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Fitz’s lone shutout, Friday before the Bills

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2016 – 2:30 pm

Larry Fitzgerald did not catch a pass, and that was only the beginning of the brutality that was the Cardinals’ last trip to Buffalo.

It was way (way) back in Fitz’s rookie year of 2004. It was Denny Green’s first season. Anquan Boldin was coming back that day after missing the first six games with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Boldin had four catches for 50 yards. Fitz, alas, was shut out – the only time in his career he has not caught a pass in a game.

“That was probably the first time in my life I didn’t catch a ball,” said Fitzgerald, whose consecutive-games-with-a-catch streak is at 181. “Ever since I started playing football. There’s a first for everything.”

(Fitz did have a rushing attempt, for four yards.)

Of course, there weren’t many completions, period. Josh McCown completed just 9-of-24 passes, Drew Bledsoe just 8-of-17, as the teams played in nasty winds up to 30 miles an hour plus rain. It was a joy to watch. (It ended with a 38-14 Bills win).

The weather isn’t supposed to be bad Sunday. The temperatures will be mild, the sun is supposed to be out, the wind at a minimum. And of course, Fitz is playing with a team 12 years later that is light years better than that group that went to New York.

— No Evan Mathis this week, cut down by the dreaded turf toe. Earl Watford gets the start in his place. That’s an interesting development, in part because …

— Sunday will be a big test for right tackle D.J. Humphries. The defense played by the Ryan brothers usually features high-pressure from the outside. Do they go after Humphries? Goodwin said Humphries is doing better, although he noted there were mental lapses both against the Buccaneers and in practice this week. “He is always going to feel the pressure from me and coach (Arians),” Goodwin said.

Now you have Watford and Humphries on the right side of the line without Mathis.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on his reaction after hearing Bruce Arians accepting the blame for the zone-first defensive philosophy in the Patriots loss: “The first thing I thought was, we needed to tackle better in that game … our communication wasn’t good enough.”

“I love coach’s input,” Bettcher added. “He is one of the smartest men I have ever worked around. Not only is he the best head coach in the National Football League, he is a smart, smart football coach.”

— The Cardinals have yet to turn the ball over. Carson Palmer should have been picked a couple of times so far – the drop by Bucs CB Brent Grimes on the bad route by David Johnson last week the most memorable – but overall the QB has been good protecting the ball. In an offense like this, where the passing game will go down the field, a minimum of interceptions is impressive.

“Experience is one thing,” Palmer said in his explanation why. “You know when to take your shots. You know whether it’s the right type of third-down situation to be in, the right time of the game. You’ve got to be smart.

“(Interceptions are) going to happen. You try to avoid them as long as you can and when they do happen, you bounce back and go down and score on the next drive. That’s something that I pride myself on.”

— While Arians said the cornerback spot across from Patrick Peterson would be shared work-wise between Marcus Cooper and Brandon Williams, Bettcher said whoever had the better week of practice was going to earn the playing time Sunday.

— As we go, don’t discount the idea that newcomer Tharold Simon could also start to get some defensive snaps at cornerback.

— Former Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, now 33 years old, is starting in Buffalo and has 1½ sacks and nine tackles in two games, plus a forced fumble and tackle for loss. “Lorenzo is playing really, really well,” Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He’s got a sack and a half and he’s missed two or three. Just missed.”

— So far, Markus Golden is keeping up with the higher-profile Chandler Jones in sacks. Both have two in two games. Golden shrugged off his pace, but admitted he’ll be looking at it at season’s end.

“At the end of the year, of course, numbers mean something to everybody,” Golden said. “You want to do stuff people didn’t think you could do, so of course the numbers matter, but I feel like if you compete at the high level and play to win, you’ll get the numbers no matter what.

“Just got to keep hunting.”

Buffalo awaits.

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Arians takes blame, “Bettch took a bullet”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2016 – 9:52 am

The Cardinals were better defensively against the Buccaneers — NFL.com’s NextGenStats had them blitzing more than 43 percent of the snaps, highest in the league, against Tampa Bay — and Bruce Arians was happy about that. The Cardinals played a lot of zone the previous week against the Patriots, and Arians wasn’t happy about that. Especially since it was his call.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said last week the breakdowns “start with me.” But the defense was better in Week 2, Arians said, because “I got out of it.”

“I got too involved in the New England (defensive) gameplan,” Arians said on Sirius XM NFL radio. “That’s not my forte. Bettch took a bullet for playing more zone than we normally play. I had a lot to do with that. It was my mistake. We were playing our style of defense (against Tampa).”

Here’s a guess the Cardinals will stay aggressive defensively. Arians certainly didn’t sound like he’d be delving back too deep into the defensive gameplan anytime soon.

