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Steelers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2015 – 7:51 pm

It was tough not to get the feeling that, after a half in which it looked like the Cardinals would take control of their game against the Steelers but never did, the Cards missed their chance. That’s how it played out of course, with the hamstring injury of Mike Vick turning out to be the best thing to happen to the Steelers. Landry Jones looked OK, but the fact he was able to give Pittsburgh a semblance of a passing game made all the difference.

What it means now is that the Cardinals will again draw skeptics that they have lost to the only two decent teams on the schedule so far. That feeling probably won’t change in the next two weeks, with a Monday night game against the Ravens at home and then a trip to the feisty Browns. There was, not surprisingly, confidence in the locker room this will get fixed over the next week. It was, like the game itself, a lot like what happened after the Rams loss.

The Seahawks lost, at home to the Panthers, so the two-game division lead remains intact. The Cardinals play like they are capable, they win Sunday. But the math is simple in the NFL – everything else considered, when you’re minus-3 in turnovers, you’re almost always going to lose. If the Cards finish that next-to-last drive and Carson Palmer doesn’t throw a pick, well, again, we were saying the same thing after the near-game-saving drive against the Rams – you’re talking about a win regardless of the warts.

— It was a little surprising the Cardinals didn’t run it more. They gained only 55 yards on 20 carries, and the Steelers were stout on the day. But Andre Ellington only got one carry for seven yards, early, and then didn’t carry it again.

— Dwight Freeney got his first playing time as a pass rusher. I didn’t watch him a ton, but it seemed like he had a couple of pressures. That’ll be something to watch on the replay.

— The penalties just killed the Cardinals Sunday. Whether it was Michael Floyd’s offensive pass interference to negate a TD or Kevin Minter’s post-play push or the chop block, they didn’t help. There were definitely some questionable calls – the Markus Golden helmet-to-helmet hit wasn’t, as replays proved. But officials are calling that in real time and will always err on the side of caution.

Bruce Arians was blunt about how to fix the mistakes and penalties.

“Stop doing it,” Arians said. “Drag your foot closer and make a touchdown. Don’t give up an 80-yard touchdown.”

— He was talking about the Floyd-TD-that-wasn’t – a huge turn, and Floyd was a toe away from being in, it looked like – and then the final TD catch-and-run by Martavis Bryant. That may have been just as painful as the Palmer pick. A three-and-out there, and the Cards get the ball with about 1:50 left and one timeout. Instead, the game was over.

— So in the Cards’ two losses, they are 2-for-9 in the red zone. In their four wins, they are 16 for 17. The latter is an unrealistic pace to keep up, but still, it makes all the sense in the world to Larry Fitzgerald.

“Our issues on offense are pretty simple to me,” he said. “We are getting down there, we have a ton of offensive red zone snaps. We just have to execute them better. Point blank, that is where it stops. If we are scoring touchdowns and we put 30 points on the board we walk out of here with a win.”

This is true.

— Fitz did do one somewhat strange move late in the first half, during a timeout. He went over to the Steelers sideline to say hi to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who used to be the Cardinals’ OC back in 2007 and 2008. He promptly dove at Haley’s legs and tackled him – relatively gently – to the ground. Fitz used to do it all the time to Haley at practice (he’s done it to many people over the years, including me), although I will admit to see it during a game was different.

— Safe to say Floyd is back in the mix. One touchdown, and he was targeted for three others, although in one way or another they weren’t completions.

— It’s been a long week. Time to get home.


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As 2015 begins, a look at … 2016 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2015 – 8:46 am

Yes, training camp starts today (hopefully you can check out our redesigned homepage and our training camp page.) But before we get off and running, how about a quick glance at the Cardinals’ opponents for the 2016 season — which, as you know, the league has determined 14 of the 16 regular-season games already.


— New Orleans Saints
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— New England Patriots
— New York Jets
— NFC East team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (assuming the Rams are still in St. Louis)


— Carolina Panthers
— Atlanta Falcons
— Buffalo Bills
— Miami Dolphins
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (even more important to see if Rams are still in St. Louis)

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Panthers playoff aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2015 – 10:53 pm

The Cardinals didn’t have enough. They just didn’t, and while Bruce Arians said he doesn’t buy into that line of thinking – “We have to gameplan to win games” – it doesn’t make it any less true. For weeks even some of the players kept noting that eventually, Next Man Up would run out of bodies. It wasn’t just the quarterback situation, even though that was the most important position. Guys looked like they wore down in certain positions, and that’s what happens when you ask some guys to play at an ultra-high level for so many games and so many plays above what you originally intended.

