On Now
Coming Up

Blogs

Revisionist History: Denny’s thoughts on the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on June 28, 2011 – 5:18 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.

Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”

Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.

But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.

The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.

Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).

While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »

Revisionist History: Once upon a time in Mexico

Posted by Darren Urban on June 10, 2011 – 3:56 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

Now, there is a game in England every year, as much a part of the NFL landscape as Bill Belichick’s dry press conferences or James Harrison’s fines. Once, though, it was a big deal that the Cardinals and the 49ers were going to play the first NFL regular-season game out of the country, in Mexico City.

Back in 2005, we had the NFL’s then-COO, Roger Goodell, talking about wanting to see how a game outside the U.S would work. In a lot of ways, the Cards were a natural fit. A game against the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium usually would only draw 35,000 or so and it would be half-empty; with the Cards set to move into University of Phoenix Stadium the next year, it made sense they would be the team to surrender a home game for the cause. That didn’t necessarily work for the Cardinals’ players, but in the big picture that usually doesn’t matter.

There were other reasons why the Cards were a match. On the practice squad was offensive lineman Rolando Cantu, the first Mexican citizen (non-kicker) ever to play in the NFL (Rolando is now a co-worker, his desk just a few cubicles down from me) wasn’t playing in the game but he was already a virtual rock star in Mexico because of his spot with the Cards. (Cantu officially played in the NFL the final game of the 2005 season in Indianapolis, cementing his legacy.)

The Cards tried to approach the journey to Mexico as just another road trip. Don’t forget, it was mixed in with the Cards’ poor 0-3 start, including an groin strain the week before in Seattle for first-year quarterback Kurt Warner. Josh McCown was back at QB, facing future Card Tim Rattay as the 49ers QB, since rookie Alex Smith had yet to win the job. Ideally, the Cards wouldn’t have given up a home game, especially since most of the 100,000-plus fans (final attendance was officially 103,467) who had a rooting interest would be rooting for the 49ers.

That changed quickly, when veteran safety Robert Griffith came charging out during introductions waving a huge Mexican flag. Suddenly, many fans who hadn’t cared about who won and who lost now took a liking to the Cards. The game started horribly, with the Cards fumbling on each of their first two possessions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. It was a 14-0 hole and San Francisco hadn’t even been on offense. But the Cards rallied, and rallied big.

McCown ended up with arguably his best day as a Cardinal (32-for-46, 385 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) and kicker Neil Rackers had his best day of his best season, making all six of his field-goal attempts (Rackers set an NFL record with 40 field goals, in 42 attempts, that season.) The game, by all accounts, was a success (OK, maybe the 49ers wouldn’t agree) and paved the way for the future games outside the U.S.

My lingering memory, aside from Griffith’s run? My paper at the time was still backward in its technology and I may have been the only one without a wireless capability on my laptop. I was worried about getting a landline at the stadium (The NFL did a great job of hooking me up despite those nasty long-distance rates) and it paid off – stadium workers breaking down after the game kept shutting off the wireless connections, leaving only backwards-me uninterrupted access to the internet on deadline.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 19 Comments »

Cards get extra pick, Fitz, and giving back

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2011 – 3:07 pm

The NFL finally announced the 2011 compensatory draft picks Friday. The Cardinals ended up with a bonus seventh rounder (248th overall, and their only seventh rounder since their own pick was traded away in the Kerry Rhodes deal) right at the end of the draft and it wasn’t even because they suffered big free-agent losses. Yep — if you had been expecting the loss of LB Karlos Dansby (and K Neil Rackers) to gain the Cards a good pick, you were wrong. The Cards signed FAs Rex Hadnot, K Jay Feely and LB Paris Lenon, and I’d guess Lenon and Feely played well enough to offset Dansby and Rackers.

