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That’s-much-better Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 7:15 pm

Justin Bethel came flying down the field on the Cardinals’ second punt of the game and lit up return man Adam Humphries after a one-yard return, Bethel’s helmet flying off and Bethel emotionally jumping up and celebrating. Last week, Bruce Arians said Bethel had to decide if he wanted to play. This week? “He looked like Justin,” Arians said.

“It felt good to get back to my regular self, especially when it comes to special teams,” Bethel said. “I definitely felt I was myself, playing at the level I should be playing.”

Bethel might’ve been talking about everyone. The Cardinals had an off Week 1. You can talk about being overconfident or overhyped or too anxious or whatever, but the Cards clearly put that game in the rear view Sunday (Jimmy Garoppolo clearly showed this week it wasn’t a fluke of a game either, before he got hurt against the Dolphins.) It’s a week-to-week thing, and the Cards have to go cross country this week to play an early kickoff game in Buffalo. But for now, the ship has been righted. Pretty emphatically.

— Bethel said he predicted he’d have three special teams tackles in the game, and he had three tackles.

— Training camp MVP Jaron Brown was excellent Sunday. He had a huge 27-yard reception on third-and-10 that helped spark a touchdown drive (Michael Floyd’s one-yard TD catch) and, of course, hauled in the 51-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half. With Floyd’s future in Arizona uncertain because of upcoming free-agent status, Brown (who will be an unrestricted free agent himself) is an intriguing option.

“All his catches seem to be in the biggest time of the game,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t happy that David Johnson ran the wrong route in the end zone, not only possibly costing the Cardinals a TD pass but nearly costing Carson Palmer an interception when Brent Grimes dropped the ball. Palmer, however, was forgiving of his star back. “He had just run like 90 yards and broke a bunch of tackles,” Palmer said. Close — it was right after Johnson’s awesome 58-yard catch-and-run into the red zone. “I was tired from just jogging down.”

— The Cardinals, after forcing five turnovers Sunday, are now a plus-7 after two games and have yet to turn the ball over. It won’t last — not like that — but it’s impressive.

— Don’t forget coming back out to University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow for the weekly “Monday Nights at the Big Red Brew Haus” event. This week, running back David Johnson will be in the haus.

— Patrick Peterson’s first interception of the season, on a long bomb try from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, had to make Fitzgerald proud. Peterson ended up behind Evans and then expertly kept his body up against Evans, cleanly squeezing Evans until the ball got over the 6-foot-5 Evans’ hands and into Peterson’s.

Of course, later Peterson could have had a second pick, but he dropped it. On the drive, the Bucs eventually scored on a TD pass to Evans over Peterson. “Usually when you drop an interception, bad s*** happens,” Arians said.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones got a sack in the waning moments, but he had a very quiet night. The Cardinals will need more QB pressure from him going forward.

— Arians wasn’t thrilled kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point. I’m not sure of the snap on the play, but a later snap on another Cat Man kick looked a little low. Rookie Kam Canaday is going to be watched carefully after his opening game.

— After two games, no defender is playing better on the Cardinals than safety Tony Jefferson. He too is going to be a free agent after the season. Not sure what will happen with him, but he’s played excellent football.

afterbucsblog

 


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Patriots aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2016 – 11:04 pm

No way around it: That one hurt. You can say over and over that it’s the Patriots and Bill Belichick is the arguably the best coach in NFL history, and I do think the Cardinals worked hard this week on avoiding overconfidence, invoking last year’s painful loss in Pittsburgh. Still, losing to the Brady-less (and Gronk-less) Pats would be easier to take if the Cardinals played well and they were outplayed. It didn’t feel that way, though. Losing on a missed field goal actually seemed apropos for the evening. Close, but not enough. The Cards looked off in all three phases.

The last time they lost an opener at home, it was a disappointing outing against the 49ers in 2009. The Cards won 10 games that season. We’ll see how this one plays out.

— Would Mike Leach have delivered a better snap on the final field goal? Probably. But I will say this, I have big-time respect for Kam Canaday, a rookie from Portland State who hasn’t had many chances to be interviewed period but who stood there in front of a flood of cameras and reporters answering questions about a play he’d rather soon forget. He’s in the NFL and it comes with the job, but still, he manned up.

