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Stanton and stability at backup QB

Posted by Darren Urban on March 26, 2018 – 8:12 am

Drew Stanton officially moved on from the Cardinals this weekend, agreeing to terms with Cleveland in an interesting QB group that now has Stanton, Tyrod Taylor, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and what is certain to be a rookie quarterback taken with the No. 1 choice in the draft, whether it is Sam Darnold or Josh Allen or whomever.

But Stanton’s departure also underscores the remarkable stability the Cardinals had at quarterback during the five years of Bruce Arians. Stanton was one of the first free agents signed by the Cards after Arians was hired, Carson Palmer was acquired in a trade a few weeks after, and that was the setup the whole time Arians was coach: Palmer as starter, Stanton was No. 2. There were others mixed in at No. 3, whether it was Logan Thomas or Matt Barkley or Blaine Gabbert or even Ryan Lindley, and certainly injuries impacted the position. But it was always Palmer/Stanton, stability that I think ultimately helped the offense. (Of course, that stability might have led to a comfort level that slowed a look for a future QB, but that’s a story that has been and will be talked about elsewhere.)

As for Stanton, here was a guy who signed with the Cardinals expecting to finally get a chance to start, and then never did because Palmer arrived soon after. But he eventually came to grips with who he was in the NFL and his role, and he did it pretty well. Stanton ended up winning nine of 13 starts in Arizona (and helped the Cards rally to a win against the Rams in 2014 in the game Palmer started and tore his ACL.) That he got a walk-off moment by beating the Seahawks in Seattle to close 2017 and his (and Arians’) Cardinals’ tenure was apropos.


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Jockeying for QB has begun

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2018 – 11:55 am

The Scouting combine is the perfect place for quarterback speculation, with all the top draft possibilities coming in to talk, all the teams on hand to watch and speak to the media, all the agents there to whisper things and free agency coming just a week after its conclusion. It’s fun to wonder about anyway, but important since the Cardinals don’t have a quarterback, period, as of now.

There was plenty suggested about what free agents might go where, what could happen to first domino Kirk Cousins (the Cardinals have been named as a potential suitor, but Cousins was always thought to be drawing many) and what kind of money he could make, and where all the other QBs might fit after that: Case Keenum, A.J. McCarron, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown, and, of course, whether Drew Stanton and/or Blaine Gabbert could still end up in the mix here in Arizona. All those puzzle pieces then impact the draft and the top names there.

What might be more interesting right now is to try and pinpoint not the individual quarterbacks per se, but the teams that might be interested in drafting a young QB. It might not impact how free agency plays out directly, but it could turn some free-agent decisions for those getting bridge QBs into higher pressure situations come the draft. For instance, the Giants already have Eli Manning, and could take RB Saquon Barkley second overall. But a quarterback has to be in play there, given Manning’s age.

Looking at the league, however, you can make the case — to varying degrees of urgency, of course — that 15 teams in the first round (and the Browns and Bills each have two picks in the first round) could consider a young QB going forward. And that doesn’t include the Cardinals. Some are obvious: The Browns, Broncos, Jets and Vikings — and Cards — have to have a QB (if they don’t have someone like Cousins who would be a long-term solution.) Some teams need to groom someone behind a QB who is older: The Giants, Redskins, Chargers, Saints, Steelers and Patriots. And then there are the teams that might be looking to move on from their current situation: The Dolphins, Bengals, Ravens, Bills and Jaguars.

That’s a lot of places a QB could go — and another reason it’s dangerous for a team to think they can get the guy they want into the second round, when a team might just spend a late first-rounder to grab a guy.


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Seeking QB without QB is new for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2018 – 4:55 pm

Michael Bidwill mentioned the other day — after Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer had announced their retirements — that the Cardinals didn’t have a coach or a quarterback in 2013 for a time, and that worked out OK. So being without both right now is not a concern. The coach situation will be sorted out sooner rather than later, and then comes the QB. What exactly will happen is TBD, in part based on whoever the coach will be. Besides, a shift in QBs (with Palmer’s retirement) is often coming with a new coach.

