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Slow starts cost Cardinals later Carolina time

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2016 – 1:22 pm

It wasn’t — somewhat surprisingly — made a primetime matchup, given the fact that the Cardinals and Panthers met in the NFC Championship game. But the Oct. 30 game in Carolina was given the late kickoff — 1:25 p.m. Arizona time, 4:25 p.m. in North Carolina — ostensibly so it could be showcased on Fox.

Then the Cardinals had their issues with a 2-3 start and the Panthers have struggled mightily, falling to 1-4 after a “Monday Night Football” loss at home against the Buccaneers. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Wednesday the NFL officially moved the Cards-Panthers kickoff, up to 10 a.m Arizona time. The Falcons (who are playing well and lead the NFC South) host the Packers that day in a game that was originally at 10 a.m. Arizona time and now gets that open 1:25 p.m. slot on Fox.

What it means is a much earlier start for the western team, and the one game the Cardinals had with such a time this season didn’t go so well (an ugly loss in Buffalo.) The Cards will leave on Friday that weekend to try and get acclimated, but it is an early start.

(Then again, the Cards got a night start in Carolina in January, and that didn’t turn out well either. So …)


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“Best thing” for Cards now — turnover margin

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2016 – 11:33 am

Bruce Arians may have been a little salty about how the offense played in the Cardinals’ win Sunday, but he has left no doubt how he feels about the team’s turnover margin. “That’s probably the best thing we’re doing right now,” Arians said. Then again, how could he not see it that way?

Yes, there have been a couple of near-picks for quarterback Carson Palmer, but they have not been picks. So after two games, the Cardinals have yet to turn it over, and have amassed seven turnovers themselves — four interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Math and the law of averages says the fumbles won’t always bounce the Cards way, but they aren’t putting the ball on the ground themselves.

Right now, they lead the league in takeaways (Carolina, Minnesota and San Francisco each have six) and lead in turnover differential (two ahead of the Vikings’ plus-5.) Oakland and Philadelphia are the other two teams without a turnover yet.

The Cardinals were second in the league in takeaways last season with 33, and they are doing it right now without one of their dynamic back-end players playing at full Honey Badger. That’s a good sign. Another good sign? The only other time the Cards went the first two games without turning the ball in the first two games of the season since 1940 was 2008 — the year the franchise reached the Super Bowl.

(OK, as coincidences go, it’s a stretch. But we’ll see.)




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First home game usually means victory

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals never played at home in Week 1 of the NFL season during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium. Sunday night will be the seventh time in 11 seasons at University of Phoenix Stadium that the Cardinals have hosted a Week 1 game. With the Patriots coming to town for “Sunday Night Football,” it makes a difference.

The Cards have won six straight home openers and have won 10 straight home games in September. It’s interesting to note that the last time the Cardinals lost at home in September was back in 2009, when the reigning NFC Champions lost not once but twice.

You remember that season, right? The Cards lost their opener, at home, to a lesser 49ers team. A couple of weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts blew them out of the building. The Cardinals were 1-2, everyone asked “What’s wrong?” — and then they got to 10-5 before shutting it down in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

Since then, the Cards’ home opener has been in Week 1 four times (wins over Carolina in Cam’s first start in 2011, Seattle in Russell Wilson’s first start in 2012, San Diego on “Monday Night Football” in 2014 and New Orleans last year), Week 2 once (beating Detroit in 2013) and Week 3 once (beating Oakland in 2010.)

You can argue, easily, that the Patriots represent the best team the Cardinals have hosted in the home opener in that span (although the 2012 Seahawks turned out to be pretty good). But the Cardinals have made that first home game advantageous.


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No Norman when Cardinals visit Carolina

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2016 – 3:43 pm

As if the Eagles-Browns trade wasn’t big enough news for the NFL Wednesday, this afternoon the Panthers in a stunning move rescinded the franchise tag from all-pro cornerback Josh Norman. Norman is now free to sign anywhere, and while in theory that includes back with the Panthers, it’s hard to see a scenario where that happens.

Norman had not signed his tender offer — worth nearly $14 million — and was in a position where he and Carolina had until July 15 to sign a long-term deal. Reportedly, Norman, 28, was looking for around $16M a year. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said today it had become clear to him the team and Norman would never reach a long-term contract. Still, it’s odd the team would just let him go. Norman might have threatened to sit out (without signing the tender, he wasn’t obligated to show up, even to training camp) but he wouldn’t be the first, and he just said last month he was willing to play under the tag this season.

