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Adrian Peterson’s debut, and Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2017 – 7:15 pm

The plan started on a private plane, sent by the Cardinals Tuesday to pick up Adrian Peterson in New Orleans and bring him back to Arizona. Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was on board, so that the return trip to Arizona could be spent on a crash course about the Cardinals’ offense.

“It sounded like Chinese,” Peterson said Sunday, after that five-day tutorial turned into a 134-yard rushing debut.

Peterson said Kitchens walked him through what he needed to learn, calling him at home just to go over things. By the time Peterson got to Sunday, he felt prepared, and he played that way.

Kitchens downplayed his role, saying only that he helped get Peterson in the building. And there is little question Peterson, motivated as he was to do well, had the talent if he knew what was called.

“It was the terminology of the plays,” wide receiver/Peterson landlord Larry Fitzgerald said. “You don’t tell a great back where to run.”

Fitz is going to gush about Peterson. They are friends. But Peterson deserves the praise. Not just for his production, but for the intangible vibe that surrounded this team right about the time Peterson and Kitchens were flying back from Louisiana.

“I wish he’d have been here 11 years from the beginning,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d have a Super Bowl ring already. But having him here, his leadership, his demeanor in the huddle, I think it’s reinvigorating everybody.”

— I can’t lie. I did not expect Peterson to make that kind of impact. I thought the Cards would be better. Not that much better. But when he ripped off two eight-yard runs on his first two carries, I quickly reconsidered.

— Chandler Jones got his sixth sack in six games and got a couple tackles for loss. That doesn’t do his game justice, especially early. He’s had a very good season.

— Still, you want to see the defense finish better. It’ll be interesting to see if Tramon Williams gets more playing time at cornerback.

— And not because of Patrick Peterson’s quad problem. If P2 is down, the Cards will feel it, although Peterson insisted he will be ready to play against the Rams next week. That was a big part of the fourth-quarter problems Sunday. No Patrick. Adrian isn’t the only necessary Peterson.

— The offensive line was better. It wasn’t perfect, but the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone, along with Earl Watford taking over at right guard clearly made a difference. There was a lot of emotion Sunday with Adrian Peterson and the crowd and that adrenaline helps. But if this group can stay healthy and together – that was the fifth different offensive line in six games – the Cards should be OK.

— Fitzgerald said it was kicker Phil Dawson who told him to waste some time on the onside kick recovery at the end, to make sure the clock ticked under the two-minute mark (and stoppage at the two-minute warning) so the Cards could kneel three times and be done. “That was Phil all the way,” Fitz said.

— Ryan Fitzpatrick likes putting a scare into Bruce Arians. First it was 2013 in Tennessee, then Sunday.

— Arians took the blame for Palmer’s interception, saying he insisted on throwing it deep there to go for the throat. But Arians said he needs to stay greedy. “There’s no lead big enough in the National Football League,” Arians said.

— Palmer is expecting both David Johnson and T.J. Logan to come off injured reserve, apparently, since he mentioned both running backs playing with Peterson later this season.

“I can’t help but think what B.A. will come up with when we get T.J. Logan back and Dave back,” Palmer said. “I can’t wait to see that.”

— That would be interesting. Just like the Cards were Sunday. Tomorrow, a flight to London.


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A pair of Petersons, Friday before the Bucs

Posted by Darren Urban on October 13, 2017 – 3:59 pm

Adrian Peterson was the story of the week after he was traded to the Cardinals Tuesday. For a few days, all you can really have is speculation. The coaches and players are enthused about his arrival and what he might be able to do. Really, you’d expect nothing else. Optimism tends to reign in these situations.

“You got Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald on the same team, and Carson (Palmer) is delivering the ball to both of them,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “It’s like, ‘What?’ That sounds like something you would do on ‘Madden,’ a team you’d create on ‘Madden.’ ”

The spotlight will be on “All Day” Sunday. If I had to guess – and this is purely a guess – I’m guessing on 12 or 15 touches. The revamped offensive line has to make some inroads, and that’s no guarantee. And while Peterson supposedly has looked good since arriving (we cannot watch practice), there’s no way to know exactly what the 32-year-old will do in a game situation.  Still, there is little arguing that, after a bad game in Philly, there was a vibe of hope around this offense this week.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d be on my team,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “But he is.”

