The Cardinals, for a second straight season, played three of the teams in the NFL’s final four. It helps that division brother San Francisco has made it in, and the Cardinals had their trouble with the 49ers this season, whether Alex Smith was the quarterback or Colin Kaepernick was calling signals. The games against the other two opponents that have made it to the championship games went a little bit better. The trip to Atlanta was a loss, yes, but it should have been a win with the way the defense played that day, amid the controversy of the benching-Skelton-for-Lindley situation. Obviously, the trip to New England was the Cardinals’ signature victory of the season, complete with late-game dramatics and a heart-stopping ending.
(And a game that seems like it was four years ago, not four months ago.)
It’s the same 1-3 record the Cards had against final four opponents last season. It’s hard to make a lot of comparisons with the way those teams are playing now to when the Cards met them. Even though the 49ers last game before beating up the Packers Saturday night was against Arizona, the game plan devised by the Niners with Kaepernick looked so deadly the other day. The Cards didn’t play great in that finale, but Kaepernick at least didn’t look like a Hall of Famer like he did against Green Bay. The Patriots, who lost tight end Aaron Hernandez early that day against the Cards, have clearly smoothed out the offense. The Falcons just don’t scare anyone, even in their dome, and everyone seems to agree — the Niners are road favorites against the No. 1 seed, for goodness sake.
– In the head coach search, Jay Glazer reported the Cards want to talk to Broncos OC Mike McCoy for a second interview. He was interviewed in Denver the first time so you’d figure everyone would want to get him in the building so he could actually see the physical situation.
Tags: 49ers, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Falcons, Packers, Patriots
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The bye week is always good – I know I appreciate it, so I can only imagine the players’ delight – but it is tough when you go two weeks between games. The storylines dry up a bit, especially this deep in the season, when there isn’t actual action from which to play off.
At this point, maybe it’s helps to look at it simply. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the players were asked many times different ways about a midseason/bye assessment the past couple weeks. One Whisenhunt answer summed it up best.
“What is there to say besides it’s not good enough?” he said.
True. The 4-0 start is well in the rear view mirror. I don’t think anyone can argue that the Cardinals winning Sunday in Atlanta would be an upset, but in the NFL, it wouldn’t be some kind of stunning shock either. Everything changes if the Cards were to win. But to have that chance, the Cardinals can’t drop passes, can’t miss tackles, can’t get off to slow starts on offense or defense. They have to be good enough.
– The Cardinals have not, as noted, been tackling very well. It hasn’t been a season-long problem, but it’s been a problem for late. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton wasn’t concerned it will continue to be a problem.
“One of our coaches said today that in practice this week, it reminded us how they practiced for New England,” Horton said. “Very focused, very alert, very sharp. I don’t think tackling will be an issue. They are ready for this game.”
– Whisenhunt was asked if he had even been on a team that started two rookie tackles. “Nope,” Whiz said, allowing himself a chuckle. “I think I would remember that. We have been through some tough situations with the line during my time in the NFL. I don’t think I’ve ever started two rookie tackles.”
Nate Potter and Bobby Massie are a first Sunday.
– Here was quarterback John Skelton’s assessment of Potter’s first playing time in Green Bay. “He had the jitters a little bit, but the first play we asked him to block Clay Matthews and he did a good job,” Skelton said. Skelton just happened to hit Andre Roberts on a 40-yard bomb that play. It’s going to be a learning curve for Potter, but it’s definitely will be interesting to watch.
– I know the Falcons are calling wide receiver Julio Jones a game-day decision, but a sprained ankle is tough for a wide receiver, and from what I have always seen, any guy who doesn’t practice all week tends to be not much of a factor on Sunday even if the player does play.
– Calais Campbell could play Sunday, I suppose, but I don’t expect it. It’s like Darnell Dockett being banged up earlier in the year – you’d rather have a player miss one game rather than risk a longer-term problem. If Campbell sits, it looks like David Carter will get a shot at a lot of playing time. It’s easy to forget how well Carter played at times as a rookie. He’s definitely a player the Cards can develop and if he can play both end and tackle, even better.
