Injuries certainly took a toll on Cardinals running backs last season, especially when you are talking about the bellcow going down in the first game of the season. But David Johnson has returned, and beyond that, there will be some significant change. Of the top five running backs in rushing yards for the team last year, only one remains — Elijhaa Penny. Kerwynn Williams was the latest to depart, heading to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday. Already long gone are Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington (the latter two, of course, didn’t even make it to the end of 2017.)
So as of now, there is Johnson at the top of the depth chart (where he would have been regardless of anyone else on the roster.) T.J. Logan, who showed tremendous promise as a rookie before suffering nearly the same wrist injury as Johnson (and like Johnson, has some fresh, healthy legs) and Penny, who has some size and who knows, could play a little fullback if needed. The Cards also have D.J. Foster along with Darius Victor and Bronson Hill, both of whom spent time with the team at the end of 2017.
This is a position the Cards could look at in the draft. Then again, there might be more positions they wouldn’t mind addressing in the draft than their eight picks, so decisions will have to be made.
Tags: David Johnson, Kerwynn Williams, T.J. Logan
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The majority of the Cardinals’ own unrestricted free agents have found a home going into the 2018 offseason, but there are still some that have not yet signed anywhere. The door isn’t necessarily closed that one — or a couple — could come back.
“It’s still a possibility,” coach Steve Wilks said at the NFL league meetings in Orlando. “I know some of those guys have gone on and gotten with (other) teams, but in that second wave, third wave, we can circle back and find out from a financial standpoint if it is feasible (for someone to return.)”
Feasible usually means how much the player is willing to take monetarily. He also has to still fit in the depth chart, and we are creeping closer to the time when teams will simply put free agency on hold until after the draft, to see what holes are filled in that regard.
Of the remaining free agents the Cards still have, some could make sense to return: guards Alex Boone and Earl Watford, since the line could still use more depth; safety Tyvon Branch after the release of Tyrann Mathieu (although the significant knee injury Branch suffered last season will be a factor, as will his age); running back Kerwynn Williams; defensive lineman Frostee Rucker; and, given a position shortage, tight end Troy Niklas. (The full Cardinals’ free-agent tracker is here.)
The Cardinals will eventually get to 90 on the offseason roster, but they are at 63 now. (Update: Make that 64.) Usually, between draft picks and undrafted rookies, the Cards add around 25 players. That would leave a couple spots still — and, of course, if they found a better option, they could also eventually release someone already in place.
Tags: Alex Boone, Earl Watford, free agency, Frostee Rucker, Kerwynn Williams, Steve Wilks, Troy Niklas, Tyvon Branch
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It was late in Sunday’s game, right after Phil Dawson kicked his field goal to put the Cardinals ahead by two with a little more than two minutes left, when offensive coordinator/O-line coach Harold Goodwin found someone on the sideline and exclaimed, “We’ve got no linemen left.”
Goodwin smiled, because the reality was that he was right and that the Cardinals had also somehow made it work well enough to win – again – in the one place they want to win more than any other. It was also fitting given how the year unfolded. The Cardinals very well could have had issues even if everyone had played this year. But they wouldn’t be convinced they wouldn’t have overcome it and found a way into the postseason, not after getting eight wins despite their starting offensive line getting all of eight snaps together and their MVP-type running back playing less than a game and their quarterback less than half a season.
“It’s really hard to walk away from this,” Bruce Arians said. “It wasn’t hard to walk away four weeks ago, when you looked at what we were playing with. But to win three out of four, it’s very hard to walk away from that.”
Arians insisted he hasn’t made a decision. We’ll know soon enough. But for all the ups and downs of the season, it is remarkable they went 8-8.
“We’re just happy we finished the way we did,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We didn’t want to finish 7-9. We wanted to finish 8-8.”
— The Cardinals, after all that, were the only 8-8 team in the league. They will draft 15th in the first round – unless, of course, they make a trade.
