first down at the Detroit 3. Johnson didn’t get up right away on that, but apparently he had the wind knocked out of him.

It wasn’t the wind but his wrist the second time. Fingers are crossed everywhere, from the Cards’ organization to fantasy football players across the globe. Bruce Arians didn’t indicate one way or another on Johnson’s health – or D.J. Humphries’ knee, for that matter – but in the context of Sunday, it was a crushing turn of events.

That wasn’t the reason the Cardinals lost, although it would’ve been interesting to see them try and follow up that long TD drive. The defense couldn’t hold up by the end. There was some pressure, but not enough on Matthew Stafford on key plays, and missed sacks a couple times that were costly.

— Carson Palmer took all the blame afterward. He knows he wasn’t good for too much of the game. It wasn’t so much the interceptions that were bothersome (I mean, you can’t have interceptions, but …) as much as a couple of out routes, about 12 or 15 yards down the field. Both plays I’m thinking of should’ve been easy completions. They were short. Bruce Arians lamented Palmer’s accuracy and said Palmer’s arm was fine. They’re going to need him to fix that, quickly.

— Palmer is going to be the quarterback. So anyone asking/complaining that there isn’t a switch is just yelling to nowhere.

— If Humphries is down for some games – Ian Rapoport was tweeting it’s a sprained knee that could be a few weeks – I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cards flip Jared Veldheer back to the left side and let John Wetzel play the right side. But we’ll see how that plays out.

— Arians noted it, and so did many players, but in the NFL, if you are handed red-zone possessions and don’t get touchdowns, that’s usually going to turn out poorly.

— One plus for the Cardinals was the speed of rookie linebacker Haason Reddick. He had eight tackles, and showed his range sideline-to-sideline. I also thought John Brown played pretty well too, and Andre Ellington flashed in his brief appearance. New safety Antoine Bethea looked good too, especially in the first half.

— You don’t want to see Justin Bethel, after a solid game, be on the wrong side of those two late TD passes. But that last catch by Kenny Golladay was amazing, the way he laid out.

— Long flight back to Arizona coming. It’ll be longer because of how the game went.


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David Johnson on Sports Illustrated cover

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2017 – 7:42 am

When you become one of the best players in the NFL, people notice. And David Johnson has certainly become that. It’s not often a Cardinal is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Johnson made the cut this year, however, in a funky Gulliver-meets-Lilliputians kind of way for the magazine’s 2017 NFL preview. The issue features a big story on Johnson as well. (To be fair, there are regional covers, as SI has been doing over the past many years. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt are the other cover boys.)

In recent years, it’s been mostly Larry Fitzgerald who has been the SI cover boy, including on the preview issue last year when the Cards were a sexy Super Bowl pick. John Brown made it back in 2014 too. But this year it is Johnson, the man who could challenge for 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Certainly, he’s the engine on which the Cards’ offense will run.

“It’s pretty cool,” Johnson said. “I think it turned out really nice. We knew they were going to do a story. I did not know if I was going to be on the cover or not. They said I had a good chance. Once I saw it, it was amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.

“I hope to get a copy real soon.”

Teammate Chris Johnson, who himself got an SI cover once upon a time, said it’s a dream to get an SI cover. “I definitely like his, all the players falling off him,” Chris Johnson said.


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Falcons aftermath, and Stanton’s hard count

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2017 – 9:38 pm

That Drew Stanton hard count. Those of us who were at training camp practice every day saw it … well, just about every day. There it was, with the Cardinals 21 yards from the end zone, and he barked and the Falcons jumped. He had done it earlier, but guard John Wetzel flinched too. (Bruce Arians let him know: “I already got Wetzel – he don’t have much ass left.”)

But this time, just the Falcons moved and it gave Stanton a free play, and he lobbed a 21-yarder to Smokey Brown that Brown somehow came down with over-the-shoulder.

“We went back to (the hard count) and they kept jumping,” Stanton said.

Those two TD passes to Brown, along with a defense that made Matt Ryan look miserable (preseason, yes, but an 8.1 passer rating is not what the Falcons wanted to see in the third game of the preseason) made Saturday pretty good for the Cardinals. Not great. But good. Much better than this time last year. The starters and main guys are done now. They won’t play Thursday in Denver. Anyone playing this coming game is either not going to be on the team or is likely fighting (a few locks will play – they have to – but the last preseason game is what it is, especially with 90-man rosters).