– I know a lot of people keep asking. I don’t know what to expect from tight end Todd Heap. He was limited all week and questionable. I’d guess he’s one of the ones that will work out before the game, and the Cards will go from there. I have zero idea if this is the week he plays.
– Ralphie is an Arizona Cardinals’ fan. Who knew?
– This will be the first start for Quentin Groves at linebacker, following the season-ending injury to O’Brien Schofield. That shouldn’t be a huge deal; Groves, after all, has been a starter in Oakland and Jacksonville. But it also means the Cards’ depth behind Groves and Sam Acho falls on a pair of first-year Cards: Jamaal Westerman and undrafted rookie Zack Nash. Westerman has experience, but he was also the one left inactive on game in favor of Nash, which could say something about both of them. If Acho or Groves get nicked, how the backups respond will be important.
“They don’t have much choice.” Whisenhunt said. “This league, you have to play and be successful when you aren’t getting all the (practice) reps.”
– A quick heads-up: “Season In Focus” will air Saturday morning at 7 a.m. on ABC-15. There will be a recap of the first half of the season, a “Wired” segment with linebacker Daryl Washington and a “Zoom” episode featuring a Cardinals cheerleader who happens to be a veteran of the war in Iraq. Then on “Flightplan” – airing Saturday at midnight on NBC Ch. 12 right after “Saturday Night Live,” Whisenhunt and Ron Wolfley break down video of the Roberts’ bomb and Potter’s overall work in his first game.
The second half of the season is upon us.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Calais Campbell, Falcons, Jamaal Westerman, Ken Whisenhunt, Nate Potter, Quentin Groves, Ray Horton, Todd Heap, Zack Nash
Posted in Blog | 30 Comments »
Every week, the Cardinals — like most teams in the NFL — pump in crowd noise at practice in order to prepare for the upcoming game. It’s done before home games as well as the road, but obviously, it means more when a team is about to play a road game. And to play a road game in a dome, like the Cardinals will do Sunday in Atlanta, the importance grows that much more.
“It makes it smoother for us to operate when we simulate it in practice,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You can’t ever make it exactly how it’s going to be. It’s hard. But you have to practice with it because you have to get used to the mechanics of operating that way. We’ve gotten a lot better and I think teams in the NFL in general have gotten a lot better with that. They understand how to operate and work with it. It’s not easy.”
That rings true to me, that teams have gotten better dealing with crowd noise. Once upon a time, an opposing quarterback was allowed to ask a referee to reset the play clock because he felt it was too loud and he couldn’t communicate. Thankfully, the NFL did away with that rule. Part of home-field advantage is having a crowd that can affect the other team. Certainly, the Cardinals have had that work in their favor at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Seahawks and their “12th man” are famous for it in Seattle.
But teams adjust. Offenses, for the most part, are pretty good with a silent count. Teams use the shotgun so much more these days (Jeez, I remember growing up how the Cowboys were so cutting edge because Roger Staubach was the only one using a shotgun. That was a long, long time ago.) that communication isn’t always easy with the offensive line even when the crowd isn’t over the top.
Don’t get me wrong, noise is still a factor, and it still bothers teams. Offensive linemen in particular will acknowledge that. “We know it’s going to be a tough environment,” Whisenhunt said of Atlanta, and that much is true. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating, and the Cards try to make sure of that.
Tags: Falcons, Ken Whisenhunt
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Yes, yes, I know I am early. Way early. But as long as the info is out there — and while we still have a little bit before we get to training camp — here is a look at who the Cardinals’ opponents will be for the 2013 season.
– Indianapolis (Andrew Luck!)
– Carolina (Cam Newton!)
– Houston (Arian Foster.)
– Atlanta (Roddy White?)
– NFC North team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings
– and of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.
– New Orleans
– Tampa Bay
– NFC East team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings
– and, of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.
I was going to do a little analysis, but then I realized how foolish that was this far out.
