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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.

Playoffclinchbloguse

 


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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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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.

FitzInChicagoBLOG

 


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Whisenhunt gets second chance

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2014 – 8:02 am

Ken Whisenhunt gets his second chance. The news came down Monday evening that the Titans had hired the Chargers offensive coordinator and former Cardinals head coach to be their new head coach. It was a surprise on a lot of levels, not the least of which that so many reports came out linking Whisenhunt with the Detroit opening and the fact the Lions are the lone team with a (more or less) established quarterback in place. It’s impossible to know if Whiz chose Tennessee over Detroit or if the Lions never really were that interested in Whiz. It doesn’t mean much now.

It will be interesting however to see how Whisenhunt works with QB Jake Locker. Can Whiz develop Locker, who thus far has not shown enough signs of being a long-term answer? Clearly, the inability for Whisenhunt (and to be fair, General Manager Rod Graves) to figure out the post-Kurt Warner QB situation in Arizona killed his tenure here.

What really struck me about the hire when I first heard it was the link between Nashville, the Titans, Whiz and the Cardinals. That too goes back to the QB problems Whiz had in the desert. Back in the preseason of 2010 — that first go-round of football after Warner retired — the Cardinals had Matt Leinart as the starter, Derek Anderson as the backup and back-to-back exhibition games in Tennessee and in Chicago. In between, there was a few days in Nashville, a joint practice versus the Titans and then a final practice at Vanderbilt.

The relationship between Whisenhunt and Leinart was already fraying. In the joint practice, Leinart struggled against the Titans — at the time, Titans defenders started noticing how quickly Leinart went to his checkdown receiver — and the next day at Vandy, Whisenhunt shocked everyone by giving Anderson first-team snaps. Afterward, it became official that Anderson would be starting in Chicago. Leinart was angry. And things devolved from there.

Now Whisenhunt starts it over. Whiz had a very good run in Arizona, getting the franchise to places they had never been. He also made mistakes. It will be interesting to see if Whisenhunt learned from those missteps and apply that with the Titans.

– There is a lot of speculation about Whiz and if he would reach out to try and bring over current Cardinals strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott. It wouldn’t surprise me, but we’ll see how that develops.

– There are still job openings in Detroit, Minnesota and Cleveland, the latter two of which have interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. But I am guessing Bowles stays put in Arizona.

WhizBlogUSE


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Odds, ends and Bowles

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2014 – 10:27 am

So it’s gonna be about 70 degrees today. Sunny. Just sayin’. Seems like everyone else is making comments about the weather, so I thought I’d chime in.

Anyway …

– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles reportedly met with the Browns for their head coaching job on Friday and was supposed to meet with the Vikings about their opening Monday. Neither team seems close to making a decision on their coach, although Bowles reportedly made an impression with the Vikings. Both Minnesota and Cleveland continue to look at more and more candidates, and that doesn’t include coaches still in the playoffs. Bowles won’t be interviewing in Detroit, where he was a candidate back in 2009. That makes sense, because many reports say the Lions would likely hire Chargers offensive coordinator and ex-Cards boss Ken Whisenhunt for that job once the Chargers are knocked out of the playoffs.

On the all-pro team from profootballfocus.com, Tyrann Mathieu makes first team as a slot cornerback, Justin Bethel first team for special teams. Patrick Peterson is second team at cornerback.

– Cardinals director of football administration (and salary cap guru) Mike Disner was named on Forbes list of top 30 rising stars under age 30 in sports. (The man next on the Forbes slideshow after Disner? Kevin Durant. LeBron and Gronk are among the athletes on the list too.)

– I am not a fan of messing with the playoff format. It caught up with the Cardinals this season yes, it benefited them in the 2008 season. I do not think extra teams should be added to the postseason. That said, it is still often discussed. That doesn’t mean anything is imminent, but things could change at some point.

– In case you missed it — and in case you’d like a smile or two — check out here the year in quotes and quips from coach Bruce Arians.


