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Considering another flex for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2015 – 10:53 am

The Cardinals have made it through their “Sunday Night Football” gauntlet of two weeks running. They have at least one more primetime game — their next home game is on “Thursday Night Football” against the Minnesota Vikings. But that might not be the only one. Their games down the stretch might mean something. Whether those games will be free to flex is another story.

As of right now, the game that would make the most sense to flex to “Sunday Night Football” would be the Dec. 27 home game against the Green Bay Packers. Two good teams, likely with something on the line as the Packers battle the Vikings for the NFC North title and with both teams possibly fighting for a first-round bye. Meanwhile, the scheduled “Sunday Night Football” game is Pittsburgh at Baltimore, normally a lock to stay there with such a great rivalry. But the Ravens have lost quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Terrell Suggs all with season-ending injuries. They are struggling anyway. It’s not going to be the same.

Even if Cardinals-Packers makes sense, though, it’s far from a guarantee, because Fox has the ability to protect a game that week and Cards-Pack would seem a natural one to keep. It has national interest, and it’s a good game. The Panthers play the Falcons that week, so it might be worthy of Fox’s protection too — in fact, whichever one Fox doesn’t protect becomes a strong candidate to be flexed. (The Patriots play the Jets that week, but the Jets are fading fast.)

As for Week 17, which doesn’t have a named “Sunday Night Football” matchup — NBC gets to pick a game with playoff implications — the Cardinals and Seahawks is possible, but I’m guessing the NFC West will have been determined by then and there will be other games that mean more (Washington-Dallas? Minnesota-Green Bay? Philly-Giants?)


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Turnovers and a trip to Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2015 – 9:30 am

It’s Seattle week. More specifically, at Seattle week, a game the Cardinals have been anxious to play for a long time now that Carson Palmer is healthy. It’s interesting that the Cardinals are coming off that four-turnover game in Cleveland, a game in which they won — because the last time they had turned the ball over four times in a road game, they had also won. That game was the 17-10 stunner in Seattle near the end of the 2013 season, the one in which Palmer threw four interceptions yet found Michael Floyd for a touchdown pass late in the game for the clinching points.

The Cardinals are now 2-1 in four-turnover road games under Bruce Arians. The one loss was a 32-20 defeat in San Francisco in 2013, a game that is remembered for a crucial Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cards driving for a go-ahead score — but what might be better remembered for the 18-play, smashmouth TD drive of the 49ers that took up 9:32 and 11 of the plays (including the final eight) were runs up the gut.

The point is that there are always ways to overcome even messy turnover days. The three-turnover games that led to the Cards’ two losses this season weren’t based on the turnovers alone — in both cases, the Cardinals still had chances to win the game late.

But turnovers make the job so much harder. The Cardinals have 14 turnovers total in eight games and 10 turnovers in the aformentioned three games — the win in Cleveland, the losses to the Rams and Steelers. Other than the Packers and Bengals, the Cardinals (while facing a much harder schedule) don’t see a lot of great offenses. None that match up to what the Cards can bring on that side of the ball. But turning it over can change those odds quickly.



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Home means so much — now, and then

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2014 – 11:40 am

The  Cardinals are 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They are 13-2 at home since Bruce Arians became coach — a meaningless, close loss to the 49ers to close out the 2013 season, and the the 34-22 loss to the Seahawks in October of last year. The home-field advantage is real for the Cards, a big reason why this team still has the optimism it does going into this game despite having to dig deep into the depth chart for a quarterback.

Only three times have the Cardinals ever won more than seven games at home in a season, the most recent being 1925 and that total (11 home wins) was helped by the fact the Cards played 13 of 14 games at home. (That is a seriously unbalanced scheduling.) The Cardinals are the only team in the league to have given up 20 points or fewer in every home game this season.

Details of what player will be the QB aside, that’s ultimately what Sunday’s game is about. If the Cardinals win, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Literally, in fact, since that would include a Super Bowl appearance. If the Seahawks win, they are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, and it almost goes without saying the home-field advantage the Seahawks have in Seattle. There’s still a chance the Packers could be the top seed, and no one wants to play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau in January.

So it’s fitting that, for the Cardinals, it’s a home game that determines future home games — and possibly the direction of the entire postseason in the NFC.


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Packers loss gives Cards-Seahawks extra meaning

Posted by Darren Urban on December 14, 2014 – 3:11 pm

The Cardinals won in St. Louis Thursday, and can spend Sunday watching the rest of the NFC playoff picture unfold. Already, they caught a break. The Green Bay Packers went to Buffalo and lost, 21-13, to fall to 10-4 and a game behind the Cards. Ultimately, what does that mean? It means that regardless of the result of the Seahawks-49ers game going on right now, because of all the tiebreakers the Cardinals have spent the year building, if the Cardinals can beat the Seahawks a week from tonight on “Sunday Night Football,” the Cardinals will clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

It would be an incredible feat given the injuries the Cards have absorbed.

(UPDATE: The Seahawks did beat the 49ers. As expected.)

A loss against Seattle would not necessarily eliminate the Cards from the No. 1 seed, but the math is much more simple if they win (and a loss versus the Seahawks would mean the Cards would need a lot of help as well as a season finale win in San Francisco.)

A No. 1 seed would mean a ton, from a first-round bye (time to heal Drew Stanton) to home-field advantage for as long as the Cardinals remained in the playoffs — including, of course, the Super Bowl if they got that far.

— ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning Stanton is expected to be out four weeks with his knee injury. The Cardinals have declined to get into specifics of Stanton’s issue other than it is his right knee that’s injured. The Cards do expect him back at some point.

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Beat the Rams, and the playoffs are all but a lock

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2014 – 9:39 am

The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.

The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.

There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:

Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:

— The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.

(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)

That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)

A win in St. Louis would be a major step.



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Glancing at the 2015 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 14, 2014 – 2:46 pm

You know that it’s the dead of the offseason — real dead — when it comes to mind to point out who will be on the Cardinals’ schedule for 2015.

But here we are, inside of two weeks before training camp begins and a week away from the quarterbacks and a handful of other players reporting for a couple of days of “quarterback school” prior to the opening of camp. It’s the last hurrah for time off for both coaches and players. It doesn’t leave a lot to discuss right now. That’s all coming. But as I flipped through the new edition of the NFL Record and Fact Book, I came across the 2015 opponents for the Cardinals. So I thought I’d point them out.

As always, there are the home-and-away games against the NFC West opponents. The teams visiting University of Phoenix Stadium include the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and then an NFC South team that ends up inhabiting the same position in their division that the Cardinals do in the NFC West by the time the 2014 season is over.

Road trips in 2015 for the Cardinals include the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the corresponding NFC East team.



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Miss the win over Green Bay?

Posted by since1898 on August 10, 2013 – 2:25 pm



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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2013 – 10:38 pm

The way Carson Palmer threw the ball Friday night was good. So was the way backup Drew Stanton did, for that matter. But what may have been the most promising of all for the Cardinals was the way the pass protection held up.

“There were some great pockets to throw in,” Palmer said.

This all has the usual caveats. It was the preseason. The Packers weren’t coming with a complex package. Yet that didn’t help a ton in the preseason last year when the Cards struggled. I thought the first unit (Brown-Cooper-Sendlein-Fanaika-Winston) did very well. The Cards are smart too. On a 17-yard Palmer-to-Fitz pass from their own 1 early in the game, Michael Floyd was in – and then stayed in the backfield to help with protection. Palmer was clean.

Palmer wasn’t touched in his short stint. Stanton was a couple of times (his lone sack was of the coverage variety) but he also Russell-Wilsoned himself out of trouble a couple of times. Everything tonight comes with the “It’s early in the preseason” sticker attached. But a team with consistent pass protection? That’s something to embrace.

— The running game wasn’t as effective. That will be something that needs improvement. But Bruce Arians was just thankful the Cards got through with just two healthy running backs. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t play, and Andre Ellington sat too. Stepfan Taylor and Alfonso Smith was all the Cards had.

— The offense is going to get the spotlight. That’s natural after the season the unit had last year. But the defense, under scrutiny itself with the

Horton-to-Todd Bowles coordinator change, played well. Two turnovers led to two touchdowns, which is how Bowles wants it to go. And preseason or not, the Packers didn’t score, which is the best you can do.

“It’s a good starting point for us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “I’m sure we didn’t play nearly as good as we could have, I’m sure there was a lot of mistakes on film. That’s football and the preseason. It does show us how good we can be.”

— You don’t want to go overboard on any player in the preseason. And a rookie has a long way to go. But what’s the No. 1 thing you want to see out of a player – especially a rookie? You want to see them , if they were showing you good things in practice, to show those things in a game. Tyrann Mathieu did that.

His stat line was gaudy: Two tackles, one for loss, a sack, a quarterback hit, a pass breakup, a pass breakup, two special teams and a 26-yard punt return. He also thought he had a chance at an interception and didn’t look thrilled Packers receiver Myles White grabbed him to mess with that possibility. You don’t want to go overboard, but a very, very impressive debut.

— Patrick Peterson tweeted about his protégé: “Proud of my baby boy @Mathieu_Era doing great things in his first @NFL game. Can’t wait till Sept. 8

— Not to be outdone, though, Peterson made sure to get his own interception in his brief stint, leading to the Cards’ first TD.

— Arians said he gave the receiving corps a C grade. He poked fun at Andre Roberts a little for not catching the first bomb from Palmer (to be fair, it also hit off the DB) but Roberts atoned with his TD. Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins did well, I thought, although Brown had a drop he can’t make and Hawkins fumbled the ball on a long reception (he got it back but the fumble probably cost him a chance at a bigger play.)

— John Abraham didn’t play much at all, but he managed a strip-sack of Graham Harrell in his brief time in the game. You sign a guy to rush the passer and you get that out of the gate.  “Doing that just helps the team out and helps them see that I have a little something left,” Abraham said.

— The only injury reported by Arians was a hip pointer for rookie tight end D.C. Jefferson, who twice couldn’t hang on to passes he should have – including one in the end zone. Arians isn’t going to let him forget about that. He told the media about the hip pointer, and then added “that’s what happens when you drop big touchdowns.”

— Arians was irritated at the offensive issues in terms of substituting and getting lined up, something that really affected the younger players. That will have to be cleaned up. Timeouts were burned too often.

There’s probably more I could say, but it’s late, there’s a long plane ride ahead and I’ll have time to hit on more over the next few days. As Palmer said, “it’s a small step.”

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GIF of the game

Posted by since1898 on August 9, 2013 – 10:33 pm

Jaron Brown’s 1-yd leaping TD catch gets the GIF of the game honors.


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Cardinals open up 2013 on winning note

Posted by since1898 on August 9, 2013 – 10:18 pm



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