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A missed opportunity, and Keim seeks focus

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2015 – 8:07 am

Before we get to GM Steve Keim on this Monday morning, this one is going to hurt. If there was a time you were going to win in Pittsburgh, it was Sunday, when Ben Roethlisberger is out and the left tackle gets hurt early in the game and the defense is missing a couple of starting linebackers and a starting cornerback. This might end up more painful than the Rams game (although in the end, that may not be true, since the Rams game was a) at home and b) within the division.) That’s two close games in which the Cardinals had the chance to pull out in the fourth quarter — games the Cards won all last year — and didn’t do enough on either side of the ball.

As for Keim during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7:

— The GM said he is happy with the Cardinals’ toughness. What he wants to see is “improved focus.”

“These guys are confident, they have some swagger, they play physical,” Keim said. “But when you lose focus, when you void run lanes or break down in coverage or you miss a protection, it can really change the outcome of the game. To me it’s the focus that needs to be improved.”

— Keim, like his players, lamented the Steelers game because he felt the Cardinals beat themselves. Keim deferred to Bruce Arians on why the Cards didn’t run more, but he said he thought Arians wanted to exploit mismatches against the Steelers’ secondary, which the Cards did a healthy part of the day — they just again bogged down in the red zone (and Carson Palmer made one very poor decision.)

— His offensive line assessment: The tackles did OK. Guard Mike Iupati was better than the previous weeks. Guard Jonathan Cooper and center Lyle Sendlein were up and down.

— Keim on the stay at The Greenbrier: “I think it was definitely a success.” He said the ability to adjust to the time change was a big deal. (As an aside, I will not be surprised if the Cardinals end up back in West Virginia at some point in the future. Not sure when, but someday.)

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A healthy Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on October 9, 2015 – 3:53 pm

There is no real wood here at my desk – not sure exactly what it’s made of, actually – so there isn’t anything on which to knock. Normally, no biggie, although I’m going to go all mentioning-the-no-hitter-in-the-seventh-inning and say it: The Cardinals are really, really healthy. Four games into the season, and they are about as healthy as an NFL team can ever be.

Bruce Arians noted it when he said, thanks to the impending return of wide receiver J.J. Nelson from a shoulder injury, that the Cardinals will have “seven healthy scratches” Sunday in Detroit for the inactive list. When has that ever happened?

Arians admitted there will be tough decisions on who sits. If Nelson plays, you figure that’ll send Brittan Golden back to the bench. But with Andre Ellington back, someone else needs out, and it’s unlikely to be a running back. The inactive list will indeed be interesting to see – but again, it’s a good problem to have.

— The Cardinals have a long week ahead, staying in West Virginia to practice at The Greenbrier, which is where the New Orleans Saints hold their training camp. First comes the game against the Lions though, a team that’s 0-4 yet have the Cardinals talking all week about how dangerous they are.

“You forget they have Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, the cat from Nebraska,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “This is a talented team. They are a few plays from being almost undefeated. Last week, I feel they got cheated (in Seattle). I wouldn’t sleep on the Lions. I know we’re not.”

— “The cat from Nebraska” is running back Ameer Abdullah, who has flashed some talent despite the Lions’ struggles running the ball. Arians said how much he liked Abdullah coming out, and he was in consideration by the Cardinals at draft time. Things would be different with Abdullah instead of David Johnson, although the way Johnson has played, I don’t think the Cardinals would want to make any swaps.

— Speaking of running backs, the trio is back together and healthy. How will it play out? Ellington isn’t sure, exactly.

“Coach doesn’t really share too many of his thoughts,” Ellington said. “So we’ll see.”

Ellington said he’d play his role. The guess is that Chris Johnson starts, and Ellington splits time (I don’t think CJ gets the vast bulk of the work, but like Ellington said, we’ll see.) David Johnson will do something, you’d figure. But it’s nice to have options.

— A big reason the Cardinals are running the ball so well – and they really are at this point – is the offensive line. Yes, there are things to improve with communication and such, but the line overall has been better. Profootballfocus.com ranks the Cardinals after four games as the 11th-best line in the NFL. That hasn’t happened in recent memory. And to think, Mike Iupati has a game underneath him and the Lions are missing their defensive tackles.

— Arians said he will “wait and see” who does punt returns Sunday. If Nelson is healthy, does he get it back from Patrick Peterson? Nelson did muff his last punt catch attempt. But given Peterson’s defensive importance, I would think it’ll be Nelson’s duty sooner rather than later.

