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Leaving points, and Friday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2015 – 3:41 pm

It’s hard not to talk about the points.

The Cardinals lead the NFL in points scored, in case you hadn’t heard. They also have a league-high 176 points on the road – with still three road games left – this season, with their 22 road TDs five more than the rest of the field (Cincinnati is second with 17). They just happen to be visiting San Francisco this weekend, to play a 49ers team that they happened to score a season-high 47 points against earlier this season.

So why is it, when talking to the players or coaches, they always seem to be a bit irritated with how the Cardinals play offense? It’s simple, really. They get ticked when they don’t convert a third down, when they have a red-zone hiccup, when they turn the ball over. Perfecting the “nuances,” as Larry Fitzgerald called them.

“Scary to think if we do, how many points we could score,” Fitzgerald said.

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was being asked about the running game and it needing to be more consistent. Even though the Cards have run it fine and again, most points in the league.

“It’s something good for me to get pissed off about,” Goodwin said. “Leaving points out there.”

Goodwin, and Bruce Arians, and everyone else, knows what they have (assuming Carson Palmer is healthy): A deep offense capable of scoring with a great many options, and a quarterback who knows how to make it all run.

“As long as the offensive line protects, we can dice anyone up in this league,” Goodwin said. “I stand on solid ground when I say that.”

— The Cardinals had a long injury list when the week began, but realistically, they aren’t going to be as short-handed as thought. Patrick Peterson looks like he’s going to play, receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown (Brown is “probable” for the first time in a while) both should be on the field and while they are down a couple of defensive lineman, the addition of Red Bryant should help.

— The idea of sitting players because it’s “just the 49ers” is never going to fly, by the way. The Cardinals need all these wins. If you are healthy enough to play, you play. If you aren’t, you don’t. Could that change in Week 17 if the Cards are locked into their playoff position? Sure. But not with six games left.

— Fitzgerald needs 74 yards to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season for the first time since 2011. That’s been a pretty long drought too.

— Markus Golden already had started a couple of games when Alex Okafor was out, but that starting job is his for good now that LaMarr Woodley is out for the season. Golden is turning out to have the greatest impact from the draft class, with all due respect to Rodney Gunter and David Johnson. Profootballfocus.com has him among the top 10 rookies in the league, and he’s on his way to being a key part of this defense the next few years.

“Since the beginning of the season I’m way better,” Golden said. “I’m more focused, and I’m not thinking as much.”

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said he loves the outside linebacker rotation, even with the Woodley loss. In a perfect world, he said, those guys would have snap counts in the 20s, although he said he was OK with veteran Dwight Freeney around 30 or 35 snaps.

— S Deone Bucannon was fined $23,152 for his unflagged helmet-to-helmet hit on Bengals receiver A.J. Green last week. It was a surprise the play didn’t draw a penalty. Could that have been the source of the concussion Bucannon suffered?

— One name that could appear now with Woodley out is rookie Shaq Riddick, who has been inactive every game. “We think he’s a guy who is going to be in the mix, could be this weekend, maybe the future,” Bettcher said.

— This will be Mike Iupati’s first game against his former team. If you recall, there was a chance Iupati, coming off training camp knee surgery, would debut against the 49ers, but he wasn’t quite ready that week. He admitted the game will have meaning for him.

“I do care about them,” said Iupati, who spent five seasons in San Francisco. “They are having a tough season. But that’s how it is. It’s football. I don’t know what’s going on over there.”

— The Cards have had a 100-yard receiver in six straight games against the 49ers – either Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd. Floyd in particular has done well in San Francisco. Perhaps he can get there again.

— Both Arians and Goodwin were hoping that the running game will find its way back after a couple of off games versus two good front sevens against the Seahawks and Bengals. The coaches are hoping for more steady plays – four yards every play, rather than getting one looking for a big one. It’s a concept running back Chris Johnson admitted isn’t always easy.

“Being the type of player I am, the type of back I am who is so used to breaking the long runs, getting big gains,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of tough being patient and waiting on it. It’s the sort of thing where you’ve got to understand the gameplan of the week and you’ve got to stick to it.”

