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Cards will need hard look at receiving position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2017 – 12:08 pm

It’s hard not to notice, when you jump on the Cardinals’ stat page to see where Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers are and then the disparity with the rest of the receiving corps — a group that once again was expected to be a strength but like 2016, has not been. With two games left in the regular season, it is still the departed Andre Ellington (who was cut five games ago) second on the team with 33 catches. Fitzgerald’s 92 receptions is nine more catches than all the other wide receivers this season combined.

If David Johnson had been healthy all season, you’d expect a running back to be high on the receptions list, just like last year. But Johnson didn’t even make it through a game, and once he went down, the pressure went to the receivers to make up for it in the passing game. There are factors involved here — the pass protection has not been consistent, especially with all the injuries on the offensive line. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer only played half the season. But it’s clear that receiver — after only the QB spot and offensive line — will be a position of focus for General Manager Steve Keim this offseason.

Even if Fitzgerald comes back to play another season (which he has not said he will for sure yet), the Cardinals need to address wide receiver. John Brown and Jaron Brown will be unrestricted free agents. J.J. Nelson, who started strong and then struggled through inconsistency catching the ball, will be back. Chad Williams enters an important offseason after a nondescript rookie year. Brittan Golden, who is more important on special teams, has to heal from a broken arm and is also a free-agent-to-be.

After 2015, when the receiving unit was excellent and looked like it would be for a few years, the group hasn’t been the same. Losing Michael Floyd and having John Brown’s production fall off so precipitously has been a killer. Again, other spots will get more attention on offense. The quarterback thing has reached a critical point, and the long-term offensive line has to be found. But wide receiver will also be in the spotlight.


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Tillman and the NFC East, Friday before Washington

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2017 – 4:01 pm

Washington used to be a division trip. The first two seasons I covered the Cardinals, there were home-and-home with the NFC East, before realignment. The last time the Cards went there as an NFC East team was in fact Pat Tillman’s last game in the NFL. It was played in a freezing rain, and the Cardinals came up short, 20-17 on the scoreboard and therefore in their quest to finish .500 – a rare achievement in those days. That was the 2001 season, the last game of the year and only the last game of the year because, as the Cards’ first game of the year, it was bumped because of the cancellations due to the 9/11 tragedy. Tillman talked to us in the locker room after, clad in only a towel, lips blue and teeth chattering, angry at the result.

I also remember the trip to Washington in 2008, because it was the front-end of a week-long trip away, in which the Cards stayed in Virginia to bridge games against the Redskins then the Jets. That was a memorable week despite back-to-back losses. Anquan Boldin famously broke his jaw against the Jets. And before that, with a 2-1 record after a loss to the Redskins, I went to dinner with three co-workers and we talked about what it would be like if the Cardinals won a Super Bowl. None of us really believed it could happen, and then, a few months later, that’s exactly where the Cardinals were.

I’m not sure this trip to Washington is going to hold the same memories, although, like the one in the 2001 season, getting to .500 (or above, if the Cards win out) is a goal. When the season started this game looked important for both teams when it came to potential playoff positioning. Now, the Cards have to win to keep breathing, and Washington is already done.

— So Adrian Peterson is done for the year, something that has certainly been trending that direction for a bit. Kerwynn Williams has entrenched himself as the starter so the Cards have already handled the idea they won’t have AD. The question now is whether Peterson – who is under contract for next season, for $3.5 million – returns. Bruce Arians said Friday he can see Peterson on the roster. But there are other factors. David Johnson will be back. Not only do you have to find a way for Johnson and Peterson to co-exist, but Peterson would have to be OK with a reserve role. The Cards will also have to be OK paying a chunk of money to a reserve back.

The roster can go so many different directions this offseason. Peterson’s role is just another detail to sort out.

— No one is getting into the muck of the postseason, really, but know this in terms of the Cardinals and being officially eliminated from the playoffs – it can happen one of three ways:

— A Cardinals loss
— A Seattle win
— A win by both Atlanta and Carolina.

Just sayin’.

