Award season was built for discussion and “controversy.” (You need the quote marks because, really, debating who should be MVP or all-pro doesn’t rank among the big questions our world faces today.) So Pro Football Focus came out with their year-end awards, and Cardinals running back David Johnson was honored — as the best receiver in the NFL.
There isn’t a whole lot of detail. It notes that Johnson had more catches for more yards than any other running back. That’s fine, although there are obviously a ton of wide receivers that eclipsed his numbers. PFF notes that on their scale (there are no specifics listed on their grading system), Johnson’s receiving grade of 92.6 is higher than any player in the NFL. Coming in behind Johnson was Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans.
What’s interesting about the grades is that Johnson, multiple times this season, pointed out how he had screwed up routes he had run. At the end of the year, in fact, Johnson said that had he not messed up so often (especially earlier in the year) he would have easily reached the 1,000-yard mark in receiving and gotten into the coveted 1,000-1,000 club.
The Cardinals and PFF have been down this road before. Last season, PFF called Tyrann Mathieu — technically listed as a safety — the best cornerback in the NFL after all his slot work. PFF did have Mathieu playing the majority of his snaps in the slot last season and not safety. In Johnson’s case, he was a running back all the way through, save for a limited amount of times he might have split out wide as a true wideout. To be fair, PFF gave the award to the best receiver, not the best wide receiver. A tight end, in theory, could have been the pick. And there is no question Johnson was fantastic as a pass catcher (he averaged more yards per catch than Larry Fitzgerald, actually.) But this will certainly be a debated concept.
UPDATE: PFF just posted a full article on their reasoning. They make the point Johnson is doing things as a receiver at a much higher level than other running backs. They point out that sometimes, he’s doing things like a receiver or tight end would. Here is a crucial passage: “The point isn’t to compare Johnson to Mike Evans and Julio Jones route-for-route or claim that he is doing the things they are doing better, but rather to compare receiving within their respective roles.”
I get where that would make Johnson a great receiver out of the backfield, the best in the league. And incredibly effective. I don’t know how that makes him the best receiver in the NFL.
Tags: David Johnson, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Pro Football Focus
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Steve Keim has looked at his offensive line since the day he started. He signed Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati as his most high-profile free-agent additions. He drafted D.J. Humphries with the idea he could eventually upgrade at tackle over Bobby Massie. He signed Evan Mathis as a veteran to be the other guard this season.
We know how it’s turned out so far.
Veldheer and Mathis are done for the season with injuries. Humphries has gone through growing pains this year after sitting all of last year. Iupati, banged up himself, has struggled of late. Fellow guard Earl Watford, Mathis’ replacement, has also been banged up this week. The players off the bench are inexperienced.
As Carson Palmer said this week, continuity is ideal along the line — and the Cardinals have not had continuity. Not anymore. That isn’t to say there weren’t issues anyway, but juggling up front is not what you want. The Cardinals will likely need to score Sunday in Atlanta, since the Falcons are the league’s top scoring team. We might see a steady diet of David Johnson running, but it’s not like the Falcons don’t know that either. In a season of up-and-down offensive production, the tenuous nature of the offensive line has not helped.
“We’ll have five of them out there, for sure,” coach Bruce Arians said.
— Michael Floyd might yet play Sunday even after hurting his hamstring and missing Thursday and Friday on the practice field. But it seems like anything that could go wrong for the free-agent-to-be wide receiver this season has.
— Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will have Patrick Peterson on him most of the game Sunday. Teams have sometimes had a cornerback “travel” to cover Jones, but Jones said it usually comes with a caveat.
“Teams have been trying to do that, but they’ve been playing a lot of two-man while they were doing it,” Jones said. “They’ll take their ‘OK’ corner and put him over me and then just have safety help, and try to put the better corner on the other side, try to let him lock that side down. Pat P, it’s just usually one-on-one.”
— So it turns out neither Peterson — for his unnecessary roughness call for knocking down QB-turned-WR Sam Bradford — or Tony Jefferson — for his hit on the still-trying-to-go-forward Stefon Diggs — were fined for their play. It’s fair to wonder if that means the league disagreed with the calls. Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson was fined $18,231 for his fourth-down hit on Palmer that extended the Cards’ final drive.
— The Vikings offensive linemen weren’t happy with Peterson about the hit. But Arians defended his player, not surprisingly, starting with the fact Bradford was lined up as a wide receiver and no longer had quarterback protections.
