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The cost of helping in protection

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2013 – 9:26 am

At one point during his press conference Monday, Bruce Arians said he only used three of the six bullets he planned to use in St. Louis — a reference to the deep shots he goes into every game wanting to try. And when people jump up and talk about giving left tackle Levi Brown help, well, therein lies the rub.

“There were some shots that we didn’t take in the game, looking back,” Arians said. “We didn’t throw a couple of balls that I would’ve liked to have called, mainly because of the pressure. Normally, I don’t do that.”

That’s why Levi Brown, if he is going to stay in the lineup, has to improve in one-on-ones and the Cards can’t just rely on helping him every time. (I found it interesting, by the way, that Brown wasn’t among the top 10 lowest graded players for the week by profootballfocus.com. Darnell Dockett was eighth in the league. On the positive side, QB Carson Palmer was the third highest ranked player in the NFL, and the top quarterback — even above Peyton Manning and his seven TD passes.)

Arians has a term for when his play-calling is inhibited because of needing extra pass protection. He calls it button-up. “You’re all blocked up with nowhere to go,” Arians said. “Somebody else is going to get there soon enough.” Arians told an anecdote playing against the Titans once upon a time, and using extra blockers on Kevin Carter and Jevon Kearse. The problem? There were so few receivers in the pattern, none could get open, and eventually, the protection broke down anyway. “We got sacked about five times,” Arians said.

That doesn’t mean help doesn’t help (like Andre Ellington’s great block on Michael Floyd’s long catch, below) but the Cards can’t do it all the time. As for Brown and the Cards situation, Kent Somers does a great job breaking down the “elite” talk and the Cards’ thought process that led us to this point.


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A new left tackle backup

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2013 – 11:05 am

The new depth chart revealed a new option on the left side with newcomer Bradley Sowell listed as Levi Brown’s backup. Sowell was on the right side last week, but he’s been flipped and Nate Potter now officially listed as the left guard backup to Daryn Colledge.

A lot of people have asked about Bobby Massie playing the left side, but he’s never done it. In college, in fact, Massie was also a right tackle at Ole Miss — because the left tackle was none other than Sowell. Sowell played in only six games as a rookie for the Colts (including the playoff game), and was right tackle in all but one, in which he played left guard. In college, however, he started 36 of his final 37 games at left tackle.

None of this means Sowell is on the verge of starting or taking Levi Brown’s place. Bruce Arians sounded pretty sure the last couple of days that there was no plan on changing out Brown now. But the Cards will probably get Sowell work there like Potter is working at guard, and we will see what happens — both with Sowell’s development and Brown’s play on the field.

– The running back depth chart was officially changed too, and Ryan Williams — as how it played out in the opener — is indeed listed fifth, behind Rashard Mendenhall, Alfonso Smith, Stepfan Taylor and then Andre Ellington (even though Ellington got eight offensive snaps and Taylor none against the Rams.)

– Speaking of the offensive line, I caught up with Jonathan Cooper. He isn’t worried about being a rookie again next year when he returns from his broken leg, because of his confidence gained from playing in the preseason.


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Arians the day after

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2013 – 11:29 am

Bruce Arians just met with the media, and the locker room will be open in about 10 minutes. So, before then, some quick notes:

– Left tackle Levi Brown had some technique problems and needs to play better. But Arians said he didn’t think the offensive line play was “the end of the world.” He also said on two of the sacks Brown gave up a running back should have helped with a chip and went out into the pass pattern too early. Clearly, a change is not coming. But Arians is aware of it. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the most negative thing was the pressure on the quarterback and the sacks and the turnovers,” Arians said.

– The Cardinals got out the game “clean,” Arians said, although he said tight end Rob Housler (ankle) would probably miss another game.

– He thought the defense did well in a couple of key stands, especially after turnovers. Obviously the pass rush was a problem. He said he liked the push provided up front by Dan Williams and Calais Campbell. It was hard not to notice he did not mention Darnell Dockett, who did not seem to show up much Sunday. Pass-rush-wise, Arians said too many players forgot about the proper technique like going with power moves instead of speed they might not have had. “Don’t all of a sudden go rogue” and forget your strengths, Arians said.