— Johnson also said at age 30, the maintenance needed to stay ready at this point (he’s averaging 24 carries the past three games) is crucial.

“You’ve got to put more time in as far as off the field,” Johnson said, referring to massages and the training room. “You put more time in and you’ll be OK when Sunday gets here.”

— Crazy to think the Cards have had more trouble winning in San Francisco than Seattle. But a win this weekend, and the Cardinals are 3-1 in the NFC West. If there is anything Arians has yet to accomplish, it’s a winning record within the division. That’s something they’d like to check off the list.


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11 Cards still top 10 in Pro Bowl voting

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

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

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

— RB Chris Johnson is fifth.

— Mike Iupati fell to sixth among guards.

— DT Calais Campbell is fifth.

— CB Patrick Peterson is fourth.

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

— David Johnson is 10th among kick returners.

— Justin Bethel is fourth for special teamers.

Pro Bowl voting continues through Dec. 15.


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Friday before the Bengals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2015 – 4:08 pm

The Cardinals will play their 100th game at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night against the Bengals. They still have one player who has been around for all 100. In fact, Larry Fitzgerald – who, once we get there, will have played in 97 of them – actually can make comparisons, since his first two seasons were spent playing home games at Arizona State.

“I remember back in the days playing at Sun Devil Stadium when you couldn’t pay someone to watch us play out there,” Fitzgerald said. “Now you can’t get a seat in the building. It’s great to see the turnaround.”

It’s been a few weeks since the Cardinals last had a home game. That too was nationally televised against an AFC North team. The Cardinals beat Baltimore on “Monday Night Football.” Now, thanks to a flex choice, the Cardinals get Cincinnati on “Sunday Night Football.”

The 100 games – all official sellouts – includes everything: Preseason and postseason. This one will have a bit of a postseason feel too, given that the Cardinals are 7-2 and battling (for now) to keep the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the 8-1 Bengals hoping they can still catch the undefeated Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

This one should be fun, even with the Cards a little beat up. The Bengals have their issues too.

— The Cards will likely be down one starting offensive lineman in right guard Jonathan Cooper, but I’d think Ted Larsen would start for him (Earl Watford is still possible.) They will have Mike Iupati at left guard. I don’t think Michael Floyd plays after missing practice all week, and Smokey Brown isn’t at full strength. But the Bengals are also likely to not have two defensive starters in defensive end Michael Johnson and No. 1 cornerback Pacman Jones, so there’s no advantage.

If Floyd is down, J.J. Nelson will be active, and you figure he’ll be the deep threat if Brown cannot be. Besides, as long as Carson Palmer is in the pocket, the passing game will survive.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin didn’t seem particularly worried about where the injuries left the Cards.

“We don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good freaking offense,” Goodwin said.

— Bruce Arians acknowledged that he didn’t notice much of a difference last year when the University of Phoenix Stadium roof was open for “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks compared to when it is closed.

But, “do I like having it closed?” Arians said. “Hell yeah.”

— No official word about the roof status until Sunday afternoon, most likely.

— Speaking of the stadium, don’t forget there will be heightened security around the game because of recent terrorist events around the globe. Give yourself plenty of time to get into the building.

— With defensive tackle Cory Redding out with a bad ankle, there is a chance we could see undrafted rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams active for the first time this season.

— Palmer was fined $11,576 for his sideline gesture that was caught on camera in Seattle following Andre Ellington’s late touchdown run. Palmer had a couple of first pumps but then threw in a pelvic thrust toward the crowd. Palmer said after the game his reaction was toward three friends he had in the stands.

“I had my buddies on the sideline right four or five rows up,” Palmer said. “I saw them pretty excited, and it got me excited to see them excited.”

— Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was fined $23,152 for his crushing hit to the head on Larry Fitzgerald. The Seattle Times reported that Wright, who is appealing, said he apologized to Fitz and that Fitz got up laughing after the hit. (I’m not sure what that matters in terms of the fine, but …)

— ESPN did a breakdown on the luckiest and unluckiest teams in the NFL based on random events, and the Cardinals actually were called unlucky. That’s because out of their own 12 fumbles on offense, the Cardinals have recovered only four, and out of 10 opponent fumbles while on defense the Cardinals have recovered only three. Since fumble recoveries are usually luck of the bounce/right place, right time, the Cards should have more. Also, opposing kickers have yet to miss on 16 field-goal attempts.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is happy with his outside linebacker rotation of Alex Okafor, LaMarr Woodley, Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden, but he said it’s hard to get everyone the playing time they deserve. Golden only played 10 snaps in Seattle in the first game with all four players available.

“As a defensive coach, you don’t want to play more snaps, but you wish there were more snaps for guys to get,” Bettcher said.

— Profootballfocus.com said of their grades, only three cornerbacks do not have a game with a negative number this season: Carolina’s Josh Norman, and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. (PFF considers Mathieu a slot cornerback since he’s played the most snaps there.)

— Ex-Bengal and current defensive line starter Frostee Rucker has been quietly one of GM Steve Keim’s best signings. Rucker signed in 2013 to be a backup and role player, but has emerged as a highly effective starter and locker-room leader. And Rucker is enjoying his increased role.

“It’s the pat on the back that someone doesn’t have to say, because you know you’re contributing to something that’s good,” Rucker said.

It’s a feeling a lot of Cardinals have right now.

On to Cincinnati.



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Who will play receiver against the Bengals?

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2015 – 12:21 pm

The Cardinals have had excellent production from their top three receivers this season. It’ll be interesting to see just which ones will be able to help Sunday night against the Bengals. Michael Floyd looked to be sitting out practice for a second straight day Thursday, and judging by the way he came up lame on the play in which he got hurt against Seattle (if you have GamePass, it’s the fourth-quarter 10-yard reception he made at the 11:29 mark), it did not look good. We’ll see what he can do Friday, but it doesn’t seem like Floyd is trending the right way, which is too bad given how well he has played of late.

John Brown looked like he was going to at least be limited Thursday. What he can provide is also a mystery. He played 59 snaps in Seattle so it wasn’t like Smoke was limited; he was on the field for every play of the final two drives. But he didn’t have a catch. If Floyd can’t go, Brown’s ability to produce something will obviously increase in importance.

But the Cardinals and their No. 1-ranked offense do have some things that will help. One is Larry Fitzgerald, in the middle of one of his best seasons and totally healthy. Two is the way Jaron Brown stepped in and up with Floyd’s injury last week; the “other” J.B. made plays and that will help on a confidence level. Brittan Golden has made catches before, and J.J. Nelson, while inactive against the Seahawks, looked pretty good as the Smoke replacement at Cleveland a few weeks back.

Oh, the Cardinals also have a pretty good quarterback, who has some pretty good motivation this week. That alone tends to mitigate some short-term scrambling with the pass catchers.


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Late night Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2015 – 2:22 am

It didn’t take long for Drew Stanton to see it – he was already trending on Twitter by the time he got to the locker room – but the backup quarterback’s sideline gyrations during Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown run went from “Sunday Night Football” to social media sensation in an instant.

“That’s what I heard,” Stanton said. “ ‘Sunday Night Football’ is a very heavily-watched show, so …”

“We don’t have our hype man here anymore. Ryan Lindley used to do stuff like that, so I had to take over.”

Said Carson Palmer, “It was just all heart. … I think that was dedicated to Ryan Lindley because he was a great sideline celebrator, and I think Drew just slid ahead of Ryan.”

There’s nothing like a big win to celebrate. You don’t talk about such things like sideline dances after a loss. Make no mistake, this was a big win.

The Cardinals still haven’t beaten a team above .500, but obviously beating the Seahawks means something. It really means something when it’s done in Seattle, beyond the Cardinals opening up a mammoth three-game lead in the division with seven left to play. The second half of the schedule remains harder than the first, but all of a sudden games against the Eagles and Packers don’t seem quite as daunting. The Cards will know they’ve already beaten the Seahawks once, and now they get them in their own building (and that’s assuming there is still something to play for in the regular-season finale.)

