It’s the Cardinals vs. the Rams, a game that in Bruce Arians’ time as the Cards’ coach has often provided some memorable moments over six meetings.
- In 2013 in St. Louis, Arians’ first game as coach, Tyrann Mathieu had his famous forced fumble from behind, although it wasn’t enough in a Cardinals’ loss;
- In 2014 at home, Carson Palmer tore his ACL but the Cards, thanks to Drew Stanton and the defense, poured on late TDs to move to 8-1;
- In 2014 on the road, Stanton suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury, and the defense was brick-wall-esque in a brutal 12-6 win. That’s the game in which Arians talked about a team “always 8-8.”
- In 2015 at home, Todd Gurley broke out and the Rams managed a big upset over the undefeated Cardinals.
What comes this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium could determine the direction of the season. A 1-3 start is a difficult hole out of which to climb. The Cardinals are 2-2 — especially with a short week and trip to San Francisco coming Thursday — and life is much more settled.
— It will be helpful, to say the least, to have guard Evan Mathis in the lineup against that defensive line.
— I know the Cards knew the Bills were going to run last week and the Bills still killed them on the ground. I know Gurley is good. But I’m betting this defensive performance will look more how the Cardinals dealt with Gurley in St. Louis than that out-of-control 144-yard half in Arizona last year.
— Usually, no one pays attention to the long snapper. That hasn’t been the case with the Cardinals, and newcomer Aaron Brewer — who snapped for the Super Bowl champion Broncos last season — would like for that to change.
“Hopefully everybody forgets who I am and I kind of fall away into the shadows,” Brewer said. “That’d be the best. … That means you do your job well, when no one knows who you are.”
— It’s not ideal when two of the three pieces in the kicking operation changes in one week, but kicker Chandler Catanzaro said he’s already found a comfort level with Brewer and new holder/punter Ryan Quigley. “I understand the business of it, that it is a production business and things have happened,” Catanzaro said. “That’s something I can take on my shoulders and we can fight through it. That’s part of the deal as a specialist.”
— Yes, punter Drew Butler was supposed to hold but his bad calf won’t let that be possible. I don’t know what happens if Quigley impresses. Arians said this week Butler would remain on the roster unless an injury forced a move.
— Roy Green will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday (we will have a story posted Saturday about Green.)
— Much talk this week about Mike Leach coming out of retirement. The former long snapper told the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports he actually went out and practiced snapping at his house with a helmet and pads on, to see if he could still do it. He could — except the way his body felt the next day reminded him why he retired. Few know how much time Leach spent in the training room the past few years getting his body ready to play every week.
— If you missed it, here’s the Cardinals Underground podcast from this week.
— This point was brought up to me by a fan, that the passing game stumbles through the first three games is reminiscent of similar issues Kurt Warner and the Cardinals had through three games in 2009 after big expectations. That year, the Cardinals found their rhythm and won nine of their next 12 games (although the passing game never quite reached 2008 levels.)
This isn’t about streaks right now, though. The Cardinals just want one win, at home, against a team they’ve played generally well against (even in last year’s loss the Cards moved the ball, they just lost the turnover battle and stalled in the red zone.)
— In 2002, the Rams — coming off a tough Super Bowl loss and bringing back basically the same powerful team — ended up starting 0-5. Then-quarterback Kurt Warner has said (and reiterated this week on Arizona Sports 98.7) it was because the Rams were pressing too hard to show how good they were.
Warner said he thinks that is happening to the Cardinals. Arians agreed. Now we’ll see if the Cards can adjust that and fix the direction they are going.
Tags: Aaron Brewer, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro, Drew Stanton, Evan Mathis, Kurt Warner, Mike Leach, Rams, Roy Green, Ryan Quigley, Todd Gurley
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No way around it: That one hurt. You can say over and over that it’s the Patriots and Bill Belichick is the arguably the best coach in NFL history, and I do think the Cardinals worked hard this week on avoiding overconfidence, invoking last year’s painful loss in Pittsburgh. Still, losing to the Brady-less (and Gronk-less) Pats would be easier to take if the Cardinals played well and they were outplayed. It didn’t feel that way, though. Losing on a missed field goal actually seemed apropos for the evening. Close, but not enough. The Cards looked off in all three phases.
