If you’re wondering about whether the Cardinals are loose heading into their first playoff game since the 2009 season, this is how Larry Fitzgerald opened his media session as everyone crowded around his locker today:
Q: It’s been a long time, how does it feel to be back in the playoffs?
Fitz: “Thank you.”
Q: How do you feel?
Fitz: “I appreciate it. Thank you very much.”
By then, it drew laughs. It echoed the postgame comments Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch gave reporters after the Seahawks played the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. No firestorm here, though. (I’m sure he’s learned through the years from Cards’ VP of media relations Mark Dalton, with whom Fitz is pictured below.) Fitz couldn’t keep it up. Before there was too long of a pause, Fitzgerald interrupted with a “no, no, no” and proceeded to answer questions normally. Most of the time. A few questions and legit answers later came this:
Q: You guys are the underdogs again. You expect anything less than that now?
Fitz: “Thank you,” bringing out the laughter of everyone around.
“Ah,” Fitz said, “I’m just messing with you, man.”
He then answered the question, like he always does, in polished, Fitz-like fashion.
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) January 1, 2015
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Dalton
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Bruce Arians stuck with them. That’s what popped to mind Sunday. There were many calls to dump Rashard Mendenhall to the bench and Carson Palmer too. The Cardinals’ coach didn’t. Sunday that paid off.
This isn’t to reignite the Mendenhall-Ellington debate. I still think Ellington is the better back (and oh my he showed some of his shifty goodness against the Colts, especially with that 17-yard run along the sideline) but Mendenhall had a burst against Indy we hadn’t seen. And if he can play like that, he’s worth having on the field and worth being the yin to Ellington’s yang. As for Palmer, the cacophony surrounding him when he was throwing way too many interceptions was hard to ignore. Arians stood by him. Now? Palmer looks like a QB of a playoff team.
“The biggest difference really is trust,” Palmer said, before admitting, “It took a little longer than you’d like.”
There are many things going well for the Cardinals right now. But offensively, they are clicking, and those two vets are in the middle of it.
— It does feel like sometimes, the defense gets a short shrift. They just do what they do, they control the game, and the Cards are winning (or at least have a chance to win). Palmer said it best: “Identity-wise, we’re a defensive football team,” the quarterback said.
— After all the talk all week of Arians and his Colts memories, that was more or less put aside Sunday. Lots of pre-game hugs (and a few postgame) but basically it’s been the B.A. the Cards have known all year. “It’s crazy, he’s been even keel all week,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
— If there was a question about which better second-half unit would win the second half – the Colts’ offense or the Cardinals’ defense – it came out on the Cardinals’ favor. Arizona took the second half, 13-8, and honestly, I’m not sure how safety Yeremiah Bell didn’t get a hand on the lone touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener.
— Then again, if you would have said Luck would give up as many touchdowns throwing the ball as scoring, the Cards would have taken it.
— Good to see you hold on to one, Karlos Dansby.
— Good to see Darnell Dockett not get a sack on that play, too. “I don’t care,” Dockett said. “They say, ‘You had the sack.’ I don’t care, Karlos had the touchdown, and I’ll take the interception touchdown over a sack any day. I’m glad I didn’t hit his arm and knock the ball out.”
— Arians with his quote of the day, talking about his second half defense against the explosive Colts: “We didn’t want any bullets left in the gun. I know I’m not supposed to say bullets anymore. It’s not the politically correct thing. But here in Arizona it’s OK.”
— It was kind of amazing that the Cardinals, on their first two TD drives, did not face a third down. That’s one way to avoid the third-down conversion problem.
— Speaking of that, 7-for-14 on third downs works. And Dave Zastudil only punted twice. He had never had fewer than four in a game since joining the Cardinals in 2011.
— Palmer’s touchdown of 26 yards to Larry Fitzgerald was a thing of beauty. Palmer hung in the pocket a long time and absorbed a crushing hit by linebacker Kelvin Sheppard while delivering the perfect pass – with Fitz being chased by two defenders.
— According to media relations VP Mark Dalton, that makes the Cards 13-3 overall wearing the red-red uniforms and seven in a row. And here I am feeding into the frenzy. I disappoint myself.
— Fitz looked like Fitz on those touchdown catches. He now has eight this season, double his 2012 total. His other numbers don’t match up to what he’d like, but heck. All he does is catch touchdowns. The Cards could live with that.
