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11 Cards still top 10 in Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on November 25, 2015 – 12:19 pm

The Cardinals continue to do well in Pro Bowl voting (which you can do yourself by clicking here or going to azcardinals.com/probowl. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has dropped out of the overall top 10, but quarterback Carson Palmer remains there, seventh overall and the fifth quarterback. Fitzgerald is now fourth among wide receivers, behind Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.

The top Cardinal at a position remains free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who is still second among his position, 14,000 votes or so behind Carolina’s Kurt Coleman (the Panthers have a fanbase dedicated to the voting; they rank high at most positions.) The other Cardinals ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions:

— RB Chris Johnson is fifth.

— Mike Iupati fell to sixth among guards.

— DT Calais Campbell is fifth.

— CB Patrick Peterson is fourth.

— Rashad Johnson is sixth and Deone Bucannon is eighth among strong safeties.

— David Johnson is 10th among kick returners.

— Justin Bethel is fourth for special teamers.

Pro Bowl voting continues through Dec. 15.


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Mathieu, Fitz, Palmer shine in Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2015 – 2:32 pm

The Cardinals are a) 6-2 and b) winning with some style points (i.e., winning by scoring a lot with familiar names.) So it’s not a huge surprise to see players doing well in the first round of Pro Bowl voting results. The biggest news is that both quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald are currently in the top 10 of all players.

Tyrann Mathieu currently leads all free safeties in voting too.

Palmer is seventh in the voting (and fifth among QBs) with his 87,838 votes. Fitz is 10th overall (and third among receivers) with his 77,709 votes. Palmer trails QBs Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Fitzgerald is behind receivers Julio Jones and Odell Beckham, Jr.

Mathieu’s 31,097 votes have him ahead of Seattle’s Earl Thomas right now.

They aren’t the only Cardinals in the early Pro Bowl mix. A look at the rest of the players in the top 10 at their positions:

RB – Chris Johnson is sixth (43,941; Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman is first at 103,334.)

G – Mike Iupati is second (25,267; Dallas’ Zack Martin is first at 28,158.)

DT – Calais Campbell is fifth (34,038; Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins is first at 54,816.)

CB – Patrick Peterson is fourth (41,066; Carolina’s Josh Norman is first at 64,915.)

SS – Deone Bucannon is fifth (13,205; Oakland’s Charles Woodson is first at 46,698.)

Return specialist – David Johnson is ninth (9,557; Seattle’s Tyler Lockett is first at 23,006.)

Special teamer – Justin Bethel is third (18,330; New England’s Matthew Slater is first at 21,457.)

To vote for the Pro Bowl, click here or go to azcardinals.com/probowl.


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An early look at the free-agents-to-be

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2015 – 11:31 am

With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.


CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley

WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson

(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)

Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.

As for the unrestricted guys …

It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.


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Ravens Monday night aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2015 – 11:42 pm

Tony Jefferson likes his Twitter. And so it wasn’t a surprise to see him sitting in his locker after the game Monday, sweat and eye black still on his face, scrolling through his phone following his game-clinching interception.

“Got to go straight to the Twitter, man,” Jefferson said.

The safety reveled in the fact he was trending, which is par for the course after getting a pick like he did on nationally televised “Monday Night Football.”

“That’s the worst part, sometimes you get on Twitter and they bash you,” Jefferson said (with Patrick Peterson chiming in with a “Yeah they do.”) “But now, they can’t really bash me. I got the game-winning (pick).”

There would be no bashing Monday. Or at least, only a little. You can wonder about the decision to throw the ball late by the Cardinals, a play that provided the Ravens an extra 40 seconds or so. (Bruce Arians said he just wanted to put the game away.) And the mistake that led to the blocked punt, which was the only reason there was a close game in the first place. Then again, people were wondering if the Cardinals would win a close game, and now they have. More importantly, they won a game they were supposed to win, so they stay in front in the division.

