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Fitzgerald out, streak ends at 110

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2014 – 12:28 pm

It’s not a surprise since he didn’t practice all week, but wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is inactive today against the Seahawks, snapping his consecutive games played streak at 110. It is the first game Fitzgerald has missed since Dec. 2, 2007. Fitzgerald was still limping late in the week and with the depth the Cardinals have at receiver — and the need for him later in the season to be healthy — helped make the decision, I’d think, but the most important reason is that Fitz just wasn’t going to be able to help much if at all in his current state.

The full inactive list:

– WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee)

– DT Ed Stinson (toe)

– RB Kerwynn Williams

– LB Desmond Bishop

– LB Glenn Carson

– DT Alameda Ta’amu

– TE Matthew Mulligan


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Watching Wilson and Friday before the Seahawks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BeforeSeahawksBlogUSE


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Fitzgerald to be game-day decision

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2014 – 1:32 pm

It was probably inevitable, but Bruce Arians made it official Friday: WR Larry Fitzgerald, who didn’t practice for a third straight day, will be a game-day decision for the Cardinals in Seattle. There is still 48 hours to get Fitz’s knee right (or at least right enough) and the Cards will take it to the last moment to see what they can do with Fitz. On a purely statistical level, Fitz’s 110-consecutive game streak is on the line. The Cards do not fear Fitz not playing; they are confident in what Jaron Brown can do (as well as Ted Ginn and maybe more Smokey Brown) in Fitzgerald’s absence. Maybe it will be smarter to keep Fitz out. Arians said missing practice is not a big deal for a vet like Fitzgerald, so the door is open there.

If I had to guess right now, I’d think Fitzgerald wouldn’t play, but with Fitz, I’ve been burned there before. He’s going to want to get out there even if he can’t do everything. Maybe the Cards will want him out there just so the Seahawks have to think about him. Maybe the next 36 hours does wonders and he’s better than anyone can anticipate. We’ll see.

Arians did rule defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) out. So there’s that.

FitzPrayUSE

 


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Fitzgerald MCL sprain, but still could play

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2014 – 1:27 pm

Bruce Arians is optimistic that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain Sunday on his left knee, will still be able to play Sunday. Fitzgerald hurt the knee near the end of the first half, but he came back in the second half to play and made the game-clinching first-down catch. He still played 56 of a possible 62 offensive snaps. Fitz is the type of guy who doesn’t miss — he’s played through knee injuries before. At the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season, Fitz was dealing with a sprain in his right knee. He hasn’t missed a game since Dec. 2, 2007. That’s 110 straight regular-season games.

The news wasn’t nearly as optimistic for tight end Troy Niklas. He had the same ankle that kept him out a few games earlier this season get rolled up again, and Arians said he’s doubtful for this week and that the team will monitor the injury. There is a possibility he could end up being done for the season. Darren Fells becomes the third tight end behind John Carlson and Rob Housler for now.

FitzMCLuse


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Keim: It’s about being proactive and aggressive

Posted by Darren Urban on November 17, 2014 – 8:09 am

General Manager Steve Keim didn’t have a whole lot of newsy things to say during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, but that’s probably a good thing. He did talk a little bit about giving the contract extension to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles — who just happened to have his unit play excellent in the first game since signing.

Keim said Bowles had obviously earned it. But bigger picture, Keim said the mindset he and the new football staff had when being hired was that with every decision “we wanted to be proactive and we wanted to be aggressive, to change the culture.” That means locking up quality assistants. Keim reiterated that it won’t (and can’t) stop Bowles from taking a head coaching job after the season. But, Keim added, in talking with Bowles on the subject, “I know it will take a special opportunity for him to leave us.”

Other quick hits from Keim:

– Asked to pick one player who stood out against the Lions, Keim didn’t hesitate in naming cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson’s play has no doubt jumped over the past three games. Now we get Richard Sherman week!

– Keim raved about the physical nature of safety Deone Bucannon’s play. I know there was one early running play, when the Cards were in nickel and Bucannon just shot the gap to make a tackle for loss. An excellent effort.

– With two more sacks, linebacker Alex Okafor has “brought a pass rush we’re desperately seeking,” Keim said. Keim added Okafor has “probably missed four or five” more sacks the last few games on technique errors that he should clean up.

– The pass protection was excellent, Keim said, and he praised the interior of the offensive line for their play against a stellar defensive front. That was a big deal after the microscope was on the interior for the last week.

– Keim noted Larry Fitzgerald was able to come back and play after his knee was “dinged up” and said overall injury-wise, “on the surface it seemed like we came out OK.”


