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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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A rough time for 49ers in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2015 – 1:42 pm

In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)

Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.

Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.

While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.

John Brown, Leon McFadden


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On Hall, Warner will “let it play out”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 27, 2015 – 2:39 pm

Kurt Warner was going to be here for the Super Bowl anyway, with his duties for the NFL Network. He was at U.S. Airways Center Tuesday for Media Day, answering questions from whomever might ask (including former Olympic gymnast/Inside Edition correspondent Shawn Johnson, who, like Warner, is a Dancing with the Stars alum. That’s the picture below.)

But the big day for Warner comes Saturday, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee whittles down the final group of 15 — within which Warner qualified — to the Class of 2015. It is Warner’s first year on the ballot.

“I’ve tried to just live life and not get too bogged down with this whole process,” the former Cardinals quarterback said. “I’m enjoying it. I’m honored to be in the final 15. As I’ve told people, whenever it gets to a cut, you start to realize how much more gravity it has to it. Right now, ‘Hey, I’m one of the 15. That’s crazy.’ Come Saturday, I’m sure we’re all going to feel the gravity of what the decision to get into the Hall of Fame means, what that looks like big picture to us.

“Right now, I’m so honored to be in the 15 with the great, talented players. So many players I’ve played against, people that I know that are great people, that I’m just honored to be in the class. We’ll let it play out.”

At this point, Warner’s spot in the Hall of Fame seems to be more a question of when, not if. It’s hard to make it to the final 15 the very first year you are on the ballot if you aren’t already considered a guy who is worthy. Maybe it will happen on his first chance, maybe not. It would certainly be a nice coincidence given that the Super Bowl and Hall announcement is in Arizona.

“My only hope is that, when it comes to Saturday and they call you or knock on your door, whatever, I just don’t want it to be any kind of a disappointment for anybody,” Warner said. “We all are honored to be in this class and be in the top 15, and I’m worried that if you don’t get that knock on your door, you walk out (disappointed). Hey, I’m one of the 265 best players to ever play this game, so to speak, and I’m pretty cool with that. I’m good with that. I want this to be a joyous time, and if I get in, what an amazing honor. It’ll be a great ride.”


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Warner to help … Kaepernick

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2015 – 8:20 am

It’s still an unknown who the 49ers head coach will be post-Harbaugh, but we do know now who will be coaching struggling quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the short-term. And it’s … Kurt Warner.

The former Cardinals quarterback will be tutoring Kaepernick here in the Valley, no less, as Niners beat guy Matt Barrows reported. it’ll be at EXOS, formerly Athletes Performance Institute. It’s not altogether odd, seeing that Warner can help a bit without a) leaving home and b) getting too deep into coaching. Ever since Warner retired I’ve gotten hit with questions from fans of why Warner wouldn’t be asked to join the coaching staff, but Warner never had any interest in putting in the hours required to be an NFL coach. He’s got more important things to do in his life with his charities and his family, and coaching eats up far too much time. This scenario is much more reasonable.

Of course, it also means Warner is trying to help improve the quarterback of a Cardinals’ rival. So that could sting down the road. Barrows writes that Warner (and former journeyman pro QB Dennis Gile) won’t try and fix Kaepernick. Instead, “Warner will be on hand a few days each week to work with Kaepernick on film study, charting plays (so-called ‘board work’), seven-on-seven drills and other mental aspects of the game.”

UPDATE: Warner talked about the offer on the Tiki and Tierney Show Thursday morning on CBS Radio, acknowledging he has heard from fans of both the Cardinals and Rams disappointed he is helping a 49ers quarterback.

“I put the offer out there to a lot of young guys and Colin is the first one that really reached out and said, ‘If you have a little bit of time for me, I’d love to work together,’” Warner said. “People can say what they want. I’m more about helping that young man become all he can be. Do I want the Cardinals to win games? Of course I do. Do I want the Rams to win? Yeah. But I want all these guys to push that envelope and if I can help in any way, I’m happy to do it.”

