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Saturday before the Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2016 – 1:44 pm

The New York Jets are finally visiting University of Phoenix Stadium, in the building’s 11th season. The last time the Jets were in Arizona was 2004, and there is only one person in the locker room — player- or coach-wise — who remembers. Larry Fitzgerald rattled off a couple of details, including the fact Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma led the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant at Sun Devil Stadium.

“We’ve got some things we have to change about the culture,” Fitzgerald said he remembered thinking.

The culture has changed. The Jets come into town for Monday’s game and their head coach is actually from the Cardinals. Todd Bowles has a team struggling at 1-4, and he won’t find a stadium quite as inviting as the Jets did back in ’04. (Such an ugly game, too. Shaun King started at QB for the Cards and was bad. Josh McCown came in in relief but couldn’t rescue a 13-3 loss. Denny Green turned to — of course! — rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre the next week in Detroit. That didn’t go well either.)

This one needs to end with a lot happier ending for the Cardinals. A chance at .500 awaits.

— When Bowles was hired by Bruce Arians in 2013, Arians said he was hoping Bowles would groom his DC successor because Bowles would hopefully be getting a head coaching job soon. It took Bowles two seasons, and in fact, the new defensive coordinator did come within the staff when James Bettcher was hired. So, Bettcher was asked, did Bowles groom you?

“As a position coach you are trying to do your job the best you can, because one thing about coaching, if you don’t do a great job with the job you’ve got, the next thing doesn’t come,” said Bettcher, who had been outside linebackers coach. “Todd was great about explaining the whys — here’s why I’m doing this, here’s why I think this way. I had the office right across from his, so I had the opportunity to walk in and ask, ‘Why do you see it this way.’ Not questioning what he is doing, but to understand what he is thinking.”

— The Cardinals remain the only team not to score in the first quarter this season. Arians has tired of the subject. “I’ll just take a win,” Arians said. “I don’t really care anymore.”

That doesn’t mean the message as disappeared. “Trust me, we’re harping on it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “And trust me, they are feeling the pressure.”

— Along those lines, Arians continues to script his top 30 plays, the best the Cardinals have each week. Red-zone and short-yardage also get scripted. “You could do it, bro,” Arians said to a reporter, noting that they are already picked. In fact, Fitzgerald mentioned that the scripted plays are good — the players need to execute them.

— Fitzgerald weighed in on the issues teammate and fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd is having. “Mike’s fine. Mike’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “We saw what he was able to do last year. It just takes one big plas to spark him. As a teammate, you just remind him how important he is to the offense.”

Arians has been doing the same thing, while trying to get Floyd to take too much thinking out of his game. The Cardinals will keep throwing Floyd’s way, Arians has repeatedly said.

“It’s just like lining up for a four-foot putt after missing five of them,” Arians said. “You don’t really feel good about the next one but you’ve got to make it.”

— Fitzgerald is rated as the top wide receiver in the NFL at this point by Pro Football Focus. His numbers are good — 31 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns — but they are great in a passing offense that isn’t what it was a season ago (at least, not yet.) Fitz, however, shrugged off his personal start.

“I don’t care how we win,” Fitzgerald said. “At this stage in my career, if David Johnson runs for 160 yards every week and we win, I’m good. I’m good, man. And I think everybody else feels the same way.”

— Speaking of running, Goodwin doesn’t call the plays. But make no mistake, he’ll let Arians know what he thinks. And he’s also made no secret he’s of a more conservative bent when it comes to play selection.

“I’m always going to say run it, run it, run it, run it, run it,” Goodwin said. “But we pay guys to catch balls too, so we have to be nice to them.”

Goodwin said with a smile he was definitely in Arians’ ear in San Francisco, urging the ground game. “One of these times, he’s probably going to tell me shut the hell up.”

— In case you missed it, red-hot Markus Golden (six sacks) is all about setting an example for his family.

