There is a really good article posted on SI’s MMQB, written by former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, about how offensive linemen are graded in the NFL and the inexact science that it is. I recommend it. Cardinals tackle Eric Winston is quoted in the story a few times, noting “It’s very hard to do it independently. Last season was my eighth year and I still can’t always tell who messed up when watching film of other teams.” There is no question that evaluating the offensive line has been the hardest thing to do in my years of writing about an NFL team, for all the reasons contained in the article (although such analysis isn’t going away. I know coaches and players get frustrated sometimes, but in the end, they don’t want to say exactly what is going on either, so they don’t throw anyone under the bus. Totally understandable, but it’s why it’s so hard to get the real picture.)
Noted in the article is the work of profootballfocus.com, how their grades have their own flaws, and even how agents are using those grades in contract talks. Again, interesting stuff and worth the time.
– Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was an exclusive rights free agent, and even though he has to rehab a torn ACL, it was inevitable the Cards would keep him around. He turned out to be a fantastic waiver acquisition this season. Assuming he comes back OK, I could see him as a long-term component of that defensive line.
– Free agent talks with players from other teams can start Saturday morning, at least with their agents. The Cards will make their position known with a few players, but as GM Steve Keim said, the Cards are going to want a guy in for a visit before pulling the trigger. You want to be able to know the guy a little bit before cutting him a check.
– Free agent tight end John Carlson, cut by the Vikings this week, is reportedly visiting the Cardinals. Not a surprise, at least in terms of the position. The Cards have to stock up on tight ends, both in an attempt to upgrade and to make sure they have enough in the first place with so many with expiring contracts.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Eric Winston, John Carlson, offensive line, Steve Keim
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Today was the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag. There is still a week before free agency officially begins — although teams and free-agents-to-be can start talking Saturday — and there is still time for any of these players who are set to become free to still sign extensions and avoid hitting the market. That said, the tag was a possibility for a handful of prospective left tackle free agents, and all of them ended up dodging that tag Monday.
That means the left tackle market, barring a late extension, will include Kansas City’s Branden Albert, Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe, St. Louis’ Rodger Saffold, Oakland’s Jared Valdheer and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins. (There are reports out of Oakland that think Valdheer’s non-tagging means he’s close to a deal, but if that is true, why not tag him just in case?)
Profootballfocus.com ranked the tackles on the market in this order: Monroe, Albert, Veldheer, Collins, Saffold. The money to sign these guys will not be insignificant, and the need remains high for such players across the league. But if the Cardinals are looking to grab a vet to plug in, there not only will be options but the ability to have a solid backup choice. That can’t be a bad thing.
Tags: Anthony Collins, Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, free agency, Jared Valdheer, offensive line, Rodger Saffold
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With “official” talks with free agents allowed March 8 and actually agreements allowed March 11, the time when teams will actually be able to start finalizing such things is still more than a week away. Players are dropping off the “He’s going to be a free agent” list daily, like with the litany of Philadelphia Eagles who have signed extensions the past couple of days. That can still happen to any of these potential free agents being talked about.
It hasn’t cooled the speculation, however. Greg Bedard of SI.com’s MMQB ranked the top 100 free-agents-to-be and also listed what he thought would be the best fits. The Cardinals find themselves mentioned a few times.
– The only current Cardinal scheduled to be a free agent that made the list was linebacker Karlos Dansby. He was at No. 34. Not surprisingly, Bedard’s call for Dansby’s best fit was remaining with the Cardinals. I agree with that. Not only does the system best fit Karlos, but so does his working relationship next to Daryl Washington.
– There are three left tackles on the list from other teams: Kansas City’s Branden Albert (No. 7), Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe (No. 8) and Cincinnati’s Anthony Collins (No. 60). For both Albert and Collins, the Cardinals are listed as the best fit and the Cards are also noted for Monroe along with Miami. Obviously the Cardinals would sign more than one, but it’s obvious to the NFL world this team should be a landing spot for at least one. It will definitely be one of the more intriguing storylines of that first week (or less) of free agency.
– Packers DE/OLB Mike Neal was 95th on the list and the Cards were called his best fit. Neal’s name has already been floated as a potential Arizona target. It makes all the sense in the world if Matt Shaughnessy leaves as a free agent.