“That’s my understanding, and he just threw a flea-flicker on the exact same play, so don’t let it happen,” Arians said. “(Peterson) did what he was coached to do.”
As for the Vikings offensive linemen being upset, “Well, they shouldn’t have threw the flea-flicker the first time then,” Arians said. “He ain’t going to let it happen a second time.”
— The Cardinals are trying to get past an interception drought. They have now gone four games without one, the last time picking off an opposing QB coming way back on Oct. 17 when they nailed Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. Matt Ryan has just five interceptions this season (compared to 24 touchdown passes) but the Cardinals have gotten to Ryan in the past. He threw four interceptions against the Cardinals in Arizona in a 2013 game, and five picks in a game against the Cards in Atlanta in 2012. (Alas, the Cards still lost that 2012 matchup.)
— If Carson Palmer throws two touchdown passes, he’ll surpass Joe Montana on the all-time TD passes list. Palmer sits at 272, Montana 273.
When Palmer was asked about it, his response just reinforced to me my thought Palmer has every plan to play in 2017, regardless of how this season has gone/will go.
“What excites me about the game is the anticipation for Sunday, the process, going through and getting mentally prepared and physically prepared, obviously,” Palmer said. “There is no doubt that it would be an honor to do that, but I love playing the game because I love Sundays.”
— So atlantafalcons.com apparently does weekly simulations about the game ahead, and this week, they had the Cardinals winning the game, 21-19, behind David Johnson’s two touchdowns. So there’s that.
Tags: Carson Palmer, D.J. Humphries, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Evan Mathis, fines, Jared Veldheer, Julio Jones, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve Keim, Tom Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Vikings
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You know the story at this point: Last week, on a conference call with Atlanta reporters, Patrick Peterson talked about matching up with Falcons receiver Julio Jones. During the game, Jones — covered almost always by Peterson — had 10 catches for a career-high 189 yards.
To Peterson’s credit, he talked about it afterward. Bruce Arians said he didn’t have an issue with Peterson saying things ahead of time, but that Peterson has to back it up.
Peterson’s key quotes from last week: “He won a couple battles, I won a couple battles. But I think for the most part I won the majority of those battles. (Jones is) an incredible athlete. Love the battle and the competition between us. It just brings out the best in both of us.”
Also: “Me feeling I’m the best corner in the league, I want the team’s No. 1 receiver, period. That’s where you get the opportunity to gain the respect from your peers and be recognized as one of the best and one of the greats after you are done with the game. That’s the kind of pressure I like to have for myself and as a team.”
Peterson wasn’t thrilled with how the game turned out. He clearly wasn’t happy with how his comments were portrayed when he talked about it Monday.
“Honestly, I say that every single week so I don’t know how they took it out of context,” Peterson said. “All I said was, by me considering myself the best, you want to go against the other’s team’s best receiver. My answer is not going to change week in, week out, because I am a competitor. That’s what I want. But if they took it out of context that I called him out, so be it. They wanted a little, I guess, George Foreman-Ali type thing going on but it was nothing like that. I respect Julio. I’ve been going against Julio since college so I would never call him out. I have that respect for him. For them to say I called him out, that’s totally baloney, but it is what it is.”
There are a couple of points to be made here. One, Peterson isn’t wrong. He consistently will talk about battling the other team’s best guy. He just did it with Calvin Johnson — “We’ll give the fans a great show and hopefully they’ll have their popcorn ready.” And he isn’t wrong in saying that earning respect from peers and being recognized as a good player comes from such matchups.
But he also has to know that everything he says and does, which was already dissected at a high level given his draft status and subsequent Pro Bowls, only carries more scrutiny once he signed his new contract. Bruce Arians even talked about it when Peterson inked the deal: “When you are a five-star player, you better play five-star. … He wants to be the best. And he’s going to be covering the best every week so he could get embarrassed real quick.”
Peterson could stop talking, but that isn’t Peterson either — he wants to be challenged, and that’s one way he does it, by challenging himself. Peterson is often on an island out on the field. He’s on an island off it too, that island where Richard Sherman lives, where people are paying attention. There’s no getting away from that.
Tags: Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson
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Everything Sunday was supposed to be for the Cardinals – everything the Cards needed it to be – it wasn’t. Bruce Arians called the loss to the Falcons disappointing, lots of players called it disappointing, but more importantly, they were asking themselves why it happened the way it did when they simply couldn’t afford such a performance.
