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The end of Eli(?), and his Cardinals ties

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2017 – 8:39 am

The news of Eli Manning’s benching (and his emotional reaction) had me thinking of a lot of different ways Manning has direct and indirect ties to the Cardinals over the years.

— Tangibly, the Giants play in Arizona on Christmas Eve. Once it was supposed to be Eli versus Carson Palmer and possibly for playoff positioning. Now, we’re looking at a likely matchup of Blaine Gabbert against — if reports from New York pan out — rookie Davis Webb by then. Maybe Geno Smith. Probably not Eli though.

— The 2004 draft was pretty good for some big-name talents, but the years are starting to whittle at the list. Manning was the top pick, and now, what happens with him? Is it possible he is done for good? Just done as a Giant? Already, Larry Fitzgerald (No. 3 overall pick) and Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11) have talked about retirement being an option. No. 4 pick Philip Rivers once talked retirement instead of moving from San Diego to L.A., but then he re-thought things and shredded the Cowboys for 400-plus on Thanksgiving. (It was also the 10-year anniversary of the death of No. 5 overall pick Sean Taylor a couple of days ago.)

— Manning won an amazing Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium, when David Tyree pinned that ball to his helmet and then Manning made the perfect TD pass to Plaxico Burress — who was a Cardinals’ coaching intern this past training camp.

— And then, of course, it was Manning’s “role” in the Cardinals’ lone trip to the Super Bowl. If it wasn’t for Eli, Kurt Warner may never have come to the Cardinals. Warner signed with the Giants the same year Manning was drafted and everyone knew what was going to happen. (“We had a great understanding when he came, we were basically going to try and use each other,” then-Giants GM Ernie Accorsi told me the following offseason, after Warner signed with the Cards.) But it was the Cardinals who sped up the process.

It was the struggling Cardinals who sacked Warner six times at Sun Devil Stadium — four by Bertrand Berry, pictured — and had Giants coaches in the press box screaming “Throw the ball!” as Warner held on to it when he was taken down. The Giants had been 5-2, fell to 5-4 with the loss and were still in the playoff hunt — but the next game, Manning was in the lineup to begin the 210-consecutive-game starting streak that looks like it will end Sunday.

Warner came to Arizona the next year and eventually wrote the back half of his Hall of Fame career. Manning won two Super Bowls, so the Giants made out well. And today? Today we’re seeing the truth of all truths: Whether the Giants are making the right call or not to close out 2017, time is undefeated.


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Fitz remembers all, Friday before the Texans

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

The last time the Cardinals played in Houston in a game that counted, Larry Fitzgerald was only 22 years old, in the days when the Cards never talked about the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember. Fitz was asked this week about a 12-yard touchdown pass he caught in the game – a loss to a Texans team so bad they ended up with the No. 1 overall draft pick – and it took him no time to recall that it was the great John Navarre who threw him the pass.

“I have a photographic memory,” Fitzgerald said. “Slant route in garbage time. Fantasy owners were happy.”

Fitz proceeded to say he remembers almost every catch he’s ever made, and that’s quite a few. I mean, that’s 1,185 in his career and counting – a number that came into even sharper focus Friday morning with Fitz’s contract extension through 2018. As I said before, it’s good he’s under contract but for me, it doesn’t guarantee Fitz playing next season. Good sign, yes. But until I hear it from his mouth – I am guessing it will be a topic postgame Sunday – I can’t go all in.

This season, though, Fitzgerald is here and playing very well. If you can have a quiet 10-113 as a receiver, Fitz did last week against the Seahawks. With Blaine Gabbert starting Sunday, I’m guessing the new QB will lean on Fitz targets again, both because, duh, he’s a Hall-of-Famer-to-be, but also because of the troubles the pass catchers not named Fitz had with drops/near-catches against Seattle.