“Everyone is going home feeling good,” wide receiver Smokey Brown said.

— Speaking of Smoke, he made an emergency call to his trainer from Miami to come out and help rehab his bad right hamstring this weekend. That, and the work of head athletic trainer Tom Reed and his staff, is what Brown credited for his being able to play against the Ravens.

“I was kind of in doubt,” Brown said. “(Sunday) I was hurting. My trainer came out and did a little work on me … and Tom and his guys did a great job. I actually went out there feeling pretty good. Not 100 percent, but I made it through to help my brothers out.”

You wouldn’t have noticed by watching Brown. He looked fine, he caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, and he looked fast as ever doing it.

— I think it’s fair that Ravens coach John Harbaugh was upset about the Chris Johnson 62-yard run after it looked like he was down. Johnson never touched the ground and the whistle didn’t blow, so he had the right to keep going. But I also understand Harbaugh’s point that had one of his players gone in to finish Johnson off, they likely would have been flagged for a personal foul.

— Again, though: Chris Johnson, quite the free-agent signing. He’s second in the NFL in rushing.

— Speaking of those one-year blue-light specials, tight end Jermaine Gresham had a solid day as receiver with Darren Fells out. And Dwight Freeney had his first sack and a couple of pressures.

— It was a weird red-zone day for the Cardinals. In the end, they scored TDs on two of their four trips, and 50 percent in the red zone usually will win you games. But the two fails finished inside the 5 and you need to finish those off. You don’t want any 21-yard field goals, much less two in one game.

— The hamstring injury to cornerback Jerraud Powers could be a blow, depending on the situation. The bye coming after this coming weekend’s game in Cleveland will be well placed. If Powers has to miss a game, Justin Bethel will have to start opposite Patrick Peterson and the third cornerback (who isn’t used much thanks to safety Tyrann Mathieu) would be undrafted rookie Cariel Brooks. It’s a situation to watch.

— Mathieu, by the way, lit it up on national TV. Seven tackles, three for loss, and a sack when blitzing Joe Flacco. “I’ve been begging for that all year,” Mathieu said.

— Now come the Browns. McCown? Manziel? Either way, the Cardinals walk right back into a need-to-win situation.

Tony Jefferson, Crockett Gillmore


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A quarter in, PFF gives props to top Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2015 – 12:56 pm

Four games into the season simply means there are 12 games left and an eternity for an NFL season — and a single team’s season — to roller-coaster to various places. But four games usually gives you an idea of how a player’s season is headed, and the fast start by the Cards (their loss to the Rams notwithstanding) gathered the attention of the folks at profootballfocus.com.

PFF decided to make a quarter-season all-pro team, and the Cardinals have four representatives, one of which — in a slight upset, given the competition — is quarterback Carson Palmer.

The other four are Larry Fitzgerald as the slot receiver, Tyrann Mathieu as the slot cornerback, and Justin Bethel as the special teamer.

Palmer beats out Tom Brady (who has only played three games because of the bye), and Aaron Rodgers, and the PFF guys note that Ben Roethlisberger’s injury probably cost him the spot. But Palmer has been great, save for a couple of errant throws Sunday. His passer rating is 106.4, he has completed better than 63 percent of his passes, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions and he’s on pace to throw for more than 4,600 yards.

Mathieu has a couple of picks, and he’s been all over the field. Plus he tweets stuff like this, which lets you know he wants a little more:

Fitzgerald has 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns already. He’s on pace to make 120 receptions, which would crush his career-high (I don’t expect this pace to continue on receptions as defenses wake up to Fitz’s play, but he’s going to have a big year barring injury.)

Bethel hasn’t played as much as he had hoped defensively, but he remains the “gold standard” for special teams play, PFF writes.


