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Peterson: Vets get point across in players meeting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2016 – 2:09 pm

As the Cardinals look to break a two-game losing streak — they have not lost three straight since Bruce Arians became coach — the players called a meeting Wednesday.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson said the veterans who had been around a while — guys like himself and Larry Fitzgerald — just wanted to make sure the message was sent that this was no time to have anyone “tanking it in.”

“Not saying anyone is doing it (now), but we just wanted to make aware to guys we have seen this before,” Peterson said. “We don’t want guys to fall by the wayside, make offseason plans, things like that. We just wanted to call a players meeting, make sure we got that off our chest and make sure that guys who are new to this team understands that. We still have a shot. We still have a shot in this, we just have to take care of business and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Peterson said he thought the message was well-received although he acknowledged everyone will see Sunday if it had an impact.


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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2016 – 5:10 pm

For a few minutes, it was exactly how Bruce Arians wanted it to be all along.

Carson Palmer, with a clean pocket, threw perfect chunk passes off play-action. David Johnson picked up six yards running just falling forward. The Cardinals scored a touchdown on the first possession for the first time this season. Arians was thrilled.

“I take a lot of pride in that stat of scoring first,” Arians said.

The Cards couldn’t get a stop, though. They couldn’t get a stop all game when they really, really needed one. I take that back, they did to begin the second half – but then the offense had a three-and-out in their lone full possession of the third quarter.

That’s frustrating, Arians and everyone else asked about it will say. But that’s expected. There isn’t any one part of the game (unless you go with David Johnson himself as a part of the game) that has been excellent.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters, the one-time Falcon, shook his head at the lack of consistency. He was talking about the defense, and there is certainly reason to look at the defense that way. But the offense and special teams haven’t been able to find any either. That’s why they can shred a defense for an easy 75-yard drive to start, and have just 109 yards total in the second half.

That’s why the Cards are stunningly only 4-6-1.

“We’re 4-and-6, that’s our reality,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We’re too talented to be under .500.”

— Arians is beside himself about the receiving problems. Smokey Brown gets hurt again. Michael Floyd drew a pause and an “I don’t know” from the coach, after a game in which he could have made a huge fourth-down catch and he did not. Floyd’s season will go down as one of the greatest mysteries in recent Cardinals history.

— Arians said the Cardinals used more maximum protection on pass plays Sunday than any time since he has been coach. The group was not perfect, but I did think they held up – at least until the end when the Falcons figured a pass was coming every down. I fully expect that group – from left tackle over, Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel, John – to remain the starting five.

“I really would like to see it on film, just to critique the small stuff,” Humphries said. “But I felt the way stuff was shuffled around and the wat we had to pull together in a short time, it was a good outing. But it wasn’t good enough. Clearly.”

— Mathieu talked again about accountability in the locker room. I don’t know if he has things in particular he is thinking of or if he just feels like, when you are losing, people need to go under the microscope. It may be the latter, because he said in the same breath they have to stick together. That will be tested these last five games.

— Patrick Peterson hurt his knee. He said he got kicked by the cleat of Julio Jones on D.J. Swearinger’s interception. We’ll see what that means for him this week, although he said it was “painful.”

— Swearinger’s reputation earned him that interception he made. Jones beat Patrick Peterson on the in-route but Jones was staring straight at Swearinger as Jones made his way across the middle. That moment of lost concentration – and that knowledge Swearinger lights up receivers going across the middle – caused the bobble and Swearinger was gift-wrapped an INT.

— Unfortunately, Swearinger couldn’t hold on to the interception later, which would have stalled a Falcons’ TD drive. But the way it went Sunday, that might’ve been a band-aid. Not sure the Cards could’ve stopped the Falcons enough.