— It made a lot of sense all week that Gabbert would get the nod to play Sunday. He’s healthy. Drew Stanton is not. Bruce Arians wanted to keep Stanton in the lineup, and I do agree with B.A. that Stanton played pretty well against Seattle. Gabbert is playing because of injury but I also understand the idea of getting a chance to see what Gabbert can do, in this offense, in a game that counts.

— Fitz was asked if Gabbert’s success in the preseason gives him confidence in the new QB. It led to a long pause. “I’ve been in it a long time,” Fitzgerald finally said. “Preseason is preseason. I’ve seen him have success in regular-season games.”

— Interesting (to me, at least) that the Cards become the first team to start three QBs this season, given that it comes against the Texans. The long-ago loss in Houston, in which Navarre found Fitz? It was the only time the Cardinals have played three quarterbacks in a game. Kurt Warner started, completed all 10 of his passes (Fitz isn’t the only one who remembers all this stuff off the top of his head) before exiting with a knee injury. Josh McCown was the backup and came in, but he was horribly ill that day and he couldn’t continue. So the Cards turned to Navarre.

— Arians was asked about those receivers this week after the struggles they had collectively. “Practice is fine,” he said. “When those lights turn on … it’s going to be a big week for them.”

— The Cardinals have only played the Texans three times in the regular season. The loss in 2005, and the Cardinals getting home wins in 2009 and 2013.

— Stanton hurt his right knee when he was hit low by Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, who was flagged on the play (and it kept alive the TD drive that ended with the Stanton TD screen pass to Jermaine Gresham). Richardson was fined $18,231 for his play, and was not happy about it. Also fined $18,231 was Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was flagged for the hit to Russell Wilson’s jaw. Dansby is appealing, and the Seahawks are still dealing with the fallout for not properly checking Wilson for a concussion.

— Corey Peters has been solid in the middle of the defensive line this season. Not having him in the lineup is notable. The Texans are going to want to run to protect struggling QB Tom Savage. We will see who plugs the middle of the line.

— The Texans are putting former all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, their version of Fitz, into their Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday. Current star receiver DeAndre Hopkins was asked to name his favorite Johnson play. It turned out he named a reception over Patrick Peterson in Arizona in 2013.

Late in the game, Johnson was blanketed by Peterson, who actually got his hand on the ball and looked like he might get an amazing end zone interception. Instead, the ball bounced and Johnson somehow tipped it to himself and kept his feet in. (Here, look for yourself, around the 52-second mark.)

“I don’t know how he caught it,” Hopkins said.

— Fitz on Johnson: “He exudes class. He’s one of the best to ever do it. This is just a precursor to greater things down the road. He’s a Hall of Fame talent. I’m happy as a fan of his to witness and see it go up.”

— One final Fitz note. It was mentioned in his “A Football Life” episode that he buys suits for all the coaches. Fitzgerald said he’s been doing that “forever.”

“Our success on the field, it says our numbers, but those guys spend hours … (assistant head coach) Tom Moore is here at 4 o’clock in the morning every morning figuring out new innovate ways to be able to feature guys like myself and Adrian (Peterson),” Fitz said. “A lot of hard work was put into those schemes and you want to do right by those guys.”

“They all get custom stuff, make sure they look good. Some of them look better than others.”

See you in Houston.


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A banged-up OL, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2017 – 4:03 pm

Well, this is where the Cardinals are. In a week in which Friday finally felt like the day where the offensive line wouldn’t be the major topic, it became the major topic. It’s not so much that Mike Iupati is likely headed for IR – he hadn’t been playing – but Alex Boone is also missing time and Bruce Arians was anything but clear about D.J. Humphries’ availability.

I mean, even OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin is working on the gallows humor. “I’m planning on suiting up sooner or later,” he said.

It’s not like the game is going to be canceled. If Humphries is in there, fine, but if he can’t go, it’s probable we’ll see rookie Will Holden in the lineup, with he and John Wetzel in some combo of guard/tackle on the left side. Not ideal, and that’s even if the right side of Evan Boehm and Jared Veldheer were playing well, which has not happened of late.