Tags: 49ers, Andrew Luck, Arian Foster, Buccaneers, Cam Newton, Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, Panthers, Rams, Roddy White, Saints, schedule, Seahawks, Texans, Titans
Posted in Blog | 16 Comments »
The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The accomplishments certainly weren’t lost as the Cardinals went on their most exciting month-long journey ever back in the first few weeks of 2009, but I’m not totally sure what Larry Fitzgerald was doing in the playoffs that year could have been completely appreciated given the circumstances.
As the wins came and the Super Bowl got closer, talking just about one player didn’t make sense (let’s not get it twisted – Fitz still got plenty of attention over those five weeks of the postseason, and I just thumbed through his clip file if I hadn’t remembered). When you go back and think, however, it almost started innocently against the Falcons.
At that point, the Cards just wanted to win a playoff game, after the 2-5 slide on which they entered the postseason. Fitz had 101 yards on six receptions that day, including an acrobatic catch in double-coverage for a 42-yard touchdown. But that was early, and the moments burned more harsh in the brain were things like Anquan Boldin’s 71-yard catch-and-run TD on which he came up hurt, the Dockett/Rolle combo that created a fumble for a touchdown, and tight end Stephen Spach’s game-clinching catch.
Fitz had nice numbers, but that was supposed to happen.
The next game, though, that’s when the momentum began to build. And when Fitz truly exploded.
Boldin was injured. The Cards were on the road in Carolina. And yet Fitzgerald ran roughshod, finishing with 166 yards on eight catches, with 122 of those yards coming when there was still five minutes left in the first half and the Cards were in complete control. He caught another bomb in double-coverage. He did whatever he wanted against the Panthers (who shouldn’t have been surprised; he had seven receptions for 115 yards when the teams met earlier in the season in Carolina and instead they looked like they had no idea how to deal with him). When Fitz scored his TD – an amazing effort on a crossing route in which he dove for the pylon and scored – it was still the first half and yet it felt like an exclamation point had already been stamped on the game.
His numbers were incredible. The Eagles knew this. They insisted during the week they would not let Fitzgerald go off. A noble pursuit. Yet at that point, impossible to back up with actions. Fitzgerald had three touchdown catches in the first half (he finished with nine receptions for 152 yards). The Eagles slowed him down in the second half, but he had done enough damage. It had reached the expectation that Fitzgerald was certain to get 125 yards in a game, that every jump ball would be his, that he could do no wrong and would carry the team all the way to a title. I mean, Boldin was back for the Eagles, but at that moment, Fitz was alone in the receiving stratosphere, not only on his own team but the entire league. There was no question.
(Well, I guess there was some question. But what is the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl about if not hyperbole.)
In the Super Bowl, Fitz had just one catch in the first three quarters. He had finally been tamed by the famed Steel Curtain. Except he wasn’t, suddenly going off in the final 15 minutes during the Cards’ furious rally, coming up with six receptions and capping it all with that magical 64-yard catch-and-run that seemed destined to be the highlight to signify the Cards’ improbable championship. Then it wasn’t, instead a reminder of what could have been.
The loss didn’t take away from what Fitzgerald did, however. He had seven more catches for 127 yards in the game and he had played so well for so long some were even marveling about the plays he almost made. He set playoff records for catches (30), yards (546) and TDs (7). It was a performance for the ages. “A lot of those playoff catches, he had guys draped over him and he was just making plays,” fellow wideout Steve Breaston said at the time. “You did kind of wonder: When was anyone going to stop him?”
That postseason, the answer was never.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Eagles, Falcons, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, Steelers, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston, Super Bowl
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So there were — understandably — big questions about the Seahawks taking their 7-9 record despite an NFC West title and winning anything. Every single one of their nine losses were by at least 15 points, for heavens sake!
Then they knocked off the Saints.
And suddenly, you look at the NFC playoff landscape and think, “Have I seen this before?”