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Why Warner isn’t/wasn’t an option

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2014 – 3:47 pm

I hesitate to bring up the ‘W’ word at this point, with Sunday night and Ryan Lindley’s struggles still so fresh on everyone’s mind. I don’t see the Cardinals making any kind of quarterback transactions at this point, just trying to tread water until Drew Stanton can play. But after all the talk about Kurt Warner and can he come back and hey, maybe he’s even thought about coming back, bottom line, he can’t.

Yes, even if the Cards thought it was a good idea and he thought it was a good idea, it’s a non-starter. A league spokesman confirmed Warner is on the Cardinals’ reserve/retired list. NFL rules state someone on the reserve/retired list cannot be reinstated in the last 30 days of a season. That means even when Warner first hinted about it during the game against the Rams, it was already too late.

(Forget about the fact he’s 43 and has been out of football for five years and isn’t physically or mentally prepped to be able to jump into an NFL lineup.)

No, it was never going to work.

(Profootballtalk.com pointed out that Warner could be reinstated had he been put through waivers, but that another team could have and likely would have claimed him just to block such a move.)

In the meantime, the Cardinals are turning to Logan Thomas for a start Sunday against the 49ers, although Bruce Arians said he will have the quick hook in place for Thomas. Stanton is unlikely to play this week as the Cardinals try and get him ready for a playoff game.



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Watching Wilson and Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2014 – 3:52 pm

When the Cardinals beat the Seahawks last season, they took a quarterback who at times had looked like an MVP candidate with his efficiency and made him look very, very bad. Russell Wilson’s stats that day: 11-for-27, 108 yards, one touchdown, one interception. More importantly, he had just two rushing attempts (for 32 yards, including one outlier 27-yard scramble).

There aren’t many quarterbacks who throw on the run as well as Wilson. Aaron Rodgers, maybe, but his is a different style. With Wilson there is the constant fear he will take off. And he’s done that a lot this season – already Wilson has rushed for at least 100 yards in three different games – or triple the amount he had in his first two seasons.

The Cardinals would love to make sure Wilson has the same kind of game Sunday as he had against the Cards last year, but “I don’t think there is a blueprint,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “It’s catch ’em if you can.”

The top priority will be to slow Marshawn Lynch, because it always is. The Seahawks, without any real dynamic receivers, don’t have a scary passing game. If there is a way to slow Lynch and not let Wilson go off on broken plays, the Cardinals will have gone a long way toward winning another one in the Pacific Northwest.

— A player to watch in this regard: Rookie Deone Bucannon, the safety who is playing linebacker in in nickel and who has essentially replaced Wilson antidote Daryl Washington this season.

— This game, even if the Cardinals win, does not clinch the NFC West. But it goes a long way in doing so, as long as there isn’t an epic collapse down the stretch. And teams that win in Seattle and are 9-1 before that don’t collapse. A loss, and things could get interesting, especially with another game left to play with the Seahawks. The tough games do not end yet.

— As I mentioned, my gut here on a Friday is that Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t play, and as I mentioned, I’ve been wrong on Fitz before. It’s hard not to remember the obvious confidence OC Harold Goodwin showed in the rest of the receiving corps though. They want Fitz to play, of course. But if Jaron Brown and John Brown and Michael Floyd are the top three guys, the Cardinals can live with that. They are better suited to survive a short-term injury at receiver perhaps more than anywhere else.

— The Cards have to find a way to run the ball with some success, and it can’t be all Andre Ellington, Rashard Mendenhall had 21 carries in the Seahawks game in Seattle last year, Ellington 15 as the Cards had the most rushing attempts in a game in more than a decade. Yes, it was Jamaal Charles, but the Chiefs were able to run a lot and well against the Seahawks last week. Ellington plus, Step Taylor? Marion Grice? They just need to give Drew Stanton a chance.

— Stanton needs to be smart, but the Cards can’t be too cautious either. So far, the Cardinals, with Stanton, have moved the ball immediately in all his starts. It speaks to the Arians/Goodwin plans, and how much Stanton understands the offense. They just have to have it carry through the game.

