Blogs

Waiting to see the offensive philosophy

Posted by Darren Urban on February 21, 2018 – 9:50 am

Within a month or two of Bruce Arians taking over as coach in 2013, he made known some very specific thoughts he had on the offense: He was going to take six shots or so downfield every game, he didn’t like having a fullback, tight end was more of a blocker in his offense. As the Cardinals transition into the Steve Wilks era, those are the questions that will be interesting to see play out.

To begin with, Wilks, with his defensive background, could very well lean on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s thoughts on whatever subject may come up. McCoy was actually asked specifically about a fullback during his press conference; he said if it fit what they were going to do with the offense, he’d have one. Ultimately, it feels like there are a lot of different ways this can go.

The reason, of course, is that the Cardinals need to find a quarterback, and that QB will help dictate the direction the Cardinals will be headed. The coaches also need to determine if, in the case of using a fullback at times, if that fits with what David Johnson can do well. Will a tight end be more involved in the passing game (or does the role Larry Fitzgerald has been playing serve as that tight end-esque spot — assuming Fitz is still used in the same way as the last few years?) These answers also could impact what kind of offensive linemen the Cardinals want to have in place.

One of the selling points the Cardinals used when looking for a new coaching staff was the ability to help figure out the next quarterback. When it comes to the offense, the QB is only the first domino.


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Larry Fitzgerald’s return, and what it means

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2018 – 12:12 pm

Fitz’s future remains on the field.

We know that now, after the wide receiver let his new head coach know Wednesday night and then Steve Wilks told the world Thursday morning. The speculation had been going on for weeks, and even in the times Fitz talked about it, he sounded like someone who wasn’t ready to retire but there was always that little thought that he still might. That’s what happens when you don’t say you are playing for sure.

But that’s a question to park until next November/December (and yes, it’s going to come up again then, unless, of course, Fitz makes some definitive statement before that time.) What this news means now has a few levels to it:

— The Cardinals keep their best wide receiver. The wide receiver corps has a ton of questions around it. John Brown, Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden are scheduled to become free agents in a month. J.J. Nelson had times when he shined last season, but times when the Cards wanted more consistency. Chad Williams, 2017’s third-round pick, remains a question mark. Plus there will be a new offense. The Cards need to address the position this offseason. That doesn’t change even with Fitz’s return, but his presence makes any transition that much easier.

— He made the decision before knowing who the quarterback will be, and that’s a sign of belief in the franchise, if nothing else. It’s not like the Cardinals can make any QB moves at this point. Fitz has caught passes from 17 quarterbacks in his 14 years after Blaine Gabbert joined the group last season, so he knows what it’s like to be flexible. “I’ve had some years in Arizona where things weren’t always easy, but they’ve always done a good job of addressing that position, and they’re trying to,” he said last month. Faith reigns.

— He entrusted the news to Wilks, which feels like a sign of respect. Look, Fitz doesn’t love this storyline, he doesn’t like talking about his status one way or the other (his retirement news, whenever it comes, is going to be absent a live Fitz as well, I’m guessing, since he’s all but promised as much). I’m still not sure he’s met Wilks face-to-face, even. But Fitz flew off to New Zealand and told his new coach to tell everyone, and that bodes well for the relationship.


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Fitz timeline: Decision likely “in a week or two”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2018 – 1:32 pm

Larry Fitzgerald has been in front of the media for a number of days in the past week, and as it worked out last year, the resolution of what Fitz plans to do is slowly coming to a completion about a month after the season. Wednesday, Fitz said he wasn’t thinking about the quarterback situation. Friday, he said the QB situation matters, although he continued to step around whether he would return in 2018 or retire.

Sunday, before the Super Bowl, the wide receiver went on NFL Network, and finally gave a definitive timeline for the first time of when the decision will come. It will be before the Cardinals figure out who their 2018 quarterback will be, although Fitzgerald still seemed hesitant to talk much about it.

“It’s all hypothetical,” Fitzgerald said. “I haven’t made any definitive decisions. I’ll be ready in about a week or two.”

He continued to say he is “excited” about Steve Wilks and the new coaching staff, adding that he looked forward to getting to know Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy more.


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Larry Fitzgerald says he isn’t thinking about QB

Posted by Darren Urban on February 1, 2018 – 10:35 am

Larry Fitzgerald’s long round at Wednesday’s Waste Management Phoenix Open pro-am created a time crunch at the end of the day because Fitz had a flight to catch to his home state of Minnesota and the current Super Bowl festivities in which he is now taking part. That meant he had to forego interview requests as he hustled off the course.