Tags: Carson Palmer, Colts, Darnell Dockett, Dave Zastudil, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Dalton, Rashard Mendenhall, uniforms, Yeremiah Bell
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The third down conversions were a problem Sunday, and could have cost the Cardinals. And Bruce Arians was asked if it was possible the offense as a whole was thinking too much when it came to third downs.
“No,” Arians said quickly. “We’re not thinking enough.”
If you want to get high up on the list of things Arians wants, it’s success in two-minute situations, red zone and third downs. Those are the moments that decide football games. Going 1-for-11 on third downs usually doesn’t translate well (and it was a precipitous dropoff from the previous week, for whatever reason.) It’s correctable, Arians thinks. There just has to be more focus.
“Our attention to detail on offense is very lacking,” Arians said. “We just had a long meeting (Monday) about (how) there are no little things. A lot of coaches talk about the little things. There are no little things. Everything is a big thing, and if your head is on the wrong side, and your guy makes the tackle and we gain five yards, you shouldn’t be happy because we should’ve gotten 20.
“That’s a little thing — that’s a big thing. That attention to detail has to increase for us to be as good as we want to be on offense.”
All that said, Arians knows his team moved the ball. Media relations maven Mark Dalton pointed out that, after two games, the Cardinals have gone three-and-out on only two of 24 possessions this season, an 8.3 percentage topped only by the high-octane Eagles thus far (one in 25 drives.) The NFL average is 23.4 percent of possessions. So Arians has tangible proof for his offense.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Arians said. “A couple routes, a couple reads. We should’ve been at least 50 percent again this week like we were last week.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Mark Dalton
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The Cardinals interviewed defensive coordinator Ray Horton Tuesday for the head coaching spot. They are scheduled to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy Saturday in Denver. They have reached out to former Eagles coach Andy Reid to set up an interview, but one has yet to be set.
The latter is an important point, after multiple reports, including many nationally, indicated Tuesday Reid becoming the next Cards’ coach was all but done. Is Reid becoming coach in Arizona going to happen? Maybe. He was always one of the first three candidates — president Michael Bidwill said that Monday. But it would seem that, until an interview takes place and until important details are fully discussed, it’d be hard to say anything was close to being done. We’ll see. It’s possible Reid will be the guy, but after Bidwill just sat in his press conference Monday afternoon saying this wasn’t going to happen at “lightning speed,” it’s odd that it seemed to have happened at lightning speed.
UPDATE: Adam Schefter was one of many who reported the closeness of Reid to the job and later quoted someone calling it “95 percent” done. Here was his tweet later Tuesday: “One source close to Andy Reid insisted deal w/ Cards not close. Another source said Cards search open and no leading candidate at this time.” A significant change.
— In the meantime, VP of player personnel Steve Keim is reportedly going to interview for the Chargers’ GM spot. Horton is slotted to also interview with the Browns and Bills. And the wheels keep turning in the whole process.
Tags: Andy Reid, Mark Dalton, Michael Bidwill, Mike McCoy
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As I was driving to work this morning, it occurred to me that there can’t be too many times when a team undergoes the kind of score swing from one week to the next that the Cardinals had these past two weeks. After losing in Seattle, 58-0, they beat the Lions, 38-10. That’s a swing margin of 86 points. So, with a hat tip to media relations stats guru Mike Helm, Elias was able to confirm that it was the biggest swing from week to week since 1968.
That year, the Lions opened the season with a 59-13 loss in Dallas and then followed up with a 42-0 home win over the Bears — a swing of 88 points. From blown out to blowout. The first part of that isn’t ideal, but better than back-to-back losses. (It actually happens more than I thought. The Giants blew out the Saints, 52-27, last week and then lost, 34-0, to the Falcons this week. Not in the same points ballpark, but the same concept.)
— Speaking of media relations mavens, VP Mark Dalton noted the last time safety Rashad Johnson scored a touchdown before Sunday was when he returned an interception for a 54-yard score while playing for Alabama Nov. 8, 2008 in a win at LSU. You know who also had a pick-6 in that game? LSU freshman Patrick Peterson. Too bad Peterson could complete the circle of life when he stumbled at the end of his interception return Sunday.
— Punter Dave Zastudil has 38 punts downed inside the 20-yard line with two games to go. He is on pace to eclipse the NFL record of 42, held by three players, including the Cards’ Ben Graham in 2009. Zastudil has been fantastic this season. Of course, he isn’t even leading the league, since Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt already has 41 downed inside the 20. It’s a race to the finish!