Another nationally televised game coming in a week. I’d assume the Bengals will win Monday night and be undefeated. I’d also assume the Cardinals will relish such an opportunity.

— Carson Palmer was really remarkable. He shouldn’t have thrown the ball that was intercepted early in the game, and yes, he probably has to find a way to hold on to the ball despite nasty (and oft-unblocked) pressure. But you wonder why this team has so much confidence when Palmer is behind center, why it meant more than just having the starting QB going to Seattle, as opposed to last year. That fourth quarter is why.

— Great news that Mike Iupati was OK. He got back to see his teammates and fly back with the team. We’ll see how his health is this week.

— You do have to worry about the hamstring injuries for the receiving corps. Michael Floyd had his huge game end early after he hurt himself, and John Brown – already nursing a hamstring injury and held without a catch against the Seahawks – wasn’t in the lineup for the last series.

— Then again, that opened the door for some unsung heroes. Brittan Golden was playing at the end of the game, and he had the crucial block on the Ellington TD run.

— Meanwhile, Jaron Brown was fantastic in Floyd’s sted. His play to not only stop a sure interception of a tipped pass but actually turn it into a catch, and then his big first-down catch on the Ellington drive, was clutch. He admitted it didn’t quite make up for dropping the TD catch last year in Seattle, but it sure was impressive.

— The way Floyd is playing, it’s really going to make for some interesting choices about him going into the offseason (Floyd is under contract for 2016 at $7 million, money that is not guaranteed.) The way this offense is playing together, it’d be hard not to keep the Fitz-Floyd-Smokey trio together.

— As for Fitz, what a game. He’s had some big games against the Seahawks in the past (he went 10 catches for 151 yards there in 2008) but his 10 for 130 Sunday was more yards than his combined yards there since 2010 (114 in four games; Fitz didn’t play in Seattle in 2014 because of a knee injury.)

— The Seattle defense allowed just 39 points total in their final six games in 2014, including that 35-6 romp at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals got 39 on Sunday alone. That’s the most points the Seahawks had allowed since giving up 40 to the 49ers in late 2010 – and the most since Richard Sherman showed up to fill out the “Legion of Boom.”

— The Seahawks had been giving up 186.4 passing yards a game. The Cardinals piled up 363.

— The Cardinals have already scored 29 more points on the road – in five road games – than they did all last season – in eight.

— Chris Johnson grinded out 25 carries. He only gained 58 yards – it wasn’t a great game. But it was an important effort. The Cards never stopped trying to run, and lo and behold, Ellington snaps off a 48-yarder for the biggest play of the game.

— A lot has been said about the kicking game, but Sunday both Chandler Catanzaro and Drew Butler did well. Cat Man converted all three of his field-goal attempts and all four extra points. Butler averaged 44.7 yards on his three punts and more importantly, Tyler Lockett had zero punt return yards.

— We’re pushing 2:15 a.m. Phoenix time and by the time many of you read this, I’ll have posted another entry on the blog. The Cardinals are going to bed knowing they are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC (and they have the No. 3 Vikings coming to Arizona next month.) A good way to start the second half of the season.


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Friday before the Seahawks on Sunday night

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2015 – 4:06 pm

By the time the Cardinals get to Seattle Saturday evening, it’ll be dark and probably rainy. By the time they play the Seahawks Sunday night, it’ll be dark and probably rainy. The crowd is going to be intense from the opening kick, and everyone knows the football world will be watching.

Bruce Arians knows his guys will be jacked up. He wants them jacked up. Except …

“Snotbubbles and tears don’t win s**t,” Arians said.

This is still about the execution. This is about being smart with the football and not turning it over. It’s about the Cardinals being able to run the ball with Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. It’s about tackling Marshawn Lynch (sure, he’s questionable, but he’ll play) and containing Russell Wilson. I still think this game will be about the Cardinals scoring, because I believe the Cardinals’ defense can keep the Seahawks at bay.

