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Friday before the Rams, and Fitz’s 1,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2015 – 3:50 pm

There is no guarantee Larry Fitzgerald will have eight catches Sunday in St. Louis, but how fitting would it be if he did. Eight receptions would mean Fitz would reach 1,000 for his illustrious career, and he would do it in the same building where he caught his first – that flea-flicker over Cardinal-turned-Ram Aeneas Williams way back in 2004.

Fitz is also just eight yards shy of getting to 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011, a dry spell that didn’t seem possible once upon a time. Now, Fitz is on pace for 120 receptions – which would be a career-best by far – and 1,442 yards, which would also be a career-best (he has surpassed 1,400 yards Larry Fitzgeraldfour times previous.)

Fitz, of course, isn’t going there. “It’s not time to start smelling the roses now,” he said. “We are in the middle of something special here.”

This is true. The fact Fitzgerald is in the middle of it so spectacularly after the last couple of seasons is one of those things where … well, let’s be honest, it’s one of those stories that is perfect for Super Bowl week and the glare of the NFL spotlight.

Just sayin’.

— The Fitz down period can be explained. In 2012, he had no quarterback. In 2013, well, Carson Palmer was learning a new system and Fitz was learning a new position.

“I think we both went through a period, year-long period, of just figuring out each other, and more importantly, figuring out the system,” Palmer said. “I think you learn by trial and error and trying to fit certain balls into him and trying not to.”

Last year, things were clicking before Palmer went down (and Fitz was hurting much of the year too.) Now, it’s all come together.

— Nick Foles will start for the Rams at quarterback – the same Nick Foles who was benched, only to be forced into playing because of Case Keenum’s concussion. Foles has been bad this season, but in his three games against the Cardinals, he has eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The defense has to make him look like the benched Foles (who has four TD passes and nine interceptions against non-Cardinals opponents.)

— Jonathan Cooper may still yet emerge as the guard the Cardinals want. But the fact he’s lost his spot in his third season, injuries or not, is not a good sign.

— Here’s a fun game you can play with your friends: More rushing yards Sunday, Todd Gurley or David Johnson? I think it’s a very good question.

— Bruce Arians, by the way, said Johnson should get around 25 touches. That may or may not come to pass, but it makes sense with Andre Ellington out.

— While 49ers defensive tackle Quinton Dial was indeed fined for his roughing-the-passer penalty he was flagged for last week — Dial thought it was a bad call; usually a league fine means the league agreed with the flag — 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone told Matt Maiocco he was not fined for his (heavy) criticism of officials after the game.

— Arians reiterated Friday that there will be defensive snaps for wide-receiver-turned-(just-this-week)-cornerback Brittan Golden. He said the same for newly signed CB Corey White, but that makes some sense. Golden’s role, it’ll be interesting to see.

— As has been the custom in recent years, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and the team will host old-school St. Louis alumni from the franchise Saturday night and then at the game. We will see if this is the Cardinals’ last trip to St. Louis, at least to play the Rams.

— A win Sunday would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. After that 11-1 1948 team you are so fond of.

— I don’t know how much J.J. Nelson will be in the gameplan, not with John Brown seemingly close to health and Michael Floyd getting better. But if he does make a catch, I’m guessing it’ll be down the field. Nelson has nine receptions this season and he’s averaging an astounding 29.4 yards per catch. And that’s with a 12-yard reception thrown in.

— The short week is coming. There would be nothing better for the Cardinals than to get a lead early and not have Sunday be as grind-it-out as it’s been against the Rams (or against the Niners last week.) Easier said than done, but it’s another source of motivation. That Thursday night game against the Vikings next week is gigantic in terms of the NFC playoff picture.


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Friday before the Eagles – this time, with Andre

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2014 – 3:47 pm

The last time the Cardinals played the Eagles, the game was in Philly a few days after Thanksgiving. And Andre Ellington was not part of it.