There would have been questions about whether he will play this season, questions that Fitz at this point would likely have left unanswered. There was one detail I did get to briefly ask about before he climbed in his car — Do you have to know who the quarterback will be in order to make your decision?

“I haven’t thought about any of that stuff, seriously,” Fitzgerald said.

UPDATE: Fitz was thinking about it a couple of days later at the Super Bowl.

Earlier this week, new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said that in his short conversation Fitzgerald was “excited” about the new staff. Both friend Kurt Warner and Fitzgerald’s father have been quoted of late saying they don’t know what Fitzgerald will do but believe he will play. Teammate Patrick Peterson, also golfing Wednesday, was of similar mindset.

“We don’t talk football once the season is over, but my gut feeling is he’ll be back,” Peterson said. “He’s playing too well to hang it up.”


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McCoy knows it’s about the players

Posted by Darren Urban on January 29, 2018 – 4:52 pm

Mike McCoy was blunt, when asked if his offensive playcalling was about scheme or matchups.

“Players,” he said, and that’s always the ultimate answer.

As an incoming coordinator, McCoy was probably never going to have a lot of specifics. He was just hired, and even if there was a quarterback in place, a change in head coach usually means a change in the roster anyway. Besides, he still has to evaluate the guys who are on the roster in the first place. Then you add in all the uncertainty on that side of the ball, because of impending free agency with so many (and the question of Larry Fitzgerald’s future, although more on that in a moment) and McCoy didn’t have the specifics I’m sure many wanted to hear. It isn’t feasible yet.

But it always comes down to players.

That can get lost, and yes, coaching matters. McCoy’s best time as an OC came when Peyton Manning was in his Denver heyday in 2012, but that shouldn’t be a negative. It’s a fact, just like Bruce Arians was at his best offensively when Carson Palmer had his best season in 2015 or that Ken Whisenhunt had his best offense when Kurt Warner stepped forward in 2008-09.

It’s impossible to know what the Cardinals’ offensive personnel might be. McCoy talked about wanting to win, regardless of how pretty it might look. He did that in 2011 with a Broncos offense using Tim Tebow(!) to win a playoff game and leading the NFL in rushing. He threw plenty with Manning and Philip Rivers. The Cardinals have one of the best dual-threat running backs in the league in David Johnson and I’m guessing he’ll do a lot of both — because why wouldn’t he? McCoy is smart enough to know what he has.

Speaking of which, McCoy sure sounded like a guy who expects Fitzgerald to play, which continues to be the guesstimate put out by those closest to Fitz, like his dad or Warner. “We might shift some things we wanted to be our core, then we’ll go the other way,” McCoy said. ” ‘We’re better at this.’ ‘David likes these runs.’ ‘The quarterbacks like these plays.’ ‘Larry, this is what he loves. This is what he’s good at it.’ We’ve got to learn a lot about the players too.” That sounds like a guy thinking Fitz will be around.

 


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Wilks, Bidwill wait on Fitz like everyone else

Posted by Darren Urban on January 23, 2018 – 2:44 pm

New coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday he had a conversation with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but the wide receiver has not indicated to him one way or the other if Fitzgerald was planning on playing in 2018. Wilks made it clear it was important to him — and the Cardinals — that Fitz return.

“We would definitely love to have him back,” Wilks said. “He’s a major part of our success, past, present and future. First ballot Hall of Famer, so we’d definitely want him back.”

Team president Michael Bidwill, who has said before he had no interest in speculating — or even speculating on the speculation — was asked what his gut told him about what Fitzgerald might do.

“My gut says everyone needs to relax, let Fitz go through his process, and give him a few weeks to make his decision,” Bidwill said. “He’ll let us know.”


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David Johnson talks coach, contract, Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2018 – 4:44 pm

David Johnson’s wrist is healed, with his strength and full range of motion having returned, and he’s anxious to play again given that he doesn’t even feel like he played football in 2017. And like everyone else, the running back is paying attention to the Cardinals’ current search for a head coach.

“I’m definitely staying aware but I don’t know what (GM) Steve Keim and (president) Mike Bidwill are thinking,” Johnson said on the PFT PM podcast. “I know they will get a coach that fits the team and is going to be ready to elevate this team and get us to that Super Bowl.”

Johnson touched on a few subjects, including the possibility of a new contract. The 2015 third-round pick has a year left on his rookie deal and now is finally eligible for an extension. The collective bargaining agreement prevents extensions for players on rookie deals until after their third season.