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Cards really (really) making most of turnovers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2015 – 12:27 pm

The Cardinals lead the NFL in interceptions after three weeks. They have seven (Mathieu 2, Peterson, Powers, Rashad Johnson, Bethel, Jefferson). They have yet to recover a fumble. On the other side, Carson Palmer has thrown two interceptions, and the Cards have lost two fumbles. Their plus-3 in the turnover ratio is fine, but not overwhelming.

What is overwhelming is how the Cardinals have dealt with both sides of the equation.

Of the four turnovers, the Cardinals have allowed a mere six points — the two field goals at the end of the first half in Chicago, despite the Bears getting the ball in the red zone twice after a Palmer pick and a J.J. Nelson muffed punt. Yet the Cards have turned their seven takeaways into 41 points. It doesn’t hurt that three of the interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, but the Cards have scored every single time they have stolen the ball. The ultimate underscore of this three-game stretch came against the 49ers. Palmer threw an interception — a bad one — near the end of the half. Yet Tyrann Mathieu picked the ball back moments later, setting up a field goal (on what was headed to be a touchdown drive if the Cardinals hadn’t run out of time.)

It’s a ratio that isn’t going to be sustained all season (you wouldn’t think.) But it’s a crucial way to give you leads in games, and yet another thing to point at with a 3-0 record.



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Domination, and 49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 27, 2015 – 7:27 pm

It had been 47-7, a dismantling of an NFC West rival, and Calais Campbell was happy. But not too happy.

“My message the whole time will be, ‘Keep putting work in, keep respecting the process,’ ” the defensive end said. “We have a long way to go. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

Those weren’t just words to Campbell. As he spoke, he used his hands to emphasize his point. There were some laughs last week about Bruce Arians telling his team they weren’t (insert bleep noise here), and more chuckles Sunday when Arians said his team now smells just a little bit better. But the idea that the Cardinals will keep their heads about them even though they have scored a ton – 126 points in three games, seven points better than the high-flying Patriots – and dominated two weeks in a row.

“The kind of guys we have on this team now, no one is going to get carried away,” said long snapper Mike Leach, who is playing in his 16th NFL season and has a good pulse on such things. Leach noted that the best part of the Cardinals is that even in spots where they are young, there are vets who have taken guys under their wing.

Plus they have a coach who, while he might smile a bit when he says it, is willing to say they ain’t (need that bleep again) and mean it.

That isn’t to say the Cardinals didn’t play really, really well Sunday.

— The Cardinals have 17 touchdowns in their first three games, only the fourth team in NFL history to do so. The last was the Cowboys, who had 18 touchdowns in the first three games of 1968. Kind of mind-boggling.

— Carson Palmer is now 16-2 in his last 18 starts with the Cardinals. He made one really bad decision – he said he was trying to throw his interception out of bounds but instead, the floater was not even close to anything but 49ers cornerback Kenneth Acker – but had a bunch of nice throws. Plus he had two dropped, including what would have been a 28-yard TD to Smokey Brown.

— Chris Johnson turned 30 Sunday and he averaged 5.0 yards a rush and gained 110 yards on the ground. And he’s the youngster in the offensive trio that lit up the 49ers, alongside Larry Fitzgerald (9 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns) and Palmer (311 yards passing and the two TDs.)

— He’d never ever say it, but I can’t help but think Fitz is sitting back having “I told you so” thoughts to the NFL world.

— Tyrann Mathieu. “Savage season” indeed.

— Justin Bethel not only had his first interception of his career for a touchdown, but it came on his first defensive snap of the season. Plus he forced a fumble on a kick return (the 49ers kept it) and downed a punt. What a day.

— Drew Butler did not hit a great punt that ended up being returned inside the Cardinals’ 20-yard line and set up San Francisco’s only touchdown. But he did strike a good punt on the play where Bethel caught it cleanly at the S.F. 1, held for a beat, and then tossed it back so he wouldn’t take it in the end zone.

The officials first threw the beanbag around the 4 where the Cards ending up grabbing the ball, but Leach was there to help.

