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Take offense? Or get defensive?

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2014 – 12:47 pm

When the Super Bowl is played Sunday, it will feature the best offense in the NFL — Denver scored 606 points this season, an incredible 37.9 per game — against the best defense in the NFL — Seattle not only allowed the fewest yards, but also the fewest points this season. A tangible example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It’s hard not to see it as the answer about that “defense wins championships” cliché that floats out there.

It also got me thinking about the Cardinals, and their better recent teams.

The 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl after scoring 427 regular-season points (26.7 points a game) and followed up in the playoffs with 30, 33 and 32 points before scoring 23 in the Super Bowl. Of course, that team allowed 426 points, which is why they eeked out a 9-7 record. It was a potent offense. This season, the Cardinals put together 10 wins in large part because of the defense. The Cards were tops in the league in run defense, sixth overall and seventh in scoring defense. It would be interesting to consider that 2008 offense — Kurt Warner, Fitz in his prime, Anquan Boldin, 1,000-yard Steve Breaston and the Edge/Hightower RB tag-team going against the 2013 Cardinals defense.

Which is the better path to take? It’s hard not to think that defense wins titles. It’d be good to see Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl, but I’m not totally sure why the Seahawks aren’t favored in this game, at least a little. Maybe it’s because of last year’s Super Bowl, when a couple of defensive-dominant teams ended up playing in a scorefest. That was in the climate-controlled Superdome, though, and Manning won’t have that advantage Sunday.

As far as the score-first Cardinals versus the defense-first Cards? There’s a reason why Kurt Warner has said this year’s Cardinals team was better than his 2008 version. Part of that was that this year’s team could score a little bit too — with 379 points (23.7 a game) it wasn’t like the Cardinals couldn’t find their way into the end zone. I’d argue that Andre Ellington gave the offense an explosive element that 2008 offense didn’t really have either. Nevertheless, it’s a great debate to have.

ThenNowBLOG


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Jay Feely finalist for NFL Man of the Year

Posted by Darren Urban on January 19, 2014 – 6:47 pm

Jay Feely has made public service — especially helping the less fortunate in places like Haiti — an important part of his life. That’s a big reason he was named the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year this season. Tonight, the NFL announced Feely is one of three finalists for the NFL Man of the Year award, joining Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis and Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman.

The award is given to players who recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence.

“People look to you to be a leader, but also look at you in a certain way just because you are an athlete,” Feely said when he was named the Cards’ Man of the Year. “I think you can use that to your advantage to have an impact on people.”

The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be announced at the Super Bowl during the third annual NFL Honors, a two-hour awards special Feb. 1 and televised on Fox. The Cardinals had an NFL Man of the Year for the 2008 season, when quarterback Kurt Warner won the award the same year the franchise played in the Super Bowl. Larry Fitzgerald was also a finalist for the award last season.


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Aeneas again a Hall finalist and Licht talk

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2014 – 8:51 pm

For the third year in a row, former Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams has been selected as one of the 15 modern-day finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Getting to that point is important. The group will be shaved to 10 and then the final group will be selected, up to five (plus the two senior nominees, punter Ray Guy and defensive lineman Claude Humphrey.)

Does Williams have a chance? Sure, but again, with only up to five others getting it, it’s tough sledding. (I wrote a post last year whether Williams or Kurt Warner would be the first to get into the Hall of Fame. Warner’s first year of eligibility after next season, and the voting will be held at the Super Bowl in Arizona.) Among the other finalists: Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Cowboys/49ers defensive end Charles Haley and Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison.

The vote will be Feb. 1, the day before the Super Bowl. Kent Somers, the Arizona Republic’s beat writer covering the Cardinals, is the Arizona voter in the room and will present Williams’ case as he has the past two years.

– The news came out this afternoon that the Dolphins, who are searching for a new general manager after firing Jeff Ireland, have asked permission to interview Cardinals vice president of player personnel Jason Licht. Licht was a finalist for the Bears GM job in 2012. Even if Licht doesn’t get the job, it won’t be the last time teams seek him out as at least a candidate for a GM job.


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The fine line of finding a quarterback

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2014 – 11:39 am

So if you are the Cincinnati Bengals, what are you thinking about with Andy Dalton? And what does it say about “finding” your long-term quarterback?

These questions are not easily answered. The Cardinals have been looking for their “long-term” quarterback since, well, since they moved to Arizona. There were the Kurt Warner years, but the time where Warner was both the unquestioned and winning (a key adjective) quarterback for this franchise was less than three seasons: A few games into the 2007 season through 2009. Carson Palmer has come along, and was 10-6 in his first season, and likely is the Cards’ starter in 2014, but how long does he have?

Again, finding the young replacement isn’t simple. Look at Dalton. He has won nine, 10 and 11 games in his three seasons in Cincinnati. The Bengals have made the playoffs every single season. It’s a foundation many teams — even the Cards — would love to have with a quarterback after he was drafted. He threw for almost 4,300 yards this season and already has 80 TD passes in his young career. It’s the definition of finding a long-term guy … right?