The reason the Cardinals got an extra pick is because the NFL wants to make sure there are 32 comp picks overall to balance out the draft, so after they doled out the picks based on teams losing key free agents (the Panthers, for example, got an extra third-rounder and sixth-rounder for losing Julius Peppers and A.J. Feeley and not signing anyone of note) there were still 11 picks needed to get to 32. So the top 11 teams in the draft order (Arizona, of course, being at No. 5) got a extra seventh at the very back of the draft.

(Don’t ask how the league comes up with the exact formula of why some free agents are more important than others. It’s not public knowledge, but it is based on contract size, playing time and postseason honors. And realize that losing Antrel Rolle didn’t count because he was cut and didn’t have his contract expire. Same reason it didn’t hurt the Cards to sign Alan Faneca, Derek Anderson, Jay Feely and Joey Porter).

– Posted a story on the need for Fitz to get a quarterback. Yes, it sounds obvious, and on many levels it is. But Fitz’s quest for greatness means there have to be style points in his numbers (because he still had stats this season). There have to be wins and it has to matter. So in some ways, this situation is deeper than the obvious.

– Michael Bidwill was on hand Thursday afternoon to present a check for$21,250 to the Ronald McDonald House from Cardinals Charities and Albertson’s. raised through the Cards’ annual golf tourney. Valerie Slowik, the wife of quality control coach Ryan Slowik, is heavily involved in helping the House.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 43 Comments »

The kicker will still tackle

Posted by Darren Urban on April 7, 2010 – 10:35 am

One of the things fans loved about former Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers was that he would stick his nose in on kickoff coverage and make tackles — oftentimes important ones to stop a big return.

It seemed like that would go away when Rackers was replaced by Jay Feely. Apparently not.

Feely said one of the coincidental twists about coming to Arizona is that, in that aspect of the game, he and Rackers are a lot alike. Feely believes one of the reasons Jets fans seemed to like him was for the same reason — he was willing to jump in and make a tackle (he did have six last season, the same amount as Rackers).

“We have the same approach to playing the position, which is different than a lot of people,” said Feely, who wears gloves not only to aid in tackling but also so he can be ready to recover one of his own onside kicks or make a catch on a fake — again, parts of the game kickers usually shy from. “It helps you win. If you wait back on the 40-yard line and the return man has a seam, I don’t care how good an athlete you are, if they have 20 yards on you you won’t make the play.

“If you see the play develop and you have the guts and ability to go down and fill that hole at the 25-yard line, they only have two or three yards to beat you and you can make the play. That’s when I feel like a football player too.”

A fine line? Maybe. Feely doesn’t see an injury risk — he’s never missed a game — although he says with a smile his wife has a different outlook. As for coaches, “they love it. They know I won’t go there unnecessarily. But when there is a play that needs to be made, I’m going to try and make that play.”


Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 36 Comments »

Comings and goings

Posted by Darren Urban on April 5, 2010 – 9:20 pm

I was out this afternoon, while a couple of guys with Cards’ ties made the news:

– Kicker Neil Rackers signed with the Texans a few days after the Cards decided to go with Jay Feely. Interesting that Rackers is in a spot where he has to win the job. If he would have found a way to stay in Arizona, I am guessing he would have been virtually unchallenged. Now he has to beat out veteran Kris Brown (although after Brown’s tough year, it may not take as much).

– It comes as zero shock, since coach Ken Whisenhunt hinted at as much weeks ago, but Kent Somers talked to Brian St. Pierre and St. Pierre said he expects to come back to the Cards. My guess when the season first ended was that, if Kurt Warner retired, the Cards would have four quarterbacks in camp: Matt Leinart, a veteran free agent (Derek Anderson), St. Pierre and a rookie (maybe drafted, but possibly undrafted). That ideal seems to be falling into place.


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 44 Comments »

The mirror of Feely/Rackers

Posted by Darren Urban on April 2, 2010 – 12:41 pm

Ultimately, free agency oftentimes is a game of chicken. Which side blinks first? Does the team pay a little more to make sure the guy doesn’t walk away? Does the player accept a little less to make sure he ends up where he wants to be?

