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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2013 – 8:13 pm

A year ago, John Abraham was on the other side, watching the Cardinals’ defense take apart Matt Ryan. Then, he admitted, he was surprised. Watching the unit do it again Sunday, now that he’s part of it? Not so surprising.

“Seeing the defense, the athletes we have, Karlos (Dansby), 58 (Washington), 90 (Dockett), me, 32 (Mathieu), he’s an amazing rookie, 26 (Rashad Johnson), we’ve got so many numbers, 21 (Peterson) — I keep forgetting him,” Abraham rattled off. “There are so many numbers you can call.”

The offense was better Sunday. Much better. But as the Cardinals reach the halfway point, there is little question this team is anchored by a defense that creates problems much of the time. If the offense can do just enough, then maybe they can carve out a 5-3 mark in the second half and be in the playoff hunt.

Regardless, Sunday was not only a good win, but as every noted, a very nice way to hit the bye. The Cards only have a couple of days of practice this week. This is the background with which you want to have them.

Andre Ellington was fantastic. Don’t know how many plays he got, but he still only had 17 touches, and, sorry folks, I don’t expect that to grow tremendously. But that 80-yard run was a thing of beauty. Stepfan Taylor looked good too. Take away his clock-grinding-while-the-Falcons-had-10-in-the-box runs late, and even Taylor had 33 yards on eight yards. Now, the Falcons are not the Seahawks or Niners on defense, but 201 yards rushing is 201 yards rushing.

– And Michael Floyd crushed his cornerback outside on the Ellington 80-yard run. Even Fitz got in a good block. “I don’t like doing it, but I see (Floyd) doing it so well so I just try to keep up with him.”

– Arians would not commit to Ellington as stud starter. He just said he’d wait for Rashard Mendenhall to get 100 percent healthy – which who knows, may be a while, especially now – and evaluate it then. I’m pretty sure he knows what kind of weapon he has in Ellington.

Fitz said if he gets traded, he gets traded and there is nothing he can do about it. I wrote about the whole thing here. Bottom line, we are a long time away from this being something that needs to be talked about. He isn’t going anywhere during the season.

– Today was the first time since the Wild Card playoff win over the Packers after the 2009 season where the Cardinals scored on three straight offensive possessions. (To which I gotta say, wow.)

– That Ellington and Taylor looked good was not a good sign for Ryan Williams, who was inactive as it was. Barring a rash of injuries, yes, it’s possible Williams never is activated this season. But there is a belief in the organization he is worth keeping around, so unless some blow-me-away trade offer is made – and I don’t see it – Williams isn’t going to get cut. No reason to.

– Before the game during warmups just prior to the national anthem, a black cat shot across the field and through the Falcons’ bench. An omen? Who knows? Maybe the cat just partook a little too much during tailgating and decided to streak. I didn’t see any of his friends recording it for Youtube.

– Bradley Sowell was sitting there after the game waiting for reporters. Not as many talked to him this game after the debacle that was the Seattle game. “It’s a much different story for me this week,” the left tackle said. He did look better.

– Matt Ryan, in six games before Sunday: Threw three interceptions, sacked nine times. Ryan Sunday: Threw four interceptions, sacked four times.

– Tyrann Mathieu had an interception, but he nearly had another that he would have returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Now that would have been a highlight.

– That was the first game Carson Palmer had more TD passes than interceptions since the opener. It was also the first time since the opener that Palmer didn’t throw two interceptions. We’ll take that as progress.

That’s enough. With a bye week, there will be plenty of time to break the other stuff down.


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Friday before the Falcons (and Ryan Williams?)

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2013 – 4:05 pm

What is it about Ryan Williams and his story that is so intriguing? The Cardinals go into an important game against the Falcons Sunday, and even if Williams – because of the toe injury of Rashard Mendenhall – is active, he might not even play much. Yet many are waiting to see if Williams is active and what he would do if he played, and I am one of them.

Williams (smartly) hasn’t said much about his situation, but you can tell he’s frustrated. “I’m probably the freshest guy on the team right now,” Williams said. “I’m ready to play. I’m just waiting.” Practices are closed so it’s impossible to know exactly what Williams has done, and since he is so far down the depth chart, he’s likely getting what work he is getting on scout team and not the regular offense. But Bruce Arians has said a couple of times he has been happy with the work Williams has done. Now Sunday, if the Cards, for instance, are going to have newcomer Teddy Williams active to play special teams, who sits instead? Would that be Ryan Williams’ potential spot?