“They were just discussing it and I was just letting them know, reminding them what the rule was just in case,” Leach said.

The Cards had the same play last year with Bethel against the Lions. Leach wasn’t going to forget. And on the next play, the Cardinals swarmed Carlos Hyde for a safety.

— That punt-and-return by the Niners for their only score was the only time the 49ers crossed the 50 the whole game.

“The passion the defense plays with is … unbelievable,” Leach said.

— Colin Kaepernick was bad. The Cardinals made him look so with the four INTs. But Torrey Smith had no catches against cornerback Patrick Peterson. And Anquan Boldin was held to two catches for 16 yards.

— There were a ton of good performances, but linebacker Kevin Minter stood out again too. It felt like a make-or-break year for Minter. Three games in, it feels like he’s making it.

So … the last time the Cardinals put a defensive back in their Ring of Honor, it was at halftime of the game against the 49ers, which the Cardinals won. And then they later reached the Super Bowl. Just sayin’ …



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Friday before the Bears – not shopping

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2015 – 4:12 pm

Two franchises remain from the original NFL that was created in 1920: The Cardinals and the Bears. The Cardinals, by the way, were named for the color of their original jerseys and not the bird. As long as we were talking history, I thought I’d throw that out. All that, of course, was long before now, long before the Cards moved to Arizona and long before any of the players in Sunday’s game were born. Long before their parents were born.

This is about 2015, of course, and the Cardinals’ first road trip of the season.

“We’re not going to shop on Michigan Avenue,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re going to play the Bears.”

— On paper, the Cardinals should win this game. Those odds should get better if the Bears are without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and linebacker BearsCardsUSEPernell McPhee, who both could miss the game. Yes, the Cardinals are without Andre Ellington, but they are actually fairly well equipped to weather that issue.

— Could they weather the absence of safeties Tony Jefferson and Deone Bucannon? Both those guys are game-day decisions with a bad hamstring and groin, respectively. I think they’ll give it a go, but we’ll see how they feel. The way the Cards’ defense works these days, those top four safeties are crucial.

— Then again, if Bucannon can’t go, maybe that means more work for Sean Weatherspoon, since Bucannon plays so much linebacker. No Jefferson, and that could mean more Justin Bethel or more Chris Clemons.

— That picture to the right is from a Bears-Cardinals game in November of 1959. It’s Soldier Field – you can tell by the columns – but the Cardinals were actually the home team in the photo (which is courtesy of the Chicago History Museum; J. Johnson, Jr., photographer.)

— Cornerback or not for Bethel, he will still play special teams, which he did for 26 snaps in the first game – even if he wasn’t happy enough with his key downed punt late in last week’s game.

“The special teams stuff is something I know I still need to do and make plays on,” Bethel said. “I wish I would’ve made a tackle or two. I hate when I go a game and don’t have a tackle, it makes me feel like I had a bad game.”

— The short pass/screen game didn’t go all that well for the Cards’ defense last week. Now they run into a running back in Matt Forte who is the centerpiece of the Bears’ offense. For defensive coordinator James Bettcher, he was confident in the correctable mistakes the Cards made – one cover was on linebacker Alex Okafor, a miss the linebacker insists won’t happen again –and that should start this week.

“Teams are going to get plays,” Bettcher said. “We understand that. When they do, it’s tackle (them) and go on to the next down.”

Said cornerback Patrick Peterson, “We have to get all 11 hats to whoever has the ball.”

— Bettcher did rave about Okafor’s first game, and not because of his two sacks. “I thought there were a couple snaps where he was so violent setting the edge (against the run),” Bettcher said. “You can see that. That’s the first thing that stood out watching the film.”

— Best quote of the week, at least from the Bears locker room: Cornerback Alan Ball, after watching the Cardinals-Saints game, said in total earnestness that Carson Palmer “is at his best moving.”

