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Game day for Andre and Saturday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2014 – 3:02 pm

Will he or won’t he? I’m sure the last thing the Cardinals wanted going into the opener was having their key offensive piece be a game-day decision, but that’s where we are left with running back Andre Ellington and his pesky foot problem. Bruce Arians said Ellington did enough in practice Saturday (pictured right) to convince him that Ellington could possibly play Monday, so there is that.

“We can’t worry about injuries,” Arians said. “Nobody cares but us.”Andre3MAINblog

Even if he doesn’t play, the beat moves on. If you look at the key guys not playing in total that you had hoped would – Washington and Mathieu and Dockett and Cooper, aside from Ellington – it can be a daunting list. But these are things that don’t make Bruce Arians flinch. He will forever have that 2012 season with the Colts burned on his brain, when everyone seemed to get hurt for Indy (except for Andrew Luck) and they still won 11 games. That will be the memory Arians will fall back upon, and why his “Next Man Up” battle cry isn’t just lip service. Whether the Cardinals can too make it work, we’ll see. The Chargers are just the first in a tough schedule.

– Punter Dave Zastudil was added to the injury list as questionable Saturday with a groin injury. That’s not good, obviously. The Cardinals did cut linebacker Desmond Bishop Saturday, so maybe the Cardinals fill that spot with a new punter if Zastudil can’t go. (Kicker Chandler Catanzaro punted once last season in college at Clemson.)

– If I had to pick just one major key to the game Monday, I’d have to go with the pressure the Cardinals need to put on Philip Rivers. There are other important aspects, of course. The Cardinals need to show they can stop the run again, and they need to protect Carson Palmer as promised. But after the vanilla preseason, it’s important that the Cards can hurry Rivers in the pocket. Once in a while without a blitz, preferably.

– Here is not a surprise in the least: The presence of new left tackle Jared Veldheer has completely changed the tension level for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

“For me, for Carson, it’s about being comfortable,” Goodwin said. “For me, I can worry about other things. I don’t have to worry about chip-help for the tackle all the time. That relieves a whole lot of stress.”

No question Veldheer gives the Cardinals something Levi Brown simply did not, and that Bradley Sowell can not. In the end, Veldheer is seen by many fans as a savior to that position, although Veldheer isn’t all that comfortable with the notion.

“I guess that’s an OK thing, but to me, the biggest thing is being accountable to the guys on the line and the offense and the team,” he said. “And that’s me doing my job.”

– Got a chance to catch up briefly with Darnell Dockett yesterday, and he was as Darnell as always. He’s already pushing himself hard on his knee, even this early.

“You put the time in, got nothing else to do,” he said. “My coaches are supporting me, they know my work so they give me the green light to do everything I can to come back faster. There can’t be a better situation other than not being in this situation in the first place.”

– I’ve had many people ask me what the ramifications might be for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if the new drug policy – rumored to be close – is passed. The truth is, I have no idea. Part of the problem is that it hasn’t publicly been said why Washington was suspended. He said in his statement it was for marijuana, but you’d need more details than that. Let’s put it this way, first this new policy actually has to be put in place – and it hasn’t yet. I still wouldn’t hold my breath for Washington even if it does.

– It’ll be an emotional night Monday. Aside from the game itself and the knowledge it is on national television, Kurt Warner gets inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. I’d guess there will be some well-remembered highlights played too. Don’t leave your seats.

– Carparks open at 3 p.m. Monday. Don’t forget your clear bags.

– With all the Ellington news, the possibility of Tyrann Mathieu playing has seemingly been pushed to the background. I still think the Cardinals are going to err on the side of caution and keep him out for now, but Arians said again it’ll be a game-day thing.

– Crazy to think Alameda Ta’amu is fine after tearing his ACL in the 2013 season finale, but the nose tackle should be in the defensive line rotation and his biggest issue is his stamina. “He’s full go. He runs on and off the field and gets out of gas. That’s a lot of ass to carry back and forth out there.”

So, on that note, on to Monday night.

 


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Goodwin, not B.A., calling plays in San Diego

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2014 – 6:36 pm

There is not an official “not expected to play” list tonight, since so many players are not expected to play. Already, Larry Fitzgerald is on the field without even having his uniform on, and Bruce Arians said earlier in the week no starters would play (although I would guess there might be one or two.)

That’s not the only change tonight. Because of the circumstances of it both being a fourth preseason game and because the Cardinals have to face the Chargers again in the regular-season opener, Arians decided to hand over the reins of playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin tonight. It’s the first time in many, many years Arians has not called plays. He made clear when he showed up in Arizona he would be calling plays, and that will remain true. (The last time Arians wasn’t in a position to call plays was 2006 in Pittsburgh, when he was wide receivers coach and the offensive coordinator/play caller was a man named Ken Whisenhunt.)