That opening trip to Detroit, when things count for real, is only two weeks away.

— The running backs situation is interesting. Arians would not say Chris Johnson has locked up a roster spot, notable after Johnson fumbled twice. Elijhaa Penny also lost a fumble. Kerwynn Williams is making this team as a return man, but beyond he and David Johnson, it feels like Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are battling for two spots.

— DT Olsen Pierre is in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’s OK. If he’s down for any time, depending on what happens with Robert Nkemdiche’s calf strain, things could get dicey on the defensive line.

— Stanton quietly had a nice night, completing 4-of-6 passes for 53 yards and his score.

— Linebacker Cap Capi probably isn’t making this team (although Jarvis Jones’ lingering back issue might create a need for a fourth OLB; that guy could still come from final cuts or a trade too). But Capi was impressive Saturday, enough to earn props from Arians. He had seven tackles, 1½ sacks and a tackle for loss.

— The playmakers on defense made plays. Markus Golden gets a strip sack. Tyrann Mathieu a pick on a tipped pass by Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson should’ve had a pick, but he lost it as he was going to the ground. “He’s getting fined for his drop,” Arians deadpanned.

— Matt Wile seemed to have a much better night than Richie Leone punting, although the numbers weren’t all that different. Right now, I’d guess Wile has the lead for a roster spot.

Huge comeback night for Brown. He spiked the ball on the pylon after his first score. “It was an emotional release to show people that I’m back and feeling good.” Brown said. Brown has to stay healthy. That’s a given. But the Cardinals need him out there and productive. His impact is obvious. We saw it Saturday.

— Arians acknowledged he considered not playing running back David Johnson Saturday until changing his mind, in large part because Johnson was part of the early script. Johnson made his lone catch of the preseason on the game’s second play, resulting in a first down. He came out after that.


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Friday before the Falcons, in a new stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2017 – 2:44 pm

So the Cardinals get to open a stadium Saturday. It just isn’t their own. They’ve done that before, and I remember that day – even though it was in my previous life with the East Valley Tribune. It was just the preseason opener, but the Steelers were in town and a fanbase thirsty for an indoor stadium finally had one. The atmosphere was excellent.

In the Georgia Dome the Falcons didn’t have as bad of a situation as the Cardinals did in Sun Devil Stadium. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season in that building. But the first game in a new palace means something, preseason or not. Honestly, the Cardinals couldn’t really get a better final test before the regular season. (No starters are going to play in Denver.)

A lot has been said about the length of camp, but realistically, the Cardinals are always going to have long camps because they need to be inside. As Bruce Arians said, putting 90 players (plus, including interns, some 30 coaches) inside the practice bubble in Tempe doesn’t make sense. But part of camp next year sounds likely to include a week against another team, so that certainly would break up the monotony.

— Without a lot of David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s hard to really get a sense of what the Cardinals are going to have offensively no matter what happens in Atlanta. But no matter what Arians says, I do think that unit needs to have a couple of good drives early. Arians noted he’d like to see the pass protection be solid because the Cards struggled in that area in Atlanta last year.

— Speaking of the offensive line, here’s what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said his message was to the unit about their responsibility for Carson Palmer: “Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you.”

Added Goodwin, “We have to do a better job, because we know he makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle.”

— Defensively, you want to see better linebacker play than last week. Hopefully, the cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson face some tests as well.

— It was good to hear Arians say he doesn’t think defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will miss a regular-season game. The key will be that first day of practice following the Broncos preseason finale. You want Nkemdiche in the lineup, but, like Deone Bucannon, if he misses the opener to make sure he’s around the rest of the season, you want to be smart.

— In my opinion, some of the battles still going on up and down the depth chart: Backup running back, although I think Chris Johnson has the edge on Kerwynn Williams; Backup inside linebacker between Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler; and the sixth wide receiver between Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, and with an outside shot to Aaron Dobson (because of his speed).

— Another battle still wide open is punter. Arians said neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone has separated themselves, and Arians didn’t rule out looking elsewhere. One plus is the 90-man roster through the last preseason game. The Cards can evaluate both punters two more games.


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