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Friday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2016 – 4:11 pm

OK, maybe it’s a little strong to say this is the John Wetzel game, but it’s definitely the beginning of the John Wetzel-half season. Wetzel is the guy who is replacing left tackle Jared Veldheer (torn triceps) for the rest of the season. He isn’t the only variable over which the Cardinals may or may not make the run they need to make, but he is definitely one of the biggest.

“The thing about Wetzel that you have to get over is every time you look at him, he looks freaking miserable,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Just miserable. Makes you upset to your core too, like ‘What’s the problem?’ As long as he’s got that miserable look on his face, that means he’s ready to go, ready to play.”

Wetzel has apparently looked absolutely down in the dumps this week, so optimism reigns.

His appearance, however, is the perfect proof of how this season is different than the fun run of 2015. Somebody as crucial as Veldheer didn’t get hurt this early last season (Tyrann Mathieu’s injury came as the Cards were wrapping up the division.) All the key guys were basically healthy. The offense had no question marks. Not like now. The Cards should get better offensively Sunday, because the 49ers defense is simply bad. Can they keep up something consistent through the rest of the schedule? Through the rest of a five-road-games-in-the-final-seven-weeks schedule?

— Underscoring the injuries. The Cardinals have had 58 different players appear in at least one game this season. The Cards had only 56 players appear in at least one game all of last season.

— David Johnson ran for a season-high 157 yards against the 49ers. The Niners have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games, a ignominious NFL record. Everything points to a lot of Johnson this week.

“If you’re getting 5-to-10 (yards a try), you keep it up, but it’s hard to get 5-to-10,” coach Bruce Arians said. “If you’re giving up five, you’re not very good. Sooner or later, you’re not going to get five and your quarterback’s not in any kind of a rhythm to get a first down on third down. So, you’ve got to mix it up.”

— Granted, it’s because questions are asked, but there has been a lot of positive things spoken about both Smokey Brown and about Michael Floyd this week. The Niners aren’t exactly great against the pass either. Would it shock me to use Johnson sometimes as the decoy to open up the passing game? No.

— The Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense. It’d be nice to stay there against this opponent.

— What’s missing on offense, according to Goodwin? (Hint: It’s no surprise): “Getting those explosive plays, which we have a number we want to hit, is key to our offense,” Goodwin said. “As far as getting enthusiasm going, getting excitement going, getting chunk plays. We have to get back to that.”

Goodwin said he wouldn’t say how many the Cards want to hit per game, but it was more than five. Let’s say an explosive play is at least 20 yards — the Cardinals have 31 such plays this season in eight games. That’s less than four per game.

— No Tyrann Mathieu and no Tharold Simon mean a pretty big opportunity for either Brandon Williams or Justin Bethel. The season hasn’t gone the way either of them have wanted, not at cornerback. This is an important moment for at least one to make a mark.

— While I hope everyone got a chance to see the recent Pat Tillman “A Football Life” episode, I hope you also check out our most recent Zoom episode on Tillman. That’s the full interview that Tillman gave in the summer of 2001 that gives an insight into Tillman the person. It’s fascinating, especially in hindsight.

— In each of his three previous Cardinals seasons, Arians has had his team with a winning streak of four games, six games and eight nine games. The Cardinals have only a two-game winning streak this season so far.

— Don’t forget the annual food drive before Sunday’s game. Volunteers from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.

— The second half has arrived. The Cardinals need it to be so much better than the first.

fitzfly


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On his birthday, “Pat Tillman: A Football Life”

Posted by Darren Urban on November 6, 2016 – 8:15 am

Had Pat Tillman not been killed, he would have been 40 years old today.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the NFL Films’ episode of “A Football Life” about Tillman that debuted on NFL Network late last month, here is your chance to see it. It’s well worth your time, even with a story many of us know by now. There is always so much you can say about Tillman — I’d guess they easily could have made a show that went two hours and not just one and had plenty of material.