— Well, the Cards and Peterson didn’t let Jones beat them. So …

— The series of plays before halftime was a well-executed as anything the Cardinals have done this season. The loss buries the plays, but after the Swearinger interception, the Cards had just 25 seconds at their own 37. A 17-yard pass to J.J. Nelson that may or may not have been incomplete. Rushing to the line to run a play and make sure it wasn’t reviewed. Then Palmer hit Fitz, who in one motion slid to catch a 10-yard pass and called timeout, using only four seconds of the five left and allowing Chandler Catanzaro to boot the 54-yard field goal.

Yes, I’m looking for silver linings.

Cardinals Falcons Football


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Vikings aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2016 – 5:13 pm

Carson Palmer walked off the field Sunday, baseball cap on his head, his look muted. He was by himself, and if it wasn’t for a brief stop to sign a Cardinals helmet for a disabled fan in a wheelchair when he entered the tunnel, he would have been alone in his thoughts until the locker room.

The quarterback said the same things as always when he met with the media – the team needs to figure out what mistakes they made and then set out on correcting them – but he knows the opportunities are slipping away for this team this season. All the Cardinals do. As safety Tony Jefferson said – quietly – “It’s never over ’till it’s over,” and mathematically the Cards aren’t really that close to eliminated.

But the tea leaves make it harder to remain optimistic, especially after a loss against a team the Cardinals are directly battling for a wild card spot. The Seahawks were handling the Eagles Sunday, and that’s another blow in the NFC West race.

It’s not like the Vikings were great Sunday. Bruce Arians said once again, it was his team beating itself. That’s happened way too often this season.

— Arians was asked if the special teams were being coached well enough. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones was not named specifically.  “Extremely, extremely well,” Arians said.

— Special teams did have some good plays. Justin Bethel blocking an extra point. Brittan Golden getting a 49-yard kickoff return. But the kickoff return was a killer, and the failure of John Brown to catch the final punt hurt a lot too – although there was no guarantee the Cards would have moved it either.

— That was the first time a team had an interception return of at least 100 yards and a kickoff return of at least 100 yards since the Cowboys did it in 1962.

— According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings targeted receiver Stefon Diggs eight times when Patrick Peterson was covering him. The result? Five receptions for 35 yards.

— The offensive line actually did a nice job blocking for the run all day – David Johnson was fantastic in both the run and pass game – but whatever it may have been able to do in the pass and play-action game was undone by the final quarter when Palmer was swamped repeatedly. Taylor Boggs was in at right guard at the end and not Earl Watford; there was no Watford injury reported.

— Palmer said he thought there was an obvious hold on John Brown on the 100-yard interception. Brown also said he was held although he was more muted in his statement.

— There was confusion – and anger – over the two 15-yard penalties called on Patrick Peterson (hitting QB-turned-wide receiver Sam Bradford) and Tony Jefferson (hitting what looked like a live Diggs on the sideline apparently too hard) and I personally am not sure why they were flagged. But it only lead to a field goal, and the Cards unfortunately couldn’t even generate enough to get into field goal range anyway. (UPDATE: This ESPN story contains a good analysis of the Peterson hit and the rule book.)

— Arians said the receivers didn’t run great routes. Michael Floyd can’t slow up on a deep ball, even if he isn’t sure if the ball will come his way. I’ll have to re-watch the end too, but when Palmer couldn’t find anyone open late, the wideouts seemed to have a tough time moving around to help him.

— It’s becoming weekly now – Chandler Jones with an important play. His strip-sack in the fourth quarter made it a game.

— Finally, it wasn’t a happy homecoming for Larry Fitzgerald. He started hot, with four catches for 53 yards in the first half, including a dazzling one-handed catch to get a first down inside the Minnesota 10 on the Cardinals’ first scoring drive. But he only had two catches for 10 yards after halftime. And the Cards suffered a painful loss.

“We had a bunch of yards and time of possession but at the end of the day it comes down to wins,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty or ugly. You are trying to come out with a win any way you can.”