The last time they lost an opener at home, it was a disappointing outing against the 49ers in 2009. The Cards won 10 games that season. We’ll see how this one plays out.
— Would Mike Leach have delivered a better snap on the final field goal? Probably. But I will say this, I have big-time respect for Kam Canaday, a rookie from Portland State who hasn’t had many chances to be interviewed period but who stood there in front of a flood of cameras and reporters answering questions about a play he’d rather soon forget. He’s in the NFL and it comes with the job, but still, he manned up.
(And props to Chandler Catanzaro too, not only for doing the same but also saying publicly it wasn’t the rookie’s fault.)
— It’s too bad the field goal was missed because a win would have been one of those epic, Fitz-put-us-on-his-back victories. On a day the retirement thing came up again to boot. The vet was spectacular when they needed him.
— Speaking of which, if you get a chance, watch again Fitz’s 21-yard catch on the Cards’ final drive. Down on the field near where Fitz caught it, I have no idea how he did. The ball was on him before he got his head all the way around — it seemed to surprise him how quick it was there — yet he unbelievably snagged the pass and turned it into a 21-yard gain.
— Rough debut for rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who blew a coverage on a touchdown and had a couple other mistakes. Justin Bethel, dealing with the sore foot, only played special teams I believe. You have to wonder if Bethel getting healthy or newcomer Marcus Cooper getting more practice will change the lineup at any point.
— Bruce Arians said J.J. Nelson could have returned with his shoulder injury. We will see. But there was Jaron Brown making a clutch catch at the end, setting up the final field-goal attempt. He’s there when the Cardinals need him.
— David Johnson looked pretty darn good.
— The defense, overall, didn’t. Or at least, it didn’t look like everyone expected. The Patriots had 363 total yards and converted 10 of 16 third-downs, and it was that last drive that was the killer. The Cards get the lead and then allow Jimmy Garoppolo to convert a 3rd-and-15 from his own 20? Can’t happen. Especially for a 32-yard gain. A stop there, and it’s hard not to think the Cards would’ve been in great shape even only up one with 8 minutes left.
“Back to the lab,” linebacker Kevin Minter said.
Tags: Brandon Williams, Chandler Catanzaro, David Johnson, J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kam Canaday, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcus Cooper, Mike Leach, Patriots
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The Cardinals are still looking for their long snapper, although their former long snapper is still around — at least right now.
Mike Leach, who retired in the offseason, was at the Cardinals’ preseason opener Friday night and helped this week at practice the Cardinals’ pair of undrafted rookies who are trying to claim his vacant job — Kam Canaday and Daniel Dillon. Leach was around the team some during OTAs this offseason as well, and even though he and his family have moved back east in retirement, it says something about Leach that he wants to help the Cardinals in their quest to replace him.
“Having him there … coaches will tell (players) something but when you have a guy who’s done it for 16 years, they listen a little better,” coach Bruce Arians said.
Canaday and Dillon — roomates and now close friends — will get the balance of the preseason to earn the job over the other. There was nothing remarkable about either’s work in the Raiders game, which for a long snapper is a good thing. If you don’t notice them, they are doing the job.
“It’s a heck of a battle,” Arians said. “(I will) feel very comfortable with one of them.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Daniel Dillon, Kameron Canaday, Mike Leach, training camp
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With the season halfway over and talk here and there about possible contract extensions, it felt like a good time to note who is scheduled to have their contract run out after the season ends. We’ve talked for a while about the secondary decisions that are coming, but in terms of players that are making an impact, it’s a lengthy list. This is only the players set to be free agents; There have been some of you wondering if, for instance, Tyrann Mathieu could get an extension. He is under contract through 2016, so I don’t expect anything soon. The Cardinals, according to the NFLPA, have about $5.3 million of cap space right now.
CB Justin Bethel
LB Dwight Freeney
TE Jermaine Gresham
RB Chris Johnson
S Rashad Johnson
G Ted Larsen
LS Mike Leach
T Bobby Massie
CB Jerraud Powers
C Lyle Sendlein
T Bradley Sowell
QB Drew Stanton
LB Sean Weatherspoon
LB LaMarr Woodley
WR Jaron Brown
P Drew Butler
LB Kenny Demens
S Tony Jefferson
(Tight ends Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah and defensive tackle Josh Mauro are all exclusive rights free agents, meaning they can be tendered and not go anywhere.)
