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Friday before the Niners, the Cards’ playoff primer

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2014 – 4:08 pm

It seems like a lifetime ago when the Cardinals first met the 49ers this season. The Cardinals got behind 14-6 at halftime and then shut the Niners down, winning 23-14 behind the defense and two Drew Stanton-to-Smokey Brown touchdown passes. That was when the worst thing that had happened to Carson Palmer was a nerve issue in his arm, but at least he was coming back at some point. Jonathan Dwyer had just left the team but Andre Ellington was playing well. Stanton was doing great and the offense was at least generating points.

Yes, a lifetime ago.

The wins piled up this season but the injuries have certainly tried to keep up. If you would have asked anyone with the team back after that win over the Niners if they’d be OK with an 11-4 record the next time they’d see their division rivals, they would’ve taken it – even with the caveat of injury after injury. But when you take out the quarterback, the equation does not compute well. Not in this league.

For now, though, I’m quarterbacked out. It seems like it’s been the only topic around this team for two weeks, and obviously, it’ll be one next week too as the Cardinals (likely) go into a wildcard game. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are taking on a San Francisco team that’s been shredded by injuries too and have bent under the weight of the inevitable coaching change from Jim Harbaugh (did I mention it’s been a lifetime since the Cards saw the Niners?)

This team has never won 12 games as a franchise. If they can find a way to get one Sunday, regardless of all the other noise, it’d be a great accomplishment. Certainly one I never would have thought possible if you would have told me Carson Palmer would only play in six games.

— It’s hard to know if linebacker Larry Foote is hurting that much or if they want to make sure he is ready for the playoffs, but his knee likely will keep him out of Sunday’s game – after he has missed just one defensive snap all season thus far. It’s possible the knee impacted his play last week against Seattle, when he had trouble in coverage, but it’s irrefutable that his play was huge for a defense that needed it because of injuries and suspensions.

— As bad as the defensive performance was last week, the Cardinals remain fourth in the NFL in scoring defense (18.6 points a game). You know they’d like to stay in the top five.

— After getting away from the run in the Seattle game, I don’t think there’s any question Arians will make sure to run more in San Francisco. And yes, that means more (and maybe a lot more) Kerwynn Williams.

Long snapper Mike Leach will play in his 200th consecutive game Sunday.

— Arians hasn’t lost his sense of humor, even with all the quarterback drama. He waited for the media to arrive post-practice, and the last to arrive was veteran Associated Press writer Bob Baum, huffing and puffing as he jogged toward the group hoping not to miss anything.

“Easy, brother,” Arians said. “You ain’t getting no mouth-to-mouth around here!”

— A heartfelt congratulations to media relations assistant Allison LeClair and her significant other, Cameron, for getting engaged this holiday season. Always good to remember there are things in life beyond football.

— Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was fined $11,050 for grabbing his crotch at the end of his 79-yard run against the Cardinals last week.

— On a personal level, I don’t love having a game in San Jose/Santa Clara and being so far away from San Francisco, but there is no question I look forward to checking out the new stadium (and not going back to a not-very-pleasant Candlestick Park.)

— Harbaugh has never been very good on the conference calls over the years, but he had a couple of funny answers in what looks like his swan song with us this week, at least as the 49ers coach. If you missed it, he was asked what the season has been like with so many rumors floating around about his future.

“The interesting thing is if you don’t look at the Internet and you don’t watch TV, you really do not know that it’s going on,” Harbaugh said. “That has been exactly what I have done. … On the way home, you don’t turn on the talk radio and you don’t look at the Internet, you can be completely unaware that anything is swirling. I walk by people and I see their faces (and) I know something is going on.”

Someone then told Harbaugh he may be the only American who doesn’t watch TV or go on the internet.

“There has to be another American beside myself. Don’t you think? Yeah, I bet there is,” he said. “I would think there would be plenty of Americans who probably focus on another task at hand and dedicated to the mission they have and excelling and not having distraction.”

