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Lots of defensive snaps, a record number of passes

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2015 – 7:04 am

The Cardinals’ defense got their share of turnovers Sunday — six in all — but some of those defenders got a ton of work too. Because the Cardinals were efficient in the red zone and working on short fields, and because the Lions were able to complete some passes, seven Cards played at least 72 snaps. Four played at least 92. The list:

— CB Jerraud Powers 94
— CB Patrick Peterson 94
— S Tyrann Mathieu 93
— S Rashad Johnson 92
— LB Kevin Minter 86
— S (but LB) Deone Bucannon 85
— S Tony Jefferson 72

That’s a lot. You know what else was a lot — the 70 passes the Lions attempted. Dan Orlovsky didn’t even come in until the third quarter and he threw 38 passes all by himself. For the game, the Lions totaled 70 pass attempts (and they were sacked once and Matthew Stafford scrambled once.) The 70 attempts are an NFL record for a non-overtime game. The only other time a team has tried 70 passes in a game was the Patriots in 1994 against the Vikings, and that game went into overtime.

I’d guess that secondary — and Minter — will need to rest up today.

Rashad Johnson, Patrick Peterson

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In West Virginia, Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 11, 2015 – 9:16 pm

You know how it is when you’re packing for a trip. There are just times when you forget to stuff something in the suitcase. That’s what happened to Carson Palmer on the way out to Detroit – forgot to put his knee brace in his bag. So for the first time since he hurt his knee last year, Palmer played without it Sunday in the easy win.

What’s the best way to make that work? Run the ball. And that’s exactly what the Cardinals did: 187 yards on the ground. I mean, there were only 25 rushing attempts, and three of those were Drew Stanton kneeldowns to end the game, but the Cardinals only went back to pass 20 times total anyway.

(That’s what happens when the offense is efficient and the defense gets turnovers for short fields; 45 offensive plays, compared to 89 for the Lions. Detroit threw 70 passes, for goodness sake.)

Palmer was efficient, knee brace or no. He was 11-for-14 for three touchdown passes. But that run game … the Cardinals were fairly sure Chris Johnson had something left but like this? He has 405 yards in five games, and that’s after barely playing the opener. Toss in Andre Ellington – who showed what he can do with his 63-yard touchdown romp – and the Cards are in better shape running the ball than … well, a long time. I’ve been covering this team since 2000, and it’s easily the best running game the Cardinals have had since then.

— The Cardinals have to hope the calf injury of Alex Okafor isn’t serious. They need him as a pass rusher. It’s eerie – when Okafor suffered a serious biceps injury in 2013 against the Saints, it was in the game that was the front end of the Cards’ week away from Arizona. Let’s hope it’s not a repeat. Sean Weatherspoon doesn’t play that spot, although Weatherspoon will need to play given Kenny Demens’ knee injury. Weatherspoon hasn’t played special teams. Does that change now, with Demens – who was very good on special teams – down?

— Fitz had his quietest day of the year, but he had five catches for 58 yards and his sixth touchdown. And the 26-yard catch he had to set up his own TD? What hands, what concentration.

— Tight end Darren Fells scored the first touchdown of the game for the Cardinals on a nice catch of his own. It has to be an emotional time for Fells, whose brother Daniel, a New York Giants tight end, is battling a bad staph infection in his foot. Fells said he’d rather not talk about the situation.

— Arians said defensive line coach Brentson Buckner recognized the Lions’ formation and was able to predict the screen pass that was intercepted – oh so nimbly – by defensive end Cory Redding. Arians later said it was really a lucky guess, when he was asked if the Lions’ plays were telegraphed.

— The gutsy bomb from the Cardinals’ own end zone from Palmer to Smokey Brown, which went for 49 yards, was pure Bruce Arians. Sometimes I think Arians loves taking deep shots from deep in his own end more than anything.

— Patrick Peterson, who is one of the guys who runs the players-only defensive meeting Fridays, said if he would have realized Redding had been drafted by the Lions and played his first six years in Detroit, he would have had Redding speak. “It was a big game for him,” Peterson said, and Redding punctuated it with his pick.

— It’s late here in West Virginia. The Cardinals, for the first time on these East Coast-stay-back-a-week trips, have won the first leg (Lost in Washington in 2008, lost in New Orleans in 2013.) There’s work ahead at The Greenbrier, and the Cardinals will try for the sweep in Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, stay tuned to azcardinals.com. We’re here all week, chronicling the stay.