– In the most surprising post, for Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, 57th on the list, the Cards are called the best fit. I get it with the possibility free agent Rashard Mendenhall might not return. But the way Bruce Arians and Steve Keim think about running backs, and with Ryan Williams and Stepfan Taylor still around along with Andre Ellington (and we aren’t even talking about someone popping up draft-wise) I don’t see the Cards even thinking about a guy like MJD. Or more specifically, his price tag.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Anthony Collins, Branden Albert, Daryl Washington, Eugene Monroe, free agency, Karlos Dansby, Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Neal, offensive line, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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Bobby Massie finished his 2012 rookie season playing pretty well at right tackle after a horrendous start to his career. He seemed like a natural piece of the 2013 offensive line, until the Cards signed veteran Eric Winston as training camp began. Over the season, Massie eventually got a few snaps at right tackle, but he never displaced Winston, who is an unrestricted free agent. If Winston comes back, Massie will be his competition. Massie isn’t playing guard or on the left side, as the Cardinals try to improve the offensive line.
“(Bobby) is a right tackle,” Arians said. “He’s not a left tackle. We experimented with that and he struggled with it. He’s a right tackle and he’s talented. The biggest thing right now is to be more consistent every day in his work habits.”
Does Massie fit in to the 2014 starting line? He very well could. But so much is up in the air, and it goes well beyond Massie and Winston. It’s assumed, and probably not incorrectly, that the Cardinals will seek an offensive lineman or two in free agency. It’s likely they will look into Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert if he reaches free agency (Kansas City GM John Dorsey said Friday the Chiefs have talked to Albert’s agent at the combine about an extension) and reports surfaced Friday that the Cards might also look into Rams tackle.guard Rodger Saffold (Rams GM Les Snead said Friday re-signing Saffold was a priority.)
It is realistic to think the Cards could have new starters at four of five positions on the line by the time games count in 2014 (center Lyle Sendlein is likely safe.). It’s also possible the line doesn’t change. Friday, Arians wouldn’t commit to the Cards having a new player in the lineup (other than the return of injured guard Jonathan Cooper), saying only the line needed to get bigger and stronger.
“Whether it is adding pieces to the puzzle or improving the players we have, we have Coop back, Earl (Watford) to the development, you add those two young guards will make us more athletic and create good competition with the veterans,” Arians said. “We are looking at adding pieces, one tackle, two, whatever we find is best to fit our locker room.”
The Cardinals also probably want to get cheaper at parts of the line, especially if they pay a premium for a free agent. That too can impact the equation — and make a guy like Massie more attractive.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Branden Albert, Bruce Arians, Eric Winston, offensive line, Rodger Saffold, Scouting combine
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Next week, the decision-makers for the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will head to Indianapolis for the annual Scouting combine. Already teams, including the Cards, have been meeting and ranking their rosters and figuring out what direction they will need to go in. Free agency, which begins March 11 officially (although teams came start to talk to guys from other teams a couple of days before that), will impact what happens in the draft and the rest of the offseason.
But before all that, and before the Cardinals re-sign any more of their own players, here are — in my opinion — the positions that need to be addressed the most over the next few months:
1) Offensive line: It doesn’t hurt that this encompasses multiple positions. Ultimately, it is left tackle that the Cardinals likely need to go after the most. I have no doubt Bradley Sowell can be depth at the position, but clearly the Cards would like to upgrade there. Easier said than done, of course, and we’ll see if it comes in free agency or the draft.
2) Defensive line: You’re not going to win in the NFC West unless both lines of scrimmage are fortified. As it stands now, the defensive line seems to be OK, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. But Alameda Ta’amu was an important co-nose tackle with Williams, and he is coming off ACL surgery. Dockett’s age and contract will likely call into question his future after 2014. And with Frostee Rucker a free agent, the Cardinals need depth there, especially after using rotations during the season.
3) Linebacker: This is in part a continuation of the defensive line issue, because whether you consider a pass rusher a linebacker or a defensive end in nickel situations, the Cards still need pass rushers. John Abraham was a godsend in 2013 but he is not getting younger, even if he has another double-digit sack year in his arsenal. Alex Okafor is an unknown quantity at outside linebacker after his lost rookie season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Shaughnessy get away as a free agent. It’s hard to tell, since both missed most of the season, how well Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho fit in the defense as well. That doesn’t even include the inside, where Karlos Dansby could still leave.
