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Taking those shots down the field

Posted by Darren Urban on October 10, 2013 – 9:54 am

The day Bruce Arians was introduced as the head coach of the Cardinals, he talked about how he wanted to take about six shots downfield per game. Arians was about getting chunk yardage, and keeping defenses honest with such plays.

But the plays have to work to be effective. Arians knows they haven’t been nearly effective enough. Asked if he thought the Cards were getting about 50 percent of those plays, Arians scoffed. “We’re nowhere near 50 percent,” Arians said. “We’re probably down around 20 (percent.)”

According to profootballfocus.com, the Cardinals and quarterback Carson Palmer have thrown 22 passes this season of at least 20 yards in the air — an average of 4.4 tries per game. But Palmer has only been able to complete five of them, or an average of one a game. Two of those — a 24-yard TD to Larry Fitzgerald in St. Louis and the 36-yard TD pass to running back Andre Ellington against Detroit — have gone for scores. (UPDATE: PFF gave Palmer a third TD in this situation: The 13-yard TD pass to Fitz in Tampa. PFF counts all passes that cover 20 yards and do not stop at the goal line — so in charting that Fitz was seven yards deep in the end zone when he caught the ball, that qualified as a 20-yard-in-the-air pass.)

Three of Palmer’s at-least-20-yarders-in-the-air have been intercepted. Palmer is tied for 10th on the league in deep attempts, but he’s tied for 20th in completions. The 139 yards Palmer has on those throws isn’t a ton either. By contrast, Aaron Rodgers (505 yards) and Jets rookie Geno Smith (500) are at the top of the list, although both have 14 completions already of passes of at least 20 yards in the air. Rodgers, you can understand. Smith is surprising, just like it is surprising to see Detroit’s Matthew Stafford behind Palmer in most of these categories.

Obviously, Arians would like to get more from those kinds of passes. Palmer said yesterday he isn’t going to take chances on the jump balls anymore, like the one intercepted in front of Michael Floyd against Carolina (below). In fact, Palmer talked a lot about taking what the defense will give him, which sounds a lot like taking fewer chances down the field. Arians said he wants Palmer to walk the fine line between being smart and being aggressive.

It’s funny, because this has been a topic with the Cardinals much of the past few years. In Kurt Warner’s final season, there was a bunch of talk of how the Cards didn’t throw deep enough (and Warner’s 37 such attempts were the fewest of any qualifying QB that season.) Even in 2011, when Fitz set his career-high with 17.6 yards per reception, it wasn’t because John Skelton was throwing a ton of 20-yard-in-the-air passes. We’ll see if the Cards can adjust the offense to be more what Arians had hoped, or if various issues — including the pass protection — will force a change in thinking.

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To take a quarterback

Posted by Darren Urban on April 9, 2013 – 11:38 am

It was the day Steve Keim was hired as general manager, long before Drew Stanton or Carson Palmer arrived or even before Kevin Kolb and John Skelton were discarded. Keim was talking about philosophies, and how he was going to approach the Cardinals’ search for a quarterback after the drought post-Kurt Warner.

“Particularly, I love the idea of quarterbacks, supply and demand,” Keim said that day. “It’s a tough position to find. (Former NFL GM) Ron Wolf always had that mindset that it’s always good to go out and try to get a quarterback every year. You never know how those guys are going to pan out.”

So, right now, the Cards have Palmer and Stanton and Brian Hoyer and Ryan Lindley. Head Coach Bruce Arians is saying “I think our quarterback room right now is as strong as anybody’s in the National Football League. That’s what we set out to do as an organization, to strengthen that position.” Keim obviously overhauled the spot, and that means … what exactly come the draft?

Even before the Cards got Palmer the vibe was always that the Cards were going to pass on a quarterback in the first round. Arians said none of the QBs out there had made him go “Wow” and that’s what it takes for No. 7. Does it mean the Cards won’t draft one, period? Nope. That’s why the Cards are reportedly checking into Matt Barkely and Geno Smith and Ryan Nassib and all these guys who are going to be available. None of that means the Cardinals will take one of those guys. But they are prepared if they decide to do so.

(On a slightly separate note, all the visits/workouts pre-draft for any team, including the Cardinals, shouldn’t be a big deal. There have been many instances where players have been chosen by teams without knowing ahead of time any interest and at the least, it shows proper due diligence to look at all the top players. Especially for a GM like Keim, who believes deeply in making a difference-maker his first pick, the Cards are going to look at all the main prospects.)

The Cards are thrilled to have Palmer but they know he’s not going to be the answer in a few years. That search for a long-term guy continues.

Because you never know how those guys are going to pan out.

