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.”
Tags: 49ers, Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, playoffs
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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.”
Tags: Panthers, Patrick Peterson, Steve Smith
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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.
– 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.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Antoine Cason, Bruce Arians, Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, Dave Zastudil, Drew Stanton, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Minter, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Panthers
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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
Tags: Earl Watford, inactives, Jasper Brinkley, Panthers, Rashad Johnson
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The Panthers, for a while, seemed to be on the Cardinals’ schedule every season.
But there is something about this game that makes it hard to think about any Carolina-Arizona matchup other than the one two years ago – the last time the teams met, which, like Sunday, also happened to be at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was the lockout season, football had ramped up to 100 miles an hour in no time, and the Cardinals had a massive player overhaul that hadn’t really started until the lockout ended. That meant a roster upheaval that had been a month in the making.
But mostly, there were three players that stood out that day, three guys who should once again play a big role Sunday. On Carolina’s side, there is quarterback Cam Newton, who threw for 422 yards (although it was against a defense that didn’t really know what it was doing under new DC Ray Horton after the lockout, and it showed) and proved quickly he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick.
On the Cards’ side, linebacker Daryl Washington had a huge game. It was the first time Washington really flashed his star potential. It’s fitting that it’s the Panthers against whom he will return this season after his four-game suspension. The Cards need that star once again.
And then there was Patrick Peterson, who won the game with an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and, like Newton, showed right away that a star was born. It’s been a while since Peterson has made any waves as a punt returner, but as he showed last week, two interceptions that basically won the game for the Cards.
If the Cards can have the same equation of players stand out again Sunday, they should end up above .500 for the first time this season.
– I would expect Larry Fitzgerald to be targeted a few times in the first half Sunday. I don’t see the Cards getting locked into another situation where the halftime adjustments include making sure you start throwing to the top offensive weapon.
– Because practice is closed, and because Bradley Sowell didn’t join the team until after training camp – and thusly, after practices were closed – I have zero idea how he might hold up at left tackle. Obviously Steve Keim and Bruce Arians don’t make the move on Levi Brown unless they had someone they felt they could turn to. It’s not like last year when Brown got hurt and the Cards were forced to make a change. My guess is they took a month to not only assess Brown but also Sowell.
– All that said, like Keim noted Wednesday, Sowell is going to give up some plays. But the offensive line has to pick it up as does the offense. Whatever the unit’s issues are, the current level of play is not going to have a chance against all the playoff teams coming up on the schedule.
– Don’t forget about the bag policy. It should be in everyone’s head by now, but just in case …
– The Cardinals will be wearing their black uniforms. That’s good, because it’s also the breast cancer awareness game and frankly, the pink goes much better with black than red.
– I think Daryn Colledge finds a way to start at left guard with his shin injury. But Earl Watford is now working as Colledge’s backup now that Brown is gone, Sowell was promoted and Nate Potter was moved back to work more at left tackle as backup.
– With as much as the Cardinals have struggled on third downs, does that ever become a mental hurdle for the unit, a “here we go again” issue? Fitzgerald couldn’t say no fast enough.
“You can’t ever allow doubt to slip into your mind,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s how you have to be wired to play this game.”
– The Panthers have the third-ranked rushing offense. The Cards have the second-ranked rush defense. Something is going to give. I know that the Cards’ defenders take great pride in that ranking.
– If something happened to Newton – not that anyone wishes such – the Panthers would turn to backup Derek Anderson. That would be interesting. You know he takes this, um, stuff serious.
Then again, who doesn’t? See you Sunday.
Tags: black uniforms, Bradley Sowell, Cam Newton, Daryl Washington, Derek Anderson, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, Patrick Peterson
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Tags: Arizona Cardinals, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, Carolina Panthers, NFL, Panthers
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The Super Bowl run-up this week — on both TV and in print — will be filled with a handful of the obvious stories this week: The last game for Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, and, with the 49ers becoming explosive on offense with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick, there will be plenty written and said about the read-option offense.
The conventional wisdom has long been that running quarterbacks will have a hard time having long-term success in the NFL. Defenders are faster and stronger in the pros than college. The chances of a quarterback getting hurt — and the chances that a coach wants to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get hurt — are high. Of course, that all got turned on its head this season, with Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson (to a lesser degree) all making the read-option incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses.
Where does it go from here?
It’s impossible to know for sure. I do know that defensive coordinators are going to have an entire offseason to prepare to defend it. If you are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who could/will see some version of it up to seven times in 2013 — the Niners twice, the Seahawks twice, the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Jake Locker) and Eagles (with new coach Chip Kelly) — you know the Cards are going to study the strengths and weaknesses carefully. There have been comparisons made to the Wildcat offense, and that version became a lot less effective the year after it hit the scene hard.