— Washington coach Jay Gruden praises the toughness of new safety and former Cardinal D.J. Swearinger this season, after Swearinger arrived as a free agent. Swearinger was even named a captain, and he used that to its fullest this week, calling out his team for going through the motions at practice. We’ll see how they respond. One thing is for sure, and that’s Swearinger is geared up to play the Cardinals.

He said the Cards made him an offer last year but pulled it just before free agency started (which more or less makes sense; I’m sure the idea was that they wanted Swearinger but if they didn’t get him at their price, they were going to go in a different direction.)

As for Sunday, “It’s definitely extra juice,” Swearinger told the Roanoke County-Times. “I’m going to be on the edge. I can’t wait to play.”

— Everyone will be watching rookie left tackle Will Holden Sunday. He may just be the key to the game. If he holds up, I think the Cards should be fine. Arians said newcomer Kahlif Barnes will be active, but I’m sure they’d rather not have it come down to him playing on only a couple days of practice.

— As I write this, the forecast for Sunday is 49 degrees and only a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Perfect football weather.

— A victory by the Cardinals would give Arians his 49th win as head coach, including playoffs. That would tie him with Ken Whisenhunt for most wins in franchise history with postseason included. Arians already has the most regular-season wins as a head coach, with 47.

On to D.C.


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Keim: No IR-return candidates and Gabbert desire

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2017 – 8:15 am

Long snapper Aaron Brewer should be ready to return to the active roster this week, coming off of injured reserve. But, as the Cardinals have been saying for a while. GM Steve Keim emphasized Monday: That other available IR-to-return spot very well could go unused.

“You have to have someone healthy enough to return,” Keim said during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “At this point, I don’t see any guys coming back for sure.”

But what about David Johnson? Is keeping the star running back, coming back from a bad wrist, more about saving him for 2018? Keim said no.

“He gets paid to play football,” Keim said, adding that if Johnson was healthy and was cleared by the doctors, he should return to the field. “But if there are any gray areas, I don’t know why you’d want to risk it.”

Johnson has been working on conditioning, but hasn’t returned to practice — obviously, since the clock would start in that case.

— There were a couple of free-agents-to-be Keim talked about. One was quarterback Blaine Gabbert. “I don’t think there is any question we would like to have Blaine back,” Keim said, although he did not say in what capacity. Keim said it was up to Gabbert how much the QB can improve, although I don’t think there is any question the Cardinals will continue to search for a long-term answer at the position.

Keim also praised 34-year-old CB Tramon Williams, also a potential FA. He was asked if Williams was someone the Cards wanted to bring back. Keim went big-picture with his answer, not talking necessarily about Williams directly but saying that’s part of the daily process right now, talking with players about potential extensions and is something the Cards will be involved in this week. (I think it makes sense to consider bringing back Williams, although the age will be a factor in talks.)

Keim called Williams a “true pro,” noting that while he might have lost a step over the years, his anticipation and instincts are “phenomenal.”

— As for Gabbert, Keim praised the QB’s ability to bounce back after something has gone wrong. He did note Gabbert’s throws tend to get a little high when he has to go through his progressions or if he is throwing outside the numbers.

— Keim also said there was plenty of blame for the eight sacks, naming not only the offensive line but blitz pick-up by the running backs, Gabbert’s failure to get rid of the ball a time or two and even the receivers’ inability to get open sometimes.

— A general note on accuracy: Keim said it is something that can be improved a little bit, but mostly it’s innate — “You have it or you don’t” he said. (P.S. I agree with this. Accuracy can’t be learned, IMO.)

— There was praise for linebacker Josh Bynes “He’s very very consistent, savvy and physical,” Keim said. “To come in late in process like that, I’m extremely proud of the way he’s played.” There was also praise for defensive linemen Olsen Pierre, Frostee Rucker and of course Chandler Jones. “He’s been a dominant force all year,” Keim said

— Finally, there was a word on Larry Fitzgerald becoming third all-time in receiving yards in the NFL. “For me, it’s just been an honor to work with him,” Keim said. “Knowing he will retire as a Cardinal gives me a special feeling.” (P.S. II We don’t know when Fitz is retiring yet.)