Back in 2008, after the Cards won their first playoff game (at home) they went to play at 12-4 Carolina (the No. 2 seed) as the No. 4 seed. It was the perfect matchup, because they had already gone to Carolina earlier in the season and even though they lost, 27-23, to a man the Cardinals felt they had blown that game against the Panthers and were a better team. At the same time, the No. 6 Eagles were going to the No. 1 Giants, and while New York was having a fine season as defending NFL champs, Philly had just beat them in New York.
We know how that turned out. The Cards ended up with one of the most improbable NFC Championship home games ever.
This season, some of the details are transposed, but there is a chance the result could repeat. The No. 4 Seahawks are at the No. 2 Bears, and Chicago was the site of Seattle’s most notable regular-season victory when they beat up the Bears earlier this year. And while the No. 6 Packers lost at the No. 1 Falcons a few weeks ago, Green Bay easily could have won a tight game. If the Packers and Seahawks both win (and the latter isn’t out of the question), Seattle might find itself hosting the NFC Championship. Improbably. Once again.
Tags: Bears, Eagles, Falcons, Giants, NFC Championship, Packers, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks
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If you would have told me back at the beginning of August that would be the case in early December, I would have said, “Uh oh.” But this is where the Cards sit, a season off the rails, record-wise, and even though coach Ken Whisenhunt was basically pushed into this situation because of circumstances, I agree with many that this is the best decision to make.
We’ll see what Skelton brings to a full game. This isn’t about two throws down the field after coming into a game late, like Skelton completed last week against the Rams. This is a whole game, and more importantly, a whole game for which the opponent can prep.
The upside to Skelton? His arm strength is impressive. And I do like his mental makeup, at least from what I can see. As I have mentioned before, he tends to be even-keeled (and sounds it). He said today he usually doesn’t get nervous. The downside? Well, besides the fact he hasn’t done it, the lack of work he’s had with his fellow starters is glaring. As the third-stringer, his work with the main offensive players has basically been this week. Larry Fitzgerald was even absent today attending his grandfather’s funeral, so that’s one less day of work.
Undoubtedly, how Skelton performs will be Sunday’s story. From the Cardinals’ perspective, at least.
– Remember the last time the Cardinals faced a team that had just undergone a coaching change game week? It was late in 2007, when the Atlanta Falcons, their season trashed right before it began when Michael Vick was nailed for dogfighting charges, had coach Bobby Petrino walk out on them. The Falcons were a mess when they came to Arizona, yet took the Cards to overtime before Arizona pulled out a 30-27 victory.
The Falcons were stubborn that day. Wondering if the Broncos will play as inspired.
– Defensive lineman Alan Branch was fined $10,000 for “unnecessarily” hitting Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in the head/neck area. It was on a play late in Sunday’s game, and the Cards weren’t even sure it should have been a penalty.
– With no Josh McDaniels as coach, the Broncos not only lose their head man, but also their playcaller. “That really throws a wrench into it as far as what to expect,” Whisenhunt said.
– While the idea is still to win games, I think Whisenhunt will look more at those younger players – more than already, anyway. He already praised nose tackle Dan Williams for his recent play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if linebacker Daryl Washington is used more often on defense.
– Fitzgerald breaks his tie with Anquan Boldin for most receptions in franchise history (586) with his first Sunday. … He gets one, right?
– When you see the Cardinals having converted just 26.5 percent of third downs this season (opponents are a shade over 40 percent), you have a great understanding of their offensive woes. Of 137 possessions this season, 52 have ended in three plays or less (a three-and-out or a turnover within three plays), or 38 percent. The Cards need to extend drives to have a chance. Of the 147 third downs the Cards have faced, 100 have been for at least six yards.
“We’ve had opportunities to make catches and we haven’t. We’ve had opportunities to move in the pocket and make throws and we haven’t,” Whisenhunt said. “It comes down to be able to make plays. You see it every game. Very frustrating. You know every play or every scheme you call isn’t going to work. Sometimes it comes down to making a play and we haven’t done it.”
– The Cardinals still need one return touchdown this season to give them nine this year and break the NFL record. It’d be nice to do that Sunday. Skelton would probably like the help.
