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In London, Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 20, 2017 – 1:16 pm

The week in London is nearing its end. The Cardinals are hoping it means something. The Rams didn’t pull in until early Friday morning from Florida, while the Cards got here Tuesday morning. The players have adjusted for the time, but that doesn’t mean it’d be any easier for Carson Palmer to throw the ball if it turns out to be rainy and windy Sunday night at Twickenham Stadium.

It’s been a work week. Some players have gotten out – there were many who hit the city even Tuesday night, and I’ve just wrapped up a central London tour with rookies Haason Reddick and Rudy Ford, photos and video to come – but it’s been work.

(An interesting sidebar: Before leaving Jacksonville, Rams running back Todd Gurley told ESPN “they need to stop this, all this stuff. This London, this Mexico City stuff, it needs to stop.” He did say the the games are cool and he praised the fans, but it simply messed with the people’s schedule too much.)

Certainly an experience. But as kicker Phil Dawson said Friday, if the Cards play well Sunday, spending a week here makes sense. If the Cards play poorly, everyone will say they were there too long. It is all about results, just like every week.

— The trip to London probably muted what would have been a second straight week of Adrian Peterson buzz, but it’s still floating around. Peterson was blunt when he was asked if he thought those weeks with the Saints might’ve just been the end of his career.

“Oh, no,” Peterson said. “I definitely wasn’t going to let the devil do that to me. No, not at all. I knew things were going to change. I didn’t know when, but I knew. I refused to let that come into my mind. Like, ‘This is not the way it’s going to end. God has way more for me. My latter is going to be better than my beginning.’ That’s what’s in my mind, and this is just the start of it.”

There have been many players over the years who don’t think their career is over but they are the only ones who cannot see it. Turns out Peterson was right. The Cards will benefit from that.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said last week’s offensive performance was what the Cards were looking for all year (and likely what they had envisioned if David Johnson had stayed healthy.)

“We just hadn’t got it,” Goodwin said. “The plays didn’t change, it’s just the attitude changed when Adrian got here. … Even when he got tackled he’s slapping guys in the back of the helmet. He’s setting the tone and that’s spreading throughout the offense.”

— Dawson has played in London before, and he played many seasons in the wind-whipped conditions of Cleveland. “The grass here reminds me a lot of Cleveland, Ohio,” Dawson said. “The wind, the misty rain, the longer grass. Hopefully those years will prove me well, but one thing I’ve learned after all these years is just because you’ve played in conditions one time doesn’t mean you’ll be prepared for the next.”

The weather forecast for Sunday night is the upper 60s and only a small chance of rain.

— Bruce Arians reiterated cornerback Tramon Williams will have a bigger role in multiple packages. He did not say he was starting (although to be fair, he didn’t say he wasn’t either). Whatever happens, we will see how he does and how Justin Bethel reacts.

— I’ve been lucky enough to meet some European Cardinals fans the last few days, and I expect that I’ll meet a few more. Always good to know the team has a following around the world. Those here – and the U.S. fans who have flown in for the game – will see an important matchup Sunday. Being here, it is easy to lose sight of the magnitude of Sunday’s result.

Until then, cheerio.


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A pair of Petersons, Friday before the Bucs

Posted by Darren Urban on October 13, 2017 – 3:59 pm

Adrian Peterson was the story of the week after he was traded to the Cardinals Tuesday. For a few days, all you can really have is speculation. The coaches and players are enthused about his arrival and what he might be able to do. Really, you’d expect nothing else. Optimism tends to reign in these situations.

“You got Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald on the same team, and Carson (Palmer) is delivering the ball to both of them,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “It’s like, ‘What?’ That sounds like something you would do on ‘Madden,’ a team you’d create on ‘Madden.’ ”

The spotlight will be on “All Day” Sunday. If I had to guess – and this is purely a guess – I’m guessing on 12 or 15 touches. The revamped offensive line has to make some inroads, and that’s no guarantee. And while Peterson supposedly has looked good since arriving (we cannot watch practice), there’s no way to know exactly what the 32-year-old will do in a game situation.  Still, there is little arguing that, after a bad game in Philly, there was a vibe of hope around this offense this week.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d be on my team,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “But he is.”

