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Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2014 – 2:23 pm

The Cardinals moved up practice this week, starting at 10 a.m. on the field. That way, the players are “used” to playing football at 10 a.m., which is kickoff time for Sunday in New York against the Giants. Anything to be as prepared as possible for the earliest start time of the seasom.

“You do everything you can,” coach Bruce Arians said.

Larry Fitzgerald shrugged off the early-start-is-tough-on-the-Cardinals storyline this week – “That’s in the past, he said – and sometimes, there’s only so much you can do anyway. The Cardinals stayed in Florida all week last year after their road game in New Orleans to be properly adjusted for the game in Tampa Bay, and then they were terrible in the first half.

What the Cardinals didn’t have at that point last year was the confidence this group has these days. That makes a difference.

– There are plenty of injury questions for the Cardinals heading into the game, from Carson Palmer’s shoulder (he should be playing) to Andre Ellington’s foot (he thinks he’ll be playing) but maybe the most interesting thing at this point on the injury report is the fact Tyrann Mathieu is listed as probable. If he wasn’t likely to play, there’s no reason to not list him as questionable again. Food for thought as we wait the couple of days to see who is on the inactive list.

– The Giants’ passing game, under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, has been a mess. Eli Manning is trying to learn a new system after years under Kevin Gilbride, his weapons are questionable and his offensive line struggles. It’s a situation upon which the Cardinals can capitalize, especially if they continue to defend the run as well as they do.

That said, the Giants are already frustrated. Bruce Arians told the New York media this week it takes a half-season for a veteran QB to get comfortable in a new offense – paging 2013 Carson Palmer – but that’s not exactly the timeframe Giants coach Tom Coughlin was hoping for.

“I’m not patient,” Coughlin said. “I’m not one of those. I don’t have a real good handle on that maybe because we haven’t done that around here and I haven’t done that for a long time. I have to bite my tongue sometimes and kind of step back and realize it’s a process.”

– I want to see Chandler Catanzaro kick outside in a place that can have interesting weather. The Cat Man is off to a great start.

– The Giants got some pass rush on Matthew Stafford Monday. Their secondary seemed a little out of sorts (covering Calvin Johnson can do that). But I think the Cards’ offensive line held up well enough in the opener. That must continue.

– Don’t remember a game in which both starting punters might be sidelined with injuries, but Dave Zastudil is questionable with his bad groin and the Giants’ Steve Weatherford is questionable after hurting his ankle. The difference is the Cardinals already have a backup punter on the roster with Drew Butler. The Giants haven’t made such a move yet.

– There is always emotion at play during an NFL game. At the end of the Cardinals’ win – when running back Jonathan Dwyer was about to get a third straight handoff on third-and-5 trying to seal the win – offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said “a couple of choice words for him to keep the ball inside.”

“As big as he is, you saw the last run, he kept it inside and ran full speed, that’s what we’ve got to do,” Goodwin said.

Dwyer slammed up into the line for seven yards and a game-clinching first down.

“He was yelling, he said something, and it kinda pissed me off,” Dwyer said. “But I knew what he was talking about. I wanted to get the first down for my team. That’s what they brought me in to do.”

– If you missed this week’s Cardinals Underground podcast – and it was easy to miss – here’s a link.

– Lost in the will-Fitzgerald-get-more-targets stories of the week was the fantastic start to the season of Michael Floyd. Five catches, 119 yards, proof he’s a dangerous deep threat and the continuing uptick of his growth. He doesn’t get the spotlight, although that’s just how he likes it. That’ll change if he keeps playing this way.

FloydFridayBefore1USE


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As Fitz is declared top 10 (seventh, actually)

Posted by Darren Urban on June 27, 2012 – 3:24 pm

The NFL Network’s summer tour of the top 100 players — as chosen by a vote of players — wraps up tonight. Somewhere in the final 10, Larry Fitzgerald will have his named called.

(The show airs at 5 p.m. Arizona time. And I am sure we will have Fitz’s segment available on the site soon after. … And here it is.)

Last year, Fitz was No. 14. Where will he be in a couple of hours? Don’t know. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis remain. I will be interested where Fitz is in relation to Johnson. Something tells me that could get the fans riled up. I already know — since I watched it unfold on Twitter — that people aren’t thrilled Calais Campbell/Adrian Wilson/Darnell Dockett didn’t make the list. Only Patrick Peterson will join Fitz.