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Getting defensive with Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2014 – 8:30 pm

It could have been any other game, any other result. Todd Bowles isn’t getting too high, or too low. And the defensive coordinator isn’t going to overreach with his praise either. His unit simply shut down the Lions Sunday, but Bowles will be Bowles.

“I thought they played hard,” Bowles said. “We did good in the process of understanding about not giving up the big play. We missed quite a few tackles, but we played hard and we played together. Biggest thing we did was finish the ballgame. The last two weeks we kind of took the foot off the pedal.”

Forget for a moment the Cardinals closed with a nasty fourth quarter last week (two touchdowns against the Rams), or that the TD allowed late in Dallas was completely meaningless. That’s why Bowles will keep getting the best from his unit. All his players joked this week after Bowles signed his extension that it wasn’t a big deal because they all feel his days are numbered anyway, and it does seem likely he’ll have a shot at a head coaching job if he wants it.

But in the first game A.C. (after Carson), the Cardinals won they way they have won all season. They did enough on offense, and the defense was stout. And lookee here: They have a three-game lead in the NFC West with six to play.

– Drew Stanton, for the first two-and-most-of-a-third possessions, made the Cards’ offense look excellent. The Cards were moving toward a third TD in a row until Stanton threw his first interception (Stanton said he never saw the linebacker.) How about the offensive line making sure Stanton wasn’t sacked, especially against that defense? I do think this offense will be OK with Stanton. I want to see how they run next week in Seattle – the Chiefs made the Seahawks’ run D look very ordinary Sunday.

– It was the play of the game but it wasn’t. Drew Butler’s punt was about to be downed at the Detroit 1-yard line, but Justin Bethel tossed the ball back as he was falling into the end zone. Mike Leach and Rob Housler couldn’t grab it, but the Lions’ Jeremy Ross did. It’s one of those quirky NFL rules – once a punting team touches the ball, if it is not downed, the receiving team can pick it up and return it with no fear of turning it over. Once it is touched, even if it is subsequently fumbled, the receiving team keeps it. So Ross had nothing to lose and he took it back to the Arizona 46.

Detroit was only down eight at the time. Smartly, Bruce Arians challenged, saying Bethel had possession before he tossed it back and it should’ve been whistled dead. Lo and behold, the play was overturned. A huge moment.

“I was like, ‘No, I was in the end zone! This is a touchback!’ ” Bethel said. “Then I said, ‘Darn, my good feet.’ … It turned in our favor. We got the call.”

– Larry Fitzgerald will get an MRI after hurting his left knee but he returned to the game to make the game-clinching first-down catch and he was walking around in the locker room pretty well after the game.

– Andre Ellington also got up slowly a couple of times after carries, but he said he was fine. “It’s one of those things, guys fall on me,” Ellington said. “They try and find ways to slow me down. It was one of those late falldowns on the pile.”

– Welcome back, Michael Floyd.

– Four more sacks for the Cardinals after six last week. Alex Okafor had two and looks more and more like a guy who can help off the edge long-term. I think he’s played well and it will be interesting to see what the Cards do with the lineup when Matt Shaughnessy – who can return to practice this week – can play again in three weeks.

– You can live with interceptions from Stanton but watching him make the tackles on both is kind of scary.

– That last Drew Butler end-over-end punt that pinned the Lions on their own 11? He almost dropped the snap. Yeah, that would’ve been a mess. “I looked up and it slipped out of my hands,” Butler said. “I just let it out. In those situations, you just want to put them inside the 20.”

– Big one in Seattle next week. The Cardinals win, they would all but eliminate the Seahawks. Never thought I’d be saying that in November.

FooteForBLOG


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Friday before the Lions, Stanton leads the way

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2014 – 4:25 pm

Fitting, perhaps, that the first game of the defining portion of Drew Stanton’s career will be against the team he grew up watching and then playing for. Stanton moved to Michigan while in high school and later played at Michigan State, and then the Detroit Lions drafted him.

It never quite worked out with the Lions, and then Matthew Stafford showed up. He went to the Jets – briefly – until Tim Tebow showed up. He went to the Colts, and at least Andrew Luck was already on his way, and at least he met Bruce Arians. But then he came to the Cardinals, and while Arians warned him the Cards were likely going to bring in another veteran quarterback, none of the names Arians told Stanton at the time were Carson Palmer. So Palmer arrived, and Arians admitted Stanton was “pissed.”

