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Adrian Peterson’s debut, and Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2017 – 7:15 pm

The plan started on a private plane, sent by the Cardinals Tuesday to pick up Adrian Peterson in New Orleans and bring him back to Arizona. Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was on board, so that the return trip to Arizona could be spent on a crash course about the Cardinals’ offense.

“It sounded like Chinese,” Peterson said Sunday, after that five-day tutorial turned into a 134-yard rushing debut.

Peterson said Kitchens walked him through what he needed to learn, calling him at home just to go over things. By the time Peterson got to Sunday, he felt prepared, and he played that way.

Kitchens downplayed his role, saying only that he helped get Peterson in the building. And there is little question Peterson, motivated as he was to do well, had the talent if he knew what was called.

“It was the terminology of the plays,” wide receiver/Peterson landlord Larry Fitzgerald said. “You don’t tell a great back where to run.”

Fitz is going to gush about Peterson. They are friends. But Peterson deserves the praise. Not just for his production, but for the intangible vibe that surrounded this team right about the time Peterson and Kitchens were flying back from Louisiana.

“I wish he’d have been here 11 years from the beginning,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d have a Super Bowl ring already. But having him here, his leadership, his demeanor in the huddle, I think it’s reinvigorating everybody.”

— I can’t lie. I did not expect Peterson to make that kind of impact. I thought the Cards would be better. Not that much better. But when he ripped off two eight-yard runs on his first two carries, I quickly reconsidered.

— Chandler Jones got his sixth sack in six games and got a couple tackles for loss. That doesn’t do his game justice, especially early. He’s had a very good season.

— Still, you want to see the defense finish better. It’ll be interesting to see if Tramon Williams gets more playing time at cornerback.

— And not because of Patrick Peterson’s quad problem. If P2 is down, the Cards will feel it, although Peterson insisted he will be ready to play against the Rams next week. That was a big part of the fourth-quarter problems Sunday. No Patrick. Adrian isn’t the only necessary Peterson.

— The offensive line was better. It wasn’t perfect, but the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone, along with Earl Watford taking over at right guard clearly made a difference. There was a lot of emotion Sunday with Adrian Peterson and the crowd and that adrenaline helps. But if this group can stay healthy and together – that was the fifth different offensive line in six games – the Cards should be OK.

— Fitzgerald said it was kicker Phil Dawson who told him to waste some time on the onside kick recovery at the end, to make sure the clock ticked under the two-minute mark (and stoppage at the two-minute warning) so the Cards could kneel three times and be done. “That was Phil all the way,” Fitz said.

— Ryan Fitzpatrick likes putting a scare into Bruce Arians. First it was 2013 in Tennessee, then Sunday.

— Arians took the blame for Palmer’s interception, saying he insisted on throwing it deep there to go for the throat. But Arians said he needs to stay greedy. “There’s no lead big enough in the National Football League,” Arians said.

— Palmer is expecting both David Johnson and T.J. Logan to come off injured reserve, apparently, since he mentioned both running backs playing with Peterson later this season.

“I can’t help but think what B.A. will come up with when we get T.J. Logan back and Dave back,” Palmer said. “I can’t wait to see that.”

— That would be interesting. Just like the Cards were Sunday. Tomorrow, a flight to London.


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Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2017 – 3:23 pm

J.J. Nelson wore an ice bag on his side, courtesy of the first hit he took in the game Sunday. The last one left more of a mental bruise – one in which it looked like the wide receiver would make the final score look a tad better on a 29-yard touchdown catch from Carson Palmer, only to have the TD erased and the ball lost when replay showed Nelson losing a fumble at the 1 and through the end zone.

“I was just trying to make a play, stick it out there (across the goal line),” Nelson said, shaking his head. “The guy hit me, and made a nice play.”

The score wouldn’t have really made a difference, but it figured to end like that. The loss in Philly couldn’t have been much uglier (although someone on Twitter suggested it was the Cards’ worst game in 10 years, and wow, that anyone could forget the 2012 Seattle trip stuns me). All the Cardinals’ current issues were laid bare – a failure to run, problems on the offensive line, an inability to score, giving up too many big plays – and then you add it a breakdown on third down defense. The Eagles weren’t just converting third downs but long third downs.