“It’s going to be different for me,” Arians said.

This not only gives Goodwin a chance to practice doing it for the first time, but it also helps the Cards somewhat in the the back-to-back Charger battles. It’s hard to get a read on what the Cardinals like to call in certain situations if the playcaller changes.

“This will screw up the computer pretty good for three days,” Arians said.

Arians will of course be calling the plays Sept. 8. Already, Arians said the offensive game plan will be basic and tailored to things rookie quarterback Logan Thomas is comfortable with. It’ll be an interesting thing to watch for tonight.

– Arians also said Tyrann Mathieu will not play tonight. No need to rush him.


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Cards bring in vet T Starks

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2014 – 10:27 am

For a second straight year, the Cardinals have brought in a veteran tackle around the beginning of training camp. Unlike last year, the addition of Max Starks will in theory be about depth than starting — which is really why the Cards grabbed Eric Winston a year ago.

Last year, the Cardinals were not comfortable with Bobby Massie at right tackle, and when Winston was available, they made it work. Winston ended up starting all season. This year, the feeling on Massie has changed. This is likely more of a depth move — Bruce Arians will address it in a bit — and who knows? Maybe this is more about Bradley Sowell or Nate Potter. In the end, it’ll be about the competition it creates. At this point in his career, Starks is no lock to make the roster. He started all 16 games at tackle for the Steelers in 2012, but last year, he played only two games with the Rams after the Chargers cut him in the preseason.

UPDATE: It’s definitely about depth and not Massie.

What he does do is give Arians and OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin someone with whom they are familiar from their time in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals also cut kicker Danny Hrapmann, so that battle is down to Jay Feely and Chandler Catanzaro. Tackle Cory Brandon was released too, so the Cardinals now have an open roster spot.

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The black stripes are not a band

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2014 – 7:32 am

Those looking at the photos from yesterday’s OTA or the video seemed to notice the black stripe on the Cardinals’ helmets. OK, it wasn’t on all their helmets. It was only on the helmet of the quarterbacks. That alone should give you a hint that it was something else besides some interesting new tweak to the team’s headgear. So no, the Cardinals aren’t going for a new look (although it is kind of catchy, no?)

In fact, it’s a simple way for the coaching staff to have an easier time to see what way the quarterback’s eyes are pointed when watching some of the videoed-from-high-above practice footage every day. The shots that include all 22 players on the field can make everyone look a little small on the screen. This is just another tool to make sure Bruce Arians, assistant head coach Tom Moore, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens have all the information they can in their work with the QBs.

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Splitting right side reps and OTA notes

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2014 – 1:27 pm

Last week, Bobby Massie (at right tackle) and Earl Watford (right guard) started getting some work with the first unit. It wasn’t that surprising, given how open the job is right now. Bruce Arians clarified it a little more after Tuesday’s OTA, which again featured Massie and Watford with the first unit. By the time the Cards go through six OTAs, Arians said, Massie-Watford and Bradley Sowell-Paul Fanaika will each get three with the first unit. The reps will continue to be divvied up, and let’s face it, nothing can be determined now because offensive linemen aren’t even blocking now. There’s no way to prove yourself in the time of year when, as Arians likes to say, the Cardinals are just playing soccer. The true depth chart/starting jobs won’t be figured out until training camp and the preseason.

(Although, for instance, Massie must sidestep too many mental errors right now, the bugaboo that Arians and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin like to bring up.)

– Tuesday’s workout was moved an hour earlier with the heat. No bubble will be used when there are this many players. You can only have so many guys inside. Besides, Arians said, “we need the heat to get in shape.” They’ll get in shape, that’s for sure. With some missing players and the fact Arians uses two fields, all the main guys were taking a ton of reps Tuesday. If you were looking to see, for instance, Larry Fitzgerald vs. Antonio Cromartie, there were plenty of opportunities.

– The rookies are a little banged up after minicamp. First-round pick Deone Bucannon has a minor turf toe, Arians said. WR Walt Powell also had to sit out.

– The early thoughts on Andre Ellington from Arians? Hopefully 25 to 30 touches a game, which is a ton and basically unheard of these days for a running back. A lot of that will have to do with Ellington’s receptions (Arians has made no secret he wants to use Ellington a bunch as a receiver). There’s no question Ellington is the No. 1 back. How that translates to the stat sheet, we will see.

– Arians did say the Cardinals will use more two-back packages than last season, and that’s not the time when a tight end moves back there. There will be no true fullback on the roster, but both Jonathan Dwyer and Robert Hughes are beefy enough to be in there, I’d think.

– As the team waits on word about Daryl Washington’s status, Arians said he would like to add a veteran inside linebacker if the right guy came available. That’s not a big surprise.