— After the craziness of the end of the Lions-Seahawks game and the fact Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright didn’t know the batted ball rule (and nearly cost his team a dramatic win because of it), Arians said coaching assistant Wes Goodwin (no relation to OC Harold) goes through every game each week to “find something crazy” so it can be a teaching moment for the Cardinals.

Goodwin took over the job from James Bettcher, when Bettcher was elevated to defensive coordinator. The team goes over the plays every Thursday morning, teaching as best as possible.

— For the record, Arians said he knew the batted ball play was a penalty as it happened, which would have made for an interesting moment had he been coaching the Lions.

“It would have been a hell of a fight on that sideline,” Arians quipped.

— Left tackle Jared Veldheer, a Michigan native, is playing in his home state for the first time in his career. Veldheer estimated he attended three or four games at Ford Field growing up, and not surprisingly, he’s expecting a pretty large group of his family and friends at the game Sunday. He shrugged off the idea it’d make him nervous.

“I think it’s better,” Veldheer said. “It fuels me. It’s fun to be able to have guys you played college football with in the stands, high school football with, friends. That stuff is cool to me.”

— A big matchup, considering a) Patrick Peterson has played so well and b) Calvin Johnson has done little for a struggling Lions’ offense: P2 versus Megatron.

— A final statistical note: The Cardinals have only had four three-and-out possessions this season. And they had none in their lone loss last week.

The Motor City awaits.


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No right tackle news yet

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2015 – 1:35 pm

Bruce Arians admitted he has an “pretty good idea” who will start at right tackle for the Cardinals Sunday. But he isn’t saying who. Arians declined to name his starting offensive line Friday. “We’ll wait and see what is best,” he said when it came to whether Mike Iupati is going to be able to go at left guard and whether right tackle is manned by Bobby Massie or Earl Watford.

Whoever starts at right tackle is the right tackle. There will not be any switching “unless it’s a problem,” Arians said. Iupati is officially listed as questionable, and he has yet to practice fully since returning to the field. The Cards may end up erring on the side of caution with him Sunday.

One minor upset: Running back Andre Ellington (knee) was limited in practice and Arians is calling him a game-day decision. There’s no need to rush him back, Arians acknowledged, but if he is ready to play he’ll play, because he provides a skillset David Johnson and Chris Johnson do not have. Ellington is listed officially as doubtful.


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“Nine More,” and Saints aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 13, 2015 – 7:03 pm

Rashad Johnson had already pulled off his jersey and shoulder pads as he made his way off the field Sunday, the Cardinals’ 31-19 win official. The shirt he wore under his jersey for the game, now drenched in sweat? None other than one that proclaimed “9 More” – or the saying the veteran safety uttered back in 2013, after the last time the Cardinals played the Saints and Johnson lost a fingertip.

He was back with the team a couple days later, telling everyone he was fine because he still had nine more fingers.

It was kind of cool that Johnson got the Cardinals’ lone interception Sunday – he nearly had a second later on. He wasn’t going to get his finger back, but he was able to extract a small revenge.

The offense got gutsy with their playcalls and ended up putting 31 points on the board, but the new James Bettcher defense did a lot of the same things the old Todd Bowles defense did, including stiffening in the red zone to force field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense must be better – as acknowledged by many, way too many yards surrendered on short passes-and-long-runs by running backs – but it was a good enough start.

— The right knee injury to Andre Ellington was scary-looking. But as we got into the postgame, both Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer sounded optimistic that the injury – Arians said the belief is that Elllington hurt his PCL – wouldn’t sideline Ellington permanently.

— That said, we see where the running back depth makes so much sense. Ellington goes down, and you turn to a veteran who still has a little juice left in Chris Johnson. Then you let speed merchant David Johnson loose on the pass – I was down on the sideline when the rookie blew past everyone, and I have to say I didn’t expect that kind of speed – and you figure the Cards can weather an Ellington absence.

— Bruce Arians said he was “anxious” to make the play call that ended in Johnson’s 55-yard touchdown. Which is odd because few do such a thing. ESPN’s Mike Sando tweeted this great stat: From 2010 through last season, NFL teams ran 94.8 percent of the time on second down in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when leading by six or fewer points.

— Then again, Arians does not lay up. He goes for the pin.

— There were many upset at the sequence at the end of the first half that ended with two incomplete bombs and a Palmer scramble as time ran out, costing the Cards a field-goal try. But remember, that’s the mentality that led to the Johnson touchdown. No risk it, no biscuit. That’s B.A.

— The offensive line did solid. There were hiccups. There always are. But there were not a lot of them and for the most part, there is little to complain about. Earl Watford hung in there at right tackle against the very talented Cameron Jordan. Jonathan Cooper had a rough start but rallied. Most importantly, Carson Palmer was not sacked.

