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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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Keim: Peterson’s value/injury, and rookie help

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2015 – 8:13 am

Before Patrick Peterson got hurt Sunday night, he was once again playing excellent cornerback, making life very hard for Bengals start wide receiver A.J. Green. Then he hurt his ankle, and General Manager Steve Keim said Monday morning on his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports that he had no new news and that Peterson was getting an MRI. But just listening to Keim, it drives home the critical nature of having Peterson — or potentially not having him — in the lineup.

“Last year, some of the concerns with Patrick … (were) issues with consistency,” Keim said. “A lot of it had to do with playing weight. He came back in phenomenal shape. Now his level of consistency, he’s taken to a whole different level.” And that’s even putting Peterson in “some really tough positions” on an island so the defense can do things elsewhere on the field.

If Peterson can’t go, the most likely scenario is Justin Bethel stepping in to the lineup and the Cardinals using former Arizona State corner Robert Nelson Jr., who has been on the roster but inactive the last two games. Nelson played for the Browns a little last season.

Other Keim thoughts from the win over the Bengals:

— The storyline that excited Keim the most (perhaps not all that surprisingly) was the big game from the rookie class. Led by J.J. Nelson and Markus Golden, the draftees were good, and that’s with No. 1 pick D.J. Humphries still inactive.

— The turnaround in the game started with Carson Palmer, Keim said, but he also said the Cardinals’ offensive line finally starting matching the intensity and physicality of the Bengals’ defensive line in the second half.

— Keim noted that defensive coordinator James Bettcher did a nice job dialing up some pressure on Bengals QB Andy Dalton, but it also left the Cards susceptible to mismatches — notably linebacker Kevin Minter trying to cover quick running back Gio Bernard. (That didn’t go so well most of the night.)

The Cardinals are talented, and Keim has noticed all the national analysts suggesting the Cardinals might have the most talented roster in the league. But “all I see is holes,” he said. “Areas where we need to improve, where we need to get better.” Not shockingly, those start up front — a better pass rush, and more consistency in pass protection.

— As for the national attention that’s beginning to build, “you have to embrace it when you consider where we’ve come from,” he said.

— The record of 8-2 is nice, Keim said, but it’s nothing right now.

“We haven’t arrived,” Keim said. “We haven’t won any championships yet. Last year was a great lesson for us, starting 9-1 and having things crumble away.”

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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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Cardinals to sign Freeney

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2015 – 11:53 am

Nothing official yet — until the ink is on the contract, it rarely is — but it looks like the Cardinals will be signing veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney to a one-year contract to bolster the pass rush. Given the history both Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have with Freeney (they coached him in Indianapolis) it fits, and after Alex Okafor hurt his calf Sunday and figures to miss time, they need more help out there to go with LaMarr Woodley, Kareem Martin and rookies Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick.

(UPDATE: It’s official now.)

Freeney had 3.5 sacks last season for San Diego before he was released in the spring. He was generally regarded as a player who consistently got pressure on the quarterback in a limited pass rushing role. How quickly he can add to the Cardinals remains to be seen, since he didn’t have an offseason with a team or a training camp. But it is reportedly another of GM Steve Keim’s minimum-salary deals with incentives, so the upside remains greater than the downside, which is how this team has been built.


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A healthy Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on October 9, 2015 – 3:53 pm

There is no real wood here at my desk – not sure exactly what it’s made of, actually – so there isn’t anything on which to knock. Normally, no biggie, although I’m going to go all mentioning-the-no-hitter-in-the-seventh-inning and say it: The Cardinals are really, really healthy. Four games into the season, and they are about as healthy as an NFL team can ever be.

Bruce Arians noted it when he said, thanks to the impending return of wide receiver J.J. Nelson from a shoulder injury, that the Cardinals will have “seven healthy scratches” Sunday in Detroit for the inactive list. When has that ever happened?

Arians admitted there will be tough decisions on who sits. If Nelson plays, you figure that’ll send Brittan Golden back to the bench. But with Andre Ellington back, someone else needs out, and it’s unlikely to be a running back. The inactive list will indeed be interesting to see – but again, it’s a good problem to have.