Is Campbell or one of the others one of the current 100 best players in the league? An argument can be made, sure. I don’t know how many players participated in the voting, but someone came up with this list. (I mean, is Eli Manning really only the 31st best player? Worse than James Harrison? Or Wes Welker? Um, no.) This is about talking about the NFL in the deadest time of the NFL calendar, however. Don’t ever forget that. Lists are popular to make because they generate such conversation. And we are certainly talking about it, right?

UPDATE: Fitz was seventh. Calvin Johnson was third, behind Rodgers and Brees. Said Fitz on Twitter, “Honored 2 b voted a top 10 player by my peers. Congrats 2 all others. I will continue striving 4 perfection. 6 spots 2 go. #FaithFocusFinish

UPDATE, THE SEQUEL: Fitz had an even longer — and poignant — response on Facebook:

“Having been voted a Top 10 NFL player for the 2012 season is a cherished honor because the selection was made by my peers, and a player can have no greater accolade nor satisfaction than knowing that those he lines up against for 60 minutes every week value to the highest degree his talent, competitiveness, effort, productivity and achievement.

“I’ve completed 8 NFL seasons, & while I am somewhat satisfied with personal achievements, I have come close only once to achieving the ultimate team goal.

“Being a productive WR is no longer enough. I’ve grown into a position of leadership as a Cardinals team captain and have tried to expand my role as a mentor and example for our core of young players.

“My sincere hope is that we can get back to the playoffs on a regular basis and become Super Bowl Champions.

“Our team was 2minutes away from that goal on February 4, 2009, and similarly, my 7th rank of NFL top players leaves room for improvement.

“I will strive as always to expand my role and contributions to team success, be as productive as possible,and win a Championship…..”


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’04 has been an impressive class

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2012 – 9:43 am

In the aftermath of the Giants’ Super Bowl win, much has been made already of the legacy of quarterback Eli Manning, whether he is a Hall of Famer already (I say no right now, although he’s certainly putting together that kind of résumé) and where he fits among the pecking order of today’s QBs. That’s all well and good, but from my perspective, any time I think of Manning I think of what would have happened had McCown-to-Poole not shocked the Vikings. Is Manning a Cardinal?

It’s a moot point, of course, but that line of thinking took me to yet another place this morning: The impact of that 2004 draft class. Most of the time, the top half of the first round provides as many busts as success stories. It sure seems, eight seasons in, that the 2004 first round was better than most, at least in those top 16 picks.

There was Manning going first. The Raiders took tackle Robert Gallery next, and while he hasn’t been a Pro Bowler, he developed into a pretty solid NFL guard (now playing in Seattle). Larry Fitzgerald went third, QB Philip Rivers fourth. S Sean Taylor went to the Redskins, and he was becoming a star before his tragic murder. TE Kellen Winslow has been solid if not spectacular playing for bad teams in Cleveland and Tampa.

There were also cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall (8) and Dunta Robinson (10), Big Ben at 11, LB Jonathan Vilma (12) and Pro Bowl linemen Tommie Harris (a DT at 14) and Shaun Andrews (a T at 16). It was the receivers, other than Fitz, that put the dent in the group, since Roy Williams (7), Reggie Williams (9), Lee Evans (13) and Mark Clayton (15) all fizzled to a point, although Roy W. and Evans have been OK (well, at least until Evans dropped the Ravens’ chance to be in the Super Bowl.)

That first round also produced NT Vince Wilfork, RB Steven Jackson and LB Jason Babin.

It is also arguably the Cards’ best draft ever, with Fitz, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith. All but Dansby have appeared in a Pro Bowl. (In 2001, the Cards got Leonard Davis, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Adrian Wilson and 10-year DB Renaldo Hill; in 1979 the Cards, with 12 picks, ended up with RB Ottis Anderson, T Joe Bostic and WR/DB Roy Green — and future baseball star Kirk Gibson, as a Michigan State WR, although obviously Gibson didn’t come to the NFL.)


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Giants aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2011 – 9:35 pm

Was it a fumble? Does it even matter?

