In one way, “new” additions already here

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2018 – 12:07 pm

A couple of weeks ago, David Johnson randomly sent out a tweet about the Cards’ injury issues last season.

The list was pretty long by the end of the year, and encompassed a lot of key players. Johnson, linebacker Markus Golden, tackles D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer, guard Mike Iupati, safeties Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea, quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Adrian Peterson among them. Some were hurt later in the season, mitigating their absence.

But what has struck me about the notion isn’t what it did to 2017, because that’s been covered in-depth and is moot now, but what it means in 2018. In particular, the return to health of the first three names on the list in particular — Johnson, Golden and Humphries — is essentially key additions when the Cards didn’t really have them for most of the season. Johnson was hurt in the first game. Humphries played only five total games because of two different knee injuries. Golden didn’t even finish the fourth game with his knee injury.

All have been rehabbing, and all are confident of their return this season (All happen to be the top three picks of the Cardinals’ 2015 draft, as well.) To be able to “add” a running back who has proven he can gain 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season, or a pass rusher who has proven he can collect 12 sacks means something. I know Humphries engenders a lot of different opinions thus far, but the Cardinals are convinced he is evolving into a top-flight tackle.

Obviously, they have to avoid getting injured again. And injuries happen to every team — it just depends on who and for how long. But when assessing what the 2018 Cardinals can look like, getting key parts for (hopefully) a full season should be part of the perspective.

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Waiting to see the offensive philosophy

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2018 – 9:50 am

Within a month or two of Bruce Arians taking over as coach in 2013, he made known some very specific thoughts he had on the offense: He was going to take six shots or so downfield every game, he didn’t like having a fullback, tight end was more of a blocker in his offense. As the Cardinals transition into the Steve Wilks era, those are the questions that will be interesting to see play out.

To begin with, Wilks, with his defensive background, could very well lean on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s thoughts on whatever subject may come up. McCoy was actually asked specifically about a fullback during his press conference; he said if it fit what they were going to do with the offense, he’d have one. Ultimately, it feels like there are a lot of different ways this can go.

The reason, of course, is that the Cardinals need to find a quarterback, and that QB will help dictate the direction the Cardinals will be headed. The coaches also need to determine if, in the case of using a fullback at times, if that fits with what David Johnson can do well. Will a tight end be more involved in the passing game (or does the role Larry Fitzgerald has been playing serve as that tight end-esque spot — assuming Fitz is still used in the same way as the last few years?) These answers also could impact what kind of offensive linemen the Cardinals want to have in place.

One of the selling points the Cardinals used when looking for a new coaching staff was the ability to help figure out the next quarterback. When it comes to the offense, the QB is only the first domino.

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David Johnson talks coach, contract, Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2018 – 4:44 pm

David Johnson’s wrist is healed, with his strength and full range of motion having returned, and he’s anxious to play again given that he doesn’t even feel like he played football in 2017. And like everyone else, the running back is paying attention to the Cardinals’ current search for a head coach.

“I’m definitely staying aware but I don’t know what (GM) Steve Keim and (president) Mike Bidwill are thinking,” Johnson said on the PFT PM podcast. “I know they will get a coach that fits the team and is going to be ready to elevate this team and get us to that Super Bowl.”

Johnson touched on a few subjects, including the possibility of a new contract. The 2015 third-round pick has a year left on his rookie deal and now is finally eligible for an extension. The collective bargaining agreement prevents extensions for players on rookie deals until after their third season.

“I hope so,” Johnson said about talks for a new deal. “But I’m really focusing more on getting this injury (healed) and making sure I’m ready to play in 2018, that I am healthy as possible. Especially with so much going on in the offseason with the coaches and the quarterback and stuff, I can’t really focus too much on the contract talk.”

— On the subject of Larry Fitzgerald’s potential return, Johnson was blunt. “Larry is going to come back,” Johnson said. “He’s still playing at a high level.”

Johnson rattled off Fitz’s stats, including another year of more than 100 catches and more than 1,000 yards. “He’s gotta come back,” Johnson added. “He’s got to help us get us to that Super Bowl we’re trying to get.” Along those lines, Johnson had been hoping quarterback Carson Palmer wouldn’t retire and tried to “recruit him to come back.”

— Johnson said he was “hit hard” by the retirement of Bruce Arians, and that he believes he and Adrian Peterson “can really elevate each other’s game” if they play together this season.

— The running back said he has no idea who the quarterback will be, but that he has confidence in both Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton if one of them is the starting signal-caller.

— His injury and season on the sideline left him more grateful to play the game. “Football can end in the blink of an eye,” Johnson said. “So I feel more grateful to where I’ll do as much as I can to stay on that field as long as I can.”

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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 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.


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