— Terrible news Saturday that former Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, who played with the team in 2012, died in his sleep at the age of 32. Groves was a good guy. Had a giant chain with a huge lock in his locker, meant to represent his family sticking together. He was a key figure in that crazy 2012 upset of the Patriots in New England, blocking a punt and sacking Tom Brady. Rest in peace.

— Bowles, on the difference between Arians now and Arians as 30-year-old head coach at Temple back in the day: “At Temple, he probably was fiery every second,” Bowles said. “Now, he probably can go every five minutes.”

Might be a little more often than that Monday night. This is a big one for B.A.



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Goodwin to call plays Friday, and the “out” list

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2016 – 12:41 pm

Every preseason, Bruce Arians — who is the Cardinals’ playcaller and has been and always will be, as long as he’s coaching — turns the reins over to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin to call plays. It’s to get Goodwin experience in the area, as Arians tries to prep him for a future head coaching job. This preseason, Goodwin will call plays (and gameplan, such that it is in the preseason) in three of the four games. The only one Arians will take is the third one, of course, the “most important” of the preseason games.

So what will that make Arians Friday night?

“Bored,” he deadpanned.

Arians loves to call plays. “That’s the fun in coaching for me,” he said. But he’s committed to helping coaches — in this case, Goodwin — grow. Exactly what will Arians do on the sideline? “Deciding if we are going for it on fourth,” Arians said. “Or go for two. Tough job. Someone has to do it.”

Arians also acknowledged it’ll free him up to bark at the officials too. But that’s something Arians is never going to give up.

UPDATE: Goody weighed in. “I love him for it,” said Goodwin, who also called the plays in three of the four preseason games in 2015. “He’s been a mentor for me since 2007, back in Pittsburgh. He’s always put me in a position to learn and grow as a coach. For him to do this for me is special. Tells me he thinks a lot of me, and I don’t ever want to disappoint him.”

Goodwin said he’s learned his lesson about taking shots down the field as a play caller as well. “The first time I called plays a couple years back, the halftime speech he gave me, it wasn’t very nice,” Goodwin said. “It was still professional, but he said ‘You’ve got to call more shots.’ ”

— The list of players officially not playing Friday against the Raiders because of injuries: Everyone on the PUP list, of course, plus CB Asa Jackson, CB Mike Jenkins, WR Smokey Brown, OL Earl Watford, OL Taylor Boggs, DT Corey Peters, LB Alani Fua, DT Robert Nkemdiche and WR Brittan Golden, who hurt his hamstring Tuesday.

Arians said CB Cariel Brooks, WR Jaxon Shipley and DT Olsen Pierre are all questionable right now. The Cards are hurting at receiver and cornerback, but “it’s a great opportunity for the ones that are out there,” Arians said.

— Watford is on crutches after hurting his knee, but Arians estimated he’d only be out a couple of weeks. Even if it’s a little longer, the good news is that Watford isn’t seriously hurt. He’s become important, as a guy who can legitimately play all five spots, as the top backup offensive lineman.

“His value is sometimes higher than a starter,” Arians said.



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Larry Fitzgerald tackling, ranked

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2016 – 9:09 am

There were plenty of things to watch at Saturday’s Red-White practice, but in case you didn’t see it, Larry Fitzgerald made a catch heading out of bounds and before he came back inbounds, he took a slight detour to tackle former Cardinal and current game analyst Ron Wolfley before running back on the field. It was captured by various in-stadium cameras so it was preserved for all eternity.

Those that are around are well aware that Fitz likes to tackle innocent bystanders. Having covered this team for Fitz’s entire career, I’ve seen it many, many times. So I thought this might be an apropos time, in this day and age of power rankings, to throw in my own rankings of Fitz’s top five tackles. Unfortunately, one on James Harrison does not exist. Without further adieu:

5. Media members. Fitz isn’t shy of taking down a reporter. I’ve been on the receiving end of those a couple of times, although in recent years he prefers to toss the ball at me while I’m taking photos, so that’s a whole different balancing act.