4) Tight end: This position probably should be higher on the list, considering all the free agents the Cardinals have. Then again, maybe I’m just used to the Cards just getting along the best they can at tight end to make sure other spots are taken care of first. But Bruce Arians likes to use the tight end in multiple ways and use multiple tight ends. The Cards need bodies, and that’s even if Jim Dray returns. Rob Housler had flashes again last season but this is likely a make-or-break season for him to stay healthy and be consistent.
5) Safety: Even if Yeremiah Bell returns he is older. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off major knee surgery. The depth is thin, and the Cardinals, as you might have heard, had some issues covering tight ends last season. As good as Richard Sherman is, a big reason why the Seahawks secondary is so good is because Earl Thomas is backstopping Sherman and all those corners. Getting a safety like that wouldn’t be too bad.
Bonus) Quarterback: There’s no reason to list QB in the top five because the Cardinals are fine going into next season playing with Carson Palmer. There’s no argument there, really. But reality says the future QB has to be acquired sooner rather than later. This is a draft-only kind of scenario. I don’t see the Cards seeking another trade or anything. But at some point, GM Steve Keim is going to come across a quarterback he likes very much when the Cards are on the clock. And he needs to pull that trigger for down the road.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Bradley Sowell, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett, draft, free agency, Frostee Rucker, John Abraham, Karlos Dansby, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Shaughnessy, offensive line, Rob Housler, Sam Acho, Tyrann Mathieu, Yeremiah Bell
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Jonathan Cooper won’t play this season. We’ve known that since August. And it has been easy to make the leap — given the injury — that the Cardinals will essentially have two first-round draft picks in 2014, with whomever they choose with their regular first-rounder and the return to the field of Cooper. There is no question that, for a guard, Cooper will have high expectations going into next year.
He knows this, sitting his his locker these days, eating lunch with teammates and finally free — mostly — of the boot he had been wearing since breaking his leg in the preseason.
“Yeah, there are (expectations),” Cooper said, “but, I mean, there always was. All I can do is go out and play to the best of my ability.”
It’s hard not to play a little what-if with Cooper. Had he stayed healthy, he would be the left guard. Daryn Colledge would have stayed on the right side and Paul Fanaika would be on the bench (and realistically, it would have been interesting to see what the roster makeup would have looked like too, because an available Cooper would have meant someone else would have to go.) The Cardinals think their offensive line would have been better, and that’s hard to argue. Then again, Cooper does not play left tackle, and his play would probably not have changed the Levi Brown/Bradley Sowell storyline much.
But he is a key piece. And as the Cardinals move forward to 2014, he is a (delayed) step toward reshaping the line, a line that needs to get better. As the Cardinals continue to figure out what lies in the future of the quarterback position, another possible year of Carson Palmer would be buoyed by better protection up front.
In the meantime, Cooper rehabs. He has been in the weight room a few weeks now, and while he is thrilled to be out of the boot he was forced to wear for so long (pictured below), it hasn’t completely disappeared from use. “Under certain circumstances I still wear it just to be safe,” Cooper said.
He’s also come to grips with watching his team from the sideline, and waiting to see just what kind of impact he can make on this offensive line.
“It was a definitely a lot harder early on when the injury was fresher,” Cooper said. “Now, I understand. I just have to prepare for next year and keep moving forward.”
Tags: Jonathan Cooper, offensive line
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Bradley Sowell gets his first start at left tackle for the Cardinals against a familiar face — Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who leads Carolina in sacks with three, was Sowell’s college teammate at Mississippi for three years.
“I’ve been trying to text him,” Sowell said. “I told him, ‘(Help me) keep my job for at least one week.’ “
That brought laughs from the surrounding media. It’s the calm before the storm with Sowell, who as the left tackle is immediately going to be under the spotlight. The expectations are probably tempered, given that Sowell came into the league undrafted and has been released once already. He played left tackle in college. That’s his natural spot (Cards teammate Bobby Massie was the right tackle for Mississippi at the time.) He knows coach Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin from his rookie season in Indianapolis, and they know him.
Arians said Sowell, playing right tackle, struggled with then-Ravens’ pass rusher Paul Kruger in last year’s playoff game. But Arians said he talked to linebacker John Abraham and other vets who have gone against Sowell in practice and “they think he’s got a great future.”
It doesn’t mean the Cards or even Sowell have a good handle on how he will perform. There’s only so much you can learn as a lineman — defensive or offensive — in practice, where hitting is limited (although the Cards have been in full pads almost every Wednesday.) Sowell admitted he’s a guy who likes to go hard in practice, and that’s a fine line that must be walked in a sport where no one wants to get hurt during the week.