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Jim Hart, and Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2017 – 4:27 pm

When you’re talking about long-term quarterbacks, Jim Hart is a good example. Hart was basically the Cardinals’ starting quarterback from 1967 to 1981, work that is getting him inducted into the franchise’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday when the Cards play the Rams.

On either side of that halftime ceremony will be another guy who is trying to get himself in the discussion about being a long-term quarterback. Blaine Gabbert is back for round three – and from the sound of it, all the rest of the rounds this season. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the QB of the future, or what it might mean in terms of the thought process for Carson Palmer, but it’s a solid test drive.

It’s funny, since the Jaguars have arguably the best defense in the league, but it feels like the Rams present Gabbert’s biggest challenge. Given the questions about the running backs and Adrian Peterson’s health, maybe that’s why. The first time the Cards played the Rams in London, the run game was DOA, and that in no small part played into the 33-0 loss. A big reason why the Cardinals did just fine against that good Jacksonville defense was Peterson and the run game.

Perhaps Peterson can play with whatever problems his neck is giving him. Or Kerwynn Williams can deliver a herculean effort. As solidly as Gabbert has played, you don’t want everything offensively on his shoulders.

— If Peterson does play, he needs just 37 yards to surpass all-time great Jim Brown in career rushing yards. (Of course, Peterson, healthy, had just 21 yards rushing on 11 carries in the first Rams meeting.)

— I keep getting questions, but no, I do not think David Johnson is returning this season. He’s not even practicing yet, and he’s not talking like a guy who is expecting to play this season either.

— How far have the Rams come offensively? They scored on 21.8 percent of their possessions last season, according to profootballreference.com. This year, they are at 48.4 percent, second only to the Patriots.

— There will be a lot of work to do this offseason in terms of roster overhaul/building. Perhaps more than most years, depending on certain situations. But I think the Corey Peters extension was important. Of all their free-agents-to-be, there are only going to be a few I think that the Cards want to try and extend. Peters was one of them.

— Health matters. The Rams have started the same five offensive linemen in every game. The Cardinals, of course, have started six different offensive line combinations in 11 games. “Yeah,” Cardinals offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said. “I’m jealous.”

— A focus of the defense Sunday will be Todd Gurley. I know. Duh. But defensive coordinator James Bettcher said the Cardinals focused on the London debacle, when the Rams ran for 197 yards on 40 attempts. The Cards went into that game having not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Gurley gained 106 on 22 attempts. Gurley remains the only player to gain 100 yards rushing against the Cards this year.

— Bring your binoculars to see all the players taking part in My Cause, My Cleats Sunday. Or you can check out this photo gallery.

— LB Chandler Jones was fined $18,231 for his roughing the passer penalty last week on Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. Kareem Martin and Frostee Rucker weren’t fined for their roughing the passer penalties. There was also no fine for Jags LB Myles Jack for his horsecollar tackle on Peterson.

— One big reason for the Cardinals’ current 5-6 record is the fact last week’s win against the Jaguars was the first time all season they were a positive in the turnover column for a game. In the seven games they have been even, their record is 4-3.

— It’s been a while since the Cardinals played the Rams at home with the Rams being the favorite. The Cards would like to mess with their playoff push. See you there.


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Searching for more yards each run

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2017 – 1:32 pm

What Bruce Arians said about the run game Monday in terms of the fourth-and-1 that didn’t get the 1 is what got the headlines. But before that, Arians again brought up the overall struggles of the Cardinals running the football.

“When you look at the game, that tells the story,” Arians said. “When (the Texans) have 10 out of 16 third downs and six or less, and we have three or four, whatever it was, six or less, because they’re running the ball, and we’re not. You want to stay in manageable down and distances, whether penalties or whatever, we’ve got to play the game at better, manageable third downs.”