Carson Palmer, Everson Griffen


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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2016 – 4:20 pm

The very first game Larry Fitzgerald played in the NFL was in Minnesota. That’s where the Cardinals opened the preseason in 2004. (He was targeted twice, making one catch for five yards.)

The first game Fitzgerald played that counted in Minnesota was in 2006, and that’s the game he set his regular-season best in yards, with 172 on 11 catches. (He had 176 yards against the Packers in the playoffs in 2015.)

Fitz insists this is just a business trip, and truth be told, he spends enough summer time in Minnesota where I could see how he would be able to separate. Shameless plug: Here’s the story I did after going to Minnesota in 2012 and talking to him at his house on the lake.

(By the way, one part of the interview burned into my brain from that Minny visit: Did you know Fitz wants to go into space?)

Besides, Fitzgerald has big enough reasons to want to get this one aside from his 0-4 record against the Vikings in Minnesota (The Fitz-era Cardinals are 2-1 against the Vikings in Arizona.) It’s not the fact the franchise hasn’t won there since a 1977 game, with an eight-game losing streak. It’s the fact the Cardinals need the win basically to stay in the playoff race. Mathematically they won’t be eliminated, but with a game coming in Atlanta and the Vikings struggling like they are, this one is crucial. No way to argue otherwise.

— It’s easy to wonder about the Cardinals’ offensive line, and John Wetzel and D.J. Humphries will be tested (yes, that is an understatement) against this front in this building. The Cards have to run the ball better than they did last week, you’d think.

But the Vikings are facing the same issues, if not moreso. With no Adrian Peterson and line injuries, the Vikings have one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. QB Sam Bradford has been solid when he has time – he’s only thrown two picks – but he can be sacked. For the noticeable hiccups the Cardinals have had on defense, and some blown coverages, the Cardinals have allowed a league-low 4.7 yards per play this season and their pass defense has nine interceptions and has allowed only six passing touchdowns.

— Along those lines, the Patrick Peterson-covering-Stefon Diggs matchup is incredibly intriguing. Diggs has made 26 catches total the last two games. That’s a huge number. By comparison, Pro Football Focus has Peterson allowing just 20 receptions all season.

— The Vikings have 38-year-old cornerback Terence Newman, who has played a significant role. Peterson shook his head at such longevity. Peterson, at age 26 in his sixth year, said he wants to make double-digits for a career before he thinks beyond that.

“My mindset is I want to go as long as my body will let me go,” Peterson said.

— Michael Floyd is also going home this weekend. He’s from St. Paul. He was asked if he looked forward to seeing some snow, since it’s supposed to snow tonight. “I’m glad they have a roof,” he said with a smile, referencing the new stadium.

— We’ll see on Tyrann Mathieu playing. It felt like a red flag when Bruce Arians said he was sore on Friday. It’s hard to tell if the safety will be playing Sunday. It could be a true game-day decision.

— You feel better about Deone Bucannon playing, despite only one day of limited work. Arians said he was “fine.” He’d be an option on tight end Kyle Rudolph. The good thing for the Cardinals is that this is the first time in a while they aren’t dealing with a mobile QB (Wilson, albeit gimpy; Newton; Kaepernick).

— Fitz, by the way, had ditched the knee brace for Friday’s practice after wearing one Thursday (and in the second half of the 49ers game.)

— Will be cool to see the new building. Everything I have heard (and seen on TV) makes U.S. Bank Stadium the jewel it was supposed to be. We’ll see if the Cardinals can find a way to break their losing streak now that they’re in a new place.

befreminny


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Jaron Brown extension helps 2017 WR picture

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2016 – 12:35 pm

Wide receiver Jaron Brown, out for the season with an ACL tear, was supposed to be a free agent in the spring. Instead, the Cardinals have signed him to a one-year contract extension that will help with the clarity of the wide receiver corps for 2017.