— The Cardinals have another Peterson. Patrick represents the other side of the ball. Unlike Adrian Peterson, who is still looking to prove he has a lot left, Patrick Peterson doesn’t need to, because he is at the height of his powers. But that can only go so far. And before the offensive Peterson arrived, it was the defensive Peterson’s overflowing passion in Philly that underscored some of the issues with a defense of which so much was expected.

Let’s say P2 does his job on Mike Evans this weekend. The Cards have to find a way to control DeSean Jackson and some good tight ends. They have to get off the field on third-and-long. (An aside, the Cardinals have been good at forcing third downs and even third-and-longs. They just have to close the deal.)

“It’s definitely something we’ve struggled with all season,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think it’s something we can correct. We’ve got a veteran group on the backend. Everything has to go together. If you call a zero blitz, the pressure has to get home. If you’re dropping zone, you’ve got to affect the passer. I think everything goes hand-in-hand.”

A zero blitz, like the one that didn’t get home at third-and-19 last week.

— Speaking of getting home, it was a tough first game at outside linebacker for rookie Haason Reddick. He made a couple of nice plays – there was one great stay-at-home play on a zone-read run by Eagles QB Carson Wentz – but mostly was locked up and a non-factor as a pass rusher.

“I don’t think he played as well as he wanted to play,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “He had four days playing the position. Play fast and play hard, he did that. Now we stack pieces on top of that.”

— Sunday is the Cardinals’ “Crucial Catch” game so if you have a chance to wear pink and represent, here’s your opportunity.

— Will be interested in seeing how the interior of the offensive line handles Gerald McCoy.

— With the running game having its issues and Palmer throwing all the time, he’s up to 1,573 yards passing. That’s a pace for 5,033 for the season, which would obliterate the franchise record.

— Another reason defense always seems to be a key: Under Arians, the Cardinals are 34-3-1 when holding the other team to 20 points or fewer.

— The Cardinals will wear their black uniforms Sunday (and for those who have forgotten, it was the Buccaneers who were the opponent in 2010 when the Cards wore their black alternates for the first time.)

That’ll be two straight home games in which the Cards wear black, because they’ll break out their Color Rush unis for the next home game Nov. 9, Thursday, against the Seahawks. The difference? The Color Rush jerseys will have red numbers instead of white. And the pants will be black, not white.

Here endeth the jersey conversation for today.

— OK, maybe not all the jersey conversation. After the talk about Adrian Peterson and Justin Bethel and wearing 28 (and there is a chance the league wouldn’t allow an in-season change, but I could not get an official answer on that), Larry Fitzgerald was asked if he went to a new team if he would expect whoever had No. 11 to give it to him.

“I would just go where I fit in,” Fitzgerald said. “It wouldn’t bother me. I wore No. 1 my whole life until I got here. They gave me 11. At the end of training camp a couple of 80-numbers were available, but I was like, I’ll stick with it, this is what they gave me. The number doesn’t make the player. The player makes the number. I’ve always thought that.”

— The Cardinals leave Monday night for London. But first, the Bucs. See you Sunday.


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Keim: Cardinals need chip back on shoulder

Posted by Darren Urban on October 9, 2017 – 8:26 am

Steve Keim, not surprisingly, is frustrated. After Sunday’s bad game in Philly, Keim acknowledged while talking to the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that “I don’t think we’ve played this bad in all three phases since the NFC Championship two years ago.”

Keim noted all the things that became painfully obvious. The defense could make third-down stops, with Keim blaming poor tackling and simple techniques in coverage. On offense, the lack of any kind of a run game makes it so easy for the opponent’s defense to tee off on Carson Palmer sitting in the pocket. And then “special teams didn’t help.”