— The 25.5 sacks of defensive end Calais Campbell in his career already puts him in the top 10 in franchise history. I don’t know if he’s ever going to reach the top — Freddie Joe Nunn’s 66 is a long way away, especially for a 3-4 end — but if he stays consistent there is no reason to think Campbell doesn’t at least double his total over the next three seasons.
— The Cards flip-flopped their Saturday roster move, releasing defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin — they must expect Dan Williams and/or Ronald Talley back this week — and re-signing guard/center Mike Gibson.
Tags: Ben Graham, Calais Campbell, Dave Zastudil, Dustin Colquitt, Mark Dalton, Mike Gibson, Mike Helm, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Ricky Lumpkin
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Sometimes, it takes intense evaluation to know where you are as a team. Sometimes, it’s a little more simple.
“It really comes down in this league — and watching (Sunday’s opponent) Atlanta is a good example, to making those plays (to win),” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The Falcons make a lot of catches in tight coverage and the quarterback throws it in there. If the Green Bay game is any judge of that, we drop balls when we’re wide open. We can’t do that. We miss tackles in the open field. You can’t do that.”
Again, and this has been said too many times to count, the Cardinals as constructed don’t have margin for error. Their defense is good, but not so suffocatingly good it can hold off the opposition every time. The offense can’t turn it over and must carve out more points when it has a chance, because there won’t be too many — if any — 30-point outbursts. Special teams has to contribute to aid both sides. The Cards have to have something more to be in the game.
— My first visit to Atlanta, way back in 2004, was memorable. The Falcons won, 6-3, even though first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast came up with a great gameplan to foil QB Michael Vick and Cardinals defensive end Peppi Zellner — remember him? — had probably his best game (only good game?) in Arizona. The Cards fumbled the ball late (wide receiver Karl Williams) in the red zone right before a chance to at least tie the game. Atlanta’s kicker booted two field goals for the win. That kicker just happened to be Jay Feely (h/t Mark Dalton for that memory.)
— Because I know some people still might be interested, word out of Philadelphia is that the future of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is uncertain with his contract set to expire.
— Another former Card, Chiefs wide receiver Steve Breaston, was a surprise healthy scratch on Monday night.
— The bye week is tough. With no games, you start to run out of things to talk about over two weeks (although a losing streak doesn’t help.)
Tags: DRC, Ken Whisenhunt, Mark Dalton, Michael Vick, Steve Breaston
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Practice was almost over this afternoon when quarterback Kevin Kolb handed the ball off to William Powell in a two-minute drill and then ended up on the ground. Turned out he took a knee to his right thigh. After a couple of minutes with head athletic trainer Tom Reed, he limped off the field on his own to go into the training room. The team called it a thigh bruise for now, but it will be evaluated.
The Cards don’t have a practice until Tuesday afternoon. Coach Ken Whisenhunt talks again at lunch time and I’d assume he’ll have an update then.
P.S. When Kolb came out of the training room he was healthy enough to sign some autographs (the picture is from Cards media relations maven Mark Dalton). After he went to the locker room and got cleaned up, he signed some more, and was still signing when I just left.
Tags: Kevin Kolb, Mark Dalton
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The Cardinals had their walk-through at Georgia Tech this morning. That means in the past month the Cardinals have worked at Northern Arizona University, Vanderbilt, Arizona State and Georgia Tech. As VP of media relations Mark Dalton noted, the Cards seem to get to more campuses than ESPN’s College GameDay. (And speaking of college, University of Phoenix Stadium, the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and Atlanta’s Georgia Dome have all hosted their share of college games recently too, so ….)
Tags: Georgia Tech, Mark Dalton
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Couple of quick things on this Tuesday morning.
One, the 2010 media guide has been published and has been updated on the site, if you are into that sort of thing. Stellar work once again by the media relations staff headed by VP Mark Dalton, along with Chris Melvin, Mike Helm and Nate LoCascio.
Speaking of Melvin, who is king of the game program, he asked me to pass along this note. Fans looking to get their picture in Kickoff Magazine — the official game program — have that chance. Just send in your best photo of yourself, or family, or friends (or everyone) wearing their favorite Cardinals’ gear. It can be in your home, or tailgating before a game, or wherever. If there is a good shot of you sporting a Fitz jersey in Rome, what the heck. If your picture is selected, you will be featured in a regular season Kickoff Magazine. Submit the picture, your name and the town you live in (and don’t forget those details) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan photos will be selected based on size and photo quality.
Tags: Chris Melvin, Mark Dalton, media guide, Mike Helm, Nate LoCascio
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