A lot has been said about the Cardinals’ near loss to the Eagles last year, about the penalty flags the Cards questioned and the big early deficit and the inability to stop the tight ends. Often lost in the conversation is that Ellington didn’t play. That was right when Ellington was emerging as a key piece of the offense; it was two weeks later when Ellington had what Bruce Arians felt was his best game, in Tennessee.

Ellington missed the Philly game after slipping on the grass during the Cardinals’ Thanksgiving practice. He later said that, at the time, he thought he had torn his ACL. That would have certainly changed the course of the Cards’ recent history. Instead, Ellington is coming off his heaviest workload ever, with 30 touches.

The Cardinals survived losing Carson Palmer for a few games. They would survive a wide receiver missing a couple of games, or one of the linemen. Losing Ellington, though? You’d try not to think about it. Last week, Bruce Arians said he thought Ellington wasn’t going to play the second half with a rib injury. I asked Ellington about it, and he acknowledged he knows how much he is needed on the field.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, I have to admit,” Ellington said. “There is a side of me that wants to be out there for every snap. But at the end of the day, that’s why we have depth on the team. When the starters can’t go, we have guys who can step in.”

— I will be fascinated to see how Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense operates in an enclosed stadium that tends to get LOUD (underratedly so.) In case you hadn’t heard, there is no NFL home – not Seattle, not New Orleans, not Kansas City – that has generated as many false starts by the opposition since 2006 than the 119 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Getting Calais Campbell would be a massive addition to the defense. That goes without saying. But seeing that Carson Palmer was no longer even listed on the injury report this week also meant something. Palmer getting back to lifting weights with his upper body will help his strength, and while it came from a different direction than last year, it certainly seems the Cardinals are set up for a second-half improvement in the passing game. Again, not ideal. But as long as Palmer is healthy, the arrow should go up.

— On the other hand, the Eagles haven’t gotten the same play from QB Nick Foles they did a year ago. He does have 10 TD passes but he’s completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions (five more than last year already.) First job Sunday is to slow LeSean McCoy. After that, maybe the Cards can force Foles into some bad choices.

— The inactive lists will be crucial Sunday. Campbell is questionable, even if I think he’ll play. For the Eagles, they had three guys I didn’t think would be able to go who suddenly practiced “full” Friday. So maybe they will. Center Jason Kelce, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and running back Darren Sproles, if they can go, change the dynamics of the game.

— B.A. keeps talking about how his team hasn’t accomplished anything yet, and linebacker Larry Foote noted there are still 10 games to go in the season. But the team is 5-1 and feeling pretty good. So, Foote was asked, how do you get the message across?

“It’s impossible for young guys to understand it,” Foote said. “You have to say it and then you have to go out there and show them. Just your effort and the way you carry yourself in practice, they can feel the environment, see how older guys are playing, how serious they are with communication and in meeting rooms.”

Certainly, the Cardinals don’t want this to get away from them. With a two-game edge in the loss column, that’s nice to have in the bank. The Cards aren’t going 15-1. But it wouldn’t be bad to emerge from these next two games with at least a 6-2 record. Might as well get the one at home.

— Larry Fitzgerald was full of great quotes this week – talking about his “champagne problems” – and he had a thoughtful answer of what was more important for a successful team: talent, or confidence?

“I think it’s a healthy combination of both,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to have the confidence in yourself that you can go out and make the play, the guy next to you can make the play, and having that trust level in your teammates. That’s huge. It’s exemplified in our defense. Everyone saw the injuries and suspensions and people wrote us off, ‘There’s no way they can play at the same level’ and all they have done is the same thing.”

It’s a great point. The Cards need talent, and I think it only underscores the job GM Steve Keim has done with the depth that the Cards have been able to deal with their injured personnel. But the confidence means something. It oozes from the head coach, and it permeates the locker room. The Cards are 5-1 in part because they believe they should be, everything else be damned.

See you Sunday.

EllbeforeEaglesUSE


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The fine line of finding a quarterback

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2014 – 11:39 am

So if you are the Cincinnati Bengals, what are you thinking about with Andy Dalton? And what does it say about “finding” your long-term quarterback?