4. Tackling Steelers OC Todd Haley during the game in Pittsburgh last year, only the latest example of Fitz dogging Haley in all the years they’ve known each other, dating back to Haley’s OC days in Arizona.

3. Fitz’s attempted tackle of OC Harold Goodwin, which instead turned into a Goodwin bear hug. Fitz didn’t read his keys at the Greenbrier that day.

2. Taking Wolf down (the fact we have multiple views of it on video just makes it better.)

1. Anytime Fitz takes down a kid with a big smile. I’ve seen it against the pee-wee football players that often play “games” at halftime of a Cardinals’ game, and I’ve seen it with the children of Cards’ people, like the sons of GM Steve Keim or VP of media relations Mark Dalton. Fitz is just a big kid in that regard.

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WR coach Drake earns award

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2016 – 8:03 am

Pro Football Focus decided to hand out awards for position coaches for the first time this season, and the Cardinals had a winner — wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who shepherded Larry Fitzgerald through his transition to inside receiver and Smokey Brown’s transition to the NFL and Michael Floyd’s evolution to consistent downfield threat.

What PFF had to say about Drake:

Drake may have had a superior set of talent to work with, but he squeezed the best out of every one of his players. All six receivers seeing playing time graded positively this season, and all but one improved over the previous year. And it wasn’t just their receiving prowess that shined—they did a more than competent job blocking for the run, finishing the year as our second-highest graded unit in that regard.

Drake wasn’t the only one mentioned in the article. Harold Goodwin, fresh off his first head coaching interview, was named first runner-up as the top offensive coordinator, behind only Mike Shula of the Carolina Panthers.


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Friday before the playoffs and Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2016 – 12:30 pm

Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.

No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.

Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.

A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:

Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams

This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.

This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.

— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.

— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.

“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.

“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”

Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.

— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.

— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”

Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.

— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.

— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.

— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.

— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”

— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.

This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.


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Goodwin to interview with Bucs

Posted by Darren Urban on January 8, 2016 – 7:52 am

When Bruce Arians hired Todd Bowles and Harold Goodwin as his original coordinators, he said he wanted both to eventually get head coaching jobs. Bowles got his job last year, earning the spot with the Jets. Goodwin is probably still a little further away, but at least his first interview is coming.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson tweeted Friday morning that Goodwin will interview for the vacant Buccaneers job. It makes a ton of sense. Bucs GM Jason Licht worked in the Cardinals front office and was here in 2013 for Goodwin’s first season. Licht knows Arians and GM Steve Keim well and both would endorse Goodwin. And Goodwin is a minority, and his interview would satisfy the Rooney rule. UPDATE: The Buccaneers have confirmed this will take place.

Goodwin would be a longshot to get the job. Current Bucs OC Dirk Koetter is considered the favorite. But you never know who you meet that be able to convince once you have the interview, and if nothing else, it’s a good rep for interviews down the road.

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Leaving points, and Friday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2015 – 3:41 pm

It’s hard not to talk about the points.

The Cardinals lead the NFL in points scored, in case you hadn’t heard. They also have a league-high 176 points on the road – with still three road games left – this season, with their 22 road TDs five more than the rest of the field (Cincinnati is second with 17). They just happen to be visiting San Francisco this weekend, to play a 49ers team that they happened to score a season-high 47 points against earlier this season.

So why is it, when talking to the players or coaches, they always seem to be a bit irritated with how the Cardinals play offense? It’s simple, really. They get ticked when they don’t convert a third down, when they have a red-zone hiccup, when they turn the ball over. Perfecting the “nuances,” as Larry Fitzgerald called them.

“Scary to think if we do, how many points we could score,” Fitzgerald said.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was being asked about the running game and it needing to be more consistent. Even though the Cards have run it fine and again, most points in the league.

