Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.



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Zastudil goes to IR; QB Dixon to practice squad

Posted by Darren Urban on October 7, 2014 – 12:56 pm

And the Cardinals officially lose another one.

Among a handful of roster moves Tuesday was the Cardinals putting punter Dave Zastudil on injured reserve with his bad groin, ending his season. He joins linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, who gets the Cardinals’ lone injured reserve-designated to return tag of the season because of cartilage damage in his knee. Shaughnessy must miss at least eight games.

Filling those roster spots are one-for-one moves. Zastudil will be replaced by practice squad punter Drew Butler, who already had filled in for Zastudil in the first three games of the season. Shaughnessy’s spot goes to Marcus Benard, who was cut at the end of the preseason, briefly signed back befoe being cut again, and now returns for a second time. Benard knows the system – he did play here in 2013 too.

It’s been a rough stretch with injuries. The Cardinals have to hope the worst is past.

To fill Butler’s spot on the practice squad, the Cardinals have signed former Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon, who worked with Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh and knows the system. He’ll be available for practice Wednesday, so the Cardinals are in better shape to promote him if Carson Palmer and/or Drew Stanton cannot make it back for the game.


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Butler for Butler, and Abraham room

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2014 – 3:22 pm

The Cardinals made a couple of roster moves Tuesday, adjusting the lineup for injury and other reasons. The Cardinals released linebacker Marcus Benard and also cut punter Drew Butler. Butler’s release means Dave Zastudil should be healthy enough to punt this week against the 49ers. The Cardinals also signed outside linebacker Victor Butler, a 2009 fourth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys.

Victor Butler has 11 sacks in his career. He was with the Saints in 2013 but tore his ACL in a training camp practice. His addition could aid the pass rush — the Cardinals are going to continue to throw possibilities at the pass rush to see if something clicks — and of course, makes sure the Cardinals still have a Butler on the roster.

Another thing that can help the pass rush is the return of John Abraham, and with Tuesday’s 2-for-1 swap, the Cardinals still have an open roster spot for when Abraham is officially reinstated to the team.

Nick Foles (9), Victor Butler (57)

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“Final” cuts aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2014 – 6:29 pm

It’s tough to fully analyze the Cardinals’ roster right now after the initial moves to get to a 53-man roster. Waiver claims come through Sunday, and really, the surprise will be if the Cardinals don’t claim one or two players — which would mean they would have to cut the corresponding amount from the 53. So a guy could have made the team today and  be off by tomorrow. Yes, it’s a rough, rough business.

Surprises? Nothing of note. I had different picks for my 53, before the final preseason game. I managed to hit on the offense. They kept only four cornerbacks — I had Bryan McCann as a fifth — and the linebackers as I thought were a problem for me. I had Desmond Bishop and Glenn Carson cut, and Marcus Benard in. Wrong. But as we go forward, what to expect?

There are six wide receivers for now, but as Bruce Arians said, the bottom five on the roster shouldn’t be comfortable because the potential for change is constant. Walt Powell could easily slide on the practice squad at some point. So too could Carson, if the Cardinals don’t need a fifth inside linebacker. Is another backup tackle possible? Could Max Starks come back like Arians said he might? I suppose the one surprise is the fact the Cardinals only have eight defensive backs, given that Tyrann Mathieu’s status is so up in the air. But I believe Teddy Williams is practice-squad eligible and I don’t know if McCann is going to get picked up anywhere anyways.

The practice squad will be 10 strong now, don’t forget, with the potential of a couple of veterans. So maybe the Cards keep WR Brittan Golden if he isn’t claimed, and other potential practice-squad guys would be defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, interior offensive lineman Anthony Steen and tight end Andre Hardy. I’d think there also could be a couple of outside guys come in for the practice squad too.

This isn’t over yet.

— A quick note: Veteran LB James Harrison retired today. So that’s no longer an option.



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Wednesday before the Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2014 – 9:47 am

The fourth preseason game is what it is. Teams are leery about playing anyone of any starting importance, because whatever little you might gain in a few more game reps is highly outweighed by the opportunity to get injured. How the actual game plays out — like the Cardinals going against the Chargers — means nothing. This one may mean even less, since the two teams have to play their very next game against each other. No reason to show anyone anything. At all.

That being said, there are some things to watch in the game tomorrow night, thanks to injuries, a new quarterback and a couple of roster spots that look like they could go either way:

— Logan Thomas is going to get to play the whole game, for the first time in the NFL and likely for the last time in a long time. The rookie fourth-round quarterback looked really good in his debut against Houston, he looked less comfortable against Cincinnati. He gets 60 minutes now, though. Bruce Arians said he just wants to see Thomas be efficient and take care of the ball. Thomas admitted he already has become more settled now since arriving in Arizona, and he knows he’s about to sit and not play (and really, not practice much either) for a long time. He has the right attitude. There’s really nothing on the line since he’s a lock to be on this roster. Take the pressure off, and let’s see what he can do.