How does this impact the Cardinals? Not directly. Norman is a free agent, but the Cards a) only have about $6.5 million of cap space, b) are already paying a cornerback a ton of money (Patrick Peterson)and c) are on deck to pay another secondary member (Tyrann Mathieu) a lot of money. Norman isn’t coming here. But the Cardinals do visit the Panthers in 2016, so no Norman figures to help the Cards’ deep receiving corps.

That doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t see Norman. Both the 49ers and Rams had been trying to sign premier cornerbacks in free agency, and the 49ers especially ($52 million in cap space) would seem to have the resources to give Norman what he wants.


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A return for Gresham

Posted by Darren Urban on March 13, 2016 – 2:07 pm

Tight end Jermaine Gresham, a free agent, had been looking around. He talked to the Bears, he talked to the Jets. But multiple reports have Gresham choosing to stick with the Cardinals, at least for another season. More interestingly, Adam Schefter reported that Gresham passed up a four-year deal with $12 million in guaranteed money to return the the Cards for less.

Gresham’s return would seem to solidify the tight end position if the Cardinals decide not to draft one. Already back after signing their tender offers were Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah, while Gerald Christian is coming off a knee injury and former second-round pick Troy Niklas heads into his third season. Gresham did have a career-low of 18 catches last season, although a career-best 12.4 yards per reception. The Cardinals liked the job he did blocking as well.

Schefter is also reporting that the Cardinals are getting a visit from Panthers free-agent guard Amini Silatolu. Silatolu played in only nine games, starting three, in 2015. He is coming off an ACL tear in his left knee suffered in November, and would be depth potential on an offensive line that is likely to lose Ted Larsen in free agency.

Jermaine Gresham

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Cards could use some Super pressure

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2016 – 3:24 pm

Just two weeks ago, Steve Keim was emphasizing the need to improve the Cardinals’ pass rush. This is no state secret, or hard to analyze. After watching what the Broncos did to the Panthers in the Super Bowl — and what the Cardinals could not do to Cam Newton in the NFC Championship game — that plan of action couldn’t have been made any more crystal clear.

It changes the game to be able to pressure off the edge consistently. It makes a difference in the biggest games. After the 2007 season, the Patriots, with their 18-0 record and a passing game that scored more than 50 times by itself, stalled in the Super Bowl. The Giants’ defense wasn’t even that powerful overall, necessarily — but it had a front four that could get to the quarterback (and depth up front), that made life hellish for Tom Brady and brought down the undefeated season with a crash.

This has been a constant topic around the Cardinals in recent years. Even looking back at the 2011 draft, when the Cardinals picked future All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 overall choice, the team was eyeing Super Bowl 50 star Von Miller had he dropped that far (although it became clear in the days leading up to the draft he would not.) You can scheme all you want and blitz more than any other team — which the Cards have done the last couple of years — but blitzing is a risk that can burn a club. And the Cards didn’t always provide the pressure even when they did blitz. The pass rush doesn’t guarantee a title (ask the Panthers, who harassed Peyton Manning pretty well themselves) but it’s an uphill climb without it.

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NFC Championship aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2016 – 11:18 pm

Larry Fitzgerald fought back tears.

The wide receiver has now played 12 NFL seasons. He doesn’t know exactly how many he has left – he has one year remaining on his contract – and at age 32, the end is much closer than the beginning. He also knows the NFL reality that coming as close as the Cardinals did to the Super Bowl, with the best team he’s ever been on, doesn’t necessarily happen more than once.

That’s why the pain was apparent on his face after Sunday night’s blowout loss in Carolina, a game that, frankly, the Cardinals never really were in. If the Cards had lost in a shootout, or a close game, Fitzgerald said, perhaps he could have dealt with it better, knowing the Cardinals at least made it a battle.

Instead, “we just didn’t have it today,” Fitzgerald said quietly. “And that really stings.”

Things will change. They always do in the offseason. Free agents will leave. New players will be signed and drafted. You hope that comes together. You hope that you can stay relatively injury-free, which the Cards – for the most part – were able to do this season. You hope that as a team you can build again, as the Cardinals have in each Arians’ season. Win totals have gone up and the postseason ladder has been climbed one rung at a time.

You hope. But as Fitz’s emotions explained, nothing is promised.

“The emotions are still so raw for me. So raw,” Fitzgerald said, when asked to assess 2015 as a whole. “In a couple days I might be able to have a little bit better answer for you. It really hurts.”

“Obviously,” Fitzgerald added, “I didn’t want it to end this way.”

— Carson Palmer stood up and answered the painful questions after the game. He took responsibility. He said “I” often and while there was plenty of things weren’t great on the rest of the team – the defense did not have its best game either – Palmer had to play well for the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl. He did not play well. He did not come close.