These questions are not easily answered. The Cardinals have been looking for their “long-term” quarterback since, well, since they moved to Arizona. There were the Kurt Warner years, but the time where Warner was both the unquestioned and winning (a key adjective) quarterback for this franchise was less than three seasons: A few games into the 2007 season through 2009. Carson Palmer has come along, and was 10-6 in his first season, and likely is the Cards’ starter in 2014, but how long does he have?

Again, finding the young replacement isn’t simple. Look at Dalton. He has won nine, 10 and 11 games in his three seasons in Cincinnati. The Bengals have made the playoffs every single season. It’s a foundation many teams — even the Cards — would love to have with a quarterback after he was drafted. He threw for almost 4,300 yards this season and already has 80 TD passes in his young career. It’s the definition of finding a long-term guy … right?

Yet the Bengals have lost all three playoff games Dalton has quarterbacked, and he has not played well in any of them. He is, not surprisingly, getting hammered about it again and there are some who think the Bengals should look elsewhere. Now, there are QB-needy teams across the league who would probably love to have Dalton. Yet his situation underscores the minefield that is filling that position.

Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton have worked well. It looks like Colin Kaepernick has too (although I think he still tends to be more up and down than you’d like at this early stage) and Nick Foles flourished in Chip Kelly’s offense. Side note, you look at the playoff teams and the winners and it drives home the point this league is about good quarterback play.

Is Matthew Stafford the answer, even with all his gaudy stats? (Ken Whisenhunt may be hired soon to find out.) Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were not. Sam Bradford? It’s no wonder Steve Keim says he has to fall in love with a QB to want to draft him, because let’s face it, if you do draft one early, you are married to him for a few years to see if he works out.

And, in the case of someone like Dalton, you still may be wondering if he is working out even when it seems like he is.

DaltonBlogUSE


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Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2013 – 6:29 pm

The Cardinals smartly talked around the penalties that were and weren’t called late in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. They gave some matter-of-fact answers. Coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to watch the video carefully before he really passed judgment (and here’s a guess he won’t talk much about it even then. No upside.)

But as frustrating as that was, it didn’t trump the issues the Cardinals had of their own doing. What Arians and his team will see on video is a team that could’ve been in a much better place by the times the flags were or weren’t thrown. Linebacker Karlos Dansby – who had a pair of sacks — was not a happy camper in the locker room, and penalties didn’t have much to do with it. I asked him if it was going to be hard emotionally to bounce back from a loss like Sundays, given the fact the Cards had been talking about every game like it was a playoff game.

“(Expletive) no,” Dansby snapped. “We’ve got four more games. We’ve got to go play some football. Some winning football. Some inspiring football. We didn’t play with any emotion today. We were flat. Too flat.”

That’s always the danger, playing on the road, playing an early game – even after flying out on a Friday. Tyrann Mathieu called it the Cardinals’ M.O., to start slow in a road game. That seems fair, although it’s a dangerous way to live. Between Sunday and the opener in St. Louis, though, the Cardinals are going to have their share of what-ifs if they don’t make the playoffs.

— The up-tempo portion of the Eagles’ offense didn’t seem to bother the Cardinals a lot. “It was faster in (Cardinals’) practice,” Arians quipped. The play-action part of the offense did bother the Cardinals. That and the fact they couldn’t generate a turnover.

— OK, they did generate a turnover, but Patrick Peterson’s interception was wiped out. I haven’t had a chance to see the Mathieu hold yet. That pick would’ve delivered quite a storyline had it stood.

— I was down on the field with Michael Floyd about 10 yards away on that final pass his way. It did look like a penalty to me from down there, for what that’s worth.

— I’m an ASU grad (and yes, I enjoyed Saturday night very much.) But I don’t see how you can look at Nick Foles and see anything other than a potential long-term QB for Philly. He made a couple errors, but he runs that offense very well.

— Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy quietly had a very good game – seven tackles, four for loss, and a sack. He did get that (questionable) defensive holding call at the end. He’s been a guy whom I’d think the Cardinals want to extend on a contract. It will be interesting to see if they can lock him up.

