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Keim on David Johnson: “You wonder if he’s real”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2016 – 8:15 am

Everyone knows the story now, that the Cardinals sought Ameer Abdullah in the 2015 draft and only took David Johnson a round later because the Lions jumped up and drafted Abdullah ahead of the Cards. Yes, you have to be lucky and good sometimes. But after Johnson ran through the previously No. 2-ranked rush defense in the Jets Monday, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Johnson has been so impressive both on and off the field, “you wonder if he’s real.”

It was a pure compliment. When you talk to Johnson, Keim said, he’s smart and articulate and humble. A “true professional,” Keim said. And on the field of course, he’s been excellent. “B.A. gives him a hard time” Keim acknowledged, and Bruce Arians is willing to quickly mention what Johnson needs to do to improve despite his gaudy stats. “But the things he does for this offense puts a defense in a bind.”

Keim said he’s always seen Johnson’s skillset to create mismatches in the passing game. But Johnson’s evolution into a “pure runner,” Keim said, is noteworthy.

“He has really improved, particularly his patience and vision,” Keim said.

More Keim thoughts after the Cardinals got back to .500 Monday night:

— Keim said he liked the resiliency of the Cards fighting back to .500, although there is still a long season left. The Seahawks game is big, but (not unexpectedly) Keim said it was important because it’s the next game.

— Lots of praise for the defense. He said the Jets game was the first time he had seen the unit play fast and loose with minimal mental errors. It’s a tough unit when it plays like that, Keim said. When it was suggested that the defense is morphing from a blitz-first group to one who might do a little of everything (the Cardinals certainly finally have a group that can get to the quarterback with just four, especially when the four are Jones, Golden, Campbell and Okafor), Keim said “more than anything, I just think they are starting to jell.

— Keim praised the play of Chandler Jones. “He impacted almost every play.” He also specifically named Markus Golden, fellow linebackers Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter, and the play of two of the newer defensive backs, Tharold Simon and Marcus Cooper.

— Tyrann Mathieu continues to take steps forward. Keim said he doesn’t think the safety is 100 percent back yet, not from a movement standpoint. But “you definitely see signs of improvement.”

— It would be “huge” if the Cardinals can get Michael Floyd going in the second half of the season. But Keim said the Cardinals still want to do the same with the Browns — Smoke and Jaron — and even J.J. Nelson, who contributed quite a bit Monday night.

— Speaking of Jaron Brown, Keim did not have any injury updates.

— The offensive line and new guards Earl Watford and John Wetzel “did an excellent job” considering the opponent. The Jets had only given up one rushing touchdown coming into the game, Keim noted, and the Cardinals scored three. “Those guys stepped up for the circumstance they were put in,” Keim said.

 


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Jets — and B.A.-Bowles — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2016 – 11:40 pm

For me, the moment was a couple of plays before Carson Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was after Palmer had delivered a couple of lasers on out routes to Smokey Brown, passes Palmer seemed to have had some issues with earlier in the season. But here the Cardinals were on the New York 33. On first down and second down Palmer threw incompletions, and Palmer was hammered to the turf both times. Not ideal, but Palmer got up both times.

And on third down, with a decent pocket but still some pressure, Palmer stood tall. He stepped into the throw. And he delivered a bullet to Jaron Brown for a first down.

That felt like the Palmer — and the Cardinals’ offense — that had been absent. Things might go awry, but the quarterback would stand tall and deliver when needed. In some ways, the second half Monday night was vintage Palmer. It wasn’t necessarily 2015 Palmer, because the Jets were not going to let the Cards beat them deep and the Cardinals are definitely running more than ever before. David Johnson makes that smart. But while Palmer’s numbers aren’t going to fetch an MVP, they were good in context. The Cards might just be where they want to be.

It gets harder. The Seahawks come to town next Sunday night. The Seahawks, who have beat the heck out of the Cardinals in each of the three games they have played the Cardinals in Arizona since Arians arrived. But the performance against the Jets, that was one to note.

— The teacher definitely bested the student. Todd Bowles has some injuries, and he definitely doesn’t have the talent on the back end. But Bowles wasn’t going to give up the deep stuff, so the Cards ran and ran and when they threw, it was in front of the defenders. Smart playcalling by Bruce Arians, and good execution.

— Floyd had a TD catch, but it’s clear that he’s not coming back up the depth chart for now (although if Jaron Brown is banged up, that could be a factor.) The guy who made some plays Monday was J.J. Nelson, including on a couple of jet sweeps. I like that wrinkle.

— Speaking of wrinkles, having six or seven defensive backs on the field at times was interesting to watch. Justin Bethel was getting his first defensive snaps of the regular season, and Tharold Simon also got some work. Now, if Tyrann Mathieu can turn flashes into what he was pre-injury …

— Robert Nkemdiche was active and played a handful of snaps. “I couldn’t even see him out there from my angle,” Arians said, deferring his analysis until he saw the tape. “I didn’t see him on the quarterback,” Arians added with a smile. “I would’ve seen that.”