— The Cardinals have a long week ahead, staying in West Virginia to practice at The Greenbrier, which is where the New Orleans Saints hold their training camp. First comes the game against the Lions though, a team that’s 0-4 yet have the Cardinals talking all week about how dangerous they are.

“You forget they have Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, the cat from Nebraska,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “This is a talented team. They are a few plays from being almost undefeated. Last week, I feel they got cheated (in Seattle). I wouldn’t sleep on the Lions. I know we’re not.”

— “The cat from Nebraska” is running back Ameer Abdullah, who has flashed some talent despite the Lions’ struggles running the ball. Arians said how much he liked Abdullah coming out, and he was in consideration by the Cardinals at draft time. Things would be different with Abdullah instead of David Johnson, although the way Johnson has played, I don’t think the Cardinals would want to make any swaps.

— Speaking of running backs, the trio is back together and healthy. How will it play out? Ellington isn’t sure, exactly.

“Coach doesn’t really share too many of his thoughts,” Ellington said. “So we’ll see.”

Ellington said he’d play his role. The guess is that Chris Johnson starts, and Ellington splits time (I don’t think CJ gets the vast bulk of the work, but like Ellington said, we’ll see.) David Johnson will do something, you’d figure. But it’s nice to have options.

— A big reason the Cardinals are running the ball so well – and they really are at this point – is the offensive line. Yes, there are things to improve with communication and such, but the line overall has been better. Profootballfocus.com ranks the Cardinals after four games as the 11th-best line in the NFL. That hasn’t happened in recent memory. And to think, Mike Iupati has a game underneath him and the Lions are missing their defensive tackles.

— Arians said he will “wait and see” who does punt returns Sunday. If Nelson is healthy, does he get it back from Patrick Peterson? Nelson did muff his last punt catch attempt. But given Peterson’s defensive importance, I would think it’ll be Nelson’s duty sooner rather than later.

— After the craziness of the end of the Lions-Seahawks game and the fact Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright didn’t know the batted ball rule (and nearly cost his team a dramatic win because of it), Arians said coaching assistant Wes Goodwin (no relation to OC Harold) goes through every game each week to “find something crazy” so it can be a teaching moment for the Cardinals.

Goodwin took over the job from James Bettcher, when Bettcher was elevated to defensive coordinator. The team goes over the plays every Thursday morning, teaching as best as possible.

— For the record, Arians said he knew the batted ball play was a penalty as it happened, which would have made for an interesting moment had he been coaching the Lions.

“It would have been a hell of a fight on that sideline,” Arians quipped.

— Left tackle Jared Veldheer, a Michigan native, is playing in his home state for the first time in his career. Veldheer estimated he attended three or four games at Ford Field growing up, and not surprisingly, he’s expecting a pretty large group of his family and friends at the game Sunday. He shrugged off the idea it’d make him nervous.

“I think it’s better,” Veldheer said. “It fuels me. It’s fun to be able to have guys you played college football with in the stands, high school football with, friends. That stuff is cool to me.”

— A big matchup, considering a) Patrick Peterson has played so well and b) Calvin Johnson has done little for a struggling Lions’ offense: P2 versus Megatron.

— A final statistical note: The Cardinals have only had four three-and-out possessions this season. And they had none in their lone loss last week.

The Motor City awaits.


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Friday before the Bears – not shopping

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2015 – 4:12 pm

Two franchises remain from the original NFL that was created in 1920: The Cardinals and the Bears. The Cardinals, by the way, were named for the color of their original jerseys and not the bird. As long as we were talking history, I thought I’d throw that out. All that, of course, was long before now, long before the Cards moved to Arizona and long before any of the players in Sunday’s game were born. Long before their parents were born.

This is about 2015, of course, and the Cardinals’ first road trip of the season.

“We’re not going to shop on Michigan Avenue,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re going to play the Bears.”