— The Cardinals have another Peterson. Patrick represents the other side of the ball. Unlike Adrian Peterson, who is still looking to prove he has a lot left, Patrick Peterson doesn’t need to, because he is at the height of his powers. But that can only go so far. And before the offensive Peterson arrived, it was the defensive Peterson’s overflowing passion in Philly that underscored some of the issues with a defense of which so much was expected.

Let’s say P2 does his job on Mike Evans this weekend. The Cards have to find a way to control DeSean Jackson and some good tight ends. They have to get off the field on third-and-long. (An aside, the Cardinals have been good at forcing third downs and even third-and-longs. They just have to close the deal.)

“It’s definitely something we’ve struggled with all season,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think it’s something we can correct. We’ve got a veteran group on the backend. Everything has to go together. If you call a zero blitz, the pressure has to get home. If you’re dropping zone, you’ve got to affect the passer. I think everything goes hand-in-hand.”

A zero blitz, like the one that didn’t get home at third-and-19 last week.

— Speaking of getting home, it was a tough first game at outside linebacker for rookie Haason Reddick. He made a couple of nice plays – there was one great stay-at-home play on a zone-read run by Eagles QB Carson Wentz – but mostly was locked up and a non-factor as a pass rusher.

“I don’t think he played as well as he wanted to play,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “He had four days playing the position. Play fast and play hard, he did that. Now we stack pieces on top of that.”

— Sunday is the Cardinals’ “Crucial Catch” game so if you have a chance to wear pink and represent, here’s your opportunity.

— Will be interested in seeing how the interior of the offensive line handles Gerald McCoy.

— With the running game having its issues and Palmer throwing all the time, he’s up to 1,573 yards passing. That’s a pace for 5,033 for the season, which would obliterate the franchise record.

— Another reason defense always seems to be a key: Under Arians, the Cardinals are 34-3-1 when holding the other team to 20 points or fewer.

— The Cardinals will wear their black uniforms Sunday (and for those who have forgotten, it was the Buccaneers who were the opponent in 2010 when the Cards wore their black alternates for the first time.)

That’ll be two straight home games in which the Cards wear black, because they’ll break out their Color Rush unis for the next home game Nov. 9, Thursday, against the Seahawks. The difference? The Color Rush jerseys will have red numbers instead of white. And the pants will be black, not white.

Here endeth the jersey conversation for today.

— OK, maybe not all the jersey conversation. After the talk about Adrian Peterson and Justin Bethel and wearing 28 (and there is a chance the league wouldn’t allow an in-season change, but I could not get an official answer on that), Larry Fitzgerald was asked if he went to a new team if he would expect whoever had No. 11 to give it to him.

“I would just go where I fit in,” Fitzgerald said. “It wouldn’t bother me. I wore No. 1 my whole life until I got here. They gave me 11. At the end of training camp a couple of 80-numbers were available, but I was like, I’ll stick with it, this is what they gave me. The number doesn’t make the player. The player makes the number. I’ve always thought that.”

— The Cardinals leave Monday night for London. But first, the Bucs. See you Sunday.


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A banged-up OL, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2017 – 4:03 pm

Well, this is where the Cardinals are. In a week in which Friday finally felt like the day where the offensive line wouldn’t be the major topic, it became the major topic. It’s not so much that Mike Iupati is likely headed for IR – he hadn’t been playing – but Alex Boone is also missing time and Bruce Arians was anything but clear about D.J. Humphries’ availability.

I mean, even OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin is working on the gallows humor. “I’m planning on suiting up sooner or later,” he said.

It’s not like the game is going to be canceled. If Humphries is in there, fine, but if he can’t go, it’s probable we’ll see rookie Will Holden in the lineup, with he and John Wetzel in some combo of guard/tackle on the left side. Not ideal, and that’s even if the right side of Evan Boehm and Jared Veldheer were playing well, which has not happened of late.