“I hope so,” Johnson said about talks for a new deal. “But I’m really focusing more on getting this injury (healed) and making sure I’m ready to play in 2018, that I am healthy as possible. Especially with so much going on in the offseason with the coaches and the quarterback and stuff, I can’t really focus too much on the contract talk.”

— On the subject of Larry Fitzgerald’s potential return, Johnson was blunt. “Larry is going to come back,” Johnson said. “He’s still playing at a high level.”

Johnson rattled off Fitz’s stats, including another year of more than 100 catches and more than 1,000 yards. “He’s gotta come back,” Johnson added. “He’s got to help us get us to that Super Bowl we’re trying to get.” Along those lines, Johnson had been hoping quarterback Carson Palmer wouldn’t retire and tried to “recruit him to come back.”

— Johnson said he was “hit hard” by the retirement of Bruce Arians, and that he believes he and Adrian Peterson “can really elevate each other’s game” if they play together this season.

— The running back said he has no idea who the quarterback will be, but that he has confidence in both Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton if one of them is the starting signal-caller.

— His injury and season on the sideline left him more grateful to play the game. “Football can end in the blink of an eye,” Johnson said. “So I feel more grateful to where I’ll do as much as I can to stay on that field as long as I can.”


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Campbell thanks Fitz, Dockett for age defiance

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2018 – 1:57 pm

It’s been a magical year for former Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who went for the big money in Jacksonville as a free agent all the while insisting the Jaguars could win this year — and he was right. It’s been in no small part because of Campbell, who had a career-high 14.5 sacks and was named Wednesday as the Pro Football Writers of America’s choice as NFL defensive player of the year.

Obviously, Campbell’s career was built in Arizona, regardless of what happens in Jacksonville. That subject came up during Campbell’s press conference this week prior to the AFC championship game, as Campbell was asked about his huge year as a 31-year-old. Campbell said he simply has worked hard to make sure he has stayed in shape and preserved his body — something he had to learn in his early years as a Cardinal.

“When I was younger I wasn’t as active in taking care of my body,” Campbell said. “But I did have some good leadership from guys that taught me how to take care of my body, so it becomes just a habit. That makes a big difference. I’ve got to take my hat off to Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett. They were two guys that definitely pushed me to take care of my body at a young age and I think that’s really paying off now.”


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As expected, Larry Fitzgerald waits for coach news

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2018 – 2:26 pm

Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t yet made a decision about playing this season or not. It was easy to figure that he couldn’t make a choice without knowing who the coach would be, and Fitz confirmed that Friday during an NBC Golf interview.

“I don’t have a head coach right now so there is a lot going on,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m going to take some time, figure it out. Our owner and president, Michael Bidwill, and General Manager Steve Keim are out right now interviewing head coaches. I’m interested to see what is going to happen and I’ll make a decision shortly after (they get a coach), I would imagine.”

It seems that this time of year, Fitz often talks about his future on the golf course. It makes sense, since a) his future has been up in the air in January and b) Fitz’s time in public in January is usually on the golf course. (And Fitz will be out doing things at the Phoenix Open in a couple of weeks too.) Again, there is a holding pattern that was going to be expected while the Cards sort out the coaching situation. Then Fitz can get an idea not only of personality but also how how he might be used in a new system.

UPDATE: Later in the day, Fitz had an interview with the NFL Network. His retirement has nothing to do with Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer, he stressed, and “I’ll go as long as I feel I can play at a high level.”


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The workload of the Honey Badger

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2018 – 1:10 pm

Even Tyrann Mathieu had hoped he would’ve played a little better this season, but he did improve as the season went on and was healthy. And not only was the Honey Badger healthy, he played a lot. It’s remarkable that the safety, who didn’t play a full season until this year, ended up leading the entire NFL in snaps played.

Mathieu finished with 1,263 snaps on the field — 1,058 on defense and another 207 on special teams. That topped Tennessee cornerback Adoree Jackson’s 1,258 (1,022 on defense, 224 on special teams, and 12 on offense.) There were a handful of players who played more on defense (including former teammates and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) but that was in part because the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense was able to get off the field more often. It wasn’t like Mathieu rested much. He sat out only six defensive snaps all season.

Five Cardinals played at least 1,000 snaps this season — Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.Q. Shipley (who played 100 percent of the Cards’ 1,124 offensive snaps) and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the other four don’t grab the attention as much as Mathieu, who truly maximized his first season of total health.


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