It spoke to their effort that the Cards won 11 games, and to the coaching. That’s why Bruce Arians insisted there was no missed opportunity, because the Cardinals with what they had created the big season in the first place. I get the teeth gnashing and frustration over certain parts of both Saturday and the end of the season. But this was a good season, it was the most wins this franchise has had in Arizona, and it was another step forward under the Steve Keim/Arians regime.

That said, there are a ton of difficult and major decisions coming in the offseason and a lot of important question marks. I’m not going to address them all here now, because that’s what the coming weeks are for and I’m sure I will post about them soon (and often, I’m guessing my Larry Fitzgerald post from Friday will be the first of a few between now and early March, when his roster bonus comes due.)

— I’d have to dig it out, and I’m not sure if I tweeted it or wrote it in a post or said it on a podcast or on the radio, but at some point I know I said something along the lines – in regards to Logan Thomas as being raw – “if you are down to your third-string quarterback, you’re in trouble anyway.” That’s what the Cardinals had at the end, even if the third-stringer eventually became Ryan Lindley because Thomas was so raw he dropped on the depth chart.

That’s the NFL. You lose your best quarterback – and that’s assuming you have someone who you think is good, and the Cardinals believe they have that in Carson Palmer – and the road will be difficult. Everyone knew that’s what would happen with Lindley, and that’s what did happen. The Cardinals got the turnovers Saturday night and were trying to make it work, but the margin for error was thin at best, and had been for the last month.

— The officials had a bad game, starting when Ed Hoculi tried to give the Panthers the win of the coin toss when the Cardinals, in fact, had just correctly called it. Arians was right, it wasn’t why the Cards lost. But a couple of the calls didn’t help, particularly the Michael Floyd non-pass interference.

— Top things, in my mind, the Cardinals need to upgrade in the offseason (assuming there isn’t a good quarterback there to be drafted and Palmer is the choice for 2015): Linebacker (both inside and outside), more speed on offense, more defensive line depth. These things can change if certain veterans aren’t back.

— Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will now organize his head coaching interviews. He reportedly has five teams that want to talk to him. I’ll be surprised if he interviews with all five.

— I’ll also be curious to see if Bowles leaving, if it happened, would be the only change on the coaching staff or if Arians makes any moves.

— I think, with the way Drew Butler finished up, Dave Zastudil has to be confident when he comes back this offseason.

— Arians, on the missed tackles in the game: “Missed tackling, that was way overblown for this game, that’s not even the story line.”

— That’s about it. Going to try and get a little rest on this flight back. The final locker room cleanout and wrap-up interviews are early tomorrow morning. And then we’re into the offseason.


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No Cooper again for Panthers game

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2015 – 12:57 pm

There are no surprises on the Cardinals’ inactive list today. Guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist/knee) is going to sit out again, but otherwise, pretty straightforward — especially after coach Bruce Arians told everyone QB Drew Stanton was already going to be out with his bad knee. DT Dan Williams (foot) is playing, and with Alameda Ta’amu inactive, it means the Cardinals have to be comfortable Williams will hold up.

The full list:

— QB Drew Stanton (knee)

— WR Brittan Golden

— S Chris Clemons

— G Jonathan Cooper (wrist/knee)

— DT Alameda Ta’amu

— G Anthony Steen

— DE Kareem Martin

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Stanton won’t play against Panthers; Lindley up

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2015 – 1:03 pm

Bruce Arians confirmed what seemed like was coming all week as quarterback Drew Stanton couldn’t practice with a bad knee: Stanton will not be able to play Saturday against the Panthers, and Ryan Lindley will start. Stanton always seemed like a longshot to go anyway as the week went on.

The good news: Arians said everyone else is ready to play.

The plus for the Cardinals is that Stanton has been out a few weeks now and it’s not like Lindley starting is a surprise. He’s been taking all the first-team reps and, while Stanton’s status is sometimes murky on the outside looking in, the bet is that his teammates had a pretty good idea which way the quarterback situation was headed.