— Kerwynn Williams set a career-best with 23 carries (for 75 yards) and Elijhaa Penny added 39 yards and a touchdown. The Cards, even with all the offensive line issues, ran the ball decently. They struggled late, but it was enough. Penny was huge on the winning field-goal drive.
— There probably wasn’t a better place for Chandler Jones to try and get two sacks to break the franchise record, but there it was – and Jones missed out on a couple more, losing one on a facemask and having another near-miss. To get 17 sacks in a season is impressive. To have Jones do it in the first year of his new contract bodes very well. That trade couldn’t have worked out better.
— After the first half, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a good shot at the NFL receptions title for a second straight season. Eight catches in the first half, but none in the second – although he was targeted. He and Drew Stanton just couldn’t connect. Fitz needed just one catch to set a career-high in a season, and instead he had 109, tying his big 2015 season.
Whether he gives it another try in 2018, well, that too is up in the air. But you knew that.
— You can argue about Drew Stanton’s ceiling but he did go 3-1 as a starter and Fitz tweeted he was playing on a torn ACL. I’m not sure how much medical background Fitz has, but that says a lot about Stanton. UPDATE: Stanton said it was not an ACL, but a bone bruise.
— Dawson bounced back so well this season. When Arians mentions winning three of the last four, he was a big reason why. He made 22 of his final 24 field goals, and one of those was blocked. It’s interesting that the Cardinals have won two games in a row in Seattle thanks to field goals.
— The Seahawks’ big second half cost the Cards’ defense a chance to be top five in the rankings. They finished sixth.
— It’s New Year’s Day tomorrow, but certainly no holiday, not for the Cardinals. Exit interviews await, as well as, well, a lot of stuff. One way or another.
“There are a ton of decisions this offseason,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Steve Keim has his work cut out for him.”
— Time to fly home. The offseason is here.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chandler Jones, Drew Stanton, Frostee Rucker, Kerwynn Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Phil Dawson, Seahawks
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Wide receiver John Brown, who has been dealing with a toe injury that has kept him out four games, will return to the field today against the Giants — which hopefully, combined with Drew Stanton back at quarterback, will aid a passing game and an offense that is trying to get a touchdown for the first time in more than 10 quarters.
Running back Kerwynn Williams and linebacker Karlos Dansby, both of whom were questionable to play, are also both active.
A full list of the Cards’ inactives here on Christmas Eve:
— QB Matt Barkley
— WR Chad Williams (illness)
— LB Gabe Martin (hamstring)
— LB Josh Bynes (ankle)
— G Earl Watford (ankle)
— TE Troy Niklas (ankle)
— DL Xavier Williams
Tags: Giants, inactives, John Brown, Karlos Dansby, Kerwynn Williams
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Patrick Peterson is the Cardinals’ Man of the Year for a second time, but his time as a punt returner, well, “that stage of my career is over,” he said. Not necessarily because he thinks he can’t do it anymore, but it’s not like the Cardinals are going to put him back there that much. He’s too valuable as a cornerback.
Now, if you asked to go play offense? “That chapter is not over,” Peterson said with a grin. “I’m going to leave that open, and I have a couple of blank pages for coach.”
Peterson said he wishes he could play offense. “I’m an offensive guy at heart,” he said. He wouldn’t even mind quarterback, although that’s not going to happen.
Catching a pass or two would be interesting. The Cardinals will be down John Brown Sunday against the Titans, and J.J. Nelson is nursing a sore knee. Chad Williams should get a little more work.
“(Patrick) used to be in the book, when we didn’t have any speed,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He may be back in there soon.”
*Editor’s Note: Peterson isn’t playing offense this weekend. Or this year, I’m guessing.*
— The other Peterson isn’t playing Sunday, but that isn’t a surprise any longer. Adrian Peterson still hasn’t practiced since suffering the neck injury and his road to return is vague, to say the least. Arians has no answers and Peterson has not yet spoken to the media since getting hurt. More chances for Kerwynn Williams.