Carson Palmer played well last week. The Cards moved the ball. Offensively, with John Brown back to at least play a little, the Cards have some guys who can help gain yards. But the line has to keep Palmer upright. It’s not unfair to wonder how that can happen.

“As you saw, because (the media) was writing earlier in the season Carson doesn’t have it anymore, that’s not the issue,” Goodwin said. “As long as he is protected, the ball is going to come out, it’s going to go to the right place and we’re going to score points. If he’s not protected, we’re going to struggle.”

— Bruce Arians was asked, now that the Cards have been through a couple of games, when the offense most misses the injured David Johnson.

“Every play,” Arians said. “Either fake it to him hand it to him or throw it to him.”

Sounds about right.

— I am curious to see how Andre Ellington is deployed. Brown may be back and I expect J.J. Nelson to play, but both probably won’t be their explosive selves. Ellington is really that only guy right now.

— Having Larry Fitzgerald go deep for a couple of long passes Monday night was some excellent nostalgia. How much it can happen, realistically, is another story. It’s not so much Fitz can’t make the catch in traffic. You still trust him in jump ball situations. But Fitz’s ability to get down the field fast to be in position to try for one isn’t what it was, and with the problems with protection, can the Cards keep Palmer up long enough to get Fitz where he needs to be?

— Deone Bucannon won’t be playing all the time, not yet, but this is where we get to see how the Cardinals want to deploy him with Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby. I want to see the package – assuming there is one – that has both Bucannon and Reddick. DC James Bettcher said you don’t want to have too many specific packages, because it hampers the other nine or 10 players who would be on the field.

— Two numbers that, to me, are poison to the Cardinals right now: Allowing opponents to score TDs on 87 percent of red-zone visits, and averaging 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball. One on each side of the ball. They have to change.

— Don’t forget Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame bust will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday from 12-4 p.m. if you want to get a picture. Warner will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday’s game.

— Holden proposed to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line after the Monday night game.

“Football has been a big part of my life and a big part of her life now,” Holden said. “She’s been with me since day one at Vanderbilt. I felt like that was a special place.”

— See you Sunday. The Cardinals want to at least be .500 after the first quarter of the season. Even though the 49ers are 0-3, that’s not a lock.


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Bidwill’s gesture earns Musial award

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2017 – 9:05 am

When the Rams left St. Louis, they also left a void in the community in a couple of places. In one such case, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill stepped in, donating $10,000 to the St. Louis chapter of the National Football Foundation so it could hold its annual banquet to honor local high school football players.

Now, Bidwill is being honored himself, for the gesture. He will be recognized at the Musial awards — named for St. Louis Cardinals baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial. The awards banquet is in St. Louis Nov. 18.

“Michael Bidwill’s actions embody the goodness and decency we seek to celebrate with the Musial Awards,” St. Louis Sports Commission president Frank Viverito told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This was something he certainly did not have to do and did not seek credit for. In light of everything, he sets a perfect example of what it means to be a ‘good sport.’ ”

Just the other day, Bidwill — seen below with Cardinals (and Rams) Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams this past week at the Hall of Fame game — was helping another person with St. Louis ties — rescuing the stranded family of Kurt Warner so they could get to Warner’s Hall of Fame party in Canton.


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Hall of Fame game aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2017 – 11:31 pm

It’s late here in Canton — past 2 a.m. — so this is going to be an efficient post, in part because it’s the first of five preseason games and yeah, the preseason. That doesn’t mean things of importance can’t happen. You wish the head coach wasn’t saying “fingers crossed” about an injury to the rookie who was already showing he could be that dynamic return man you had been seeking.