We’ve written multiple times about the many free agents the Cardinals will have after this season. The Cardinals have pecked away at the list — Tyrann Mathieu and Larry Fitzgerald signed extensions during training camp; GM Steve Keim continues to say dialogue is ongoing with linebacker Chandler Jones — but there are still a lot of players with which to deal.

Brown had been one of them. Wide receiver is an interesting position for next season. Michael Floyd is scheduled to be a free agent, and with his ups and downs and because of the money he could command, his return is anything but certain. Fitzgerald did sign an extension, but he hasn’t come out and say he will definitely play next season (and not retire) — although his play this season is anything but a player who is fading. Smokey Brown and J.J. Nelson are under contract next season, but neither are the big body that Fitz or Floyd or Jaron Brown are.

Jaron Brown was having a solid season this year before his knee injury. He had 11 catches for 187 yards in just seven games, on his way to setting career highs in both categories. Plus he’s proven his worth on special teams. Brown finds himself in a prove-it situation given his knee injury, but assuming he can come back healthy, it makes sense to bring Brown back.

jaronextension


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“I’d be shocked” if Fitzgerald misses game

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2016 – 12:50 pm

It’s probably safe to say Larry Fitzgerald isn’t 100 percent healthy. But coach Bruce Arians said while the veteran wide receiver is getting an MRI today — he didn’t specify for what — the move was precautionary and the hope is that Fitzgerald practices later this week.

“I’d be shocked if he misses a game at home,” Arians said of Fitz.

Home, in this case, is not University of Phoenix Stadium but Fitzgerald’s home state of Minnesota, where the Cardinals visit Sunday in a crucial game for NFC playoff hopes with both teams. The Vikings are reeling, losing four straight after opening the season 5-0. You know where the Cards are. But Fitzgerald (whose Cardinal teams are 0-4 in the regular season in their trips to Minneapolis) loves the chance to play in front of those hometown fans. Plus he ran off the field OK after yesterday’s win. That’s not everything, but it wasn’t like he was limping around in the locker room.

Arians said Fitzgerald was “sore,” but like linebacker Alex Okafor, he should practice either Wednesday or Thursday. Arians said there were no significant injuries coming out of Sunday’s win. He also said safety Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder) is day-to-day and could practice this week. Mathieu also could finally discard the knee brace he’s been wearing, although he will need to wear a shoulder harness when he plays.

“We should have everybody back for this one,” Arians said.

The Cardinals are also eligible to bring back either running back Chris Johnson or safety Tyvon Branch to practice this week. Both could play Dec. 4 against the Redskins. Only one can be brought back from IR — Arians said special teamer/linebacker Alani Fua is also a possibility — and a decision on who to get back has not yet been made. Once one player from IR practices, that burns up a team’s choice, even if he doesn’t make it into a game.

fitzshock


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Keim: No such thing as disappointing win

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2016 – 8:10 am

Steve Keim was blunt.

“I don’t think there are any disappointing wins,” the Cardinals GM said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “The one thing I’ve learned in this position is to respect and appreciate every win.”

The Cardinals are back to .500 after beating the 49ers. They have huge games coming up, on the road, with playoff contenders Minnesota and Atlanta. The good news is that Keim said the Cards came out of the game “relatively healthy” — Keim was not asked about the status of Larry Fitzgerald — and in keeping with the theme of respecting every victory, he found the positives from his team’s first game of the second half of the season.

— Keim said he was encouraged by the play of two players who struggled in the first half of the season: wide receiver Michael Floyd and kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Both continued to work every day despite their issues, Keim said. Especially for Floyd, “to see a smile on his face in the locker room was exciting for all of us,” Keim said.

— The offensive line did OK. Keim said new left tackle John Wetzel “played good” although Keim acknowledged the 49ers don’t have much of an edge rush (Wetzel will most certainly face a harder test against the Vikings.) The 49ers came in with a plan to jam up the run, so even going against the NFL’s worst run defense, “do you want to run into a wall?” Keim asked rhetorically. Instead, the Cardinals threw the ball. It led to turnovers, all on passing plays — two interceptions, a fumble by Palmer trying to buy time to throw a pass, a fumble by J.J. Nelson after a catch. The turnovers are what made the game close, Keim said.