“I’ve been going against our first team guys (on scout team) so I am feeling pretty confident,” Sowell said. “I’m as ready as I can be, I imagine. I won’t know until I get out there, but all I can do is try my hardest and see what I’ve got.”
Sowell is comfortable in the offense, thanks to his season with Arians in Indy. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds, he’s more of an athletic tackle than power guy. He admitted he was surprised he was cut from the Colts, but acknowledged it became a numbers game. With Arians and Goodwin in Arizona, this became a natural landing spot, and, given Levi Brown’s issues, it’s probably not a shock Sowell has entered the starting lineup.
“I know Coach Goody is going to find guys to bring in that fit the system well, that fit his coaching style well,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It’s just comforting knowing that he hand-picked (Sowell).”
Tags: Bradley Sowell, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Colts, Harold Goodwin, offensive line
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Bruce Arians used the hot read on his first postgame comment Sunday.
“I wouldn’t have any other ending at Raymond James Stadium,” he said. “I’m kind of used to that.”
Of course, Arians was referencing both Sunday’s 13-10 come-from-behind win for the Cards over the Bucs and the Super Bowl he won with the Steelers back in early 2009, and yes, that picked at the scab of the Cards’ fans that remembered that painful ending all too well. Then again, it was nice for the Cards to avoid another painful trip to Tampa Bay. And goodness knows it certainly looked like it was going to be just that.
For a while it echoed the Cards’ last regular-season trip here, a seven-point loss in which the offense could do nothing. The Cards saw exactly what they expected this time out of rookie Mike Glennon. He completed some passes on them but for the most part, the Bucs’ offense did little. Not that they needed to.
But finally, the offense came around. Sure, Patrick Peterson had to play the set-up man – what in the world were the Bucs thinking letting a struggling rookie throw that deep in his own territory when the Cards had been doing next to nothing offensively? – and it’s always nice when your stars shine. Peterson two picks? Check. Fitz clutch TD? Check.
There will be frustration and concern, all rightfully so. Yet there is a world of difference between 1-3 and 2-2, and the Cards made sure they didn’t mess it up. Most, if presented with the possibility of 2-2 after four games – three being on the road – would take it. The Cards will.
– Peterson said the game changed as field position began to change in the second half. The offense didn’t score but at least it was getting yards. Meanwhile, the Bucs stopped moving as the Cards honed in on rookie QB Mike Glennon.
“(Being a rookie) definitely played into the thought process,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “They threw a little more early than I thought they would. He is a young quarterback and he made some young mistakes.”
– That included that game-turning pass thrown to Peterson. Glennon said he made the right read but just a bad throw. Peterson said he knew exactly what the route was and jumped the pass. Regardless, it changed the game.
– And yes, Peterson admitted that as a rookie, or even last year, he probably would have tried for a longer return on his final pick. But he got down because he just wanted to end the thing and get the Cards on their flight back to Arizona. A wise man.
– It was good to see Fitz get involved. Cause/effect? Sure seemed that way.
– The Cardinals will officially get Daryl Washington back. I’m pretty sure it’s as early as tomorrow. Peterson talked about how much more aggressive the Cardinals will be able to get with him in the lineup. I really think he will have a huge impact on the defense.
– The last time the Cards came back to win a road game where they trailed by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter? It was in Philadelphia, Sept. 12, 1999. The Cards were down 12 before coming back to win, 25-24. That’s the year before I started covering the team. The last time they won in regulation down at least 10 in the fourth quarter? That was 2003, with the infamous McCown-to-Poole Hail Mary pass to beat the Vikings, 18-17. That was 17-6 in the fourth.
– Rookie wideout Jaron Brown hadn’t looked sharp in his few chances this season, but he showed a lot by making that 19-yard sideline catch while being blasted by Bucs safety Dashon Goldson. Goldson was flagged (and could be suspended) and the Cards got the easy field goal attempt.
– Tyrann Mathieu got a couple of punt return attempts, but the Bucs kicked it away from him like they did Peterson. The first Mathieu return came after Peterson’s right arm went numb briefly, and he didn’t want to take a chance at fumbling a punt out there.
– The defensive linemen were huddled around after the game wanting to know how many yards the Bucs rushed for, and were disappointed when they heard 80 (on 31 carries). Of course, that was skewed by Goldson’s 22-yard fake punt. Doug Martin gained just 45 yards on 27 carries – 1.7 yards a tote – and that’s a good day’s work for the D.