The season won’t be decided Sunday but it’s impossible to get past the power of the swing it holds: The Cards lose, and they are just one game ahead of the Seahawks with seven to go and the Cards with a harder schedule. The Cards win, and the Seahawks are three games back, don’t have the tiebreaker and are under .500 – while the Cardinals get over the hurdle of winning against a “good” team (although the Cards still won’t have beat an above .500 team in that case.)

This one is going to be interesting, to say the least.

— If it is rainy as expected, I’m wondering what that will mean to a passing game that has been excellent. Will Arians dial it back a bit?

— I forgot that not only did the Cardinals not have Carson Palmer for their trip to Seattle last season, they didn’t have Larry Fitzgerald either. And now both aren’t only playing, but playing as well as they ever have.

— Lost in that win from 2013 was how stupendous the defense was that day. The Cardinals’ defense might have had – given the opponent and context – its finest day under Arians for sure. It ranked up there with the Jake Delhomme beat down in the 2008 playoffs. The Cardinals could sure use a similar showing.

— There is a concern about Jimmy Graham. The Seahawks’ other tight end, Luke Willson, has hurt the Cards before too. Something to remember.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell, who can’t believe he remains the franchise’s second-leading rusher after all these years, said he wants Chris Johnson to win the NFL rushing title. Johnson is currently third behind Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman.

“To win, we have to have guys who have individual goals that are team-related,” Mitchell said. “Chris is too close to the top of the rushing title to not want to win it. And that’s his goal. I know it’s the offensive linemen’s goal. I’m not surprised. (CJ) loves the game, and we are running the runs he likes to run.”

— Lot of questions, since the Cardinals still have a Thursday night game left (at home against the Vikings Dec. 10), if the Cards will be a part of the uniform “Color Rush” happening on Thursdays. The answer is no, they are not part of that plan this season.

— Some good links if you missed them:

My Chris Johnson story and the promises he was not given.

This exchange between Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald Thursday was priceless.

Also thought the Jimmy Fallon bit (to pub fellow NBC property “Sunday Night Football”) was funny. Lyle Sendlein said it was the second time Fallon had poked fun at him. “I guess it’s better (this time) than him calling me a Human Angry Bird – I think,” Sendlein said. (You can watch the video, but I’m not so sure about that).

— Arians said he expects linebacker Alex Okafor to get 30 to 35 snaps in his first game back from a calf injury. He also said he’s going to have a steady rotation at outside linebacker. How the playing time is divided between Okafor, Dwight Freeney, LaMarr Woodley and Markus Golden will be interesting.

— Also interesting will be who is made inactive with everybody healthy – assuming Sendlein (shoulder) and wide receiver John Brown (hamstring) are both good to go (which I will not be surprised if it happens.)

— I leave with this: This is being written and posted as the horrifying events in Paris, with shootings and explosions and hostages, are playing out. Honestly, it’s tough to get too deep into football knowing that such things are going on.

With that in mind, I just say this – the game Sunday is important in the context of this world I work within and we all follow. I know I’ll hear from many if the Cardinals lose, but I ask you to just remember – it is just a game. Please keep it in perspective.


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Mathieu, Fitz, Palmer shine in Pro Bowl voting

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

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

Tyrann Mathieu currently leads all free safeties in voting too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2015 – 1:37 pm

There is nothing better than the bye at the true midway point in the season. Getting through a chunk of the games before you are off is invaluable both mentally and physically for a team — although as Carson Palmer said this week, there is no such thing as a bad bye. (Of course, Palmer was not a member of the 2001 Cardinals, who, because of an odd number of NFL teams at the time, drew the short straw and had a bye in Week 1 of the regular season. That’s right — 16 straight games after. That was an emotional time too, because 9/11 happened the Tuesday following Week 1 and games were canceled. The Cards had nearly a month between their last preseason game and their first regular-season game.)

But I digress.

The Cardinals are going to lament the two losses, games that frankly, they should have had, no matter what happens. They hope they don’t cost themselves something significant come playoff time. But it was a good first half of the season, and regardless of opponents, the Cards have proven to be a good team and one that should be in the postseason mix.