— On paper, the Cardinals should win this game. Those odds should get better if the Bears are without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and linebacker BearsCardsUSEPernell McPhee, who both could miss the game. Yes, the Cardinals are without Andre Ellington, but they are actually fairly well equipped to weather that issue.

— Could they weather the absence of safeties Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon? Both those guys are game-day decisions with a bad hamstring and groin, respectively. I think they’ll give it a go, but we’ll see how they feel. The way the Cards’ defense works these days, those top four safeties are crucial.

— Then again, if Bucannon can’t go, maybe that means more work for Sean Weatherspoon, since Bucannon plays so much linebacker. No Jefferson, and that could mean more Justin Bethel or more Chris Clemons.

— That picture to the right is from a Bears-Cardinals game in November of 1959. It’s Soldier Field – you can tell by the columns – but the Cardinals were actually the home team in the photo (which is courtesy of the Chicago History Museum; J. Johnson, Jr., photographer.)

— Cornerback or not for Bethel, he will still play special teams, which he did for 26 snaps in the first game – even if he wasn’t happy enough with his key downed punt late in last week’s game.

“The special teams stuff is something I know I still need to do and make plays on,” Bethel said. “I wish I would’ve made a tackle or two. I hate when I go a game and don’t have a tackle, it makes me feel like I had a bad game.”

— The short pass/screen game didn’t go all that well for the Cards’ defense last week. Now they run into a running back in Matt Forte who is the centerpiece of the Bears’ offense. For defensive coordinator James Bettcher, he was confident in the correctable mistakes the Cards made – one cover was on linebacker Alex Okafor, a miss the linebacker insists won’t happen again –and that should start this week.

“Teams are going to get plays,” Bettcher said. “We understand that. When they do, it’s tackle (them) and go on to the next down.”

Said cornerback Patrick Peterson, “We have to get all 11 hats to whoever has the ball.”

— Bettcher did rave about Okafor’s first game, and not because of his two sacks. “I thought there were a couple snaps where he was so violent setting the edge (against the run),” Bettcher said. “You can see that. That’s the first thing that stood out watching the film.”

— Best quote of the week, at least from the Bears locker room: Cornerback Alan Ball, after watching the Cardinals-Saints game, said in total earnestness that Carson Palmer “is at his best moving.”

Palmer’s playing at a high level. That’s not a debate. But I don’t know if I’d say he’s at his best on the move. Palmer made sure he heard correctly when I brought it up. “Frightening,” he said. Even Carson understands a clean pocket is the way for him to go.

— The Bears have moved to a 3-4 defensive alignment this season. It’s going to be weird to see veteran Jared Allen as an outside linebacker.

— Arians decided to weigh in on the proposed Larry Fitzgerald-Darren Fells one-on-one basketball showdown. “I’ve never seen either one of them play, but I could probably take them both,” Arians said with a smile.

“But I ain’t playing for no checks.”

— The last time the Cards were in Chicago for a regular-season game: It was the 2009 season. Kurt Warner threw for five touchdown passes, including a pair to Fitzgerald (Nine catches for 123 yards that day). The Cards dominated.

We’ll see how it plays out Sunday.


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“Nine More,” and Saints aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 13, 2015 – 7:03 pm

Rashad Johnson had already pulled off his jersey and shoulder pads as he made his way off the field Sunday, the Cardinals’ 31-19 win official. The shirt he wore under his jersey for the game, now drenched in sweat? None other than one that proclaimed “9 More” – or the saying the veteran safety uttered back in 2013, after the last time the Cardinals played the Saints and Johnson lost a fingertip.

He was back with the team a couple days later, telling everyone he was fine because he still had nine more fingers.

It was kind of cool that Johnson got the Cardinals’ lone interception Sunday – he nearly had a second later on. He wasn’t going to get his finger back, but he was able to extract a small revenge.

The offense got gutsy with their playcalls and ended up putting 31 points on the board, but the new James Bettcher defense did a lot of the same things the old Todd Bowles defense did, including stiffening in the red zone to force field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense must be better – as acknowledged by many, way too many yards surrendered on short passes-and-long-runs by running backs – but it was a good enough start.

