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Blogs

Considering cornerback depth

Posted by Darren Urban on April 4, 2016 – 2:21 pm

With free agent Jerraud Powers visiting the Giants last week (and the increasing reality that he is likely to move on), it underscores the shift at cornerback the Cardinals are going through this offseason. Drafting a cornerback at some point seems inevitable, although you never know how the draft will fall. As it stands, Justin Bethel — he of the 2015 contract extension — is in line to start across from all-pro Patrick Peterson. Tyrann Mathieu, once he returns to health, is a candidate to play the slot if needed too, especially since the Cardinals have Tyvon Branch and Tony Jefferson — assuming he signs his tender — at safety.

(Powers tweeted he isn’t in a rush while looking for the right situation.)

Beyond Peterson and Bethel, the cornerbacks on the roster include a couple with some experience (Asa Jackson, Shawn Prater), a couple who were on the practice squad last season (Cariel Brooks, Kevin White and Carrington Byndom), and one giant unknown in Aussie Joel Wilkinson. Not exactly the depth the Cards would like, which is why they visited with veteran free agent Leon Hall — who remains unsigned —  earlier this month.

There could be a good cornerback sitting there at 29th overall and that will be tempting as a draft pick. And even if the roster stays status quo through the draft, finding another vet at some point before training camp wouldn’t be a surprise. We’ll see how the market plays out.

CornerbackDepth


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Salary cap set at more than $155 million

Posted by Darren Urban on February 29, 2016 – 10:07 am

The NFL Players Association announced today that the 2016 salary cap will be $155.27 million, about a $12 million jump from 2015. It’s a sizable number. With the slightly more than $3 million the Cardinals carried over from their leftover 2015 cap, General Manager Steve Keim will have a salary cap of about $158 million with which to work this season.

With that number, both overthecap.com and spotrac.com estimate the Cards will have between $19M and $20M of cap space going into free agency. The Cardinals have seven players that are scheduled to have cap hits of at least $5 million in 2016:

— QB Carson Palmer $17.88M
— WR Larry Fitzgerald $15.85M
— DT Calais Campbell $15.25M
— CB Patrick Peterson $13.07M
— T Jared Veldheer $9M
— WR Michael Floyd $7.32M
— G Mike Iupati $5.7M

Of those players, it makes the most sense to adjust the numbers of Campbell and Floyd through extensions. Otherwise, Keim and the front office have already figured out their plan for free agency through these numbers. There will be teams with tons of cap room, in order to overpay a player if they chose. The Cards will do what they do — target free agents at a certain price, and if they can’t convince them to sign, then move on. The “legal tampering” part of free agency begins in a week. Actual agreements cannot begin until March 9, a week from Wednesday.


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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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Peterson not as Cardinal but as Eagle?

Posted by Darren Urban on February 1, 2016 – 10:03 am

Patrick Peterson was an All-Pro this season and is one of the cornerstones of the Cardinals’ franchise. How about the idea that he nearly wasn’t a Cardinal? That’s what former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner claimed during a conversation on ESPN the other day.

In July, after the lockout was finally settled that year, the Cardinals traded cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick for quarterback Kevin Kolb. Banner said if it hadn’t been for the lockout, the deal would have done before the draft and DRC would have remained a Cardinal, with the Cards instead shipping the No. 5 overall pick to Philly — which would have still been Peterson.

A lot to take in here. I’ll admit, I thought the original price for Kolb was a little steep in the first place and to think the Cards would have given up the fifth pick overall alone for Kolb is kind of mind-boggling. The 2011 draft was and has proven to be crazy deep (check out the first round by itself of all the great players, and that doesn’t include a guy like Richard Sherman in the fifth round.)

Of course, the Cardinals were scrambling in 2011 for a quarterback. Derek Anderson/Max Hall/John Skelton were not the answer, so they took a flier — an expensive flier — on Kolb. We all know how that turned out. I have to wonder if the deal really would have been those two picks for Kolb or if the Eagles were trying to push the Cards to that end game (since the lockout was never seriously close to ending until long after the draft and even the brief opening in April came a day after Peterson was picked) and the Cards never seriously would have pulled the trigger. I’ll say this: If it had ended up being the pick and that pick was Peterson and Peterson did what he has done, are we talking about that trade like we talk about the Raiders giving away Carson Palmer for a song?