The Cards were looking for a new QB in 2013 as Bidwill noted, but unlike now when the non-Palmer QBs all have expiring contracts — Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley — the Cards actually did have quarterbacks they could have kept in 2013 when Arians arrived. They actually had four as free agency began.

Kevin Kolb, beat up as he was, was due a big contract. John Skelton was still around, as was Ryan Lindley, and the Cardinals even extended a tender offer to restricted free agent Brian Hoyer for 2013. When Stanton signed as a free agent the second day that was possible, the Cards basically had four QBs. A couple of days later, the team let Kolb go. When Hoyer finally signed his tender offer on April 1, the team released Skelton. Palmer arrived the next day in trade. Hoyer was later released in mid-May. Lindley stuck around as the third QB that season.

There is much more up in the air right now. There is no pat hand to play, unless one or more of the FAs-to-be get an extension — which could happen. There were at least placeholders back in 2013, had the Cards not found what they wanted.


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Seahawks — and the season — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 7:59 pm

It was late in Sunday’s game, right after Phil Dawson kicked his field goal to put the Cardinals ahead by two with a little more than two minutes left, when offensive coordinator/O-line coach Harold Goodwin found someone on the sideline and exclaimed, “We’ve got no linemen left.”

Goodwin smiled, because the reality was that he was right and that the Cardinals had also somehow made it work well enough to win – again – in the one place they want to win more than any other. It was also fitting given how the year unfolded. The Cardinals very well could have had issues even if everyone had played this year. But they wouldn’t be convinced they wouldn’t have overcome it and found a way into the postseason, not after getting eight wins despite their starting offensive line getting all of eight snaps together and their MVP-type running back playing less than a game and their quarterback less than half a season.

“It’s really hard to walk away from this,” Bruce Arians said. “It wasn’t hard to walk away four weeks ago, when you looked at what we were playing with. But to win three out of four, it’s very hard to walk away from that.”

Arians insisted he hasn’t made a decision. We’ll know soon enough. But for all the ups and downs of the season, it is remarkable they went 8-8.

“We’re just happy we finished the way we did,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We didn’t want to finish 7-9. We wanted to finish 8-8.”

— The Cardinals, after all that, were the only 8-8 team in the league. They will draft 15th in the first round – unless, of course, they make a trade.

— Kerwynn Williams set a career-best with 23 carries (for 75 yards) and Elijhaa Penny added 39 yards and a touchdown. The Cards, even with all the offensive line issues, ran the ball decently. They struggled late, but it was enough. Penny was huge on the winning field-goal drive.

— There probably wasn’t a better place for Chandler Jones to try and get two sacks to break the franchise record, but there it was – and Jones missed out on a couple more, losing one on a facemask and having another near-miss. To get 17 sacks in a season is impressive. To have Jones do it in the first year of his new contract bodes very well. That trade couldn’t have worked out better.

— After the first half, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a good shot at the NFL receptions title for a second straight season. Eight catches in the first half, but none in the second – although he was targeted. He and Drew Stanton just couldn’t connect. Fitz needed just one catch to set a career-high in a season, and instead he had 109, tying his big 2015 season.

Whether he gives it another try in 2018, well, that too is up in the air. But you knew that.

— You can argue about Drew Stanton’s ceiling but he did go 3-1 as a starter and Fitz tweeted he was playing on a torn ACL. I’m not sure how much medical background Fitz has, but that says a lot about Stanton. UPDATE: Stanton said it was not an ACL, but a bone bruise.

— Dawson bounced back so well this season. When Arians mentions winning three of the last four, he was a big reason why. He made 22 of his final 24 field goals, and one of those was blocked. It’s interesting that the Cardinals have won two games in a row in Seattle thanks to field goals.

— The Seahawks’ big second half cost the Cards’ defense a chance to be top five in the rankings. They finished sixth.

— It’s New Year’s Day tomorrow, but certainly no holiday, not for the Cardinals. Exit interviews await, as well as, well, a lot of stuff. One way or another.