Again, a long list. The restricted free agents, if you want to prevent them from hitting the market unfettered, can be tendered with one of three designations: A first-round tender (a one-year contract of about $3.3M), a second-round tender (about $2.3M) or the original draft spot ($1.5M). That means, if tendered, if another team signs them away, that team owes the Cardinals the tendered pick. Given that all those guys were undrafted, the Cards would get nothing for the low tender. It makes for hard decisions on a Tony Jefferson, and even to Jaron Brown.
As for the unrestricted guys …
It seems likely that the older one-year guys — Chris Johnson, Gresham, Freeney — would want to see what they might get on the open market. The secondary is the most intriguing area. It wouldn’t be a surprise that some team might want to swoop in and Greg Toler-contract a guy like Bethel, especially if they’d want him to start right away at CB. The Cardinals like Powers. They like Rashad Johnson too, but with all the safeties around, what will be the offer? What does the future hold (or rather, where is the future) for Deone Bucannon? Is he a linebacker or safety? That’ll come into play.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Chris Johnson, Darren Fells, Drew Butler, Drew Stanton, Dwight Freeney, free agency, Ifeanyi Momah, Jaron Brown, Jermaine Gresham, Jerraud Powers, Josh Mauro, Justin Bethel, Kenny Demens, LaMarr Woodley, Lyle Sendlein, Mike Leach, Rashad Johnson, Sean Weatherspoon, Ted Larsen, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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It had been 47-7, a dismantling of an NFC West rival, and Calais Campbell was happy. But not too happy.
“My message the whole time will be, ‘Keep putting work in, keep respecting the process,’ ” the defensive end said. “We have a long way to go. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Those weren’t just words to Campbell. As he spoke, he used his hands to emphasize his point. There were some laughs last week about Bruce Arians telling his team they weren’t (insert bleep noise here), and more chuckles Sunday when Arians said his team now smells just a little bit better. But the idea that the Cardinals will keep their heads about them even though they have scored a ton – 126 points in three games, seven points better than the high-flying Patriots – and dominated two weeks in a row.
“The kind of guys we have on this team now, no one is going to get carried away,” said long snapper Mike Leach, who is playing in his 16th NFL season and has a good pulse on such things. Leach noted that the best part of the Cardinals is that even in spots where they are young, there are vets who have taken guys under their wing.
Plus they have a coach who, while he might smile a bit when he says it, is willing to say they ain’t (need that bleep again) and mean it.
That isn’t to say the Cardinals didn’t play really, really well Sunday.
— The Cardinals have 17 touchdowns in their first three games, only the fourth team in NFL history to do so. The last was the Cowboys, who had 18 touchdowns in the first three games of 1968. Kind of mind-boggling.
— Carson Palmer is now 16-2 in his last 18 starts with the Cardinals. He made one really bad decision – he said he was trying to throw his interception out of bounds but instead, the floater was not even close to anything but 49ers cornerback Kenneth Acker – but had a bunch of nice throws. Plus he had two dropped, including what would have been a 28-yard TD to Smokey Brown.
— Chris Johnson turned 30 Sunday and he averaged 5.0 yards a rush and gained 110 yards on the ground. And he’s the youngster in the offensive trio that lit up the 49ers, alongside Larry Fitzgerald (9 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns) and Palmer (311 yards passing and the two TDs.)
— He’d never ever say it, but I can’t help but think Fitz is sitting back having “I told you so” thoughts to the NFL world.
— Tyrann Mathieu. “Savage season” indeed.
— Justin Bethel not only had his first interception of his career for a touchdown, but it came on his first defensive snap of the season. Plus he forced a fumble on a kick return (the 49ers kept it) and downed a punt. What a day.
— Drew Butler did not hit a great punt that ended up being returned inside the Cardinals’ 20-yard line and set up San Francisco’s only touchdown. But he did strike a good punt on the play where Bethel caught it cleanly at the S.F. 1, held for a beat, and then tossed it back so he wouldn’t take it in the end zone.
The officials first threw the beanbag around the 4 where the Cards ending up grabbing the ball, but Leach was there to help.
“They were just discussing it and I was just letting them know, reminding them what the rule was just in case,” Leach said.