“When you get experience in big games, and (Ryan) has been in two big games, it affects how you play,” Arians said. “I think he’s more than ready and I think he’ll play extremely well.”

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Niners aftermath/Panthers prologue

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2014 – 8:32 pm

It was a weird day Sunday.

It was weird because of what was swirling around the 49ers as Jim Harbaugh coached what everyone knew was going to be his last game as a 49ers boss but pretended nothing was going on yet (including the very awkward hug between Harbaugh and 49ers owner Jed York on the field pre-game). It was weird because Ryan Lindley threw three interceptions, but it was hard not to feel the Cardinals may indeed be able to tread water at quarterback if Drew Stanton can’t come back this week. It was weird because the game for a while felt like it would mean a heck of a lot, with the Seahawks trailing and the Packers losing Aaron Rodgers – and then the Seahawks pulled away and the Packers pulled away and the outcome meant just nothing.

Maybe that’s why the Cardinals falling short didn’t feel like that so much, that Lindley’s last interception was simply moot. It didn’t cost the Cardinals anything.

I’m not going to sit here and say Lindley was the second coming of Rodgers, or even Carson Palmer Sunday. The first half, he was pretty good, with 260 yards and his two touchdowns and yes, a very bad interception, but he had the Cardinals ahead. By all accounts – including his own and by my own eyes – it’s the best he’s played in the NFL. I thought he looked better than he had even in the practices I have seen. The second half, he and the offense dropped off, but the Cards stuck with the run more too.  You can’t turn the ball over. That’s obvious. But there’s a way to make this work, at least against a 7-8-1 Carolina team.

The Cardinals’ playoff game will kick off at 2:35 p.m. Arizona time Saturday and will be televised on ESPN.

Speaking of turnovers, the Cardinals suddenly aren’t getting any. The Cardinals forced two turnovers against St. Louis on that Thursday night win – although one came on the last play of the game – and haven’t forced one since. Those turnovers were a big reason the Cards were winning earlier in the season. They have to create something in Carolina.

— Arians said there was no new news on Stanton. We’ll see if he can go. My gut says the Cards will have to go with Lindley.

— Cam Newton doesn’t quite run as much as he used to (and he’s still dealing those back issues after his car accident.) But the way that both Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have sliced up the Cardinals running the football the past two games, the Cards have to be concerned.

— Safety Tyrann Mathieu, on the trouble stopping the run: “We have to play with more of an attitude. We have to play with that chip on our shoulder. We come into the game at 11-4 and in the playoffs and we’re not necessarily playing with a chip on our shoulder. Hopefully we can gain that edge again.”

— Tight end Darren Fells is still raw. But it looks like the Cardinals might have found something there. With him and Troy Niklas, it’s a nice young tight end foundation going forward.

— In case you missed it, click here to see the Cardinals’ opponents for 2015. The schedule comes out in April.

— I don’t think Bruce Arians will forget about Kerwynn Williams again. Williams wasn’t great but he’s a guy who needs to have carries for the Cardinals.

— The Cardinals did have a pretty good day the last time they played a postseason game in Carolina.

— That was the Michael Floyd the Cardinals have to have.

— This was the first season in franchise history four different quarterbacks have thrown a touchdown pass in one season. Not that you’d be striving for such a thing, but …

— Random quote, this one from Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, said during the NFL Network’s pregame show Sunday morning: “I would not pass up the opportunity to play for Bruce Arians. Bruce finds ways to win games without his best players. … The fact that he’s found a way to win 11 games after going 10-6 and missing the playoffs. You win 11 games this year and you’re missing probably four or five of your best players on your team. How do you do that? That means there is great coaching going on.”

— Short week. The players get their day off Monday, and all the practice days are moved up one with the Saturday game. The Stanton watch is on. Otherwise, more Lindley.


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Scoreboard watching and the playoff chase

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2013 – 10:39 pm

Bruce Arians does not want to talk playoffs. Not yet.

“Somebody asked me once if I’m scoreboard-watching,” Arians said. “I said, ‘Yeah. First down, second down, third down and how much time is left on the clock. I’m calling plays. I’m not looking at who is winning and who is losing.”