It was interesting to hear Keim talk about the game reminding him how the Cards got their rears kicked around in Philly on Thankgiving night in 2008. That team, which also were whipped terribly in New York and New England that year, rallied, if you recall. “Am I suggesting we are going to the Super Bowl? No,” Keim said. “But there is something to be said about momentum and the team jelling together, and that’s the approach we have to take.”

First the Cardinals would have to find some momentum. There is none right now.

“Sometimes, when you get taken to the woodshed like this, if you’re going to use it for any positive, it’s to put that chip back on your shoulder,” Keim said.

— On the status of the offensive line, Keim said guard Alex Boone (chest) and tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) remain week-to-week and the Cards don’t want to put them in harm’s way by rushing them back.

“There is hope, once we get D.J. back and once we get Boone back, there’s no doubt in my mind it will improve,” Keim said. “That being said, there are some current players who will continue to play on this line who have to improve.”

— Keim, on Patrick Peterson’s sideline outburst. “There’s a part of me inside who loves it,” Keim said. “I like to see guys who don’t like to lose.

“It sincerely comes from Pat’s heart. I appreciate his competitiveness.”

— Keim was asked about special teams coach Amos Jones, and what goes on behind the scenes that make the Cardinals know Jones is the right coach.

“I think there are always things that people don’t see,” Keim said. “… More than anything, me or coach (Bruce Arians) or Michael (Bidwill) knowing that, the type of things that need to be taught are being taught. It’s whether the players are correcting those issues or not. We tried to really improve football I.Q. with our players, because that’s one of the issues we’ve had in the past. Once I think we get some of that stuff cleaned up and guys can play a little bit smarter, I think you’ll start to see some improvement.

“Again, week after week, the same mistakes keep happening. Quite frankly, if anything, we need to continue to rotate players in and out of here and find players who can help us. If a guy continually makes the same mistakes and isn’t going to fix it, we’ll go ahead and make a decision and look at ready list and bring in some guys and make some changes.”

— The Cardinals will bring in five long snappers for workouts today to find a replacement for the injured Aaron Brewer, who broke his hand/wrist Sunday.

— Keim reiterated that Palmer did not play well the first two games but the last three he has played “very good” given the circumstances, especially with the offensive line.

— Keim admitted he doesn’t have a lot of patience, but he doesn’t want this emotions to get the best of him. And he understands his players’ frustrations. “I think it’s a good thing from the standpoint of, if we had a bunch of guys downstairs just collecting their checks and they didn’t care, I’d be certainly concerned,” Keim said. “But there are lot of guys who are genuinely upset.”

 


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That Philly feeling, Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2017 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals are en route to Philly right now, the fifth trip there since 2008, and the previous four have had some memorable moments. The 2008 game was the ugly Thanksgiving night beatdown, with the Cardinals losing by four touchdowns yet coming out of it not afraid at all of the Eagles (which showed a couple months later when they beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) The 2011 game was an improbable 21-17 win with John Skelton throwing a pair of perfect passes on the game-winning drive, one on a wheel route to the Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and then a bomb to Fitz. In 2013, Bruce Arians’ first year, the Cards lost 24-21 when a late pick by Patrick Peterson was wiped out by a flag on Tyrann Mathieu, a penalty the Cards weren’t thrilled was called.

But it was the last trip that encapsulated so much with the Cardinals, especially in relation to where they are now. It was a 40-17 domination by the Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football.” The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title that night, an accomplishment that seems so much longer ago than 22 months. It was David Johnson’s coming-out party, with his Beastmode-like run and his career-best 187 yards rushing. And it was Mathieu’s devastating second ACL tear, that took all the wind from the excitement of the night and might’ve cost the Cardinals a chance at the Super Bowl.

The Cards have been a .500 team since then. Mathieu is still trying to find his groove. Johnson is hurt and cannot help. Chasing a division title is still a goal, but there is much to be fixed for that to be a topic.