The backbreaker, although the game was basically secured by then, was the 72-yard TD on third-and-19, with the blitzing Cardinals unable to get to the quarterback. That was a common theme. The pass rush took a step back, and whether that was Markus Golden missing or something greater, it’s not a great sign.

Bruce Arians took the blame a couple of times in his press conference. He said he didn’t have the Cardinals ready to play. From a 40,000-foot level, seems an apropos assessment.

— The offensive line started Earl Watford at left guard. At one point, when right tackle Jared Veldheer had to leave briefly with a knee issue, the line was, from left tackle to right tackle, John Wetzel, Watford, A.Q. Shipley, Evan Boehm and rookie Will Holden. Veldheer did come back into the game, although Arians said Veldheer will be sore (and said the same about DT Corey Peters, who also left for a time with a knee.)

If Veldheer is OK, and maybe D.J. Humphries and Alex Boone can come back next week …

— It did seem like Arians stuck to the run more. It still didn’t produce. Only 2.2 yards a carry.

— Larry Fitzgerald keeps grinding. He didn’t have a catch for a while until grabbing one for a reception in his 200th straight game. He finished with six receptions for 51 yards.

— The Cardinals have lost long snapper Aaron Brewer with a broken wrist/hand, Arians said. So they’ll be in the market. Josh Mauro and Boehm filled in and did OK. But the blocked field goal was because of the snap. It wasn’t bad, it was just a tick slow – which is all it takes for a guy coming off the edge.

— Haason Reddick did play some outside linebacker, but he was having trouble getting past the blocking when rushing the passer. There will definitely be a learning curve there.

— Palmer didn’t have bad stats, but they could have been. He was nearly picked off three times on plays that were broken up by his wide receivers. Nelson had one and John Brown had two, showing off two different cornerback skills. The first Smoke did a nice job simply knocking it away. The second was in the hands of Jalen Mills – and Brown timed his hit perfectly, landing a heavy body blow as Mills was coming down, jarring the ball loose.

It was a day to seek such silver linings.


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Watford returns to get start in Philly

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2017 – 8:29 am

With no Alex Boone today (he’s unable to play because of his pectoral injury) the Cardinals will turn to Earl Watford to start at left guard, after Watford made his homecoming this week — both to the Cardinals, after leaving as a free agent, and here to Philadelphia, where he grew up. It’s yet another incarnation of the Cards’ in-flux offensive line, which will feature its third different starting lineup in five games.

The Cardinals will have their other two questionable players active: Wide receivers John Brown and J.J. Nelson. Cornerback Tramon Williams, who was inactive last week, is back to active status with new addition Scooby Wright not dressing.

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— WR Chad Williams

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Scooby Wright

— T D.J. Humphries (knee)

— G Alex Boone (chest)

— DL Robert Nkemdiche (calf)


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That Philly feeling, Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2017 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals are en route to Philly right now, the fifth trip there since 2008, and the previous four have had some memorable moments. The 2008 game was the ugly Thanksgiving night beatdown, with the Cardinals losing by four touchdowns yet coming out of it not afraid at all of the Eagles (which showed a couple months later when they beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) The 2011 game was an improbable 21-17 win with John Skelton throwing a pair of perfect passes on the game-winning drive, one on a wheel route to the Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and then a bomb to Fitz. In 2013, Bruce Arians’ first year, the Cards lost 24-21 when a late pick by Patrick Peterson was wiped out by a flag on Tyrann Mathieu, a penalty the Cards weren’t thrilled was called.

But it was the last trip that encapsulated so much with the Cardinals, especially in relation to where they are now. It was a 40-17 domination by the Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football.” The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title that night, an accomplishment that seems so much longer ago than 22 months. It was David Johnson’s coming-out party, with his Beastmode-like run and his career-best 187 yards rushing. And it was Mathieu’s devastating second ACL tear, that took all the wind from the excitement of the night and might’ve cost the Cardinals a chance at the Super Bowl.

The Cards have been a .500 team since then. Mathieu is still trying to find his groove. Johnson is hurt and cannot help. Chasing a division title is still a goal, but there is much to be fixed for that to be a topic.

— The Cardinals not only will have the early start Sunday – 10 a.m. Arizona time – but there might be a little rain. Bruce Arians doesn’t care. “They are all excuses,” the coach said in his opening statement Friday. It’ll be the first game the Cards will have played outside this season.

