Mathieu done for season — but it happens

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2015 – 3:17 pm

It is unquestionably a harsh reality the Cardinals and Tyrann Mathieu were officially handed Monday, with the news Mathieu had torn his ACL and was done for the year. Mathieu has had a fantastic season. They will miss him on the field. But what struck me is how personal this is, for Bruce Arians and players. This cuts them, because Mathieu is such a great person. This is ground that has been covered many times, but it makes sense why people want to root for this guy. He has a charisma that few have. He is genuine. Add in the fact he can play football, and it resonates. I’m not afraid to say he’s one of my favorite guys to cover in my 16 years around this team.

This is why the news is extra painful.

“Luckily we have the next couple of days off to let this emotionally sink in,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “Not so much not having our guy to play in the playoffs, but our hearts go out to him because of everything he’s been through and how hard he has worked to get back to this point and having the season he’s having.”

As for on the field, the Cardinals have to find a way to make due defensively without Mathieu. You can’t replace the playmaking ability. That’s innate. You do have — assuming no more serious injuries — depth, however. Johnson should be back from his ankle injury. Jerraud Powers plays more slot. Justin Bethel gets on the field. And new safety D.J. Swearinger plays more with Tony Jefferson.

Also part of the equation: This happens. Take a look around the top teams. Almost all have lost at least one significant player, if not for the season, for an extended period of time.

— Seahawks: TE Jimmy Graham, RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Thomas Rawls

— Panthers: WR Kelvin Benjamin

— Steelers: RB Le’Veon Bell

— Packers: WR Jordy Nelson

— Bengals: QB Andy Dalton

— Patriots: WR Julian Edelman, every decent running back they had

— Broncos: LT Ryan Clady, QB Peyton Manning (yes, I understand you can quibble with the Peyton pick.)

The point is it’s the living example of that well-worn quote coaches and some players have been saying for years: “The other team isn’t going to feel sorry for us.” The other teams have their own personnel losses. It’s the business.

Tyrann Mathieu, Nelson Agholor

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A DC announcement and Super odds and ends

Posted by Darren Urban on February 2, 2015 – 12:15 pm

That’s it. The NFL season is over.

It’s a weird feeling here at the Cardinals’ Tempe facility, because the Cards have been done for a while — yet with the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in town (not to mention the many appearance opportunities for various players, Bruce Arians and Michael Bidwill) it ramped up quickly around here. And then, quiet. The Scouting combine starts two weeks from Wednesday, and free agency will start a couple weeks after that. Roster moves will begin to happen. The 2015 season will be on us quickly.

— Bruce Arians told me Friday he expects to make an announcement on the new defensive coordinator this week. But that’s all it will be, an announcement, because Arians is out of town this week so he wouldn’t be at any press conference. Arians also said all the changes to the coaching staff aren’t quite done, so maybe he’ll just wait to talk about it once that all is settled. As I’ve mentioned, all signs point to the promotion of outside linebackers coach James Bettcher to DC.

— The decision to not run Marshawn Lynch was not smart. (I do get trying to beat a goal-line defense, but again, you have the best battering ram in the league.) That said, how does a defense that is that good allow two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter? Can’t happen, and is as big of an issue in my mind as the offensive failure at the end.

— The Cardinals’ facility is now 3-for-3 in Super Bowl winners. The Cowboys (for Super Bowl XXX), the Giants (Super Bowl XLII) and now the Patriots all practiced at the Cards’ Tempe home the week of their games in Arizona.

— Speaking of the facility, more makeovers are underway. The new weight room and cafeteria are closer to being finished, and now that the Patriots don’t need it anymore, the locker room is being torn down for renovations.


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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2014 – 10:17 pm

Drew Stanton said after Sunday’s game the Cardinals knew it would be difficult. I’m not sure it was supposed to be quite that difficult. The game played out as an ugly, smash-em-up affair, and that was OK. The Cards can do that. But the Cards can’t make mistakes while doing that, because those are the things that swing a close game. Whether it was the dropped TD pass or the punt block or just the inability of the offense to do anything of real substance save for the end-of-the-half drive (that closed with the TD drop), the Cardinals didn’t do the basic things. The Seahawks did.