– By the way, confirmed by Elias, there has only been eight times when a player had 25 or more carries and gained 45 or less yards since 1935. Only the second time it’s happened in a team’s loss. So again, a good day’s work for the D. Martin was a key Sunday.
– Arians wasn’t sounding overly concerned about Carson Palmer’s play. He did say he thought getting sacked on the first play didn’t help Palmer’s confidence. But “it’s not just him,” Arians said. “It’s 11 guys on offense. We have about eight of them playing in the first quarter the last two games.”
– I did think the pass protection was generally better in the game after a rough start. Palmer was sacked on that first play and then wasn’t sacked again.
– In their two wins, the Cards are a combined 2-for-21 on third-down conversions. Mind-boggling.
That’s enough from 35,000 feet. It’s been a long week.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Buccaneers, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Daryl Washington, Doug Martin, Jaron Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Glennon, offensive line, Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Pressure their quarterback, protect your quarterback from pressure. In a lot of ways, that’s what today’s NFL turns on each game.
The numbers from the Saints game were encouraging and discouraging at the same time in those areas.
Profootballfocus.com analyzed the game and noted that Carson Palmer was pressured on 13 of 39 dropbacks. You want it to be better, but in retrospect, it seemed like Palmer was pressured more than that (and it underscores some of the issues Palmer had himself throwing the ball.) On those 13 drops, Palmer was just 1-for-9 and was sacked four times. And all four sacks came without blitzing, on a four-man rush. (And as a side note, Palmer did not complete any of the four passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield.)
Arians said the offensive line will “just continue to work.”
“Crowd noise affects those guys and it couldn’t have been any louder,” Arians added. “They just have to continue to work on it. It will be a challenge (this week.)
On the other side of the ball, PFF noted the four sacks and charted three hits on Drew Brees and 16 hurries — all good numbers. Arians’ problem? It should have been better.
“Biggest thing defensively, we missed some wide-open sacks,” Arians said. “We had just running free that were unblocked. Didn’t get the sack. Drew got away, got the ball out. His yards rushing was huge. It’s hard to come up with blitzes where guys from free but we did it about four times in the game and got no sacks.”
Making more problems for the defense was missed tackles. PFF counted 14 missed tackles, the Cards’ worst total the year. That definitely has to change, quickly. The Cards got a little sloppy against the Rams and adjusted for the Lions’ win. Time to adjust again.
Tags: Carson Palmer, offensive line, sacks, Saints
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Bruce Arians wasn’t thrilled with his team’s practice Monday. It’s the third time the Cards have come back from an off day to a practice and the third time, Arians said, they have had a poor practice. The first two came outside in the heat in Tempe in full pads, so he was crediting that with the problem before now. But Monday the Cards were inside and Arians now sees it as a problem.
“It was the first practice where I thought we took a step backward,” Arians said. “Hopefully it was a good lesson for us. There were few mental errors but the tempo and speed of practice wasn’t quality.
“Now it’s a matter of learning how to practice after a day off. I noticed it early. Probably should have started the practice over.”
That’s a message I’d think will quickly be understood.
– LB Reggie Walker missed practice Monday with food poisoning. WR Andre Roberts sat out with a slight ankle sprain, and Roberts is expected to miss practice again today. The rest of the injury situation remains unchanged, Arians said. The players coming off injuries are day-to-day, he said, and that will be the approach of the team whether they play in the game Saturday.
– Arians said the team, once it is settled, will have a vote to see who the captains are prior to the first regular-season game.
– Arians reiterated that he has been generally pleased with his offensive line play. That confidence hasn’t changed since the time he showed up. “I told them, ‘Either you are going to be a woe-is-me group of guys or you are going to take this as a challenge and a slap in the face,’ ” Arians said. “They knew how talented they were, they knew who was injured and who wasn’t playing.”
– The potential roster breakdown in the secondary was discussed when Arians was asked about UDFA S Tony Jefferson. (Jefferson, he said, is at least in the discussion for practice squad, but no sure thing.) The breakdowns Arians kept giving was nine defensive backs — maybe six corners and three safeties, was one Arians example — which is interesting. You could make, with special teams involved, the case for 10. Arians did insist they will go short elsewhere if the players dictated such. “We’re not going to cut a good player,” Arians said.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Bruce Arians, offensive line, Reggie Walker
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