— The Cardinals not only will have the early start Sunday – 10 a.m. Arizona time – but there might be a little rain. Bruce Arians doesn’t care. “They are all excuses,” the coach said in his opening statement Friday. It’ll be the first game the Cards will have played outside this season.

— After two rough games, right tackle Jared Veldheer was the highest-graded offensive lineman from the San Francisco game and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said he was “proud” of Veldheer. “The biggest thing for him is gaining confidence but I was pleased,” Goodwin said.

— Arians, who was hired as Temple’s head coach at age 30 and left the job in part because it literally was making him physically sick, was asked if in-his-30s Arians would have imagined himself still coaching now (Arians turned 65 earlier this week).

“I would hope so, if I wasn’t dead,” Arians said. “That job down there killed me.”

— Another Philly guy is Earl Watford, who just signed this week and now could be in the starting lineup at guard Sunday. It looked like Watford’s days as a Cardinal were over, having played out his contract and with both sides ready to start fresh. But here we are.

“A lot of people would think that, but it’s just another opportunity,” Watford said. “I’m glad to be back here. To be familiar with people, playbook, coaches, I’m excited to be here.”

— Linebacker Haason Reddick now finds himself in the outside linebackers meeting room, trying to cram for a new role after the loss of Markus Golden. I’m very curious to see the snap spilt between he and Kareem Martin.

— Reddick, who is technically from New Jersey but lived just five miles from Philly and went to school there at Temple, said his call for the best cheesesteak comes from Max’s and he’s going to try and get some teammates to join him there.

As for the best way to eat a cheesesteak, it’s American cheese for Reddick. “I don’t do Cheese Whiz.”

“Cheese Whiz is a tourist attraction,” Reddick said. “Anyone who is really from Philly, I’ve never seen them put Cheese Whiz on their cheesesteak. I think that’s a little bizarre.”

(To be fair, it looks like an ongoing debate.)

— Carson Palmer has taken a lot of hits – 43, officially, in four games. “Hey, I don’t want to see him get hit,” Goodwin said. “Mr. Bidwill is paying that guy a lot of money.”

Part of that is the Cards’ lack of run game. Palmer is passing so much he’s inevitably going to be hit more, just like he’s on pace to obliterate his personal highs in attempts, completions and yards. But that doesn’t absolve the pass protection – or the struggles therein. Goodwin said he woke up early last week and the protection issues popped into his mind so quickly he just got up and came to the office. It was 4:30 a.m.

“That’s my job,” Goodwin said. “I embrace the pressure though. It’ll never break me.”

— Finally, there’s the case of Fitz the Philly killer. He had a nondescript three catches for 43 yards in that 2015 blowout of the Eagles – and even with that game averaged in, he’s still averaged (including the NFC Championship game) more than six catches, 104 yards and more than a touchdown per game against the Eagles all-time.

“He’s the same guy all the time,” Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN.

The Cards wouldn’t mind some of that same ol’ Fitz Sunday.


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Niners overtime aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 1, 2017 – 7:53 pm

Two overtime games, two wins. It’s not ideal, the way the games got to overtime, because in both cases the offense couldn’t score the kind of points that were expected against the competition – the 49ers gave up 41 to the Rams their last game before keeping the Cards out of the end zone all the way until the final play – but the Cardinals made it work in beating San Francisco, 18-15.

It was close. A 17-play field goal drive almost sapped all of the now-10-minute overtime period before the Cardinals could even get the ball. Thanks in large part because of the previous OT game at University of Phoenix Stadium – the 6-6 tie that ate up all 15 extra minutes last year – overtime was changed to 10 minutes. Bruce Arians, on the competition committee, was part of that, and don’t think it didn’t cross his mind as time ticked down.

“I was kicking my ass for bringing up this 10-minute overtime rule, but it worked out pretty good,” he said.

Things are not perfect. At this rate, Carson Palmer will not last the season getting hit so much. He was hit 16 more times Sunday, bringing his season total to 43, with 17 sacks.