“We didn’t wake up,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “It was like we were asleep the whole game. We’ve just got to do better, man. Do what got us here, as far as hitting people in the mouth, just playing hungry, playing nasty – play like we are one of the top teams in the league, which we supposedly were until these last two games. We’ve just got to wake back up and get back on this winning train.”
The offense wasn’t good, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But from the time that Steven Jackson – Steven Jackson? – reeled off a 55-yard run on the game’s first possession, it was the defense that simply didn’t do enough Sunday. No, the offense didn’t do enough either, but this year, with this team, the defense is held to the higher standard. The defense will be what takes the Cardinals however far they will go.
Jackson gained 101 yards. The Cardinals never give up 100 yards to a running back. Julio Jones put Patrick Peterson on blast to the tune of a career-high 189 yards, and Harry Douglas added 116 himself – you know, as long as Roddy White was hurt, why not?
The last time the Cardinals gave up at least 100 yards in a game to a running back and two receivers? Way (way) back on Nov. 12, 2000, when Robert Smith rushed for 117 yards, Cris Carter had 119 yards receiving and Randy Moss has 104 for the Vikings. Of course, that was for a bad, bad Cardinals team that went through a midseason coaching change. This was by a defense that not only is better, but when it is playing well is one of the best in the league.
Adversity has come to visit, linebacker Larry Foote said. With four games left – including the last three within the division – the Cardinals have to figure out how to overcome. It starts on defense.
— Stanton did seem to find a little bit of a groove after a very slow start. But the Cards kill themselves over and over. A Michael Floyd fumble here. A Ted Larsen holding penalty there. An incomplete bomb to Ted Ginn on third-and-2. The first thing Stanton talked about after the game was converting third downs, of which the Cards did only once Sunday.
— Andre Ellington said he’ll be OK after his hip pointer – he said it was a different injury than the one he has been dealing with – but the run game didn’t help again. Falling behind so big so early didn’t help, but Ellington and backup Marion Grice combined for just 10 rushing attempts, for just 35 yards.
— There were too many important players standing out of uniform on the sideline during the game – Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, John Abraham – to not make you think if all the injuries are starting to catch up to this team.
— The Cardinals do get linebacker Matt Shaughnessy back this week and he can play against the Chiefs. That isn’t a small thing.
— Jaron Brown had his best game, with a team-best seven catches for 75 yards in Fitz’s absence, and absorbed one wicked blow late as he was tackled. Brown was fine with that, he said. He wasn’t fine with the ball that glanced off his hands early in the game, which turned into the Falcons’ first interception. The pass looked too high from Stanton, but to that Brown shrugged off.
“That catch I should have made,” he said. “It hit my hands. Those tips are something we can’t have.”
— Lyle Sendlein, who used to be an offensive captain before Carson Palmer took a foothold in the locker room, is wearing the “C” on his uniform again now that Palmer is out for the season.
— With the high-ankle sprain of Paul Fanaika, it sure looks like Jonathan Cooper will be in the lineup as a starting guard for a little while at least. Even before Fanaika got hurt, Cooper was swapping series with Ted Larsen at left guard. It looked like the effort to reintroduce him into the lineup had begun.
— Arians said he didn’t challenge the 41-yard catch by Julio Jones in the second half – the one in which numerous fans mentioned to me on Twitter Jones only got one foot down – because the coaches upstairs never saw a replay. Peterson was called for holding on the play, but a challenge could have saved the Cards 36 yards if the catch had been negated.
— The punt team nearly was burned on a 70-yard punt return touchdown by Devin Hester. But Hester was called for a facemask while trying to straight-arm punter Drew Butler, and then the Falcons were flagged for another 15-yard penalty for complaining about that call. Cost the Falcons four points in the end (Atlanta later got a field goal). Hester afterward insisted it was a bad call.
— That’s it from 30,000 feet. The Cardinals go back to work tomorrow, trying desperately to right what’s wrong.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Cris Carter, Devin Hester, Drew Butler, Drew Stanton, Falcons, Harry Douglas, Jaron Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Julio Jones, Kevin Minter, Lyle Sendlein, Marion Grice, Matt Shaughnessy, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Paul Fanaika, Randy Moss, Robert Smith, Steven Jackson, Ted Larsen
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In all the seasons the Cardinals have been a franchise – and in this case, we’ll just go back to the Cards’ jumping into the fledgling NFL in 1920 – the team has won at least 10 games only seven times. Only twice has the team won 10 since the franchise moved to Arizona, last season and the 10-6 mark the team posted in 2009, the year after the Super Bowl.