— After two rough games, right tackle Jared Veldheer was the highest-graded offensive lineman from the San Francisco game and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said he was “proud” of Veldheer. “The biggest thing for him is gaining confidence but I was pleased,” Goodwin said.

— Arians, who was hired as Temple’s head coach at age 30 and left the job in part because it literally was making him physically sick, was asked if in-his-30s Arians would have imagined himself still coaching now (Arians turned 65 earlier this week).

“I would hope so, if I wasn’t dead,” Arians said. “That job down there killed me.”

— Another Philly guy is Earl Watford, who just signed this week and now could be in the starting lineup at guard Sunday. It looked like Watford’s days as a Cardinal were over, having played out his contract and with both sides ready to start fresh. But here we are.

“A lot of people would think that, but it’s just another opportunity,” Watford said. “I’m glad to be back here. To be familiar with people, playbook, coaches, I’m excited to be here.”

— Linebacker Haason Reddick now finds himself in the outside linebackers meeting room, trying to cram for a new role after the loss of Markus Golden. I’m very curious to see the snap spilt between he and Kareem Martin.

— Reddick, who is technically from New Jersey but lived just five miles from Philly and went to school there at Temple, said his call for the best cheesesteak comes from Max’s and he’s going to try and get some teammates to join him there.

As for the best way to eat a cheesesteak, it’s American cheese for Reddick. “I don’t do Cheese Whiz.”

“Cheese Whiz is a tourist attraction,” Reddick said. “Anyone who is really from Philly, I’ve never seen them put Cheese Whiz on their cheesesteak. I think that’s a little bizarre.”

(To be fair, it looks like an ongoing debate.)

— Carson Palmer has taken a lot of hits – 43, officially, in four games. “Hey, I don’t want to see him get hit,” Goodwin said. “Mr. Bidwill is paying that guy a lot of money.”

Part of that is the Cards’ lack of run game. Palmer is passing so much he’s inevitably going to be hit more, just like he’s on pace to obliterate his personal highs in attempts, completions and yards. But that doesn’t absolve the pass protection – or the struggles therein. Goodwin said he woke up early last week and the protection issues popped into his mind so quickly he just got up and came to the office. It was 4:30 a.m.

“That’s my job,” Goodwin said. “I embrace the pressure though. It’ll never break me.”

— Finally, there’s the case of Fitz the Philly killer. He had a nondescript three catches for 43 yards in that 2015 blowout of the Eagles – and even with that game averaged in, he’s still averaged (including the NFC Championship game) more than six catches, 104 yards and more than a touchdown per game against the Eagles all-time.

“He’s the same guy all the time,” Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN.

The Cards wouldn’t mind some of that same ol’ Fitz Sunday.


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Cardinals — on the basketball court?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 19, 2017 – 1:59 pm

Late in the season, the Cardinals’ offensive linemen installed one of those mini-basketball hoops above one of their lockers. Every once in a while, after practice, somebody (or somebodies) would take a few shots. There’s no question that over the years, plenty of players have come through that space thinking they were quite the basketball players.

Anquan Boldin could play. Kurt Warner could really play (and still does, hosting invite-only pickup games at his house in Scottsdale). Josh McCown could really play.

With the NBA all-star game today, it’s a good time to discuss who might make a solid unit for the hardwood. I’ve had the chance to talk to a handful of players about their basketball backgrounds. (I have not talked to everyone, and I am sure I will have inevitably missed some serious baller here. I ask, preemptively, for forgiveness.)

You’ve got to start with Darren Fells. The guy played pro basketball, after all. Larry Fitzgerald still likes to trash-talk Fells, and at one point there was a challenge of a one-on-one game, but I’m guessing Fitz wouldn’t like how that would turn out. Still, I’ve seen Fitz enough times in charity games that he probably could be in the starting lineup.

Our point guard would be Tyrann Mathieu, who might not quite be the same player as he was prior to a pair of ACL injuries, although I’m guessing he’d say different. (That video doesn’t exactly show the Badger against the best defense.) Calais Campbell, who at 6-foot-8 did some damage inside in high school, can be our center. And you don’t want to forget David Johnson (15.7 points, 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior in high school, and second-team all-state), who noted on Twitter he’s got a 41.5-inch vertical.