“It’s happened once and it didn’t go too well,” Arians said.

ariansblame


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Cards know they have to tackle better

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2016 – 10:13 am

It doesn’t get much more simple in the game of football than tackling. And the Cardinals didn’t do it well enough against the Patriots to open the season. Blame the lack of work in the preseason, blame a practice environment in the NFL that doesn’t really allow pros to practice true tackling. But it has to get better. Truth be told, I believe that even with everything else staying the same from that night, even with the Brandon Williams mistake and uneven offensive play, that if the Cards had tackled better, they would have won.

“The tackling overall was an issue for us,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “There were runs that got out on us that if we made the tackle on first hit … we had them at about 95 yards after contact and that’s too much. We haven’t had that in a while around here.”

Patrick Peterson missed a tackle on a third down that was notable (although the Patriots were already in field-goal range and the way Gostkowski was kicking, were going to get the field goal they eventually made anyway. It burned time but in the end I’m not sure that made a difference.) Tyrann Mathieu missed a couple tackles. Deone Bucannon did not play the way he was capable. Bettcher and coach Bruce Arians talked about a loss of leverage in getting in the right spots and that happened too often — the Cards losing the edge. Even Justin Bethel missed a couple of tackles on special teams.

On a night when the Cards played some zone with the idea that you tackle and keep a team short of the sticks, wayward tackling doesn’t work out all that well. “We were kind of rusty on our tackling,” said safety Tony Jefferson, who was one of the players who didn’t look that way.

I’d expect it to be different this week, given the emphasis the Cards have had. It’s crucial that it improves.

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All in on “All or Nothing”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2016 – 1:58 pm

It’s not “Hard Knocks,” and that’s something Bruce Arians insisted upon from the start. That’s why the coach always said he didn’t want to do the HBO training camp series, because of how it showed things like players being cut — a cold way to have someone’s professional life laid bare for the world to see. Michael Bidwill agreed, although both liked some of the things “Hard Knocks” did show, like the human side of players and coaches.

In a very general way, that’s how “All or Nothing,” the story of the 2015 Cardinals, came to be.

There are still a few weeks before the series is available on Amazon. July 1 is that date (if you didn’t already know), when all eight episodes will be there on demand for everyone to see. Want to binge? Go ahead. Want to space them out? Your call. Do you prefer to watch with your kids and have the sometimes harsh words of the NFL bleeped out? There will be both unrated and edited versions.

I have only seen one episode, the seventh that chronicled the win over the Packers in the playoffs. It was, as you can imagine in something put together by NFL Films, pretty epic. The original score — which has a main theme that can be heard during the Brentson Buckner portion of the trailer — is excellent. And even though you know what will happen, to see how the emotions flowed not just for the players but others (like Arians’ wife Chris) is simply riveting television.

A couple other thoughts I had about the series, based on what we saw:

— Buckner, who is a great quote and a colorful figure, sure seems like he is going to be one of the stars.

— It reminds you of who isn’t here anymore. Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson were so important to last year’s team and this will rightfully reflect that and it’s a little weird since they are no longer on the roster.

— Carson Palmer had said that even with the mics and cameras Arians “was still B.A.” all last season and, yes, that was apparent.

— Crazy to think defensive coordinator James Bettcher specifically talked to the team about defending an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary before the game, and yet Rodgers still pulled one off.

I’m looking forward to seeing the whole series. I’m guessing it will live up to the hype.

AoN.onsetBLOG


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Keim: Palmer “as tough as they come”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2015 – 8:12 am

GM Steve Keim said he knew some were concerned about quarterback Carson Palmer after he hurt his right index finger in Philadelphia, and acknowledged Palmer did have to adjust a bit to account for the finger against the Packers. But he said he wasn’t surprised Palmer went out and played well despite being nicked up — Palmer “is like a machine,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday — and Keim never saw anything watching the video that made him think Palmer was impacted by the injury.

“He’s as tough as they come,” Keim said.

Mostly, Keim had nothing but praise for a team that slapped around the Packers Sunday.

— Keim said that was the closest the Cardinals had come to playing a complete game this season. The Cards have won nine straight. It’s amazing to think the Cards, at 6-2, were considering such a daunting second-half schedule. Thus far, they are 7-0 in that stretch.

— Keim noted the intelligence of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, saying that one of the things he likes of all the coaches is that they cater to players’ strengths. As for Bettcher, he liked the fact he took some things from former boss/former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles but “at the same time, he’s true to himself.”

— The discussions between Keim and coach Bruce Arians about whether to rest players in the regular-season finale will go on the next day or two.

— The third-round pick of running back David Johnson continues to look incredibly smart. “Every week he continues to amaze me,” Keim said. “Some of the things he does athletically for a big man … he makes things look so easy.”

— Another good game for safety D.J. Swearinger, highlighted by his forced fumble to start the second half. Keim liked the performance, and it again looks like a smart pickup for Keim.

— Keim, a man who loves his men in the trenches, said he thought the offensive line played “excellent” and the defensive line rotation showed exactly why the Cardinals brought in so many guys, in order to stay fresh.


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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.

FloydBeforeNoinersBLOG


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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.

BeforeCINCU

 


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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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