To be fair, Nkemdiche did knock down one pass and was credited with a quarterback hit.

— He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but linebacker Chandler Jones had a heck of a game.

— It’s hard to believe that the Cardinals actually had D.J. Swearinger on their practice squad for about a week last season. He’s been a nice pickup that went under the radar. His quality play is magnified with no Tyvon Branch around.

— It was a good night for DJs overall — Swearinger, right tackle D.J. Humphries and David Johnson. Not so good for Williamses (All three guys named Williams on the roster were inactive.)

— What else can you say about David Johnson, other than superstar in the making? What’s funny is he missed a blitz pickup and was dwelling on it — “(Number) 25 (Calvin Pryor), that was definitely my guy,” he said.

You don’t want your QB to get whacked on the blitz. But it feels a little bit like picking at nits. Yes, the Cardinals want Johnson humble. But everything expected of him before the season? He’s that guy. And those expectations were kinda big.

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Nkemdiche gets to play against Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2016 – 3:58 pm

So, after all that, rookie Robert Nkemdiche will be active tonight against the Jets.

It was will-he-or-won’t-he all week, with Nkemdiche and Bruce Arians both sounding optimistic the defensive tackle would be active for the game and then Arians on Saturday sounding less so. But now that we are here, Nkemdiche will be dressed out. How much he plays is another story. It’s Nkemdiche’s first game since the opener, when he got 10 snaps against the Patriots. Since then, he not only was healing from his ankle but also battling himself when it came to prep and knowing the plays. He’s passed the test this week.

The full list of inactives:

— CB Brandon Williams

— RB Kerwynn Williams

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Xavier Williams

— G Mike Iupati (ankle)

— TE Hakeem Valles

— DT Ed Stinson (toe)

For the Jets, linebacker David Harris is out but cornerback Darrelle Revis is active. ESPN is reporting Revis will cover Larry Fitzgerald. Also, Patrick Peterson lost the bucket challenge this week:


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Saturday before the Jets

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2016 – 1:44 pm

The New York Jets are finally visiting University of Phoenix Stadium, in the building’s 11th season. The last time the Jets were in Arizona was 2004, and there is only one person in the locker room — player- or coach-wise — who remembers. Larry Fitzgerald rattled off a couple of details, including the fact Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma led the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant at Sun Devil Stadium.

“We’ve got some things we have to change about the culture,” Fitzgerald said he remembered thinking.

The culture has changed. The Jets come into town for Monday’s game and their head coach is actually from the Cardinals. Todd Bowles has a team struggling at 1-4, and he won’t find a stadium quite as inviting as the Jets did back in ’04. (Such an ugly game, too. Shaun King started at QB for the Cards and was bad. Josh McCown came in in relief but couldn’t rescue a 13-3 loss. Denny Green turned to — of course! — rookie seventh-round pick John Navarre the next week in Detroit. That didn’t go well either.)

This one needs to end with a lot happier ending for the Cardinals. A chance at .500 awaits.

— When Bowles was hired by Bruce Arians in 2013, Arians said he was hoping Bowles would groom his DC successor because Bowles would hopefully be getting a head coaching job soon. It took Bowles two seasons, and in fact, the new defensive coordinator did come within the staff when James Bettcher was hired. So, Bettcher was asked, did Bowles groom you?

“As a position coach you are trying to do your job the best you can, because one thing about coaching, if you don’t do a great job with the job you’ve got, the next thing doesn’t come,” said Bettcher, who had been outside linebackers coach. “Todd was great about explaining the whys — here’s why I’m doing this, here’s why I think this way. I had the office right across from his, so I had the opportunity to walk in and ask, ‘Why do you see it this way.’ Not questioning what he is doing, but to understand what he is thinking.”

— The Cardinals remain the only team not to score in the first quarter this season. Arians has tired of the subject. “I’ll just take a win,” Arians said. “I don’t really care anymore.”

That doesn’t mean the message as disappeared. “Trust me, we’re harping on it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “And trust me, they are feeling the pressure.”

— Along those lines, Arians continues to script his top 30 plays, the best the Cardinals have each week. Red-zone and short-yardage also get scripted. “You could do it, bro,” Arians said to a reporter, noting that they are already picked. In fact, Fitzgerald mentioned that the scripted plays are good — the players need to execute them.

— Fitzgerald weighed in on the issues teammate and fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd is having. “Mike’s fine. Mike’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “We saw what he was able to do last year. It just takes one big plas to spark him. As a teammate, you just remind him how important he is to the offense.”