— On the good side, having left tackle Jared Veldheer is crucial, especially when weighed against the fact the Titans are without pass rusher Derrick Morgan.
— Quietly, money linebacker Deone Bucannon returned to full practice this week from his ankle injury. Arians already said Josh Bynes – who is playing very well – will get snaps. It’ll be interesting to see how playing time is parceled out to Bucannon, Bynes and Karlos Dansby.
— Don’t forget that the Aeneas Williams episode of “A Football Life” is tonight.
— Also, there is a toy drive Sunday at the stadium, if you would like to contribute. Monetary donations or new, unwrapped toys will be accepted at the gates.
— Marcus Mariota is not Russell Wilson, not even close. Maybe someday, but not today. Still, there are some similarities in terms of mobility in the pocket. The one thing Mariota has (surprisingly) not done well this season (that Wilson absolutely does) is throw on the run. The Cardinals don’t want Mariota escaping for long runs, but if they can get him to move and still try to throw, maybe that is something they can exploit.
— Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis is spending this season as the color analyst for the Titans’ radio network. Mac was a great personality to cover back in the day, and that final locker room speech he made after the famous McCown-to-Poole touchdown – knowing he’d be fired as coach – is as emotional as they get.
— The Titans visit University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday and that will complete the league – Tennessee is the only team not yet to have played in the Cardinals’ “new” stadium, which is in its 12th season. The Cardinals would prefer to be lousy houseguests – Arians is 6-1 against the AFC South since coming to Arizona.
— Larry Fitzgerald needs 26 yards to pass Randy Moss. I’m gonna guess he has that in the first quarter. No, I’m not putting any money on it.
See you Sunday.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Aeneas Williams, Dave McGinnis, Deone Bucannon, Jared Veldheer, Josh Bynes, Karlos Dansby, Kerwynn Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcus Mariota, Patrick Peterson, Titans
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GM Steve Keim was, like Bruce Arians, satisfied with the effort from the Cardinals Sunday in a loss to the Rams, but noted that the execution “on all three sides of the ball” wasn’t good enough. Obviously, special teams was part of that, with the blocked field goal, the blocked extra point and a long punt return helping derail any Cardinals’ hopes.
Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 was asked directly about the status of special teams coordinator Amos Jones.
“I’m never going to go on record or publicly and bash any of our players individually or one of our coaches,” Keim said. “The bottom line though is, there’s no excuse. Our special teams, it’s been unacceptable, point blank. It’s something that needs to improve and I’ll just leave it at that.”
— Keim reiterated that quarterback Blaine Gabbert has a “skillset that intrigues you,” but that Gabbert needs to find more consistency. Watching Gabbert play now, and what he does, are all “critical moments” in the evaluation of the future. Improvement is still possible, Keim said.
— Then again, when it comes to the QB spot for the Cardinals in 2018, Keim said the team will “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to filling the position. He obviously cannot talk specific players, but the search will include potential free-agent signings as well as the draft (and that doesn’t even include assessing the Carson Palmer situation.)
— The first player Keim mentioned by name, unprompted, was running back Kerwynn Williams, who stats included 97 rushing yards and a couple of cracked ribs. Keim loves Williams’ toughness, and “every time he’s gotten an opportunity, he’s stepped up.”
— The Cardinals indeed have had a ton of injuries. But “I don’t think you can ever use injuries as an excuse,” Keim said, noting that he has spent much time over the years looking at the depth chart in his office envisioning what would happen if this guy or that guy got hurt and what the Cards would be in position to do.
“That’s on me,” Keim said. “I have to do a better job going forward.” Keim added “the longer you do this, it teaches you different lessons in terms of building a team and building depth.”
— “There’s a chance” Adrian Peterson (neck) will be able to return this week, Keim said. DL Corey Peters and WR John Brown could return this week too.
