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Blogs

Sendlein still at the center of things

Posted by Darren Urban on March 5, 2014 – 9:48 am

The Cardinals signed a center yesterday, bringing in John Estes. Estes doesn’t have a lot on the résumé since coming into the league in 2010, playing in just two games with Jacksonville and spending two seasons on injured reserve. He was out of football last season. It probably is more of a sign that backup center Mike Gibson is an unrestricted free agent and might not return more than anything else. The other reserve centers on the roster right now are Tommie Draheim and Philip Blake. Meanwhile, Lyle Sendlein, the starter, plugs along.

It’s a question I get not frequently but also not rarely: Are the Cardinals looking to replace Sendlein? The answer, as it’s been for many years, remains no. That can of course change, if the Cardinals fell into a center in the draft later on that they felt they couldn’t pass on. But I expect Sendlein to stay right where he is, even as the rest of the line could change around him. Sendlein is no longer the cheap one-time undrafted rookie — his salary is $2.85 million this season and $3 million in 2015, the final year of his current deal — but he provides some stability in a unit that hasn’t had a ton. Sendlein might not make a Pro Bowl push (Profootballfocus.com ranked him 18th overall out of 35 centers, 12th in run blocking and 28th in pass blocking) but he a solid pro who is excellent in the locker room and as a leader.

If there was a time the Cards were going to move on from Sendlein it would have been last year, when the coaching staff changed and offensive line coach Russ Grimm — who loved Sendlein — left. But clearly Sendlein made a good impression on Bruce Arians and Harold Goodwin.

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A good night for the pass protection

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2013 – 3:13 pm

The Cardinals did a good job hooking up on big-chunk passes Friday night in Green Bay. That was in no small part of the pass protection. From Bruce Arians’ scheme to Steve Keim’s personnel additions to the coaching of the line from Harold Goodwin and Larry Zerlein, the Cardinals’ line did a very nice job.

To that end, I re-watched the first portion of the Cardinals’ offensive line play. As Arians noted, it seemed like the quarterbacks stayed pretty clean. After a look back on the plays in which the starting offensive linemen played – which took the Cards through both touchdowns they scored – proved Arians (and most of us watching) right. Here are the plays and how they went. The starters were, from left tackle to right tackle, Levi Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Lyle Sendlein, Paul Fanaika and Eric Winston.

FIRST POSSESSION

1st and 10, AZ 20 – Carson Palmer fades to pass, the Packers rush five. The pocket is perfect. LT Brown has no trouble dealing with Packers star Clay Matthews. Palmer hits Michael Floyd with an 18-yard throw.

3rd and 6, AZ 42 – After two runs, Palmer is the shotgun. The Packers rush four. Again, no pressure. Again, Brown deals easily with Matthews. Palmer launches a bomb to Andre Roberts. Despite no pressure, the ball is slightly underthrown and that allows the defender to catch up to Roberts. Roberts still had a chance to catch the ball.

SECOND POSSESSION

1st and 10, AZ 1 – Brown had been called for a false start, but the Cards were so close to their own goal line after their defensive stand the penalty was officially for zero yards. Arians calls for a play-action pass. Left guard Cooper pulls to the backside, somewhat risky given the spot on the field. After the fake, the Packers end up rushing only three with two other defenders backing out quickly to guard against the short stuff. Amazingly, it is wide receiver Michael Floyd, asked to stay in for protection, who locks up with Matthews. Even better, Floyd handles Matthews to a draw. Again, Palmer has plenty of time and space. He drills a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald for a 17-yard gain.

2nd and 9, AZ 19 – After another run, the Cards run a middle screen to Fitz in the slot. The Cards allow some pressure on the four-man rush as center Sendlein and right guard Fanaika jump out immediately to try and get some second-level blocks. The Cards get a modest four yards on the play.

3rd and 5, AZ 23 – Another four man rush. Matthews tries to stunt by looping from the far right side all the way inside. The Cardinals do a good job watching him as he is passed off responsibility-wise from Brown to Cooper to Sendlein. Brown does a nice job catching defensive end B.J. Raji on the hard push after Matthews leaves his sight. Palmer throws another long pass to Floyd. It’s incomplete and it doesn’t matter anyway. Floyd is called for offensive pass interference.

THIRD POSSESSION

1st and 10, GB 38 – Following a Patrick Peterson interception, Arians goes for the jugular. Packers rush four and bring a fifth blitzer on a delay. Tight end Rob Housler, staying in to block, is prepared for the blitzer. Brown, Cooper and Sendlein all handle their men one-on-one. There’s a late chip on Matthews by the running back to help Brown, but it didn’t matter at that point. Matthews wasn’t going to get there, and Palmer was already delivering a 38-yard touchdown pass to Roberts on his final play of the game.