– Clearly Arians wasn’t thrilled with kicker Jay Feely, who not only missed the 50-yard field goal but “was poor on kickoffs.” The early squib kickoffs of Feely were not planned, Arians said. But Arians also said the Cardinals were not planning on looking at any other kickers right now. “We looked at the best kicker” available, Arians said in a reference to Dan Carpenter. It’s also notable that Feely, as a vested veteran, is guaranteed his $1.5 million salary now that he was on the roster the first week.

– Arians said the Feely miss, and the other red-zone visit that resulted in a Feely field goal instead of a touchdown, ultimately were scoring opportunities that cost the Cards the game.

– Arians talked about how the Cards had correctable problems for the most part. After the loss, he said he was “disappointed? Yes. Discouraged? Not at all.”


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Keim talks Levi, Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2013 – 8:38 am

General Manager Steve Keim was on Arizona Sports 620 this morning recapping the game yesterday. Among the things he was asked about, not surprisingly, was the play/situation of left tackle Levi Brown.

“I take it personal because it wasn’t good enough,” Keim said. “It starts with me. It comes down to making sure (offensive coordinator/line coach) Harold Goodwin and (assistant line coach) Larry Zierlein continue to work with him. Technically, there were a lot of issues, whether it was use of hands, playing straight-legged, not moving his feet and I think if you talk to Levi, he’d be the first to tell you it wasn’t good enough.

“That’s an area we obviously need to improve. But I take it personal. I’ve got to do a better job. It starts with me and like I said, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. But there are only so many options. We will continue to look at those moving forward.”

Keim, a former college offensive lineman, said he was generally pleased with the rest of the offensive line play.

Keim was admittedly down because of the loss and said he was “disappointed and frustrated.” He was happy with the play of Carson Palmer — “It was nice to see a real NFL quarterback out there spinning the rock,” he said — and the receiving corps, and thinks the running game was getting better as the game went on. He praised Bruce Arians for his playcalling. On defense, Keim said he was hoping for better tackling and more of a pass rush, although he noted the Rams used a lot of three-step drops and got big gains because of missed tackles. He saw blown coverages too, especially on tight end Jared Cook.

Floyd1armUSE


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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2013 – 8:53 pm

It was toward the wrong end zone, and it was the Cardinals’ defense instead of its offense, but it was difficult not to look at Tyrann Mathieu racing down the middle of the Edward Jones turf Sunday behind a breakaway Ram and not think of Steve Breaston.

In 2010, Breaston, the wide receiver, had a wasn’t-gonna-give-up play after a Cardinal turnover, and a sure Rams TD was undercut when Breaston knocked the ball loose and into the end zone, where the Cardinals recovered. This time, it was Mathieu, flying up behind Rams tight end Jared Cook and improbably popping it loose – into the end zone, where linebacker Karlos Dansby jumped on it.

Honey Badger – remember, he’s good with it again – said he was just always going to try and make a game-changing play, and that could have been it. Perhaps should have been. The Cards save seven points there and when they took the 11-point lead into the fourth quarter, you were thinking that should have been enough.

That wasn’t the only déjà vu I had Sunday though. Watching running back Andre Ellington run that key third-down wheel route – and see him get wide open beyond the linebacker – reminded me so much of the one LaRod Stephens-Howling ran in Philadelphia in 2011 on a key third down during the Cardinals’ game-winning drive that game. Ellington was in position to do the same – except the pass never really had a chance.

(By the way, Stephens-Howling tore his ACL Sunday playing for the Steelers and is out for the season. Brutal.)

The Cards won the Breaston game. The Cards won that Hyphen game. They couldn’t win Sunday.

– We’ve had this discussion before, about Levi Brown. I’m guessing this won’t be the last time. He didn’t play well enough against the Rams. Got a holding call and was beaten three times by Robert Quinn for sacks. And then, after the game, Bruce Arians first said – before he even got a question – that he wasn’t worried about his offensive line. Then, asked about Brown specifically, said Brown was his guy and made the point there was no one better to replace him with.

I know everyone says it should be Nate Potter, but Arians gave Potter a lot of opportunity in the preseason and Potter did not seize the moment (in fact, struggled at times like Brown did, mostly against guys deeper on the depth chart.) The way Arians talked Sunday, he feels strongly there is no one on the roster for which to bench Brown. Steve Keim is always looking for upgrades, but I’m not sure you’re going to find a left tackle on the street. The Cards would have loved for one of those tackles to fall to seven in the draft, but it didn’t happen. They took Jon Cooper, and yes, I am sure left tackle will be a point of emphasis next offseason.