Adrian Peterson started the game with carries of six and then seven yards. But after that, the Cardinals could not grind out yards. He had 12 carries after that, for 16 yards. Up until his final carry — the infamous fourth-down try, where he lost a yard — his four carries before that had been 3, 4, 3 and 4 yards. (So perhaps there was some reason why Arians felt the Cards could get one.) Still, the Cards need more production.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell tweeted out this stat: The Cardinals are averaging only 3.01 yards a carry this season from their running backs, and only three teams since 2001 have averaged less than that (one of which was the 2005 Cardinals and their 2.98-yard average behind Marcel Shipp, J.J. Arrington and throwing to Fitz and Anquan Boldin every play.)

There is a lot that goes into this — David Johnson’s injury early and the loss for the majority of the season from run-blocking tackle D.J. Humphries, in particular. That Peterson averaged 5.2 and 4.3 yards a carry in his two big games — and had 63 total carries in those games — and the average is still low just highlights the issue.

It makes it tough to get manageable third downs. One thing that sticks out to me, however, was the comment by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin a couple of weeks ago, saying from Peterson he only needs two yards and then two yards to get the offense to third-and-6. That would be something he could work with.


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Cast comes off for David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2017 – 1:49 pm

David Johnson’s cast officially came off Monday, and the running back tweeted about it. That part has been expected. Now the wait is on a couple of other factors as to whether Johnson actually could/will return this season. There is no disputing Johnson wants to get back on the field. But he did acknowledge rehab has to still take place — Carson Palmer was talking Saturday about the loss of strength and muscle in that area for himself and Johnson. That’s a major factor, especially for a guy who needs power and strength in his wrist to both hold the ball and pass protect if needed. No way to really know how long that would take.

The other part is where the team fits into the equation. As with Palmer, one of the factors for a Johnson comeback is the very basic notion of, for what? Whenever Johnson comes back, it needs to be for a reason. Will the Cardinals still be in playoff consideration? Even if they are not, is there reason to want to get him back on the field for another reason, like to see how he’d work with Adrian Peterson? Perhaps.

The cast had to come off first though. And it has.


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Injuries hammering not only Cardinals

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

Injuries are part of the NFL. As former Cardinals defensive lineman Cory Redding once said, “The NFL is not if you’re going to get hurt – you’re going to get hurt.” But at this point, someone needs to call mercy. Today, not only is Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury finally deemed so bad he won’t play at all in 2017 (once, the Colts were hoping he’d be back by the Cardinals’ game in Week 2, remember?) but rookie quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in a non-contact play during practice.

The Cardinals play in Houston in a couple of weeks, by the way, facing instead of the dynamic, mobile Watson probably the not-so-much Tom Savage.

As Bruce Arians always said about injuries, no one is going to feel sorry for us, and certainly, the Cards won’t. They’ve had their own bad, bad luck losing their best offensive player in David Johnson, their quarterback in Carson Palmer and their top 2016 sack man in Markus Golden. But this is a crazy epidemic around the league.

Among those joining Luck, Watson, Palmer, Johnson and Golden out for the season are Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham, Julian Edelman, Eric Berry, Ryan Tannehill, Cliff Avril, Brandon Marshall (the receiver), Jason Peters and Joe Thomas.

Brutal.


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Keim: “Active” in trade talks, IR updates

Posted by Darren Urban on October 31, 2017 – 8:15 am

The trade deadline is only a few hours away in the NFL. Cardinals GM Steve Keim said the team has been “active” in trade talks, but noted there are multiple moving parts for a trade to come to fruition, which is a willing partner, compensation and then how the contract situation of the player(s) involved impact the deal.

“There have to be so many things that have to make sense,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “We’ll continue to work the phones.”

Keim did say he thinks the key injuries around the league have increased the action around the trade deadline, which is shaping up to be one of the most active in recent memory.

— Since it was Keim’s first interview since the London trip, he said there wouldn’t be one thing he’d want the Cardinals do do differently other than play better in the game. The logistics and trip itself went well. “I was hesitant with the thought of playing overseas, but what an experience it was,” Keim said. “The one thing that opened up my eyes, and I had no clue, was the international excitement that the fans had.”