“There are a ton of decisions this offseason,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Steve Keim has his work cut out for him.”

— Time to fly home. The offseason is here.


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A shutout and Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2017 – 7:54 pm

I’ve covered the Cardinals for a long time, and I’ve seen them shut out a couple of (ugly) times. But I’ve never seen them pitch a shutout before Sunday – the first time the franchise has done it since 1992 and only the second time it’s happened since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

No, the Giants aren’t very good and have lost all of their offensive stars, but it means something that the Cardinals still have that kind of consistent performance. It’s hard not to play what-if, the way this defense is performing. Win in Washington, like they probably should have, and beat the Tom Savage-Texans, like they probably should have, and next week in Seattle is much different.

But instead, the Cardinals will play spoiler, and while that isn’t ideal, it means something. If the Cards can knock the Seahawks out of the postseason, that would mean something.

— I truly believe that Larry Fitzgerald is undecided about playing next year. Actually, I think it’s not just about what he wants to do but also what this team looks like – who is coach, who is quarterback – that will play a factor. Fitz has not told me this. But it is logical.

Regardless, what a showing to close out 2017 at home Sunday. Fitz is fun to watch. Always has been. That the fun has not fallen off as he plays at age 34 – he’s the Cardinals’ best playmaker, for goodness sake – says so much about how good he really is.

— Chandler Jones didn’t get a sack, so he’ll need to do some work against Russell Wilson to get the franchise record for a season. He remains at 15, and Simeon Rice has the record at 16½. Two things on that: One, getting two sacks on Wilson –given his line and his penchant for running around in the pocket – is realistic. Also, Jones had another good pass-rushing game Sunday. He didn’t get a sack, but Pro Football Focus had him with four pressures of Eli Manning.

— The Cardinals rarely over the recent past have had teams miss field goals against them. It’s only happened twice this season. But one was Sunday, a 33-yarder from Aldrick Rosas that obviously allowed the shutout to happen. It doesn’t take away from the Cards’ excellent performance, but sometimes, you need a little luck to blank an NFL team.

— Back to Fitz. I’ve seen him throw a ton of passes over the years, in practice, in OTAs, messing around on the sideline. I’m not talk about plays, per se, but chucking the ball 40 yards on an accurate line back to one of the equipment guys after a practice catch, for instance. I’ve always felt they should try that once in a while. It doesn’t help that he’s not a threat as a runner out of the backfield, but still. The play was supposed to be a bomb to J.J. Nelson, but Nelson got knocked down and Jaron Brown instead got the 21-yard catch.

“I was hoping I was going to be able to throw it deeper, but I had to take what the defense gives me,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “That’s what I was taught.”

Said QB Drew Stanton, “He’s coming for my job probably.”

— I thought Stanton was solid. He did exactly what Arians was hoping he would do – got them in the end zone, got them a win. The one time Arians has lost in Seattle since coming to Arizona, Stanton was the starting quarterback when Carson Palmer was hurt in 2014. Stanton gets a chance to redeem that next week.

— More (happy) Fitz: He noted that Jaron Brown, with two catches (putting Brown at 30 receptions) earned a $500,000 contract incentive. (Editor’s note: I have not confirmed this is true, but Fitz tends to be accurate when it comes to money.) “I made him an extra $500,000, so I’m happy for him and his family,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m glad I could be a part of that. Merry Christmas, Jaron!”

— Deone Bucannon looked great, and that’s important. You want to see him continue to come back from the ankle surgery that clearly set him back. Robert Nkemdiche too, getting involved, will hopefully be a spark to get him going into next season. Oh, and the signing of veteran safety Antoine Bethea has been a good one. Five picks? And he’s done a solid job all year.

— I could go on but I won’t. It’s Christmas Eve. Hopefully you’re reading this, but I’ve got a family to get home to. Happy holidays and a Merry Christmas to all.