— Backup center/guard A.Q. Shipley played fullback and was lead blocker on Ellington’s touchdown run. Fantastic, and good use of the 46-man active roster on game day.

— Tyrann Mathieu kept promising his savage season and he was all over the field Sunday. He had a team-high eight tackles and three passes deflected while the Cardinals went heavy with their four safety-packages.

— I thought Patrick Peterson played well. Yes, he got beat once by Brandin Cooks for a 30-yard gain. But mostly, Cooks – the Saints’ best offensive weapon – was a non-factor. And mostly, Cooks was covered by Peterson.

— It’s hard to find a better story or more likeable guy (and the Cardinals’ locker room is filled with likeable guys) than tight end Darren Fells. To see him break out is cool, and reinforces what Arians has been saying about his development. There are times when Arians moves into hyperbole with his players, but Fells is proving his coach right on target.

— Michael Floyd played, and had an 18-yard catch early. Arians said he wasn’t on a “pitch count” to hold down his plays, but Floyd certainly didn’t play as much as he normally would.

Road game in Chicago next weekend. One down, at least 15 to go.


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Goodwin analyzes his O-linemen

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2015 – 3:03 pm

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin met with the media for the first time since the offensive line was set, and over the course of the press conference addressed four of his five offensive line starters (all except Jared Veldheer, and it’s safe to say Goodwin is more than happy with his left tackle.) A quick Goody rundown:

C Lyle Sendlein: “Just a solid veteran. Smart, dependable. He has some limitations but he knows what they are. He just makes me feel comfortable as a coach having him in there. He can correct me when I’m wrong, but usually, for the most part, we’re on the same page.”

RT Earl Watford: “You see a little bit more snap in his punch. Bradley (Sowell) does a good job athletically but sometimes you have to have a little power too. Earl is a little bit more powerful and little more assertive in pass protection. … Hopefully the butterflies don’t get to him early

LG Ted Larsen: “Ted has actually gotten better. Coming out of last season, playing a lot of left guard for us, he has done a good job. I think he’s actually a better guard than he is a center. He’s more confident and comfortable at the guard position.”

RG Jonathan Cooper: Goodwin was asked if it was a good thing that Cooper hasn’t been talked about much. “I’ve actually stopped cursing a lot, so things are getting better.” So, is Cooper back to the level where the Cardinals thought he was when he first was playing as a rookie? “My expectations are high, so I’d say no, not yet,” Goodwin said. “Never satisfied.” Goodwin chuckled after that last remark.

As for going into the regular season without left guard Mike Iupati (knee) and without the suspended Bobby Massie (who declined interview attempts Thursday), Goodwin said he wasn’t going to worry about it.

“I can’t ever remember having the same five guys the whole season, so it’s the nature of the beast for me,” Goodwin said. “Things happen, people get hurt, but you can’t pout because guess what? They’re still going to play the game on Sunday.”




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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2015 – 11:19 pm

There was a lot of talk about needing to watch the video before anyone could say for sure what the biggest problems were for the starting offense Sunday night in Oakland. Bruce Arians insisted there were no pass protection problems, although for whatever reason – whether it was line breakdowns or running backs not helping enough or Carson Palmer holding the ball too long in certain circumstances – it can’t be denied that Palmer was pressured more than anyone would like.

But again, there wasn’t any panic after. There weren’t any major injuries, so in the end, that probably qualifies any preseason game a success. It is true that the starting offense won’t really get a chance to work in a game before the opener. If that side of the ball is worried, nobody showed it afterward in the locker room.

On the flip side, I thought the starting defense held up well. They were put in some tough positions by the offensive struggles, but I thought they were solid, save for that one third-and-16 conversion they allowed.

— Palmer, who had his right knee wrapped with ice in the locker room after the game, took some hits. But it was his own journey outside the pocket that made everyone gasp a bit. It was third-and-9 and Palmer took off up the middle of the field – diving headfirst to make sure he picked up 10 yards and a first down.

“Larry (Fitzgerald) was screaming at me to get down,” Palmer said. “There is no hesitation. You want to get the first down, you want to stay on the field and keep playing. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it worked out and I got away with it so I got lucky.”

— The second unit offensive line – from right tackle to left tackle, Earl Watford, Anthony Steen, Lyle Sendlein, Jon Halapio and D.J. Humphries – acquitted itself well, I thought. After the way Palmer was harassed, Drew Stanton had some time against the Raiders’ starting defense during his 12-play, 80-yard TD drive.

— Watford, in particular, played well against Khalil Mack. Watford quietly has been pretty solid, and that’s playing through a bad ankle.