Carson Palmer played well last week. The Cards moved the ball. Offensively, with John Brown back to at least play a little, the Cards have some guys who can help gain yards. But the line has to keep Palmer upright. It’s not unfair to wonder how that can happen.

“As you saw, because (the media) was writing earlier in the season Carson doesn’t have it anymore, that’s not the issue,” Goodwin said. “As long as he is protected, the ball is going to come out, it’s going to go to the right place and we’re going to score points. If he’s not protected, we’re going to struggle.”

— Bruce Arians was asked, now that the Cards have been through a couple of games, when the offense most misses the injured David Johnson.

“Every play,” Arians said. “Either fake it to him hand it to him or throw it to him.”

Sounds about right.

— I am curious to see how Andre Ellington is deployed. Brown may be back and I expect J.J. Nelson to play, but both probably won’t be their explosive selves. Ellington is really that only guy right now.

— Having Larry Fitzgerald go deep for a couple of long passes Monday night was some excellent nostalgia. How much it can happen, realistically, is another story. It’s not so much Fitz can’t make the catch in traffic. You still trust him in jump ball situations. But Fitz’s ability to get down the field fast to be in position to try for one isn’t what it was, and with the problems with protection, can the Cards keep Palmer up long enough to get Fitz where he needs to be?

— Deone Bucannon won’t be playing all the time, not yet, but this is where we get to see how the Cardinals want to deploy him with Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby. I want to see the package – assuming there is one – that has both Bucannon and Reddick. DC James Bettcher said you don’t want to have too many specific packages, because it hampers the other nine or 10 players who would be on the field.

— Two numbers that, to me, are poison to the Cardinals right now: Allowing opponents to score TDs on 87 percent of red-zone visits, and averaging 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball. One on each side of the ball. They have to change.

— Don’t forget Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame bust will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday from 12-4 p.m. if you want to get a picture. Warner will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday’s game.

— Holden proposed to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line after the Monday night game.

“Football has been a big part of my life and a big part of her life now,” Holden said. “She’s been with me since day one at Vanderbilt. I felt like that was a special place.”

— See you Sunday. The Cardinals want to at least be .500 after the first quarter of the season. Even though the 49ers are 0-3, that’s not a lock.


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The past as future, and Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2017 – 3:03 pm

The past is the past, and each team is different, and I get that. Matthew Stafford isn’t the same guy who was benched the last time the Cardinals visited Detroit in 2015, and that’s not just because he got a new mega-contract. The Cardinals aren’t the same team that floundered disappointingly in 2016.

But the past still can be fun to revisit. The last time the Cards opened up in Detroit was a memorable one for me. That was the day Anquan Boldin burst on the scene with his 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, back in 2003. How about you, Tyrann Mathieu? Do you have a memorable opening game at any point in your life?

“I always think about my rookie season and nobody thought I was going to be able to play, and I go ahead and make that big-time play against St. Louis,” Mathieu said. “That was one of those special moments for me.”

See, that moment, to me, does have some bearing. That Mathieu that burst on the scene in 2013? That Mathieu who dominated in 2015? That’s the guy we’ve been seeing in camp and the preseason. He’s a big reason why there is optimism about this defense. Sometimes, you look backward to see what is coming. With the Badger, that seems fitting as the Cardinals finally get started in the regular season.

— To me, the keys Sunday are fairly simple. Offensively, can you allow Carson Palmer to have time to throw the ball down the field once in a while, protecting against an at-best average pass rush? I know John Brown keeps saying he’s not totally healthy, but I think Smoke is healthy enough to make at least some sort of impact.

