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Friday before the Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2013 – 3:50 pm

The Panthers, for a while, seemed to be on the Cardinals’ schedule every season.

But there is something about this game that makes it hard to think about any Carolina-Arizona matchup other than the one two years ago – the last time the teams met, which, like Sunday, also happened to be at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was the lockout season, football had ramped up to 100 miles an hour in no time, and the Cardinals had a massive player overhaul that hadn’t really started until the lockout ended. That meant a roster upheaval that had been a month in the making.

But mostly, there were three players that stood out that day, three guys who should once again play a big role Sunday. On Carolina’s side, there is quarterback Cam Newton, who threw for 422 yards (although it was against a defense that didn’t really know what it was doing under new DC Ray Horton after the lockout, and it showed) and proved quickly he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick.

On the Cards’ side, linebacker Daryl Washington had a huge game. It was the first time Washington really flashed his star potential. It’s fitting that it’s the Panthers against whom he will return this season after his four-game suspension. The Cards need that star once again.

And then there was Patrick Peterson, who won the game with an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and, like Newton, showed right away that a star was born. It’s been a while since Peterson has made any waves as a punt returner, but as he showed last week, two interceptions that basically won the game for the Cards.

If the Cards can have the same equation of players stand out again Sunday, they should end up above .500 for the first time this season.

– I would expect Larry Fitzgerald to be targeted a few times in the first half Sunday. I don’t see the Cards getting locked into another situation where the halftime adjustments include making sure you start throwing to the top offensive weapon.

– Because practice is closed, and because Bradley Sowell didn’t join the team until after training camp – and thusly, after practices were closed – I have zero idea how he might hold up at left tackle. Obviously Steve Keim and Bruce Arians don’t make the move on Levi Brown unless they had someone they felt they could turn to. It’s not like last year when Brown got hurt and the Cards were forced to make a change. My guess is they took a month to not only assess Brown but also Sowell.

– All that said, like Keim noted Wednesday, Sowell is going to give up some plays. But the offensive line has to pick it up as does the offense. Whatever the unit’s issues are, the current level of play is not going to have a chance against all the playoff teams coming up on the schedule.

– Don’t forget about the bag policy. It should be in everyone’s head by now, but just in case …

– The Cardinals will be wearing their black uniforms. That’s good, because it’s also the breast cancer awareness game and frankly, the pink goes much better with black than red.

– I think Daryn Colledge finds a way to start at left guard with his shin injury. But Earl Watford is now working as Colledge’s backup now that Brown is gone, Sowell was promoted and Nate Potter was moved back to work more at left tackle as backup.

– With as much as the Cardinals have struggled on third downs, does that ever become a mental hurdle for the unit, a “here we go again” issue? Fitzgerald couldn’t say no fast enough.

“You can’t ever allow doubt to slip into your mind,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s how you have to be wired to play this game.”

– The Panthers have the third-ranked rushing offense. The Cards have the second-ranked rush defense. Something is going to give. I know that the Cards’ defenders take great pride in that ranking.

– If something happened to Newton – not that anyone wishes such – the Panthers would turn to backup Derek Anderson. That would be interesting. You know he takes this, um, stuff serious.

Then again, who doesn’t? See you Sunday.


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A “blueprint” for the quarterback situation

Posted by Darren Urban on July 19, 2012 – 10:15 am

Ken Whisenhunt has been through this before, back in 2008, when Matt Leinart was coming off a broken collarbone and Kurt Warner was coming off 27 surprising touchdown passes and training camp was about figuring out which guy was going to be the starter that season. (It was Kurt, and while hindsight made it look kind of obvious, it wasn’t as much at the time.)

Some of that experience will translate to this year’s Kevin Kolb/John Skelton competition, although Whisenhunt noted it isn’t the same thing, because Kolb is not Warner is not Skelton is not Leinart.

“I think we have at least knowledge as far as breaking the reps up,” Whisenhunt said. “Handling players, it’s always different because every player has to be handled differently.”

“As for having a blueprint, I hope it works out the same way it did the last time because we had a guy who distinguished himself and he played well and that’s ultimately what you want. But there is no blueprint for success with this. We are just trying to find the guy who give us the best chance to win. We’re doing this because both guys have the opportunity to compete for that spot. That’s it.”