(And props to Chandler Catanzaro too, not only for doing the same but also saying publicly it wasn’t the rookie’s fault.)

— It’s too bad the field goal was missed because a win would have been one of those epic, Fitz-put-us-on-his-back victories. On a day the retirement thing came up again to boot. The vet was spectacular when they needed him.

— Speaking of which, if you get a chance, watch again Fitz’s 21-yard catch on the Cards’ final drive. Down on the field near where Fitz caught it, I have no idea how he did. The ball was on him before he got his head all the way around — it seemed to surprise him how quick it was there — yet he unbelievably snagged the pass and turned it into a 21-yard gain.

— Rough debut for rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who blew a coverage on a touchdown and had a couple other mistakes. Justin Bethel, dealing with the sore foot, only played special teams I believe. You have to wonder if Bethel getting healthy or newcomer Marcus Cooper getting more practice will change the lineup at any point.

— Bruce Arians said J.J. Nelson could have returned with his shoulder injury. We will see. But there was Jaron Brown making a clutch catch at the end, setting up the final field-goal attempt. He’s there when the Cardinals need him.

— David Johnson looked pretty darn good.

— The defense, overall, didn’t. Or at least, it didn’t look like everyone expected. The Patriots had 363 total yards and converted 10 of 16 third-downs, and it was that last drive that was the killer. The Cards get the lead and then allow Jimmy Garoppolo to convert a 3rd-and-15 from his own 20? Can’t happen. Especially for a 32-yard gain. A stop there, and it’s hard not to think the Cards would’ve been in great shape even only up one with 8 minutes left.

“Back to the lab,” linebacker Kevin Minter said.

Indeed.

afterpats


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Chargers aftermath, and Okafor

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2016 – 11:26 pm

The Cardinals got a lot good work in this week while practicing in San Diego. Bruce Arians said that, his players did too. But the end result didn’t feel all that good. The offense looked ugly, which really isn’t what you’d like to see at this point of camp (and things went pretty well in the first-unit’s one series in the preseason opener, so it’s not like they were bad a week ago).

But then you throw in the news that best case scenario, linebacker Alex Okafor would have to play the season with a torn biceps tendon, and that’s only if he decides not to have surgery. That’s a tough call. Okafor is going to be a free agent after the season. If he waits on surgery, he won’t be a full strength and he’ll have to have surgery right before signing with another team. Surgery now, and he’ll have no season in which to entice teams to sign him. He called it one of the most difficult decisions he’s made (and he had to make the same exact decision already, with Arians, when he was a rookie in 2013.)

Okafor suffered the injury in practice Tuesday night. We’ll see what his choice is and what it means. Okafor is/was the third linebacker to give relief to starters Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— Interesting that Arians said Jaron Brown is the best receiver the Cardinals have right now. Brown did make a pair of great grabs against the Chargers. One of the few bright spots.

— Larry Fitzgerald sat with a minor MCL sprain, Arians said. It isn’t serious.

— Deone Bucannon hammered wide receiver Dontrelle Inman early in the game, a clean hit (a penalty wasn’t called and the replays I’ve seen show a hard hit to the upper chest) that knocked Inman’s helmet off. Inman was checked for a concussion and cleared, but did not return.

“I’m a physical player,” Bucannon said. “That’s what it is and I like setting the tempo for the team and making plays within the rules of football. I love playing the game with passion.”

— Couldn’t tell exactly how D.J. Humphries did at right tackle, but frankly, there wasn’t anyone on offense (except maybe Jaron Brown) that will be able to be excited about how he played.

— Cornerback Brandon Williams gave up a 13-yard pass early, but held up better in my opinion. Overall, it seemed like a better performance.

— Arians, in his postgame radio interview: “You can’t play the game without passion, energy or brains and we didn’t have any of the three.”

One more week of training camp to go.

Dontrelle Inman, Deone Bucannon


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Thoughts after the Red-White practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2016 – 4:56 pm

Here we are after the Red-White practice, the annual first real break point of training camp. From here on out — save for the bye week — the Cardinals will have a football game every week. That starts this coming Friday with the preseason opener at home against Oakland.