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Still some cap space and adding players

Posted by Darren Urban on April 3, 2013 – 6:50 pm

The NFL Players Association tweeted out a document this afternoon listing every NFL team’s cap space, and, with everything fluid this time of year (cap space changes as soon as players are added or subtracted) the Cardinals have about $8.2 million in salary cap space for their top 51. That’s not a bad situation to be in after trading for Carson Palmer. (UPDATE: There seems to be some question if that is before the Palmer deal factored in. Obviously if it hasn’t been, that will make a big difference It included Palmer already.)

The Cards did add a small piece today in former 49ers safety Curtis Taylor (the team has yet to officially announce it). I’d expect a few more similar signings over the next couple of weeks as the Cards prep for their first (voluntary) minicamp beginning April 23.

The Cards still only have 57 players after adding Palmer (and before Taylor) and they need to grow that number. There will be seven draft picks and a bunch of undrafted rookies, but again, the Cards eventually want to get to 90 players

– The Bengals claimed quarterback John Skelton, cut by the Cards Monday, off waivers Wednesday. Here’s hoping Skelton catches on as a backup. I still believe he’d already have a win in Cincinnati if Early Doucet hadn’t fallen down.

– I never wrote anything because of when it happened (and in case you were living under a rock) ex-Cards QB Kevin Kolb agreed to a deal with the Bills a few days ago. He has a chance to start there, at least as of right now.


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Skelton cut by Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2013 – 3:14 pm

There is nothing new on the burgeoning Carson Palmer trade front at the moment, but it seems a lock to be completed at some point after the Cardinals officially released quarterback John Skelton Monday. So ends Skelton’s wild ride since arriving as a fifth-round rookie in 2010, getting a couple of starts in that year and then having an amazing way of playing poorly yet rallying the Cards to wins in 2011. Then he beat out Kevin Kolb to start the 2012 season before spraining an ankle in the opener, struggling mightily as the starter after Kolb got hurt. Clearly the relationship between he and former coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t good at the end, but even a coaching change couldn’t save Skelton’s roster spot.

Skelton tweeted out his goodbye:

The release wasn’t a big surprise after the team signed Drew Stanton, brought Brian Hoyer back and now are close to getting Palmer. All along it looked unlikely that Skelton would survive into May on the roster if this didn’t come sooner. Now it has. Not that it would’ve helped him, but recalling how Bruce Arians lamented the inability to talk to Kolb while watching video — to ask why and why not of certain plays — maybe Skelton lost out too. Then again, Skelton’s troubles were seen first-hand by general manager Steve Keim. Keim had a good sense of what he had in both Kolb and Skelton, and Skelton ended up — even with an 8-9 starting record — with 12 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions and a 61.9 passer rating in 17 starts.

– The Cardinals also announced that tendered free agents William Powell, Hoyer and Ronald Talley officially signed their contracts. The Hoyer and Talley news had already been out there.

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The curious case of Carson Palmer

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2013 – 2:19 pm

As the draft approaches and people speculate on (or fret about) what the Cardinals will do at quarterback, one of the storylines that could play out is the availability of Carson Palmer. Palmer is currently with the Raiders, due $13 million for 2013 which — like the situation with Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals — he probably was never going to see. If he were cut, it makes a lot of sense that the Cardinals would consider him, and the Adam Schefter report now is that is “unlikely” Palmer is willing to take a cut.

Yes, Bruce Arians says he is “comfortable” with Drew Stanton. Yes, he could start. But here was the key phrase last week when Arians was asked directly if he was going to name Stanton his starter.

“Once we get the roster set, if that (QB meeting) room hasn’t changed, he’s our starter,” Arians said.

That is one heck of a lot of wiggle room.

It brings us back to Palmer. Palmer isn’t in his salad days anymore, not the quarterback who was starring for the Bengals once upon a time. But he still did throw for 4,018 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season for the Raiders, pretty decent numbers for a team that wasn’t very good. Depending on the cost, he might make a lot of sense to at least compete with Stanton, or maybe even just slide in ahead of him. Would he be a long-term solution? No. But the long-term solution might not be there this year. There has been a ton of talk about the Cardinals and a draft pick, and as has been stated — and after Arians talked about not forcing a QB pick high — a quarterback might not be the No. 1 pick.

The best part for the Cardinals is that they have a ton of flexibility at the position right now. Stanton is going to be here. He’s the one lock, but if he ended up as the backup, I think Arians would be happy with that (I’m not sure Stanton would be thrilled, but that’s a different blog post.) Brian Hoyer is under a $2M deal but he could be traded or cut with no salary cap implications — tough for Hoyer, but flexible for the team. Plus there is the probable draft pick somewhere and John Skelton and Ryan Lindley to plug in the equation if needed.