Palmer’s playing at a high level. That’s not a debate. But I don’t know if I’d say he’s at his best on the move. Palmer made sure he heard correctly when I brought it up. “Frightening,” he said. Even Carson understands a clean pocket is the way for him to go.

— The Bears have moved to a 3-4 defensive alignment this season. It’s going to be weird to see veteran Jared Allen as an outside linebacker.

— Arians decided to weigh in on the proposed Larry Fitzgerald-Darren Fells one-on-one basketball showdown. “I’ve never seen either one of them play, but I could probably take them both,” Arians said with a smile.

“But I ain’t playing for no checks.”

— The last time the Cards were in Chicago for a regular-season game: It was the 2009 season. Kurt Warner threw for five touchdown passes, including a pair to Fitzgerald (Nine catches for 123 yards that day). The Cards dominated.

We’ll see how it plays out Sunday.


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Watford, Sendlein start; Cardinals name their captains

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2015 – 1:46 pm

The offensive line is set. Bruce Arians said Earl Watford will be the starting right tackle against the Saints and Lyle Sendlein will be the starting center, joining guards Jonathan Cooper and Ted Larsen and left tackle Jared Veldheer. What’s more, Arians said the plan is for Watford to remain the starting right tackle even after Bobby Massie returns from suspension. That doesn’t mean Watford can’t lose the job, but it’s a huge statement for Watford, who has been looking for a starting role.

As for Sendlein, I felt since he was signed he’d find his way into the starting lineup. A.Q. Shipley provides depth at center and guard, but he’s had a hard time holding on to starting jobs thus far in his career and Sendlein played well in the preseason. More on the offensive line later on the homepage.

— The Cardinals named their captains. Offensively, it’s Veldheer and Carson Palmer. Defensively it’s Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell. On special teams, it’s Justin Bethel and Mike Leach. Arians said more than 20 players received more than three votes, which spoke to the depth of the candidates and leadership for the Cards.



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Keim: Johnson update and Chiefs review

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2015 – 8:14 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf Show” on Arizona Sports 98.7, acknowledged he has had discussions with the agent for running back Chris Johnson. But as of Monday morning, “there is nothing on the horizon,” Keim said. Johnson was expected to work out for the team. As I’ve said a few times, we’ll see what pans out.

As for Keim’s view of the game:

— He praised a handful of young players for their initial performances: Defensive end Rodney Gunter and linebacker Markus Golden (although he wants to see Golden finish more often), and from the non-rookie side, cornerback Justin Bethel and linebacker Kevin Minter. The latter two are in big years in terms of earning regular position spots on defense.

— As for the first units on both sides of the ball, “I don’t think you could have scripted a better start,” Keim said.

— On Logan Thomas, Keim said he liked the quarterback’s pocket presence. “There are times when he makes some really ‘Wow’ throws,” Keim said. “The question is consistency and I think he played a consistent game.” Keim did note that Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes in the preseason opener last year, so again, it’s about consistency going forward.

— Not surprisingly, he thought tight end Ifeanyi Momah competed and looks like a nice option as receiver, but needs to get better as a blocker in terms of technique since he won’t have the bulk or body type to ever maul as a blocker.

— Keim was happy with the “excellent” play of the starting offensive line and also thought the backup offensive line did a good job. It should, really, since it’s populated with three one-time starters (Sowell, Larsen, Sendlein) and a first-round pick (D.J. Humphries). Keim said Humphries had some technical issues in his first game but showed the physical play and the athleticism the Cards liked when he was drafted.

— Going forward, Keim said there are still many questions open, such as fourth and fifth cornerback, the back end of the wide receiver depth chart, core special teamers. The Cards did come out of the game “relatively healthy,” Keim said.

— As for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald getting munched by pulling guard Mike Iupati on the Cards’ touchdown run — Fitz was blocking a Chiefs’ defensive back when Iupati came in to clean up and looked like he got mostly Fitz — Keim was blunt. “We all know Larry is a tough guy. He’ll stick his face in the fire.”

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