— Defensively, it’s that defensive line. If I had to guess, I’d guess Robert Nkemdiche wouldn’t play, but we are still two days away. In the end, with seven defensive linemen, at least one is probably inactive every week anyway, and I just don’t think they’ll risk Nkemdiche coming back too fast when there is confidence in the other guys. That said, they have to hold up. This defense has the pass rushers. They definitely have the playmakers in the secondary. But to get there, you have to lock down the run, something this defense has done well the last couple of years.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, on newcomer Alex Boone – who was a right guard those years in San Francisco when playing with old/new teammate Mike Iupati, and then went to the left side after Iupati came to Arizona: “We all know that’s Mike’s position,” Goodwin said with a chuckle. “Kind of funny, I was talking to Mike, he said, ‘Alex called and he wants to come here but he’s not playing left.’ ”

Reminded me of Evan Boehm insisting he wasn’t going to be displaced on the right side either.

— Goodwin said Boone fits the Cardinals’ style, but “you know I don’t like anybody,” he added. “That’s just my nature. I won’t like anybody until I’m standing on the podium holding a Super Bowl trophy. Then I’ll start liking guys.”

— The Lions have a pair of former Cardinals tight ends. Darren Fells is there as a starter, a guy who will try and get going again after having a disappointing 2016 in Arizona, which is one reason the team let him leave in free agency. The Lions also signed Hakeem Valles to the practice squad this week. Any little edge, right?

— Speaking of tight ends, Goodwin chuckled again when asked if the tight ends would be more involved in the passing game. (In my opinion, I wouldn’t hold your breath.) Goodwin knows Jermaine Gresham got a big contract, and Troy Niklas has looked solid and stayed healthy. But as he as mentioned before, from a long ago warning from Arians in a meeting, “We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) a whole lot of money.”

— Stafford’s numbers since being benched in Week 5 against the Cardinals in 2015: 50 touchdown passes, only 15 interceptions, 67 percent completions and a 99.1 quarterback rating. Also, in what is coincidence, but take it for what it is worth, that 2015 Detroit game was a late kickoff – 4 p.m. locally, 1 p.m. in Arizona. It wasn’t early, like Sunday’s will be.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, like the other coaches, is convinced Justin Bethel has earned that starting job. The reason, among others, is that health allowed him to practice.

“When you are finally healthy, and you get a whole offseason to work your craft, it does wonders how you progress as a player,” Bettcher said.

— Fitzgerald needs 82 yards receiving to become only the fifth player to have 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over a career in season openers. The fabulous four so far? Don Maynard, Andre Reed, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.

— Finally, back to Mathieu. One of the things the Cardinals lost last year when the Honey Badger was not Badgeriffic went beyond dynamic play in the secondary. It lost an emotional jet engine, which Mathieu simply couldn’t be when he isn’t playing like he knows he can. That component is back.

“I try to feel out games,” Mathieu said. “Some games I won’t say a word. Other games I’m pretty well vocal. I won’t know until I actually get to game day.”

It’s meaningful. Said Patrick Peterson, “He finds ways to pass his energy to his teammates.”

See you Sunday. The regular season is here.


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Friday before the Falcons, in a new stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2017 – 2:44 pm

So the Cardinals get to open a stadium Saturday. It just isn’t their own. They’ve done that before, and I remember that day – even though it was in my previous life with the East Valley Tribune. It was just the preseason opener, but the Steelers were in town and a fanbase thirsty for an indoor stadium finally had one. The atmosphere was excellent.

In the Georgia Dome the Falcons didn’t have as bad of a situation as the Cardinals did in Sun Devil Stadium. The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season in that building. But the first game in a new palace means something, preseason or not. Honestly, the Cardinals couldn’t really get a better final test before the regular season. (No starters are going to play in Denver.)

A lot has been said about the length of camp, but realistically, the Cardinals are always going to have long camps because they need to be inside. As Bruce Arians said, putting 90 players (plus, including interns, some 30 coaches) inside the practice bubble in Tempe doesn’t make sense. But part of camp next year sounds likely to include a week against another team, so that certainly would break up the monotony.

— Without a lot of David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s hard to really get a sense of what the Cardinals are going to have offensively no matter what happens in Atlanta. But no matter what Arians says, I do think that unit needs to have a couple of good drives early. Arians noted he’d like to see the pass protection be solid because the Cards struggled in that area in Atlanta last year.