— He praised Fitzgerald. “Fitz continues to be a warrior, making plays in critical situations,” Keim said. Again, no comment (or question) about Fitz’s health.

— The big picture says the Cardinals “have opportunities ahead of us.” And the Cards did finish in a close game, something they didn’t do against New England or Seattle (or Los Angeles, for that matter.”

— Keim said there was a chance safety Tyrann Mathieu will be able to return either against the Vikings or the following week against the Falcons.

— Keim still doesn’t give much vibe one way or the other about the possibility of a Chandler Jones contract extension. “Without getting into the dialogue of negotiations, when you make a trade you’re not sure how its going to go,” Keim said. “But he’s been a great teammate, fantastic in locker room, he works hard on and off on field. He’s been great fit for us, and hopefully we can iron out something long term.”


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Niners too-close-for-comfort aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2016 – 8:24 pm

No one ever talks about “must-win” before a game, not players or coaches. But after Sunday’s nail-biting-when-you-hoped-there-be-no-nails-bitten win for the Cardinals, Bruce Arians acknowledged that the victory over the 49ers was not just vital, but that if the Cards couldn’t win that game at home, “it’s over.”

Safety Tony Jefferson paused a bit when that info was relayed to him. “I don’t know how that works,” Jefferson said. “I barely just found out who’s in the AFC and all that.” Jefferson chuckled. “I just go out there and play and try and get a ‘W.'”

The Cardinals did that. There was hope there might be some style points this week if for no other reason to build confidence. Instead, the Cardinals will have to take what they can — their field-goal unit came up with a kick it had to have. The passing game got some chunks. Michael Floyd emerged with a 100-yard game. Larry Fitzgerald was pretty awesome.

— It did not help that the Seahawks hung on in New England.

— Something to watch is Fitzgerald’s health. He had a big knee brace he was playing with by the end of the game. He landed awkwardly after one tackle by 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward. “He ended up telling me that he ended up tearing something,” Ward said of Fitz. Which is probably not good — although Fitz played the whole game.

Afterward, Fitzgerald said he’s “been better” but said he’d be ready for this week. It would stun me if he wasn’t available — the last game Fitzgerald would ever want to miss is one in his home state of Minnesota. If he’s injured he’s injured, but I’d guess Fitz makes it work.

— I’ve covered Fitzgerald his whole career and he’s always been a great player. But one thing that’s really come into focus the last couple of seasons is how tough he is. He’s been tough blocking (doing something he still will say he doesn’t like to do) and he’s been tough playing through injuries — even if he won’t come out and call them injuries. If he did tear something, anything and still had a 12-catch game, most of them in traffic, it just underscores the thought.

— Chandler Jones two more sacks. Again, he’s been good.

— That’s the Floyd the Cardinals want and need. Great catches battling for the ball. The one he made on the final field-goal drive — after Carson Palmer bought some time and threw on the run, a nice play by him as well — was stellar and vintage Floyd. “Mentally I had to tell myself this is like playing in the sixth grade — going out and making plays,” Floyd said. Postgame was the first time Floyd really talked about making drops. The Cards hope it’s behind him.

— That last Palmer interception was straight out of first-half-of-2013 Palmer. He took way too long on the play he was stripped and lost the fumble too. Those are plays the Cardinals can’t afford to have Palmer make.

— Niners coach Chip Kelly said he didn’t really think about going for two with 1:55 left, instead kicking the extra point for the tie. His thoughts — which I agree with — is that a field goal still beats you and there was time for the Cards to get that field goal. “I didn’t want to lose it for them because I wanted to be a gunslinger and end up 20-19,” Kelly said.

— That 16-yard scramble Palmer had in the first half? Longest run of his career, which started in 2003.