“It’s something good for me to get pissed off about,” Goodwin said. “Leaving points out there.”

Goodwin, and Bruce Arians, and everyone else, knows what they have (assuming Carson Palmer is healthy): A deep offense capable of scoring with a great many options, and a quarterback who knows how to make it all run.

“As long as the offensive line protects, we can dice anyone up in this league,” Goodwin said. “I stand on solid ground when I say that.”

— The Cardinals had a long injury list when the week began, but realistically, they aren’t going to be as short-handed as thought. Patrick Peterson looks like he’s going to play, receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown (Brown is “probable” for the first time in a while) both should be on the field and while they are down a couple of defensive lineman, the addition of Red Bryant should help.

— The idea of sitting players because it’s “just the 49ers” is never going to fly, by the way. The Cardinals need all these wins. If you are healthy enough to play, you play. If you aren’t, you don’t. Could that change in Week 17 if the Cards are locked into their playoff position? Sure. But not with six games left.

— Fitzgerald needs 74 yards to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season for the first time since 2011. That’s been a pretty long drought too.

— Markus Golden already had started a couple of games when Alex Okafor was out, but that starting job is his for good now that LaMarr Woodley is out for the season. Golden is turning out to have the greatest impact from the draft class, with all due respect to Rodney Gunter and David Johnson. Profootballfocus.com has him among the top 10 rookies in the league, and he’s on his way to being a key part of this defense the next few years.

“Since the beginning of the season I’m way better,” Golden said. “I’m more focused, and I’m not thinking as much.”

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said he loves the outside linebacker rotation, even with the Woodley loss. In a perfect world, he said, those guys would have snap counts in the 20s, although he said he was OK with veteran Dwight Freeney around 30 or 35 snaps.

— S Deone Bucannon was fined $23,152 for his unflagged helmet-to-helmet hit on Bengals receiver A.J. Green last week. It was a surprise the play didn’t draw a penalty. Could that have been the source of the concussion Bucannon suffered?

— One name that could appear now with Woodley out is rookie Shaq Riddick, who has been inactive every game. “We think he’s a guy who is going to be in the mix, could be this weekend, maybe the future,” Bettcher said.

— This will be Mike Iupati’s first game against his former team. If you recall, there was a chance Iupati, coming off training camp knee surgery, would debut against the 49ers, but he wasn’t quite ready that week. He admitted the game will have meaning for him.

“I do care about them,” said Iupati, who spent five seasons in San Francisco. “They are having a tough season. But that’s how it is. It’s football. I don’t know what’s going on over there.”

— The Cards have had a 100-yard receiver in six straight games against the 49ers – either Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd. Floyd in particular has done well in San Francisco. Perhaps he can get there again.

— Both Arians and Goodwin were hoping that the running game will find its way back after a couple of off games versus two good front sevens against the Seahawks and Bengals. The coaches are hoping for more steady plays – four yards every play, rather than getting one looking for a big one. It’s a concept running back Chris Johnson admitted isn’t always easy.

“Being the type of player I am, the type of back I am who is so used to breaking the long runs, getting big gains,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of tough being patient and waiting on it. It’s the sort of thing where you’ve got to understand the gameplan of the week and you’ve got to stick to it.”

— Johnson also said at age 30, the maintenance needed to stay ready at this point (he’s averaging 24 carries the past three games) is crucial.

“You’ve got to put more time in as far as off the field,” Johnson said, referring to massages and the training room. “You put more time in and you’ll be OK when Sunday gets here.”

— Crazy to think the Cards have had more trouble winning in San Francisco than Seattle. But a win this weekend, and the Cardinals are 3-1 in the NFC West. If there is anything Arians has yet to accomplish, it’s a winning record within the division. That’s something they’d like to check off the list.


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Friday before the Bengals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2015 – 4:08 pm

The Cardinals will play their 100th game at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night against the Bengals. They still have one player who has been around for all 100. In fact, Larry Fitzgerald – who, once we get there, will have played in 97 of them – actually can make comparisons, since his first two seasons were spent playing home games at Arizona State.

