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Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2013 – 6:29 pm

The Cardinals smartly talked around the penalties that were and weren’t called late in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. They gave some matter-of-fact answers. Coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to watch the video carefully before he really passed judgment (and here’s a guess he won’t talk much about it even then. No upside.)

But as frustrating as that was, it didn’t trump the issues the Cardinals had of their own doing. What Arians and his team will see on video is a team that could’ve been in a much better place by the times the flags were or weren’t thrown. Linebacker Karlos Dansby – who had a pair of sacks — was not a happy camper in the locker room, and penalties didn’t have much to do with it. I asked him if it was going to be hard emotionally to bounce back from a loss like Sundays, given the fact the Cards had been talking about every game like it was a playoff game.

“(Expletive) no,” Dansby snapped. “We’ve got four more games. We’ve got to go play some football. Some winning football. Some inspiring football. We didn’t play with any emotion today. We were flat. Too flat.”

That’s always the danger, playing on the road, playing an early game – even after flying out on a Friday. Tyrann Mathieu called it the Cardinals’ M.O., to start slow in a road game. That seems fair, although it’s a dangerous way to live. Between Sunday and the opener in St. Louis, though, the Cardinals are going to have their share of what-ifs if they don’t make the playoffs.

– The up-tempo portion of the Eagles’ offense didn’t seem to bother the Cardinals a lot. “It was faster in (Cardinals’) practice,” Arians quipped. The play-action part of the offense did bother the Cardinals. That and the fact they couldn’t generate a turnover.

– OK, they did generate a turnover, but Patrick Peterson’s interception was wiped out. I haven’t had a chance to see the Mathieu hold yet. That pick would’ve delivered quite a storyline had it stood.

– I was down on the field with Michael Floyd about 10 yards away on that final pass his way. It did look like a penalty to me from down there, for what that’s worth.

– I’m an ASU grad (and yes, I enjoyed Saturday night very much.) But I don’t see how you can look at Nick Foles and see anything other than a potential long-term QB for Philly. He made a couple errors, but he runs that offense very well.

– Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy quietly had a very good game – seven tackles, four for loss, and a sack. He did get that (questionable) defensive holding call at the end. He’s been a guy whom I’d think the Cardinals want to extend on a contract. It will be interesting to see if they can lock him up.

– I think running back Andre Ellington would have helped had he not sat with the knee injury, but I don’t know if his absence cost the Cards the game. Rashard Mendenhall was good again, and Ellington wasn’t going to be able to block the pass rush or prevent Carson Palmer’s two underthrown interceptions.

– Arians wasn’t guaranteeing Ellington’s return against the Rams next week, either. The coach said he was going to be careful with Ellington, and that notion was reiterated post-game Sunday. “We’ll get him right before he plays again,” Arians said.

– Eagles punter Donnie Jones was fantastic. He punted eight times for Philadelphia. Seven were downed inside the 20. Peterson struggled on punt returns again. It’s odd that unit was so strong just a couple of years ago and now it’s a concern – not just because Peterson doesn’t score, but simply because there seems to be more danger of turnovers and bad field position.

– There wasn’t a lot of head hanging, even though this one could sting in the grand scheme of things. “I don’t think we took a step backward,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. Said Arians on losing the progress his team has been making, “Progress doesn’t stop because you lost the game.”

Well, there is still a lot of flight left. But we can ponder this more tomorrow.


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Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2013 – 4:02 pm

The Cardinals would like to get an interception Sunday. That would be a start. It’d be a start in slowing the Eagles’ high-speed offense, and a start in taking young Eagles quarterback Nick Foles down a peg. Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes in eight appearances (five starts and one other game of significant playing time), but has yet to throw an interception. It’s an impressive stretch for an inexperienced quarterback.

The Cards are among the best in the league in getting turnovers. So maybe this is where Foles’ luck changes a bit.

“You can’t worry about throwing an interception when you’re throwing the ball,” Foles said. “I expect them to come out ready to go, ready to try to mess it up. That’s what a defense does, and they’re a talented defense.”

Cornerback Patrick Peterson, on that potential mess: “Our goal is to try and make turnovers, force him into some bad throws,” Peterson said. “We’re not getting caught up in that. The offense seems to be rolling with him. When that opportunity, if that opportunity does come, we have to make the play.”

Profootballfocus.com said Foles has been under pressure on just 34.8 percent of his dropbacks. That makes life as a QB easier. Linebacker Daryl Washington said there have been times when Foles has thrown balls that can be intercepted. Sunday’s game might just turn on such a situation.

– I’ve already touched on the Andre Ellington gimpy knee situation, but obviously, no Ellington would make a difference. Bruce Arians made the point it’s just one guy, but at this point, Ellington is the speed of this offense, the guy who can go all the way on a single play. His status Sunday has to impact this game, one way or the other.

– The last time the Cardinals – winners of four straight – won five straight? That was back in 1977, when Don Coryell’s bunch won six in a row in a weird season when the Cardinals went just 7-7. The winning streak made their record 7-3, and they lost their final four.