There is irony in the fact the two kickers involved in the Cards’ switch both wanted to stay in the places they already played. Jay Feely made it clear he would have preferred to remain a Jet, and I know Neil Rackers — at least as the season was winding down — wanted to remain a Cardinal. But Rackers played that game of free-agent chicken with the Cards, which I had heard about and was broken down in detail by Kent Somers. Feely, meanwhile, felt the Jets had given him a bad contract offer himself (Feely made $1.4 million last season and claimed the Jets offered $300,000 less for a new deal). So Feely was ready to leave. Rackers, I would guess, probably wasn’t yet, but now there isn’t a choice.

I think coach Ken Whisenhunt’s point about the 2010 offense — “We felt like where we were going offensively this year because of Kurt (Warner) and losing some players, there might be more of an emphasis on the kicker in certain games this year,” he said — is important to note. Again, it’s not that Rackers couldn’t kick more field goals if the Matt Leinart offense isn’t as touchdown-friendly (and comparing it to the high-flying Warner offense probably won’t be fair), but the Cards needed to make sure a quality kicker was in place. I’m not sure how effective consistently Feely can be from long-range, but Rackers had enough trouble from 50 yards and beyond (5-of-18 in the regular season since 2006) that the Cards didn’t even bother with them anymore. Rackers tried just two in 2008 and none last year as the Cards stuck to Ben Graham’s deadly punting-inside-the-20 if they ended up in a field position of vague.

One final interesting side note: Rackers has certainly earned his reputation as a guy who will mix it up on special teams, and it was one of the reasons fans loved him. Well, Feely had six special-teams tackles last season — the same number as Rackers. For his career, Feely has 39 tackles, so he’ll mix it up himself. Feely was also briefly a teammate of punter/holder Graham’s for the first few games in 2008, so there should be a little familiarity there.


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 80 Comments »

Feely is Cards’ new kicker

Posted by Darren Urban on April 2, 2010 – 8:02 am

There’s no official announcement yet, but it’s out there — including a welcome from former teammate/new teammate Kerry Rhodes — that Jay Feely has agreed to terms with the Cardinals, meaning Neil Rackers will not return after seven seasons in Arizona. I’d expect this to be formally announced soon. I know the Cards were talking to both guys during free agency. It was certainly and up and down time for Rackers in Arizona, but it was mostly up. I loved his energy, personally. But now the Cards have Feely, who nailed 30 of 36 field goals a year ago.


Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog | 62 Comments »

Filling in the roster gaps

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2010 – 1:47 pm

With the owners’ meetings wrapping up today and the pace of free agency slowing down, it may be a good time to look at where the Cardinals’ roster stands — and where there are holes that need to be filled by the time minicamp begins April 30.

This topic crossed my mind after writing yesterday about the signing of wide receiver Darren Mougey, who may or may not pan out but certainly isn’t been seen (at least as of now) as a replacement, whether it’d be Anquan Boldin or even Jerheme Urban. He’s just one of many receivers that will be on the roster this summer. Today, the Cardinals officially have 60 61 players on the roster, leaving 19 spots to be filled by the draft/undrafted rookies (which figures to total between 14 to 16, depending) and then some free-agent spots. There are seven veterans un-signed who could still return: LB Monty Beisel, FB Dan Kreider, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware, K Neil Rackers, DT Bryan Robinson and WR Sean Morey (although I think Morey is more likely to end up in Seattle right now).

(On my 60-man count, I am including all the restricted and exclusive rights free agents who have yet to sign their tenders, because they eventually will.)

What spots need shoring up? The Cards need at least one more quarterback, and even if St. Pierre comes back, they need someone young, at least for camp. They need another receiver or two, although I am guessing whether they chase a veteran may depend on what happens in the draft. Remember, at that spot, a fourth receiver would likely need to play special teams and guys like Kevin Curtis or Torry Holt tend not to want to do such things.

