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To WR or not WR? That is question

Posted by Darren Urban on March 6, 2017 – 10:31 am

A year ago, the Cardinals had no better unit that their wide receiver corps. Larry Fitzgerald had an excellent season. Smokey Brown was a 1,000-yard pass catcher. Michael Floyd piled up 100-yard games down the stretch. J.J. Nelson was a big-play rookie, and even Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden had proven to have moments.

It’s different now. Fitz was still excellent in 2016. But Smokey got sick, and Floyd all but disappeared before being released. Nelson came on, but Jaron Brown got hurt. Questions at the position swirl, both for 2017 and the future given Fitz’s vague countdown to retirement sooner rather than later. That’s the backdrop the Cardinals have going into both free agency later this week, and into next month’s draft.

“It’s an interesting deal when you look at your depth chart every year and you think that’s really one of your strengths,” General Manager Steve Keim said of the arc of his wide receivers from season to season. “It always teaches you a lesson that you can never have enough good football players at one position because injuries, different things that can occur during a season (that) depleted the wide receiver corps this year.

“It goes back to show you, you may have a guy who is fourth or fifth on the depth chart, but you have to be comfortable when you head into the season that ‘I may be playing with this guy.’ Not only from a mental aspect but you have to feel he can get the job done physically as well.”

Coach Bruce Arians likes getting the smaller, fast wide receivers in the later rounds. But post-Fitz the Cards figure to need a bigger receiver. Maybe they seek someone in free agency, but if everyone is healthy, the Cards could conceivably roll this season with this corps intact. If someone pops up in the draft, you can think about that move.

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Reassessing receivers after Fitz news

Posted by Darren Urban on February 2, 2017 – 9:50 am

So Larry Fitzgerald is coming back, a boon to the Cardinals — at least for 2017. After moving on from Michael Floyd (which was probable as 2016 moved on and Floyd heading into free agency, regardless of his off-field issues), the Cards needed a Fitz anchor at wide receiver. But for the long-term, does it change a lot? The Cardinals still need to consider a big receiver in the draft, I’d think, a guy who can help fill the Fitz void when that comes sooner rather than later (and the way this all has gone, it feels like Fitzgerald is going to want to hang it up after 2017.)

Again, the biggest question after Fitzgerald when it comes to wide receiver is the ability for Smokey Brown to return to form. If Brown is able to play next season like he did for most of 2015 (Brown did battle hamstring issues that year and it might have been the sickle cell issue), the Cardinals should be fine. J.J. Nelson was emerging the last part of the season. Again, there probably needs to be a long-term “big” receiver plan post-Fitz, but it’s not crucial. The return of Fitz does ease the pressure — and eliminates a potential hole — that could have forced something different at the 13th overall pick. Then again, if Clemson’s Mike Williams is still on the board …

(Besides, good passing games come down to the quarterback often. If Carson Palmer retires along with Fitz, the Cards’ QB situation will be priority 1, 2 and 3. And probably 4 and 5.)

No, you don’t forget running back David Johnson either. He’ll play a huge role in the passing game again, I am sure. But again, if Brown and Jaron Brown (torn ACL) can come back healthy, along with Fitz and Nelson, the Cardinals’ receiving corps should be fine for this season.

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Keim on the future of the Cards’ receivers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2016 – 8:22 am

One of the big things Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim is going to have to deal with this offseason is the receivers room. It could be in major flux. Michael Floyd is already gone, Larry Fitzgerald could retire, and Smoke Brown is still trying to fully handle his sickle-cell issues. Monday, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, Keim spoke on many of those players.

When it comes it Fitz, “he still loves the game and still plays at a high level,” Keim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he should play next year.” Of course, Keim added, that will be up to Fitz. J.J. Nelson was fantastic in Seattle with 132 yards on three catches, including two giant plays that boosted the win. As far as him as a potential No. 2 receiver, “I’m not sure what his ceiling is, I just know he is a big-play guy.” He did say he thinks receivers coach Darryl Drake has helped Nelson become more physical. (But I’d agree, I think Nelson is developing into a nice and needed piece in the offense, but I don’t see him as a potential big-volume guy week-to-week.)