Off the bench? Kareem Martin, who played football at North Carolina, had a chance to walk on to the Tar Heels basketball team and maybe be the next Julius Peppers. Martin decided to concentrate on football, but you’ve got to have some game to be considered for UNC hoops. Some Earl Watford (Earl had some good stories about being the muscle on the court for his high school team), and a little A.Q. Shipley (A.Q., while shooting on that mini-hoop, assured me that back in the day, he was quite nimble on the court). Close it out with Tony Jefferson, who plays pretend basketball in the locker room with the trash cans more than any player ever and loves his Suns. (Yes, Jefferson was cut as a sophomore in high school, but noted that he had 16 points and five steals in his final lower-level high school appearance, so there’s that.)

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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

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Keim on the future of the Cards’ receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2016 – 8:22 am

One of the big things Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim is going to have to deal with this offseason is the receivers room. It could be in major flux. Michael Floyd is already gone, Larry Fitzgerald could retire, and Smoke Brown is still trying to fully handle his sickle-cell issues. Monday, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim spoke on many of those players.

When it comes it Fitz, “he still loves the game and still plays at a high level,” Keim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he should play next year.” Of course, Keim added, that will be up to Fitz. J.J. Nelson was fantastic in Seattle with 132 yards on three catches, including two giant plays that boosted the win. As far as him as a potential No. 2 receiver, “I’m not sure what his ceiling is, I just know he is a big-play guy.” He did say he thinks receivers coach Darryl Drake has helped Nelson become more physical. (But I’d agree, I think Nelson is developing into a nice and needed piece in the offense, but I don’t see him as a potential big-volume guy week-to-week.)

As for Brown, Keim acknowledged it is “always a concern when you can’t put a finger on exactly what is happening” when it comes to Brown’s health. But he said Brown will see specialists as soon as the offseason ends so that he and the Cardinals can find the proper way for both Brown to be healthy and for him to find again what was making him special on the field. “He’s a guy we are counting on,” Keim added.

— Keim has been very impressed — other than his foolish taunting penalty — with tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Cardinals have needed some emotional fire on offense, and Gresham definitely helps with that. “His physicality, mindset and passion for the game is something that has really excited me this year,” Keim said, noting Gresham’s effort in blocking more than anything. It’ll be interesting to see what Gresham does as a free agent, after signing here for little last season when he could’ve gotten a lot more money elsewhere. (And he needs to avoid the terrible penalties because of his emotions too.)

— Not surprisingly, he had praise for the offensive line, given the circumstances. “If you told me in August we’d beat Seattle in Seattle with John Wetzel and Earl Watford at tackle and Evan Boehm at guard, it’d certainly make me wonder,” Keim said. “For the most part those guys did the job.”

Carson Palmer was under pressure more than once but he was sacked only once and physically, the offensive line stayed toe-to-toe with a much-more celebrated opponent.

— There were a couple of throws he thought Palmer would’ve wanted back, but other than that, Palmer was sharp, Keim said. “He’s a competitor and true pro,” Keim said. “He’s been very, very good the last several weeks.”

— Another young player who held up was cornerback-turned-safety Harlan Miller, who played every snap at free safety when Tony Jefferson got hurt on the punt team before he even played a defensive play. Miller, by the way, hadn’t played safety before. “It was interesting,” Keim said. “On Friday, when B.A. came into my office and I let him know we were going to put Tyrann on IR, he told me that if Tony or D.J. Swearinger went down, we’d be in trouble just from a depth standpoint. Sure enough, first play of the game, Tony Jefferson is out.

“Harlan trots on to the field, and to his credit, the guy has never played safety before, coach Nick Rapone and James Bettcher put him in a position where he made a few plays and didn’t hurt the team. He’s another young guy who stepped up.”

— Finally, a good day for special teams. “That’s a group that’s been maligned and rightfully so,” Keim said. “But they stepped up to the plate.”


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Thursday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2016 – 4:26 pm

The Cardinals actually won the first game played (that counted) at what is now CenturyLink Field.