But I am not Bruce Arians. So, as many have asked about, here are the playoff scenarios and, realistically, what the Cardinals are looking at going into these final three games. Win just one and it’s over. Win three and the Cards (8-5 right now) might still need help.

If there is a tie with the 49ers for the sixth spot, the 49ers (9-4) would win the tiebreaker. Head to head wouldn’t matter, since the teams would split (the Cardinals can’t afford to lose the finale), and the 49ers in that scenario would win the second tiebreak, winning percentage in the division (San Francisco would be 4-2; The best the Cards can finish in the division even if they win out is 3-3.) With the Niners already a game up in the standings, that’s not the team the Cards probably can catch.

The Panthers (9-4) are a slightly different story. With the head-to-head edge, the Cardinals need to just catch them in the standings. Carolina has a one-game lead; they are home against the Jets and Saints before finishing on the road at Atlanta. The Cardinals, of course, play at Tennessee, at Seattle and home against the Niners.

This is, of course, assuming the Eagles (8-5) win the NFC East and don’t drop behind Dallas for a wild card scenario, since they have the head-to-head tiebreak on the Cards. (If you want to see every single step in the tie-breaking procedures, click here.) UPDATE: And the way I read the tiebreaks, the Cards would lose out in a three-way tie with SF and Carolina.

Bottom line? Every loss is crippling. And wins might not be enough.

“I remember, 2008, 24 years old, (making the postseason) and I’m thinking this is something that is going to happen a lot,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “There are no guarantees in this business. When you have an opportunity you have to make the best of it and we have an opportunity right now. I think everyone in this locker room understands if we win out, we’re going to be in the playoffs. Simple as that.”

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Cards make Smith a grumpy cat in Carolina

Posted by Darren Urban on October 7, 2013 – 4:50 pm

Sunday didn’t start well for Carolina veteran receiver Steve Smith when he dropped a sure touchdown pass on his team’s first drive. Smith would’ve beaten Patrick Peterson on the play. Smith ended up being targeted 10 times by quarterback Cam Newton, but he had just four catches for 60 yards. Peterson also made an interception in front of Smith (to be fair, the ball was well underthrown — seen below) and Smith was called for offensive pass interference on Peterson.

That latter call clearly did not sit well with Smith the day after.

“I got a (pass interference) penalty, which is very interesting,” Smith told the Charlotte Observer. “I got leg-humped and hugged a few times. Being a pretty good flag football player, I think I got my flag pulled on my jersey a few times,” Smith said. “I would say pretty much, I take that one on the chin and just say it was me. I’ve got to play better.”

Smith added he had a discussion with one of the officials. “He told me on my route (that) I felt like I got held, where (Peterson) had the back of my jersey and used that to slingshot his way through and bat the ball down,” Smith said. “He said he grabbed my jersey, he saw it, but he didn’t think it was enough that changed the course of the route.”

And then, talking about the Peterson play, Smith said, “It was pass interference in Mexico, Europe, rugby — in pretty much every other sport but in Arizona yesterday. But then when I pushed off it was pass interference.” Smith also called the official “garbage.”

Peterson was credited with three pass breakups in addition to his interception. According to profootballfocus.com, Peterson was targeted a total of nine times in the game, and he gave up three catches (for 48 yards). In his last two games, Peterson has given up four catches in 17 targets, according to PFF. Seven of the Carolina targets were for Smith, who had two catches for 37 yards against Peterson while Peterson knocked down a pass and got the pick.

“They were pretty much running everything we saw in practice all week,” Peterson said after the game. “We didn’t do a great job. We had a couple busts in the secondary which is unusual for us. We weren’t communicating the way we should.  But halftime, as a captain and a leader of the defense, I had to get the guys going. So we came out in the second half and played much better, much smarter Cardinal football.”


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Panthers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2013 – 7:17 pm

Larry Fitzgerald was asked what he could say about the defense.

“You can’t say enough about the defense,” the Pro Bowl wide receiver said.

It was an impressive showing Sunday. It’s one thing to beat up a rookie QB like Mike Glennon. But Cam Newton had been playing pretty well, and while the Panthers got a few

yards, they didn’t get points, and the big plays were everywhere. If this team gets inside linebacker play from Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby like that, it won’t need nearly as much from its outside linebackers. Calais Campbell was a beast too. (And I really, really like what I have seen from new nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu. Dan Williams played well too. Nice to have some strength at the point of attack.)