These are different situations, so drawing a straight parallel isn’t fair and it doesn’t make sense. This is only the first of what I am sure will be many, many, many times I write on this subject. But you know that this, barring injury, isn’t going to be decided after two weeks of Flagstaff. This is going to be about at least the first four preseason games if not all five. Back in 2008, one of the turning points was Leinart’s three-interception disaster in Oakland in the third of four preseason games. Often these things work themselves out. (This time doesn’t correlate with 2010 either, really, since Leinart was the clear No. 1 going into camp before things got so sideways in camp and Derek Anderson eventually surpassed him on the depth chart.)

This won’t happen in a vacuum. It’s impossible to ignore what happened last year — Kolb has admitted it’s not as if he’s trying to pretend his struggles didn’t happen — but at the same time, there does need to be a fresh-start aspect to this. In the end, neither player played well enough to say they have already earned the job. So we go from here.


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Kolb’s numbers and remembering 2010 QB play

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2011 – 12:19 pm

No one is going to argue that Kevin Kolb has struggled at quarterback. That is clear, especially over the past few games. No will will argue that the Cardinals at three wins after seven games last year, which, while not impressive, is much better than one. That said, it’s probably time to clear up some misconceptions about what the Cards are getting at quarterback now compared to last season.

Some have suggested the Cardinals had better quarterback play through this point last year. That is not true, based on the numbers. A look at Kolb thus far, compared to the Derek Anderson/Max Hall combination of a year ago:

Kolb:  129-for-227, 1706 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 56.8 comp pct, 24 sacks, 77.8 passing rating.

D.A./Hall: 121-for-230, 1340 yards, 5 TD, 12 INT, 52.6 comp pct, 22 sacks, 55.7 passing rating


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A new role for Derek Anderson

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2011 – 9:27 am

A year ago, Derek Anderson was starting at quarterback for the Cardinals heading into the opener at St. Louis. The Cards won that day, 17-13, and Anderson threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Then, as everyone knows, it unraveled from there.

Anderson and the Cardinals will  be in the same building again Sunday in the opener, except this time, Anderson could be the Carolina Panthers’ backup to rookie starter Cam Newton. Because of the lockout, Anderson remained on the Cards’ roster until right before training camp, but that was always just a formality. As soon as teams started making moves, Anderson was released. He caught on with Carolina because his former offensive coordinator in Cleveland, Rob Chudzinski, was now on the Panthers’ staff, and head coach Ron Rivera wanted a veteran presence. He not only worked out, he might’ve surpassed Jimmy Clausen on the depth chart (Rivera isn’t saying) and, Newton said, became a mentor.

“(He’s had a) big impact. Big impact,” Newton said. “His presence alone is good for our meeting room. Especially being in coach Chudzinski’s offense (before) he helps our coaches out. I know he’s been a big help for me and Jimmy in terms of our maturation for this offense. He’s been a good person to talk to about what this offense’s philosophy is. He had a Pro Bowl season in this offense so he knows the ins and outs, but more than that, he’s been a good teammate. He always has an upbeat mentality.”

That mentality was severely tested during Anderson’s lone season in Arizona. His inconsistent play forced him in and out of the lineup, the offense struggled all year, and it all came to a head during a Monday night blowout loss against San Francisco in which TV cameras caught Anderson laughing on the sideline talking to guard Deuce Lutui when the Cards were down big. Asked about it afterward, Anderson lost his cool in the postgame press conference, and that video — more than any game footage — was what got played over and over.

Anderson told the Charlotte Observer Lutui was trying to make Anderson feel better after Anderson had been getting grief from a fan in the University of Phoenix Stadium stands. “Deuce just said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got your back no matter what happens.’ And I just kind of grinned at it,” Anderson said. “Obviously, I put a lot of time and effort into things and I don’t take anything like that lightly. I wasn’t laughing because we were losing.

“It was the frustration of kind of the whole season and how things had gone. A lot of time and effort had been put into things. I know that everybody on the team probably felt the same way. They were all just as frustrated as I was,” Anderson added. “I was trying to do everything I could every single week to plan something that was going to get us going. We couldn’t get it going. And it was kind of an accumulation of a lot of things.”

Anderson said he didn’t get enough reps in the offseason and training camp last year to feel comfortable in the offense because he was playing behind Matt Leinart the whole time. Not that it mattered. Anderson’s stats last season pretty much mirrored his career numbers. He was exactly what he could have been expected to be — which is why Anderson is now a Panther, and Kevin Kolb became the Cards’ top offseason target.