Arians has been doing the same thing, while trying to get Floyd to take too much thinking out of his game. The Cardinals will keep throwing Floyd’s way, Arians has repeatedly said.

“It’s just like lining up for a four-foot putt after missing five of them,” Arians said. “You don’t really feel good about the next one but you’ve got to make it.”

— Fitzgerald is rated as the top wide receiver in the NFL at this point by Pro Football Focus. His numbers are good — 31 catches, 361 yards, five touchdowns — but they are great in a passing offense that isn’t what it was a season ago (at least, not yet.) Fitz, however, shrugged off his personal start.

“I don’t care how we win,” Fitzgerald said. “At this stage in my career, if David Johnson runs for 160 yards every week and we win, I’m good. I’m good, man. And I think everybody else feels the same way.”

— Speaking of running, Goodwin doesn’t call the plays. But make no mistake, he’ll let Arians know what he thinks. And he’s also made no secret he’s of a more conservative bent when it comes to play selection.

“I’m always going to say run it, run it, run it, run it, run it,” Goodwin said. “But we pay guys to catch balls too, so we have to be nice to them.”

Goodwin said with a smile he was definitely in Arians’ ear in San Francisco, urging the ground game. “One of these times, he’s probably going to tell me shut the hell up.”

— In case you missed it, red-hot Markus Golden (six sacks) is all about setting an example for his family.

— Terrible news Saturday that former Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, who played with the team in 2012, died in his sleep at the age of 32. Groves was a good guy. Had a giant chain with a huge lock in his locker, meant to represent his family sticking together. He was a key figure in that crazy 2012 upset of the Patriots in New England, blocking a punt and sacking Tom Brady. Rest in peace.

— Bowles, on the difference between Arians now and Arians as 30-year-old head coach at Temple back in the day: “At Temple, he probably was fiery every second,” Bowles said. “Now, he probably can go every five minutes.”

Might be a little more often than that Monday night. This is a big one for B.A.

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The Cards and playing in primetime

Posted by Darren Urban on October 14, 2016 – 8:43 am

The Cardinals are in the midst of a three-game stretch of primetime games — “Thursday Night Football” in San Francisco, “Monday Night Football” against the Jets early next week, and then a home “Sunday Night Football” game against the Seahawks. These games under the lights have been fairly good for the Cards, and it’s been suggested that this is a franchise that flourishes in such matchups.

To be sure, Bruce Arians has done a nice job in his tenure. The Cardinals are 8-3 in primetime games since Arians arrived in 2013, and that’s including the Seattle “SNF” loss in late 2014 when injuries — particularly at quarterback — undercut that matchup before it even arrived.

But the Cardinals have also been a good team under Arians, and, as with most situation, the Cardinals do well under the lights when the team is good — and struggle when the team isn’t as good.

Starting with the University of Phoenix Stadium era — the 2006 season — the Cards have played a total of eight “Monday Night Football” games and 12 games on either Sunday or Thursday night. Their overall record? 10-10. Last year’s excellent team went 5-0 in such games, just another ancillary highlight from a fantastic season. It doesn’t mean there weren’t other memorable nights, win or lose — like the Monday Night Meltdown, how Derek Anderson takes certain things serious, finding a way to beat the ageless Brett Favre or how one team is always 8-8 — but these days, it’s always about the result and how the Cardinals can improve their playoff chances.

Certainly, these next two games, even if they were played 9 a.m. on a Friday, will be crucial. The Cardinals are hoping their latest primetime run of six wins of their last seven carries over.

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A return for Gresham

Posted by Darren Urban on March 13, 2016 – 2:07 pm

Tight end Jermaine Gresham, a free agent, had been looking around. He talked to the Bears, he talked to the Jets. But multiple reports have Gresham choosing to stick with the Cardinals, at least for another season. More interestingly, Adam Schefter reported that Gresham passed up a four-year deal with $12 million in guaranteed money to return the the Cards for less.

Gresham’s return would seem to solidify the tight end position if the Cardinals decide not to draft one. Already back after signing their tender offers were Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah, while Gerald Christian is coming off a knee injury and former second-round pick Troy Niklas heads into his third season. Gresham did have a career-low of 18 catches last season, although a career-best 12.4 yards per reception. The Cardinals liked the job he did blocking as well.

Schefter is also reporting that the Cardinals are getting a visit from Panthers free-agent guard Amini Silatolu. Silatolu played in only nine games, starting three, in 2015. He is coming off an ACL tear in his left knee suffered in November, and would be depth potential on an offensive line that is likely to lose Ted Larsen in free agency.

Jermaine Gresham


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Cards to take a look at CFL pass rusher

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2016 – 5:03 pm

The search for pass rushers is leading the Cardinals to investigate one of the best of the Canadian Football League. The agent of defensive end/linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo of the Toronto Argonauts tweeted that Okpalaugo is coming in for a workout with the Cardinals after doing the same with the Seahawks and the Jets. The agent also said the Jets have already made Okpalaugo an offer.