— What has surprised me in the first half of the season? Let’s start with Larry Fitzgerald’s big numbers. I thought Fitz had an excellent training camp and I thought he had a chance to get to 1,000 yards, but the Cards have gone to him more than I expected. Part of that started. I’d guess, because of Michael Floyd’s hand injury, but Fitz has looked terrific. Bruce Arians said a big reason is that he has stayed healthy, and if that’s what it took, that’s a good sign for the Cardinals because Fitz remains healthy.

— I’m surprised that Sean Weatherspoon hasn’t been a bigger part of the defense. I don’t see that changing much unless there is an injury. Deone Bucannon, at this point, is a linebacker. It makes for intriguing roster decisions beyond this year.

— I’ve never covered a Cardinals team (since 2000, mind you) that doesn’t say they have plans to significantly upgrade the running game going into a season. But this was the year it’s actually turned out that way. Chris Johnson has been marvelous. When you have a healthy Andre Ellington and he can barely get touches, that’s saying something about your depth.

— Take a listen to the latest Cardinals Underground podcast for talk between myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi about the first half that was.

— This team will learn a lot about itself the next two games. In the national spotlight both weeks, at the defending NFC champion and hosting the sure-to-be undefeated Bengals (Cincy hosts Houston after 10 days to prepare.) The game against the Seahawks is paramount; you put Seattle in a tough, tough spot if you can knock them off in their place.

That’s next week, though. I’m going to enjoy a rare fall weekend off.



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Rallying to Browns aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 1, 2015 – 7:20 pm

There are times when Larry Fitzgerald is, let’s say, careful with his words. The veteran receiver understands what and what not to put out for public consumption, so there are times when he’s delivering sanitized material. Not Sunday, not when the first question was what exactly happened at halftime to change the Cardinals’ fortune in Cleveland.

“We just pulled our heads out,” Fitz said, and thankfully he allowed us to fill in to ourselves from where the Cards were doing the pulling.

Between the turnovers and the sloppy defensive moments it wasn’t hard to figure out that the Cardinals were doing themselves dirty in that first half. They are fortunate they were able to turn it around. Why it took so long – “It seems like until we get pissed off or something, then we start playing and we can’t be like that to get where we want to be,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said – is something that will be a point of emphasis. But if there is always something to be learned, this week it is that this team can overcome turnovers and pull one out. Now, if you are a minus-two (and at one point, a minus-four) against a good team, that will be problematic. But this week, it was not.

— From the time the Browns scored their third and final touchdown, the Cardinals’ defense forced five punts, had an interception, forced a fumble and then got a stop on downs. The Browns gained a total of 92 yards on those eight possessions.

— The last time a Cardinal running back had 30 carries in a game before Chris Johnson’s 30 Sunday (for 109 yards?) Edgerrin James had 36 on Oct. 16, 2006. Perhaps you remember that one. James had only 55 yards in that game, and well, the Bears were who we thought they were.

— CJ2K is also the first Cardinal to have four 100-yard games in a season since … wait for it … Stump Mitchell, now Johnson’s position coach, who did it in 1985.

— Former agent/cap guru Joel Corry tweeted out that with his surpassing of 664 yards rushing on the season, Chris Johnson has earned the first $280,000 of the $1.13 million in incentives built into his contract. Why 664 yards? Because he had 663 yards rushing last season while playing for the Jets.

— The Cardinals did not get enough pressure on Josh McCown in the first half. That changed in the second half, and you could see the results. In a side note, Dwight Freeney had his second sack in as many weeks.

— Carson Palmer was just talking last week about how he doesn’t care about stats but how he cares about red-zone efficiency and third-down conversions. Sunday, the Cardinals were 3-for-5 in the red zone – a very solid 60 percent – and 13-for-16 on third downs – an amazing 81 percent.

— And this is a team that missed on two wide-open bombs down the field on overthrows both Bruce Arians and Palmer said were because of the wind.

— Palmer is on pace for 40 touchdown passes.