But first, a few thoughts and analysis after the Red-White work, which featured a lot more live play than I was expecting. It was good to see real football again. I know Andre Ellington agrees.

— Among the “stars” Saturday was wide receiver Jaron Brown, who made several nice catches — including a 25-yard TD reception from Larry Fitzgerald on the WR option pass. Brown is one of those guys who could easily be with another team making more plays than he does in Arizona. He simply has too many talented guys ahead of him.

— Ellington also looked very good as a receiver. The Cards’ passing game looked pretty sharp all around.

— Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones caused havoc up front as the practice went on. Jones continues to show he will be a great pass rusher.

— Not a great sign considering both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have said short-yardage improvement is a priority, but during “live” play in the middle of the field Chris Johnson was stuffed for a loss on a fourth-and-1 run.

— And in the goal line “live” drill, the first-string offense failed to score in three tries. There was an incomplete play-action pass, and then David Johnson was swamped under on two other runs. Linebacker Kevin Minter got Johnson the first time (Minter had a smile about it, as you can see in the picture), while veteran DT Red Bryant led the charge to blow up the final attempt.

— The second-unit offense was more successful in goal line, scoring twice on runs by Chris Johnson and Elijhaa Penny.

— Despite all the hitting/tackling, no one seemed to get hurt, although guard Mike Iupati did go down on a play when it looked like someone rolled up on his legs. Iupati was able to get back in after one play though, so crisis averted.

— Crowd was estimated at 25,000.

— The Cards are off Sunday, and resume practice Monday.

MinterSmileUSE


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The impressive depth at wideout

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2016 – 11:01 am

Sure, there are questions about the future for the Cardinals at wide receiver. Could Larry Fitzgerald retire after this season? Will Michael Floyd, also in the last year of his contract, be back? But those questions aren’t about the 2016 season. After the 2015 season — in which the Cardinals’ wide receivers were the highest graded among all the corps in the NFL last season according to profootballfocus.com — this season should be impressive for the Cards from that standpoint.

Even Fitzgerald noted last week that this is the first time he can remember being on a team where all the skill guys came back intact. That goes beyond just the receivers of course. But the upset of getting back both veteran running back Chris Johnson and veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham despite potentially more lucrative offers out there helped that along. At wideout, there was only one question, and Jaron Brown was tendered an offer. Once he signed that, the Cardinals had their top seven wide receivers returning from a year ago — when again, some considered them the best in the league as a group.

Health helped. Yes, Floyd was banged up in training camp and yes, Smokey Brown fought through an irritating hamstring injury in the middle part of the season (oh, you do remember that, fantasy football players), but for the most part, they were available. Fitzgerald in particular was healthy all the way through the season for the first time since Bruce Arians arrived. The depth also helped tremendously when guys did miss time. Floyd was huge in Cleveland when Smokey was held out. Fitz was huge early in the season when Floyd started slow. J.J. Nelson was a deep threat that could help when Brown couldn’t go full bore.

And the Cardinals will have them all again in 2016.

WideoutDepothblog


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Mathieu and the Cards’ contract cliff

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2016 – 10:25 am

Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.

But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:

— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor

That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.

Contacrtcliffblog


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Undrafted, but someone will make Cards’ roster

Posted by Darren Urban on May 4, 2016 – 3:31 pm

Thursday, the Cardinals’ rookies arrive in Tempe. That’s the six-man draft class and the undrafted rookies (as well as a bunch of guys in on a tryout basis for the weekend. QB Philip Sims was among a few guys kept on last year after such a tryout.) We will see, as the offseason and training camp goes, who will make an impression. There has been a lot of talk about QB Jake Coker, but it’s much too early to assume he can supplant Matt Barkley as even a third-stringer much less anything else (and don’t forget, after the Logan Thomas-Sims battle all last year, neither one made the team).

There are guys that intrigue. Canadian cornerback Eli Bouka, who is coming off an Achilles injury, has the size (6-foot-1) and tape that has impressed from afar. We’ll see if punter Garrett Swanson can give Drew Butler a run. And it certainly seems like there will be one undrafted on the roster, since the Cardinals’ only current choices for a long snapper are undrafted rookies Kameron Canaday and Daniel Dillon.