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Patrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson exchange jerseys after well fought battle

Posted by since1898 on September 18, 2013 – 9:46 am

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See the top 10 images from #DETvsAZ

Posted by since1898 on September 16, 2013 – 2:51 pm

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Lions aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2013 – 9:30 pm

Karlos Dansby was still trying to make sense of that interception he didn’t get Sunday. That one where Matthew Stafford lasered into Calvin Johnson in between Dansby and DansbymissUSEPatrick Peterson. Johnson got a 72-yard touchdown and Dansby – who said he knew the pass was coming and jumped the route and did everything right but actually pick off the pass – was left with air.

“I still got a fine to pay,” Dansby said, in a reference to the Cards’ kangaroo court. “I got a big fine to pay. You don’t understand. That’s a fine out of this world. That’s the crazy part about it. Oh man, you don’t understand this fine I gotta pay. You really don’t understand. It’s huge. It’s huge, bro.”

Dansby could smile. Always easier to talk about the bad after a win, and, especially with the way the Cards’ defense stepped up in the second half and shut down the Lions. The Cardinals had to have a win Sunday. Couldn’t go 0-2 heading into two straight road games back East. They got it. So, before I shut down for the night, some notes and thoughts from today’s win:

– Bruce Arians has said it before, and he said it again. “I have no problem with young players,” he said, and it’s not just the high picks. We already know the impact third-round draft pick Tyrann Mathieu has had, and it was Mathieu’s solid tackle of Nate Burleson on fourth-and-4 a yard shy of the line that sealed the win Sunday. Running back Andre Ellington has already proved to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver and a blocker, nice from a sixth-round rookie (who scored his first TD Sunday). And undrafted safety Tony Jefferson had three tackles in his first NFL defensive work as part of a dime package that was used for the first time.

“It’s  a huge opportunity for us (young players) and you have to make the best of it,” Jefferson said. “To put a young rookie in and going against an explosive offense like that and they trust in you. You have to perform.”

– As for Ellington, he played more than any of the running backs not named Rashard Mendenhall. Does that mean he made a move up the depth chart? “I’m not sure how that works,” Ellington said. “We don’t really have a set depth chart. Coach just kind of calls you out there when he wants you out there. Whenever my name is called, I want to make the play.”

– After failing to come up with a pair of crucial third-down conversions late in the St. Louis game, the Cards never could get that going Sunday. They had just one third-down conversion in 11 tries (by contrast, they got two first downs on penalties that came on third downs) and it stalled the offense too often.

Asked if he was frustrated by that on the sideline, Arians said “I’m always frustrated. I’m pissed the whole game, nothing satisfies me. … We weren’t three and out, three and out. It was first down, first down, chunk play and manageable (third downs). We just didn’t convert.”

– Wide receiver Kerry Taylor, promoted Saturday from the practice squad, made his first three NFL catches. His first? Seventeen yards, from the arm of none other than Swiss Army knife Patrick Peterson. “It was brought to my attention that it was my first catch in the NFL thrown by a corner,” Taylor said. Taylor was impressive with Fitz down. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cards keep him up on the roster.

– There was better pass protection from the Cardinals. Some of that had to do with the Lions, some had to do with scheme, but for the most part, the offensive line kept Carson Palmer clean enough to throw his passes (although Arians said Palmer was hit too often.)

– The Reggie Bush injury, which basically took him out of the game in the second half, definitely seemed to impact the Lions. They couldn’t run – 49 yards total in the game – and getting Bush in space on pass receptions had been a major threat for Detroit in their Week One win.

– I know it’s early, but it seems Justin Bethel should already be getting attention as a potential Pro Bowl special teams player in the NFC. He’s been excellent in coverage, and then he got the big block of the David Akers field goal in the fourth quarter to keep it a two-point deficit. Bethel got an earlier running-into-the-kicker (which didn’t hurt when Akers missed a second straight try) but it gave him confidence for the fourth-quarter block.

“You’ve got to take the right angle, especially with a kicker who keeps his leg out there,” Bethel said. “(On the penalty) I saw his leg. I jumped and thought, ‘Oh, he’s going to leave his foot out here.’ I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ But I had a good takeoff and I was thinking, ‘OK, I know I can get there.’ And I got another chance.”

– Now, about that Dansby “fine” …


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Follow along on Twitter #DETvsAZ

Posted by since1898 on September 15, 2013 – 10:54 am

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