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Cardinals still blitz-happy under Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on July 13, 2017 – 1:15 pm

Bruce Arians kept his promise. The Cardinals acquired Chandler Jones last offseason (and were counting on Markus Golden taking another step forward as a pass rusher) and yet before the season he said he still wouldn’t be happy unless the Cards were blitzing.

“If we’ve got four good ones, why not send five or six?” Arians said then.

The Cards got what they wanted out of Jones (11 sacks) and Golden (12.5 sacks). But they also kept blitzing. Pro Football Focus has the numbers (and a couple of gifs for examples). NFL teams blitz an average of 30 percent of the time, PFF says, and about 38 percent in obvious passing situations. The Cardinals in 2016? Blitzing nearly 41 percent of the time (and 41.4 percent on first downs.) PFF makes the point that, in blitzing, it gives teams less chance to double-team when blocking. But in the end, Arians just likes to bring the pressure. It’s the defensive equivalent of the deep shots B.A. likes to take on offense. What, you thought because B.A. is an offensive guy that “No risk-it, no biscuit” was restricted to offense?

It’s also followed the change in DC from Todd Bowles — who blitzed a lot — to James Bettcher. With the addition of rookie inside linebacker Haason Reddick (who played a pass-rushing defensive end at Temple) and a healthy Tyrann Mathieu, there seem to be more blitzing options heading into 2017.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2017 – 11:33 am

What’s frightening – at least to someone that hasn’t been on vacation yet – is that the first practice of 2017 training camp is exactly one month away. This is where I’d like time to slow down a bit. But this is also the time, before I take a step away for a bit and with the Cardinals a couple weeks already gone after wrapping minicamp, that I take a too-early shot at what the starting lineups will be Sept. 10 in Detroit.

Today, we’ll do defense. Tomorrow, the offense (right here). Most of these are pretty obvious. There are no real titanic battles on the camp docket. These can change if Steve Keim chooses to bring in a vet, but right now, nothing is imminent.

DT – Josh Mauro. Quietly, Mauro a) started almost all last season and b) has become one of the favorites of this coaching staff. No gaudy stats, but DL coach Brentson Buckner said Mauro is always effective when he’s on the field.

NT – Corey Peters. Speaking of quietly, Peters too played well in 2016. Came back strong off his Achilles injury. Proving to be a solid 2015 free-agent signing, even if he missed a year.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Always a chance Robert Nkemdiche could slip in, but I’m guessing Rucker – now healthy when he wasn’t in 2016 – takes hold of this spot, at least in the beginning. There will be plenty of rotating across the defensive line at all three spots.

OLB – Chandler Jones. No more uncertainly. Jones has his long-term contract, and so you pencil him in.

ILB – Haason Reddick. This is supposed to be Deone Bucannon’s spot, and there is still a chance he’s ready by the opener. I’m going to guess it’ll take Buc a little longer than that to be ready, and so I think the rookie will be the anti-Nkemdiche/Humphries and be in the lineup from jump.

ILB – Karlos Dansby. Dansby is supposed to be a bridge guy to the Bucannon/Reddick ILB lineup. But he still sees himself as “legendary,” and to the benefit of the Cards, he’ll work as hard as he can to stay in the lineup.

OLB – Markus Golden. Had a breakout second season, leading the team in sacks. Will be an interesting year too, since he (like David Johnson) will be eligible for a contract extension after the season, with 2018 his final year under contract.

CB – Patrick Peterson. A star, and he’s earned that title. Sometimes he gives up something, but that happens when you cover the other team’s best every week. Most of the time, Peterson makes the play.

CB – Justin Bethel. One of the biggest questions. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if Bethel is not the starter against the Lions. If Keim were to sign a veteran on defense, this is the spot I would bet it’d be for. All that said, Bethel looked better than Brandon Williams in the offseason, he is healthy, and if the roster stays as is, Bethel makes the most sense in this role.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals need full-on Honey Badger. That is all.

SS – Antoine Bethea. There are options at the other safety spot. I don’t see Budda Baker in this role, not yet. Tyvon Branch remains an option. But there is a reason the Cardinals signed Bethea, and I think they will want his experience and leadership on the field.


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Bucannon news means crash course for Reddick

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2017 – 4:15 pm

So the hope is that Deone Bucannon will be back for the beginning of the regular season, after the news that the linebacker recently had ankle surgery to repair the injury he had hoped rehab would solve. That means for the offseason — and into training camp, if not all of training camp — it’ll be No. 1 draft pick Haason Reddick who will step into the breach.

That’s fine — ultimately, Reddick figures to spend more time at inside linebacker than outside, and inside is where he was slated to spend the offseason anyway. Bruce Arians said Tuesday the Cardinals get that Reddick already knows how to rush the passer. Now it’s about learning the other position. But this also will make the latter stages of training camp and the beginning of the regular season very interesting. The inside linebacker corps becomes thinner now, much different than just a week ago when Bucannon was in the fold, Reddick could fill in and — at least briefly — there was a chance Daryl Washington might be in the mix. The Washington return was a non-starter, though, and now Bucannon is sidelined. If Bucannon comes back early in the season, it’s easy to forget it ever happened — does anyone remember that left guard Mike Iupati missed the first three games of the 2015 season because of a knee injury, only to return to Pro Bowl status in a 13-3 season?