“I’m tired, but hopefully we have a walkthrough Wednesday and we don’t have to practice,” Palmer said.

There were some key penalties too, ones that prevented the defense from getting off the field in overtime, especially. But there was an offense that was clicking in the extra frame, there was a Smokey Brown sighting, a Jaron Brown career-high 105 yards, and there was Fitz. And there was a win.

— There is no official update on linebacker Markus Golden and his knee injury, but it’s never a good sign to see a guy writhing around on the ground after it happens and then later getting up to walk off. That usually means the writhing was less about pain than anger about something bad, and multiple reports say it could be torn ligaments. We will see what happens. Carson Palmer talked about Kareem Martin getting his chance, and if Golden is down, Haason Reddick can play some rush linebacker too. But losing Golden, sackless but the team’s 2016 leader, would be a rough one.

— I was thinking John Brown’s two-toes-down OT catch in the end zone was going to be overturned.

— From my view, it sure seemed like the 49ers got very conservative in OT. I get it — the Cardinals had done little on offense, and you figure a field goal might be too much to overcome — but I thought the Niners should’ve gone for the kill. It end up biting them, especially when they were playing that prevent defense, for whatever reason.

— Andre Ellington did have a couple of drops, but he too had a TD-that-wasn’t that left Cardinals scratching their heads on the call, and he was huge in overtime. His catches on the first two plays, dump-and-runs gained 11 yards each and jump-started the offense.

— The Cards got good receiving production from both Ellington and Chris Johnson. Now they just need to get production in the running game.

— Fitzgerald ended the game with a game-winning touchdown. He began the game with a blocking assignment on rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, and it didn’t go well. Thomas belted Palmer on an incompletion.

“The first play, I felt so bad,” Fitzgerald said. “I had to block a defensive end and got him hit. I told him as soon as (I could), ‘Carson, I’m so sorry man. I’m sorry, man.’ ”

Understandable. That’s not why Fitz is out there. Asked why he was blocking Thomas, Fitz just said, “I don’t ask those questions.”

— Fitzgerald becomes the only player in NFL history with an overtime touchdown catch in both the regular season and the postseason.

— I want to go back at look at the video. I didn’t notice right tackle Jared Veldheer in a bad way as I had the previous two games. With the pressure Palmer was under, it doesn’t mean he was perfect. But I want to see him against the others across the line.

— Kicker Phil Dawson goes 4-for-4 on field goals. The Cards win. But he said it doesn’t make up for missing three field goals in the first three games. “There’s no getting those back,” Dawson said.

— Patrick Peterson had a big smile, telling me he was 8-0 in overtime, dropping last year’s tie with Seattle. Close, Patrick, but not quite. You’re forgetting the 2012 overtime loss to Buffalo, the game when Jay Feely booted a 61-yard field goal to tie it. Peterson is now 8-1-1 in 10 OT games since arriving with the Cards.

And the Cardinals are 2-0 this season, which keeps them breathing in the NFC West.


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Seeking protection, and Cowboys aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 25, 2017 – 11:28 pm

The lights came on, the tension seemed to be lifted once the Cardinals chose to lock arms and not kneel for the national anthem, and then Carson Palmer started dealing like it was 2015 again. The Cardinals made the Cowboys look pretty beatable in those first 15 minutes, and the Cards looked like a new team. But there was a missed field goal in there too, which wasn’t ideal, and like the Detroit game, it was a situation where the Cards should have been ahead by a lot more but weren’t.

When it was over, Dak Prescott showed why he’s already on the verge of quarterback stardom – as good as Ezekiel Elliott is, to me, there is no question who the guy is that will make the Cowboys a contender, and it’s all about the quarterback – and the Cards were left trying to figure out how to keep their own QB upright. According to Pro Football Focus, both tackles, Jared Veldheer and John Wetzel, gave up one sack and eight pressures.

Palmer said he held on to the ball too long a couple of times, and that is true. But the pocket is collapsing much too fast too often. “Block better,” was Bruce Arians’ response on improving the protection. And hey, Dan Dierdorf is not walking through that door.