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Stanton, Gabbert and the QB position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2017 – 3:42 pm

Bruce Arians changed his mind, and now Drew Stanton will be back in the lineup. The coach emphasized many times it wasn’t necessarily a knock on Gabbert. At the same time, if Gabbert had completed 60 percent of his throws with a touchdown, he probably is still starting Sunday against the Giants and Stanton is not. But the Cards are in this red-zone rut, and Arians is trying to get out of it.

There are a lot of arguments here — and I’ve heard most of them on social media, bellowing from both sides. Arians thinks Stanton is better positioned to get a win against the Giants. If he doesn’t do well enough, would I be shocked with Gabbert going back to the lineup in Seattle? No. But as for evaluating Gabbert, I’m not sure how much more you learn from Gabbert in seven games that you haven’t already seen in five.

We won’t talk about the tanking vs. winning. (Today, Arians called wanting to lose to better your draft spot “bulls***.”) Maybe Stanton doesn’t appreciably increase the odds of winning over Gabbert. The rest of the pieces on the team remain the same, overwhelmed — especially on offense — with injuries.

I’m not sure this has a significant impact on what happens going into 2018. The search for a long-term QB was always part of the offseason play, regardless of how Gabbert played. Gabbert could still be brought back in 2018. There are so many moving parts — does Carson Palmer return? — that it figures to be a fluid situation, no matter who was going to start the final couple of games in 2017.


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Texans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2017 – 4:25 pm

The focus going in to Sunday’s game was the quarterback. That made sense. The Cardinals were on their third one of the season and it is the most important position on the team. And for the most part, Blaine Gabbert acquitted himself pretty well. There were the two picks late, and you can’t have those, but the Cards were chasing 10 points by then.

No, it was the issues that have been around all season that doomed the Cards in Houston. A running game that has echoed the struggles of the pre-Adrian Peterson ground game. A defense that makes some plays but just can’t clamp down when the team desperately needs it. An offense that needs to find more consistency overall.

— Drew Stanton was healthy enough to be the backup Sunday. Could that mean he’s healthy enough to start next week – and does Bruce Arians drop him right back in? (I know the public-at-large’s answer.) Gabbert did look very comfortable, and he clearly has some chemistry with rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. That makes sense, because Seals-Jones and Gabbert have been working together on third team since the offseason. We’ll see. It’s fair to point out the Texans secondary has struggled quite a bit against the passers it has seen, and next week’s game against the Jaguars will feature one of the better secondaries the Cardinals have seen.

— Speaking of secondary, the Cardinals sure look like they have a star-in-the-making back there with rookie safety Budda Baker. He was everywhere Sunday. He was great on defense and continues to play so well on special teams – I repeat that he deserves (heavy) consideration for the NFC’s Pro Bowl special teams spot.

— Bruce Arians opened his press conference by taking the blame on the failed fourth down. I’ll admit I was on the move when the play happened, seeing it on the TV screen as I made my way down to the field. But I agree that the Cards had been stuffed all day inside. There wasn’t much to get, but the Texans made it obvious the wanted Gabbert to try and beat them. It was going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson on every run play, and the fourth-down try was only the one in the spotlight.

–Peterson ended up with 13 yards on 12 carries after his first two totes gained six and seven yards.

— I do think the absent D.J. Humphries makes a big difference when it comes to the run game.

— The Patrick Peterson vs. DeAndre Hopkins battle was exactly how it was expected to go. Peterson did give up the back-to-back big plays, finishing with Hopkins’ TD. But he broke up/defended a bunch of other tries, and nearly got a second interception late in the game with perfect technique. It’s funny that his first pick was on a pass that wasn’t even thrown to Hopkins or at Peterson. A deflection, and the right place, right time.

— Speaking of missed chances on turnovers, the Cards were there. There were a couple of other fumbles on the ground by the Texans that the Cards just couldn’t fall on, in addition to Peterson’s near-pick. Tyrann Mathieu also dropped a deep pass that could’ve been an interception, although the play was wiped out by an Arizona penalty. The Cards need all the turnovers they can get. At least they converted their two short-fields into TDs.