Yet the Bengals have lost all three playoff games Dalton has quarterbacked, and he has not played well in any of them. He is, not surprisingly, getting hammered about it again and there are some who think the Bengals should look elsewhere. Now, there are QB-needy teams across the league who would probably love to have Dalton. Yet his situation underscores the minefield that is filling that position.

Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton have worked well. It looks like Colin Kaepernick has too (although I think he still tends to be more up and down than you’d like at this early stage) and Nick Foles flourished in Chip Kelly’s offense. Side note, you look at the playoff teams and the winners and it drives home the point this league is about good quarterback play.

Is Matthew Stafford the answer, even with all his gaudy stats? (Ken Whisenhunt may be hired soon to find out.) Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were not. Sam Bradford? It’s no wonder Steve Keim says he has to fall in love with a QB to want to draft him, because let’s face it, if you do draft one early, you are married to him for a few years to see if he works out.

And, in the case of someone like Dalton, you still may be wondering if he is working out even when it seems like he is.

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Friday before the Jaguars

Posted by Darren Urban on November 15, 2013 – 3:55 pm

It’s strange, and maybe because it’s because the Cardinals face the Jaguars so rarely, but each of the last three meetings between the teams – dating back to 2000, my first full year covering this team – is burned into my brain for a particular reason.

2000 – The Cardinals were manhandled in Jacksonville. The Jaguars scored on eight of 10 possessions and the final possession ate up the last 9-plus minutes of the clock (as the Jags traveled all of 31 yards. Hard to believe). Afterward, though, it was classic Pat Tillman, raging against a team that had folded in a season that featured the firing of Vince Tobin.

“In this league, you have to overcome injuries, problems, coaches getting fired,” Tillman spouted. “Nobody cares (about excuses). Don’t tell me about the pain, show me the baby. We’re not showing the baby right now, we’re just bitching about the pain.”

2005 – It was a nondescript game at Sun Devil Stadium later in the year – a seven-point loss when Kurt Warner was sacked and fumbled late – except for an angry Anquan Boldin, who had 10 catches and more than 100 yards but got so ticked at what he perceived as dirty play that he got two personal foul calls fighting cornerback Terry Cousin. That wasn’t the memorable part. The memorable part was Boldin writing a letter to the editor of both local newspapers apologizing for the penalties.

2009 – The NFC champion Cards were coming off a home upset loss to the Niners when they had to travel cross country in Week 2. The Cards blasted the Jaguars, in a game marked by Warner’s amazing NFL record, completing 92.3 percent of his passes (24 of 26) to earn another slot in the Hall of Fame.

We’ll see if this game ends up providing some kind of memory.

– Don’t talk trap game with the Cardinals. “No, no, no,” Larry Fitzgerald said. “This is a playoff game. There is no such thing as a trap game in the NFL.” As you might expect, the Cardinals were handing out plenty of compliments to the Jaguars this week. The hope is that they play with that focus.

– Then again, there is this analysis of the Jaguars.

– It’s not often when the “Friday before” post is actually posted from the flight out, but it is today (and will be again in a couple weeks, when the Cards go out on Friday before the Philly game.) Coach Bruce Arians, coaching out West for the first time in his career, said he talked to many people in the offseason about setting a schedule. The Cards don’t get in to the hotel until about 10 p.m., but Arians said he didn’t want to move up the schedule.

“We’ve been down this road with Tampa,” Arians said. “There are no excuses not to come out and play well.”

– How red-hot is Justin Bethel on special teams? Profootballfocus.com, which grades special teamers (among others), has never had a guy grade out the highest in two weeks of the same season, and Bethel has done it three times – including against Houston last week, in which Bethel had PFF’s highest special teams grade ever.

– The Jaguars, which won their first game of the season last week, hasn’t won back-to-back games since 2010.

– Going against the worst rushing defense in the league – in part there, I am sure, because so many teams have blown the Jags out and have run a lot to grind second-half clock – the Cards should run the ball effectively. They need to run it effectively.

– John Abraham seemed confident he wouldn’t be hampered much by his bad hamstring. He’s playing so well, the Cards have to hope he isn’t.

– There isn’t much to analyze about this game. The Cards have put themselves in good position to be 6-4. Now they just have to play like it.


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Taking those shots down the field

Posted by Darren Urban on October 10, 2013 – 9:54 am

The day Bruce Arians was introduced as the head coach of the Cardinals, he talked about how he wanted to take about six shots downfield per game. Arians was about getting chunk yardage, and keeping defenses honest with such plays.

But the plays have to work to be effective. Arians knows they haven’t been nearly effective enough. Asked if he thought the Cards were getting about 50 percent of those plays, Arians scoffed. “We’re nowhere near 50 percent,” Arians said. “We’re probably down around 20 (percent.)”