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Going deep, Friday before the Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2016 – 3:22 pm

It’s a weekly occurrence, the concern about the Cardinals’ deep ball that just isn’t there anymore. Is there anything that can be done about it? Maybe not. It’s a simple equation for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin of why they’ve dried up.

“Because no one is giving them to us,” Goodwin said. “People are playing deep coverage on us, and forcing us to make intermediate and underneath throws. That’s one reason the running game is a little bit better too.

“People know we live for the shot and people aren’t going to give it it up anymore. We respect that. We just have to beat them in different ways.”

The Panthers are a team that’s had problems on the back end and would seem to be susceptible down the field. Then again, the same things were said about the game against the Jets and the Jets played off and the Cardinals bludgeoned them to death with David Johnson. The Panthers are stout against the run, but the Cards aren’t giving up that part of the game.

But Bruce Arians continues to say — with a stronger nod to running the ball these days — that there will be times to take shots and some are still open. Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer definitely lamented the J.J. Nelson bomb against the Seahawks that Palmer simply threw too far out of bounds.

“I missed a couple,” Palmer said. “I had J.J. on a couple the other night. I’ve taken shots that I shouldn’t have in certain situations. I think one thing I need to do is be a little bit more picky – when to take them, when not to take them. That’s something I’ve really been trying to work on.”

— I didn’t think the Panthers were going to be 15-1 again this season. But they shouldn’t be 1-5. I thought Kelvin Benjamin was going to be a huge upgrade in helping their passing game. In all honesty, I didn’t think Josh Norman — or a lack thereof — would have this sort of an impact.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a tough flight home the last time the Cardinals were in Carolina. Bruce Arians, not so much. “Steve (Keim) and I were working on next year already.”

— The Cardinals need better special teams. And not just Chandler Catanzaro kicking field goals. Protections have to be cleaned up. Last week, the Cards were hurt when Jaron Brown went down, forcing Kerwynn Williams in as a wing protector on the punt team. Williams is the one who surrendered the blocked punt. There’s no question injuries have taken a toll on special team — Four guys on IR, Tyvon Branch, Jaron Brown, Alani Fua and Troy Niklas, were all key special teams pieces to begin the year.

“You always have to be ready,” special teamer Stepfan Taylor said. “It’s kind of a want-to and a technique kind of deal. We do a good job of everybody ready, but you can only suit up 46 people in the game. It becomes limited. You have people who have never played it before having to be in-game ready and jump in.”

— We’ll see if the 10 a.m. kickoff Arizona time impacts anything. The Cardinals didn’t play well in the 10 a.m. kickoff in Buffalo, although I’m not sure that was time-related. It would’ve been better to have the 1:25 p.m. Az time kick as originally scheduled (TV moved it because both teams aren’t playing well), but it’s not like they haven’t done it before. The team is in the air right now flying out to Carolina.

At least I’ll get home at a reasonable time. Hey, I’m looking at the silver lining.

— Injuries will play a big role in how the pass rushes for both teams might look. When the Cardinals are on offense, how does left tackle Jared Veldheer hold up with a cast on his right hand against the formidable Carolina defensive line? On the other side, not having starting left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) could make things interesting against edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— One last word on the two field goal block/miss in Seattle. The NFL explains why both were legal in this video.

— There’s been a lot of talk about the tie the Panthers had in 2014, allowing them to win the NFC South at 7-8-1 over the 7-9 Saints. In context, of course, it was a point made after the Cardinals had their own tie last weekend. There’s only one problem — while the tie made the final standings cleaner in terms of seeing who won, the Panthers were going to win the division anyway. The Panthers and Saints split their two games, and the Panthers had a better division record. So even if the Panthers had lost and not tied the Bengals, they would’ve won the South.

— Don’t forget the Pat Tillman “A Football Life” tonight at 6 p.m. on NFL Network (and probably replaying a time or two. Check your local listing.)