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Todd Bowles and a head coaching future

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2013 – 10:04 am

When Bruce Arians announced the hiring of his defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, and his offensive coordinator, Harold Goodwin, neither had spent even a day in the Cardinals’ facility when Arians was saying he wanted them to be head coaches sooner rather than later.

Bowles, with a defense ranked seventh and playing excellent football all season for a team that’s 9-5, rightly has to be noticed as a potential candidate. That was emphasized by a report on mmqb.si.com, which said that the NFL created a group of former coaches and GMs to help identify some top head coaching and GM candidates heading into the offseason. The list reportedly is only available to teams that have a vacancy — so the Texans would have it now, for instance, because they fired Gary Kubiak — and has an emphasis on minority candidates after 14 consecutive white coaches and general managers were hired last year.

The Cardinals actually interviewed three of the names for the job Arians eventually got — former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. But also on the list is Bowles, who replaced Horton and has done a nice job with the expectations that came with it.

Bowles has spent a brief amount a time as a head coach, serving as the interim boss for the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2011 season. When I did a story about him recently, I also had a chance to ask him about Arians’ desire to have him become a head coach, and his own thoughts on the subject.

“I just want to be the best coach I can possibly be,” Bowles said. “Coming in here, regardless if you are replacing someone good or bad, you have to prove yourself. No different than a player. That’s all I was concerned about. I don’t worry about being a head coach. I worry about being a good coach. I know what I am. They know what I am.”

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Coaching matters to Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on December 18, 2013 – 10:13 am

MMQB.com published a interesting read this morning about how Bruce Arians and his staff may have done the best coaching job in the NFL this season. The piece, well worthy of a read, details a couple of plays on offense and defense as to how the staff has done a good job utilizing the Cardinals’ strengths. And it makes a lot of sense.

It’s been notable the Cardinals have tried fewer deep plays as the season has gone on because, quite frankly, the protection wasn’t able to hold up well enough in those situations. Arians has done a nice job diversifying the passing game. It means that someone like Larry Fitzgerald might not get as many catches as many would like, but it may help more in the long-run.

There is also no question that the coaching on the offensive line — led by offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, along with assistants Larry Zierlein and David Diaz-Infante — has made a big difference on that unit. The Cards have done a better job scheming protection as the season as gone on, but the more intimate coaching situation helps. When Arians was hired, he said one of the reasons he wanted so many coaches was to, essentially, keep class sizes down for the players (those of you who are or who know teachers know what I am talking about). Teaching matters to Arians. It seems to be paying off.

A couple of other interesting points in the article:

– Author Andy Benoit said he thinks Fitzgerald’s shift to multiple positions helps, even if Fitz’s numbers have shrunk. “The 30-year-old is just beginning what will prove to be a career-extending renaissance” Benoit writes. (Now, whether that can line up with an $18 million salary cap number, well, that’s one of the big questions of the offseason.)

– He called Andre Ellington a future superstar (and made sure to emphasize that he meant superstar and not just star.)

– He noted that Patrick Peterson’s ability to cover main receivers one-on-one with no help creates freedom for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in Bowles’ quality scheming.

As the season comes to a close, the staff has a lot of pressure. Bowles has to handle a couple of physical offenses without key cog Tyrann Mathieu (and maybe without starting safety Rashad Johnson), for instance. And that offensive line that has been doing well enough now has to face a pair of incredible defensive lines. But the Cardinals likely wouldn’t be in this 9-5 position without the chess moves of Arians’ group.

– Arians said during his weekly segment on Sirius XM NFL Radio last night that Fitzgerald will not practice today, but that he remains hopeful that Fitzgerald will be able to play Sunday following his concussion. I saw Fitzgerald yesterday afternoon as he came out to take part in Darnell Dockett’s annual Christmas outing for needy kids. I didn’t speak to Fitz other than to say hi, but I can definitely see how this will have to play out as the week goes along. I don’t expect anything definitive on Fitzgerald before Friday, and even then I wouldn’t be shocked to hear it would be a game-day decision. That’s what happened to Kurt Warner in 2009 in Tennessee, when the decision on game day was to hold Warner out.

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Red-on-red returns for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2013 – 4:18 pm

I know many, many people have asked for it, and now you shall have it: The Cardinals will be wearing their red-on-red uniform look for Sunday’s game against the Colts at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals haven’t worn red-on-red since the season finale against the Seahawks in 2011.

– For those who might have missed it, I wrote a short story this morning about offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and the little girl who taught him an important lesson during the journey he went through the past year-plus. And, of course, there is the story of the meaning of this game for Bruce Arians and his Colts coaching transplants.