But it was hard not to notice quarterback Blaine Gabbert as the top story of the evening. With all the caveats of preseason/the Cowboys only using three defensive starters, Gabbert looked very good in completing 11-of-14 passes for 185 yards. What does this mean? It means that Gabbert succeeded when, frankly, he should have. Beyond that, we’ll still see.

The last time a new Cardinals QB played so well in the preseason opener? (It just happened to be the last time a Cardinal was going into the Hall of Fame, Aeneas Williams.) Logan Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes against the Texans, for 113 yards and a TD. We all know how that turned out. Now, Gabbert is not Thomas. As much as Gabbert has struggled, his NFL career was still light years better. But it’s a reminder to hold off on grand pronouncements.

— Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Kurt Warner had his party Thursday night, and both Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Wilson made it over there to celebrate post-game.

— Logan really looked good as a return man. For a guy who hadn’t returned punts in college, he impressed.

— Tight ends Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah also made some plays. Momah in the passing game, grabbing three receptions. If he is able to play special teams like he did last year before getting hurt, Momah has a place on this roster.

— Andre Ellington scored on a three-yard run that showed some grit, fighting his way between the tackles. If you recall, Bruce Arians said Ellington had to run tougher. The TD run was a good sign.

— Rookie safety Budda Baker made some plays. Arians praised Haason Reddick too.

— Robert Nkemdiche took a step forward again, playing much of the time in the first half. He busted up a couple of plays. He says being healthy, he feels more like himself. Again, he’s going in the right direction.

— The backups who played the offensive line for Gabbert mostly held up (from left tackle, Wetzel, Kaleb Johnson, Toner, Bergstrom, John.) The second-unit pass rushers who started didn’t generate enough pressure.

— The Cardinals return to practice Saturday (it’s closed to the public). Meanwhile, I’ll be here in Canton, covering Warner’s induction. Look for my big Warner-years-in-Arizona story tomorrow (today, here in the Eastern time zone).

UPDATE: Some are wondering why I didn’t bring up the missed field goals, and it’s simple. Phil Dawson didn’t kick. The punters, Richie Leone and Matt Wile, kicked, each missed a field goal, but the punter will only be kicking when it counts if Dawson goes down in a game. That’s unlikely to happen.

 


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Bidwill helps the stranded Warners

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2017 – 5:03 pm

Kurt Warner is being inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday. But tonight, he is hosting his induction party in Canton, near the Hall of Fame. One problem — his large family was having trouble getting to Canton.

Warner’s family/traveling party of 13 got stuck in Chicago after weather issues canceled their flight. Warner even put out an SOS of sorts via Twitter trying desperately to find a solution. The solution came, not from Twitter but from Cardinals team president Michael Bidwill.

Bidwill, who himself landed in Canton late Thursday afternoon bringing a Cardinals contingent to the game and Saturday’s induction, ended up sending a plane to Chicago to pick up the Warners. UPDATE: And they made it to the party just fine.

 


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Wednesday before the Hall of Fame game

Posted by Darren Urban on August 2, 2017 – 2:01 pm

Well, here we are. A game is about to be played and we just got to August, and there is still about a month’s worth of training camp to go. Still, once the games arrive, things get into more of a rhythm, work for a week and then a game, and so on. The players like it when we get to that point (and so do writers.) This game is a little different, of course. There is only so much you will get out of your main guys in any preseason game and of course, in this one, Bruce Arians already said there will be no starters. All about the young guys. Makes sense. The starters barely play in the first preseason game normally — and that game is still more than a week away.

This is about the young guys, as Arians said. Seeing what happens when the lights go on. Even last weekend, at the Red-White practice, which was still just a practice but had 25,000 in the stands, one particular rookie struggled with things he hadn’t previously struggled with. That’s the power of “under the lights” that coaches always talk about. There have been plenty of players who have looked good in the offseason and in camp and then looked different in preseason games. That won’t get you on a roster.