— Very curious to see if S Tyrann Mathieu plays. I have long felt that the Cardinals are OK in the secondary to not have any reason to want/need to rush Mathieu back. I don’t think they will rush him. The question is how comfortable/confident Mathieu is to get back into live action. This is about mental as much as physical by now.

— The other guys coming off injuries all are also worth watching. We know the story of Jonathan Cooper at this point, and dealing with his turf toe. The Cardinals are probably best suited to deal with his recovery too with the way Ted Larsen is playing. The team needs Kevin Minter at inside linebacker, and we will see how he can perform. Minter seemed very confident earlier this week. That’s a good sign. Like Mathieu, you want to see nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu in real game action — especially where he plays and how there are always bodies down by your legs — a scary thought for a guy coming off a torn ACL. Again, mental as much as physical.

— As for the battles for rosters spots, these are the ones I see out there (and the ones to watch in the game): The backup tackle spot between Bradley Sowell and Nate Potter, both who figure to start. Potter will be on the left and Sowell on the right Thursday, but it’ll be surprising if both can make the cut. The special teams/cornerback slot with Teddy Williams and Bryan McCann. It figures one will be in, the other out. McCann is a little more polished as a cornerback, but Williams definitely can be more physical. This comes down to who they like better for special teams. And then there are the many linebackers who seem to be on the bubble. Desmond Bishop. Alex Okafor. Lorenzo Alexander. Marcus Benard. Glenn Carson too. You’ve only got so many spots. Pay attention to their play.

— Finally, reports are that the Cardinals will at least work out veteran linebacker James Harrison. Sounds like it’ll be less about anything immediate and instead seeing what is available. Veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly may be the same situation. Something to keep in mind this time of year, signing a veteran after Week One means the salary is not guaranteed, so there will be some vets signed after the first game around the league — especially those who might not have a lot left in the tank.


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Cards sign three more, plus Shaughnessy

Posted by Darren Urban on March 12, 2014 – 6:35 pm

Here’s how the news trickled out during the day Wednesday as the Cardinals tried to make sure they still had a beefy linebacker to play the role that Matt Shaughnessy did last year. First was the national report that the Cards were still very interested in free agent DE/LB Mike Neal of the Packers, who is built similarly to Shaughnessy. Then came the news Shaughnessy was visiting the Patriots today. Then Neal tweeted out he was staying with the Packers — which could have ended up being bad news for the Cardinals, until Kent Somers broke the news Wednesday afternoon that Shaughnessy will be re-signing with the Cardinals too, also for two years.

It’s very important for the Cards. Shaughnessy worked under the radar (he’s not much of a talker, so you won’t see him a lot in interviews) but he was solid in Todd Bowles defense last season, especially against the run. It’s a big deal they were able to keep him. Nothing is officially announced yet, but it’s coming.

— The Cardinals brought in two more free agents Wednesday night, signing running back Jonathan Dwyer to a one-year contract and guard/center Ted Larsen to a two-year contract. Both are expected to be depth signings. The Cards also re-signed outside linebacker Marcus Benard to a one-year deal.

Arians promised more offensive linemen were coming “shortly.” Here’s one. Larsen started in two of his four seasons in Tampa and the Cards have long been searching for a solid backup center. If he can swing on all the interior line spots, and Bradley Sowell could be the backup right and left tackle, the Cards could be in good shape there. Dwyer (pictured below) comes from Pittsburgh, where he spent two seasons with Bruce Arians. The Cards needed a back with the departure of Rashard Mendenhall. Andre Ellington will start. Dwyer can battle Stepfan Taylor for No. 2.

— The Cardinals were supposed to get a Friday free-agent visit from Steelers defensive lineman Al Woods, who could have provided depth. But he never made it past his Tennessee visit Wednesday, and agreed to a deal with the Titans.

— Ex-Card Karlos Dansby was on the Burns and Gambo Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Wednesday. He said he was “definitely surprised” and “I didn’t expect” at how large contract was that the Browns offered. He said the reports of a two-year, $10M to $12M offer from the Cards was incorrect (he did not clarify what it was) but he said he was not disrespected by whatever it was the Cards offered.

— Speaking of Dansby, Arians wasn’t fazed by his leaving, which wasn’t surprising. “We’ll have young players, and we have enough leadership on defense,” Arians said. “Kevin Minter, we drafted for a reason. We love him. He should assume that role. We’ll still look through free agency who is available.”

Lorenzo Alexander can play inside as well, Arians added. “We wish Karlos all the best. He gave us a fantastic year last year. At his age, to get that contract, God bless him. We wish him all the well. He did a great job. We’re moving on.”


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Friday before the Seahawks different for Dockett

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2013 – 2:28 pm

The Cardinals as a group haven’t just moved far forward from this time last year. So too has Darnell Dockett. The trip to Seattle was the back end of a very rocky week for the defensive tackle last season, after his sideline confrontation with Kerry Rhodes at the end of the Jets game and the let-them-score issue. Dockett was demoted that week in practice and then came off the bench in Seattle. It was a bad time for both him and the team.