— While the Cardinals and Keim will continue to look for their quarterback of the future, Palmer is going to be the quarterback in 2016. He should be. He did not play well in the postseason but he was a deserving MVP candidate this year.

— Running back David Johnson was excellent, but it’s too bad the Cards got so far behind. He has definitely shown his future as the lead running back.

— The secondary as a whole was not good. Some of that was because of a lack of pressure on Cam Newton, but there were other mistakes. Justin Bethel was not the only player to get caught, but even Bruce Arians noted Bethel by name as someone who had a tough night. Arians added Bethel will get better. The Cardinals need him to.

— Among the free-agents-to-be are cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson. Both emphasized how much they want to return. But we will see how that plays out. I expect the Cardinals to try and get a Tyrann Mathieu extension done at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cornerback taken in the draft.

— The Cardinals will pick 29th in the NFL draft. There will be only 31 first-round selections after the Patriots surrendered theirs during Deflategate.

— There are a lot of other things to talk about heading into the offseason. But with the Cardinals done, there is time to get to all of that.


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Bryant active, Babin sits for NFC Championship

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2016 – 3:09 pm

The Cardinals are healthy, and their inactive list for the NFC Championship reflects that. It’s notable that newcomer Jason Babin — who played just one defensive snap last week — will not be active for the game. Defensive tackle Red Bryant, who was inactive last week, is back in the gameplan. The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— CB Corey White

— RB Kerwynn Williams

— LB Shaq Riddick

— LB Jason Babin

— T D.J. Humphries

— DT Xavier Williams

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Friday before the NFC Championship

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2016 – 4:44 pm

Soon, the Cardinals will know if they will play in Super Bowl 50. Not that they are looking at this game – Sunday night, NFC Championship, in Carolina – along those lines.

“You can’t get the Lombardi without winning the Halas,” Larry Fitzgerald said.

The veteran receiver knows how it works. He’s reminded of it all the time when he walks through the lobby of the team’s Tempe complex and sees the Halas Trophy from the 2008 season displayed. That trophy signifies the key to what was a marvelous two weeks back then, an ending that wasn’t derailed until the last minute. (We won’t go into that now.)

But those two weeks are a crucial point. The Super Bowl seems so far away, both in time and as a journey. Traveling to Carolina comes first – that’s Saturday morning when the Cards leave – and then a game.

I believe the Cardinals are mentally in the right place for this game. A lot can happen in the game itself. I expect a close game. And the Cardinals can try and close in on an NFC title. After that, there will be plenty of time to talk about what’s next.

— It’s hard to get past the feeling that a turnover or two will decide this. These two teams are the ones who have forced the most turnovers in the league (39 for the Panthers, 33 for the Cardinals).

— The most glaring issue on offense in the Cards’ last two games was how the offensive line/protection/blocking got off to slow starts. Something to watch for in the first quarter Sunday night. The Panthers have a helluva front seven. The Cards have to hold up.

— During the Biggest Red Rage Thursday night, cornerback Patrick Peterson said he’s actually down to 199 pounds, a far cry from the listed 219 he played at last season, and down a few from the beginning of the season. He said he could still hang with tight end Greg Olsen if needed, though.

— I’m interested to see if they indeed would put Peterson on Olsen at any point.

— Will weather be a factor? I don’t think it will, as long as the forecast doesn’t change. It might be cold – it’ll dip to near freezing during the game – but Fitzgerald was telling me a couple of weeks ago before the Seattle-Minnesota freezefest that it’s actually not bad for players. Heaters on the sidelines, in the mat the players stand on, big coats. It may be chilly when a drive starts, but that changes quickly as the plays mount.

— For the record, three coldest games (by kickoff temperature) the Cardinals have played this season: 37 degrees at Philadelphia, 45 degrees at Pittsburgh, 49 degrees at Seattle. The Panthers were 41 degrees at NY Giants, 43 degrees at home against Seattle in the playoffs, and 50 degrees home against Washington.

It is supposed to be about 37 degrees and clear at kickoff for the NFC Championship.

— Arians, asked how valid it was that players will listen to players more than they listen to coaches.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Arians said with a smile. “If I want to get a message to Carson, I tell Drew (Stanton), you know.”

— Not only is Fitzgerald the only player (minimum three postseason games) to average 100 yards and a touchdown in his postseason career, he could go catchless Sunday and he would still average 100/1. Right now, Fitzgerald has 912 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight postseason games.

— Fitzgerald, by the way, was fined $23,152 for his illegal crackback block against the Packers last week.