— I thought David Johnson was going to have a huge game. And it’s funny, he still had 100 yards rushing + receiving and scored two touchdowns. Most guys would take that as a huge game. But we all know, against the league’s worst run defense, more was expected. It was a combination of things, I think. The blocking wasn’t great, no. Johnson could’ve avoided a loss a couple of times. But also, the Niners have heard for a minute now about giving up 100-yard rushers seven straight games. At some point, you gotta think there’s a little “no more” of a vibe.

That said, the Cardinals still have too many hiccups in getting yards — Sunday, it was in the air — but not enough touchdowns.

— A win is a win. It wasn’t the one everyone wanted, but I know this — it’s not a loss. I agree with Arians, it would’ve been over. But it isn’t.

fitzflipforbloguse


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Needing Smoke and Floyd

Posted by Darren Urban on November 10, 2016 – 10:43 am

When Carson Palmer strongly promoted how he expected big things from wide receiver Michael Floyd over the second half of the season, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The quarterback is there to pump up/prop up his team. That’s what leaders do (which is partly where his “I know people don’t believe it and probably don’t want to hear it, but I like where we are. We’re the underdog” comment came from Wednesday) and it was also no surprise to hear Palmer talk about how wide receiver John “Smokey” Brown has responded excellently to his protocol for the sickle cell trait and looks like a different player and person.

So yes, you’d expect to hear such things from Palmer about two key wide receivers. It’s also important to note — at least from my perspective — the Cardinals need at least one of those two guys, if not both, to play like they did in 2015 for the Cards to make the playoff push they are hoping to make.

This is a different season. But you can’t take away a 1,000-yard receiver (which Brown was) or a receiver who had five 100-yard games among the last eight he played (which Floyd did) the next year without expecting at least similar production from at least one of them. Larry Fitzgerald is playing at the same level he did last season. J.J. Nelson has taken a step forward now that he’s healthy. There’s no question Palmer hasn’t been exactly himself at times, but he’s been good of late. The pass protection has had some fits and starts, and could be searching a bit now that left tackle Jared Veldheer is done.

We’ll see if Floyd can indeed “explode” and if Smoke is a different player now. If either translates into production, that’d be a big step for the Cardinals and their second-half rally.

a63-09318


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Of Cardinals, Cubs and championships

Posted by Darren Urban on November 3, 2016 – 8:14 am

First of all, it was cool to see (given that I really didn’t have a rooting interest) that big Cardinals fan Joe Maddon, who happens to be the manager of the Chicago Cubs, led his team to the World Series title. Maddon has been a fan of the franchise since 1963, and stayed with them even from their move to Arizona in 1988. He was rooting for them in their Super Bowl run in 2008, and when the Cardinals were in Chicago last season, he popped over to the Cardinals’ team hotel to talk to Bruce Arians.

Secondly, yes, I saw the graphic.

It was hard to miss, as Fox put it up for the world to see after the Cubs won. (If I would’ve missed it, I had plenty of Twitter followers who wanted to send me a copy.) The fact had already been floating around since the Cubs won Game 6 — if the Cubs won the whole thing, the Cardinals would be the pro sports franchise with the longest title drought. The Cards last won in 1947. The Indians, oh so close Wednesday night, were next at 1948.

The feeling is a little different because the franchise has moved twice since then, although I have talked to plenty of fans who ache even if they became fans in ’88 after the move West. It’s why for many, any part after Larry Fitzgerald’s amazing 64-yard catch-and-run in Super Bowl XLIII is just a blurry memory. It’s why Fitzgerald was so upset in the locker room following last year’s NFC Championship loss. It’s hard to even get a chance to win the whole thing.

But it’s also the great thing about sports, something the Cubs have done for a long time. Each season is a chance renewed. And as Arians said the other night even about this season — which obviously hasn’t gone the way anyone expected — “This is just another good challenge.” This year’s chase isn’t over yet.

droughtblog


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