Russell Wilson was special in the second half, escaping a few times when he really didn’t have the right to escape. But the Seahawks won because they patiently waited for the Cards to hand over field position, and simply kicked field goals when they did.

It has not been a particularly good offensive stretch to be sure. No touchdowns over the last seven quarters is not going to win any games, much less divisions or championships. These are the defenses you figure to see in the playoffs, too. It makes the game against the Falcons critical next week, especially for that side of the ball. Bruce Arians has to find something that works. Quickly.

— The Cards handled Marshawn Lynch. They couldn’t handle Wilson. In the second half especially, he made some magical plays. In an offense that really doesn’t have the right to be very effective, Wilson made it enough so on Sunday.

— Not having Larry Fitzgerald didn’t help. He couldn’t run, and the question is, how soon will he be able to run? Is another week off going to be enough? It might not be.

— More importantly, you’d think Michael Floyd would step to the forefront with Fitz down, but he was only targeted a couple of times and his one catch was negated by a penalty.

— Stanton hurt his left ankle late in the game, but he said was fine. He walked off the field without any issue and said he would’ve come back in the game. “It’s not anything major,” Stanton said.

— The Cardinals had eight sacks in the first eight games. After seven Sunday – including a career-best three from defensive end Calais Campbell – the Cards have 17 in their last three games. That thing when coaches are always saying sacks come in bunches? Yeah, that.

— It wasn’t the best special teams day for the Cardinals, but their field-goal block unit got another one thanks to Tommy Kelly (his second of the season) and Justin Bethel was irritated he didn’t get a piece of the first two Seattle field goals when he thought he had near misses.

— Arians gave Jaron Brown a pat on the back after his TD drop. Realistically, Arians said, the Cardinals at halftime were “where we’re at every week, within a score, up a score or down a score. We were right were we wanted to be.”

Then came the punt block, and the Cardinals never could get things right.

— The 204 yards of offense was the lowest total of the Arians era and the lowest amount of yards in a game since the Cards had 196 in a Ryan Lindley-started 38-10 win over the Lions Dec. 16, 2012.

— Newcomer Josh Mauro added some things on the defensive line at end, I thought. And further pushed the inactive-again Alameda Ta’amu down the depth chart.

— It was the best game of linebacker Kevin Minter’s year-plus: Five tackles, a first NFL sack, two tackles for loss.

— It’s about perspective. As someone mentioned on plane home, if someone would have said before the season the Cardinals were going to be 9-2 after the Seattle trip, no one would have turned it down. The Cards need to get it back quickly, though. Atlanta awaits.


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A way to beat the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on January 31, 2014 – 2:17 pm

The Seahawks have lost just three times this season in 18 games, including the postseason. The largest margin of those losses was the seven points that separated the Cardinals and Seahawks during the Cards’ 17-10 win in Seattle in December. The Cardinals did it with a stifling defense and a good enough running game — parts that don’t particularly run parallel to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl opponent, Denver. The Broncos have been able to run and their offense was much more productive than the Cardinals (much more productive than any other team, actually), with a defense that doesn’t compare to what the Cards have.

Nevertheless, how the Cardinals knocked off the Seahawks was a demonstration in basic football. On offense, the Cards played it safe– 43 run plays, 27 pass plays — and played keep-away — time of possession was more than 37 minutes for Arizona. When the Cards did run, they were fairly effective, with their running backs gaining 142 yards on 38 carries (a not-spectacular-but-good-enough 3.7 yards a try). They often ran into the heart of the Seattle defense, not allowing the Seahawks’ speed to help run down the ballcarrier for little gain and looking to wear on them as the game went along.

Carson Palmer was only sacked twice so the protection held up most of the day. The Broncos shouldn’t have an issue since Peyton Manning is the best ever at getting the ball out quickly and to the right place almost all of the time. Palmer tried a couple times to make quick choices, but there was a reason he had four interceptions that day. Those four picks, by the way, should have cost the Cardinals the game.