— The Cardinals get the bye next week. There’s a pretty big difference between 4-3-1 and 3-4-1. At least in the chase to make the postseason.

beforepanthersblog


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Tillman “A Football Life” debuts Oct. 28

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2016 – 7:57 pm

NFL Films is rolling out a new round of its excellent series “A Football Life.” Last season it was the Bruce Arians story. Kurt Warner got one before that. Now, it will be the Pat Tillman episode. It will debut Oct. 28 on the NFL Network at 6 p.m. Arizona time (9 p.m. ET). Yes, I’m sure it’ll be on the web at some point. No, they didn’t way when.

NFL Films is also doing a new series called “The Timeline,” which chronicles moments that have helped shape the NFL in one way or another. The debut episode on Sept. 9 will be”9/11,” about how the NFL dealt with the crisis of Sept. 11, 2001. I remember it well, since I was in my second season covering the Cardinals. With an odd number of teams at the time, there was a bye every week, and the Cardinals — not a good team at the time — actually had their bye date to open the 2001 season. So the league started play Sept. 9 while the Cards waited for their “opener,” scheduled for Sept. 16 in Washington against the Redskins.

That Tuesday, tragedy happened. The games the following weekend were canceled, although it took a little time to make that call. And, to bring this post full circle, while I watched the aftermath of the Towers falling on TV while sitting in the media room at the Cardinals’ complex, Pat Tillman sat next to me — a story I have written about many times. It’s a story I told during an NFL Films interview for the Tillman “A Football Life.” We’ll see if it’s included.

TillmanLife

 


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Here’s the full Bruce Arians: A Football Life

Posted by Darren Urban on May 25, 2016 – 4:37 pm

A few months ago, the excellent NFL Films “A Football Life” episode on Bruce Arians was released. Now it’s available on azcardinals.com by clicking here or by watching below. It covers Arians’ story from young, sometimes-troubled kid to where he is now leading the Cardinals. It’s well worth the time to check it out.

NFL Films is also working on “A Football Life” episode of Pat Tillman and so that’s something else to look forward to seeing. And we’re still waiting on the official announcement of the availability for “All or Nothing” as well.


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Former Card Colledge joins military

Posted by Darren Urban on March 22, 2016 – 2:59 pm

It’s not quite Pat Tillman choosing the Army Rangers, but it’s pretty similar: former Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge, who last played in 2014, tweeted today that with his football career over, he was joining the National Guard for the next eight years.

“After a year of retirement, a much needed vacation and overdue time with my family, I’ve decided to hit the free agent market,” Colledge wrote in part. “After much deliberation, and discussion, I’m proud to sign my longest-term deal of all time, 8 years, and have enlisted in the Army National Guard. After all my time in the NFL, traveling, meeting, and supporting the troops, I’ve decided to step up and stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

“This was not a decision made lightly. We live in an ever-changing world, at at this time in my life I feel it is best served with me in defense of my family, state, country.”

Colledge played for the Cardinals from 2011 to 2013, finishing his career with a season in Miami. Before the Cardinals, Colledge won a Super Bowl playing with the Packers. A good guy who always had a solid perspective. When the Cardinals cut him, he tweeted the Cardinals were a “great organization heading the in the right direction.” Given all that is going on in the world — and thoughts remain with those impacted by today’s events in Brussels — it’s a big step entering into any part of the military. Here’s acknowledging Colledge’s brave decision.

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Tillman, after the Towers came down

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2015 – 7:58 am

I’ve told this story before, many times, so bear with me. But as we reach another 9/11 anniversary, it’s hard not to revisit the emotions of that day in 2001. Never Forget is more than just a hashtag.

The towers crumbling, with the time zone difference, was happening just as I was waking up. By the time I got to the Cardinals’ Tempe facility — covering the team for the East Valley Tribune in those days — that Tuesday, football wasn’t exactly the top thing on everyone’s mind. The media workroom in those days had these giant, yellowish soft chairs in front of the TV, and that is where I sat once I got to work.