“Mentally for me, I wasn’t in the right place, our team wasn’t in the right place in the middle of that losing streak,” Dockett said.

Dockett has bounced back, of course. He was happy with the new scheme that Todd Bowles brought in. He has 4½ sacks, and is coming off – according to – two of his best games of the season. The Cardinals need him to play well Sunday in Seattle during this return trip. Dockett sure remembers the last time.

“They had a team that was struggling in every phase and they took full advantage of it,” Dockett said. “They ran the score up. Passing the ball with five minutes left. But that’s cool. I’m not mad. As a team, we have to understand the environment we are going into and we have to understand what is at stake. We have to understand we will face adversity there. Every team that goes there faces adversity. You will have to overcome it real fast.”

Can the Cardinals do that? An excellent question. When Bruce Arians calls this a barometer of where his team is at, that’s a guarantee.

— Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was disappointed in his unit last week, not necessarily because they played poorly but because for the first time this season, he felt the players began watching the clock instead of playing the game once the Cards took a 34-17 lead.

“I thought we shut it down,” Bowles said.

I doubt that will be a problem Sunday, nor a possibility, but it’s always good to learn such a lesson in a win.

— As for the rash of penalties the Cards had in the second half, Bowles said “I thought we lost our composure.” Some flags might have been questionable, but Bowles is right, the Cards have to make sure they keep it together.

— Speaking of penalties, fines were handed out from the Titans game. Tennessee linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was hit for $10,000 for his low hit on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, the one that left Palmer with a sprained left ankle (and luckily nothing else.) Titans running back Jackie Battle was not fined for his concussion-inducing hit on Larry Fitzgerald, although it wasn’t a foul and I didn’t even think it was that big of a hit.

Two Cardinals were fined. Linebacker Marcus Benard was docked $15,750 for his roughing the passer penalty on Ryan Fitzpatrick. And linebacker Daryl Washington paid $5,000 after his taunting penalty. Safety Rashad Johnson and defensive end Calais Campbell were not fined for their personal fouls.

I think Larry Fitzgerald plays. He said he’s never missed a division game and that’s true. He’s missed only four games in 10 seasons, against Cleveland in 2007 and against Chicago, Oakland and Green Bay in 2006.

— A bigger concern is the ankle of Palmer. With all those pass rushers, you want your quarterback as mobile as possible. Coach Bruce Arians didn’t sound concerned. We will see how that plays out. Palmer has played at a high level which is why the Cards are doing so well. He hasn’t seen a defense like the Seahawks though, since, well, the Seahawks game.

— Won’t go through all the playoff permutations again but again, a Cards’ loss and a Carolina win and it’s over. Otherwise, the Cardinals are still breathing.

— Finally, below is a message from Tyrann Mathieu that he wanted to make sure the fans saw.

On to Seattle.

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Looking at young players is just that

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2013 – 1:03 pm

There will be no changes to the lineup this week, Bruce Arians said. Yes, he mentioned Bobby Massie possibly playing and looking at young players, but Arians clarified that looking at those players was all he was doing. He wants to make sure they are making progress and “really are the depth we’re looking for,” Arians said.

“It’s just a matter of opportunities in case one arises,” Arians added.

Opportunities, Arians said, come in the form of injuries, mostly. Those included under the microscope, according to the coach: The entire practice squad, along with guard Earl Watford, linebacker Dontay Moch, and tight end D.C. Jefferson. It’s clear the Cards continue to look at tight ends — Arians mentioned practice squad tight end Daniel Fells by name. But unless, for instance, Colledge is down this week because of his back problem (and Watford is currently running as Colledge’s backup), don’t expect an overhaul.

— Colledge (back), WR Brittan Golden (hamstring) and LB Matt Shaughnessy (looked like his leg was wrapped) were sidelined during the open part of Monday’s practice. There is no injury report before Wednesday, but Arians said there were no injury surprises today. He also said the Cards eased off on certain veterans who were hurting.

— The Falcons are expected to get running back Steven Jackson back from practice this week too, although he has missed so much time there is no guarantee he’ll be ready to play Sunday.

— LB Marcus Benard missed practice because he was out of town for the birth of his child. “I congratulate him on that,” Arians said. Arians added Benard played well. Benard started Thursday, although he only played 11 of 67 defensive snaps.

— Wide receiver Michael Floyd reiterated that the entire offense needs to shoulder the blame for its problems, and Arians repeated the same thing when asked about the issues of quarterback Carson Palmer. “I think Carson’s problem is, some are hit and some are the 10 guys around him,” Arians said. “It’s not just the line. It’s the receivers being in the wrong spots and running the wrong routes and not being in their reception areas, and then again the protection.”

— The three biggest injuries announced in the NFL today all impact the Cardinals and their home schedule. The Texans (visit Nov. 10) lost linebacker Brian Cushing for the season, the Colts (visit Nov. 24) lost wide receiver Reggie Wayne for the season, and the Rams (visit Dec. 8) lost quarterback Sam Bradford for the season.



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