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For now, QB move a waiting game

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2011 – 11:57 am

So many assumed the Cardinals would have a quarterback in place by today, the day trades could first happen (starting at 7 a.m. Arizona time) and the day players started to trickle back to the facility. Not gonna happen.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he does not expect any news today, and that the Cardinals are working on a number of different fronts in terms of a quarterback. That can’t be a surprise; you can’t put all the eggs in one basket in case it doesn’t happen. Various reports today link the Cards not only considering Kevin Kolb but Kyle Orton and Matt Hasselbeck. Granted, at this point agents are going to leak all kinds of things like that to puff up interest (and contracts) for their players.

Whisenhunt even commented on the various lockout reports that went on, each indirectly or directly putting quarterbacks like Marc Bulger, Kolb and Orton in a Cards’ uniform once the lockout ended. “At 7 a.m., all those deals vanished,” Whisenhunt said. (Whisenhunt, by the way, was careful never to name any quarterback in particular throughout his entire press conference.) Someone like Kolb would need a contract extension, and the prices for Kolb and Orton in a trade would obviously be different. Bulger and Hasselbeck, on the other hand, are free agents.

“We are looking at a number of different options,” Whisenhunt said. “I don’t know when we will get any kind of news on anything. … It’s not, you call up, ‘Hey we got a deal’ and it’s done. You have to negotiate and talk about different scenarios, then you have to go back and discuss it and then call you back. And other teams are in the mix. It’s a process.”

In the meantime, the quarterbacks still on the roster were throwing today — John Skelton, Rich Bartel and Max Hall (Derek Anderson, who is expected to be released once players can Thursday, was not here).


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Fitz is SI’s back-to-football cover boy

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2011 – 7:18 pm

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald is Sports Illustrated’s choice to represent the NFL on this week’s the-NFL-is-back issue.

Speaking of football, with teams now contacting undrafted rookies, NAU is reporting the Cards will sign Lumberjacks receiver Daiveun Curry-Chapman, while @NFLDraftInsider is reporting the Cards will sign Michigan State offensive tackle DJ Young and Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin.  The Devlin signing is interesting; once the Cards get a veteran (and assuming Derek Anderson is released) that’s five QBs. With 90 on the roster, maybe they carry an extra guy for now. Or maybe Devlin replaces someone else — it’d come down to Max Hall or Rich Bartel. UPDATE: And @NFLDraftInsider is calling OL Kris O’Dowd of USC too.


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The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this ESPN.com article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”

That’s usually how it goes.

The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.

Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?

  • 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
  • 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
  • 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
  • 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
  • 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
  • 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
  • 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
  • 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
  • 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely

Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).

Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.


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Breaking down the roster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 4, 2011 – 12:27 pm

That change coach Ken Whisenhunt was talking about? It’ll come. How fast? That’s TBD.

“I wish we could do it all in a day, but it is not a quick fix,” Whisenhunt said. “You have to make sure that you do it within the constraints that are given to you and you do it the best you can.”

In the meantime, that leaves us to speculate and break down. As of now, the coaching staff remains intact and I have heard nothing yet to suggest otherwise. Will there be movement there? Usually, Whisenhunt has come out and said there will be no changes if there will be no changes. He didn’t say that yesterday, so the door is open. If anything does happen, I’d think it’d have to come in the next two or three days. I guess I’d be a little surprised if nothing happened given the outcome of the season, but not shocked.

As for the roster, I’ve broken down it all by player within positions right here. Included is each player’s contract status, and obviously, one of the first things you notice is the many players not under contract for next season — I count 29 all told, several of whom have played significant roles. One of the free agents, Jason Wright, talked yesterday about how talks have been slowed because of the CBA and how the Cards don’t know what the labor landscape will be going forward, making it harder to negotiate contracts right now. It’s not a unique situation, clearly; Panthers ownership came out today saying they are waiting to sign any of their own free agents until a labor deal is done.

The problem is that the labor deal might not be done for a few months. The free agency period might have to be a  very quick (Three weeks? Four weeks?) time frame late in the summer. There is no question until  that CBA is figured out (and when), it is a complicated offseason.