A Tuesday is the players’ day off, but as with most Tuesdays, a bunch were still milling around. So it wasn’t surprising when Pat Tillman came in the media room and sat in the soft chair next to me. We both just stared at the TV as the news coverage continued. The Cardinals were supposed to play their regular-season opener in Washington that coming Sunday (the team actually had a bye on the NFL’s opening weekend) but it was hard to believe in that moment there could be a game in Washington after the Pentagon was hit, or in New York.

I didn’t know what I was going to write that day, or even if I was going to write that day. Anything about sports seemed so incredibly meaningless, especially in those hours. But there was Tillman, on a day when players usually weren’t available, and as a reporter, that’s the job. So I took a moment, and if I remember right, I prefaced the question saying exactly what I was thinking, that I was sorry to be asking. But then I did what I needed to do, and asked Tillman about his thoughts about possibly having to play in Washington that weekend after the horrifying events of the morning.

“I wouldn’t be worried about our safety,” Tillman said. “My concern would be if it is appropriate. The importance of football ranks zero compared to what happened.

“When you compare it, we’re worthless. … We’re actors.”

That, and Tillman’s famous words on camera the next day, stick with me every year on this day. When you start seeing the memorials on TV when you wake up on Sept. 11, that’s what pops into my head. When I visited the 9/11 Museum with media relations manager Mike Helm during the Cards’ New York trip last season — an emotionally draining afternoon, but one I highly recommend — that day and those moments always flash once again.

My thoughts go out on this day to everyone who lost someone on 9/11. And for everyone affected by that day, which I’d guess pretty much means every single one of us.

Never forget.

NFL Cardinals Tillman

 


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With Washington wait, a new #58

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2015 – 9:47 am

There is no new news on the status of Daryl Washington — I don’t know why it’s been so long, and no one I have talked to has answers, or is giving any — but there is news about his jersey No. 58. Undrafted rookie linebacker Edwin Jackson will now be wearing that number. That’s the reality of a preseason game coming up, a 90-man roster and a handful of jersey numbers already retired (and not that the Cards are necessarily moving on from Washington.)

The NFL has a rule that says two players on the same team cannot be on the field at the same time wearing the same number. This time of year, it’s not unusual for the Cards (or other teams) to give an offensive and defensive player the same number, since offense and defense wear opposite colors in practice. That doesn’t happen in a game, of course.

As of Saturday, the Cardinals had two sets of players sharing numbers. Running back Marion Grice and safety Harold Jones-Quartey each wore No. 23. Safety Brandon Person and running back Paul Lasike each were wearing No. 34. Because there was a good chance those players could end up on the field at the same time for special teams, multiple shuffles were in order.

That led to Jackson, who had been wearing 45 (and who had a big finish Saturday lighting up Lasike on a hit, pictured below), ending up with the linebacker-friendly No. 58.

The Cardinals could “unretire” one of their retired numbers, but that wasn’t going to happen. For a linebacker, the only options there were Pat Tillman’s 40 or Marshall Goldberg’s 99. (The Cards have five retired numbers: Tillman, Goldberg, 8 for Larry Wilson, 77 for Stan Maudlin and 88 for J.V. Cain. This the biggest reason why the Cardinals don’t retire numbers and instead use a Ring of Honor — NFL teams need jersey numbers.)

Once the Cardinals cut to 53, some jersey numbers inevitably will change again. That always happens. We’ll see where Jackson is at that point, and what happens with 58 then.

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A day to remember Pat Tillman

Posted by Darren Urban on April 22, 2015 – 2:15 pm

Pat Tillman died 11 years ago today.

It was a jarring result of a story that had already become legend. Tillman had joined the military in 2002 after shunning the Cardinals’ multi-million dollar offer, and he had made it through his first tour of the Middle East. He even visited the Cardinals on their road trip to Seattle late in the 2003 season, to talk to then-coach Dave McGinnis. But Tillman, who could have gotten out at that point, decided he was going to go back into the fighting one more time.