It was 2002, and Thomas Jones had his best game as a Card and even though Jake Plummer couldn’t do much, the Cards knocked off the Seahawks, 24-13, the second week of the regular season. The building was simply a new building back then, certainly not the intimidating factor it has grown to be (although, as with most places, the stadium is intimidating when the team playing there is good. If the team playing there isn’t as good, not so much.)

The Cards with Carson Palmer have been good there. Two Palmer starts, two Cardinals wins. When the Cardinals lost in 2014, Palmer was injured and Drew Stanton was behind center. Palmer will be there Saturday, but the team around him is beat up and broken down. It’s not how the Cardinals wanted this matchup to be, especially with the Seahawks in mostly better shape than the first time these teams met this season. But the NFC West has been determined, the Cards are out of the playoffs and all there is for the Cardinals to spoil Seattle’s hopes for that No. 2 seed. Which isn’t nothing, but this game was supposed to be about so much more.

— Well, offensive line of John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford, welcome to Seattle. They held up OK against the Saints, but, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, this is a different animal, no?

“This is a very different animal,” Goodwin said. “It’s from outer space. It’s not necessarily an animal, it’s an alien.”

Goodwin said he hasn’t really said much to the group along those lines, however.

“To be honest, I leave them alone,” Goodwin said. “You don’t want to do too much talking. The film speaks for itself. The place we are going this weekend, the crowd noise … we know what we are up against.”

— That’s why the Cardinals need to be able to run the ball — it’s nice having David Johnson for that, although Johnson had to grind out his yardage in the first meeting, the infamous 6-6 tie. There can’t be penalties or sacks. Get at least a little something on each down. “This is not the place you want to go, this is not the team you want to see, in third-and-long,” Goodwin said.

— I don’t know how far Robert Nkemdiche has come yet. But I think it’s been proven that Bruce Arians wouldn’t give him praise unless something has gotten better. Doubtful we’ll see much the last two games, although he will play. It’s about 2017 for the first-round pick.

— Injuries always play a factor, but not having money linebacker Deone Bucannon against the mobile Russell Wilson tends to give one pause. Bucannon’s ability to run is unmatched by the guys filling in for him, and Wilson is clearly running better than how he did in the first meeting when he was hobbled with injuries.

— The secondary is also hurting. Arians acknowledged cornerback Marcus Cooper probably wouldn’t be able to play Saturday — if he doesn’t play, rookie Brandon Williams (who missed practice Thursday with a tight back) would get the start. Justin Bethel, who did say his foot is finally feeling better after the stress fracture that has hampered him for two seasons, remains behind Williams on the depth chart.

— There doesn’t seem to be any indication Tyrann Mathieu won’t play — the Cards need the bodies right now — but Mathieu playing and Mathieu being Honey Badger are two separate things. Arians on Mathieu’s play against the Saints: “He gave it everything he had. It ain’t Ty.” UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. Mathieu went to IR on Friday.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on whether the defense took last weekend’s meltdown against the Saints personally. “Absolutely we took it personally,” Bettcher said. “There wasn’t a guy on our defensive staff and there wasn’t a guy  in the locker room that wasn’t extremely disappointed in our performance. It wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t up to our standard, that’s me included. It wasn’t up to my standard. We all own that.”

— Michael Floyd finally met with the New England media and talked about his DUI.

— Larry Fitzgerald said he has talked to David Johnson a lot about how to handle his burgeoning stardom off the field, like Emmitt Smith did with Fitz when Fitz first came into the league. For instance, Fitzgerald told Johnson to be fully dressed and “buttoned-up” when he talks after the game in front of the camera — you never know when a decision-maker at a company might see you and want you to be a spokesman.

“He doesn’t need a lot of advice,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s like a Christmas toy under the tree that doesn’t need any assembly. He’s out-of-the-box-ready.”

— Johnson, by the way, would tie Barry Sanders’ record for consecutive games with 100 scrimmage yards in 15 straight games in a season if he can reach that milestone Saturday.

— Bring on Seattle. Bring on 39 degrees and chilly rain. Bring on what always promises to be an interesting road trip.

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Saints — and playoff-hope — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2016 – 8:22 pm

OK, so the Cardinals already knew their playoff chances were basically done after the loss in Miami, but they were officially killed off Sunday. Drew Brees hadn’t done anything for two games, and then he erupted to tear apart the Cards. All the while, it was the last home game of the year and one of those games where many players understood what that meant — Calais Campbell had already been talking about it, and Tony Jefferson tweeted about it pre-game — as contracts are ending and there is so much up in the air for 2017.