As for Brown, Keim acknowledged it is “always a concern when you can’t put a finger on exactly what is happening” when it comes to Brown’s health. But he said Brown will see specialists as soon as the offseason ends so that he and the Cardinals can find the proper way for both Brown to be healthy and for him to find again what was making him special on the field. “He’s a guy we are counting on,” Keim added.

— Keim has been very impressed — other than his foolish taunting penalty — with tight end Jermaine Gresham. The Cardinals have needed some emotional fire on offense, and Gresham definitely helps with that. “His physicality, mindset and passion for the game is something that has really excited me this year,” Keim said, noting Gresham’s effort in blocking more than anything. It’ll be interesting to see what Gresham does as a free agent, after signing here for little last season when he could’ve gotten a lot more money elsewhere. (And he needs to avoid the terrible penalties because of his emotions too.)

— Not surprisingly, he had praise for the offensive line, given the circumstances. “If you told me in August we’d beat Seattle in Seattle with John Wetzel and Earl Watford at tackle and Evan Boehm at guard, it’d certainly make me wonder,” Keim said. “For the most part those guys did the job.”

Carson Palmer was under pressure more than once but he was sacked only once and physically, the offensive line stayed toe-to-toe with a much-more celebrated opponent.

— There were a couple of throws he thought Palmer would’ve wanted back, but other than that, Palmer was sharp, Keim said. “He’s a competitor and true pro,” Keim said. “He’s been very, very good the last several weeks.”

— Another young player who held up was cornerback-turned-safety Harlan Miller, who played every snap at free safety when Tony Jefferson got hurt on the punt team before he even played a defensive play. Miller, by the way, hadn’t played safety before. “It was interesting,” Keim said. “On Friday, when B.A. came into my office and I let him know we were going to put Tyrann on IR, he told me that if Tony or D.J. Swearinger went down, we’d be in trouble just from a depth standpoint. Sure enough, first play of the game, Tony Jefferson is out.

“Harlan trots on to the field, and to his credit, the guy has never played safety before, coach Nick Rapone and James Bettcher put him in a position where he made a few plays and didn’t hurt the team. He’s another young guy who stepped up.”

— Finally, a good day for special teams. “That’s a group that’s been maligned and rightfully so,” Keim said. “But they stepped up to the plate.”


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Merry Christmas! Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2016 – 9:28 pm

Harlan Miller wasn’t necessarily supposed to play. Heck, he wasn’t even going to be on the roster, if Tharold Simon hadn’t been cut last week. And he’s a cornerback.

But there he was, after Tony Jefferson – one of the few defensive backs who has stayed healthy all season – sprained his MCL on his first play, on punt coverage. Tyrann Mathieu was already on IR, Tyvon Branch too. Marcus Cooper was out. Justin Bethel used to be a safety, but he was needed at corner. So they sent Miller in to play free safety.

Keep in mind, Miller hasn’t practiced at safety.

“The only thing I could remember was (defensive backs) coach (Nick) Rapone in the safeties meeting telling them to stay deep,” Miller said. “That’s pretty much what I did.”

“I kind of know what a safety does. I just listened a lot.”

It was that kind of game Saturday. Fill in where you can. Hope it holds up. No, the secondary isn’t going to put this on the wall of fame, not with the way Russell Wilson diced them up in the second half. But within the circumstances, it was exactly what they needed. Justin Bethel played much better. Brandon Williams struggled, but he did enough – and his effort on the Tyler Lockett bomb, while unfortunately sending Lockett off injured on a cart, stopped the Seahawks from scoring any points given the Cards’ goalline stand.

— The offensive line too, Evan Boehm, in at right guard for Taylor Boggs who was in for Earl Watford who was in for Evan Mathis. Everyone who thought the Cardinals would be able to score 34 points in Seattle under those circumstances, raise your hand.

— Carson Palmer was great. His stats weren’t as gaudy as Wilson, but Palmer was a man who led his team in a situation where they needed it. Palmer already said he is coming back. Yes, I think the Cardinals should and will draft a quarterback of the future. But to anyone who thinks Palmer should step away and not quarterback this team in 2017, I think that’s crazy.