Then again, the Wildcat was done in a situation where the main ballhandler wasn’t a quarterback. The threat of the pass was only that, a threat. It wasn’t normal. That’s what makes the read-option so difficult, because the quarterback could instead fade for a quick throw. That’s why Kaepernick and Griffin and Wilson have been so good. It’s not because they run the ball well — although they do do that — but because they are accurate passers and can make defenses pay through conventional ways too. (In other words, Tim Tebow they are not.) As more and more college quarterbacks find ways to do both, it will inevitably find its way into the pro game.
Injury concerns are legitimate. The Redskins understand this. The more hits a QB takes, the more chance he gets hurt. Simple math. Maybe the success can be sustained on a football level, but on a player level, the quarterback won’t last as long. Or maybe the QB has to morph after a few years, like Michael Jordan went from going to the hoop every time into one of the best jump shooters. Pocket passers aren’t going away. It’s really about what the talent is coming from colleges and what coaches are willing to do to adapt. I doubt every team suddenly starts running the read-option, but I don’t see it going away.
Tags: 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, Eagles, Panthers, read-option, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Seahawks, Titans, Todd Bowles
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With the news today that the Seahawks will start rookie third-round quarterback Russell Wilson at quarterback (over free-agent signee Matt Flynn, in a mild upset given that Wilson had been generating big buzz since the offseason), it obviously impacts the Cardinals. The regular-season opener is Sept. 9, when the Seahawks visit University of Phoenix Stadium. That will make Wilson the third straight rookie quarterback to make his debut against the Cardinals in the opener.
In 2010, the Cards opened in St. Louis, when Sam Bradford had some trouble with Adrian Wilson in his first NFL game. In 2011, Cam Newton ended up setting an NFL rookie record for passing yards in his first game. In the Cards’ favor, they ended up winning both games (17-13 against the Rams, 28-21 against the Panthers).
Now the defense will get a chance at Wilson, who, unlike Bradford and Newton, was not the first overall choice in the draft. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will also get a chance at Wilson, who is under 6-feet tall, the reason he went in the third round. I’m sure it will be one of the storylines for the game in about a week (you know, after we get past the last preseason game, any forays into the waiver/free-agent pool by the Cards, and their own decision at quarterback.)
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Cam Newton, Panthers, Rams, Ray Horton, Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford, Seahawks
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Yes, yes, I know I am early. Way early. But as long as the info is out there — and while we still have a little bit before we get to training camp — here is a look at who the Cardinals’ opponents will be for the 2013 season.
– Indianapolis (Andrew Luck!)
– Carolina (Cam Newton!)
– Houston (Arian Foster.)
– Atlanta (Roddy White?)
– NFC North team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings
– and of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.
– New Orleans
– Tampa Bay
– NFC East team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings
– and, of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.
I was going to do a little analysis, but then I realized how foolish that was this far out.
Tags: 49ers, Andrew Luck, Arian Foster, Buccaneers, Cam Newton, Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, Panthers, Rams, Roddy White, Saints, schedule, Seahawks, Texans, Titans
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Let’s start with this disclaimer: The Cardinals need to play better defense. Everyone knows that, acknowledged that. “We let them get some first downs, move the ball on us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Cam Newton played a great game. He’s a lot better quarterback than a lot of people thought, I’m sure. But we found a way to get it done at the end.”
But — and there is always a but, right? — a bit of perspective on Cam Newton’s 422 yards passing, best pointed out by Campbell again. “We still got the ‘W’ and that’s what it is about,” he said.
On my drive home last night I started mulling the 400-yard passing games I have seen over the years. It’s a fantastic number. And frankly, it usually means a loss. Ask Drew Brees, who was great last Thursday night and piled up 419 yards passing with no interceptions and still lost to Green Bay. The rookie record for passing yards in a game, prior to Matthew Stafford’s 422 in 2009 (tied yesterday by Newton) was the Cardinals’ own Matt Leinart, who threw for 405 in Minnesota in 2006. The Cards lost that game, 31-26 (Stafford did win his game, however, 38-37 over Cleveland, with five TD passes).
Kurt Warner had a pair of monster passing yardage days as a Card. He threw for 484 yards at home against the 49ers in 2007, and for 472 in New York against the Jets in 2007. The Cards lost the former in overtime, 37-31, and the latter was also a loss, 56-35. In fact, while Boomer Esiason’s team record 522-yard passing day in Washington in 1996 was an overtime win, the next five top passing games in franchise history (Warner’s two games, Neil Lomax at 468 yards, Jake Plummer at 465 yards and Lomax again at 457) were all losses.
Steve Beuerlein, who threw for 431 yards in Seattle in 1993, did win in overtime.
Newton’s certainly didn’t pile up numbers chasing a big deficit, which is impressive. But the Cards didn’t allow the Panthers to run well — 74 yards, a 2.7-yard average — which is the flip side of the big passing day. The point, again, is that gaudy numbers are always nice. But they are hollow without the right outcome. And in the Cards’ case, they don’t sting nearly as much with the right outcome.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jake Plummer, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Neil Lomax, Panthers, Steve Beuerlein
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