— I think running back Andre Ellington would have helped had he not sat with the knee injury, but I don’t know if his absence cost the Cards the game. Rashard Mendenhall was good again, and Ellington wasn’t going to be able to block the pass rush or prevent Carson Palmer’s two underthrown interceptions.

— Arians wasn’t guaranteeing Ellington’s return against the Rams next week, either. The coach said he was going to be careful with Ellington, and that notion was reiterated post-game Sunday. “We’ll get him right before he plays again,” Arians said.

— Eagles punter Donnie Jones was fantastic. He punted eight times for Philadelphia. Seven were downed inside the 20. Peterson struggled on punt returns again. It’s odd that unit was so strong just a couple of years ago and now it’s a concern – not just because Peterson doesn’t score, but simply because there seems to be more danger of turnovers and bad field position.

— There wasn’t a lot of head hanging, even though this one could sting in the grand scheme of things. “I don’t think we took a step backward,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. Said Arians on losing the progress his team has been making, “Progress doesn’t stop because you lost the game.”

Well, there is still a lot of flight left. But we can ponder this more tomorrow.


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Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on November 29, 2013 – 4:02 pm

The Cardinals would like to get an interception Sunday. That would be a start. It’d be a start in slowing the Eagles’ high-speed offense, and a start in taking young Eagles quarterback Nick Foles down a peg. Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes in eight appearances (five starts and one other game of significant playing time), but has yet to throw an interception. It’s an impressive stretch for an inexperienced quarterback.

The Cards are among the best in the league in getting turnovers. So maybe this is where Foles’ luck changes a bit.

“You can’t worry about throwing an interception when you’re throwing the ball,” Foles said. “I expect them to come out ready to go, ready to try to mess it up. That’s what a defense does, and they’re a talented defense.”

Cornerback Patrick Peterson, on that potential mess: “Our goal is to try and make turnovers, force him into some bad throws,” Peterson said. “We’re not getting caught up in that. The offense seems to be rolling with him. When that opportunity, if that opportunity does come, we have to make the play.”

Profootballfocus.com said Foles has been under pressure on just 34.8 percent of his dropbacks. That makes life as a QB easier. Linebacker Daryl Washington said there have been times when Foles has thrown balls that can be intercepted. Sunday’s game might just turn on such a situation.

— I’ve already touched on the Andre Ellington gimpy knee situation, but obviously, no Ellington would make a difference. Bruce Arians made the point it’s just one guy, but at this point, Ellington is the speed of this offense, the guy who can go all the way on a single play. His status Sunday has to impact this game, one way or the other.

— The last time the Cardinals – winners of four straight – won five straight? That was back in 1977, when Don Coryell’s bunch won six in a row in a weird season when the Cardinals went just 7-7. The winning streak made their record 7-3, and they lost their final four.

— Peterson reflecting on linebacker Karlos Dansby’s interception return for a touchdown last week: “Almost every time we break the huddle, I rub his hands, give him some of my grip,” Peterson said. Peterson smiled. “He could be in the race for defensive MVP if he caught the last six he dropped.”

— The key to this game to me is Dansby and Washington. The two inside linebackers are playing so well, and when the Cards have beat the Eagles the last two meetings, Washington has been a major factor. With the Eagles’ speed and Shady McCoy running the ball, the Cards need big games from their inside men.

— Just like Todd Bowles is having a redemptive season with the Cards after struggling with the Eagles, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis is winning confidence after he was fired as Cards’ DC back after the 2010 season (with a stop on the Browns staff in between).

— I don’t know if Larry Fitzgerald can get free as much as he usually does against the Eagles – Philly is of course running a different look than the Andy Reid years when they always seemed to let Fitz get loose – but the rise of Michael Floyd would seem to be incentive to watch Floyd much more closely. Which should help Fitz.

— “As coach Buck (defensive line coach Brentson Buckner) always says, ‘You are remembered with the games you win in November and December,’ ” Peterson said.

Here’s the Cards’ first chance in December. It’s kind of a big one too.

B4EaglesUSE


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