— The right knee injury to Andre Ellington was scary-looking. But as we got into the postgame, both Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer sounded optimistic that the injury – Arians said the belief is that Elllington hurt his PCL – wouldn’t sideline Ellington permanently.

— That said, we see where the running back depth makes so much sense. Ellington goes down, and you turn to a veteran who still has a little juice left in Chris Johnson. Then you let speed merchant David Johnson loose on the pass – I was down on the sideline when the rookie blew past everyone, and I have to say I didn’t expect that kind of speed – and you figure the Cards can weather an Ellington absence.

— Bruce Arians said he was “anxious” to make the play call that ended in Johnson’s 55-yard touchdown. Which is odd because few do such a thing. ESPN’s Mike Sando tweeted this great stat: From 2010 through last season, NFL teams ran 94.8 percent of the time on second down in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when leading by six or fewer points.

— Then again, Arians does not lay up. He goes for the pin.

— There were many upset at the sequence at the end of the first half that ended with two incomplete bombs and a Palmer scramble as time ran out, costing the Cards a field-goal try. But remember, that’s the mentality that led to the Johnson touchdown. No risk it, no biscuit. That’s B.A.

— The offensive line did solid. There were hiccups. There always are. But there were not a lot of them and for the most part, there is little to complain about. Earl Watford hung in there at right tackle against the very talented Cameron Jordan. Jonathan Cooper had a rough start but rallied. Most importantly, Carson Palmer was not sacked.

— Backup center/guard A.Q. Shipley played fullback and was lead blocker on Ellington’s touchdown run. Fantastic, and good use of the 46-man active roster on game day.

— Tyrann Mathieu kept promising his savage season and he was all over the field Sunday. He had a team-high eight tackles and three passes deflected while the Cardinals went heavy with their four safety-packages.

— I thought Patrick Peterson played well. Yes, he got beat once by Brandin Cooks for a 30-yard gain. But mostly, Cooks – the Saints’ best offensive weapon – was a non-factor. And mostly, Cooks was covered by Peterson.

— It’s hard to find a better story or more likeable guy (and the Cardinals’ locker room is filled with likeable guys) than tight end Darren Fells. To see him break out is cool, and reinforces what Arians has been saying about his development. There are times when Arians moves into hyperbole with his players, but Fells is proving his coach right on target.

— Michael Floyd played, and had an 18-yard catch early. Arians said he wasn’t on a “pitch count” to hold down his plays, but Floyd certainly didn’t play as much as he normally would.

Road game in Chicago next weekend. One down, at least 15 to go.


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Keim: Speed good, protection not as much

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2015 – 8:11 am

The Cardinals enter the dog days of training camp with one final week at University of Phoenix Stadium beginning today. And as GM Steve Keim talked about the Cards’ most recent performance, there was no eye-popping news — which, in a preseason where injuries are usually the biggest news, Keim noted correctly that coming out relatively healthy was the top story.

Otherwise, Keim’s thoughts when talking on the “Doug and Wolf Show” on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM:

— He likes the weapons on offense, with the speed at receiver and the versatility at running back, “if we can protect Carson,” Keim said.

“There’s no question in my mind there are some concerns,” Keim said.

Keim said the offensive line messed up a couple of times on combo moves from the defense. Watching the game back myself, it definitely looked like backs Andre Ellington and David Johnson at least once each (and possibly more) missed on chances either to pick up a blitzer or help chip block, one of the reasons there were multiple hits and six first-half sacks by the Chargers.

“It’s one thing to be beat physically, but to blow assignments mentally is unacceptable,” Keim said.

— Keim said he thinks new defensive coordinator James Bettcher is “doing an excellent job,” noting all the blitzing the Cards have done. It did seem like the Cards blitzed almost every play in the last half of the fourth quarter.

— Another Keim shoutout for undrafted rookie defensive tackle Xavier Williams. I will be shocked if Williams does not make this roster.