– Carson Palmer looked like he had plenty left to me.

– Andre Roberts had the stuffing beaten out of him, and he held the ball every time. It may have been Roberts’ best game as a pro.

– The Cardinals missed Daryl Washington. It’s obvious to say a team misses a Pro Bowl player, but he would have been able to make an impact. Maybe been a better matchup for Rams tight end Jared Cook.

– Speaking of linebackers, Arians said John Abraham was fine. He didn’t play a ton though.

– With 26 seconds left and the ball on their own 20 in the first half, it would have been easy for Bruce Arians to sit on the ball. But the man who says “No risk it, no biscuit” risked it, and Carson Palmer, after a completion, hit three straight long passes to set up a 50-yard field goal. Unfortunately, Jay Feely pushed it a bit wide right, painful in a three-point loss.

“We couldn’t have executed it any better,” Arians said. “You have to make that kick and that was the deciding factor in the ball game.”

– Javier Arenas didn’t play defense, but the veteran cornerback was in there to return kickoffs. It didn’t go well. One time he fielded the ball deep in the end zone and was stuffed short of the 10-yard line. Another time, a return from deep ended up being fumbled, although the Cards fell on it.

“You have to make better decisions,” Arians said. “Stay in there.”

– We’ll see how the Cards adjust this week. And we’ll see if the Cards make any roster moves too.


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Levi will stay outside

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2013 – 9:55 am

With the injury of Jonathan Cooper, the Cardinals have gone with with the Daryn Colledge-Paul Fanika guard combination. There has been a lot of speculation on the outside that the Cards, at some point, could end up trying one of their tackles inside. Maybe Bobby Massie. Maybe Nate Potter. Maybe, even, Levi Brown.

None have been a consideration. Bruce Arians was asked specifically about Brown being considered inside. “Not until I find someone to take his place at left tackle,” was Arians’ reply.

The reality is that Brown is going to be the left tackle. It doesn’t look like Nate Potter has made any in-roads in displacing Brown (in fact, Potter seems to has struggled.). Arians, meanwhile, wasn’t showing any panic about Brown even after San Diego’s Dwight Freeney got to him — and therefore, the quarterback — some Saturday night.

“Overall, pass protection has not been a problem, until the other night,” Arians said. “We didn’t game-plan Dwight Freeney as much as we would have and Dwight beat Levi. It comes down to a one-on-one game. If we feel that way going into a game (that the tackle might get beat), we’ll help the guy.”

One of the things Arians liked the most of his Colledge-Fanaika decision was it was only moving one player — Colledge, to left guard. And Colledge has experience there. Brown hasn’t ever played guard and hasn’t practiced there. Neither have Massie and Potter for that matter (Arians gave a quick “nope” when asked if one of those guys could be moved inside.) Arians had said this offseason that the time for that experimentation was during OTAs. We’re well past that now.

Clearly, Brown’s work at left tackle will remain under the spotlight. It’s hard not to notice. Could the Cards find someone to, as Arians said, take his place? Even with all the tackles that likely will make this roster (Brown, Massie, Potter, Eric Winston) I’m sure the Cards will continue to look at the spot.

LeviUSE

 

 


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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2013 – 12:22 am

Ugly doesn’t even begin to describe what happened to the Cardinals Saturday night. If the Cards could have only left it at the stadium. If only a bad night for special teams or dropped passes or anything like that was the worst that happened.

But the long list of injuries the Cards had been avoiding – they only had five guys not able to play coming into the game, for goodness sake, and frankly, only Jeff King was among those guys who have a shot at the roster – came back hard. The most devastating is Jonathan Cooper’s broken leg. Here’s the guy who was drafted to jump start an offensive line resurgence. And now he could be out for the season.

There are lots of ways to look at this and we won’t know exactly what can happen with Cooper yet. There are options to put him on short-term, bring-’em-back IR if the prognosis goes the right way. But that doesn’t make it any easier to replace him. Do we get more Chilo? Do we get a Paul Fanaika-Daryn Colledge guard combo? Bruce Arians isn’t sure yet. There will be much brainstorming tomorrow, I am sure. But it hurts.