“I remember back in the days playing at Sun Devil Stadium when you couldn’t pay someone to watch us play out there,” Fitzgerald said. “Now you can’t get a seat in the building. It’s great to see the turnaround.”

It’s been a few weeks since the Cardinals last had a home game. That too was nationally televised against an AFC North team. The Cardinals beat Baltimore on “Monday Night Football.” Now, thanks to a flex choice, the Cardinals get Cincinnati on “Sunday Night Football.”

The 100 games – all official sellouts – includes everything: Preseason and postseason. This one will have a bit of a postseason feel too, given that the Cardinals are 7-2 and battling (for now) to keep the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the 8-1 Bengals hoping they can still catch the undefeated Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

This one should be fun, even with the Cards a little beat up. The Bengals have their issues too.

— The Cards will likely be down one starting offensive lineman in right guard Jonathan Cooper, but I’d think Ted Larsen would start for him (Earl Watford is still possible.) They will have Mike Iupati at left guard. I don’t think Michael Floyd plays after missing practice all week, and Smokey Brown isn’t at full strength. But the Bengals are also likely to not have two defensive starters in defensive end Michael Johnson and No. 1 cornerback Pacman Jones, so there’s no advantage.

If Floyd is down, J.J. Nelson will be active, and you figure he’ll be the deep threat if Brown cannot be. Besides, as long as Carson Palmer is in the pocket, the passing game will survive.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin didn’t seem particularly worried about where the injuries left the Cards.

“We don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good freaking offense,” Goodwin said.

— Bruce Arians acknowledged that he didn’t notice much of a difference last year when the University of Phoenix Stadium roof was open for “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks compared to when it is closed.

But, “do I like having it closed?” Arians said. “Hell yeah.”

— No official word about the roof status until Sunday afternoon, most likely.

— Speaking of the stadium, don’t forget there will be heightened security around the game because of recent terrorist events around the globe. Give yourself plenty of time to get into the building.

— With defensive tackle Cory Redding out with a bad ankle, there is a chance we could see undrafted rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams active for the first time this season.

— Palmer was fined $11,576 for his sideline gesture that was caught on camera in Seattle following Andre Ellington’s late touchdown run. Palmer had a couple of first pumps but then threw in a pelvic thrust toward the crowd. Palmer said after the game his reaction was toward three friends he had in the stands.

“I had my buddies on the sideline right four or five rows up,” Palmer said. “I saw them pretty excited, and it got me excited to see them excited.”

— Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was fined $23,152 for his crushing hit to the head on Larry Fitzgerald. The Seattle Times reported that Wright, who is appealing, said he apologized to Fitz and that Fitz got up laughing after the hit. (I’m not sure what that matters in terms of the fine, but …)

— ESPN did a breakdown on the luckiest and unluckiest teams in the NFL based on random events, and the Cardinals actually were called unlucky. That’s because out of their own 12 fumbles on offense, the Cardinals have recovered only four, and out of 10 opponent fumbles while on defense the Cardinals have recovered only three. Since fumble recoveries are usually luck of the bounce/right place, right time, the Cards should have more. Also, opposing kickers have yet to miss on 16 field-goal attempts.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is happy with his outside linebacker rotation of Alex Okafor, LaMarr Woodley, Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden, but he said it’s hard to get everyone the playing time they deserve. Golden only played 10 snaps in Seattle in the first game with all four players available.

“As a defensive coach, you don’t want to play more snaps, but you wish there were more snaps for guys to get,” Bettcher said.

— Profootballfocus.com said of their grades, only three cornerbacks do not have a game with a negative number this season: Carolina’s Josh Norman, and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. (PFF considers Mathieu a slot cornerback since he’s played the most snaps there.)