According to profootballfocus.com, the Cardinals and quarterback Carson Palmer have thrown 22 passes this season of at least 20 yards in the air — an average of 4.4 tries per game. But Palmer has only been able to complete five of them, or an average of one a game. Two of those — a 24-yard TD to Larry Fitzgerald in St. Louis and the 36-yard TD pass to running back Andre Ellington against Detroit — have gone for scores. (UPDATE: PFF gave Palmer a third TD in this situation: The 13-yard TD pass to Fitz in Tampa. PFF counts all passes that cover 20 yards and do not stop at the goal line — so in charting that Fitz was seven yards deep in the end zone when he caught the ball, that qualified as a 20-yard-in-the-air pass.)

Three of Palmer’s at-least-20-yarders-in-the-air have been intercepted. Palmer is tied for 10th on the league in deep attempts, but he’s tied for 20th in completions. The 139 yards Palmer has on those throws isn’t a ton either. By contrast, Aaron Rodgers (505 yards) and Jets rookie Geno Smith (500) are at the top of the list, although both have 14 completions already of passes of at least 20 yards in the air. Rodgers, you can understand. Smith is surprising, just like it is surprising to see Detroit’s Matthew Stafford behind Palmer in most of these categories.

Obviously, Arians would like to get more from those kinds of passes. Palmer said yesterday he isn’t going to take chances on the jump balls anymore, like the one intercepted in front of Michael Floyd against Carolina (below). In fact, Palmer talked a lot about taking what the defense will give him, which sounds a lot like taking fewer chances down the field. Arians said he wants Palmer to walk the fine line between being smart and being aggressive.

It’s funny, because this has been a topic with the Cardinals much of the past few years. In Kurt Warner’s final season, there was a bunch of talk of how the Cards didn’t throw deep enough (and Warner’s 37 such attempts were the fewest of any qualifying QB that season.) Even in 2011, when Fitz set his career-high with 17.6 yards per reception, it wasn’t because John Skelton was throwing a ton of 20-yard-in-the-air passes. We’ll see if the Cards can adjust the offense to be more what Arians had hoped, or if various issues — including the pass protection — will force a change in thinking.

DeepUSE


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Peterson’s throw-and-catch mean Hall of Fame

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2013 – 10:58 am

Against the Lions, Patrick Peterson became the first defensive player since at least 1970 to catch a pass and complete a pass in the same game. It was a significant feat, so his gloves and the ball from that game are now in Canton, Ohio, on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s not the first time this has happened for Peterson. When he tied the NFL record with four punt return touchdowns in a season in 2011 as a rookie, the Hall took Peterson’s cleats from his Nov. 6 return against the Rams.

Back in 2009, the Hall took some of Kurt Warner’s gear after Warner set the NFL record for completion percentage in a game against Jacksonville. And there has been a Pat Tillman exhibit for a while.

As for Peterson’s day, it was all in a day’s work. (Even if he admitted he might not have made his catch.)

“I prepare myself for these types of moments in the offseason,” Peterson said. “I believe I’m in probably the best shape on the team. I work extremely hard in the offseason and it pays dividends in the season. When my number is called I’m definitely ready to go. I believe that I can play pretty much every position and pretty much every second on the clock. That’s how I feel, but I just want to continue going out there and getting better each and every week, doing the things I need to do to help my team win ball games.”

As for what’s next? “We’ve got a lot planned up our sleeves,” Peterson said.

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The specter of Warner

Posted by Darren Urban on September 19, 2013 – 10:03 am

Carson Palmer has been a Cardinals for nearly six months. He’s played with the team all offseason, and is two games into a well-established role as starter. And the Cardinals had gone through eight quarterbacks in some way, shape or form between the time Palmer arrived and Kurt Warner retired.

But the long Warner shadow hovers. Palmer acknowledged that.

“Definitely. You hear about it all the time,” Palmer said. “And I think that’s the case anywhere a great quarterback plays. And, Kurt was, obviously, a great quarterback. He played in Super Bowls, helped get this team to an NFC Championship game and win it. That’s just kind of the shoes you have to fill that you hear about. You heard about it forever in Denver when they were looking for the next John Elway. And, I think it’s still looming here. Until someone else takes this team to a Super Bowl, you are always going to hear those comparisons.”

Even Warner noted in training camp that his exploits would inevitably be linked to Palmer’s Arizona tenure. I do think it has lessened somewhat, simply because Palmer has shown he remains a pretty good NFL quarterback and, more importantly, he’s much better than any of the guys that came before him. There are comparisons to those guys too, and he’s obviously on the other side of that than he might be with the legend of Warner.

Palmer is probably better equipped to deal with the comparisons too. He’s a guy who’s confident in himself and knows he has a solid résumé. Can he turn in a playoff run with this team? We’ll see. He’s right — without one, the Warner talk probably won’t go away.

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What do Kurt Warner and Aeneas Williams have in common?

Posted by since1898 on September 3, 2013 – 4:00 pm

Legends

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Kurt Warner counts us down to the regular season

Posted by since1898 on August 26, 2013 – 10:42 am

13DAYS

 

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