– Larry Fitzgerald was asked if he followed the magical season of the Colts a year ago, even if it was from afar. “No,” Fitzgerald said. “We had enough turmoil here last year. When I went home I didn’t watch any football.” He did realize Arians had won NFL coach of the year though — because “I was at the awards ceremony.”

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Dialing down the Wattage

Posted by Darren Urban on November 8, 2013 – 9:48 am

Eric Winston has seen J.J. Watt many times — the two were teammates in Houston. From the start, the current Cardinals right tackle said, it was obvious Watt was doing to be a good defensive lineman. “You didn’t know how good,” Winston said. “He’s the best of the best.”

The Texans come into University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday bringing along with them the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL (although they have an incongruous 2-6 record, but that’s a discussion for another post.) That defense is led by Watt, the maniacal, sack-grabbing, pass-knockdown king.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement when (Texans defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips) said before the season he’s a Hall of Famer,” Winston said. “No one has blocked him yet. Hopefully I can get in his way a few times.”

How the Cardinals handle Watt — or at least, deal with him — will be one of the more important aspects of Sunday’s game. Starting left tackle Bradley Sowell has been slowed by illness and, as of Friday morning, his status remains up in the air. But it’s not like Watt is going to walk over to right defensive end and stay there. Cardinals offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said the Texans move Watt around considerably in sub-packages, and there is a good chance every single one of the offensive linemen will get at least a taste of Watt Sunday.

Watt had a spectacular year last season — his stats were just silly — with sacks and pass bat-downs. Those numbers a lower this year, but he has still been dominant — profootballfocus.com has him leading the league in run stops (23) and quarterback disruptions (41). Officially, he has 5½ sacks, 13 tackles for loss and the respect of every opponent as he bids for a second straight defensive player of the year award.

Carson Palmer has struggled when feeling pressure, which Watt and former Cardinal Antonio Smith figure to provide. What makes Watt so frustrating is his ability to get his arms in the passing lanes and knock down a pass even when he can’t get to the QB. Palmer said as a quarterback, you can’t just start changing arm angles or adjusting passes out of Watt fear. “Odds are he’s done it every game and it will happen,” Palmer said. “You just have to reload and go to the next play.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called blocking Watt “an all-day chore.” The Cardinals have struggled with top rushers like the Rams’ Robert Quinn and the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett. It figures to be a turning point Sunday. Watt knows this. Asked how he would handle himself if he were scheming an offense, Watt briefly paused.

“That’s a good question,” Watt said. “I’d use two guys.”

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Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2013 – 12:59 pm

This isn’t going to be lengthy, not with the bye weekend here and time off embraced. But here at the halfway point, I was trying to consider team MVP candidates from either side of the ball. Defensively, there are choices. Linebacker Daryl Washington may have only played four games, but he’s quickly shown why he is so important and he’s in the mix. Defensive end Calais Campbell has been outstanding, and I think given the matchups he is faced with each week, cornerback Patrick Peterson has been pretty good too. Veterans Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett have been solid as well.

Offensively, though, um, I’m not sure there is one. I guess you’d go with Andre Ellington at this point, even though he hasn’t gotten the ball a ton. Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t made enough of an impact in that regard, it doesn’t seem. Neither has Michael Floyd. I will say, I am very, very interested to see if this offense can make some steps forward in the second half of the season (especially with the schedule upcoming) or if they just are who they are.

– Congrats to Ellington, by the way, for winning the NFL’s Fed Ex Ground player of the week award, voted on by the fans.

– Tyrann Mathieu has been outstanding, and we don’t need national awards to prove it. Yes, I think the safety has a chance to win defensive rookie of the year. He already is making the move to displace Rashad Johnson as a starter. I’ll be curious to know if that stays the same against Houston. Another thing the first half has shown me: Mathieu is a great tackler. Not good, great. He’s the best tackler on the team (and no, Tyrann, I’m not just talking pound-for-pound). That’s been the most impressive part of his game for me.

– Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin can quip with the best of them, and the de facto offensive line coach was talking about that unit when he mentioned left tackle Bradley Sowell. “He didn’t give up a sack, thank God.” There was a little sarcasm there for all the Sowell questions he gets, and some truth too. But Profootballfocus.com not only graded Sowell with having his best game against Atlanta last week in not giving up a sack, PFF said Sowell didn’t even allow a QB pressure.

– Both Fitzgerald and Floyd rank high on PFF’s drop-rate list, so that’s good. They just have to see more catchable passes.

– Amazing. A future opponent loses another good player, with the news today Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely for violating the substance-abuse policy. Blackmon had already been suspended the first four games of the season. What a waste.

– OK, that’s enough. Back to the regular season next week. And in the meantime, here’s a very cool slow-motion capture of that rumblin’, stumblin’ run of Stepfan Taylor against the Falcons. The play gained 15 yards, and he earned every one of them.


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