— The bye comes at a good time. Arians pegged both wide receiver John Brown and cornerback Jerraud Powers at “85 or 90 percent” Sunday, but were held out because the Cardinals could afford to hold them out. If that’s the case, you figure a week off will do wonders and set them up to be ready after the bye. Same goes for Larry Fitzgerald, who hurt his ankle late and will get some welcome rest.

— The players are off Monday – “Victory Monday” has arrived. With the bye week, they’ll have practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and then get the mandated four-day weekend. At 6-2 halfway home, and with a two-game lead in the NFC West, it’s been a solid start.


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Friday before the Browns

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2015 – 3:10 pm

The one city Larry Fitzgerald has not yet played is Cleveland.

That shows you how long it’s been since the Cardinals visited the Browns. It was 2003, the Cards wore all-white uniforms, and if there was a game that sealed the season’s end firing of then-coach Dave McGinnis, it was probably that listless and ugly 44-6 loss to a mediocre Browns team. By the way, while Jeff Blake started at quarterback for the Cardinals that day, who played some in relief? Yes, that’s right, Josh McCown – the guy who despite his shoulder injury is still likely to start for the Browns Sunday, all these years later, for the Cards’ next trip to Cleveland.

The Cardinals aren’t losing like that in Cleveland again. They shouldn’t even lose. These are the days when they are the favorites in games like this. Twelve years ago, that Browns loss was the 10th straight road loss for the Cards, by an average of 23 points. These Cards go on the road and winning is the expectation. They need it too, with the bye coming up and back-to-back games against the Seahawks and Bengals the next on the schedule.

I’m not sure how Fitz does in his first (and only) trip to Cleveland. But I expect the Cards to play well offensively, and create some new memories about a visit to the Dawg Pound.

— The Browns have the league’s worst rushing defense and the Cards have the second-leading rusher in Chris Johnson. That seems to be a heavy advantage toward the Cardinals, no?

— One of the biggest threats the Browns have offensively is tight end Gary Barnidge, who has come up with some great chemistry with McCown and has posted offensive numbers the past five games that rival a healthy Rob Gronkowski (seriously!). But as Bill Barnwell noted, the Cardinals are only giving up 40 yards a game to tight ends this season. Impressive, given the tight end troubles the Cards have had defensively the last couple of years. Of course, they haven’t faced someone as productive as Barnidge yet. It will be a fascinating storyline to watch.

— The Cardinals have been close to perfect performances this season (see 49ers, San Francisco) but they haven’t gotten one yet. It’s a chase that really can never be achieved, and even Arians acknowledges that. And close won’t make Arians happy.

“That doesn’t happen until the season is over and we have a ring on our finger,” Arians said. “Then I’ll be happy as (expletive).”

— Fitz, by the way, would rather his stellar blocking not be such a thing anymore.

“If you look back, even when I was young, my guy was never in on a tackle,” he said. “If I’m going to block him, I’m going to block him. You guys (in the media) create the narrative. He’s a blocker. OK, that’s great. People start talking about it. But I’ve always blocked, even when I was playing ‘X.’ I’m a big guy, I’m relatively physical. It’s not something I really love to do, but I’m OK at it.”

— Arians said there will be more in the gameplan for Andre Ellington this week. Ellington did end up with 18 snaps last week (compared to 27 for Chris Johnson). But he may have more touches. Against the league’s worst run defense, it makes sense.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin on visiting the Dawg Pound in Cleveland: “It’s pretty ugly. It’s loud, people with masks on. It can be pretty terrifying.”

— With McCown iffy because of his shoulder problem and the chance Johnny Manziel could play, the Cardinals prepared for both this week – like they did Steelers week for either Mike Vick or Ben Roethlisberger. That didn’t end well, against Landry Jones, although Arians acknowledged the Cardinals hadn’t prepped for Landry Jones. There won’t be a surprise again, though.

“We don’t want to go out there and be surprised,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think we were a little bit surprised with Landry Jones in Pittsburgh and how well he knew the offense. We don’t want to have letups like that. This is a game we feel we need to win to really put us in position going forward.”


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