FOURTH POSSESSION

2nd and 8, 50 – The Cardinals had gotten the ball back on a John Abraham strip-sack. A run on first down got two yards. With backup quarterback Drew Stanton in the game, Arians calls for a play-action pass. Cooper and Fanaika remain in the game with new center Mike Gibson, left tackle Nate Potter and right tackle Bobby Massie. Packers rush four. Cooper pulls to right to take the edge rusher, and he has trouble getting over to make much of a difference. Gibson also fails to pick up his inside rusher heading into the gap Cooper vacated at left guard. Still, Stanton steps up in the pocket slightly right had has plenty of time to fire to wide-open tight end D.C. Jefferson. Jefferson ends up dropping the pass when he is hit on a play that should have picked up another 15 yards or so.

3rd and 8, 50 – Stanton in shotgun. The Packers rush five – three up front, and bring two linebackers after a brief delay. Potter and Massie easily handle their responsibilities, and Stanton has the perfect pocket. He completes a long pass to wide receiver Charles Hawkins for a 36-yard gain.

2nd and 7, GB 11 – After a run, the Packers rush four. Massie is in trouble from the start and ends up falling down on the rush by defensive end Mike Daniels. But Fanaika manages to jump back to help get a chip on Daniels, giving Stanton enough time to step up and complete an 8-yard pass to Hawkins.

2nd and G, GB 1 – After a two-yard run, Stanton runs play-action with both teams featuring goal line packages. Pressure isn’t a variable as Stanton lofts a pass to an open Jefferson in the end zone. Not a great pass, but Jefferson also needs to find a way to make such plays.

3rd and G, GB 1 – Again, with the Packers committing to the line and surging forward with eight, Stanton takes a quick drop and renders the rush moot with a quick back-shoulder lob to receiver Jaron Brown, covered one-on-one in the end zone. Brown makes the one-yard TD catch.

Again, the run blocking will need to be improved and will also likely be aided when starter Rashard Mendenhall is on the field. But the pass protection certainly gave the Cardinals and Palmer something to be encouraged about as the season begins.


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Doing the offensive line math

Posted by Darren Urban on August 3, 2013 – 9:21 am

Bruce Arians said he was still a long way from choosing his starting offensive line. At the same time, he said he did know “who the eight are. Or nine,” ostensibly the guys who will be on the roster for the offensive line. In other words, the pool he’ll have to choose from when it comes to those starters.

The question is, to which eight — or nine — is Arians referring?

The list mostly seems straightforward. Barring any roster moves, you figure Jonathan Cooper, Eric Winston, Lyle Sendlein, Daryn Colledge, Levi Brown, Nate Potter and Bobby Massie will all be around. That’s already seven. But at the same time, that’s four guys who basically only play tackle — Brown, Massie, Potter, Winston — and that may be too many for guys who couldn’t move inside if necessary. Someone may need to show some versatility. Or maybe they all don’t make it.

I think Earl Watford, as a fourth-round pick, makes this team, but he may be this year’s Senio Kelemete — he may have a hard time being active on Sundays.

Let’s say, for a moment, Arians is planning on keeping around all those tackles, maybe working some at guard. Let’s say he leans toward keeping nine offensive linemen. With Watford, that’s eight already. Who else? Vet guard Chilo Rachal? Guard Paul Fanaika, who has come on and has been working with the first unit with Colledge out with injury? Do you consider Mike Gibson, who can be a guard and center, the backup center or is Cooper — who played a little center in college — your default backup at the position should something happen to Sendlein?

Or perhaps the Cardinals will end up picking up someone off the waiver wire after final cuts. That, with this front office, does not seem far-fetched at all.

Regardless, it sounds like Arians and his staff, a week into camp, have already narrowed down their potential linemen quite a bit. It’s not a surprise. What it does do it reiterate, once again, how many roster decisions are made long before we get to the end of the preseason.


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Potter inactive, Batiste to start vs 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2012 – 12:57 pm

Left tackle Nate Potter is inactive today because of his sprained ankle, putting D’Anthony Batiste back in the lineup for the first time since Potter replaced him during the Green Bay game prior to the bye week Nov. 4. That will make for an interesting matchup when he goes against 49ers pass rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks). Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) is also inactive, meaning tight end Jim Dray will fill in for the fullback duties.

Rookie guard Senio Kelemete is active for the first time this season, too.

Also inactive for the Cards today are:

– QB John Skelton

– WR LaRon Byrd (knee)

– G Mike Gibson (calf)

– WR Early Doucet (concussion)

– DE Ronald Talley (ankle)


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Hoyer active as backup QB; Rashad sits

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2012 – 12:59 pm

Brian Hoyer is active as the backup quarterback today with John Skelton inactive against the Bears. Ryan Lindley starts, but Hoyer will be available if coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to play him. It’s not a surprise, but for Skelton to open the season as starter and now be inactive with Kevin Kolb also out is an amazing journey.

Safety Rashad Johnson (hamstring) will sit out, meaning Adrian Wilson could get extended time beyond his play in the base defense, although James Sanders is available. This, again, could end up being Wilson’s final home game with the Cards depending on what the Cards do with him this offseason.