All that said, there are obvious players the Cards will have to look at at some point. Steve Breaston (pictured below), Deuce Lutui, Lyle Sendlein, Alan Branch, for example. And since there are players already under contract that seem to be long shots to return (thinking Anderson, Hayes, Porter off the top of my head), it puts the roster in an even greater state of flux.


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Hyphen, Patrick, Porter sit UPDATE Spach out

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2011 – 12:43 pm

UPDATE: TE Stephen Spach hurt his left calf in warmups — after inactives came out — so he can’t play today. Jim Dray is the lone tight end. It’ll be interesting if long snapper Mike Leach gets a chance to play a little tight end today. It’s an injury that obviously hurts.

LaRod Stephens-Howling won’t get a chance to add to his NFL-leading kickoff return yardage today. He’s one of the Cards’ inactives, still nursing his hamstring injury after pre-game work showed it to be a no-go. Andre Roberts will return kicks in his place. And as expected, LB Joey Porter (tricep) will sit again, with O’Brien Schofield playing in his place. Tight end Ben Patrick (hamstring) is also sitting out after testing his leg out pre-game. The rest of the inactives:

  • QB Derek Anderson (third QB)
  • CB A.J. Jefferson
  • CB Marshay Green
  • LB Gerald Hayes
  • C Ben Claxton

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Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2010 – 4:01 pm

No reason to draw this edition of “Friday before” out. It’s New Year’s Eve, you’re all waiting to bring in a new year tonight and I’m in the same boat. I suppose if this game was to crown the division champ that’d be something else, but it’s not.

As for the importance of winning this game in particular, well, I’ll let coach Ken Whisenhunt speak for the team.

“Some people want us to do bad so we will do better in the draft — I don’t know,” Whisenhunt said. “I think for a football team, for us, it’s important you finish well. That’s something we have made strides in doing. Just like in the ’07 season propelled us into the offseason, and the next year we went to the playoffs.

“I’m not saying that going to the playoffs or having a great season is tied into how we play this game. But I think there’s no question, winning the game against Dallas has been tremendous for us, our young players, our organization to show right mindset what we have to do it week in and week out.”

– The fact the 49ers are willing to start Alex Smith this week means to me that offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is calling the shots on that side of the ball. Smith was always the guy Johnson leaned toward to execute the offense he wanted to put out there after he replaced Jimmy Raye.

– Who said it: “It makes it difficult when you’re changing quarterbacks because you have to build that chemistry with your quarterback. You want to know the guy you’re going to be up with because at the end of the day, you’re going to have to be on the same page.”

Steve Breaston? Larry Fitzgerald? Try 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Once again, underscoring the issues any team has when it doesn’t really know about its most important position.

– One final QB note for this game. Amazingly, the Cards-49ers meetings still can’t get a matching quarterback battle. Since the teams joined the same division in 2002, the last time both teams had the same quarterback start in both games during the season was 2003 (Blake v Garcia). This year, neither team can pull it off (Anderson v Troy Smith a month ago, Skelton v Alex Smith this Sunday).

– Now is when we talk possible retirements after the season. Safety Kerry Rhodes tweeted a strong hint today that defensive lineman Bryan Robinson will be done after the season, although B-Rob later told Kent Somers he hasn’t made a final decision yet. Guard Alan Faneca is mulling the end too and it’s something a lot of players pause to consider (although usually only briefly) as a rough season ends.

– Since the last three Cards-49ers games have been basically lousy, I’m hoping for something better Sunday. The 49ers beat up the Cards the last two games and that 2009 season opener – a SF win – was a testament to uneven opening-game play.

– With star linebacker Patrick Willis out, the Cards should benefit. Willis has been a pain to the Cards. Maybe Beanie and/or Hightower can go off.

– After failing to target Breaston and only throwing towards Fitzgerald three times last week, I expect John Skelton to switch that up. And frankly, I think that’s important for the Cards and both players. I don’t think Fitz can make two TD catches to avoid his career-low, but maybe he can get his first since Kansas City Nov. 21. He’s not going to get the 18 catches he needs to equal last years’ 97, but he can get 80 more yards to match his 2009 yardage total.

– It’s been a long year for everyone around the Cards. “I think we found our identity,” Faneca said, and then paused to consider. “It just didn’t translate.”

Unfortunately, no. Talk to you in San Francisco. Happy New Year everyone.


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