— Obviously there were not as many good things to say about the game itself. Keim lamented the inability to run the football, which was a death sentence against such a good Rams defensive line in terms of being able to pass protect. Defensively, Keim said the Cardinals didn’t play with energy and didn’t tackle well.

“The way we played in Europe was flat out unacceptable,” he added.

— Injury updates: Keim said running back David Johnson (wrist) was doing well but the rehab is time-consuming. “We will continue to monitor that to see if he can come back this season,” Keim said.

As for Carson Palmer, Keim said there were a lot of “moving parts” for his potential return as well. He also acknowledged Palmer’s return will be influenced at least some on how the Cards are playing.

(Just judging by Keim’s tone, there was less optimism for returns of those star players than I had figured previously.)

— Keim noted the 49ers have a lot of cap room, which helps them make a trade for QB Jimmy Garoppolo despite a “small sample size.” Keim also said that in a perfect world, he would prefer to draft and develop a quarterback rather than trade for someone like Jimmy G.

“Because you can grow with them,” Keim said. “It not only helps you as a team, from a salary cap structure you can pay minimal money and build a team around him.”

 


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Palmer, IR and the hard decisions

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2017 – 1:39 pm

So much for the Carson Palmer optimism.

The Cardinals officially put their quarterback on injured reserve Thursday. It means he is out at least eight weeks, it means he could at most play two more games, it means someone — likely T.J. Logan, but maybe Palmer, after all this — cannot come back this season. If Palmer indeed was going to be able to return sooner, you leave him on the 53-man roster and try and massage those inactives for a month-plus. But the Cards felt they needed the roster spot, and so Palmer is on the sideline. If the news after Wednesday’s surgery was definitive enough, then there is no reason not to IR him.

There is an open roster spot but Bruce Arians has already said it won’t go to a quarterback. Who they add (and it might not be until Monday or Tuesday, since the Cards are off until then) will be interesting. Wonder if there is a pass rusher out there who might be able to help out the struggling Haason Reddick in that regard. Also, is there still confidence in David Johnson coming back? I am guessing yes.

Mostly though, you think of Palmer. Unless the Cardinals can stay in the playoff hunt, it may not make sense to bring Palmer back for the last two games of the season. And yes, it makes you start to wonder if he has thrown his last pass for the Cardinals. If he returns, it’s a moot point — and don’t forget Arians said if Palmer was IR’d the Cards would “definitely” save one of their IR-return moves for him. (Again, teams only can bring two players back from IR in a season, after a minimum of eight weeks.) Palmer is also under contract for 2018. But is he going to play another year? There are still nine games left in this season, but the reality of the 2018 offseason and the potential changes to this team are hard to ignore.


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Carson Palmer’s chances of a quicker return

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2017 – 9:42 am

Bruce Arians originally thought Carson Palmer would be out eight weeks, but he said the quarterback was hoping it would be more in the 4-to-6-week range. If that ends up being the case — and there is apparently reason to believe it could be — that would be the best case scenario. Palmer was expected to have his surgery on his broken left arm today.

Former NFL team doctor David Chao writes articles about NFL injuries for the San Diego Union-Tribune and, via Twitter, often makes a general prognosis on an athlete’s injuries based on video review. In Palmer’s case, Chao also wrote an article about the part-time San Diego resident, saying that a return in 4-to-6 weeks makes a lot of sense. According to Chao, the video seems to show an isolated ulna fracture in the forearm. Other position players Chao had helped when he was a team doctor actually came back with a splint in as little as two weeks. Palmer likely needs more time given how much he handles the ball, but having him in a spot to play with a protected left (non-throwing) arm is possible in a little over a month. There is an outside chance, thanks to the bye, that Palmer could miss as few as three games.

The timing of all this is crucial because a trip to injured reserve means Palmer would have to miss eight weeks minimum. Keeping him off IR means he can return whenever — and would also keep the door open so that both running back T.J. Logan and David Johnson could be brought off IR and could both still play again this year.


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