Carson Palmer is under contract for 2017. He was asked about next year, and he said he expects to be playing. Larry Fitzgerald is under contract for 2017. He said he will play the final two games “as hard as I can” and then see how the offseason plays out. If Fitz is gonna stick around, he’s going to want to know he’s got a chance to make the postseason and win.

Nobody coming into this season — even if you expected the Cardinals to take a step back from 13-3 — thought the Cardinals would be a pedestrian 4-3-1 at University of Phoenix Stadium. But here they were again, in a one-score game late, unable to win it like they had so many times the past two seasons at home. That’s what stuck with Bruce Arians, and that’s one of the (many) things to undo the 2016 season.

— It wasn’t his best game statistically but it was a very good game for David Johnson, tying the franchise record for touchdowns in a season and playing more regular wide receiver than normal because of a thin receiving corps. The Saints were also attuned to Johnson as a receiver, bracketing him often on passing plays — which is new for him.

“I was joking with one of their DBs and he was telling me when they were scouting us, (they said) don’t think of me as a running back, think of me as a receiver,” Johnson said. “That was cool to hear.”

— But Johnson now needs 200 receiving yards the final two games to reach 1,000, against two good defenses. So that will be tough.

— Palmer was good, and that was with an inability to hook up with John Brown on one wide-open deep pass (Brown did haul in a 30-yard TD bomb later) and with J.J. Nelson dropping what would have been a 56-yard TD bomb. It helped that the offensive line — from left tackle to right, Wetzel, Iupati, Shipley, Boggs and Watford — held up perhaps better than expected.

“I was happy with the way we played up front,” Shipley said. “There were obviously a couple things we would like back. But for a guy like Boggs who really hasn’t played and going against a top 10 pick (Nick Fairley), I thought he did admirable. There was one play early but other than that, he did a pretty good job. And Earl being in a position he hasn’t played in a long time, and Wetz, I don’t know what number combination of offensive line this is (for us) … I was happy with how the guys responded.”

— Another rough night for special teams. Chandler Catanzaro missed a long field goal and another extra point, although the latter ended up not mattering. Justin Bethel’s offsides on the field goal was painful though, as was the fact Bethel was offsides on three different kicks — the field goal and a pair of extra points, yards added on the kickoffs.

— Linebacker Sio Moore, on the questionable blow-to-Brees’-head penalty that killed the chance for the Cardinals to hold the Saints late in a seven-point game: “I didn’t even know the flag was on me until late,” Moore said quietly. “It was unfortunate timing for a call like that. I can’t argue with the refs. I’ve just got to figure what I’ve got to do so that situation doesn’t come up on my bill.”

— If you missed it, team president Michael Bidwill before the game addressed — strongly — the Michael Floyd situation.

— Campbell, in his ninth NFL season, scored on a 53-yard fumble return and that was the first time Campbell had been in the end zone since his senior year in high school when he had a four-touchdown game as a tight end. That was 2003.

— Tim Hightower is famous around these parts for scoring the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship game back in the 2008 season. He was traded away before the 2011 season, suffered a terrible knee injury and didn’t play in an NFL game from 2012-14, but has resurrected his career in New Orleans. Sunday, he scored two touchdowns in the same end zone where he beat the Eagles in 2008.

“I’m just thankful,” Hightower said. “This process has been one that has tested me in every way. … Just thinking of the last (Saints) loss here a year ago (in the 2015 opener). I wasn’t even on the roster. I was released the day before the game. It kind of had everything come back full circle. It was special.”

— Hightower was in the same Cardinals draft class as Campbell. It wasn’t surprising to see the two friends swap jerseys after the game. Campbell said he knew Hightower was behind him on his touchdown run, as Hightower tried to Beebe Campbell from behind. “I felt it,” Campbell said. “I pulled the ball up when I felt him coming for it. I told him, ‘If you had knocked the ball from my hands, we wouldn’t have been friends any longer.’ ”

aftersaints


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Fitz in Miami, and Friday before the Dolphins

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2016 – 3:01 pm

It’s been a big week for Larry Fitzgerald. Becomes the player with the third-most catches in NFL history, is chosen as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year (and will it surprise anyone if Fitz is one of the three finalists?) and now, gets to go back to where he first had a game-winning touchdown.