Patrick Peterson


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Of seven Cards’ Pro Bowlers, only two to play

Posted by Darren Urban on January 26, 2016 – 1:13 pm

The Cardinals had a long season with a crushing ending, and so, with the Pro Bowl coming Sunday only a week after the team’s NFC Championship loss, perhaps it shouldn’t be very surprising that most of the team’s Pro Bowl representatives will not be going to Hawaii.

Only two of the seven Pro Bowlers — defensive tackle Calais Campbell and special teamer Justin Bethel — are going. Safety Tyrann Mathieu (replaced by the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins) was never going to go, since he was hurt before he was even named to the team. This week, quarterback Carson Palmer (replaced by the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (replaced by the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton), guard Mike Iupati (replaced by the Bills’ Richie Incognito) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (replaced by the Bengals’ Pacman Jones) all bowed out.

Palmer said he wanted to give his banged-up right hand a rest. Iupati cited shoulder issues. I’m not sure what the reasons were for Fitzgerald and Peterson, although in every case, it might’ve just been a need to just get some downtime after a rough end to the season.

Patrick Peterson

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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Packers aftermath, heading to NFC title game

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2016 – 1:09 am

Where to begin.

Let’s start here: I can’t recall a crazier ending for the Cardinals. Ever. That playoff win against the Packers back in the 2009 season was back-and-forth too, wild swings of emotion, but that was simply offensive football played at an incredibly high level. I’m not sure exactly what Saturday night was.

There was one guy playing at a high level. It was Larry Fitzgerald, and that’s the best place to start. I think Fitz had already made a strong Hall of Fame case. But what he did Saturday, basically jump-starting a moribund Cardinals offense by himself, and then making that play in overtime to race 75 yards and set up the (well, his) game-winning touchdown. I know there isn’t much more to be said about Fitz that hasn’t already been said, but Saturday night? That’s how legends are made. They are made with epic playoff performances like Fitz had in the 2008 Super Bowl run, and they are made with 176 yards on eight catches in a dramatic overtime win against the Packers to put your team in the NFC Championship.

— Next, Carson Palmer. It wasn’t Palmer’s best game. During the game there were plenty in the Twitterverse that blamed Palmer’s issues with his Bengals background. There is no question Palmer was off at times and that end zone interception was, in a word, terrible. You can’t do that in that situation.

But Palmer bounced back as Bruce Arians always says he does. He was under more pressure than the Cardinals can afford to let him be under – the Packers had the better pass rush this time around. And the way Palmer miraculously spun out of what should have been a sack and somehow found Fitz on the 75-yard play was as critical and clutch as Fitzgerald’s effort on the other end.

— Palmer gets his first playoff win. It wasn’t perfect, but who cares? Not Palmer, that’s for sure.

— The first person in the end zone after Fitz’s TD to congratulate Fitz was former teammate-turned-scout Adrian Wilson. A great moment.

— Speaking of Wilson, he stood next to Justin Bethel tucked in Bethel’s locker after the game, quietly talking to the cornerback for a long time. I would guess it was words of encouragement after some tough moments for Bethel, not the least of which being Jeff Janis getting behind him to convert that fourth-and-20 play at the end of the game.

— The game was so nuts that the touchdown pass to Michael Floyd that was intended for Fitz, deflected high into the air and toward the back of the end zone, over the head of another Packer and Jaron Brown, is a footnote.

— Floyd, about that play: “I think God was on our side on that one.”

— Here’s a new one: Patrick Peterson was sitting on the floor in the locker room having athletic trainer Michael Blankenship remove tape off his ankle, when a reporter wandered over to ask him a question. Soon, Peterson was surrounded by media – so he sat on the floor, outstretched legs in front of him, propped up by his arms, doing his entire media session.

— Linebacker Kevin Minter, on watching Fitz tonight: “That’s that guy I watched growing up.”

— The Cardinals blitzed Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary. They did it from his right so he couldn’t roll into his power. And he still escaped and flung a great pass so his guy would have a chance. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the other guy. I’m guessing the Packers – after the hurt wears off – will do that with Fitz. And you have to do it to Rodgers.

— Sure, the Cardinals could have run the ball on second down, right before the two-minute warning and their final field goal. They could’ve burned up another 35 or 40 seconds. But Arians went for the kill. “I play to win,” Arians said. No risk it, no biscuit. I’m sure there are those who have issues with the call, but folks, if you are following/rooting for this team, this is what you signed up for.