The kind of guy Bucannon is, he’ll push hard to return quickly. I could see him being the kind of guy who may have to be told to take it easy and let the healing take place. In the meantime, though, Reddick is on deck.


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A draft of passion, speed — but no QB

Posted by Darren Urban on April 29, 2017 – 3:52 pm

The draft is over. So Bruce Arians summed it up plainly. “Passion and speed.”

The Cardinals also went for versatility, guys that could play in a couple of spots. And it was also about what they didn’t get. With the much-anticipated temptation of taking a quarterback, “we talked about a couple of guys, but they were all gone,” Arians said. “As far as a temptation, no.” (A QB is already in hand, though. See below.)

— It didn’t look like the Cardinals had drafted a cornerback either, until they did. Sixth-round pick Johnathan “Rudy” Ford was a safety as he wrapped up at Auburn, but he began his career as a cornerback and the Cardinals will use him at cornerback. He’s been training there already, with former Cardinals cornerback (and two-time offseason coaching intern) Rod Hood.

— Ford got his nickname because when he was little, he wouldn’t give up. And his uncle nicknamed him that, yes, after the movie.

— Special teams was not forgotten. Clearly, the Cardinals see big special teams play to come from multiple picks: Budda Baker, Haason Reddick, Rudy Ford, T.J. Logan.

— Arians described Logan as more Andre Ellington than David Johnson. If Logan clicks in the backfield, it will certainly free up Ellington to be more of a receiver, which Arians already said would be Ellington’s role.

— The liver condition of fourth-round guard Dorian Johnson is not a problem. Not to the Cardinals. “Some people think me and Coach have liver issues but we’re just fine,” GM Steve Keim deadpanned.

“Terrible joke, but he’s fine,” Keim said. “It’s not been an issue in the past.”

“(Dorian) knows how to manage it,” Arians said with a grin. “I’m still learning mine.”

— The two offensive linemen (Johnson and Will Holden) can play multiple positions. Keim loves that. They are also considered very smart. “Not to get too detailed, but the less time we have with these players, the less time we can develop them, and the less we can get them to understand what we are trying to get across from a schematical standpoint,” Keim said. “It’s important to draft smart players, it’s important to draft passionate players, and it’s important to draft players with positional flexibility.”

— The Cardinals will start to work on their undrafted rookie list now. The official list likely won’t be out until Monday, although I am sure some names will trickle out before then. There will be a quarterback on that list. The Cardinals have 14 spots open on the offseason 90-man roster (although that includes one for Daryl Washington, whose actual spot on the roster figures to be determined sooner rather than later.)

(UPDATE: And there’s your UDFA QB. Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight tweeted out he’s coming to the Cardinals.)

Keim said the plan is to sign 15 to 20 undrafted rookies. A team isn’t going to land all their targets usually, but if there are more than 14, there may be some roster moves early next week to make room for newbies.


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No DWash thoughts, and the Reddick pick

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2017 – 9:23 pm

Inside linebacker was the theme of the night Thursday. Mostly, it was about first-round pick Haason Reddick. But briefly, and not unexepectedly, since it was the first time Steve Keim and Bruce Arians were available since the news Daryl Washington was conditionally reinstated, they were asked about Washington.

“I’ll be honest with you, for the last 72 hours, I’ve done nothing but stare at college tape and that draft board,” Keim said. “At the appropriate time, we’ll address that. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t put a lot of thought into it.”

Keim added that the Cards would speak to Washington “after the draft.”

— The Cardinals are pretty solid at ILB now, Washington or no, by adding Reddick with Karlos Dansby and Deone Bucannon. Reddick can work behind Dansby and I won’t be surprised to see all three on the field at times.

— No quarterback Thursday. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a quarterback Friday, in either the second or third round. DeShone Kizer is still out there, as is Nate Peterman, Davis Webb and Josh Dobbs. We’ll see how it plays out.

— The 49ers made some nice moves Thursday under first-year GM John Lynch, adding a pair of good defenders (DT Solomon Thomas and LB Reuben Foster) while adding some extra picks. Foster was predicted to be a top-10 pick. His shoulder injury may have scared off teams. Bruce Arians said the Cards liked Reddick over Foster because of Reddick’s versatility.

— Reddick’s story is amazing. He had his last two high school seasons end with injury. He walked on at Temple as a cornerback. He didn’t get a scholarship until after his junior year. When Keim talked pre-draft about liking players with the proverbial chip on his shoulder, Reddick fits the bill. “There were some good times and bad times, a lot of hard work that had to be put in,” Reddick said. “It was definitely a journey, but in the end, everything worked out for the best.”


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