— It’s early but we’re already talking about injuries. Cornerback less so, especially with the signing of Tramon Williams and the return of Justin Bethel to practice. But inside linebacker will be interesting. Karlos Dansby was never going to play, but he’s nursing a sore knee. Gabe Martin is out for a while with an Achilles problem. Newly-signed Philip Wheeler is sidelined with some sort of leg issue, which shouldn’t be long, Arians said, but it will almost certainly keep him out Thursday. Of course, Deone Bucannon is still on PUP.

Rookie Haason Reddick will play (one starter who will be out there; I’m guessing there might be a couple of others), but Arians doesn’t want it to be long. One guy to watch is Scooby Wright. Wright has had a solid offseason of work. He’s good on special teams. If he can make a push in these preseason games, he’s got a good chance to make the roster.

— There’s a lot of talk about Blaine Gabbert and his start Thursday, but there will also be a half of play for undrafted rookie QB Trevor Knight. Knight is a major longshot, but he’ll have a couple opportunities. Thus far, Knight in camp has been the Knight people know from college — good athlete, can run, inconsistent with accuracy.

— This will become a growing storyline as we go, but while the starting offensive line is all but set, those backup spots on the 53-man roster are not. There are a lot of guys who are fighting for a place. I want to see Cole Toner, who is basically the backup center, in a game situation. Rookie guard Dorian Johnson, and rookie tackle Will Holden are third string trying to move up the depth chart. Unknowns like tackle Givens Price and guard Kaleb Johnson, both current second-stringers, who want to provide the upset by sticking around.

— Of course, all the draft class tends to get your attention. I do like what I have seen from safety Budda Baker. It’s tough, because of his stature, you’re always going to compare him to Tyrann Mathieu and Mathieu is having a great camp as we go. But you can see why the front office was so enamored by Baker.

— Don’t know how much Robert Nkemdiche we will see, but I am anxious to watch him against another team. He’s looked very good thus far.

— I will be staying in Canton for the Kurt Warner Hall of Fame induction. I have a big Warner story posting Friday morning which I think you’ll enjoy, and all our Warner coverage — including a series of videos from our sit-down interview — can be found by clicking here on our Warner Hall of Fame page.


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Kurt Warner, deciding to retire, and 201 pounds

Posted by Darren Urban on June 21, 2017 – 11:16 am

Kurt Warner’s final season in the NFL was 2009, much to the chagrin of the Cardinals and their fans. Over the years, there have been some things left vague about Warner’s choice. There are still a segment of fans who are certain that nasty, nasty hit Warner absorbed in the season-ending playoff loss in New Orleans pushed Warner — especially since he said after that game he was going to take a little time to make his decision.

But the seeds were sown in 2008. Warner considered retiring after the Super Bowl, not because his contract was up but because of the toll the life was taking on his body. Not the hits, but the stress. As Warner prepares for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in early August (and after I got a chance to talk to him for that story to come), Warner noted that he played the Super Bowl at 201 pounds (he was listed that year at 218).

By mid-season in 2009, Warner knew it was likely going to be his last year playing football, long before the end of the year.

“About halfway through ’09, I sat back and had thought about it a lot from the previous year as I was going through the season and just came to the conclusion that it had become such a job,” Warner said. “There had become such a high expectation and such a level of what I had to do for the team … week in and week out, that it was starting to affect me big picture. In the Super Bowl of ’08, I weighed in at 201 pounds, which I hadn’t been since I was a junior in college, and the stress and expectation of that was wearing on me physically. Not from the standpoint of what I could do between the lines, but big-picture-wise.

“Halfway through 2009, I just realized, ‘This is it. I’m just not willing to sacrifice that much anymore.’ Not very many people knew. My wife knew. Larry (Fitzgerald) knew — as he tried to convince me over the next eight weeks or so (to stay.)”

(Said Fitzgerald on the subject of trying to talk Warner into playing in 2010, “Of course. I knew what was to come after that. Selfishly, absolutely. I wasn’t foolish. I know in this business if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have much chance to win.”)