— Ex-Bengal and current defensive line starter Frostee Rucker has been quietly one of GM Steve Keim’s best signings. Rucker signed in 2013 to be a backup and role player, but has emerged as a highly effective starter and locker-room leader. And Rucker is enjoying his increased role.

“It’s the pat on the back that someone doesn’t have to say, because you know you’re contributing to something that’s good,” Rucker said.

It’s a feeling a lot of Cardinals have right now.

On to Cincinnati.



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Friday before the Browns

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2015 – 3:10 pm

The one city Larry Fitzgerald has not yet played is Cleveland.

That shows you how long it’s been since the Cardinals visited the Browns. It was 2003, the Cards wore all-white uniforms, and if there was a game that sealed the season’s end firing of then-coach Dave McGinnis, it was probably that listless and ugly 44-6 loss to a mediocre Browns team. By the way, while Jeff Blake started at quarterback for the Cardinals that day, who played some in relief? Yes, that’s right, Josh McCown – the guy who despite his shoulder injury is still likely to start for the Browns Sunday, all these years later, for the Cards’ next trip to Cleveland.

The Cardinals aren’t losing like that in Cleveland again. They shouldn’t even lose. These are the days when they are the favorites in games like this. Twelve years ago, that Browns loss was the 10th straight road loss for the Cards, by an average of 23 points. These Cards go on the road and winning is the expectation. They need it too, with the bye coming up and back-to-back games against the Seahawks and Bengals the next on the schedule.

I’m not sure how Fitz does in his first (and only) trip to Cleveland. But I expect the Cards to play well offensively, and create some new memories about a visit to the Dawg Pound.

— The Browns have the league’s worst rushing defense and the Cards have the second-leading rusher in Chris Johnson. That seems to be a heavy advantage toward the Cardinals, no?

— One of the biggest threats the Browns have offensively is tight end Gary Barnidge, who has come up with some great chemistry with McCown and has posted offensive numbers the past five games that rival a healthy Rob Gronkowski (seriously!). But as Bill Barnwell noted, the Cardinals are only giving up 40 yards a game to tight ends this season. Impressive, given the tight end troubles the Cards have had defensively the last couple of years. Of course, they haven’t faced someone as productive as Barnidge yet. It will be a fascinating storyline to watch.

— The Cardinals have been close to perfect performances this season (see 49ers, San Francisco) but they haven’t gotten one yet. It’s a chase that really can never be achieved, and even Arians acknowledges that. And close won’t make Arians happy.

“That doesn’t happen until the season is over and we have a ring on our finger,” Arians said. “Then I’ll be happy as (expletive).”

— Fitz, by the way, would rather his stellar blocking not be such a thing anymore.

“If you look back, even when I was young, my guy was never in on a tackle,” he said. “If I’m going to block him, I’m going to block him. You guys (in the media) create the narrative. He’s a blocker. OK, that’s great. People start talking about it. But I’ve always blocked, even when I was playing ‘X.’ I’m a big guy, I’m relatively physical. It’s not something I really love to do, but I’m OK at it.”

— Arians said there will be more in the gameplan for Andre Ellington this week. Ellington did end up with 18 snaps last week (compared to 27 for Chris Johnson). But he may have more touches. Against the league’s worst run defense, it makes sense.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin on visiting the Dawg Pound in Cleveland: “It’s pretty ugly. It’s loud, people with masks on. It can be pretty terrifying.”

— With McCown iffy because of his shoulder problem and the chance Johnny Manziel could play, the Cardinals prepared for both this week – like they did Steelers week for either Mike Vick or Ben Roethlisberger. That didn’t end well, against Landry Jones, although Arians acknowledged the Cardinals hadn’t prepped for Landry Jones. There won’t be a surprise again, though.

“We don’t want to go out there and be surprised,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think we were a little bit surprised with Landry Jones in Pittsburgh and how well he knew the offense. We don’t want to have letups like that. This is a game we feel we need to win to really put us in position going forward.”