“We only have seven guys out there, so they’re the only ones that can play,” Arians said.

D.J. Humphries is walking around a lot better so hopefully he has a chance to return this week against the 49ers. But Alex Boone got hurt late in the game, Palmer said (no word on what it is or severity), so the injury thing is still a thing.

— Chris Johnson did indeed get the start at running back. He could not find any room nor create anything, gaining just 17 yards on 12 carries. We will see what happens but Andre Ellington looked like the best back out there, and who knows? Maybe there will be a fourth different starter in four games next week. (My early guess is still CJ2K for another week, but we’ll see.) Still, Arians was asked if Ellington would get more touches next week.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said, after Ellington got 59 yards on five catches and 22 yards rushing (leading the team) on five carries.

— There was time to recover but the 15-play drive that ended with no points was a gut punch. You think you get a second Palmer-to-Jaron Brown TD pass but a Veldheer holding call wipes it out. (To be fair, I don’t know if Palmer is able to get outside the pocket to make the play without the hold, so it is what it is.) Then Phil Dawson misses another field goal inside 40 yards. A 14-0 lead would’ve been huge. Making sure Dawson gets right, quickly, is probably even more important.

— Patrick Peterson was targeted just once all night, according to Pro Football Focus, and none when he was guarding Dez Bryant. Peterson gave up a two-yard catch to Elliott.

— I was surprised Arians went for it on fourth down at the end of the game down 11 points. A field goal makes it eight points and you’ll have to get an onside kick regardless. That said, with the Cardinals at the Dallas 2 and their pass protection doing poorly, I can see the argument that you go for the TD being so close.

— You could tell J.J. Nelson wasn’t himself with the sore hamstring. He got a couple of late “go” routes and nearly had an incredible sideline catch. But when he couldn’t go deep, it hurts. Between the injured speed receivers and the pass protection problems, the Cards aren’t going to scare many teams down the field – even with Fitz making crazy jump-ball grabs.


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Saturday before the Cowboys

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2017 – 4:29 pm

When the Cowboys visit Arizona of late, it’s provided quite the show. The last three times, it’s been decided at the very end.

* In 2008, the game goes to overtime, and the Sean Morey blocks a punt, with Monty Beisel recovering in the end zone for a 30-24 win;
* In 2010, on Christmas night, the Cardinals blew a 21-3 lead and then got a Jay Feely field goal with five seconds left for a 27-26 win;
* In 2011, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey misses a 49-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and the game went to overtime. LaRod Stephens-Howling then grabbed a Kevin Kolb dump pass and raced 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Whether we’ll see that kind of drama Monday night is unlikely, but you can’t really know. This is a game where you figure to get a much better read on the Cardinals. No early start time to gum up the works, no road game. If the Cards are going to show more than they have, this is the time and place.

“The Cowboys are apparently ‘America’s Team’ so there will be a lot of eyes on this matchup,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.

In a weekend in which I’m guessing a lot of eyes will be everywhere on the NFL after the President’s comments and the league-wide reaction to them, Cardinals-Cowboys will cap what will likely be an emotional weekend all around. A win would do wonders for the Cards’ emotion too.

— I like the concept from Frostee Rucker about the Cardinals staying together one way or the other when it comes to potential protest. The idea that sports can stay separate from where we are as a country, though, that’s long past.

— As expected, John Brown is going to sit again (so will D.J. Humphries), and so J.J. Nelson becomes important again. Not ideal that he’s listed as questionable, or that your speed merchant is dealing with a hamstring. If I had to guess, I’d think Nelson plays, but if he was limited all week, there has to be concern with how much he can do.

— It looks like the Cards finally get Deone Bucannon back. As for the questionable Mike Iupati, after the job Alex Boone did last week, if you aren’t sure, it makes sense to me to stick with Boone again.