— Ring of Honor member and former safety Adrian Wilson, now working in the Cardinals’ personnel department as a scout (and famously celebrating with Fitzgerald after his touchdown last week) is the Cardinals’ honorary captain for the game Sunday.

— If you want to see the Cardinals off Saturday, there is a rally at the airport starting at 10 a.m. Click here for the details.

— Defensive tackle Calais Campbell was a rookie in 2008, when the Cardinals went to Carolina to play in the Divisional round and were viewed, as Fitzgerald put it, as “roadkill.” That was the day the defense ruined Jake Delhomme for good, and because of a turn of events, earned a chance to host the NFC Championship game against the Eagles.

Campbell was a backup fill-in then. Now, he’s a Pro Bowl star trying to lead the defense. Yet, as he considered things, he’s not sure things on a fundamental level, are much different.

“Back then you just didn’t want to mess up,” Campbell said. “You just wanted to do your job. It’s still kind of the same case. The biggest thing is just doing your job. Making it just another game of football. It is just one game. You can’t go out there and try to do too much more than your job.

“As a captain and a leader of the team, I want to make sure that I work with the younger guys. Make sure they’re focused and they’re disciplined, and they can realize that it just takes doing your job. You don’t have to do anything extra.  Just do what you’ve been doing all year. Do what got us here.”

The Cardinals are 14-3 after all. Maybe Campbell once again will be able to celebrate in a drizzle on the Panthers’ home field. Maybe he and his teammates will bring home that Halas Trophy.

See you in Carolina.

Victory Shower

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Friday before the finale against the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2016 – 4:00 pm

The first game of Russell Wilson’s career started with a loss at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was close, but the Cardinals held on as one of those wins in their mirage of a 4-0 start back in 2012. It was before anyone really knew Russell Wilson was Russell Wilson. It was also the last time the Cards beat the Seahawks at home.

The last two years haven’t been close, even though it’s been in a tremendous upgrade of the Arians era. It’s the only team the Cards have had issues with at home. The first game, Carson Palmer and the offense weren’t ready yet (and the Seahawks defense was at its peak in 2013). Last year, Ryan Lindley started and, well, you know.

We bring up this history lesson in part to understand why Arians is looking to play Sunday’s game straight. Sure, there’s a chance things will change as the game goes along, if the Panthers start to pull away (although Arians said that won’t be a factor) or if the game itself gets sideways.

But mostly, I expect Carson Palmer throwing to Floyd and Smoke and Patrick Peterson covering Doug Baldwin (mostly). Yes, there are risks. But there is still something to play for.

— Speaking of that something to play for, no, I do not expect the Buccaneers to win in Carolina. Never say never.

— The Cardinals aren’t going to get nine sacks a week – especially when Markus Golden, who quietly has had a very, very good rookie season, is sitting out – but their pass rush is rounding into form. Dwight Freeney has been impressive, clearly. But the Seahawks are without starting guard J.R. Sweezy and likely will be without starting tackle Russell Okung. There could be some opportunity to take down the slippery Wilson.

— Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will practice three days next week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Each day will be spent on different potential playoff opponents. The plus the Cardinals have is that, aside from the Redskins (whom the Cards did see in 2014), the Cardinals will have played every single other one of their possible playoff matchups in the last month – Vikings, Packers, Seahawks.

— Since the Cards beat the Seahawks earlier this season, Wilson has thrown for 21 touchdowns and only one interception.

— A bunch of potential milestones well within reach of the Cardinals going into this game.

* Larry Fitzgerald’s first catch will give him a franchise record 104 in a season.
* Palmer needs 73 yards to set a franchise record for passing yards in a season.
* Smokey Brown needs 42 yards receiving to reach 1,000 this season. (Michael Floyd needs 167 to get to 1,000 – I don’t see that happening.)
* Chandler Catanzaro needs four points to set a franchise record in a season.

— Defensive tackle Red Bryant, who played the first six years of his career in Seattle and won a Super Bowl, gets the first chance to play against his former team.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” Bryant said. “I’m excited. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I’m not bitter. I had six great years, accomplished a lot. Now I’m trying to help this team win. I’m not going to have a lot of emotion in terms of feeling I have to prove something. I’ll let my preparation do the talking.”

— With all of Arians’ talk about playing as normal, it doesn’t not look like first-round pick D.J. Humphries will be active for a game this season. And while Golden is down, I don’t expect to see fifth-round pick Shaq Riddick much if at all, given that Arians said Kareem Martin and even Alani Fua could see time in his spot.

— One more, and then on to the playoffs.


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