In a lot of ways, Williams might be in a type of limbo. Clearly he isn’t ahead of the others on the depth chart. But Mendenhall’s injury potential is high enough that the Cards might not want to let him go. If Mendenhall goes down with a major injury, do the Cards really want to lean just on two rookies in Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor? (There is still a chance I suppose he could be dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, but I don’t expect it.)

I guess I’m looking forward to seeing that inactive list at 11:55 a.m. Sunday.

– Lot of talk about Ellington, and people keep trying to send me comparative measurements between the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington and other backs, like Jamaal Charles, etc. Look, I can’t speak to those guys. And I don’t know if Ellington could absorb more. But I think what Bruce Arians is thinking about limited reps is the idea that a lot of punishment would take away the best thing about Ellington — his explosion and ability to get outside. I’m sure he’ll touch the ball plenty Sunday.

– The Falcons were a Super Bowl favorite coming into the season. Now, the defense is much more leaky, the offense doesn’t have Julio Jones and Roddy White has been hurt so much he’s a non-factor. Steven Jackson has barely played. Now, it’s not like Atlanta hasn’t been close – their four losses have been by a total of 19 points – but they aren’t as daunting of an opponent as they once might have been.

– Matt Ryan was miserable in last year’s meeting. Ray Horton’s defense made him look terrible. Horton isn’t here anymore, obviously, but Todd Bowles is, and the Cards got after Russell Wilson pretty good. I wouldn’t expect five interceptions again, but the Cards are going to pressure him. “We got in his face early, rattled him up a little bit,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This is a new team. With them not necessarily having their top guys … we can’t fall into that they aren’t 100 percent. They still have guys who can get the ball in the end zone. But I believe if we do the same recipe as last year, we will have good success.”

– Profootballfocus.com noted that there have been two receivers targeted a league-high six times when an interception has been thrown. One was Giants wideout Reuben Randle. The other? Larry Fitzgerald. Something to consider when Carson Palmer talks about being leery when forcing the ball to Fitz.

– Speaking of Fitz, he hammered Walter Thurmond on a blind-side block last week against Seattle and did it again later to Richard Sherman. They were blows – but they could have been much harder and destructive. Fitz downplayed them, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll came out and praised Fitzgerald for playing football the “new” way – those Seahawks still got hit pretty good, but it didn’t go over the top. You can say what you want about what that means for football, but I have to admit I agree with Carroll. You can walk that line.

– Be sure to welcome our new writer at azcardinals.com when he starts next week: Kyle Odegard. I think you’ll find him a quality addition.

– Arians talks about starting fast and you wonder about the coin flip. Arians has said he will always take the ball if he is given the choice, so the Cards end up with the ball first almost every time. That makes getting off to a quick start even more important in my eyes.

– Arians reiterated what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said yesterday, that the Cardinals are “hoping” to play Bobby Massie some at right tackle. It will depend on how the game plays out, Arians said, but it would be for a series or two.

– Defensive end Calais Campbell took left tackle Bradley Sowell aside earlier this week to try and give him some advice. “I felt like the offensive linemen, the younger ones, they need to learn what we are trying to do to beat them,” Campbell said on the Big Red Rage radio show. “We just went over how I play the game and what I’m looking for. I gave him my advice. I think he has potential and we need him to win.”

– The Cards do need better play from Sowell at left tackle. And from the offense in general.


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Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 18, 2012 – 7:32 pm

Larry Fitzgerald is always going to say the right things. But it’d be interesting to crawl into his head right now and find out his true feelings about where the Cardinals and their offense are right now. Maybe he indeed is absorbing it all rationally. Of course, if he was, I’d start to wonder if he was human. When Fitz was trying to find the right way to explain Sunday’s loss despite the Cards making play after play defensively, you had to feel for him. One catch for 11 yards isn’t what you need from your star, your Pro Bowler. Then again, had he been able to pull down that last pass – and, standing just 20 yards or so away, I thought he was going to make it – he’d have been the hero and I believe the Cards would have punched in the game-winning points.

That didn’t happen.

Where from here? You can’t ask for much more from the defense. Daryl Washington may say the defense has to do more, but I’m not sure that’s possible. If the Cards just get one more touchdown – and the Cards had the ball at the Falcons’ 35 or closer four times without being able to make that happen – they win.

– At this point, I don’t know who will be the quarterback against the Rams next week. As I sit here on the charter flight home, you could see a scenario where it could be any one of the three guys on the roster. Next week will be six weeks since Kevin Kolb got hurt. I still don’t see Kolb, who was throwing some but not practicing last week, coming back yet. John Skelton could start. Ryan Lindley could.