Stanton is a pro, though. He’s been the model of a great backup, right down to his fill-in stint earlier this season when he won a pair of games. It’s Stanton’s team now. Not Stafford’s, or Luck’s, or Palmer’s. This is his chance. The Cardinals don’t have to win Sunday to make it to where they want to go, but it sure would help to take another one at home, especially in the first game without Palmer.

– Larry Fitzgerald has been a huge part of the offense of late. Michael Floyd has not. It’ll be interesting to see how the passing game unfolds. Don’t forget, Stanton’s last start – against a pretty good Denver pass rush – featured Stanton completing just 11 of 26 passes, so no one was really getting the ball. That, obviously, needs to change. (Although, as it has been pointed out to me, there were a bunch of drops that game too.)

– It’ll be very interesting to see how the interior of the Cards’ offensive line handles Ndamukong Suh after the tough game that group had last week against the Rams. The coaches have had their collective back all week, confident Paul Fanaika, Lyle Sendlein and Ted Larsen will bounce back.

– Fanaika was fined $8,268 for hitting a Rams player after the play during last week’s game, a penalty that cost the Cards 15 valuable yards. Speaking of 15 valuable yards, the illegal blindside block of tight end Lance Kendricks on Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson – the one that turned a Jared Cook 25-yard catch deep into Arizona territory into just 10 yards, eventually costing the Rams a scoring chance – cost Kendricks a whopping $22,050.

- The Cardinals should benefit from the return of running back Stepfan Taylor this week. Taylor isn’t going to come in and run for 100 yards, but he can handle some pass protection and give the Cards some flexibility in what they’re doing with Andre Ellington. Marion Grice seemed to struggle last week in both route-running and pass protection.

– Don’t forget to bring some canned food to the food drive being held prior to Sunday’s game.

– Hall of Fame cornerback Aeneas Williams, inducted into Canton in August, will receive his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.

– This is how to win games: No team in the league has been more proficient in scoring defensive touchdowns since the beginning of the 2008 season as the Cardinals have been. The Cardinals have eight defensive touchdowns in that span (six via interceptions, two via fumbles), tying them with the Kansas City Chiefs.

– If you are looking for some podcasting goodness and some perspective on Palmer’s absence, check out Cardinals Underground.

– Speaking of Palmer, his wired segment featuring last week’s game/press conference will air Saturday morning at 9 a.m. on ABC-15 (and will be posted to azcardinals.com sometime after that.)

– It’s not often that the defensive coordinators get a lot of ink before a game, even for teams with good defenses like the Cards and Lions. But Todd Bowles had his stellar year interrupted by the news of his new contract, and Lions DC Teryl Austin – who was on Whiz’s coaching staff for three years – gets to come home.

– Both these teams have been special in the fourth quarter. You know what the Cardinals have done. The Lions have won the last three games on scores inside the final two minutes (or overtime.)

“If the game is close, there is an honest-to-God belief we will win that ballgame somehow, some way,” Arians said, and it’s difficult to argue that.

– The Cards aren’t a favorite of many anymore, now that Palmer is out (and they weren’t necessarily before Palmer got hurt either). Arians doesn’t care. “No one outside of that locker room matters,” Arians said. “It’s us against the world and we love that part of it.”

Drew, you’re up.

DrewStantonBloguse


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Smokey brings Cards back into SI focus

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

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

SmokeyCoverblog

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

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

SIBlogshotuse


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Rams — and Palmer knee — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2014 – 10:53 pm

I remember, when Calais Campbell got hurt in Denver – at the same time Matt Shaughnessy got hurt – and Campbell said something along the lines that he’d eventually be back, Shaughnessy would eventually be back, Carson Palmer (who still wasn’t back) would eventually be back, and it would all be part of this amazing story of the 2014 Cardinals when they made their playoff run.

The Cards can stop adding hurdles they need to overcome.

Carson Palmer will have an MRI Monday on his left knee. We’ll see what happens, but while you hope for the best, you prepare for the worst, and the worst would be losing Palmer for the season. When your team is 8-1 and talking – legitimately – about a possible playoff run, losing a starting quarterback is vicious.

The positive is that Drew Stanton has played well when he’s had to play. He did it again Sunday. But the last time, it was as a placeholder until Palmer came back. What happens if there is no coming back for Palmer?

Lost in it all was the fact Palmer just signed his contract extension Friday, which obviously is seen in a much different light with an injury. That said, all those wondering if the Cardinals re-signed Palmer too quickly? No. Not in my opinion, not unless you are now predicting serious injuries.

The Cardinals made the right move. They were just hit with bad, bad luck.