— Speaking of Boone, there was some learning-on-the-fly last week. “I’m not even kidding, there was a play where I was like, ‘I have no idea what’s going on,’ ” Boone said. “Carson (Palmer) looked at me and told me and was like ‘SET, GOOOO!’ Hey man, trial by fire, right?”

–All this talk about offensive line play – the Cardinals certainly have had their share – there was a great quote by Browns stud left tackle Joe Thomas this week.

“As offensive linemen, we consider ourselves mushrooms because we get thrown in the corner of a dark room and people pile poop on us and then expect us to grow,” Thomas said. “So that is why we are mushrooms.”

I have not had a chance to run the mushroom analogy past any of the Cards’ linemen.

— One lineman who actually played tight end this week was rookie guard Will Holden, who played 15 snaps at tight end last week because Jermaine Gresham was hurt and he was a better blocking option in heavy packages than Ifeanyi Momah. Holden said he’d never played tight end before. Ever. In college, he came in for similar heavy packages but he played inside while they had another offensive lineman be the tight end.

“I felt fine,” Holden said. “It’s a little different view of the defense because you’re wider out and it’s a little harder to hear. But once you settle into the game, you’re just playing football.”

Holden said he was happy with his play, although he was willing to allow, smiling, that how well he did was “up for debate.” OL coach Harold Goodwin said Holden needed to finish blocks better. Holden probably won’t be needed this week now that Gresham is back, but it’s an option going forward.

— The last time the Cardinals hosted the Cowboys on “Monday Night Football” was 1995, when Larry Centers made his incredible leap, Buddy Ryan left before the game was over and cameras were capturing footage later used in the movie “Jerry Maguire.”

“Everybody loves Jerry Maguire,” Larry Fitzgerald said. “ ‘Show me the money.’ It’s what Monday night is all about.”

(Speaking of Maguire, it makes you think back to Rod Tidwell, right?)

— Bruce Arians, after the win in Indy, now has 42 victories as Cardinals head coach. It ties him with Don Coryell for second-most in team history (Ken Whisenhunt has the top mark with 49.) B.A. was asked what he thought of that.

“It was a bad team for a long time,” Arians deadpanned. Seriously, though, “to be even mentioned with Coach Coryell, that’s mind-boggling to me,” Arians added. “He was one of my great idols and watching that team play.”

— A random tidbit Fitz revealed this week, of which I have no recollection: He played special teams as a rookie. He was on punt return, as an outside blocker taking on the opposing gunner.

“I played hold-up guy,” Fitzgerald said. “I was pretty good at it too. Me and Nate Poole, we held it down out there.”

Poole, if you remember, was on the receiving end of the famous McCown-to-Poole TD pass in the last game of 2003 to knock the Vikings out of the playoffs and send the Cards from the No. 1 overall pick to No. 3. Probably got them Fitzgerald in the first place. Now that’s drama.

See everyone Monday night.


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Defensive opportunity, Friday before the Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm

So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.

It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.

“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.

“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”

The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.

“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”

This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.

— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.

“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”

— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.

— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.

— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.

— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.

— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.

“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”

Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.

— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.

— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.

“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’

“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”

See you in Indy.


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Falcons aftermath, and Stanton’s hard count

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2017 – 9:38 pm

That Drew Stanton hard count. Those of us who were at training camp practice every day saw it … well, just about every day. There it was, with the Cardinals 21 yards from the end zone, and he barked and the Falcons jumped. He had done it earlier, but guard John Wetzel flinched too. (Bruce Arians let him know: “I already got Wetzel – he don’t have much ass left.”)

But this time, just the Falcons moved and it gave Stanton a free play, and he lobbed a 21-yarder to Smokey Brown that Brown somehow came down with over-the-shoulder.

“We went back to (the hard count) and they kept jumping,” Stanton said.