— Larry Fitzgerald was not a happy man the last couple of weeks. The losing had reached him, the Floyd situation, and he just looked down in the dumps. When the retirement stuff came up, it’s understandable why he’d consider it. I don’t think anything was determined Saturday – but it was a happy Fitz in the locker room. Everyone was happy, but it was particularly nice to see with No. 11.

— J.J. Nelson makes the best of his touches, doesn’t he?

— David Johnson cracks 100 yards. I didn’t think it was possible with the way the game was going, and then he blew past it late. Aside from his fumble – which was three-points-costly – he was the rock on offense. Grinding, grinding, grinding, near 100 yards rushing alone. And then that 29-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal – MVP-esque.

“I was messing with Steve (Keim) earlier, we need to get his contract done right now, because after every game he getting more and more expensive,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s going to be like ten percent owner of the franchise.”

— (Just as a reminder, Johnson’s contract cannot be re-done or extended until after the 2017 season, per the CBA.)

— Boehm made a mistake on the Cards’ next-to-last drive, blowing his assignment to let Palmer get hit and force an incompletion. Center A.Q. Shipley let him know about it as they came off the field.

“That was on me,” Boehm said. “I thought I lost the game for us. Told myself if we got another opportunity I had to reprove myself that I belonged out there.”

— Fellow rookie offensive lineman Cole Toner got his first work on offense too, just like Boehm had done earlier in the season – as a lead blocker for Johnson.

— With the schedule a little warped this week and players off Monday, I’ll hold my weekly chat Monday afternoon at 3 p.m.

— Have to be happy for Chandler Catanzaro. It’s been a rough year, and I know sometimes fans don’t want to hear this, but he is loved in that locker room  and there isn’t a guy in there who wasn’t happy to see him come through.

— The Cardinals are now 3-0 with Palmer in Seattle. They have a confidence now.

— This is way too long on Christmas Eve. We’re heading back to Phoenix as I post this, and soon the Cardinals (and myself) will be headed home to be with our families. It’ll be a much better holiday for all involved.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Notes and thoughts after Floyd

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2016 – 10:13 am

The Cardinals moved on from Michael Floyd quickly after his arrest for suspicion of DUI, and maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The team’s president is, after all, the chairman of the NFL’s conduct committee, and Michael Bidwill has strong feelings on off-field conduct. The circumstances had morphed for Floyd from the beginning of the season, when it was likely the free-agent-to-be was looking for a long-term contract that was probably going to be too rich for the Cards’ budget, to now, when he struggled every step of the way and had undercut his own open market — even before Sunday night’s/Monday morning’s incident.

But that part is over now. As for some of the details of the aftermath:

— This is the kind of thing that shakes up a team. “Obviously, this whole year has been kind of rough,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “And then seeing stuff like that happen, I think we’re all shocked and kind of in disbelief. We’ve got three games left to play so we’ve got to stay focused.”

— Yes, had the Cardinals carried Floyd through the end of the season and let him leave as a free agent, he likely would have figured in the equation for comp draft picks in 2018. But it isn’t a one-for-one thing. A team’s entire free-agent haul is compared (through a super secret formula based on the new contract and production) to what free agents were lost, and then the picks are distributed. With Floyd’s play this season, it was highly likely he was going to sign a relatively cheap, one-year contract anyway for 2017, in an attempt to rehab his value on the market and then try again in 2018.

Would he have been a comp pick factor? Probably. But it’ll be hard to tell how much.

— If Floyd is picked up on waivers, which we will know soon, he’s due $1.2 million. If not, he’ll be available as a free agent. UPDATE: The Patriots claimed Floyd off waivers.

— Carson Palmer was asked directly if he thought Floyd — who also had a DUI in college — had a problem. Palmer, who had already noted Floyd was a friend, quickly said no. He does face a possible suspension of a couple of games next season from the league.