“To see a guy like that go down, a young guy trying to go out there and prove himself, that’s always hard,” Colledge said. “Especially with an offensive line that lost a lot of guys last year. We’re used to this, but it’s always hard to see a friend and a teammate go down. I know it hurts him. I know he’s probably emotionally distraught right now.”

– It can’t be easy for Cooper. It might not be easy for the Cards. MRIs are coming for all the other injuries, but the offense alone saw Cooper, Rob Housler (ankle), Andre Roberts (quad) and Rashard Mendenhall (ankle) leave the game. Scary.

– As for the game, not good. The Rashad Johnson lateral was bad. Funny, Arians actually praised the lateral linebacker Jasper Brinkley made to Patrick Peterson earlier in the game following an interception, saying it was a legitimate choice. Johnson’s lateral? “Absolutely asinine.”

Johnson knows that. He was upset after a pass interference call on teammate Jerraud Powers a couple of plays before and let his emotions ride the moment. “I just felt like we needed to make a play, which we did, instead of thinking of the situation we were in and playing smart football,” Johnson said. “Coach is always talking about ‘Cardinals beating Cardinals.’ That was a big Cardinals-beating-Cardinals play.”

– Powers was hit with three pass interference flags. He said he felt a couple of them shouldn’t have been thrown, but took responsibility for not adjusting to the way the officials were calling the game.

– Ryan Williams said he was “fine” after a pair of carries (for 10 yards) and a catch in his first preseason action of the season. I thought he looked aggressive for what little time he got. He needed to be. With Alfonso Smith coming out and looking good as Mendenhall’s backup, this running back battle is very interesting. Could the Cards keep five?

– Not a good night for the tight ends. Housler dropped a touchdown (Arians didn’t seemed all that concerned about it), while Kory Sperry and D.C. Jefferson also had drops. Jefferson’s miss ended up an interception.

– Not a ton learned in the kicking battle, since neither got much opportunity. Dan Carpenter had a field goal blocked on what looked like protection issues. Jay Feely made an extra point. Feely had both kickoffs.

– Arians wasn’t overly critical of Levi Brown’s play against Dwight Freeney because, well, it was Dwight Freeney. Nate Potter had his own issues, so it’s not like there is someone there that would step in.

– Michael Floyd made a nice catch in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.  Larry Fitzgerald’s one-handed catch to start the game was amazing. Other than that, a night to forget.


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Breaking down Mendenhall’s debut

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2013 – 6:32 pm

The Cardinals got Rashard Mendenhall on the field for the first time Saturday and got a little taste of what their starting running back would look like. It turned out OK. Mendenhall gained 32 yards on seven carries, and for a guy who has a reputation for getting better as his carries move along, that 4.6-yard average was encouraging.

A look at Mendenhall’s seven carries (and a couple of other plays in which Mendenhall was meaningful):

FIRST POSSESSION

1st and 10, AZ 20 – With three tight ends in the game for the first offensive play of the day, left guard Jonathan Cooper pulls right and tight end Jim Dray also pulls from the same side. There is no real running room as Mendenhall gets to the right tackle area, and Mendenhall loses a yard.

SECOND POSSESSION

1st and 10, DAL 22 – Two wide receivers, two tight ends. The Cards come off the ball straight ahead. Tight end Rob Housler manages a decent block to pinch a Dallas defender into the line as Mendenhall goes behind the block and hit apparent daylight – except linebacker Sean Lee, diving, gets enough of Mendenhall’s foot and leg to trip him up so he gains just five yards.

THIRD POSSESSION

1st and 15, AZ 6 – One tight end and three wide receivers. After a holding penalty, With Mendenhall the lone guy deep in the backfield (actually in the end zone), he gets a delayed handoff. He’s nearly tackled at the goal line by charging Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware but Mendenhall escapes. Unfortunately, it slows him down enough that the Cowboys collapse, and Cooper is unable to hold off defensive end George Selvie as Selvie tackles Mendenhall after a one-yard gain.

1st and 10, AZ 26 – Two tight ends, although Housler is playing fullback. He and wide receiver Michael Floyd are the key blocks as Mendenhall heads over the Cooper/Levi Brown area on the left side for seven yards.