This is the reality – Giants receiver Victor Cruz did an amazing job keep his feet after an initial hit by cornerback Michael Adams. He made a couple of moves back and forth. Then he “gave himself up” and then dropped the ball. The Cards picked it up. “I thought it was a fumble,” safety Kerry Rhodes said, and honestly, as I stood down on the sideline some 20 yards away, it looked that way to me. Giants quarterback Eli Manning admitted the Giants caught a break.

To me, I get the idea of being able to give yourself up, OK. But to me, you’ve got to catch and drop down immediately. If you’re not a QB, once you are running down the field, you should have to be touched down. If Cruz ended up pulling a Plaxico, so be it. It seems – based on reaction by NFL analysts around the league – the Cards indeed should have gotten the ball.

Watching the replay seems to make the call even more egregious than I originally thought.

Of course, as Larry Fitzgerald said, it shouldn’t have come to that and that’s completely true. The Cards aren’t the only team melting down with a lead Sunday. I was listening on the radio on the ride home about all the big lost leads and it was Dallas blowing one against Detroit and Philly choking against San Francisco. It doesn’t make it OK, but it happens.

The emotional swing from the time Beanie rumbled in for his third TD to the last incompletion to Fitz on fourth down was simply giant (pun intended). To be 2-2 going to winless Minnesota, compared to 1-3 …

Some thoughts about today:

– Beanie Wells said he isn’t even completely healthy. He sure looked healthy. He gets 138 yards and three touchdowns. He finally gets a big-carry game – 27 when it was all over. It was enough. It really should have been enough (although I won’t lie, I was hoping for the shotgun-quick draw to him on that final fourth down just to pick up the first down).

– The heave-it-up-to-Fitz-and-let-him-make-a-play worked giveth – on the 47-yard bomb to set up a TD – and it taketh away – on the Antrel Rolle interception. Although it did look like if Kevin Kolb had a little less air under the pass, I’m not sure Rolle would have gotten there. It was a very athletic play by Rolle. (Although Rolle said he “knew” that’s where he’d be headed the whole time.)

– Eli Manning has had some pretty good luck throwing into that one end zone at University of Phoenix Stadium.

– As usual, Jeremy Bridges brought a little bit of nasty to the field when he replaced Brandon Keith at right tackle. Keith hurt his right knee, but it will be interesting to see, even if/when Keith is OK if Bridges gets a chance to play more.

– The last sack Kolb took was on a screen, and coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was simply a four-man rush (which makes sense, because on a screen the linemen basically let the rushers go). “We should have gotten rid of it,” Whisenhunt said. To take a 10-yard sack there was a killer.

– Many people think Hakeem Nicks is one of the top receivers in the game. His numbers – 10 catches for 162 yards – seemed to show that. I know there is frustration with the cornerbacks, like Patrick Peterson on the last play, but Nicks made some Pro Bowl-esque plays.

– A.J. Jefferson was still returning kickoffs. I would guess that has more to do with LaRod Stephens-Howlings coming off the hand injury rather than feeling the Hyphen isn’t the best kick return man anymore.

– The vaunted running duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for 57 yards rushing on 21 carries. It’s hollow somewhat because of the Giants’ comeback, but it was a nice effort by the Cards’ rush defense.

– I thought Darnell Dockett played really well. Officially Dockett had two tackles for loss among his four tackles, but he drew a few holding penalties and was in the backfield most of the day (and another hold could have been called on the infamous non-fumble play. I thought Dockett was going to reach Manning on that play).

Well, everyone was talking about moving on. That sounds like a good idea. I still have a little Sunday left to not think about football.


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Friday before the Giants

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2011 – 4:06 pm

The term “must-win” always creates a sticky situation, unless, you know, a team must win – think, oh, the Atlanta Braves the other night after the St. Louis Cardinals won. That was a must-win. The Cardinals aren’t playing a must-win Sunday against the Giants, because the bottom line is that worst-case scenario, they would only be two games behind the 49ers in the division with 12 to play, and two games left with San Francisco. Logically, nothing is over with a loss.

Obviously, there is a sense of urgency, however, especially after the Cards came up short – painfully so – in Seattle. That was one I thought was going to be a victory, and I am pretty sure I’m not the only one. The Giants are coming off an impressive win in Philadelphia, and they are going to have defensive end Osi Umenyiora back. The momentum is on their side, especially after the Cards sputtered in the Northwest.

But oftentimes, these are the early-season home games the Cards somehow seem to win — the Steelers in 2007, the undefeated Bills in 2008 (and the Cowboys the next week), the Saints last year.