— Where to now for the receiving corps these last three games? Coach Bruce Arians said Smokey Brown can “hopefully” get more snaps this week. J.J. Nelson has played better, but he still has to show he can do it consistently. Brittan Golden, you’re going to get some time. And this, more than any other reason, is why David Johnson may be a 1,000×2 guy after all.

— This was probable even if Floyd wasn’t released, because like I said I didn’t expect his return, but the Cardinals will have to look seriously at drafting a bigger receiver now. Floyd won’t be around and Larry Fitzgerald’s status has reached year-to-year.

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Nelson, Johnson and Redskins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2016 – 8:41 pm

It’s possible J.J. Nelson wouldn’t have even been on the field with 2:03 left Sunday, but as fate — and perhaps some virus, or bad food, would have it — Michael Floyd “was throwing up at that time,” Nelson said. So the Cardinals went with a play that could get Nelson open deep. Carson Palmer took a shot, and Nelson held on — something he hasn’t been able to do a lot of late.

“Them dropped passes I’ve had, I was like, ‘I’ve got to catch this,’ ” the wide receiver said.

He did, of course, and then the defense finished it off, and voila! The Cardinals had their win. There was so much talk about accountability and team meetings coming into this game, and maybe there was more attention to detail, but mostly, as Tony Jefferson said, it was Five Stars (as in five-star players) being Five Stars. Guys made plays. Nelson. Palmer. Patrick Peterson — who said he really didn’t think the players-only meeting impacted much tonight — with the pick. Heavy pressure on Kirk Cousins. Guys were making plays. David Johnson, at the forefront (more on him in a minute.)

They’ll see if they can keep it going in Miami.

— We knew it was coming, but props to Larry Fitzgerald for becoming No. 3 in the NFL all-time in receptions. The only two ahead of him? Jerry Rice and long-time tight end Tony Gonzalez.

— Going 10-of-16 on third downs and not turning the ball over usually is a recipe for a win.

— Calais Campbell played an excellent game. It was highlighted by his strip-sack when he collapsed the pocket, but he played so well all around.

— Lost on the last TD drive was a third-down holding call on Josh Norman on Fitz. From my vantage point on the sideline, it looked like he held. Norman said he felt he was within five yards of the line of scrimmage and thought he was in good position, but he also said he wasn’t going to blame the loss on a call.

— Why, exactly, the Redskins called a fade route to DeSean Jackson, with Peterson covering him, on the 1-yard line on third down I will never understand.

— Hey, remember when I was saying the Cardinals didn’t yet have a Victory Monday? They’ve got one now.

“There is nothing better than coming into this locker room and Coach giving us a Victory Monday in December,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s is the first Victory Monday. That is pretty bad, man.”

— Finally, there is David Johnson. What else can you say? Fitz is calling him the NFL’s MVP, Palmer is calling him the best player in the game. He’s got 15 touchdowns now, two shy of the franchise record set by John David Crow in 1962 (That’s the last time someone had at least 15.) He’s had more than 100 yards from scrimmage every game this season.

He’s got 1,005 yards rushing this season. He’s up to 704 yards receiving on 64 catches, and it does not seem far-fetched any longer to see him get another 296 yards receiving in the last four games. That’s an average of 74 a game. Definitely do-able, and it would bring him with Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only ones to do it in NFL history.

When you have Johnson, why wouldn’t you try fourth-and-1 (although Arians was right; big props to the left side of the line and those two tight ends because we have seen Johnson stuffed before.)

On a night when Fitzgerald made more NFL history, it sure feels like Johnson is rapidly becoming a player that — with health and good teammates — could end up having a chance to be a historical player himself.

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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 5:10 pm

For a few minutes, it was exactly how Bruce Arians wanted it to be all along.

Carson Palmer, with a clean pocket, threw perfect chunk passes off play-action. David Johnson picked up six yards running just falling forward. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the first possession for the first time this season. Arians was thrilled.

“I take a lot of pride in that stat of scoring first,” Arians said.

The Cards couldn’t get a stop, though. They couldn’t get a stop all game when they really, really needed one. I take that back, they did to begin the second half – but then the offense had a three-and-out in their lone full possession of the third quarter.