– Arians had this to say about Palmer’s new contract: “He’s the leader of our franchise right now and it will stay that way.”

– On a short-term note, it’s too bad Palmer got hurt because it overshadowed the job the defense did against the Rams. I keep going back to the thought the Rams had 40 yards rushing on their first-quarter touchdown drive – and just 70 rushing yards total for the game. The defense simply clamped down, and since the Rams had a rookie QB, St. Louis had no chance.

– Yes, Patrick Peterson has figured it out. That pick-6 was unreal – watch carefully how he tipped it to himself, an amazingly athletic play. “For the first time in a long time I felt 100 percent,” Peterson said. “I just got tired of hearing all the criticism, people not knowing the situation.”

– Calais Campbell was a monster Sunday. As well as Peterson played, Campbell was the best guy on defense.

– Campbell had two sacks of the Cardinals’ six in the game. The Cards had just eight sacks in the first eight games.

– The Rams have not had a very good run defense. So it’s a concern the Cardinals could not run against the Rams. At all. The Cardinals had only 28 yards on the ground, and Andre Ellington got a mere 23 yards on 18 carries. That won’t work for many wins going forward, especially if the Cards have to turn to Stanton.

– Larry Fitzgerald was the backbone of the receiving corps, Yes, Smokey Brown made a beautiful  TD catch, but it was Fitz making multiple crucial catches through the first part of the game, and he’s on a solid path for 1,000 yards now.

– Brown probably shouldn’t have been able to catch that TD. A fantastic individual effort. That kid catches key touchdowns, whether it was the game-winner against the Chargers, 49ers, Eagles and now Rams.

– Michael Floyd got off to a good start this season. But man, he has become MIA. He made a nice catch Sunday for a first down and took a hellacious hit. After that, though, he wasn’t involved.

– Ed Stinson is dinged up, with a groin issue and a toe issue, but he dropped an interception with three minutes left that was right in his hands.

– As I wrap this up, I’m watching Tom Jackson and Cris Carter on ESPN talk about the Cardinals. They are talking about the team under the assumption Palmer is lost and Stanton will be the starter from here on. And both said they can still see this team with the ability to make a playoff run.

It says a lot about this team and the impression it has left nine games into the season.

PalmerThumbUSE


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Palmer the best on third downs

Posted by Darren Urban on November 5, 2014 – 10:13 am

Against the Cowboys, the Cardinals shouldn’t have even been in a third down situation at one point. Quarterback Carson Palmer found Michael Floyd about eight yards downfield on a pass and it looked like Floyd just had to turn upfield and he’d get the two remaining yards needed for a first. Instead he ran back a few yards, and then he fumbled, forcing the Cards into a third down. No matter. Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 20-yard gain the next play.

The Cardinals’ offense hasn’t been as consistent as Bruce Arians would like, but one area the quarterback has excelled within is third-down passing. The Cardinals converted 9 of 15 third downs in Dallas, and Palmer’s improvement on third downs is Exhibit A why. Palmer currently is the highest rated quarterback on third downs this season, with a passer rating of 129.5, well above that of No. 2 Tony Romo at 122.5. (Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers round out the top five.)

Palmer — who has missed three of the Cards’ eight games with his shoulder problem — has completed 42-of-64 third-down passes for 609 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception.

It’s those last two stats that capture the most attention, and underscore the improvement Palmer has made since last season. In 2013, playing every snap for the Cards, Palmer ended up only 29th in the league in third-down passing, with a passer rating of 77.1. He completed 94-of-163 passes for 1,233 yards, but the other numbers are notable. Last year, Palmer only threw nine touchdowns on third down in 16 games. He also threw nine interceptions.

Obviously, with half a season to go, Palmer can’t afford to slide backward, but he’s been excellent up until this point. The Cardinals were four-of-four in the red zone against the Cowboys, and all four touchdowns came on third down plays. Three were Palmer touchdown passes — only the second time Palmer has thrown three TD passes in a game since coming to Arizona. And his pair of second-quarter TDs showed both sides of Palmer’s abilities on third down.

On a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson, the Cowboys only rushed three and Palmer calmly waited in the pocket until Carlson was able to find a void in the zone coverage. On a 11-yard TD to Jaron Brown, a four-man rush pushed the pocket but Palmer rifled the ball to Brown in between three defenders on a perfectly timed throw. In was third-and-long for both (six needed on the Carlson play, 10 on the Brown play). Palmer made it happen. It’s the kind of third-down production that teams need to win.

Palmer3rdDownUSE


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