1st and 10, DAL 26 – Two tight ends lined up on the left. Floyd comes in motion from the left wide to come in tight on the left end of the line. Mendenhall grinds out three yards up the middle with the Cowboys not really giving any room.

2nd and 7 DAL 23 – Three wide receivers. Cards block hat-on-hat. Housler at tight end does OK on his block on the right side. WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts do a nice job on the right side too, and Mendenhall goes over right tackle for six yards.

3rd and 1 DAL 17 – On a short play, rookie running back Stepfan Taylor lines up as a fullback in the offset I with Mendenhall. Taylor gets the handoff as the up back for a two-yard gain.

4th and 2, DAL 7 – The Cardinals call a perfect play-action pass on fourth down. Mendenhall slips into the flat wide-open for what should be an easy first down. Quarterback Carson Palmer is pressured, but the underthrown ball at Mendenhall’s feet is a disappointing end to the play. Incomplete.

FOURTH POSSESSION

1st and 10, AZ 4 – Three wideouts and a tight end. Mendehall is four yards deep in the end zone. Cooper pulls again (see a trend?) and seals linebacker Brandon Magee to create a hole near right tackle. Fitzgerald has a nice second-level block on the defensive back. Mendenhall breaks a tackle and has good power on the finish, driving for a first down.

 MendyBreakdown2BLOG


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Potter’s weighty issue

Posted by Darren Urban on August 15, 2013 – 10:19 am

Bruce Arians continues to say the Cardinals are having close battles on the offensive line for starting jobs, including left tackle. Levi Brown played well in the opener but Arians did say he wants to see more consistency out of Brown in practice. Meanwhile, Nate Potter remains behind Brown on the depth chart, trying to see if he can find a way into the starting lineup — where he was down the stretch last season when Brown was hurt.

One of the issues with Potter has always been his weight and strength. Since the day he showed up as a seventh-round draft pick the Cardinals that’s been the goal. He’s put on 10 or 15 pounds since he got to the NFL — his target is to play around 315 — even though it’s not always easy.

“I’m one of those guys who has to keep eating to keep the weight on, because it’s easy for me to lose it,” he said.

That’s certainly something many wish were a problem for them, and Potter smiled at the notion. “Everybody is jealous when I tell them that,” Potter said. “I tell them, ‘You do it for 10 years, it’s not that great.”

At one point this offseason, there was talk of trying Potter at guard as well and expand his versatility, That didn’t materialize, and when camp started Arians made it clear he wanted Potter-Brown and Eric Winston-Bobby Massie at right tackle to stay put and battle for jobs.

Right now, Potter, 6-foot-6, said he’s around 300 pounds. Brown, for comparison, is 6-6 and 324.

PotterUSE


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Arians after further review

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2013 – 10:13 am

The Cardinals are back at practice this morning at the team’s Tempe facility for the first time since playing Friday night. A few notes and thoughts from coach Bruce Arians in his first media session since the game.

– The running back situation isn’t cleared up right now, starting with the fact running back Ryan Williams (knee), who insisted last week he’d be back for the Cowboys game, might not be back yet. “I don’t know if he’ll play this week,” Arians said. Andre Ellington is still being handled with kid gloves with his neck issue (he is sitting today) and Arians said Rashard Mendenhall is still trying to get the stiffness out of his knee.

– Safety/special teamer Jonathon Amaya suffered a slight MCL sprain in the game. Arians said he’d be out a couple of days,

– Arians liked the job of the offensive line and specifically praised LT Levi Brown for his work on Clay Matthews, although he noted Brown will have to deal with DeMarcus Ware this week. All four tackles played pretty well.

– G Daryn Colledge (leg) is close to coming back, but it’s clear Arians is looking at Paul Fanaika at right guard too. “We’re solidifying (the line) without (Colledge) pretty good right now,” Arians said. “Paul played really well. Hoppefully Daryn can get back out there. There’s competition now.”

– The Cards will practice half outside and half in their new bubble today. Long-term, it’s a big deal to have the bubble, Arians said. “We’ll be able to stay on a normal practice schedule,” he said. “It will show dividends I think throughout September. We’ll have normal teaching routine as opposed to having to bus over to ASU or morning practices or things that are different.”


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