Tags: Alan Branch, Broncos, Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, Falcons, John Skelton, Larry Fitzgerald
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The Buccaneers had just beaten the Rams — improbably — Sunday when head coach Raheem Morris proclaimed “We’re the best team in the NFC. Yeah, I said it.” The Bucs are a great story with a 4-2 record, and Morris — who just turned 34 in September — probably was caught up in the heat of the moment (especially since Tampa has had two blowout losses at home and remains a half-game back in its own division). Certainly, the Cardinals wish they were 4-2 and not 3-3.
Then again, it didn’t seem to matter much to the Cardinals. I don’t expect this to be stuck on the bulletin board all week (although it might end up in a pre-game speech somewhere).
“That’s his opinion,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “He’s the coach of their team and maybe that can boost his team up. We are coming off a loss and I don’t feel we are the best team in the NFC. We are trying to work. We are trying to be the best team in our division so I know I’m not going to say we are the best team in the NFC. Right now we are in second place in our division.”
Running back Jason Wright chuckled when asked if he could ever see coach Ken Whisenhunt making such a pronouncement.
“There is a difference in personality,” Wright said. “Whiz is always trying to make us better, and I think he knows if you give too much credit too early, you aren’t as likely to improve. So he’d probably wouldn’t say that, even if he felt that way.”
Wright added that players “don’t usually hear” such chatter, spending more time concerning themselves with video of the other team rather than their quotes.
Besides, at this point, there may not be a great team in the NFC. I’m sure the Falcons — the aforementioned 5-2 team ahead of the Bucs in the NFC South — would disagree, but the conference certainly has a wide-open feel.
“You really can’t tell who the best team is until February when the Super Bowl comes,” Dockett said. “That’s the best team, who represents the NFC. You just hope your words don’t come back to bite you when you say stuff like that. We’re going to stay humble and that’s our main focus.”
Tags: Buccaneers, Darnell Dockett, Falcons, Jason Wright, Raheem Morris
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A sampling of three comments from my blog:
“I’m a (season-ticket holder) and this is it. I’m not going to suffer through this anymore. This team’s inconsistency and inability to show up for the big game is unacceptable.”
“My heart was broken with this game. I even took down my Cardinal flag. Maybe the question should be asked is ‘Was last year a fluke?’ ”
“One thing I do agree on from many posts is the ‘Ho hum’ attitude from Coach Whiz and the players after an embarrassment like this. I know Coach Whiz is a pretty even tempered person but I didn’t see him take any accountability himself for it.”
The talk of frustration, certainly.
But it wasn’t from this week.
It’s from after the Colts game last season, a disastrous blowout loss. The season turned out OK, right?
Look, I’m not trying to say this team is as good as last season. We can guess if it is or isn’t, but reality says it’s hard to know for sure two games in. You ask my opinion, and, given that it is the home opener and that the Raiders are far from an established opponent, I believe this is almost a must-win – especially given a trip to San Diego and a visit from the Saints up next. But I also thought the Cards would clobber the Panthers last year and lose at least one of the six road games they ended up winning.
Coaches don’t know exactly who and what their teams are after two games. No one does.
On to the Raiders:
– What’s more important this week? Derek Anderson’s showing? Or the defense? I vote the defense, because I agree with safety Adrian Wilson – this team is going to have to be about defense first. They don’t have to be the 2000 Ravens or anything, but they have to be stout, they have to keep this team in games knowing the offense probably isn’t scoring 25 points a game and they have to make a impact play or two (preferably in the turnover category).
– That said, Anderson needs to click more often. Everyone knows that, including Anderson. If the Raiders blanket Larry Fitzgerald with Nnamdi Asomugha – which is possible – fine. Let Steve Breaston rip them up. Breaston is capable.
– What will Beanie Wells bring? He’s not going to out-carry Tim Hightower. Not this week. Limited again Friday, Beanie hasn’t practiced fully since he got hurt in the final preseason game Sept. 2 (and subsequently had surgery to repair a meniscus tear). Coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged this week Beanie isn’t in football shape. Yet Beanie is a threat and a nice compliment to Hightower. If this game stays close, riding the running backs a little more might help Anderson too.