The Cards would reach 10 wins Sunday with a win in Atlanta. They should win at least 10 this season at some point, but in so many ways, it’s crucial that it come this weekend, against this team. The Falcons are in first place. They do have Julio Jones and Roddy White this time around. But this is a game the Cardinals have to have, with the way the Seahawks are playing, with the way the Packers are playing, with the way the Eagles are playing.
Bruce Arians is constantly talking about how good teams don’t lose two in a row. His players parrot it. The only time the Cardinals have lost a second in a row since Arians showed up was to eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle on a short-week Thursday night. This is where we need to see that resilience show up again, against a lesser opponent.
— Larry Fitzgerald is officially questionable but I won’t be surprised to see him sit for a second straight game. It’d be only the second time Fitz would have missed back-to-back games in his career. I’m sure it’s eating up Fitz. He’s got a lot on the line here on a lot of levels, between his hot play before he got hurt, his presence that helps the offense and even his impending contract dilemma after the season. But if he can’t go, he can’t go.
— New running back Michael Bush seems unlikely to be active. Arians said this week he’s got to learn a lot and he’s here for the “long haul.” It may be a little soon to reach that point yet.
— The Cardinals are not unaware that the Falcons have Jones and White this time. Patrick Peterson said this week he and Antonio Cromartie are ready for that kind of upscale challenge. Last year, “it definitely minimized their shock plays and how they attacked our defense (having them out),” Peterson said.
— As rough as it was for the Cardinals’ offense in Seattle last week, Arians kept saying that defense was pretty good – and then the Seahawks’ D dismantled Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense on Thanksgiving night. So maybe that was more of a reflection of the Seahawks coming around than the Cards’ offense.
— Of course, the Cardinals do have something to prove offensively this weekend, at least that it was an outlier as Arians believed. This offense was fine shredding a good Lions’ D for a quarter. It’s possible. QB Drew Stanton and company just have to pull it off.
— Kickoff is at 4 p.m. Atlanta time. So the team, unlike previous Atlanta trips, doesn’t fly out until Saturday and the players will be able to play a game on a regular body-clock kickoff of 2 p.m. That hopefully will help.
— The post-Thanksgiving stretch is where divisions are won. This is where the Cards’ road begins.
Tags: Drew Stanton, Falcons, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Bush, Patrick Peterson
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Under the new collective bargaining agreement put together in 2011, draft picks must be in the league three years before they can negotiate a contract extension. That means that 2011 class — which features Patrick Peterson, Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J.Green, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn, among others — are all now eligible for new contracts, and the assumption has long been that many of those will happen. Certainly that has been a subject of speculation with Peterson. The Cardinals want to keep Peterson long term (of course) and it was not a coincidence that Peterson recently changed agents with that opportunity now looming.
But, as usual when it comes to big-money deals, none of this is a simple process. Jason Cole wrote an interesting piece about the situation of the 2011 draft class (he never touched on Peterson, specifically). In it, he talked to 10 GMs and/or cap specialists, and all expected that instead of a long-term extension this year that teams will opt to invoke the fifth-year option on each contract. Every first-round contract now as a fifth-year team option that, inevitably, will be a more affordable (and non-guaranteed) salary. In the case of 2011 picks, all are locked up through 2014 and then the team can invoke a 2015 year. This doesn’t even include the option to franchise tag a player for 2016.
(Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick are in similar situations as a fifth- and second-round picks in 2011, except as non-first-rounders, teams do not have a fifth-year option on those players. It actually gives non-first-rounders more leverage this offseason.)
In short, there isn’t an incredible urgency to extend one of those 2011 contracts now, other than the fact some of those 2011 draft picks probably won’t be thrilled they wouldn’t be extended right away given the level of play many of them have reached already. It will make for an interesting offseason when it comes to those players — including Peterson.
Tags: A.J. Green, Cam Newton, CBA, Colin Kaepernick, contracts, JJ Watt, Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Robert Quinn, Von Miller
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The Cardinals are going through their most difficult stretch of the schedule, but the news today lends itself to possible advantages in the Cards’ favor as they move forward. Division foes San Francisco and Seattle have been rolling, and those are the next two games, but after that, last year’s playoff teams Atlanta and Houston visit University of Phoenix Stadium. Both those teams have been struggling mightily anyway. The Texans are getting poor quarterback play from Matt Schaub, and that got harder with the news top tight end Owen Daniels will reportedly miss up to six weeks with a broken leg. Given that the Cards have had issues covering tight ends, that’s not a bad thing for Arizona.