— Arians said he’d be going to different receivers this next week. That would seem to me that Chad Williams has a chance to be active, but other than that, I’m not sure where you turn. Maybe more Brittan Golden? I don’t see them bringing up Carlton Agudosi from the practice squad, but who knows.

— As much as Tom Savage had struggled this season, it hurts to give up a 97.1 passer rating to him, and 31 points to the Houston offense without the aid of turnovers.

— Fitz was asked about playing in 2018. He did not answer, one way or the other, and wouldn’t even say if he’s still thinking about it. So he leaves everyone in suspense – and makes sure the questions keep coming probably more often than not the rest of the season.


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Foster in, Ellington sits, Stanton backs up

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2017 – 9:30 am

It turns out Drew Stanton is healthy enough to at least back up Blaine Gabbert today, and he will be active for the Cardinals against the Texans. In a surprising move, running back Andre Ellington is a healthy scratch — and former ASU star D.J. Foster will get his first chance to play this season. It’ll be an intriguing third-down possibility with Foster and the mobile Gabbert,

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams

— S Harlan Miller

— RB Andre Ellington

— LB Bryson Albright

— C Max Tuerk

— DL Corey Peters (ankle)


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Fitz remembers all, Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

The last time the Cardinals played in Houston in a game that counted, Larry Fitzgerald was only 22 years old, in the days when the Cards never talked about the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember. Fitz was asked this week about a 12-yard touchdown pass he caught in the game – a loss to a Texans team so bad they ended up with the No. 1 overall draft pick – and it took him no time to recall that it was the great John Navarre who threw him the pass.

“I have a photographic memory,” Fitzgerald said. “Slant route in garbage time. Fantasy owners were happy.”

Fitz proceeded to say he remembers almost every catch he’s ever made, and that’s quite a few. I mean, that’s 1,185 in his career and counting – a number that came into even sharper focus Friday morning with Fitz’s contract extension through 2018. As I said before, it’s good he’s under contract but for me, it doesn’t guarantee Fitz playing next season. Good sign, yes. But until I hear it from his mouth – I am guessing it will be a topic postgame Sunday – I can’t go all in.

This season, though, Fitzgerald is here and playing very well. If you can have a quiet 10-113 as a receiver, Fitz did last week against the Seahawks. With Blaine Gabbert starting Sunday, I’m guessing the new QB will lean on Fitz targets again, both because, duh, he’s a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, but also because of the troubles the pass catchers not named Fitz had with drops/near-catches against Seattle.

— It made a lot of sense all week that Gabbert would get the nod to play Sunday. He’s healthy. Drew Stanton is not. Bruce Arians wanted to keep Stanton in the lineup, and I do agree with B.A. that Stanton played pretty well against Seattle. Gabbert is playing because of injury but I also understand the idea of getting a chance to see what Gabbert can do, in this offense, in a game that counts.

— Fitz was asked if Gabbert’s success in the preseason gives him confidence in the new QB. It led to a long pause. “I’ve been in it a long time,” Fitzgerald finally said. “Preseason is preseason. I’ve seen him have success in regular-season games.”

— Interesting (to me, at least) that the Cards become the first team to start three QBs this season, given that it comes against the Texans. The long-ago loss in Houston, in which Navarre found Fitz? It was the only time the Cardinals have played three quarterbacks in a game. Kurt Warner started, completed all 10 of his passes (Fitz isn’t the only one who remembers all this stuff off the top of his head) before exiting with a knee injury. Josh McCown was the backup and came in, but he was horribly ill that day and he couldn’t continue. So the Cards turned to Navarre.

— Arians was asked about those receivers this week after the struggles they had collectively. “Practice is fine,” he said. “When those lights turn on … it’s going to be a big week for them.”

— The Cardinals have only played the Texans three times in the regular season. The loss in 2005, and the Cardinals getting home wins in 2009 and 2013.

— Stanton hurt his right knee when he was hit low by Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was flagged on the play (and it kept alive the TD drive that ended with the Stanton TD screen pass to Jermaine Gresham). Richardson was fined $18,231 for his play, and was not happy about it. Also fined $18,231 was Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was flagged for the hit to Russell Wilson’s jaw. Dansby is appealing, and the Seahawks are still dealing with the fallout for not properly checking Wilson for a concussion.