The Cards definitely need to look at nose tackle, especially if Robinson doesn’t return. They need inside linebackers even if Beisel comes back (which I expect). They probably could use another young pass rusher at outside linebacker without knowing exactly what Cody Brown/Mark Washington/Stevie Baggs brings to the table. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get another cornerback — you can never have too many — and a return man is also needed if Steve Breaston is going to be the No. 2 wideout.

Numbers-wise, here is the current 61-man breakdown by position:

  • QB  2
  • RB  4
  • FB  2
  • WR  6
  • OL  11
  • TE  4
  • DL 9
  • OLB  6
  • MLB  4
  • CB  6
  • S  5
  • Specialists  2

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 107 Comments »

Now where on free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2010 – 4:58 pm

General manager Rod Graves is in Orlando right now for the owner’s meetings. I’m not sure exactly what happens with the Cards now in free agency — I am trying to get that answer — I wouldn’t be surprised if the plan, at least until the draft, is to chase a few of the Cards’ own un-signed guys like Bryan Robinson and then wait until after the draft to see where else the roster needs talent.

One spot the Cards will keep considering outside in free agency is kicker. Jay Feely is still in play — he finished up his visit Monday — and there remains the option of bringing back Neil Rackers. Safety Matt Ware, despite earlier reports elsewhere in the NFLverse, has not yet re-signed and I don’t get the sense that’s imminent. I still think he eventually returns. Wide receiver/special teamer Sean Morey wants to return, I believe, but he has yet to re-sign and took a visit with the Seahawks.

UPDATE: Well, I was partially on track. I heard back from Graves, who said the Cards will continue to consider free agents. But if the Cards sign players from elsewhere, they would “likely be to replace some of our own UFAs that we do not have agreements with.” That’s the category Feely would fall under, and would come into play, it would seem, if guys like Robinson, Morey, Ware, linebacker Monty Beisel, quarterback Brian St. Pierre or fullback Dan Kreider don’t return.

I think the free agency market will be very interesting post-draft. Veterans who are waiting now for bigger potential deals probably aren’t going to get them, and historically it’s even harder to get a decent deal after the draft because teams have filled up their holes with new talent that can be home-grown. What happens to Mike Gandy or Chike Okeafor, for instance (other than that they won’t be in Arizona)? And will anything change this week, after NFL owners are going to get the low-down of exactly where things stand with the impending labor problems?


Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 39 Comments »

About the kicker

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2010 – 12:15 pm

The Cardinals still need a kicker.

That’s easy to see, when the lone kicker on the roster — Neil Rackers — is an unrestricted free agent. Foxsports.com reported veteran kicker Jay Feely is due in for a visit to the Cards this weekend. That comes on the heels of general manager Rod Graves acknowledging earlier this week the Cards were still talking with Rackers. I’m not sure if the Feely visit is because of anything changing with Rackers or if it is just the course of business until the Cards get a kicker under contract. Feely will be 34 in May, and had a good season for the outdoor New York Jets in 2009, making 30 of 36 field goals (and all 32 extra points).He was 12 of 15 from 40 yards or longer.

Rackers, who will be 34 in August, was solid last season too, aside from when his groin injury was wreaking havoc on his play. He only tried 17 regular-season field goals, making 16. Of course, everyone remembers the miss to end regulation against the Packers in the playoffs (below) and his issues in the Saints’ playoff game (although his leg had given out because of his injury in that game).

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops. The things that make Rackers so valuable — his quirky ability to do crazy, effective onside kicks and his kamikaze willingness to tackle on kickoffs — are also the things (because of the mentality needed) that give pause when it comes to the end of games.

Personally, I hope Rackers returns, because he is a weapon in so many facets. But that’s far from a lock right now.


Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog | 59 Comments »