Palmer needs to be careful, of course. I have no idea what kind of restructure/pay cut the Raiders would be offering, but the market is thin. Kolb I think was hoping to have popped up somewhere already but that hasn’t happened. Then again, Palmer may figure — and he could be right — that hitting the market when the Cards, Bills, Jaguars, Browns or even the Jets could still be considering a different QB could make him in demand. (UPDATE: Palmer doesn’t have any bonuses due soon and the Raiders are under the cap, so this could very well go up until the draft so the Raiders can see if/when they draft a QB. This might hinge on that.)

We’ll see how the Palmer situation plays out in Oakland first and then go from there. We’ll see if the Cardinals’ “room” has a chance to change.

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Arians thinks accuracy can be helped — sometimes

Posted by Darren Urban on February 25, 2013 – 11:41 am

Larry Fitzgerald was targeted 156 times last season. He ended up with just 71 catches.

Now, that doesn’t mean there weren’t times when Fitz could’ve and should’ve come down with a pass and didn’t. That certainly happened, and more times last year, I think, than in the past (profootballfocus.com had him with five drops last season, Stats.inc credited him with three.) But there were many, many, many more times when the pass went to Fitzgerald and the ball simply wasn’t close enough to even make a play on it.

This isn’t about Fitz though but the ability to make sure whatever quarterback is behind center can be accurate. There are many factors that go into an incomplete pass, including the pass rush and pass protection. But last season, none of the four quarterbacks who played for the Cardinals completed 60 percent of their passes. Kevin Kolb was 59.6 percent, John Skelton was 54.2, Ryan Lindley 52.0 and Brian Hoyer 56.6. These days, if you aren’t completing between 62 to 65 percent of your passes — at least — you are going to have a hard time being successful. It’s something to watch for with the rookies too, although given the upgrade in speed and schemes in the NFL, accuracy can be a projection for those guys.

The question is whether it can be improved in a prospect — or with anyone.

“I think you can improve all phases of their mechanics,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Some guys, if the flaw is so difficult in their throwing motion especially from the trunk up, it’s going to be hard. But the majority of accuracy problems are your legs. Guys overstride, they understride, they put themselves in bad positions and stress themselves. Fundamentals, that’s why golfers go to the driving range every day. Tiger (Woods) is a great player, Rory (Mcllroy)  is a great player, but they go to the driving range every day. Quarterbacks need to go to the driving range every day.

“You want to be more of a teacher than a swing coach. When you are a swing coach, you know you have problems.”

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Potter inactive, Batiste to start vs 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2012 – 12:57 pm

Left tackle Nate Potter is inactive today because of his sprained ankle, putting D’Anthony Batiste back in the lineup for the first time since Potter replaced him during the Green Bay game prior to the bye week Nov. 4. That will make for an interesting matchup when he goes against 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks). Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) is also inactive, meaning tight end Jim Dray will fill in for the fullback duties.

Rookie guard Senio Kelemete is active for the first time this season, too.

Also inactive for the Cards today are:

– QB John Skelton

– WR LaRon Byrd (knee)

– G Mike Gibson (calf)

– WR Early Doucet (concussion)

– DE Ronald Talley (ankle)


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Hoyer active as backup QB; Rashad sits

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2012 – 12:59 pm

Brian Hoyer is active as the backup quarterback today with John Skelton inactive against the Bears. Ryan Lindley starts, but Hoyer will be available if coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to play him. It’s not a surprise, but for Skelton to open the season as starter and now be inactive with Kevin Kolb also out is an amazing journey.

Safety Rashad Johnson (hamstring) will sit out, meaning Adrian Wilson could get extended time beyond his play in the base defense, although James Sanders is available. This, again, could end up being Wilson’s final home game with the Cards depending on what the Cards do with him this offseason.

Others inactive:

– G Senio Kelemete

– OL Mike Gibson (calf)

– TE Kory Sperry

– WR Early Doucet (concussion)

– DE Ronald Talley (ankle)


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Friday before the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2012 – 3:52 pm

Here’s one benefit of playing the Lions and Bears in back-to-back weeks: The blueprint was already there for the defense, after covering Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, to deal with the Bears’ Brandon Marshall. Johnson has been a beast this season, no question, but Marshall has been fairly beastly himself, with 107 catches, 1,398 yards and 10 touchdowns already himself.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Cards will necessarily give Marshall the “vice” look they gave Johnson at times last week – when Johnson was in the slot, safety Kerry Rhodes and cornerback William Gay would basically double-team him at the line, like Johnson was a gunner on punt coverage. But who knows? We could see it again. It’ll be fun to watch this defense regardless, against a struggling offensive line and against a quarterback who has shown he can be harassed into bad decisions.