The Cards had the same play last year with Bethel against the Lions. Leach wasn’t going to forget. And on the next play, the Cardinals swarmed Carlos Hyde for a safety.
— That punt-and-return by the Niners for their only score was the only time the 49ers crossed the 50 the whole game.
“The passion the defense plays with is … unbelievable,” Leach said.
— Colin Kaepernick was bad. The Cardinals made him look so with the four INTs. But Torrey Smith had no catches against cornerback Patrick Peterson. And Anquan Boldin was held to two catches for 16 yards.
— There were a ton of good performances, but linebacker Kevin Minter stood out again too. It felt like a make-or-break year for Minter. Three games in, it feels like he’s making it.
So … the last time the Cardinals put a defensive back in their Ring of Honor, it was at halftime of the game against the 49ers, which the Cardinals won. And then they later reached the Super Bowl. Just sayin’ …
Tags: 49ers, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Colin Kaepernick, Drew Butler, Justin Bethel, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Leach, Ring of Honor, Tyrann Mathieu
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The offensive line is set. Bruce Arians said Earl Watford will be the starting right tackle against the Saints and Lyle Sendlein will be the starting center, joining guards Jonathan Cooper and Ted Larsen and left tackle Jared Veldheer. What’s more, Arians said the plan is for Watford to remain the starting right tackle even after Bobby Massie returns from suspension. That doesn’t mean Watford can’t lose the job, but it’s a huge statement for Watford, who has been looking for a starting role.
As for Sendlein, I felt since he was signed he’d find his way into the starting lineup. A.Q. Shipley provides depth at center and guard, but he’s had a hard time holding on to starting jobs thus far in his career and Sendlein played well in the preseason. More on the offensive line later on the homepage.
— The Cardinals named their captains. Offensively, it’s Veldheer and Carson Palmer. Defensively it’s Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell. On special teams, it’s Justin Bethel and Mike Leach. Arians said more than 20 players received more than three votes, which spoke to the depth of the candidates and leadership for the Cards.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Calais Campbell, captains, Carson Palmer, Earl Watford, Jared Veldheer, Jonathan Cooper, Justin Bethel, Lyle Sendlein, Mike Leach, Patrick Peterson, Ted Larsen
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It was a long presser from Bruce Arians today after no morning walkthrough. Here are some of the highlights before I head down to practice:
— The injury list right now includes cornerback Jerraud Powers, who is now dealing with a hamstring issue of his own and will be “shut down” for a few days. Arians did not sound concerned. Good news, though, running back Chris Johnson is actually better than Arians originally thought with his hamstring and is day to day. Arians said Saturday he thought Johnson would missed a week or two. OL Earl Watford had a shot in his troublesome ankle and gets a rest day (the Cards are off Tuesday too), and will be back Wednesday, as will TE Jermaine Gresham (back) and WR Brittan Golden (sore after taking a big hit Saturday.)
— OLB Shaq Riddick is finally back at practice. So is CB Jonte Green and T Rob Crisp.
— Arians said it was “discouraging” ILB Sean Weatherspoon is still out with his bad hamstring. There is a hope he’ll return to practice this week, but we’ll see.
— The coaches have talked as a staff about playing the starters less Sunday in Oakland in light of all the injuries around the NFL. Arians said each guy will be gauged differently, based on practice and the need for reps.
— When Watford comes back, he’ll work at right tackle and have the chance to battle Bradley Sowell for the starting job. D.J. Humphries will spend the week at left tackle to get some work there; Arians wants him to be able to play both sides as a backup — which he will be to start the season almost assuredly.
— Arians praised Alani Fua and, to a lesser extent, Gabe Martin, at inside linebacker. Arians intrigued by Fua’s length.
— After video watching, Arians still said there is no leader at third QB between Sims and Thomas.
— Although Mike Leach already took the blame on Twitter, Arians reiterated it was Leach snapping the ball too soon to holder Dave Zastudil that caused the botched PAT in the game. “A 25-year-vet, whatever he is, snapping to a 30-year vet, and one wasn’t looking,” Arians said. “You would not anticpate that happening out of thise two guys, but it did happen.”