— Speaking of the offensive line, here’s what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said his message was to the unit about their responsibility for Carson Palmer: “Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you.”

Added Goodwin, “We have to do a better job, because we know he makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle.”

— Defensively, you want to see better linebacker play than last week. Hopefully, the cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson face some tests as well.

— It was good to hear Arians say he doesn’t think defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will miss a regular-season game. The key will be that first day of practice following the Broncos preseason finale. You want Nkemdiche in the lineup, but, like Deone Bucannon, if he misses the opener to make sure he’s around the rest of the season, you want to be smart.

— In my opinion, some of the battles still going on up and down the depth chart: Backup running back, although I think Chris Johnson has the edge on Kerwynn Williams; Backup inside linebacker between Josh Bynes and Philip Wheeler; and the sixth wide receiver between Brittan Golden and Jeremy Ross, and with an outside shot to Aaron Dobson (because of his speed).

— Another battle still wide open is punter. Arians said neither Matt Wile nor Richie Leone has separated themselves, and Arians didn’t rule out looking elsewhere. One plus is the 90-man roster through the last preseason game. The Cards can evaluate both punters two more games.


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After practice: Lethargic offense and a glove

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2017 – 6:31 pm

Well, it’s a different kind of “After practice” post here because, for the first time in camp, we had Bruce Arians commenting on an afternoon practice as soon as it was over. Usually Arians talks in the morning, or at the very least right before practice. But because of Roger Goodell’s appearance today, Arians was moved back. What ended up happening? Arians talked about how the Cardinals were “lethargic offensively.” He didn’t have great things to say about the wide receivers in particular, warning of potentially bringing in other pass catchers. But he wasn’t happy with other parts, some of the blocking and dropped passes by tight ends. He did say Carson Palmer — all the quarterbacks, actually — did well. They didn’t get any help.

One particular sequence, as the Cardinals practiced their coming-off-the-goal line on offense. Second unit was in, with Drew Stanton behind center. The ugly series went:
–No one really open, and when Stanton went to safety valve it to running back Kerwynn Williams, Williams wasn’t looking, apparently bothered by an ankle that he had looked at earlier in practice;
— Center Tony Bergstrom forgetting the snap count and snapping early, causing a fumble that Stanton needed to fall on;
— A false start by right tackle Ulrick John;
— A dropped pass by tight end Ifeanyi Momah.

That was kind of the vibe of the day.

— There were a couple of offensive highlights. During that same scenario with the first-unit offense, running back David Johnson busted up the middle and then veered left on a third-down draw play and the receivers all to one side, galloping to a 70-yard run or so. It was pretty. It also set up a nice 2-yard TD pass later from Palmer to Jaron Brown, who posted up cornerback Justin Bethel in the end zone.

— Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand. Arians said Palmer would have to say why, and I didn’t get a chance to ask. The last time Palmer had a glove on his hand, it was after getting a cut prior to the season finale in Los Angeles last year.

— At one point, offensive line coach Harold Goodwin had a conversation with rookie guard Dorian Johnson, who has taken some lumps in camp.

— Blaine Gabbert had a beautiful 45-yard-or-so deep ball to wide receiver Chris Hubert.

— Red-hot linebacker Josh Bynes had another practice interception.

— So did Tyrann Mathieu, who cut right in front of Larry Fitzgerald.


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Coaches, interviews and the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2017 – 9:21 am

The Cardinals are basically going to be set up the same next season — OK, we wait for official word on what Larry Fitzgerald is going to do — because after almost all of the vacant head coaching jobs have been filled, Harold Goodwin remains in Arizona. The Cardinals’ offensive coordinator had three head coaching interviews, but those teams all went with other candidates: The Jaguars with Doug Marrone, the Bills with Sean McDermott, and the Rams with Sean McVay.