They didn’t. Why? Because the Cardinals’ defense was unreal and to me, that is the ultimate hinge of this Super Bowl — can the Broncos keep Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in check long enough to allow Manning time to get done what he needs done. Lynch got off to a decent start against the Cards that day but his production quickly fizzled, highlighted by his inability to force his way into the end zone late in the first-half after a terrible Cardinals’ turnover. The Cards’ defense stoned Lynch then, the Seahawks missed the gimme field goal, and that was a turning point.

Lynch, as everyone knows, is a pain in the rear to bring down. The Broncos have to be able to swarm, even when it looks like the play might be over. Then there is Wilson, who had probably his worst day as a pro against the Cards: 11-for-27 for only 108 yards, a touchdown but also a pick, four sacks and only two rushing attempts (for 32 yards.) Wilson was inaccurate all day, and the Cards got pressure through a Seattle offensive line that isn’t very good.

Of course, for as well as the defense did, it took some luck for the Cardinals that day as well, for instance the third-and-3 scramble out of the pocket by Palmer that led to an improbable 17-yard pass play to tight end Jake Ballard on the game-winning drive. But that drive was mostly about the run before Palmer flung his touchdown toss to Michael Floyd. One thing about Peyton Manning — he’s never forced passes when he thinks the run can work. And if it means tiring the Seattle defense/keeping Wilson off the field, I could see Manning doing that.

What I don’t think the Broncos can overcome is turnovers. The Cardinals were lucky Palmer’s picks didn’t turn into disaster. Manning’s abilities aside, the Seahawks feed off of that. But if there is a way to slow Lynch, the Seahawks’ offense has been less than dynamic of late. That, even with a great defense available, would seem to call for a close game. And in a close game, anyone can win.

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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2012 – 5:25 pm

It rained all morning at the Cardinals’ Tempe facility Friday, all the way through practice. Yes, the Cardinals open up at home Sunday, but since a team from Seattle is the opponent, maybe the precipitation was fitting. I know that personally, it felt odd to have a steady downpour in early September. It seemed to dovetail a little bit with the uncertainty around the Cards going into the season.

Even coach Ken Whisenhunt noted “there is a lot more unknown with our team,” between how the new offensive line will hold up to John Skelton as cemented starter for the first time (remember last year, when Kevin Kolb was healthy, he was put back in the lineup). But Whiz did say “I think everyone is always optimistic going into the first game,” and I think that’s true. There is going to be a sense of us-against-the-world right now in the locker room. A lot of teams go down that road (even good teams that aren’t criticized much) but the Cards can definitely find bulletin-board material if they so choose.

— Beanie Wells ended up on the injury report today with a hamstring issue. He told Kent Somers he’d play, but he is listed as questionable. Interestingly, Wells has just missed three games in the last 30 the Cardinals have played – and each one has been against Seattle. He sat out the meaningless finale last year in UoP, but the game he missed in Seattle – because of a hamstring – ended up being crucial when the Cards lost by three and could have used their star back.

“It was frustrating for me in that particular game having to sit back and watch, not be able to help the team,” Wells said.

Veteran Chester Taylor was Wells’ replacement and couldn’t do anything. (LaRod Stephens-Howling, who had 93 yards rushing in the second Seattle game, was injured too.) Alfonso Smith did a decent job in relief, but the Cards certainly could have used Ryan Williams. If Beanie is limited or out Sunday, Williams will be there this time.

— Talking to Wells before the hamstring problem, I asked him how his recovery from his knee was. “I am getting there,” Beanie said. “I’m not going to say I am there yet, but it is definitely coming.”

— Williams, talking about his own recovery from his patella tendon issue: “I feel like I am a couple weeks away. With this injury, you are still going to feel some lingering pinching, things of that sort, I say since the Oakland game, maybe a week before, I have been really feeling like myself. I have made some moves in practice I have just been waiting to make. I feel like I used to, making cuts, and getting my football awareness, my football sense up under me.”