Others inactive:

– G Senio Kelemete

– OL Mike Gibson (calf)

– TE Kory Sperry

– WR Early Doucet (concussion)

– DE Ronald Talley (ankle)


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Punt return royalty seeks to regain shine

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2012 – 1:28 pm

Two of the four players in NFL history who have four punt return touchdowns in a season will be returning punts Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I think it’s going to be fun, having Devin Hester on one end and Patrick Peterson on the other,” Peterson said. “I believe that calls for a good show.”

Whether it actually produces anything remains to be seen. Both Peterson and Hester have been quiet this season on punt returns. Hester has averaged just nine yards on 34 tries, with a long of 44. His average is well below his career average of 12.3 yards a return. Peterson, of course, has also been slowed. He has an average of 8.6 yards on 47 tries (and has lost three fumbles). Neither Peterson or Hester has a touchdown this season.

Peterson has talked a few times about trying to break out on punt returns. But he is playing well at cornerback, and the always confident Peterson will not sway from his belief the big punt return will still come.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day the Arizona Cardinals drafted me to be a defensive back. The punt returns are a plus. When my opportunities comes, I will try my best and I want to break one. But teams now are so dialed in, when (number) 21 has the ball in his hands, bottle him up on the sideline and if you don’t, have all 11 hats to the ball.”

– Wide receiver Early Doucet (concussion) and newcomer offensive lineman Mike Gibson (calf) — who apparently got hurt in practice this week after re-signing — are both out Sunday. The Cardinals have a bunch of players questionable, although both safeties Rashad Johnson and James Sanders were upgraded to limited Friday. In addition to those two, the questionable list includes T Nate Potter, FB Anthony Sherman, LB Quentin Groves, TE Rob Housler, DE Ronald Talley and NT Dan Williams.

The Bears will be without LB Brian Urlacher. DT Henry Melton is doubtful. Questionable are NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings, LB Blake Costanzo, WR Earl Bennett and T Jonathan Scott.

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A massive swing and a few final tidbits

Posted by Darren Urban on December 17, 2012 – 4:45 pm

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.

 


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Lumpkin promoted and roof to be open

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2012 – 12:49 pm

The  Cardinals made a roster move Saturday, promoting defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin from the practice squad. It probably is helpful since DE Ronald Talley has been gimpy with a bad ankle and NT Dan Williams is hurting with a bad hamstring. but it also is likely a reward for working so hard this season. At this time of year, those things happen. To make room on the roster, the Cards cut offensive lineman Mike Gibson. Here had just signed earlier this week.

The Cardinals also plan to open the roof for Sunday’s game against Detroit, so dress accordingly.


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Kolb’s season ends with trip to IR

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2012 – 10:22 am

The inevitable happened Wednesday, with the Cardinals finally placing Kevin Kolb on injured reserve, ending his season and with it weeks of speculation of whether he could return from his nasty ribs injury. It also ended what looked like Kolb’s step forward in this offense after an injury-riddled disaster in 2011. Kolb was winning games in 2012, and had the meltdown of the offensive line not occurred right before the time Kolb was hurt, maybe we would have seen even more.

(Of course, the irony is that Kolb’s injury had nothing to do with the offensive line problems, just a blown handoff on which Kolb tried to run and paid the price.)

The Cards, to fill the roster spot, added offensive lineman Mike Gibson, who was with Seattle most of his four-year career before the Eagles released him in training camp this season.

It was pretty clear last week Kolb would not be able to come back from his ribs problem. Kolb proved he was the best quarterback on the team. But the reality is stark: The man acquired to be the team’s long-term QB last season played in just 15 of a possible 32 games because of injuries. Now, the injuries were serious – we’re not talking about skipping to nurse a sore hamstring or something, but instead torn ligaments in his toe and damaged foot, a serious concussion and now, ribs ripped from the sternum – but it’s tough to make an impression on the sideline.

It leaves much in the air for Kolb’s future in Arizona. No one has officially addressed it, but there is no way the Cardinals pay Kolb a $9 million salary in 2013 and a $2 million roster bonus in March. If he is going to stick around, the two sides will have to renegotiate, or Kolb will have to be released and test his wares on the open market, a la Levi Brown. I can still see a scenario where Kolb returns in 2013. But it’s no guarantee and whatever happens – if anything – with the coaching staff and front office will impact the thought process.

Kolb’s fourth-down touchdown laser thrown to Andre Roberts at the end of the Miami game that tied it up and forced overtime – a game in which the Cardinals won, the last one, as it turned out thus far – seems so, so long ago.

Here are a couple of quotes from Kolb today:

– Going on IR was “not a huge shock.” But “I wasn’t lying when I said, ‘I hope it’s next Monday, I hope it’s next Monday.’ ” He reiterated he would not have any surgery and let his ribs heal on their own.

– On the idea of the team wanting him to restructure his contract: “I’m not sure. If that time comes, we will have that discussion.”

– On staying in Arizona long-term: “I like the way this locker room is, the kind of guys in here. Obviously we have to make some adjustments. We all know that. My focus is being part of this team for a long time and getting this place back to an elite level. … People say certain things about this organization here, but my heart and soul is with this organization and I don’t want that to change. I really don’t.”

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