You remember, right? Denny Green’s first year, Fitz’s rookie year, and the last time the Cardinals actually played in Miami. It was 2004, and Fitz’s 48-yard bomb with about a minute left set up his two-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds left. It snapped a 17-game road losing streak for the Cards (those were the days …) and got Fitzgerald to the postgame interview podium for the first time.

He didn’t like it. It was a short and, if I recall correctly, much too awkward of an interview for a guy who just scored the game-winning points. But life is much different these days for Fitz. That was the day, coming off a personal shutout in the rain in Buffalo, that Fitz started his still-active streak of 191 straight games with a catch.

“That’s a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said.

Indeed it was.

Are these two Miami trips going to essentially bookend Fitz’s career? He was asked this week about catching Tony Gonzalez and/or Jerry Rice on that receptions list. Gonzalez is about 200 receptions in front of Fitzgerald.

“I won’t catch either of those guys,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “I don’t plan on playing long enough to catch both those guys.”

What does that mean? It would seem to put a damper on the idea Fitz will play past 2017, since the rest of this season plus next season plus, say, 2018, would seem to put him in Gonzalez range. So at this point – although Fitzgerald was quick to say he wasn’t making any kind of retirement announcement – Fitz’s time seems to be short. He’s obviously a lot closer to the end than the beginning. Trips to Miami mark the time.

— The Cardinals may adjust their offensive line again, with the possibility of Earl Watford returning to the lineup at right guard for John Wetzel. Watford got hurt at the end of the Minnesota game, and while he was healthy enough to play the last couple games, Wetzel instead got the call. Goodwin called Watford’s year “up and down.”

“It’s probably not where he wants it, not where I want it to be,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I have high expectations of him, as a player and a person.”

Arians said Watford is healthy again, and simply, he has more experience than Wetzel. That’s a big deal going up against what can be a nasty Dolphins defensive line,

— With rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hurting his elbow in practice and missing parts of practice all week, I don’t think anyone has to wonder if this is the week he makes it back to the Sunday active list.

— Guys like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson are going back to Miami to play for the first time and are excited. John Brown is also headed home for the first time, although it’s a much different vibe. Although Goodwin said Brown played well last week in his limited snaps – Arians had noted Smoke was open deep a couple of times, although the Cards couldn’t get him the ball – he didn’t have a catch and has just 31 receptions this season.

“Just going through it is kind of frustrating,” Brown said. “But everyone in here has my back. The coaches have my back. I’ll get through it. It’s just a small bump in the road.”

Brown did say he hasn’t played in front of his family since high school, so he is looking forward to doing so.

— Fitz, on whether rest days have helped the arm of Carson Palmer. “His arm has always looked good,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s 36 years old, you know he’s capable of doing everything. You don’t need to see it every day.”

— Arians was asked about the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu — who won’t play Sunday because of his bad shoulder — and former Colts safety Bob Sanders, who had an excellent career cut short because of injuries. Sanders was also undersized.

“Totally different players,” Arians said. “Bob was a box guy who would just knock your socks off all the time, but his body couldn’t take his bravado. Ty plays the game a different way. It’s just been bad luck.”

— After failing to score on the opening possession all season, the Cardinals have scored a touchdown on the opening drive each of the last two games. Palmer said the Cards have put a focus on it. I asked what does that exactly mean, since you figure they are working on all the plays equally.

“I wish there was one reason or five reasons,” Palmer said. “There are a ton of reasons why that happens. It’s not like all of a sudden Coach put together a really good opening drive. It is not like all of a sudden we didn’t make a mistake on the opening drive. I think if you looked at that and compared it to all the other opening drives, there are probably less mistakes, but there is no rhyme or reason or perfect formula, obviously, or else everybody would be doing it.”

— With no roster moves as of yet, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will make a move with practice squad punter Matt Wile this week. So I expect Drew Butler to have his regular duties against the Dolphins.

— The Cardinals win this weekend, and the last month of this season can be very, very interesting. A loss, and you’re talking about 2017.

FITZGERALD HOWARD


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