That’s frustrating, Arians and everyone else asked about it will say. But that’s expected. There isn’t any one part of the game (unless you go with David Johnson himself as a part of the game) that has been excellent.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters, the one-time Falcon, shook his head at the lack of consistency. He was talking about the defense, and there is certainly reason to look at the defense that way. But the offense and special teams haven’t been able to find any either. That’s why they can shred a defense for an easy 75-yard drive to start, and have just 109 yards total in the second half.

That’s why the Cards are stunningly only 4-6-1.

“We’re 4-and-6, that’s our reality,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’re too talented to be under .500.”

— Arians is beside himself about the receiving problems. Smokey Brown gets hurt again. Michael Floyd drew a pause and an “I don’t know” from the coach, after a game in which he could have made a huge fourth-down catch and he did not. Floyd’s season will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.

— Arians said the Cardinals used more maximum protection on pass plays Sunday than any time since he has been coach. The group was not perfect, but I did think they held up – at least until the end when the Falcons figured a pass was coming every down. I fully expect that group – from left tackle over, Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel, John – to remain the starting five.

“I really would like to see it on film, just to critique the small stuff,” Humphries said. “But I felt the way stuff was shuffled around and the wat we had to pull together in a short time, it was a good outing. But it wasn’t good enough. Clearly.”

— Mathieu talked again about accountability in the locker room. I don’t know if he has things in particular he is thinking of or if he just feels like, when you are losing, people need to go under the microscope. It may be the latter, because he said in the same breath they have to stick together. That will be tested these last five games.

— Patrick Peterson hurt his knee. He said he got kicked by the cleat of Julio Jones on D.J. Swearinger’s interception. We’ll see what that means for him this week, although he said it was “painful.”

— Swearinger’s reputation earned him that interception he made. Jones beat Patrick Peterson on the in-route but Jones was staring straight at Swearinger as Jones made his way across the middle. That moment of lost concentration – and that knowledge Swearinger lights up receivers going across the middle – caused the bobble and Swearinger was gift-wrapped an INT.

— Unfortunately, Swearinger couldn’t hold on to the interception later, which would have stalled a Falcons’ TD drive. But the way it went Sunday, that might’ve been a band-aid. Not sure the Cards could’ve stopped the Falcons enough.

— Well, the Cards and Peterson didn’t let Jones beat them. So …

— The series of plays before halftime was a well-executed as anything the Cardinals have done this season. The loss buries the plays, but after the Swearinger interception, the Cards had just 25 seconds at their own 37. A 17-yard pass to J.J. Nelson that may or may not have been incomplete. Rushing to the line to run a play and make sure it wasn’t reviewed. Then Palmer hit Fitz, who in one motion slid to catch a 10-yard pass and called timeout, using only four seconds of the five left and allowing Chandler Catanzaro to boot the 54-yard field goal.

Yes, I’m looking for silver linings.

Cardinals Falcons Football


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Jaron Brown extension helps 2017 WR picture

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2016 – 12:35 pm

Wide receiver Jaron Brown, out for the season with an ACL tear, was supposed to be a free agent in the spring. Instead, the Cardinals have signed him to a one-year contract extension that will help with the clarity of the wide receiver corps for 2017.

We’ve written multiple times about the many free agents the Cardinals will have after this season. The Cardinals have pecked away at the list — Tyrann Mathieu and Larry Fitzgerald signed extensions during training camp; GM Steve Keim continues to say dialogue is ongoing with linebacker Chandler Jones — but there are still a lot of players with which to deal.

Brown had been one of them. Wide receiver is an interesting position for next season. Michael Floyd is scheduled to be a free agent, and with his ups and downs and because of the money he could command, his return is anything but certain. Fitzgerald did sign an extension, but he hasn’t come out and say he will definitely play next season (and not retire) — although his play this season is anything but a player who is fading. Smokey Brown and J.J. Nelson are under contract next season, but neither are the big body that Fitz or Floyd or Jaron Brown are.