As for getting blasted by Saints defensive lineman Bobby McCray, “A lot of people look at the hit against New Orleans and said, ‘Yep, that is what caused him to retire.’ It didn’t at all. It might’ve been the perfect exclamation point on it, but I had known.”

So when Warner torched the Packers in the playoffs in what he considers his best game ever — five TD passes, four incompletions — he figured it would be his last game at University of Phoenix Stadium. He waved goodbye with that in mind.


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QB for later or another player now?

Posted by Darren Urban on April 12, 2017 – 12:00 pm

When I was covering the Cardinals for the East Valley Tribune, the team held the 10th overall selection in the draft. There was much talk about whether the team might take a quarterback of the future. Kurt Warner was, after all, getting older and was only OK in 2005. The Cards had signed a big-name running back in Edgerrin James, however, and Kurt — understandably — wanted to see the Cards go in a different direction with an eye on maybe reaching a Super Bowl.

“What’s the best way to do that?” Warner said at the time. “Not to take a guy who’s going to take over my job. Go get somebody who can help us next year.”

(The Cardinals drafted Matt Leinart. Leinart was inserted for Warner early in 2006 at QB. Then Leinart struggled in 2007, Warner got his job back, and eventually, Warner got his Super Bowl trip regardless.)

It’s not always an easy decision. Heck, it’s hard for a team needing a QB right now sometimes to pull the trigger in the draft — see the Browns, who desperately need a quarterback yet are likely to take defensive lineman Myles Garrett with the first pick instead, because there isn’t an Andrew Luck available. That decision gets that much harder for a team like the Cardinals, who have Carson Palmer in place and will sit any quarterback they might draft in 2017. Meanwhile, if the Cards want to gear up for a potential run this season, with the clock ticking on Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, finding an immediate impact guy (on defense) makes a lot of sense with the first-round pick.

Still, the glaring long-term need for a quarterback doesn’t go away.

The Cardinals are in a good spot with Palmer. He is willing to mentor a young quarterback. He’s made that clear recently, and said the same back in 2014, when he still knew he was going to play a few more years.

“I know I’m not going to play forever,” Palmer said at the time. “It’s hard for us players to admit that. The older you get the harder it is to admit it. You don’t see it happening. You still feel good, you still feel confident, you still feel healthy. But that’s the reality. That’s the business. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, whether it irks you or you don’t care. That’s the game.”

The first round, and the 13th pick, await.


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Revisiting Fitz and the 2008 playoffs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 10, 2017 – 3:55 pm

In case you missed it, a project I have been working on since the end of the season came to fruition today with the posting of an oral history of Larry Fitzgerald’s huge 2008 playoff run. (Easy to find at azcardinals.com/fitzfantasticfour, so tell a friend). It was great to talk to a few guys that I hadn’t in a number of years, guys who I worked with a lot back when they were around. Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Todd Haley, among others. It didn’t hurt that there are still some in the building that could help, like Freddie Kitchens, Adrian Wilson and Larry Foote.

(And I’d be remiss without pointing out that Sandy McAfee here in the cubicle next to me did a fantastic job taking my words and turning it into a aesthetically beautiful read.)

Mostly though, it was a chance to look back at those games. I’m fortunate enough to have that playoff run on DVD so I could go back for research and simply enjoy re-watching those games. (I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for watching old games. I wish NFL Network would do more from when I was first getting into the game, the late ’70s and early ’80s.) Anyone can understand that Fitzgerald had great stats from that postseason. But his impact looks greater than that when you are watching them in context.

“There were a lot of games where he had a lot of catches (that season),” quarterback Kurt Warner said. “It was the nature of the catches where he really solidified how great he was, how great that run was. His numbers would have been great stacked up against anyone regardless but I think you think back to just the big play after big play after big play.”

Hope you get a chance to read it.


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