But there are always distractions, even if you pretend they aren’t there. We’ll see which team deals with them the best Sunday.

beforeniners


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Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2013 – 4:19 pm

The last four times the Cardinals have gone to San Francisco, it didn’t go particularly well. Even the oldest of those visits, the 2009 Monday night game in a season when the Cards would win 10 and make the playoffs and Kurt Warner was the quarterback, the Cards melted into a mess of turnovers in a disappointing loss.

Yet that game was also the last time weren’t just playing out the string by the time they got to Candlestick. The Cards were in the middle of a division chase back then, and – even though we’re just five games into the season – the same holds for Sunday.

So begins the toughest two-game stretch of the season for the Cardinals, this weekend’s visit to San Fran, with the Seahawks awaiting a Thursday game in Arizona a few days after. Well, I suppose the back-to-back might not be the toughest alone, since the Cards have to play in Seattle and then home against the 49ers the final two games of the season.

(Yikes, oh ye schedule gods.)

But this week will determine the Cards’ spot in the pecking order. A split, and the Cards can still talk NFC West. Two losses, and it’s a lot tougher. (We won’t talk about sweeps yet. Let’s see what happens in Frisco first.) The NFC isn’t top-heavy this year so far. The Cards could be a third-place team and still make the playoffs. But if they can get into Candlestick and topple the opponent for the first time since 2008 – the Super Bowl-bound Cards opened the season with a 23-13 win in SF – well then, it’ll quickly get interesting.

— Andre Roberts said the offense has been simplified heading into the 49ers game, and that seems to fit what is expected to be mostly rock-em-sock-em. Bruce Arians said the Cardinals aren’t changing their offensive goals – “You find reasons why and why not and try to fix them,” Arians said of his offense – but it did sound from QB Carson Palmer that he’s going to do what it takes not to put the Cards in bad positions this weekend.

— Still, the Cards are going to need to score points. This lack of execution the Cards have had, the bugaboo that Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts and Rob Housler all mentioned in some way, shape or form this week, has to change. Quickly. That’s the only way you are beating a team like the Niners.

“We know what to do (offensively) but not why we are doing it and sometimes that lack of continuity shows up,” Arians said.

— Speaking of offense, Candlestick was the site of Michael Floyd’s best NFL game, grabbing a bunch of passes from Brian Hoyer in last year’s finale en route to eight catches for 166 yards and a score. Floyd hasn’t had more than five catches in a game yet this season, but he does have 301 yards and has played well.

— In three wins, the Cardinals’ defense has not allowed a point. The only second-half score against the Cards in those three games was a pick-6 Palmer threw against Detroit.

“I think it’s just about playing hard and guys settling down in the game,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We just need to start faster than we have been starting.”

— Cardinals tight end Jim Dray knows 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Dray was at Stanford when Harbaugh came in and resuscitated a struggling football program. “It’s just a culture shock when he came to Stanford,” Dray said. “He completely changed the culture and the attitude. It really brings the team together. That’s the biggest thing, he brings the winning culture.”

— In Anquan Boldin’s first game in the NFL, he had 10 catches for 217 yards and exploded on to the NFL scene. A decade later, in his first game for the 49ers to open this season, Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards, making a pair of impressive NFC West debuts.

“The biggest difference was we got the win this time,” said Boldin, whose muffed punt return helped Detroit beat the Cardinals way back when during Boldin’s first NFL game. “For me that’s all that matters. I’ve been through the whole putting-up-stats, breaking this record, doing this and that. My only goal right now is just to win and win championships.”

— Said Fitzgerald of his friend Boldin, “It’ll be weird to see him over there. This is probably only the second time in my career I’ve rooted against him … but we need this game more than they need it.”

Fitz has only played against Boldin one other time, a 2011 game when the Cards lost in Baltimore. Boldin had seven catches for 145 yards.