We’ll get back to the defense in a moment, though.

It was hard not to notice Fitzgerald and the way he took on his press conference, clearly tussling with the mixed emotions of a victory yet knowing a) the offense didn’t play very well again and b) he was going to have to answer questions about it. Again.

He said the win helped “keeps you sane a little bit.” Then Fitz chuckled that knowing chuckle – did he learn that from Anquan once upon a time – when you can’t really say what you want to say. “We’ve got to get better.”

Then he was asked if he was surprised points are so hard to come by. “How surprised am I? Um. I don’t want to answer that. Uh.” And then another smiling chuckle. “I’m, I’m, um. We’ve got to do better.”

The Cardinals are 3-2 and the fact Bruce Arians went to the run a bit more Sunday is a good sign, because the passing game is having more ups and downs than they want. Can it get fixed? More importantly, will it be effective enough for the San Francisco-Seattle five-day twosome the Cards have next week? They better hope so.

— I’ll say this: If the Cards can perform this way defensively, they should at least be in games. Washington’s return was impressive, but the fact Dansby was everywhere was too. Dansby is a smart football player. He might not always have the speed anymore to get to where he wants to be, but he knows where he should be. That duo played the whole game at inside linebacker. Yes, Jasper Brinkley was hurt, but I think we know what direction the Cards are going there. Kevin Minter, barring injury, is going to be waiting a while before he gets to play defense.

Washington did miss four weeks, right?

— That’s two straight outstanding games for Patrick Peterson, I thought, and he almost broke that interception return.

— The pressure was intense often on Carson Palmer. It was mostly on the interior Arians said, and I tend to agree. Bradley Sowell was fine at left tackle, but we all knew the next two games were going to be a stiffer test.

— I think it probably went through the coaches’ minds to use Drew Stanton Sunday. I didn’t think they would both because Palmer tends to rally – and he did, for a second straight week, throw a late TD pass – and because that’s an open can of worms that changes a season regardless of what happens. But it’s not like they have a rookie behind Palmer. And we all know the trust Arians has in Stanton. Something to watch if Palmer continues to struggle.

— The Cardinals hadn’t had seven sacks in a game since they had eight against Dallas Sept. 13, 1987. For those scoring at home, that’s the last season in St. Louis for the franchise.

— Calais Campbell’s sack for a safety was the Cards’ first regular-season safety since 2004. Yes, they had one more recently – the infamous Steelers hold in the end zone giving the Cards two (important) points in Super Bowl XLIII.

— If there was a way to wed a punter and gunner together in a Pro Bowl category, there would be votes for Dave Zastudil and Justin Bethel. By the way, a 48.3 net average for Zastudil Sunday with two of four inside the 20.

— The game might have been different if the Panthers didn’t have four drops, including one sure TD by Steve Smith on the first drive of the game. Three instead of seven. The Cards will take it.

— Arians said it was Michael Floyd’s fault on the first interception, the reasoning being if the Cards are going to call for a jump ball, the receiver has to at least knock it down. Sounds fair.

— Antoine Cason sighting: The veteran cornerback has not played defense much at all, but he was in the right place when Campbell had his second sack, and Cason grabbed the ball in the air and returned it inside the Carolina 10.

“I haven’t played a lot,” Cason said. “But whenever they call me to play, that’s what I come to do. Don’t complain. Just go to work.”

— I could go forever but there will be more tomorrow. San Francisco week beckons.

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Rashad Johnson, Brinkley to sit

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2013 – 11:30 am

Injuries will keep safety Rashad Johnson (finger) and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (groin) sidelined today, as both were included on the Cardinals’ inactive list. One non-change, even with the trade of Levi Brown — Bruce Arians will still have eight offensive linemen active. Earl Watford — who has been running second unit left guard — will be up and available for the first time today.

Along with Johnson and Brinkley, the rest of the inactive list has familiar names:

— QB Ryan Lindley

— RB Ryan Williams

— WR Kerry Taylor

— T Bobby Massie

— TE D.C. Jefferson

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