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A healthy Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on October 9, 2015 – 3:53 pm

There is no real wood here at my desk – not sure exactly what it’s made of, actually – so there isn’t anything on which to knock. Normally, no biggie, although I’m going to go all mentioning-the-no-hitter-in-the-seventh-inning and say it: The Cardinals are really, really healthy. Four games into the season, and they are about as healthy as an NFL team can ever be.

Bruce Arians noted it when he said, thanks to the impending return of wide receiver J.J. Nelson from a shoulder injury, that the Cardinals will have “seven healthy scratches” Sunday in Detroit for the inactive list. When has that ever happened?

Arians admitted there will be tough decisions on who sits. If Nelson plays, you figure that’ll send Brittan Golden back to the bench. But with Andre Ellington back, someone else needs out, and it’s unlikely to be a running back. The inactive list will indeed be interesting to see – but again, it’s a good problem to have.

— The Cardinals have a long week ahead, staying in West Virginia to practice at The Greenbrier, which is where the New Orleans Saints hold their training camp. First comes the game against the Lions though, a team that’s 0-4 yet have the Cardinals talking all week about how dangerous they are.

“You forget they have Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, the cat from Nebraska,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “This is a talented team. They are a few plays from being almost undefeated. Last week, I feel they got cheated (in Seattle). I wouldn’t sleep on the Lions. I know we’re not.”

— “The cat from Nebraska” is running back Ameer Abdullah, who has flashed some talent despite the Lions’ struggles running the ball. Arians said how much he liked Abdullah coming out, and he was in consideration by the Cardinals at draft time. Things would be different with Abdullah instead of David Johnson, although the way Johnson has played, I don’t think the Cardinals would want to make any swaps.

— Speaking of running backs, the trio is back together and healthy. How will it play out? Ellington isn’t sure, exactly.

“Coach doesn’t really share too many of his thoughts,” Ellington said. “So we’ll see.”

Ellington said he’d play his role. The guess is that Chris Johnson starts, and Ellington splits time (I don’t think CJ gets the vast bulk of the work, but like Ellington said, we’ll see.) David Johnson will do something, you’d figure. But it’s nice to have options.

— A big reason the Cardinals are running the ball so well – and they really are at this point – is the offensive line. Yes, there are things to improve with communication and such, but the line overall has been better. Profootballfocus.com ranks the Cardinals after four games as the 11th-best line in the NFL. That hasn’t happened in recent memory. And to think, Mike Iupati has a game underneath him and the Lions are missing their defensive tackles.

— Arians said he will “wait and see” who does punt returns Sunday. If Nelson is healthy, does he get it back from Patrick Peterson? Nelson did muff his last punt catch attempt. But given Peterson’s defensive importance, I would think it’ll be Nelson’s duty sooner rather than later.

— After the craziness of the end of the Lions-Seahawks game and the fact Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright didn’t know the batted ball rule (and nearly cost his team a dramatic win because of it), Arians said coaching assistant Wes Goodwin (no relation to OC Harold) goes through every game each week to “find something crazy” so it can be a teaching moment for the Cardinals.

Goodwin took over the job from James Bettcher, when Bettcher was elevated to defensive coordinator. The team goes over the plays every Thursday morning, teaching as best as possible.

— For the record, Arians said he knew the batted ball play was a penalty as it happened, which would have made for an interesting moment had he been coaching the Lions.

“It would have been a hell of a fight on that sideline,” Arians quipped.

— Left tackle Jared Veldheer, a Michigan native, is playing in his home state for the first time in his career. Veldheer estimated he attended three or four games at Ford Field growing up, and not surprisingly, he’s expecting a pretty large group of his family and friends at the game Sunday. He shrugged off the idea it’d make him nervous.

“I think it’s better,” Veldheer said. “It fuels me. It’s fun to be able to have guys you played college football with in the stands, high school football with, friends. That stuff is cool to me.”

— A big matchup, considering a) Patrick Peterson has played so well and b) Calvin Johnson has done little for a struggling Lions’ offense: P2 versus Megatron.

— A final statistical note: The Cardinals have only had four three-and-out possessions this season. And they had none in their lone loss last week.

The Motor City awaits.


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Lions’ decimated DTs should help Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on October 9, 2015 – 10:29 am

That loss the Lions had in Seattle has hurt them beyond the standings, and it looks like it’ll help the Cardinals and Bruce Arians’ improving run game. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata didn’t practice all week with a bad calf, and he looks like a long shot to be able to play Sunday against the Cardinals. The Lions had already lost their other starting defensive tackle, Tyrunn Walker, after Walker broke his leg against the Seahawks.