— And no, I don’t particularly believe Boldin when he says this is just another game. I don’t think the fire burns in him for this organization the way it once did, not now that he’s won his Super Bowl, but I’d be stunned if this didn’t mean something extra to him.

— Earlier this week, Arians said he’d talk to Colts coach Chuck Pagano, after the Colts handled the 49ers in San Francisco this season. Then again, the Niners shifted their game after that one and started running more. The Cards will have to stop the run, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

— I know Fitz said he loves Candlestick for the history — Jerry Rice played there, and Fitz has a fondest for the greatest receiver of all time, because he’d like to get there some day — but really, I’m not sure how many people are really going to miss it. I know I won’t. One more trip there.


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Niners aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2012 – 11:20 pm

Ken Whisenhunt called it a test, Monday night’s game. The grade was not good. The defeat was very methodical, but that’s the 49ers, isn’t it? The Niners’ run game gashed the Cards early, then when the Cards stiffened San Francisco went to the air, and it’s just too hard to score against that defense. Not when the Cards’ offense is looking for answers.

“We have to get tougher and more physical and get after them that way because at this point we aren’t doing a whole bunch of things successfully,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “We just have to start punching people in the mouth.”

There was absolutely no room to run. LaRod Stephens-Howling was swamped almost every time he carried the ball, and the run game was hurting more than it was helping. With a game in Lambeau this coming weekend against an offense that can score a lot more than the 49ers do, the Cards need to find a way to generate more points. Yes, that’s obvious. But that’s also the fact.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked if he was comfortable with the starting offense. Like Larry Fitzgerald said later, noting that the guys in the locker room were the ones who were going to be in it for the long haul, Whiz knows options are limited.

“I guess we don’t have a lot of choices,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re always looking to get better, but we have to do a better job of taking advantage of our opportunities.”

So, although the trading deadline is coming up, I’m not expecting Steven Jackson or DeAngelo Williams to come walking through that door. And certainly not Kurt Warner.

— Darnell Dockett said the first thing after the loss he thought of wasn’t the four-game losing streak. It was Whisenhunt.

“We are letting our coach down,” Dockett said. “I think Coach Whiz is very fair with us, he’s a player’s coach and I feel like as players we are not giving enough back to him. I felt that more than anything after the game. He’s really been looking out for us. He works us hard but he wants us to be more mature. I felt we let him down in the Buffalo game. He asked us to give him everything we got and I felt some of us didn’t. We didn’t last week. I can see it on his face.”

— Dockett talked about players staying professional, which is why they won’t slide off the map this season, even with things looking grim. But he said he was ready to say some things that were said first by Whisenhunt.

“Coach called out a lot of things today that I wanted to say to some guys,” Dockett said. “Guys in the training room that we need on the field. We need them. Hopefully the message rings a bell.”

— That was the first time the Cards had allowed more than 21 points in a game this season. The defense did not play well, and in a game that was supposed to be a tight, defensive affair, the early missed tackles are unacceptable. But it’s not like the Niners hung 45 on them.

— That huge hit Dashon Goldson put on Early Doucet made me think of the scuffle they got into last year. Not that it had anything to do with the hit itself, but funny how those two keep meeting. Physically.

— Niners coach Jim Harbaugh obviously didn’t like the stories about quarterback Alex Smith losing confidence or Harbaugh losing confidence in him. So, after Smith completed 18 of 19 passes and was nearly perfect, Harbaugh had his shot when asked about the showing helping Smith’s confidence.

“I don’t think there was ever a question there,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s just a lot of gobble, gobble, turkey. Just gobble, gobble, gobble, turkey. That paints a pretty good picture. He’s a very confident guy.”

Alrighty then.

— Linebacker Daryl Washington had two sacks again. He becomes the first Cardinal to have two sacks in back-to-back games since Eric Swann did it back in 1999.