— Sam Rosen is doing the play by play for Fox for this game. Why does that matter? Rosen was doing the work in each of the four games Patrick Peterson returned a punt for a touchdown – and he was in the booth the last game of the year when Seattle visited, the game in which Peterson should have had a fifth TD if Seahawks punter Jon Ryan hadn’t somehow tripped him up with a fingernail or two.

— Lot of questions about this, but don’t forget: the NFL moved a handful of kickoff times this season on late games, and this is one of them. Kickoff is at 1:25 p.m., not 1:15 p.m. Make sure you check the homepage if there are ever any kickoff time questions.

— Whisenhunt said he had addressed his team before the Hall of Fame game about awareness of the replacement officials. There has not been and won’t be a follow-up. “It’s not something you talk about,” Whisenhunt said. “You don’t want to get too wrapped up in that.”

— We’ll see how rookie right tackle Bobby Massie and new left tackle D’Anthony Batiste hold up Sunday. Batiste, remember, has just four NFL starts, all at guard, all in 2007. Nothing changes in the scheme, offensive coordinator Mike Miller said, only some of the ways the Cards will protect it. The defensive front and the looks the Cards will see more or less dictates if the Cards will give one of their tackles help. “As (offensive line coach) Russ (Grimm) always says, on each play, someone is going to have a tough block,” Miller said.

— Defensive end Calais Campbell has six sacks in six career starts against the Seahawks. Why does he do so well against them? Don’t ask him. “I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know,” Campbell said, chuckling as he struggled to find a reason. “I try my hardest every time I’m out there. I don’t know how to answer that question – but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can do it again

— Campbell also led the league with nine passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last season. Wonder if 5-foot-11 Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson knows that?

— Another guy who has always killed the Seahawks has been Larry Fitzgerald, including last year’s finale when he exploded for 149 yards on nine catches and nearly single-handedly willed the Cards’ offense to a win. Fitz needs seven receptions to reach 700 in his career, and whether he gets it this week or next, he’ll be the youngest player ever to reach that mark. For his career – 16 games total – Fitz has 102 catches for 1,371 yards against Seattle, his top marks against any one franchise.

— Speaking of Wilson, defensive coordinator Ray Horton said he has the same mobility as last year’s Seattle starter, Tarvaris Jackson, but “he gets the ball out faster.” That said, Horton said he believes the Cards’ cornerbacks have more depth than last year. One thing to watch: Who the third cornerback is in the game. William Gay might start as No. 2, but based on the last couple of preseason games, the Cards may use Gay as a nickel and get rookie Jamell Fleming on the outside.

— The Cards need to be stout on the ground, which could be harder with the scrambling ability of Wilson. In the finale last year, Marshawn Lynch had 86 yards on 19 carries, and Leon Washington added 78 on seven carries. Now they have rookie Robert Turbin in the mix. Putting Wilson into uncomfortable, long passing situations starts with slowing the run game. Lynch is questionable with a back issue, but most Seattle writers are guessing he will play Sunday.

The 2012 season is on deck.

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Cards may not need Lynch mob

Posted by Darren Urban on July 17, 2012 – 9:23 am

The regular-season opener against an NFC West rival may already be impacted, and we haven’t even started training camp yet. The Seattle Seahawks will visit University of Phoenix Stadium Sept. 9, but they may be without the anchor of their offense after running back Marshawn Lynch was arrested on suspicion of a DUI. Lynch has not only been in trouble with the law before but has also been suspended, so the chances NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspends him for this would seem to go up.

If that were to happen, he’d miss the game against the Cards. Last year, it wasn’t as if Lynch killed the Cards. While he totaled a career-best 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns, he had just 73 yards on 19 carries in the Seahawks’ 13-10 win over the Cards in Seattle, and then had 86 yards on 19 carries in the Cards’ season-closing 23-20 overtime win in Arizona. He had no touchdowns. But Lynch was still going to be the focal point of the offense, especially after signing a new contract.

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