— Defensively, Calais Campbell and Alex Okafor were stout against the run, and Kevin Minter made some good plays. Jerraud Powers showed up in coverage.

— I don’t know if Cariel Brooks makes the 53-man roster but making a play like the 81-yard touchdown return tends to help. I think he’s the leader in the clubhouse if the team’s fourth cornerback is already on the roster – I just don’t know if he’s already on the roster.

— Arians said a couple of times that Phillip Sims would come in first in this game because he wanted Logan Thomas to potentially get a two-minute drill. He couldn’t have come up with a better scenario – tie game, 2:18 left on the clock. Thomas came up big, especially after taking a huge hit on his knee at the outset of the drive.

— Speaking of huge hits, tight end Ifeanyi Momah took a big hit too on his catch-and-rumble to set up that game-winning score. It looked worse than it was, Momah said.

“I’m good,” Momah said. “We ran the play a couple times today. The safety kind of cheated over and the middle of the field was wide open and Logan made a good read. I was expecting the safety. I tried to stick my shoulder into him. It was a big hit but I initiated it too. It wasn’t too much of a blindside.”

— Interesting that tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was expected to play, did not. It did not come up when Arians spoke afterward. Chris Johnson said he thinks he’ll play Thursday after skipping Sunday – he could run full speed straight ahead but was having trouble cutting in pre-game warmups.

— It’s a short turnaround. We’re on this plane flying back to Phoenix now, and the Cardinals have practice Monday afternoon to prepare for Thursday’s preseason finale.


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Keim: Johnson update and Chiefs review

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2015 – 8:14 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf Show” on Arizona Sports 98.7, acknowledged he has had discussions with the agent for running back Chris Johnson. But as of Monday morning, “there is nothing on the horizon,” Keim said. Johnson was expected to work out for the team. As I’ve said a few times, we’ll see what pans out.

As for Keim’s view of the game:

— He praised a handful of young players for their initial performances: Defensive end Rodney Gunter and linebacker Markus Golden (although he wants to see Golden finish more often), and from the non-rookie side, cornerback Justin Bethel and linebacker Kevin Minter. The latter two are in big years in terms of earning regular position spots on defense.

— As for the first units on both sides of the ball, “I don’t think you could have scripted a better start,” Keim said.

— On Logan Thomas, Keim said he liked the quarterback’s pocket presence. “There are times when he makes some really ‘Wow’ throws,” Keim said. “The question is consistency and I think he played a consistent game.” Keim did note that Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes in the preseason opener last year, so again, it’s about consistency going forward.

— Not surprisingly, he thought tight end Ifeanyi Momah competed and looks like a nice option as receiver, but needs to get better as a blocker in terms of technique since he won’t have the bulk or body type to ever maul as a blocker.

— Keim was happy with the “excellent” play of the starting offensive line and also thought the backup offensive line did a good job. It should, really, since it’s populated with three one-time starters (Sowell, Larsen, Sendlein) and a first-round pick (D.J. Humphries). Keim said Humphries had some technical issues in his first game but showed the physical play and the athleticism the Cards liked when he was drafted.

— Going forward, Keim said there are still many questions open, such as fourth and fifth cornerback, the back end of the wide receiver depth chart, core special teamers. The Cards did come out of the game “relatively healthy,” Keim said.

— As for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald getting munched by pulling guard Mike Iupati on the Cards’ touchdown run — Fitz was blocking a Chiefs’ defensive back when Iupati came in to clean up and looked like he got mostly Fitz — Keim was blunt. “We all know Larry is a tough guy. He’ll stick his face in the fire.”

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The offensive line best in the West?

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2015 – 3:03 pm

The tweet came from SiriusXM NFL Radio over the weekend, with host and former NFL QB Jim Miller saying that it is the Cardinals with the best offensive line in the NFC West. (His partner, Pat Kirwan, has the Cardinals second behind Seattle.) My first reaction, which I tweeted, was that I couldn’t remember the last time someone held the Cardinals’ offensive line in such high regard. It makes sense, with the Cardinals’ big free-agent purchase the past two offseasons being offensive linemen (Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati) in addition to a No. 1 draft pick (Jonathan Cooper.)

Veldheer was asked about being compared — on both the offensive and defensive line — to the Seahawks, and the tackle was pretty blunt.

“I think they’re both solid lines, but I’d take our guys any day over those guys,” Veldheer said. “That’s part of the fun part, too, getting that rivalry going, wanting to puff your chest out more than the guy across the line from you.”