— Great note pointed out to me on Twitter by @DylanCarey11. Stanton will be the sixth different starter at quarterback the Cardinals have used in Seattle the last six trips there:

2014 – Stanton
2013 – Palmer
2012 – John Skelton
2011 – Kevin Kolb
2010 – Max Hall
2009 – Kurt Warner

— As an additional note to that, the Cardinals will have used eight QBs in those six games, because Ryan Lindley played in relief of Skelton in 2012 and Derek Anderson came in for Hall in 2010. Neither time it was injury related. Just bad football.

— If you haven’t seen it, Michael Silver did a great piece on Bruce Arians and his path to Cardinals’ head coach. Some of it goes over familiar territory, but there is some good stuff, like the just-fired Ken Whisenhunt telling Arians good things about the franchise and encouraging Arians to interview for the job.

— There is also this great story by David Fleming covering the family of the donor woman who gave Carson Palmer his original ACL replacement – and the feeling after it gave out against the Rams, sidelining Palmer.

— There is also this story on the rise to GM by Steve Keim. It happens to be my work, so if you haven’t read it, just sayin’ …

— Matt Shaughnessy was back on the field this week for practice for the first time since a knee injury forced him to the IR-designated to return list. He can’t play the next two games, but he will be back for the Dec. 7 game against the Chiefs. Arians wasn’t definitive in how Shaughnessy will fit in the lineup; Shaughnessy’s replacement, Alex Okafor, is playing the best of the outside linebackers. Could it be Shaughnessy and Okafor, with Sam Acho as a reserve? Possible. Arians said he wants to see where Shaughnessy is first; there’s going to be rust that must be knocked off.

— Last year at the end of the Seahawks’ upset, a handful of defensive linemen had a snack of Skittles on the sidelines in the waning moments. Skittles, for the uninitiated, are famously the favorite treat of Lynch. There won’t be any this year, alledgedly.

“Naw,” defensive tackle Dan Williams said. “I got to cut back on calories.”

— Last year, the win in Seattle was the Cards’ 10th win of the season. Can they do that two years in a row?


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Hall nominees with Cards ties, and Keim’s story

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2014 – 11:06 am

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has whittled its potential 2015 class to 26 names, and included in there are a three major contributors to the Cardinals over the years. One is coach Don Coryell, who was the man in charge of the Cards’ teams of the mid-1970s that was successful enough that every time the current team hits a win plateau or streak, it seems to date back to one of Coryell’s squads. The other two are part of the Cards’ Super Bowl team: quarterback Kurt Warner, and running back Edgerrin James.

(Cowboys safety Darren Woodson, who went to high school at Phoenix Maryvale, is also part of the group.)

James is probably a long shot to advance to the group of 15 that will be considered when the Hall selection committee gets together in Phoenix on Super Bowl eve to eventually name no more than five to the Hall of Fame. Coryell has got a better chance, I’d think, given his offensive innovations, especially coaching the Chargers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then there is Warner, who given his resume, figures to get into the Hall at some point. It would be fitting if that was this year — Warner’s first year of eligibility — with the class being named in Arizona.

— He’s not headed to the Hall of Fame anytime soon, but Steve Keim has worked hard for a long time to reach his goal of being a general manager. If you haven’t yet, check out my story about Keim’s belief even as a little kid he’d end up running a team.


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Smokey brings Cards back into SI focus

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2014 – 3:23 pm

It’s been all over social media today, but the Cardinals have made it back on to a Sports Illustrated (regional) cover this week by highlighting Smokey Brown’s fantastic touchdown catch against the Rams in a story titled — fittingly, “Next Man Up.”


But the Cardinals have been there before in recent times. Larry Fitzgerald was the poster boy for SI as the NFL players were set to come back from the lockout in 2011, with a shot of him sitting in a locker room all serious-like. And then there were the back-to-back-to-back covers during the 2008 season playoff run, with Fitz and Kurt Warner. (Yes, technically, DBs DRC, Aaron Francisco and Ralph Brown had a cameo on the SI cover the next week, but surprisingly I don’t have a picture of the Santonio Holmes cover).

And please, no one talk about jinxes to me. I don’t buy into them. Never have. Just enjoy the picture.