UPDATE: The Cardinals signed Okpalaugo.

Okpalaugo, 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, had 11 sacks in 14 games this season for Toronto after posting 12 in 17 games for the Argonauts in 2014. He went to the CFL after brief stops with the Dolphins, Vikings and Cowboys, failing to get on to a 53-man roster after being undrafted out of Fresno State. But he’s had CFL success, and perhaps that will change his NFL future.

It isn’t the first time the Cardinals have looked at pass rushers from Canada. The Cards had Cameron Wake in for a workout during the playoff run to the 2008 Super Bowl — presumably for the following season — but decided to pass. Wake turned into a Pro Bowler for the Dolphins with 70 career sacks since 2009. There is no guarantee Okpalaugo, 26, will become the next Wake. He might end up as the next Stevie Baggs, a pass rusher the Cards did sign and try and work into the defense.

Perhaps most interesting is the teams involved here. The Cards know each situation well. The Jets, of course, are led by former Cards’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. And the Seahawks are in an arms race with the Cardinals for NFC West supremacy.

Tristan Okpalaugo


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Ravens make first trip to University of Phoenix Stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2015 – 9:42 am

There are only four teams left that have never played at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Ravens — who come in for “Monday Night Football” this week — are one of them. (When the Cincinnati Bengals come to Arizona in late November, it’ll be the first time they have come for a regular-season game, although they were here in 2014 for a preseason game. And the Patriots have never been here for a regular-season game, last visiting in 2004, but they of course have played two Super Bowls in the stadium.)

The others on the list, all AFC teams (of course): Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans.

It’s the quirk of the rotating schedules and the fact the NFC West got flip-flopped at one point between home and road trips to help spread out Eastern teams’ travel. The last time the Ravens (and the Bengals, for that matter) played a regular-season game in Arizona was 2003. The Ravens won that game, 26-18. The Bengals lost that year to the Cardinals, 17-14. The Cards played in both cities in 2007 and 2011.

The last time the Jaguars played in Arizona was 2005, a 24-17 Jacksonville win (there have been trips to Florida in 2009 and 2013). The last time the Jets came to Arizona (and Sun Devil Stadium) was 2004, a dreary 13-3 Cardinals’ loss. The Cards played at the Jets in 2008 and 2012. The Titans played in Arizona last in 2005 — a 20-10 Cardinals’ win — with the Cards going to Tennessee in 2009 and 2013 (in the regular season; there was also a preseason trip mixed in there.)

In 2016, the Jets and the Patriots will get their first meeting at University of Phoenix Stadium with the Cardinals.

Terrell Suggs

 

 


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As 2015 begins, a look at … 2016 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2015 – 8:46 am

Yes, training camp starts today (hopefully you can check out our redesigned homepage and our training camp page.) But before we get off and running, how about a quick glance at the Cardinals’ opponents for the 2016 season — which, as you know, the league has determined 14 of the 16 regular-season games already.

HOME

— New Orleans Saints
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— New England Patriots
— New York Jets
— NFC East team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (assuming the Rams are still in St. Louis)

AWAY

— Carolina Panthers
— Atlanta Falcons
— Buffalo Bills
— Miami Dolphins
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (even more important to see if Rams are still in St. Louis)


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Dan Williams a Raider, and Cro’s likely departure

Posted by Darren Urban on March 11, 2015 – 10:30 am

The Cardinals now have some official free agent additions, with Mike Iupati, Sean Weatherspoon and Corey Peters. (#asexpected). But they will also have some departures from that defense that played so very well in 2014.

Nose tackle Dan Williams played very well last season, and it was becoming clear his future might not be in Arizona because he’d find free agent riches elsewhere. Turns out those riches were in Oakland. Williams will get, according to Kent Somers, about $15 million guaranteed and an average of $6 million a season, which is a lot more than the Cardinals were ever going to give him. Once the Cards turned to Peters, it was pretty clear that was going to be the sign Williams would exit.

Meanwhile, all signs out of New York continue to point to cornerback Antonio Cromartie getting something done with the Jets, where he can be reunited all at once with fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis and new coach and former Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. If he gets Cro, Bowles will go from Patrick Peterson and Cro as his cornerbacks to Revis and Cro. That’s the way to run a defense.

As for the Cardinals, their own defensive overhaul continues. Peters and Weatherspoon are here, the Cardinals are trying to get deals done with Colts defensive end Cory Redding and perhaps Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo and Broncos linebacker Nate Irving. The front seven could look a lot different this season (especially if Daryl Washington is reinstated) and these are all the moving pieces with which new coordinator James Bettcher must work.

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