— Keim thought, other that one sack allowed, that right tackle Bradley Sowell played “pretty good” as a starter. D.J. Humphries, not as much. “He’s a guy on one play looks exactly like the first round pick we selected” and others, not very good, Keim said. “The bottom line is his consistency.” The Cardinals want more — much more — from Humphries. But Keim noted it’s still very early in Humphries’ process. (In other words, he’s not close to a bust.)

— Natural praise for running back David Johnson after that performance.

— There is no leader for the No. 3 quarterback job, although Keim said “Phillip (Sims) looked really patient and poised in the pocket.” I don’t think we’ll ever hear that one is ahead of the other one, not before a decision is made. Keim said both still aren’t consistent enough. And there is still the chance the Cards carry only two QBs on the 53=man roster.

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Friday before the Chiefs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2015 – 11:19 am

The training camp of Palmer, Mathieu and hamstrings takes a brief break so the Cardinals can open the preseason Saturday night against the Chiefs. It figures to be what should always be expected in the first preseason game of the season — some good play, but also some stumbling out of the blocks. Vanilla offense and defense. A big game for those playing especially in the second half, because those are the guys fighting to stay on the roster. And as always, fingers crossed no one gets hurt.

Carson Palmer will get to make an appearance and that’s amazing, given that he tore his ACL last November. But as we’ve said multiple times, Palmer has been excellent in camp and now, it’s about the reality of exposing him to another team. He has to get ready for the regular season, even if Bruce Arians acknowledged he’d rather put him in bubble wrap for now.

Some other things to watch Saturday:

— It’s about time for Logan Thomas. He will get a lot of playing time. This is where he has to make a push to convince the Cardinals he will fit. His performance in the preseason opener last year was what first caught everyone’s eye. We’ll see if he can repeat that, and push aside a lot of the questions that surround him these days.

— Arians said there were a ton of players he wants to see, and it’s hard to disagree. Among what I’ll be watching: Jonathan Cooper as starting right guard. Tackle D.J. Humphries. Outside linebackers Markus Golden and LaMarr Woodley. Summer sensation tight end Ifeanyi Momah. Wide receiver J.J. Nelson. Undrafted rookie cornerback Cariel Brooks. All those undrafted inside linebackers, including Gabe Martin (pictured below).

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher moves from the press box to the sideline. He’s been calling plays in practice, but now we get a chance to see what it’s like in a game.

— It’s a great story from the Chiefs side that safety Eric Berry — who was battling cancer last year — will be back on the field and playing.

— Watch the defensive linemen. With all those guys, someone is going to be out by the end of the preseason, either through trade or being cut. That’ll make for an intense competition.

OK. Football is back.


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The future of the Cardinals’ blitz

Posted by Darren Urban on July 1, 2015 – 11:58 am

Anyone who has watched much of the Cardinals the past two seasons knows the defense liked to blitz. So this recent tweet carries with it little surprise in the context of the NFL:

It was the hallmark of then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Bring the heat, let it all sort itself out in the end. It’s why the Cardinals went for Antonio Cromartie last offseason — they wanted those press man-to-man corners to be able to survive on an island. It’s a byproduct too of not having that dynamic edge pass rusher to cause problems with a “normal” four-man rush. Now you can argue in this day and age that even bringing five rushers isn’t exactly a blitz, but there were plenty of times the Cards brought at least six guys too.

What happens now? The feeling is that the defense, even under James Bettcher, won’t change a lot. That would include the blitzing. I mean, the Cardinals still don’t have that 14-sack guy coming from the outside (although maybe Alex Okafor can raise his production from his somewhat surprising eight-sack total last season.) The pressure will still have to be manufactured through scheme, it would seem. How Bettcher calls a game won’t be known for real until the Cards open against the Saints Sept. 13 (and what a passing offense to open against.)

Certainly, I’d think Bowles will take his blitzing to New York. But it’s hard to imagine that aggressiveness — which has served the Cardinals well — is going away under Bettcher.

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