– We do know we’ll see Patrick Peterson on Marshall , as Peterson keeps making his late-season push. I don’t think he’s getting double-digit picks, but he’s closer than I thought he’d get earlier in the season. He also talked a little this week about his confidence which is obvious.

“All the good corners have confidence in their ability to go out and make plays for their team,” Peterson said. “I believe the confidence started in high school. It was something my Dad always instilled in me growing up – ‘Always be confident in your ability, confident in what you are doing at all times.’ Not cocky. There is definitely a difference.

“I’m not a guy who’s going to go out and boast and brag about my ability, but if I feel like I am doing something better than another guy or doing something at the top level, I’ll definitely let you guys know.”

Peterson added, in a question about whether he was the best in the game, “I believe I am playing at a top level right now.”

– Both Rashad Johnson (hamstring) and James Sanders (calf) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday for the first time this week. Both are questionable. I would guess at least one will play Sunday, if not both, but starter Adrian Wilson could get more playing time, defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.

“There’s never been a question of Adrian’s ability,” said Horton, although Wilson has lost snaps since the bye. Horton said Friday part of the reason for that was to reward the good play of Johnson and Sanders.

Nevertheless, Wilson understands – as do many – there is a chance this could be Wilson’s final home game Sunday, with his future with the team murky right now. Horton was asked about calling the blitz last weekend that got Wilson the sack he needed to reach the 25-25 club.

“I was aware of where he was in the (historical rankings) in the league and it was a perfect opportunity to do it,” Horton said. “It was kind of called for him.”

– If the Cardinals win Sunday, it will be Ken Whisenhunt’s 50th victory as Cardinals’ head coach including playoffs.

– Given the problems with the Bears’ offensive line and the way the 49ers play offense, this might be the week linebacker Daryl Washington wants to get that elusive 10th sack of the season. Time is running out for him to his double-digits.

– Nothing official, but yes, I expect the roof open Sunday.

– Don’t know what’s going to happen with quarterback Brian Hoyer. I still think he ends up active in one of the final two games, if not both. Does that mean he plays? Not necessarily. Whisenhunt made it plain he wouldn’t change things up and jeopardize winning just to look at Hoyer, so my guess would be if a game got out of hand, then he might be willing to test-drive the new guy. But again, he’s got to be active for that to happen. Which likely means John Skelton would be made inactive.

– While Sunday’s game doesn’t kick off until 2:25 p.m., the plaza at University of Phoenix Stadium will open early, at 10:45 a.m., so fans can get through screening. The stadium still does not open until 90 minutes prior to kickoff for non-premium seat holders, but food and beverage options will be available on the plaza, in addition to entertainment at Gate 2. Anyone with food or beverage purchased on the plaza can bring it into the stadium when the doors open.

We come to the end of another home schedule. Seems like we were just showing up for that Seahawks game in early September. Back then, Ryan Williams, Kevin Kolb and Lyle Sendlein were still around (playing, I mean) and so were hopes for the season. Now the Cards just want to finish above  .500 at UoP.

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Sunday in the rear view; Lindley back as starter

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2012 – 2:56 pm

The other day defensive tackle Nick Eason was saying that, in the aftermath of the Cards’ 58-0 loss in Seattle, that the players were simply going to go back to work. “That’s all we can do,” Eason said, noting that they were football players, and this was just another week of football.

So the reaction Wednesday coming off what in some ways was a historic loss was just like the Cards have done every Wednesday after their other losses. And their wins, for that matter.

“It was a typical practice,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “We were flying around. Same as it has been all season.”

Quarterback Ryan Lindley noted “you try to forget about (Sunday) as quick as possible.” “We did some things all right (today),” Lindley said. “Wednesday is always an up and down day because you are putting new stuff in. (Thursday) will be better.”

The message wasn’t going to change much. There are guys banged up — wide receiver Early Doucet suffered a concussion, and the Cards could use nose tackle Dan Williams given their woes stopping the run, but Williams was also sitting out with his bad hamstring — yet that isn’t going to stop the schedule and the three games left.

“I don’t think anybody was happy,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said after practice. “They’re all upset about what happened. They worked well today. Came back out here and had good energy. That’s a painful thing to go through and we went through and looked at why that happened, tried to correct those things, and worked on correcting them today. That’s all you can do.”

– Whisenhunt named Lindley his starter for Sunday’s game. Not a surprise, since Lindley finished the game and John Skelton had five turnovers in his brief chance to start again.

– Whiz said it is wait-and-see for new QB Brian Hoyer. I don’t see how he’d play this week. Beyond that? Let’s see how Lindley fares, but I will not be shocked to see Hoyer get a start down the stretch.

– QB Kevin Kolb wants to be back next season. He hasn’t had any discussions about his contract, which would need to be restructured, I’m sure. He said his “heart and soul” are with the Cardinals.


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