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Congrats to Kurt Warner, Cardinals newest Ring of Honor member

Posted by since1898 on September 9, 2014 – 12:45 pm

BACK TO #since1898

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Game day for Andre and Saturday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2014 – 3:02 pm

Will he or won’t he? I’m sure the last thing the Cardinals wanted going into the opener was having their key offensive piece be a game-day decision, but that’s where we are left with running back Andre Ellington and his pesky foot problem. Bruce Arians said Ellington did enough in practice Saturday (pictured right) to convince him that Ellington could possibly play Monday, so there is that.

“We can’t worry about injuries,” Arians said. “Nobody cares but us.”Andre3MAINblog

Even if he doesn’t play, the beat moves on. If you look at the key guys not playing in total that you had hoped would – Washington and Mathieu and Dockett and Cooper, aside from Ellington – it can be a daunting list. But these are things that don’t make Bruce Arians flinch. He will forever have that 2012 season with the Colts burned on his brain, when everyone seemed to get hurt for Indy (except for Andrew Luck) and they still won 11 games. That will be the memory Arians will fall back upon, and why his “Next Man Up” battle cry isn’t just lip service. Whether the Cardinals can too make it work, we’ll see. The Chargers are just the first in a tough schedule.

— Punter Dave Zastudil was added to the injury list as questionable Saturday with a groin injury. That’s not good, obviously. The Cardinals did cut linebacker Desmond Bishop Saturday, so maybe the Cardinals fill that spot with a new punter if Zastudil can’t go. (Kicker Chandler Catanzaro punted once last season in college at Clemson.)

— If I had to pick just one major key to the game Monday, I’d have to go with the pressure the Cardinals need to put on Philip Rivers. There are other important aspects, of course. The Cardinals need to show they can stop the run again, and they need to protect Carson Palmer as promised. But after the vanilla preseason, it’s important that the Cards can hurry Rivers in the pocket. Once in a while without a blitz, preferably.

— Here is not a surprise in the least: The presence of new left tackle Jared Veldheer has completely changed the tension level for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

“For me, for Carson, it’s about being comfortable,” Goodwin said. “For me, I can worry about other things. I don’t have to worry about chip-help for the tackle all the time. That relieves a whole lot of stress.”

No question Veldheer gives the Cardinals something Levi Brown simply did not, and that Bradley Sowell can not. In the end, Veldheer is seen by many fans as a savior to that position, although Veldheer isn’t all that comfortable with the notion.

“I guess that’s an OK thing, but to me, the biggest thing is being accountable to the guys on the line and the offense and the team,” he said. “And that’s me doing my job.”

— Got a chance to catch up briefly with Darnell Dockett yesterday, and he was as Darnell as always. He’s already pushing himself hard on his knee, even this early.

“You put the time in, got nothing else to do,” he said. “My coaches are supporting me, they know my work so they give me the green light to do everything I can to come back faster. There can’t be a better situation other than not being in this situation in the first place.”

— I’ve had many people ask me what the ramifications might be for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington if the new drug policy – rumored to be close – is passed. The truth is, I have no idea. Part of the problem is that it hasn’t publicly been said why Washington was suspended. He said in his statement it was for marijuana, but you’d need more details than that. Let’s put it this way, first this new policy actually has to be put in place – and it hasn’t yet. I still wouldn’t hold my breath for Washington even if it does.

— It’ll be an emotional night Monday. Aside from the game itself and the knowledge it is on national television, Kurt Warner gets inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. I’d guess there will be some well-remembered highlights played too. Don’t leave your seats.

— Carparks open at 3 p.m. Monday. Don’t forget your clear bags.

— With all the Ellington news, the possibility of Tyrann Mathieu playing has seemingly been pushed to the background. I still think the Cardinals are going to err on the side of caution and keep him out for now, but Arians said again it’ll be a game-day thing.

— Crazy to think Alameda Ta’amu is fine after tearing his ACL in the 2013 season finale, but the nose tackle should be in the defensive line rotation and his biggest issue is his stamina. “He’s full go. He runs on and off the field and gets out of gas. That’s a lot of ass to carry back and forth out there.”

So, on that note, on to Monday night.


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