But the bigger news is that the Falcons, who come in Oct. 27, have lost wide receiver Julio Jones for the season with a foot injury. That is a crushing blow to a team many thought could reach the Super Bowl but instead have started 1-4. Fellow Pro Bowler Roddy White (below) is already having a bad season thanks to ankle and hamstring problems. Jones is a star, now he won’t play.
It’s not like the Cards haven’t had their own injuries. No one roots for injuries, but as every coach ever likes to say, “No one feels sorry for us.” If the Cards can win those games, no one will be putting an asterisk on them.
Tags: Falcons, Julio Jones, Owen Daniels, Texans
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No surprise, but defensive end Calais Campbell won’t play today with his bad calf. David Carter will get the start instead, and he’ll get a big chance to show his advances at the new position. It’ll also be another missed game for tight end Todd Heap, who is still dealing with a knee injury.
The other inactives:
— QB Kevin Kolb (ribs)
— WR LaRon Byrd
— LB Jamaal Westerman (meaning undrafted rookie Zack Nash is the only backup outside linebacker behind Sam Acho and Quentin Groves)
— G Senio Kelemete
— T Pat McQuistan
For the Falcons, wide receiver Julio Jones is playing despite missing all week of practice with an ankle sprain. I can’t imagine he’ll be anything but limited today. Starting linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who also has an ankle sprain, is sitting.
Tags: Calais Campbell, David Carter, inactives, Jamaal Westerman, Julio Jones, Kevin Kolb, LaRon Byrd, Pat McQuistan, Senio Kelemete, Todd Heap
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Took part in a mock draft (it’ll be on Patriots.com sooner rather than later) today and got another version of the top four. I wasn’t told who took who, but by the time my “pick” came up, these were the four gone — Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus and Blaine Gabbert.
(That was the order listed too; it’d be interesting to see if that matches the teams. Miller to Denver? Dareus to Buffalo? Gabbert to Cincy?)
I stayed chalk with my thought process in that regard. I stuck with defense and went with cornerback Patrick Peterson. But … obviously, wide receiver A.J. Green remains on the board in that scenario. Anyone reading my stuff knows I think receiver here is highly unlikely. Highly unlikely. The Cards already have a top receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and they clearly want/expect him to be here long-term. Bringing in a second such playmaker at that position — especially when you very well should be able to find a playmaker at another position (like Peterson, for instance) — makes little sense to me. You aren’t even sure you have a QB who can get it to Fitz yet, much less to two such guys.
That being said, there are those who’d like to see it (I’m looking at you, Georgiebird) and there are arguments that can be made, as long as you operate under the assumption the Cardinals see Green as an exceptional, off-the-charts talent. (I’m not saying they do, and there are those who don’t even think Green is better than fellow draftee-to-be Julio Jones). For the moment, let’s make that assumption.
The Cardinals aren’t sure if they can keep Fitzgerald, whose contract runs out after the 2011 season, long-term. He needs to sign an extension, and while both he and the team have said many times they want it to happen, Fitz has also made plain his desire to win, and that involves the fluid situation of finding a QB. Even if Fitz is a lifetime Card, the rest of the receiving corps is still in question. Steve Breaston doesn’t have a contract. Early Doucet hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Andre Roberts, as well as he finished the season, hasn’t proven he will succeed.
Then there is the idea — again, depending on the grades we won’t know — that Green would be the best player available, too good to pass up. We’ve played this game before, back in 2007, when it was Levi over Peterson when Edge was around. Need was above “best player,” and maybe this year the need — other than QB — lies on the defense.
(But even then it’s not always cut-and-dried even when it works. Cards went BPA in 2004, because Fitz was the BPA. Would the Cards, who already had star-in-the-making Anquan Boldin, been better off with a top three class of Roethlisberger, Dansby and Dockett instead? Sure, Kurt Warner came along a year later, but it’s interesting food for thought).
I reiterate, I think the Cards go defense. I think Peterson would be the pick over Green. But there’s always room to speculate.
Tags: A.J. Green, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals, Bills, Blaine Gabbert, Broncos, Cam Newton, Darnell Dockett, draft, Early Doucet, Julio Jones, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Steve Breaston, Von Miller
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