— Signing Peters to an extension was important, Keim said. “He’s a player to me who is under the radar.” A leader in the locker room and who plays a crucial role in the defense, the Cardinals consider him a core member.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Amos Jones, Blaine Gabbert, Corey Peters, Kerwynn Williams, special teams, Steve Keim
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The past few years, when the Cardinals had been good and the Rams not so much, the Cardinals would go on the road and beat the Rams. Period. And now, the script has been flipped. The Cardinals are not as good as they once were, and the Rams most certainly are good, and that’s how you end up with results like Sunday. The Cardinals were better than London. It wasn’t 33-0, even though it started like it might have been. But 16 points – which is what the Cards finished with – isn’t enough to win most games and it definitely isn’t enough to beat a Rams team that even on a day where they weren’t completely clicking offensively, they still put up 32.
Blaine Gabbert will remain the starting quarterback, Bruce Arians said, and that, as last week, makes sense. It was a terrible start to the game for Gabbert Sunday, with two early picks. Gabbert said he needs to look at the film on the first throw, and on the second, he said the Rams went against what they had always shown on film in that formation – usually LB Alec Ogletree rushed and didn’t drop – and so Gabbert didn’t expect him there.
Gabbert settled down, and you can see the difference a running game makes. True for any QB, I suppose. There is a lot to take it. Gabbert now has thrown five interceptions in three games. The Cardinals will have to continue to evaluate where he might be as a QB candidate for 2018.
That’s what a lot of this must be. Arians talked about the young players Sunday, making plays and, understandably, making some mistakes. Evaluations are ongoing for everyone with four games left.
— There is no way to say how impressive it was to see Kerwynn Williams play the way he did, knowing his has broken ribs. I loved his response when he was asked if he was experiencing pain during the game: “I feel like everybody is in pain,” Williams said, and it just felt like the opening lyric of a very personal song rather than a postgame quote. It would’ve been nice to get him to 100 yards, given that he had 86 at halftime. All that guy does is produce whenever he is thrust into the lineup.
— With a decent day next week, Larry Fitzgerald is going to surpass Randy Moss for third-place all-time in NFL receiving yards. He needs 26 yards to do so.
— Back and forth with the Cardinals linebackers on picks. Karlos Dansby dropped one he should’ve had, and it cost the Cards at least three points, since the Rams went on to kick a field goal. “We didn’t make the plays that we needed to make, me included,” Dansby said. “I’ve got to make that play. That changed the whole dynamic of the game.”
Then there was the athletic pick by linebacker Kareem Martin, which short-circuited a Rams drive (although Gabbert threw a pick-six a couple of plays later.) “We work on screen drills a lot,” Martin said. “I pretty much just pressed off him to attempt to go pursue. By the time I was about to turn around, I see the ball.”
— There was some wondering how the Rams could go through the long snapper Justin Drescher for the blocked field goal. The rules don’t say you cannot hit the long snapper. You cannot line up over him when the snap happens. As long as you do not, and then go against him after the ball is snapped, contact with the long snapper is legal.
— For the most part, I thought the Cards did a good job on Todd Gurley when Gurley ran the football. The problem was, and this is what defenses must deal with against David Johnson, is that Gurley was so dangerous catching the ball. He had 84 yards receiving (compared to 74 rushing).
— Arians noted the young players. Ricky Seals-Jones dropped one, but he had a couple of nice catches and would’ve had a TD on a good throw from Gabbert on one play. Budda Baker continues to be all over the field, getting eight more tackles defensively (and maybe should’ve had a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff, if there had been Sunday Night Football-type cameras.)
Tags: Blaine Gabbert, Budda Baker, Justin Drescher, Kareem Martin, Karlos Dansby, Kerwynn Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Rams, Ricky Seals-Jones, Todd Gurley
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I’ve covered the NFL for almost 20 seasons, and I can think of very, very few times when a Cardinal had not practice all week and then was still active on Sunday. Wide receiver Brittan Golden did it earlier this season (much to my surprise.) And Adrian Wilson did it the week of the Bills game in 2008, playing only six snaps but using one of the them to effectively end the Buffalo tenure of Bills quarterback Trent Edwards.