– Was I surprised Lindley went in? Yes and no. The Cardinals were up 13-0 and, at least at that point, what they would get from Skelton was probably a known quantity, especially with his teammates. Then again, Skelton missing Fitzgerald in the end zone, that wasn’t the first time that kind of thing had happened. And I do agree with Whiz when he said if people are going to be held accountable, that has to include the quarterback.

Whisenhunt acknowledged he made the decision after Skelton missed Fitz for that TD.

“We had a play that’s open (and) you’ve got to make that throw,” Whisenhunt said.

– Let me head off a couple of questions I will inevitably get. Yes, I think the Cards will chase someone new at quarterback this offseason. No, I don’t know who, and right now, I just see that as a discussion for another day. It’s Kolb/Skelton/Lindley the rest of this season, regardless.

– Here’s another question I want to head off (and I’m not saying you can’t pontificate on this in the comments, just that I don’t plan on answering it again): No, I don’t think Whiz will be fired now. I don’t think there will be any coaching changes in season. After the season, once all the games are played, yes, there will probably be changes going in this direction. No, I don’t think it will be Whisenhunt. As I have said many times, I expect him to be coaching here in 2013.

– Adrian Wilson didn’t have much to say about being what turned out to be benched, kind of. Wilson still played in the base defense, but since the Cards started in nickel, he didn’t start. I’m sure he’s not happy – the man has played in four straight Pro Bowls, then was asked to take a pay cut and now this – but today, after the defense forced six turnovers, it’s hard to argue with the decision-making on that side of the ball. UPDATE: Wilson still played 41 of 73 total defensive snaps — 56 percent.

– Patrick Peterson did come back in the game after hurting his hamstring, but that will be something to watch this week.

– Apparently, according to ESPN’s research, Matt Ryan was the first QB to throw five interceptions in a game without a touchdown and win a game since the Packers’ Bart Starr did it in 1967.

– Fifth-round pick Senio Kelemete, who was inactive today, was the only player in the seven-man draft class not to play today. Didn’t see that coming during the 4-0 start.

– If there was any déjà vu involved while watching today’s game, there was reason. The Cardinals have been crazy playmaking productive on defense in the recent past and somehow lost before – the Monday Night Meltdown game in 2006. Rex Grossman had four picks and two lost fumbles.

Well, I certainly can’t complain, coming off the bye, of a lack of things to talk about this week. There will be plenty on which to chew before the Rams’ game. Signing off for now.


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Playing it “safe”

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2011 – 2:23 pm

The talk about grabbing a “safe” pick high in the draft has been used for a long time now. As I have responded to a few people in blog post comments over the past month or so, there really isn’t such a thing as a “safe” pick. Now ESPN’s John Clayton has written a really good column on the subject, and the reality of going “safe.”

Clayton uses the example of the Dolphins going with tackle Jake Long (three Pro Bowls in three seasons already) and then taking QB Chad Henne in the second round, instead of taking QB Matt Ryan over Long. Henne isn’t working. They are still looking for a QB. Long was “safe” and he has been excellent. But was the pick for the best?

That’s why there is so much hair-pulling (figuratively, of course) about Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, and what they could mean. If you are the Bills, for instance, and you go with Von Miller over Gabbert, and Gabbert turns into Matt Ryan — even if Miller is another, say, Clay Matthews — did Buffalo make the right call? (The same argument can be made for the Cards, for instance, for taking Larry Fitzgerald over Ben Roethlisberger). It’s why the Panthers seem likely to take Cam Newton No. 1 overall, because no matter how “safe” a Patrick Peterson or Marcell Dareus might be, they can’t trump the impact of a franchise QB.

Then again, you don’t know if that QB is going to be a franchise guy (see Leinart, Matt — among others). Another concept: Is it better to take a QB who might wash out or end up with a position player who washes out? The upside of impact usually rests with the most important position. It’s another reason why making the decisions on draft day are never simple, even when sometimes they look that way.


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Not all Madden choices created equal

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2011 – 10:50 am

This year, EA Sports has decided to make a contest out of who will be their cover photo for this year’s version of the Madden football video game. Given the past season, I guess I assumed Aaron Rodgers was a shoo-in for Madden ’12, but no, Rodgers is just one of 32 candidates — one from every team. It’s also set up in bracket form, so we aren’t just talking about the total number of votes.

There are many cover possibilities that make sense — Rodgers, Matt Ryan, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis, Adrian Peterson, Julius Peppers, Andre Johnson — and others that I look at and think, ‘A good player, but a cover?’ — guys like Peyton Hillis, Jake Long, Josh Freeman. There are repeat candidates, guys who have already been on the cover before, like Drew Brees, Michael Vick and, for the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald.