UPDATE: Ngata is indeed out, as is tight end Eric Ebron and running back Joique Bell.

Ngata and Walker are the two replacements the Lions had for the now-departed Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Suh and Fairley gave Detroit a formidable front. Ngata and Walker had slid in nicely, but now, Detroit is scrambling. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are getting Andre Ellington back to add to Chris Johnson and David Johnson. Plus, guard Mike Iupati has had a game to knock the rust off. Through four games, the Cardinals have 487 yards rushing and have averaged 4.4 yards a carry — running numbers that they haven’t had in years. Their top three backs all average at least 4.4 yards a carry. David Johnson and Ellington, in a smaller sample size, are at 5.8 and 5.7 yards a carry, respectively.

It isn’t all bad news for the Lions. Linebacker DeAndre Levy, one of the best in the league last season, is coming off an injury and is ready for his season debut. But the Cardinals seem set to use to run on the road, and having starters out in the heart of the defense can’t hurt.


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Cardinals plan to stay back East a week

Posted by Darren Urban on April 22, 2015 – 8:04 am

The Cardinals have a handful of games back East (or at least in the Eastern time zone) this season and the team requested at least a couple of them back-to-back so they could just spend a week out there without having all the flying. According to Peter King, that’s what the games in Detroit Oct. 11 and Pittsburgh Oct. 18 are about — a week back East for the team. Obviously, coach Bruce Arians has deep roots in Pittsburgh having coached there for so long and being from Pennsylvania. (GM Steve Keim is from the area too, so it works for those guys.) Both Keim and Arians have a pre-draft press conference today so I’m sure the subject will come up. UPDATE: Arians confirmed the Cards plan to stay back and that the team is looking for an indoor facility within which to practice.

The last time the Cardinals spent a week away, there were some rain issues in Tampa, when the Cardinals got beat up in New Orleans in Week 3 of 2013 and then barely pulled off a win against the Buccaneers in Week 4.

A week in Pittsburgh. It’ll be interesting.

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Cardinals are drafting 24th

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2015 – 8:36 am

The end of the season, given the playoff loss, brings talk of everything offseason for the Cardinals. That includes the draft (the particulars of which I’m probably not going to discuss much until we get to Scouting combine time in mid-February.) After going 11-5, the Cardinals will draft 24th, the last of all the Wild Card round losers.

The 20 non-playoff teams go first, of course. Then comes the Bengals, who were 10-5-1 in the regular-season, at 21, Steelers (11-5) at 22 and Lions (11-5) at 23 before the Cards choose at 24. It actually moves the Cardinals up three spots in the draft had the draft selection been based on records (and subsequent tiebreakers) only.

Tiebreaks in draft order are based on strength of schedule only, and the better strength of schedule you have, the worse draft spot you have — the reasoning being if you built a certain record against lesser competition, you deserve a higher choice than someone who got the same amount of wins against better competition.

The Cardinals’ strength of schedule produced a .523 winning percentage. The Lions’ was .471 and the Steelers .451.

In the second round, the Cards will move up to 23rd in that round, with the Lions 22nd and the Steelers down to 24th. In the third round, the Cards will be 22nd, Steelers 23rd and Lions 24th. In the fourth round, the Cards rotate back to 24, Steelers 22 and Lions 23, and it continues for the balance of the draft.

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Beat the Rams, and the playoffs are all but a lock

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2014 – 9:39 am

The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.

The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.

There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:

Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:

— The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.

(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)

That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)

A win in St. Louis would be a major step.



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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.


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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.


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Glancing at the 2015 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 14, 2014 – 2:46 pm

You know that it’s the dead of the offseason — real dead — when it comes to mind to point out who will be on the Cardinals’ schedule for 2015.

But here we are, inside of two weeks before training camp begins and a week away from the quarterbacks and a handful of other players reporting for a couple of days of “quarterback school” prior to the opening of camp. It’s the last hurrah for time off for both coaches and players. It doesn’t leave a lot to discuss right now. That’s all coming. But as I flipped through the new edition of the NFL Record and Fact Book, I came across the 2015 opponents for the Cardinals. So I thought I’d point them out.

As always, there are the home-and-away games against the NFC West opponents. The teams visiting University of Phoenix Stadium include the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and then an NFC South team that ends up inhabiting the same position in their division that the Cardinals do in the NFC West by the time the 2014 season is over.

Road trips in 2015 for the Cardinals include the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the corresponding NFC East team.



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