— Corey Peters has been solid in the middle of the defensive line this season. Not having him in the lineup is notable. The Texans are going to want to run to protect struggling QB Tom Savage. We will see who plugs the middle of the line.

— The Texans are putting former all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, their version of Fitz, into their Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday. Current star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was asked to name his favorite Johnson play. It turned out he named a reception over Patrick Peterson in Arizona in 2013.

Late in the game, Johnson was blanketed by Peterson, who actually got his hand on the ball and looked like he might get an amazing end zone interception. Instead, the ball bounced and Johnson somehow tipped it to himself and kept his feet in. (Here, look for yourself, around the 52-second mark.)

“I don’t know how he caught it,” Hopkins said.

— Fitz on Johnson: “He exudes class. He’s one of the best to ever do it. This is just a precursor to greater things down the road. He’s a Hall of Fame talent. I’m happy as a fan of his to witness and see it go up.”

— One final Fitz note. It was mentioned in his “A Football Life” episode that he buys suits for all the coaches. Fitzgerald said he’s been doing that “forever.”

“Our success on the field, it says our numbers, but those guys spend hours … (assistant head coach) Tom Moore is here at 4 o’clock in the morning every morning figuring out new innovate ways to be able to feature guys like myself and Adrian (Peterson),” Fitz said. “A lot of hard work was put into those schemes and you want to do right by those guys.”

“They all get custom stuff, make sure they look good. Some of them look better than others.”

See you in Houston.


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Keim: “I would not bet against” Stanton

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2017 – 8:11 am

Not surprisingly, GM Steve Keim didn’t have a lot of quarterback answers as he talked Tuesday morning on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. First thing was that he noted the Cardinals had yet to practice this week. The team gets a “bonus” practice today, and coach Bruce Arians will meet with the media later, with everyone wondering the health status of starter Drew Stanton’s knee.

“Drew is extremely tough,” Keim said “He’s the type of guy I would not bet against.”

If Blaine Gabbert did start, Keim said, Arians would cater to Gabbert’s strengths, which points to Gabbert’s athleticism. “I thought he looked comfortable when he had the opportunity to play early on (in preseason),” Keim said.

Keim said the idea of putting Gabbert in just to see what Gabbert can do going forward — balancing against the Cardinals having the best chance to win — is not a simple question. “You can go back and forth with that question,” Keim said, saying that if you turned permanently to Gabbert now and he struggled, “would you go back to Drew?” After Carson Palmer got hurt, Keim added, Stanton gave the Cardinals the best chance to win. Thursday was a good example, Keim said, because “Drew couldn’t have played much better. The receiving corps, frankly, let us down.”

— An interesting note with who could come off injured reserve. Keim called the process “fluid” and said there were five potential players who could still come back (the Cardinals can bring two players back total): Palmer, running backs David Johnson and T.J. Logan, guard Mike Iupati and … long snapper Aaron Brewer.

— Keim said there was no reason to overthink the signing of QB Matt Barkley. With Stanton banged up, it was an easy pickup of someone who has spent more than a year in the Arians offense and, if Stanton was out and Gabbert started and went down, Barkley “gives you an opportunity if he was forced into playing.”

— The move of Jared Veldheer back to left tackle was obvious at this point because the Cardinals wanted to have their best five offensive linemen on the field. “The sad part for me is that D.J. Humphries was playing so well,” Keim said. Keim reiterated Arians’ statement that Humphries should be healthy once the Cardinals’ offseason program commences in the spring.

— The Cardinals were already trying to get rookie safety Budda Baker more defensive snaps “because he earned it” but that will be accelerated with Tyvon Branch’s season-ending injury. Branch’s loss hurts on the field and the locker room, Keim said, but there is an excitement in seeing more from Baker, who has been the Cards’ best special teams player. “His ability to cover ground really puts him in a place where he can be a special player, in my opinion,” Keim said.


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