Those two TD passes to Brown, along with a defense that made Matt Ryan look miserable (preseason, yes, but an 8.1 passer rating is not what the Falcons wanted to see in the third game of the preseason) made Saturday pretty good for the Cardinals. Not great. But good. Much better than this time last year. The starters and main guys are done now. They won’t play Thursday in Denver. Anyone playing this coming game is either not going to be on the team or is likely fighting (a few locks will play – they have to – but the last preseason game is what it is, especially with 90-man rosters).

That opening trip to Detroit, when things count for real, is only two weeks away.

— The running backs situation is interesting. Arians would not say Chris Johnson has locked up a roster spot, notable after Johnson fumbled twice. Elijhaa Penny also lost a fumble. Kerwynn Williams is making this team as a return man, but beyond he and David Johnson, it feels like Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are battling for two spots.

— DT Olsen Pierre is in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’s OK. If he’s down for any time, depending on what happens with Robert Nkemdiche’s calf strain, things could get dicey on the defensive line.

— Stanton quietly had a nice night, completing 4-of-6 passes for 53 yards and his score.

— Linebacker Cap Capi probably isn’t making this team (although Jarvis Jones’ lingering back issue might create a need for a fourth OLB; that guy could still come from final cuts or a trade too). But Capi was impressive Saturday, enough to earn props from Arians. He had seven tackles, 1½ sacks and a tackle for loss.

— The playmakers on defense made plays. Markus Golden gets a strip sack. Tyrann Mathieu a pick on a tipped pass by Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson should’ve had a pick, but he lost it as he was going to the ground. “He’s getting fined for his drop,” Arians deadpanned.

— Matt Wile seemed to have a much better night than Richie Leone punting, although the numbers weren’t all that different. Right now, I’d guess Wile has the lead for a roster spot.

Huge comeback night for Brown. He spiked the ball on the pylon after his first score. “It was an emotional release to show people that I’m back and feeling good.” Brown said. Brown has to stay healthy. That’s a given. But the Cardinals need him out there and productive. His impact is obvious. We saw it Saturday.

— Arians acknowledged he considered not playing running back David Johnson Saturday until changing his mind, in large part because Johnson was part of the early script. Johnson made his lone catch of the preseason on the game’s second play, resulting in a first down. He came out after that.


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Bethel to start, McCain visits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2017 – 1:00 pm

It comes as no surprise by now, but the battle for the No. 2 cornerback spot never really ended up much of a battle. Justin Bethel was the leading candidate coming into camp and no one ever really came close. Coach Bruce Arians officially said Bethel was the starter opposite Patrick Peterson.

“He’s earned that job,” Arians said.

“I’m as pleased with the corner position as I am with just about any position on the team right now,” Arians added.

Brandon Williams and Tramon Williams will be the No. 3 and No. 4 corners. It’s likely that those are the only four cornerbacks the Cardinals keep on the 53-man roster, given an abundance of safeties.

— The penultimate Cardinals training camp practice featured a visit from the governor. The final one Thursday featured a U.S. senator. Huge Cardinals fan John McCain stopped by during the workout, chatting with team president Michael Bidwill, General Manager Steve Keim and scout Adrian Wilson for a bit before coming down to the field and getting a couple of minutes to talk to Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer and then David Johnson.

“It was cool,” Johnson said. “We just got to talking about Iowa, bringing up the old memories. The Iowa state fair where everything’s fried, fried twinkies and stuff.”

Tackle D.J. Humphries joked that McCain wanted to talk to the wrong D.J.

“I don’t think I’m cool enough,” Humphries said. “That’s all it is. There’s a hierarchy when it comes to cool guys, and I don’t think I’ve met that level of expectancy to be ‘Cool Guy’ yet. Maybe next year I’ll give it a shot. I’ll try harder next year.”

— The receivers rallied in camp after Arians said they needed to pick up their game. One player in particular was J.J. Nelson, Arians said, adding that Nelson will be a captain Saturday night.

— Arians said the Cardinals, who return to their Tempe facility next week, will be practicing earlier in the morning to prep for the early morning kickoffs as the regular season begins. Both the first two games, at Detroit and at Indianapolis, will kick off at 10 a.m. Arizona time.

 


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