Here is a list of the undrafted rookies to make the roster out of training camp since 2007 (many undrafted rookies have made it to the practice squad and were promoted at some point, but these are the guys from the 53 to start the season:

2015 LB Alani Fua, DT Xavier Williams
2014 K Chandler Catanzaro, LB Glenn Carson
2013 WR Jaron Brown, LB Kenny Demens, S Tony Jefferson
2012 WR LaRon Byrd
2011 None
2010 QB Max Hall, CB A.J. Jefferson, WR Max Komar, WR Stephen Williams
2009 LB Reggie Walker
2008 LB Ali Highsmith
2007 FB Tim Castille, C Lyle Sendlein


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Who will play receiver against the Bengals?

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2015 – 12:21 pm

The Cardinals have had excellent production from their top three receivers this season. It’ll be interesting to see just which ones will be able to help Sunday night against the Bengals. Michael Floyd looked to be sitting out practice for a second straight day Thursday, and judging by the way he came up lame on the play in which he got hurt against Seattle (if you have GamePass, it’s the fourth-quarter 10-yard reception he made at the 11:29 mark), it did not look good. We’ll see what he can do Friday, but it doesn’t seem like Floyd is trending the right way, which is too bad given how well he has played of late.

John Brown looked like he was going to at least be limited Thursday. What he can provide is also a mystery. He played 59 snaps in Seattle so it wasn’t like Smoke was limited; he was on the field for every play of the final two drives. But he didn’t have a catch. If Floyd can’t go, Brown’s ability to produce something will obviously increase in importance.

But the Cardinals and their No. 1-ranked offense do have some things that will help. One is Larry Fitzgerald, in the middle of one of his best seasons and totally healthy. Two is the way Jaron Brown stepped in and up with Floyd’s injury last week; the “other” J.B. made plays and that will help on a confidence level. Brittan Golden has made catches before, and J.J. Nelson, while inactive against the Seahawks, looked pretty good as the Smoke replacement at Cleveland a few weeks back.

Oh, the Cardinals also have a pretty good quarterback, who has some pretty good motivation this week. That alone tends to mitigate some short-term scrambling with the pass catchers.

WhoWRblog


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Keim: Iupati sore but OK

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2015 – 8:20 am

Considering how scary it was to see a 6-foot-5, listed-at-331-pound man down on the field to the point where an ambulance had to come on the field to take him away, the news about guard Mike Iupati was incredibly excellent after the game. Bruce Arians said last night Iupati has been cleared going forward. General Manager Steve Keim didn’t quite go that far during his appearance Monday morning on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7, but it sure sounds like there is at least a chance Iupati could be ready for next the upcoming Sunday night game against the Bengals. (Iupati looked like he was walking around fine when I saw him on the plane last night.)

“He’s pretty sore, but thank goodness there were no major issues from an injury standpoint,” Keim said.

Some other Keim points on a (very) short night, after the Cardinals didn’t even land at Sky Harbor until 3:15 a.m.:

— Keim wouldn’t say the Cardinals needed to win in Seattle, but echoed the sentiment of some of his players, that it was a “confidence-builder.”

“Playing up there you know you’re going to face adversity at some point,” Keim said. Yet the Cardinals rallied. The Cardinals, by the way, didn’t even win the turnover battle, with a minus-two for the game. No one expected that in Seattle, but now, that’s two Palmer wins there in a row despite losing the turnover faceoff.

— Keim noted the communication issues a couple of times with the pass protection.

— Keim said the drive that really stuck with him was the one ending with Jermaine Gresham to give the Cardinals a lead they didn’t relinquish. For Carson Palmer, that “was a statement drive.”

“That was a drive that really embodies the type of guy he is,” Keim said. “The leader he is, the mental toughness he has and the competitive spirit he has.”

Keim also marveled at the way Palmer continues to keep plays alive with his footwork in the pocket. Palmer was really, really good at that Sunday night.

— Props from Keim to wide receivers Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden, who came up big when no one expected.

— Some other players he noted for playing good games were defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker. As for wide receiver Michael Floyd, “he has really, really matured,” Keim said, adding that his practice habits are good and Floyd has “completely bought in.”


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Late night Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2015 – 2:22 am

It didn’t take long for Drew Stanton to see it – he was already trending on Twitter by the time he got to the locker room – but the backup quarterback’s sideline gyrations during Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown run went from “Sunday Night Football” to social media sensation in an instant.