– Peterson reflecting on linebacker Karlos Dansby’s interception return for a touchdown last week: “Almost every time we break the huddle, I rub his hands, give him some of my grip,” Peterson said. Peterson smiled. “He could be in the race for defensive MVP if he caught the last six he dropped.”

– The key to this game to me is Dansby and Washington. The two inside linebackers are playing so well, and when the Cards have beat the Eagles the last two meetings, Washington has been a major factor. With the Eagles’ speed and Shady McCoy running the ball, the Cards need big games from their inside men.

– Just like Todd Bowles is having a redemptive season with the Cards after struggling with the Eagles, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis is winning confidence after he was fired as Cards’ DC back after the 2010 season (with a stop on the Browns staff in between).

– I don’t know if Larry Fitzgerald can get free as much as he usually does against the Eagles – Philly is of course running a different look than the Andy Reid years when they always seemed to let Fitz get loose – but the rise of Michael Floyd would seem to be incentive to watch Floyd much more closely. Which should help Fitz.

– “As coach Buck (defensive line coach Brentson Buckner) always says, ‘You are remembered with the games you win in November and December,’ ” Peterson said.

Here’s the Cards’ first chance in December. It’s kind of a big one too.

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Ellington hopeful to play in Philly

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2013 – 12:38 pm

Running back Andre Ellington will be a game-day decision after hurting his left knee late in Thursday’s practice. Ellington said it happened on a pass route and that it was already better than how it was feeling Thursday. Coach Bruce Arians said Ellington’s status will be determined on game day. Ellington didn’t practice Friday.

“Nothing real serious but we are going to be real careful with it,” Arians said.

As for the impact it would have without the dynamic playmaker, Arians was not surprisingly forward-thinking on the matter. “It would be just one guy out,” Arians said. “There are still a bunch of guys capable of taking his place, and we will make our adjustments.”

Ellington said he is hopeful to play. The game isn’t until Sunday, he said, and “that’s a lot of rest.” Of course, depending on what he did to tweak the knee, Ellington is facing a long plane flight to Philadelphia and sometimes, injuries can swell some in those instances. That’s why it’s tougher to tell a status before a road game. As for the Cards’ offense, Arians said, if Ellington couldn’t go it may cost the Cards “five or six plays” in the game plan.

I know the next question would be, if Ellington doesn’t play, would the Cardinals make Ryan Williams active. The last time a running back was down, and that was Rashad Mendenhall, Williams remained inactive. Would it change if the missing body was Ellington, since Mendenhall and Stepfan Taylor are essentially the same type of back? I’m not sure. At this point, it may take something more catastrophic for Williams to be used. And again, Ellington is hoping to be on the field. We won’t know until Sunday.

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Arians revisits Temple (and Ellington hurt)

Posted by Darren Urban on November 28, 2013 – 1:17 pm

Bruce Arians, first-time NFL head coach, is going back to where he was head coach for the first time — Philadelphia, where he lead Temple University back from 1983 to 1988. And the place and the job that Arians said “almost killed me.”

“I was in the hospital about seven times my last season,” Arians said. “When I was only 36 I felt like I was about 86. Stress will do funny things to you. I had a bunch of migraines every week, and I got fired and never had another one in my life.

“I tried to do too much. The one thing that I learned was that if I ever got a job again, and it took a little while, but I would learn to delegate. I was the head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, recruitment coordinator, I had my hands on the defense and special teams, so I was trying to do everything and I felt as if it was my job. I’ve learned now to let other people do their jobs, and they’re more than qualified to do them, and relax.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles played for Arians at Temple, and the former safety was one of Arians’ captains.

“He was a good coach from the south,” Bowles said. “He came from Alabama where they ran the option and the veer and played eight-man fronts. He got up to Temple and played an eight-man front, and we were playing against (Doug) Flutie, (Dan) Marino and the other guys. It just wasn’t working. It was like, ‘Coach, we’re up east now, you’ve got to change.’ But he was outstanding. He was hard on us but he was fair, just like he is now. He’s very honest. He tells you when you’re good and when you’re bad.”

Arians is 61 now, finally enjoying his second head coaching job that he wasn’t sure would ever come. The Cardinals leave for the Eagles game Friday, and the team will hold their Saturday morning walkthrough at Temple.

“It’ll be fun,” Arians said. “Hopefully I’ll see some of the pictures when I had hair. But, yeah, it’s always fun going back. Temple kids are extremely dear to me. Those six years were fabulous. Probably stayed in touch with them more than any other college players I’ve ever coached. That group of guys, some were on my staff, I’ve coached with a bunch of them.”

–  Here’s what the Cardinals are not giving thanks for on Thanksgiving: Running back Andre Ellington being put on the injury report as limited with a knee problem. He wasn’t on there Wednesday, so I’d guess it happened Thursday, but we won’t know until Arians talks Friday. The Cards need Ellington.

A good story by SI’s Jim Trotter on the improving Cards’ offense. It’s something I wrote about earlier in the week, but it was interesting to hear Carson Palmer saying the mental error list was a page-and-a-half much of the season and now it is down to a quarter page. Another Palmer quote on the early-season offense: “It was a mess.”

– Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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In a rush to be tested

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2013 – 11:00 am

The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.

Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).

(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.

Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.

There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.

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With 2014 schedule, London calling?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2013 – 3:03 pm

The NFL announced today that three teams will host games in London during the 2014 season: Jacksonville, Oakland and Atlanta. Why does that matter? Because you never know if the Cardinals could get picked to be the visiting team to a London game.

The Cards don’t play Jacksonville next season. But they do travel to Oakland, and with an away game at the “matching” NFC South team wherever they finish, there is a chance the Cardinals could have a road game in Atlanta next season — making then two of the three London games possible. We are far away from knowing for sure, of course, but it’s an interesting tidbit to chew on.

So, as long as we are discussion the 2014 opponents — because why wouldn’t you five games into the previous season — here is the list of the Cardinals’ schedule-to-be:

HOME

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

Kansas City Chiefs

San Diego Chargers

NFC North “like” finisher (If Cardinals finish in second place in division, for instance, they play the second-place team from NFCN)

Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams

AWAY

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Denver Broncos

Oakland Raiders

NFC South “like” finisher

Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams


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Tackle situation shows why you don’t fall in love

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2013 – 11:19 am

One of the clichés that always floats around at draft time is that a team never ever ever should fall in love with a player. I mean, if you’re picking No. 1, fine. But otherwise, there is always a risk that said player or players isn’t going to be there. And you don’t want to be disappointed or let the emotion of losing out on such a crush drive you to do something dumb when you are on the clock.

That crossed my mind this morning when NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock talked about what has become a growing sentiment — that all three high-end offensive tackles available: Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson — will all be off the board by the time the Cardinals pick at No. 7. Let’s make this clear, no one knows for sure the Cards even like all three at that point, although it stands to reason they do. For a while, it was people thinking Fisher would be there and Joeckel wouldn’t. Then it was Fisher being gone and Johnson being the consideration. But there is a strong likelihood that the Chiefs take Joeckel at No. 1 (KC wants to trade Branden Albert) and the Eagles (No. 4) and the Lions (No. 5) both easily could take the other two tackles. Even if one lasts to No. 6, the next scenario could be the Browns trading out of No. 6 to the Chargers or Dolphins, both of whom need a left tackle like Johnson (pictured below).

Now, the Dolphins are talking with the Chiefs about the Albert trade, which would take them out of the mix. But the Chargers, picking 11th, could try to jump up (with Ken Whisenhunt’s new team potentially stealing a tackle out from under his old team.)

What does this all mean? Well, this is operating under the assumption the Cards are focusing on a tackle. That was the thought last year too and they took Michael Floyd over Riley Reiff, so there’s that. I don’t see the Cards trading up and surrendering a pick, although I’m not positive on that. If all the tackles are off the board in the top five, I could definitely see the Cards trying to trade down a little, although other than the tackles, I don’t know who would trade up. And again, if three tackles go off the board that early, someone is sitting there that hadn’t been expected. Will it be someone the Cards want?

– As long as we are talking about potential picks at No. 7, we have our annual mock draft contest ready for play right here. Hope you decide to take a crack at who you think the Cardinals will select.

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Reading the options of the future of offense

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2013 – 10:48 am

The Super Bowl run-up this week — on both TV and in print — will be filled with a handful of the obvious stories this week: The last game for Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, and, with the 49ers becoming explosive on offense with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick, there will be plenty written and said about the read-option offense.

The conventional wisdom has long been that running quarterbacks will have a hard time having long-term success in the NFL. Defenders are faster and stronger in the pros than college. The chances of a quarterback getting hurt — and the chances that a coach wants to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get hurt — are high. Of course, that all got turned on its head this season, with Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson (to a lesser degree) all making the read-option incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses.

Where does it go from here?

It’s impossible to know for sure. I do know that defensive coordinators are going to have an entire offseason to prepare to defend it. If you are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who could/will see some version of it up to seven times in 2013 — the Niners twice, the Seahawks twice, the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Jake Locker) and Eagles (with new coach Chip Kelly) — you know the Cards are going to study the strengths and weaknesses carefully. There have been comparisons made to the Wildcat offense, and that version became a lot less effective the year after it hit the scene hard.

Then again, the Wildcat was done in a situation where the main ballhandler wasn’t a quarterback. The threat of the pass was only that, a threat. It wasn’t normal. That’s what makes the read-option so difficult, because the quarterback could instead fade for a quick throw. That’s why Kaepernick and Griffin and Wilson have been so good. It’s not because they run the ball well — although they do do that — but because they are accurate passers and can make defenses pay through conventional ways too. (In other words, Tim Tebow they are not.) As more and more college quarterbacks find ways to do both, it will inevitably find its way into the pro game.

Injury concerns are legitimate. The Redskins understand this. The more hits a QB takes, the more chance he gets hurt. Simple math. Maybe the success can be sustained on a football level, but on a player level, the quarterback won’t last as long. Or maybe the QB has to morph after a few years, like Michael Jordan went from going to the hoop every time into one of the best jump shooters. Pocket passers aren’t going away. It’s really about what the talent is coming from colleges and what coaches are willing to do to adapt. I doubt every team suddenly starts running the read-option, but I don’t see it going away.

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