— The Cardinals are only the third team ever to start a season 4-0 and then lose their next four games. The first team to do that, the 1993 Philadelphia Eagles, finished the season 8-8. OK, not ideal. But the 2002 Oakland Raiders ended up going 11-5 and making it to the Super Bowl. Obviously, I’m not predicting that, but this losing streak does not have to be a death knell.

— Now, if the Cards can’t generate more offense, well, that could be the death knell. I can’t remember points being at such a premium for this team. But they were finding ways to score some points earlier this season. It can’t be that they have just forgotten. They’ll never be the Patriots or Packers, but it shouldn’t be like this and they know it. That’s why the frustration grows.

It’s late. It’s a short week, and I have a long drive home. We can talk more tomorrow.


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Some combine tidbits

Posted by Darren Urban on February 24, 2011 – 11:23 am

It’s been a slow start today (which is usual for the first day in Indy). Few players have come by yet, but there have been a bunch of coaches and GMs. So there have been a few things to chew on:

— New Broncos coach John Fox was going over his quarterback list and said Kyle Orton is his starter right now. There had been reports Orton would be on the trade block (but there have also been reports the new staff isn’t thrilled with Tim Tebow). Obviously, if Orton was available, he’s been a name many would consider for the Cards. So Fox was asked about the idea Orton’s name had been reportedly on the trade block, in light of the fact Fox had just said he was the starter. “It’d be pretty hard to be both,” Fox said.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Orton couldn’t be traded. But today, I didn’t get the sense he was available.

— Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said he didn’t think new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should be classified as a “passing guy” and that RB Steven Jackson will still get plenty of work.

— New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about his quarterback situation (San Francisco has the seventh overall pick and lately, reports have Harbaugh talking up the idea of keeping free agent Alex Smith in the mix, if Smith is willing to return). “I’m not going to tip my hand with what we’re going to do,” said Harbaugh (pictured below). “But I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

— Interesting to see that Harbaugh and Ravens coach John Harbaugh — who spoke an hour apart at the podium — still made sure each was around and listening when the other got up in front of the media.

That’s it for now. Don’t forget the Graves/Keim chat in a bit right here.


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About that draft position …

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2010 – 9:42 am

The subject grew in debate as the Cardinals’ losing streak grew — Wouldn’t it be better for the Cards just to lose out and nab the highest draft pick possible? Andrew Luck, for goodness sake!.

Well, we’ve heard coach Ken Whisenhunt keeps planning on winning. Players have their own reasons, but none point to losing as a good thing. Plus there is the schedule, which not only included the hapless Broncos visiting last weekend but a trip to reeling, one-win Carolina this weekend (I told you the Cards wouldn’t lose out).

Couple of points to make here. Talking to people, unless you can get QB Andrew Luck, there probably isn’t anyone else to be available that’s worth tanking for anyway. And the Cards were never getting Luck. The Panthers weren’t going to catch them in the standings, and I doubt the Bengals will fall behind (climb over?) the Cards. Yes, I think despite Clausen/Palmer, both the Bengals and Panthers would be all over Luck.

That’s assuming Luck comes out in the first place. Logically, you’d think he would. But he goes to Stanford, his family has money (his father Oliver was a NFL QB himself and now is West Virginia’s AD) and compared to most, he does have some reasons to stay (although he’ll never be drafted higher than first overall, and the risk to return is large — I’d think Jake Locker would have gone higher last year than this). There are also those who have heard rumblings that Jim Harbaugh won’t bail as Stanford’s coach. So there’s that.

As for the Cardinals, they have one major factor in their favor draft-pick-wise. Their strength of schedule is so poor that they will get the highest pick of any team(s) they tie with (because in the draft, ties are broken on strength of schedule; the team that played the weakest moves to the front). That’s assuming they don’t tie any NFC West brethren. Even then, the odd games on the sked — matchupes with incredibly disappointing Minnesota and Dallas — will help in that regard.


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