“That’s what I heard,” Stanton said. “ ‘Sunday Night Football’ is a very heavily-watched show, so …”

“We don’t have our hype man here anymore. Ryan Lindley used to do stuff like that, so I had to take over.”

Said Carson Palmer, “It was just all heart. … I think that was dedicated to Ryan Lindley because he was a great sideline celebrator, and I think Drew just slid ahead of Ryan.”

There’s nothing like a big win to celebrate. You don’t talk about such things like sideline dances after a loss. Make no mistake, this was a big win.

The Cardinals still haven’t beaten a team above .500, but obviously beating the Seahawks means something. It really means something when it’s done in Seattle, beyond the Cardinals opening up a mammoth three-game lead in the division with seven left to play. The second half of the schedule remains harder than the first, but all of a sudden games against the Eagles and Packers don’t seem quite as daunting. The Cards will know they’ve already beaten the Seahawks once, and now they get them in their own building (and that’s assuming there is still something to play for in the regular-season finale.)

Another nationally televised game coming in a week. I’d assume the Bengals will win Monday night and be undefeated. I’d also assume the Cardinals will relish such an opportunity.

— Carson Palmer was really remarkable. He shouldn’t have thrown the ball that was intercepted early in the game, and yes, he probably has to find a way to hold on to the ball despite nasty (and oft-unblocked) pressure. But you wonder why this team has so much confidence when Palmer is behind center, why it meant more than just having the starting QB going to Seattle, as opposed to last year. That fourth quarter is why.

— Great news that Mike Iupati was OK. He got back to see his teammates and fly back with the team. We’ll see how his health is this week.

— You do have to worry about the hamstring injuries for the receiving corps. Michael Floyd had his huge game end early after he hurt himself, and John Brown – already nursing a hamstring injury and held without a catch against the Seahawks – wasn’t in the lineup for the last series.

— Then again, that opened the door for some unsung heroes. Brittan Golden was playing at the end of the game, and he had the crucial block on the Ellington TD run.

— Meanwhile, Jaron Brown was fantastic in Floyd’s sted. His play to not only stop a sure interception of a tipped pass but actually turn it into a catch, and then his big first-down catch on the Ellington drive, was clutch. He admitted it didn’t quite make up for dropping the TD catch last year in Seattle, but it sure was impressive.

— The way Floyd is playing, it’s really going to make for some interesting choices about him going into the offseason (Floyd is under contract for 2016 at $7 million, money that is not guaranteed.) The way this offense is playing together, it’d be hard not to keep the Fitz-Floyd-Smokey trio together.

— As for Fitz, what a game. He’s had some big games against the Seahawks in the past (he went 10 catches for 151 yards there in 2008) but his 10 for 130 Sunday was more yards than his combined yards there since 2010 (114 in four games; Fitz didn’t play in Seattle in 2014 because of a knee injury.)

— The Seattle defense allowed just 39 points total in their final six games in 2014, including that 35-6 romp at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals got 39 on Sunday alone. That’s the most points the Seahawks had allowed since giving up 40 to the 49ers in late 2010 – and the most since Richard Sherman showed up to fill out the “Legion of Boom.”

— The Seahawks had been giving up 186.4 passing yards a game. The Cardinals piled up 363.

— The Cardinals have already scored 29 more points on the road – in five road games – than they did all last season – in eight.

— Chris Johnson grinded out 25 carries. He only gained 58 yards – it wasn’t a great game. But it was an important effort. The Cards never stopped trying to run, and lo and behold, Ellington snaps off a 48-yarder for the biggest play of the game.

— A lot has been said about the kicking game, but Sunday both Chandler Catanzaro and Drew Butler did well. Cat Man converted all three of his field-goal attempts and all four extra points. Butler averaged 44.7 yards on his three punts and more importantly, Tyler Lockett had zero punt return yards.

— We’re pushing 2:15 a.m. Phoenix time and by the time many of you read this, I’ll have posted another entry on the blog. The Cardinals are going to bed knowing they are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC (and they have the No. 3 Vikings coming to Arizona next month.) A good way to start the second half of the season.

Aftreblog2USE


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