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Saturday before the Ravens

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2015 – 2:46 pm

Run versus pass. It’s always at the forefront of any analyzation of the Cardinals and the game Bruce Arians is calling. After the way the Cardinals had been running the ball, the team tried many fewer runs in Pittsburgh – and the run wasn’t as effective – than passes. What to expect Monday against the Ravens? Well, Baltimore has been susceptible to the pass and their secondary has had all kinds of trouble. So we’ll leave it to everyone’s imagination where this might be headed.

“As an offensive lineman and as an offensive line coach, I’m sure you want to run it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “But at the end of the day, as long as we have more points than they have, so what. So what. At the end of the year, if we’re holding that trophy in San Jose, do we really care how much we ran the ball?”

It can be argued, of course, that the chance to hoist the Lombardi is impacted by offensive decisions. But Goodwin – who admitted he’d worry about run/pass ratios in the offseason when he was breaking down the previous season’s games – is not wrong.

— Goodwin wasn’t happy with the run blocking overall last week from the line, the tight ends and the wide receivers. That should improve this week with the focus on it during practice.

— There was a ton of talk about focus and finishing this week from the Cardinals after a second loss in which the defense seemed to soften up in the fourth quarter.

“Our confidence is still there,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s just a reality check for us.”

Given the spotlight of “Monday Night Football” and the energy of a home game, I’m not expecting a letdown this week.

— It will be fun to watch Patrick Peterson versus the NFL’s own little ball of hate, Steve Smith Sr. Smith isn definitely a receiver who plays like he craves confrontation and given that he’s the lone standout receiver the Ravens have, he’ll need to be targeted.

“Can’t want to see some of his new antics and the emotion he has after each and every catch,” Peterson said. “Whether it’s a negative play or he felt you said something wrong to him the previous play, he always tries to get his get-back.”

— Peterson was talking about how he’s ended up with fewer penalties this season, and naturally, he talked about his improved technique and how he had to adjust after last season after the league put an emphasis on the contact defensive backs can have on receivers.

Interestingly, Peterson also said he didn’t know – until an official said something a few games ago – that once a defensive back releases his jam on a receiver, he cannot jam the receiver again even if they are still inside the legal five-yard chuck zone.

“I thought you could jam him as much as you wanted within five yards,” Peterson said.

— The Cardinals got 19 snaps out of new pass rusher Dwight Freeney last week. The hope is that the veteran will be a little more productive as the weeks go by and he both gets in football shape and learns the defense.

“I was doing May/July/training camp all in one,” Freeney said of his three practices leading into the Steelers game. “My body was confused.”

“We don’t have the easiest playbook – a lot of exotics – but I just have to cram,” Freeney added.

— A couple of quick reminders: If you are going to Monday’s game, remember the Cards are holding their annual food drive so please bring non-perishable food items (or donate some cash.) If you are watching the game at home, the ESPN telecast can also be seen on ABC-15 for those who don’t have cable.

— If you missed it earlier this week, here’s my story on tight end Troy Niklas and his potential everyone is waiting on. Niklas will have a bigger role this week with Darren Fells sidelined.

— Arians, on what the Cardinals are looking for in practice squad players: “We want somebody who knows football that has an upside. You can find a ton of guys who’ll come in and work their ass off, but you don’t want them playing on Sunday. They make good sons-in-laws.”

— A good sign D.J. Humphries is making progress. He won’t play unless there are injuries, but his target date was always 2016.

— The Cards could withstand a game without Smokey Brown. But they’d rather not.

— A parting “Monday Night Football” memory from Bruce Arians, who grew up in Pennsylvania: “It was late, that was the big thing,” Arians said. “I didn’t get to see the second half most of the time. My brother would always sign us up for altar boys at 6 o’clock mass, so I had to get up early.”

Why would he do that?

“He went away to be a priest in the eighth grade,” Arians said. “ I think the nuns talked him into that stuff.”


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