The move to McVay was an interesting one for the Rams. He’s 30, younger than current Cardinals players Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Frostee Rucker (McVay does turn 31 in a couple of weeks.) He’s an offensive guy, brought in to develop QB Jared Goff and that wretched Rams offense. He did, however, hire one of the best defensive coordinators around in Wade Phillips — a guy McVay can lean on with Phillips a one-time head coach, and certainly a guy who can make the Rams’ impressive defensive talent work. Phillips was excellent in his stint with the Broncos.

In the meantime, the one team without a new coach (and without a GM at this point) is the San Francisco 49ers. Cardinals vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough is scheduled to interview for the GM spot today, although the Niners will have as many as nine GM interviews completed by the time it’s all said and done. The rumor mill has the 49ers eventually hiring Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as coach, although we’ll see how it plays out — the Patriots seem likely to have a few weeks left in their season.

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Rams, and the season, aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 9:15 pm

That sound you heard from the direction of California Sunday night was the Cardinals exhaling. No, David Johnson hasn’t had his MRI yet, but there is optimism that the knee injury he suffered Sunday will cost him only that record of 100 yards from scrimmage in every game and nothing further. If his ligaments are intact – and Bruce Arians seemed to think they were – then he will recover in plenty of time for training camp. And at this point, that’s all that matters.

So in that regard, Sunday’s 44-6 beatdown of the Rams isn’t like the beatdown of the Eagles last season, which won a division but had an ugly hangover because of the Tyrann Mathieu ACL tear. Nobody wants any of that.

Johnson wasn’t moping or looking like disaster had struck after the game, so take that for what it’s worth.

You also take for what it’s worth the pounding of the Rams. Jared Goff is nowhere near ready to play quarterback, and certainly not behind that line he had today or with the receivers he has. Still, the Cardinals held the Rams to a crazy 2.1-yards per play today – that’s nothing – and had a sack party in the backfield.

Momentum doesn’t carry over from one season to the next. I firmly believe that (just as the NFC title loss didn’t carry over.) But confidence can. And this team has a lot of confidence going into the offseason.

Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in the offseason. But that’s to talk about for the next few months.

— The Cardinals will pick 13th overall in the draft.

— Arians confirmed earlier reports that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is set to have three head coaching interviews in the coming days. ESPN reported those teams as the Bills, Rams and Jaguars. Goodwin joked the other day of getting a couple of calls from CFL teams, but it was always expected that Goodwin would be getting interviews after interviewing with the Buccaneers last offseason.

Obviously, the Rooney Rule makes an impact with Goodwin, an African-American. But you can’t get a job without interviewing, and at some point, someone is going to decide Goodwin is the right man for the job.

— By the way, a major point in Goodwin’s favor – the amount of points the offense generated the last three games with his deep-in-the-depth-chart offensive line. Props to those players, but Goody can coach up an offensive line.

— Carson Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand after cutting it on Christmas day and getting four stiches. Palmer joked he was saving orphans from a burning building. Whatever the reason, he said it didn’t bother him.

— Safety D.J. Swearinger again made a strong argument for the Cardinals wanting him to stay. A couple of big hits, a couple of nice tackles, a sack, an interception that was lost on a questionable Kevin Minter roughing-the-passer penalty.

— Chandler Catanzaro with a nice finish: 3-for-3 on field goals, 5-for-5 on extra points.

— Justin Bethel told me recently his foot – which has been injured basically since last year and never fully healed after he hurt it again in the offseason and needed surgery – is finally feeling better. So to see him play his best two games as a cornerback the last two weeks, including a 68-yard pick-6, is gratifying. Especially after Arians called him out after the Miami game.

— We’ll finish on this note: The Cardinals finished the season with a plus-56 point-differential. That’s something that usually translates into a playoff berth, not 7-8-1. In the NFC, only Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle are better. (AFC South winner Houston was minus-49!) But that’s how this season went. We move on to 2017.

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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

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Thursday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2016 – 4:26 pm

The Cardinals actually won the first game played (that counted) at what is now CenturyLink Field.