The ebb and flow of a football season can mess with emotions, especially with a week between games. The grind has a long way to go. Beating the Giants changes the vibe considerably, however, compared to the alternative – which would be a 1-3 record.

– This will be a big test for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Kolb said this week he felt like he took a step back in Seattle. Taking a step forward – against the Giants’ pass rush – isn’t an easy task. I expect, after the second-half issues with Fitz, that the Cards will work very hard to get Larry Fitzgerald consistently involved. Kolb is very aware of what the Giants’ defense is all about, having studied them as a division opponent his first four seasons (although he’s never played against them) and he got a chance to talk to Michael Vick earlier this week. Wonder if Vick was able to give him any pointers.

– Interesting to hear today that O’Brien Schofield will wear a wristband to make sure he knows the defensive plays. If that’s what it takes to get Schofield on the field more often, that’s fine. It’s not about pride, it’s about results no matter how it is accomplished.

– It sure seems Beanie Wells will be back carrying the ball this week. You got the vibe last week Wells wouldn’t be able to go and he didn’t. It’s the other way this week. Hopefully he can pick up where he left off. The Cards need that. A side boost from LaRod Stephens-Howling wouldn’t hurt either.

– It’s been two seasons, but the last time the Cards had a shot at Eli Manning, they made Manning look very ordinary up in New York in 2009 on “Sunday Night Football.” That was a game where the defense and Wells shined, more than being a Kurt Warner production. I would think that would have to be the recipe again. Tom Coughlin is conservative. If the Cards can force a couple of turnovers, I think they will be OK. If not …

– As nasty as the hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor was on Todd Heap last Sunday, it may not have been illegal. That seems to be the sentiment from the NFL after Chancellor was not fined.

– The game is a sellout, of course. On TV locally, but more importantly, loud for the home team in theory. After two straight on the road, that will make a difference.

Interesting stats from Profootballfocus.com, as they grade out the offensive lines thus far as far as pass protection. They make the point that how quickly the quarterbacks release the ball isn’t factored into the equation yet, but the Cards – by their metrics – are 29th in the league, and every offense lineman except for guard Rex Hadnot is in their bottom rankings.

– The Giants still use running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs so well. Slowing them is the key – defensive coordinator Ray Horton said as much – as long as the Cards don’t let Hakeem Nicks get deep.

– Why does this feel like a game where Darnell Dockett makes the highlights?

Remember, it’s the breast cancer awareness game, as well as alternate uniform game. So be sure to wear your best pink-and-black combo, and we’ll see if the Cardinals can get back to .500 and steady the ship a bit.


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A predictor of Leinart’s success

Posted by Darren Urban on July 8, 2010 – 1:57 pm

We’ve analyzed and dissected what it means for the Cards to have Matt Leinart starting at quarterback this season a bunch of times already, and training camp hasn’t even arrived yet.

But hey, it’s the summer. The players are gone. So here’s another thought.

SI.com has a story posted today about the “Rule of 26-27-60″ as a guide (although not a guarantee) of NFL quarterbacking success. And, according to the rule, Leinart should work out. The idea? If a guy scored at least a 26 on the infamous Wonderlic exam at the combine, had at least 27 college starts and completed at least 60 percent of his collegiate passes, usually, it means the guy can succeed on the NFL level.

Leinart scored a 35 on the Wonderlic. He started 39 games in college. And he completed 64.8 percent of his passes. Check. Check. Check.

Among current names that also accomplished all three parts of the “rule?” Both Mannings, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Drew Brees. Among the names that fell short in at least one category? Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, David Carr, Joey Harrington, JaMarcus Russell.

Now, there are always exceptions. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre have all done pretty well. And you may not be printing Super Bowl tickets if Ryan Fitzpatrick or Kyle Orton (both of whom reached all three benchmarks in college) is your QB.

But it’s a talking point, and one to consider. Until gets a chance to wed significant playing time with his acknowledged more mature preparation methods, we won’t know for sure either way. UPDATE FOR THOSE WONDERING: Here are the numbers for the other QBs on the roster, again with the caveat that this “rule” isn’t the end-all-be-all. Derek Anderson 19-38-50.7, John Skelton 24-41-58.8, Max Hall 38-39-65.3.


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