When the Cardinals signed veteran kicker Phil Dawson, one of the questions that came up immediately was whether he would kick off. Dawson split time with the 49ers last year with punter Bradley Pinion on the duty, and ended up with only four touchbacks. But Dawson emphasized that his low touchback count was by design and not because of an inability to kick it deep. While both the Cardinals’ current punting options — Matt Wile and Richie Leone — can and have kicked off in the past, coach Bruce Arians has said Dawson can do the job. It’s a wait-and-see situation, but Dawson wants to kick off.
Dawson said the biggest reason his touchback count was so low last year was that the coaches wanted him to pooch kickoffs. Pro Football Focus pointed out that Dawson had the greatest percentage of kickoffs between the goalline and the 5-yard line last season, at 41.5 percent. With touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line, a pooch-and-cover strategy makes a lot of sense. The Patriots, to name one team, did it well last year. The Cardinals went with the touchback most of the time with Chandler Catanzaro, but given special teams issues and the need to cover, that probably was a good idea. If the Cards can gather a coverage unit that can get there, Dawson could trap return men near the goal again. Yes, his touchback ratio would be lower, but if the Cards can lock down the return man inside the 25, no one will care.
No one was more effective with the pooch kickoff last year than Phil Dawson pic.twitter.com/JiImOPxZNu
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 10, 2017
Tags: Matt Wile, Phil Dawson, Richie Leone
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It’s been a big week for Larry Fitzgerald. Becomes the player with the third-most catches in NFL history, is chosen as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year (and will it surprise anyone if Fitz is one of the three finalists?) and now, gets to go back to where he first had a game-winning touchdown.
You remember, right? Denny Green’s first year, Fitz’s rookie year, and the last time the Cardinals actually played in Miami. It was 2004, and Fitz’s 48-yard bomb with about a minute left set up his two-yard touchdown catch with 23 seconds left. It snapped a 17-game road losing streak for the Cards (those were the days …) and got Fitzgerald to the postgame interview podium for the first time.
He didn’t like it. It was a short and, if I recall correctly, much too awkward of an interview for a guy who just scored the game-winning points. But life is much different these days for Fitz. That was the day, coming off a personal shutout in the rain in Buffalo, that Fitz started his still-active streak of 191 straight games with a catch.
“That’s a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said.
Indeed it was.
Are these two Miami trips going to essentially bookend Fitz’s career? He was asked this week about catching Tony Gonzalez and/or Jerry Rice on that receptions list. Gonzalez is about 200 receptions in front of Fitzgerald.
“I won’t catch either of those guys,” Fitzgerald said, adding, “I don’t plan on playing long enough to catch both those guys.”
What does that mean? It would seem to put a damper on the idea Fitz will play past 2017, since the rest of this season plus next season plus, say, 2018, would seem to put him in Gonzalez range. So at this point – although Fitzgerald was quick to say he wasn’t making any kind of retirement announcement – Fitz’s time seems to be short. He’s obviously a lot closer to the end than the beginning. Trips to Miami mark the time.
— The Cardinals may adjust their offensive line again, with the possibility of Earl Watford returning to the lineup at right guard for John Wetzel. Watford got hurt at the end of the Minnesota game, and while he was healthy enough to play the last couple games, Wetzel instead got the call. Goodwin called Watford’s year “up and down.”
“It’s probably not where he wants it, not where I want it to be,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I have high expectations of him, as a player and a person.”
Arians said Watford is healthy again, and simply, he has more experience than Wetzel. That’s a big deal going up against what can be a nasty Dolphins defensive line,
— With rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hurting his elbow in practice and missing parts of practice all week, I don’t think anyone has to wonder if this is the week he makes it back to the Sunday active list.
— Guys like Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson are going back to Miami to play for the first time and are excited. John Brown is also headed home for the first time, although it’s a much different vibe. Although Goodwin said Brown played well last week in his limited snaps – Arians had noted Smoke was open deep a couple of times, although the Cards couldn’t get him the ball – he didn’t have a catch and has just 31 receptions this season.
“Just going through it is kind of frustrating,” Brown said. “But everyone in here has my back. The coaches have my back. I’ll get through it. It’s just a small bump in the road.”
Brown did say he hasn’t played in front of his family since high school, so he is looking forward to doing so.
— Fitz, on whether rest days have helped the arm of Carson Palmer. “His arm has always looked good,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s 36 years old, you know he’s capable of doing everything. You don’t need to see it every day.”
— Arians was asked about the comparison to Tyrann Mathieu — who won’t play Sunday because of his bad shoulder — and former Colts safety Bob Sanders, who had an excellent career cut short because of injuries. Sanders was also undersized.
“Totally different players,” Arians said. “Bob was a box guy who would just knock your socks off all the time, but his body couldn’t take his bravado. Ty plays the game a different way. It’s just been bad luck.”
— After failing to score on the opening possession all season, the Cardinals have scored a touchdown on the opening drive each of the last two games. Palmer said the Cards have put a focus on it. I asked what does that exactly mean, since you figure they are working on all the plays equally.
“I wish there was one reason or five reasons,” Palmer said. “There are a ton of reasons why that happens. It’s not like all of a sudden Coach put together a really good opening drive. It is not like all of a sudden we didn’t make a mistake on the opening drive. I think if you looked at that and compared it to all the other opening drives, there are probably less mistakes, but there is no rhyme or reason or perfect formula, obviously, or else everybody would be doing it.”
— With no roster moves as of yet, it seems unlikely the Cardinals will make a move with practice squad punter Matt Wile this week. So I expect Drew Butler to have his regular duties against the Dolphins.
— The Cardinals win this weekend, and the last month of this season can be very, very interesting. A loss, and you’re talking about 2017.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Dolphins, Earl Watford, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Wile, Patrick Peterson, Robert Nkemdiche
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The Cardinals brought in punter Matt Wile for a tryout Monday, and Tuesday, signed him to their practice squad. Drew Butler remains the punter on the active roster.
To make room for Wile on the practice squad, the Cardinals released linebacker Reshard Cliett.
Wile punted well against the Cards two weeks ago when he served as an injury fill-in for the Falcons. In that game, Wile’s two punts traveled 59 and 57 yards, and his net average was 52 yards. Wile’s arrival will essentially create an in-season competition at the position. Butler has struggled since returning to the Cardinals following a severe ankle injury and subsequent release. In his two stints with the Cards this season – six games thus far – Butler has averaged 41.3 yards with a net average of 35.4.
“Like any other position there are expectations, and that spot right now, we’re not living up to expectations,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7. “It’s a results-based business and if you’re not getting the job done, we’ll look and see if there is somebody who can.”
Coach Bruce Arians had pointed out Monday any new punter would also need to be able to hold on point-afters and field goals. Some practice time will give Wile a chance to show that as well. As Kent Somers astutely pointed out, as bad as a shanked punt might be, a blown hold on a key field goal would be worse.
Tags: Drew Butler, Matt Wile, Reshard Cliett
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