— Arians liked the game starting left guard Ted Larsen had a lot, but “he blew it with one dumb penalty,” Arians lamented of Larsen’s 15-yarder for jumping on a pile. Still, he said he liked Larsen’s game, and that of Jonathan Cooper’s too.
— The starting center job between A.Q. Shipley and Lyle Sendlein is “heavily contested.” Arians added that Carson Palmer gets no say in the matter. “Their butts are about the same,” Arians quipped.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Alani Fua, Bradley Sowell, Chris Johnson, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Gabe Martin, Jerraud Powers, Jonathan Cooper, Lyle Sendlein, Mike Leach, Sean Weatherspoon, Shaq Riddick, Ted Larsen
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The ball came down basically directly above Mike Leach’s head, and much like Smokey Brown did against the Eagles, Leach played it perfectly. Of course, Brown caught the long pass, while all Leach — the Cardinals’ long snapper — had to do was smother the Drew Butler punt, which he did perfectly. The Cards won the game of field position in St. Louis, and the punt team was a big reason.
As for Leach, the 38-year-old veteran who never makes a snapping mistakes and who still covers punts like he’s 28, it was a fantastic play. It was one of the reasons the Cards have him around. Sure, he costs a little more than a young long snapper might, but you cannot put a price on near perfection at that spot. Leach will be there for you. He will do his job and do it well. And you can forget about it and worry about other stuff, like who will play quarterback or who contain Russell Wilson.
“I want to go out and not be noticed, to be honest with you,” Leach said. “It’s the nature of our position. Do your job and keep your head down and hope nobody sees you and Cat (Chandler Catanzaro) keeps making his kicks and winning his awards and Drew keeps doing great and Justin (Bethel) keeps making all the plays and those guys can get the attention. Then I can just kind of slide back into the bricks and not be noticed, that’s fine. If something happens, and if your teammates kind of give you a pat on the back, that’s good too.”
Leach, who has played in 198 consecutive games, is able to serve as an experienced mentor for the Cards’ two young kickers — a change from last season, when kicker Jay Feely and punter Dave Zastudil gave the Cards a much more experienced special-teams trio. Leach’s years playing tight end or wide receiver (he came into the league as a tight end) has given him the background to track the ball in the air like he did on that punt in St. Louis.
(Leach does a lot in the community too, although he’s usually shying away from the attention doing those things as well.)
It’s those little things Leach stays on top of, like at the end of the punt. Leach did the great job batting it down, but the ball was still loose near the goal line when reinforcements arrived. Wide receiver Jaron Brown was the one to jump on the ball to officially kill it — and while Brown was still a couple of yards from the end zone, Leach made sure to push his prone teammate in the back, away from the goal line. Those are the things that can possibly ruin a play. This, Leach knows.
“I’ve been around a little while,” Leach said.
It’s served the Cardinals well, too.
Tags: Mike Leach
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Sometimes, even the punter builds a fan base.
Dave Zastudil is in the middle of one of his best seasons, averaging 40.4 net yards per punt (45.3 overall) and dropping 32 of his 70 kicks thus far inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He has plenty of fans inside his locker room, between teammates and coaches, but elsewhere? Especially Tennessee? But Zastudil had quite the experience.
It started when he was checking Twitter last week and one of his mentions featured a picture of some guys in a family room holding a giant head shot of someone. “I looked closely and thought, ‘Damn, that’s me,’ ” Zastudil said. He showed the picture/giant head — which featured the tagline “Punting ain’t easy” — to long snapper Mike Leach and kicker Jay Feely, they all had a laugh, and Zastudil thought that was the end of it.
But when Zastudil got out to the field pre-game last Sunday, he looked behind the Cardinals’ bench and there, standing in the front row going crazy and holding up the Ain’t Easy Zastudil head were those same fans.
“Somebody gave me a pen and said, ‘You gotta go sign this,’ ” Zastudil said. “These guys went nuts. Every time I got near them during the game, they went nuts. It was like a funny dream.”
Zastudil said he sensed some “fun sarcasm” in the “punting ain’t easy” message but noted they were just some good Cardinals fans having fun. “I’m just happy the covered up the top part of my head (on the picture) so my hairline was covered,” he said. “It looked like I was a little younger.”
“It’s hard,” Zastudil said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I’m expecting this every game now.”
Tags: Dave Zastudil, Jay Feely, Mike Leach
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