It was 2002, and Thomas Jones had his best game as a Card and even though Jake Plummer couldn’t do much, the Cards knocked off the Seahawks, 24-13, the second week of the regular season. The building was simply a new building back then, certainly not the intimidating factor it has grown to be (although, as with most places, the stadium is intimidating when the team playing there is good. If the team playing there isn’t as good, not so much.)

The Cards with Carson Palmer have been good there. Two Palmer starts, two Cardinals wins. When the Cardinals lost in 2014, Palmer was injured and Drew Stanton was behind center. Palmer will be there Saturday, but the team around him is beat up and broken down. It’s not how the Cardinals wanted this matchup to be, especially with the Seahawks in mostly better shape than the first time these teams met this season. But the NFC West has been determined, the Cards are out of the playoffs and all there is for the Cardinals to spoil Seattle’s hopes for that No. 2 seed. Which isn’t nothing, but this game was supposed to be about so much more.

— Well, offensive line of John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford, welcome to Seattle. They held up OK against the Saints, but, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, this is a different animal, no?

“This is a very different animal,” Goodwin said. “It’s from outer space. It’s not necessarily an animal, it’s an alien.”

Goodwin said he hasn’t really said much to the group along those lines, however.

“To be honest, I leave them alone,” Goodwin said. “You don’t want to do too much talking. The film speaks for itself. The place we are going this weekend, the crowd noise … we know what we are up against.”

— That’s why the Cardinals need to be able to run the ball — it’s nice having David Johnson for that, although Johnson had to grind out his yardage in the first meeting, the infamous 6-6 tie. There can’t be penalties or sacks. Get at least a little something on each down. “This is not the place you want to go, this is not the team you want to see, in third-and-long,” Goodwin said.

— I don’t know how far Robert Nkemdiche has come yet. But I think it’s been proven that Bruce Arians wouldn’t give him praise unless something has gotten better. Doubtful we’ll see much the last two games, although he will play. It’s about 2017 for the first-round pick.

— Injuries always play a factor, but not having money linebacker Deone Bucannon against the mobile Russell Wilson tends to give one pause. Bucannon’s ability to run is unmatched by the guys filling in for him, and Wilson is clearly running better than how he did in the first meeting when he was hobbled with injuries.

— The secondary is also hurting. Arians acknowledged cornerback Marcus Cooper probably wouldn’t be able to play Saturday — if he doesn’t play, rookie Brandon Williams (who missed practice Thursday with a tight back) would get the start. Justin Bethel, who did say his foot is finally feeling better after the stress fracture that has hampered him for two seasons, remains behind Williams on the depth chart.

— There doesn’t seem to be any indication Tyrann Mathieu won’t play — the Cards need the bodies right now — but Mathieu playing and Mathieu being Honey Badger are two separate things. Arians on Mathieu’s play against the Saints: “He gave it everything he had. It ain’t Ty.” UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. Mathieu went to IR on Friday.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on whether the defense took last weekend’s meltdown against the Saints personally. “Absolutely we took it personally,” Bettcher said. “There wasn’t a guy on our defensive staff and there wasn’t a guy  in the locker room that wasn’t extremely disappointed in our performance. It wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t up to our standard, that’s me included. It wasn’t up to my standard. We all own that.”

— Michael Floyd finally met with the New England media and talked about his DUI.

— Larry Fitzgerald said he has talked to David Johnson a lot about how to handle his burgeoning stardom off the field, like Emmitt Smith did with Fitz when Fitz first came into the league. For instance, Fitzgerald told Johnson to be fully dressed and “buttoned-up” when he talks after the game in front of the camera — you never know when a decision-maker at a company might see you and want you to be a spokesman.

“He doesn’t need a lot of advice,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s like a Christmas toy under the tree that doesn’t need any assembly. He’s out-of-the-box-ready.”

— Johnson, by the way, would tie Barry Sanders’ record for consecutive games with 100 scrimmage yards in 15 straight games in a season if he can reach that milestone Saturday.

— Bring on Seattle. Bring on 39 degrees and chilly rain. Bring on what always promises to be an interesting road trip.

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