Jaron Brown was having a solid season this year before his knee injury. He had 11 catches for 187 yards in just seven games, on his way to setting career highs in both categories. Plus he’s proven his worth on special teams. Brown finds himself in a prove-it situation given his knee injury, but assuming he can come back healthy, it makes sense to bring Brown back.

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Needing Smoke and Floyd

Posted by Darren Urban on November 10, 2016 – 10:43 am

When Carson Palmer strongly promoted how he expected big things from wide receiver Michael Floyd over the second half of the season, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The quarterback is there to pump up/prop up his team. That’s what leaders do (which is partly where his “I know people don’t believe it and probably don’t want to hear it, but I like where we are. We’re the underdog” comment came from Wednesday) and it was also no surprise to hear Palmer talk about how wide receiver John “Smokey” Brown has responded excellently to his protocol for the sickle cell trait and looks like a different player and person.

So yes, you’d expect to hear such things from Palmer about two key wide receivers. It’s also important to note — at least from my perspective — the Cardinals need at least one of those two guys, if not both, to play like they did in 2015 for the Cards to make the playoff push they are hoping to make.

This is a different season. But you can’t take away a 1,000-yard receiver (which Brown was) or a receiver who had five 100-yard games among the last eight he played (which Floyd did) the next year without expecting at least similar production from at least one of them. Larry Fitzgerald is playing at the same level he did last season. J.J. Nelson has taken a step forward now that he’s healthy. There’s no question Palmer hasn’t been exactly himself at times, but he’s been good of late. The pass protection has had some fits and starts, and could be searching a bit now that left tackle Jared Veldheer is done.

We’ll see if Floyd can indeed “explode” and if Smoke is a different player now. If either translates into production, that’d be a big step for the Cardinals and their second-half rally.

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Keim: Veldheer triceps injury, and roster change?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 31, 2016 – 8:11 am

The Cardinals have a bye week coming. And there will be some roster changes, General Manager Steve Keim said Monday.

“I would say there will be a few,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 “We’ll take a look at some different players. There should be a change or two.”

How much of that is voluntary and how much is forced upon the Cardinals is yet to be seen. Keim said left tackle Jared Veldheer — who was wearing a heavy wrap on his right arm in the locker room after leaving Sunday’s game — has a triceps injury. Keim said the team was still determining the extent of the injury, but that’s one where you wonder if it could be serious. Even if it isn’t long-term, the Cards may need an extra tackle available if Veldheer misses time. (Keim didn’t address Tyrann Mathieu’s shoulder, but he too is getting an MRI today.)

UPDATE: Veldheer needs surgery and is done for the season.

The rest of Keim’s shorter segment had to do with the second half and the big picture.

“The bye couldn’t come at a better time, not only getting healthy but also to reassess where we are at,” Keim said.

The loss in Carolina was a “microcosm of the season as a whole,” Keim said. A slow start, unacceptable mistakes after. There were too many penalties, Keim said, and the pass protection was poor, which certainly was no secret. Keim said he was particularly disappointed in the play of guard Mike Iupati and Earl Watford.

— Keim didn’t have much to say about the fumble/review non-change, other than to say “if there are any complaints on our side, it’s frustration and excuses, because we had the opportunities to overcome those.”

— Keim said he thought Carson Palmer threw the ball exceptionally well — when he had time — and that J.J. Nelson has made excellent progress.

— He was disappointed in the tackling, and that the edge rush and intensity the team had had on defense the past few games was missing.

— Keim said the “silver lining” of the postseason scenarios is the NFC West and the fact no team is running away with anything. “We are certainly in a position to challenge,” he said. Keim is right of course, saying the Cardinals still basically control their destiny. He noted that in 2008, the left the field in both Philadelphia on Thanksgiving night and in New England wondering if that team was below average. Then they got hot and made the Super Bowl. Keim emphasized the wasn’t saying that would happen with this year’s version, but noted this team has a similar chance to prove people wrong.

— “We will certainly see the second half of the season how many of these guys are mentally tough,” Keim said. “This team hasn’t faced a lot of adversity the last few years. Now, we have.”


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