– The Cards are 5 for 21 on third-down conversions this season. That absolutely must improve, although I am pretty sure that message has been delivered multiple times.
– Not sure who gets the call as punt returner. It may be rookie Andre Roberts’ turn, now that Max Komar had first-game issues and Breaston is already nursing that sore knee. Roberts has had trouble consistently catching passes this first year, and that can’t happen as a punt returner. Breaston, on “learning” how to catch punts: “You don’t want to say any person can catch them,” Breaston said. “It’s all about that pressure coming down on you. Any given time, someone could release a block and knock you on your butt. It’s like going across the middle every play – are you going to focus on that ball? Or are you going to focus on that safety?”
As receivers, both Roberts and Komar can understand such an analogy. The question is, can they make it work?
What a week. Started with disappointment in Atlanta, ended with a small Russian woman and Fitzgerald dancing after practice. Not exactly a sequence I had been expecting. Now we’ll wait to see how Sunday plays out.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Andre Roberts, Beanie Wells, Derek Anderson, Falcons, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Max Komar, Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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Well, at least no one got hurt.
There are bumps and bruises, I am sure – Derek Anderson owns a handful, I’d guess – but the last thing the Cards wanted to come out Sunday’s loss was injury to go with their insult. This team avoided the road blowouts last year. Didn’t happen this year.
But that’s the thing today. Are the Cards going to make this a fluky weekend? Or is there a chance we are going to see this again? The Cards want to believe the former. They will get a chance to prove it.
– I’ll be honest – with the Cards’ defensive line, I didn’t think they could get torn up on the ground the way they did. What was more surprising is that once Michael Turner got hurt, Jason Snelling – essentially the Falcons’ third-string back – piled up the yards. Obviously, that can’t happen. Neither Calais Campbell or Darnell Dockett were their normal disruptive selves. The tackling by the defense wasn’t the best either.
– Of the eight third-down instances the Cards had Sunday – they didn’t convert any – three were needing double-digit yards: 14 (an 11-yard pass to tight end Ben Patrick), 11 (incomplete) and 16 (incomplete). The other five instances were shorter – two of six yards, four yards, three yards, and one yard (one interception and four incompletions).
”It was probably a bunch of everything,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We had some mistakes on the routes, we didn’t protect as well as we needed to at times, and we didn’t make some throws. It’s an area we have been pretty good. We will continue to work at it.”
– Anderson took a few more hellacious hits. The Cards know that’s going to keep coming, but it’s hard to think he’s going to be able to last the season at this rate. He’s incredibly tough – he proven that already – but the human body is what it is. Opposing teams are going to blitz until they get burned through the air.
– The penalties were obviously a major story – some were poor decisions or errors by the Cards, some were just hard to understand on who or why they were called. No one Card may have been affected by the officials more than LaRod Stephens-Howling. The Hyphen not only lost out on his 98-yard touchdown (let me know when you find out who actually did the hold), but later in the game, LSH wasn’t totally sure he could come out of the end zone. He looked over to the official, who shook his head, and Stephens-Howling took that to mean he couldn’t stay in the end zone.
– The one bright spot was Tim Hightower. It’s funny; when Beanie Wells was drafted, there was a lot of talk about how Wells finally gave the Cards a back who could take it to the house. Well, in the Cards’ last three games Hightower has a 70-yard TD run and an 80-yard TD run.
– Anderson still completed only 55 percent of his passes, but at least he and Larry Fitzgerald had better cohesion – seven catches, many as Fitz got loose in the middle. Max Hall got his first chance and had a welcome-to-the-NFL moment with an interception on his second pass. The Cards have long felt Hall isn’t ready yet; he may turn into a solid NFL QB but he’s not a savior. Rookie quarterbacks never are.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Ben Patrick, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Derek Anderson, Falcons, Ken Whisenhunt, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Max Hall, Tim Hightower
Posted in Blog | 150 Comments »