There will be no story like that today. Running back Adrian Peterson, who didn’t practice all week because of a neck issue, will be inactive for the Cardinals and won’t play. Again, not a shock, since he wasn’t out there, although he was officially questionable. It’ll make for an interesting running back rotation, since Kerwynn Williams is expected to start and is playing with bad ribs. How much Williams, how much D.J. Foster, how much Elijhaa Penny will be part of today’s storyline.
The full list of Cardinals’ inactives:
— QB Matt Barkley
— WR John Brown (toe)
— $LB Deone Bucannon (ankle)
— RB Adrian Peterson (neck)
— S Rudy Ford (knee)
— C Max Tuerk
— DL Corey Peters (ankle)
Tags: Adrian Peterson, inactives, Kerwynn Williams
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When you’re talking about long-term quarterbacks, Jim Hart is a good example. Hart was basically the Cardinals’ starting quarterback from 1967 to 1981, work that is getting him inducted into the franchise’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday when the Cards play the Rams.
On either side of that halftime ceremony will be another guy who is trying to get himself in the discussion about being a long-term quarterback. Blaine Gabbert is back for round three – and from the sound of it, all the rest of the rounds this season. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the QB of the future, or what it might mean in terms of the thought process for Carson Palmer, but it’s a solid test drive.
It’s funny, since the Jaguars have arguably the best defense in the league, but it feels like the Rams present Gabbert’s biggest challenge. Given the questions about the running backs and Adrian Peterson’s health, maybe that’s why. The first time the Cards played the Rams in London, the run game was DOA, and that in no small part played into the 33-0 loss. A big reason why the Cardinals did just fine against that good Jacksonville defense was Peterson and the run game.
Perhaps Peterson can play with whatever problems his neck is giving him. Or Kerwynn Williams can deliver a herculean effort. As solidly as Gabbert has played, you don’t want everything offensively on his shoulders.
— If Peterson does play, he needs just 37 yards to surpass all-time great Jim Brown in career rushing yards. (Of course, Peterson, healthy, had just 21 yards rushing on 11 carries in the first Rams meeting.)
— I keep getting questions, but no, I do not think David Johnson is returning this season. He’s not even practicing yet, and he’s not talking like a guy who is expecting to play this season either.
— How far have the Rams come offensively? They scored on 21.8 percent of their possessions last season, according to profootballreference.com. This year, they are at 48.4 percent, second only to the Patriots.
— There will be a lot of work to do this offseason in terms of roster overhaul/building. Perhaps more than most years, depending on certain situations. But I think the Corey Peters extension was important. Of all their free-agents-to-be, there are only going to be a few I think that the Cards want to try and extend. Peters was one of them.
— Health matters. The Rams have started the same five offensive linemen in every game. The Cardinals, of course, have started six different offensive line combinations in 11 games. “Yeah,” Cardinals offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said. “I’m jealous.”
— A focus of the defense Sunday will be Todd Gurley. I know. Duh. But defensive coordinator James Bettcher said the Cardinals focused on the London debacle, when the Rams ran for 197 yards on 40 attempts. The Cards went into that game having not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Gurley gained 106 on 22 attempts. Gurley remains the only player to gain 100 yards rushing against the Cards this year.
— Bring your binoculars to see all the players taking part in My Cause, My Cleats Sunday. Or you can check out this photo gallery.
— LB Chandler Jones was fined $18,231 for his roughing the passer penalty last week on Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. Kareem Martin and Frostee Rucker weren’t fined for their roughing the passer penalties. There was also no fine for Jags LB Myles Jack for his horsecollar tackle on Peterson.