But just when you find a couple of head-scratchers (The Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap, the Bills’ Steve Johnson, the Patriots’ Danny Woodhead, Tim Tebow?) you end up freezing on the option for Seattle. Apparently, they have no player worthy of the honor, at least none important enough to usurp “The 12th Man” — the name the Seahawks give to their crowd (which yes, can be very loud, but is generally a non-factor if the team is lousy — just like any other crowd).

The 12th Man faces the aforementioned Willis in the first round, so I’d guess Willis will be the one to advance there. But still, the Qwest crowd? Really? Not, oh, maybe Mike Williams? Marshawn Lynch?

Besides, how exactly does the Madden curse affect that group — I’d be afraid of a natural disaster on game day.


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Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2010 – 4:59 pm

The regular season has arrived. And frankly, it’s impossible to know what the next four months holds for this team.

There can be no opponent/road trip better for a team in transition to play/go than the St. Louis Rams. Yet there can be no opponent/road trip worse. This feels like a no-win in some ways; if the Cards dominate, the thought will linger, “Yeah, but who was it against?” If they somehow lose … ugh.

Of course, I’m probably overthinking things. If the Cards play well Sunday, I am sure there will be a collective sigh of relief more than anything. As Adrian Wilson once said in his famously deep voice during an infamous radio interview the morning after the Monday Night Meltdown, “It’s hard to win in the NFL.” (There might have been an expletive thrown in there, but that’s a tale for another day). It is hard to win, and the Rams have some positive vibes with their new quarterback Sam Bradford.

But the Rams also have 14 rookies on their team and frankly, I am probably selling short this Cards’ defense, which is anxious to have a crack at a rookie in his first game. Bradford is a rookie. By the end of the season, who knows, maybe he does become another Matt Ryan in his first year. He’s just starting out though. No better time to get him than right out of the box.

(Ryan may be a bad example. In his first game, he was 9-of-13 for 161 yards and a touchdown. I’m thinking – and the Cards are thinking – more like Matt Stafford’s 16-for-37, 205-yard, three-interception showing.)

That’d make for a fun afternoon, wouldn’t it?

– I know Larry Fitzgerald told Sports 620 KTAR, in defense of himself in the whole Matt Leinart-was-cut scenario, that he hadn’t even taken any snaps with the newbie, Derek Anderson. Technically that’s true in the preseason-game sense of the situation. But as coach Ken Whisenhunt pointed out Friday, the two did work together sometimes in OTAs and in training camp.

“We said we were going to get Derek some reps with the ones just so he could get a feel for those guys,” Whisenhunt said. “Obviously you’d like to have more reps than we have, but I don’t see it as a situation where we haven’t gotten reps. We’ll see how it plays out Sunday.”

I think Fitz will be just fine, as long as Anderson gets the ball near him.

– Speaking of that, Whisenhunt said earlier this week the Cards have worked hard on Anderson’s footwork, which in turn is supposed to aid his accuracy. Whiz said he has seen results. That’s key. Missing out on chances – like the errant throw to a wide-open Early Doucet in the Chicago preseason game – can’t happen too often.

– I can’t see Beanie Wells playing with his bad knee. But Tim Hightower has been itching to have the load on his shoulders and now it will be, although I’d expect a heaping helping of Hyphen with no Beanie. LaRod Stephens-Howling should be a bigger part of the offense this year anyway, and they’ll need him if/when Beanie is sidelined. Looking forward, it’s hard to tell if there should be long-term Beanie concern. Which, if you think about it, is how Whiz likes it (the part about being hard to tell, not that there could be concern about Beanie).

– The wait to see who returns punts will happen game day. We’ll likely know by who is active; I am betting on Max Komar as the fifth receiver, with Andre Roberts inactive for now.

– I expect Calais Campbell to have a big season, and this game would seem to be a good starting point, with Bradford and everything.

– The Cards have to stop Steven Jackson, although they know that. Since Whisenhunt has taken over, Jackson has missed two of the six meetings, had one 100-yard game, and has averaged 63 yards rushing against the Cardinals. Yes, the Cards need more of that.

It always seems harder to “preview” the opening game because it seems, in some ways, that training camp and the preseason has been one long preview. There really doesn’t feel like much to say here, not until a game is played for real and the play of some of the new guys filters out. It will be strange going back to St. Louis without the Kurt Warner subplot (OK, let’s be honest, the game always felt like the subplot to Warner’s return – and then he’d rip up his old team).

It’s time to go, though. Finally. (P.S. Here’s a video to inspire you for the weekend.)


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