In terms of the division’s offensive lines, the reality is the bar has dropped some. The Seahawks traded their center Max Unger to get tight end Jimmy Graham, who may help in catching the ball but won’t much as a blocker. The Rams have added defensive linemen aplenty of late but seem to have ignored the need on the offensive line. The 49ers lost one of their better lineman when Iupati came to Arizona. As for the Cardinals, they have upgraded. You can see why someone would consider them the best unit in the division. But as always, it’s difficult to tell much of anything on the offensive line in the offseason. What is done in the offseason isn’t enough of football to be sure the line will translate once the games actually start.

Then again, it’s better to be thought of as the best this time of year than the alternative.



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Keim: Cards didn’t match intensity

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2014 – 8:23 am

GM Steve Keim said he as a tendency to be a pessimist, and in some ways, his job is inherently so as the man in charge of trying to upgrade the team — even when they are 9-2. Sometimes, Keim said during his weekly appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7, he said he can think “the sky is falling.”

The sky isn’t falling after a lone loss following six straight wins, of course, but now it’s about curtailing that losing streak. To make sure it’s not a streak. Ron Wolfley made a cogent point following the interview too, noting that a GM and a coach probably see the video through a different prism given their jobs. But Keim and Bruce Arians could certainly agree on one main point after Sunday’s Seattle loss: “In a hostile environment, you have to match their level of intensity in all three phases,” Keim said. “We certainly didn’t do that in two.” Offense and special teams didn’t do nearly enough.

— Keim said he thought the offensive line needs to be more physical. Other that acknowledging a comment that right tackle Bobby Massie didn’t have his best game, Keim wasn’t specific on the offensive line but instead talking about them as a group. The entire offense has to play “in better unison” in the run game. The protection could have been better too.

— It was hard to evaluate QB Drew Stanton because the run game gave him no help, Keim said, but it wasn’t Stanton’s best game, noting Stanton’s inaccuracy at times.

— There was a miscommunication between cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Rashad Johnson on the early 48-yard pass to Ricardo Lockette, Keim said.

— Keim said he thought new defensive end Josh Mauro stood out (so did I). The rookie out of Stanford has long been on the Cardinals’ radar. Keim said the Cardinals tried to sign Mauro as an undrafted rookie back in May, but he decided to go to the Steelers. When the Steelers cut him at the end of the preseason, the Cards again tried to sign Mauro to their practice squad, but Mauro chose to stay with Pittsburgh’s practice squad. Finally, the Cards decided to sign Mauro off the Steelers’ PS to the active roster.

— Here’s why the sky isn’t really falling for Keim: “The thing that gives me confidence is men in that locker room and that coaching staff.”


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Keim: Waiting on injury, and the offensive line

Posted by Darren Urban on November 10, 2014 – 8:10 am

General Manager Steve Keim didn’t have much of an update on quarterback Carson Palmer this morning during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. Keim said Palmer will undergo “a number of tests” Monday and the Cardinals should have an update with Palmer’s knee injury later Monday. That Keim didn’t have much to say isn’t surprising, but as I mentioned last night, you hope for the best but plan for the worst.

After a win in which the Cardinals only rushed for 28 yards, though, Keim did have some thoughts on the offensive line. He was blunt: Keim said he thinks one of the “primary reasons” the Cardinals were 8-1 is the play of offensive tackles Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie. As for the interior — guards Paul Fanaika and Ted Larsen and center Lyle Sendlein — Keim said he has concerns about their consistency.

Bruce Arians was asked after the game, following his talk about how the Cardinals got their “asses whipped” up front leading to a lack of a run game, whether there was a chance guard Jonathan Cooper could get a start against Detroit. Arians answered without hesitation: “None.”

Keim has suggested in recent comments that he thought Cooper could end up playing some, although that belief isn’t held by the coaching staff. And Keim said it’s up to the coaches.

“Anytime you are 8-1 there is a certain chemistry, and a lot of times coaches don’t want to mess with chemistry, which I certainly can’t argue with,” Keim said. “The other thing is, I’m the General Manager. It’s my job to add players to the roster, help pick the players. But I am always going to defer to the coaches when it comes to playing the players. It’s not my job to tell Bruce Arians or Harold Goodwin who to play from a personnel standpoint. That’s a decision those guys have to make, and if those guys think it’s in our best interests to play the two guards we currently have out there right now, that’s what I’m going to go with.”

— As for Drew Stanton, who will step in at QB assuming Palmer is out, Keim talked about the confidence the team has in Stanton. He made the point that, if the Cardinals didn’t think he would be able to step in after seeing him since the beginning of 2013 after Stanton signed, the Cards would have made a move to replace him.

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