— One big reason for the Cardinals’ current 5-6 record is the fact last week’s win against the Jaguars was the first time all season they were a positive in the turnover column for a game. In the seven games they have been even, their record is 4-3.
— It’s been a while since the Cardinals played the Rams at home with the Rams being the favorite. The Cards would like to mess with their playoff push. See you there.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Blaine Gabbert, Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, D.J.Foster, David Johnson, Jim Hart, Kerwynn Williams, offensive line, Rams, Todd Gurley
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When the game ended and Tyrann Mathieu was leaving the field, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett found his Sunday overtime nemesis for a moment.
Seems that when Mathieu was at LSU and Brissett was at Florida in 2011, Brissett’s first college start came against the Tigers and Mathieu picked him off that day. Then Sunday, in Brissett’s first start for the Colts, there was Mathieu again.
“He was like, ‘Damn, bro, every time I start, why you have to pick me off?’ ” Mathieu recounted. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know why you threw it at me then.’ ”
The Honey Badger smiled, because it was humorous and it was also the kind of story you really only tell after a win. The Cardinals did that with the 16-13 overtime squeaker – and props to my cohort Kyle Odegard, who on our podcast this week talked about how the Cards would be happy even with a 14-13 win and oh, was he close – and so Mathieu could be happy. He made the big play and Phil Dawson finished the rest.
No one is proclaiming the Cardinals in a good place. They have to score more, they have to force more turnovers. But if it wasn’t for a bad leverage penalty on a field-goal block try by Rodney Gunter, the Colts still would not have a touchdown this season. The defense did OK (the Cowboys are going to be a much sturdier test next week). The offense is what it is right now, trying to find itself through injuries and with a quarterback who is not playing anywhere near the level they need.
“The quarterback has to play better,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Simple.”
The protection has to be better too, Arians said, but everyone knows it starts at QB. Palmer got better when he needed to – that 45-yard throw to Nelson for the touchdown was gorgeous – but he can’t make the forced interception like he did, either.
— Kerwynn Williams has shown he can gain yards in this league, but it sure looked like the Cardinals’ best course of action at running back with David Johnson down will be to use veteran Chris Johnson. CJ2K gained four yards a carry on 11 carries, and looked comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arians ends up more comfortable with a lot of CJ too.
— So many near-sacks again. Markus Golden had a couple early. Chandler Jones too. The defense did well most of the game, but they need to finish off some of these sacks. A turnover before overtime would help too.
— J.J. Nelson has become a significant weapon. Arians is right, it’s not important in John Brown’s absence, it’s important regardless.
— The Cardinals didn’t appear to get anyone injured, which is a good result after the carnage in Detroit.
— The Cardinals had a third-and-1 on the drive that ended up being Nelson’s 45-yard TD catch. Whatever the play was supposed to be, Palmer fumbled the snap on an awkward-looking play to begin with. Somehow, the middle of the defense parted, and Palmer picked up the ball and fell forward four yards for a first down.
“That wasn’t a quarterback sneak, that was a total FUBAR,” Arians said, “from the coaches on the sideline getting the right players in the game to the right players staying in the game and executing the play. We were lucky.”
— Not sure if Jared Veldheer is still having comfort issues on the right side of the line, but he was beat a couple of times. Not that the other guys don’t make plays – Jabaal Sheard is proving to be a pretty good player – but they are expecting more (and needing more) from Veldheer.
— Surprising Phil Dawson missed the first one. He also mentioned he had heard so much about last year’s Cards’ kicking woes it “built up.” The last thing the Cardinals need is for the new guy to be impacted. Hopefully the OT kick gets things smoothed over.
— Larry Fitzgerald had a big smile after the win. He didn’t do much – three catches, 21 yards – but they won. And that made everyone happy.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chandler Jones, Chris Johnson, Colts, J.J. Nelson, Jacoby Brissett, Jared Veldheer, Kerwynn Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Markus Golden, Phil Dawson, Rodney Gunter, Tyrann Mathieu
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