I remember getting the call from a local TV sports producer I knew, asking me if I had heard the news about Tillman. I had not. I was sitting in my kitchen with my wife and two young sons, it was around 7 a.m., and I didn’t quite know what to do. I came to the Cardinals’ facility — it was the day before the 2004 draft — and it was just hard. There were still plenty of players around who had played with Pat. Offensive lineman Pete Kendall came in to talk about Tillman the best he could. New coach Denny Green, who came after Tillman left, was around, but it was like he didn’t know quite what to do around all of us that had known Tillman.

I’ve written many times about Tillman and told my Tillman stories. It’s that time of year to think about them, with the anniversary and, Saturday, the annual Pat’s Run over at ASU, in which I will be participating for a 10th straight year. It’s the time to listen to this tribute the team put together right after Pat’s death, a moving piece that local radio stations still play to this day. It’s the time to remember a guy who embodied what sacrifice was — whether it was something as little as spending his own time to teach his eventual replacement the playbook or as big as fighting for our country and losing his life because of it.

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Adrian Wilson’s goodbye and his Pat Tillman help

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2015 – 5:21 pm

This is when you feel the legacy, on the day in which Adrian Wilson officially retires and when he talks about the guys who helped him when he got into the league, Pat Tillman comes up. It’s fitting this time of year, when the anniversary of Tillman’s death draws near. It’s easy to forget how important Tillman was to Wilson that one season they played together, in 2001.

“I didn’t know the first thing about the playbook,” Wilson said of his rookie season. “(Defensive coordinator) Larry Marmie’s playbook was so complicated, I couldn’t understand it. Pat sat me down for hours upon hours just going through the playbook just to go to practice the next day. It was that complicated for me. I owe big dividend to Pat.”

To think, Wilson was there to essentially replace Tillman.

(Wilson thanked other “old-time” Cardinals Corey Chavous, Kwamie Lassiter, Rob Fredrickson and Ron McKinnon for their help when he was starting out too.)

— When Wilson was released back in 2013, I covered a lot of the instant emotions and thoughts I had of his career in this post. But his retirement Monday brought some closure and, perhaps sooner rather than later, maybe bring Wilson back into the building on a consistent basis. He shrugged off his future right now, saying he wanted to “take my time on that.” He’s got four young kids. That’s his focus now, although there is little question GM Steve Keim likes having him in the mix. Team president Michael Bidwill noted that before the press conference, Wilson had his mock draft around, drawing a grin from Wilson.

“He’s made some improvements from his first mock that he showed me,” Keim said. “I think I sent him back to the film room.”

— Not only was Wilson’s family there, but his two buddies from North Carolina from when he was 10 years old, Adrian Mack and Anthony Johnson, were there Monday and it took me back to 2010 when Wilson invited me back to High Point to cover his high school retiring his jersey number and I was able to meet Mack and Johnson and do a big story on who Wilson really was as a person. Looking back on that article, through the prism of today, this quote stands out, about Wilson desperately wanting to leave a legacy.

“Nobody in my family has one and I’ll be the first,” Wilson said. “That’s something I think is more important to me than anything – leaving that right mark. I want to lay a foundation down where it doesn’t matter what generation you come from, you’ve got to respect what I did.”

— Bidwill will have Wilson go in the Ring of Honor, but that date is TBD. The schedule comes out tomorrow, and then the team must figure out what home games have which events, like Breast Cancer Awareness or Salute to Service, for example.

— Wilson admits he thinks about the Hall of Fame. I’ll have a separate post on that tomorrow, but it’s been tough sledding for safeties in Canton.

— There was a good group of former teammates on hand for Wilson today: Fitz, Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, Calais Campbell, Bertrand Berry, Quentin Harris, Damien Anderson, Rolando Cantu. Peterson even took the mic during the press conference to deliver a statement in front of everyone. Wilson was an important part of this franchise. He still should be.

AfterDubBlog


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