— I could write more, but it’s time to go home. Got to get some sleep so that I’m up in time for Seattle-Carolina. It’s on to the NFC Championship.

FoitzBlog


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Honors begin for the Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals are hoping they still have weeks left in their season, but with the regular season completed, the postseason awards are going to start — and with the year the Cards have, they will be mentioned often (like when the Pro Bowl rosters were announced.)

Wednesday, Pro Football Focus unveiled it’s all-pro team. Not only were the Cardinals well represented, but Carson Palmer was named the quarterback, a significant nod in a year where Cam Newton and Tom Brady were excellent. A look at those picked by PFF, and what was said about the Cards:

Palmer: “What a year for Palmer, who not only came back from what many presumed to be a career-defining injury, but did so by playing better than he ever has. What made Palmer so impressive was his ability to destroy defenses deep, with an impressive 34 deep completions (10 of which went for touchdowns).”

Larry Fitzgerald, slot receiver: “Reinvented as a slot threat, Fitzgerald rolled back the years to show how productive—and dangerous—of a receiver he still is.”

Patrick Peterson, cornerback (beating out Carolina’s Josh Norman, it should be noted): “It isn’t easy tracking the top receivers in this league. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be, but clearly Peterson didn’t get that memo, because he’s had no difficulty doing so. His consistent, shutdown play is something we don’t often witness.”

Tyrann Mathieu, slot cornerback: “It’s a real shame that Mathieu had his season cut short, but he still put enough on tape that his inclusion as our slot corner was never really in doubt. He does it all from the spot, and his ability to contribute is every phase of the game is something to behold.”

Justin Bethel was named second team special teams, and the PFF guys even said it “feels like heresy” to not name Bethel first team, but that Miami’s Michael Thomas was that good.

PFFBlog


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A lonely Patrick Peterson, and reasons why

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2015 – 11:40 am

Patrick Peterson has had some fun with the idea teams are throwing at him rarely this season. It’s popped up on the cornerback’s social media a few times, the most recent after he rendered Packers wideout Randall Cobb relatively useless last weekend.

Peterson isn’t going to have gaudy stats — he has two interceptions — because he hasn’t had a lot of chances to have the ball come his way. And while any analytics have to be seen with at least some caution (this is film breakdown without all the inside knowledge of what is going on each play), the folks at profootballfocus.com tally up the numbers of cornerbacks around the league, and with one game left, Peterson fares very well in any comparison.

There are, according to PFF, 49 cornerbacks this season that have played at least 75 percent of their team’s defensive snaps. (They include Tyrann Mathieu, for instance, because of how much nickel cornerback he played. Mathieu, in fact, earned PFF’s highest grade overall at CB by a large margin, and also the highest grade in coverage and as a blitzing CB. He was second in run defense.) Here is how Peterson stacks up:

— Fourth in lowest passer rating against (55.5)
— Second in lowest catch percentage allowed (46.8)
— Third in fewest times targeted (62)
— First (tied) for first in fewest receptions allowed (29)
— First in fewest reception yards allowed (335)

And that’s with the 48-yard touchdown scored by the Bears’ Josh Bellamy in Week 2, a play in which Bellamy ran down the field uncovered because Peterson got mixed up and didn’t realize he was supposed to cover Bellamy. That’s the only touchdown Peterson has allowed this season as well.

Again, the numbers might not be exact. Peterson himself noted on Twitter that he might have issue with a couple of catches PFF has put on him. Regardless, it puts something tangible toward the idea 1) Peterson deserves to be in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion and 2) this has unquestionably been Peterson’s finest season on defense. Of this there is no argument.

PPgoodblog


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For Christmas, Peterson and Fitz talk bikes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 24, 2015 – 7:00 pm

It was a tale of two Christmas experiences, all about the bike.

Both Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald said their favorite gifts growing up were bicycles. Their stories are slightly different.

“My favorite gift as a child definitely was a bike,” Fitzgerald said. “The only thing that sucked was, growing up in Minnesota, I couldn’t ride my bike until April. So it sat in the basement, and I would sit on it all the time. I’d set it up on the Yellow Pages so the back wheels could go but I wasn’t going anywhere. It was the best I could do in the basement.”

Fortunately for Peterson, he grew up in Florida.

“I was a bicycle guy,” Peterson said. “I used to get a Mongoose or a Huffy every other year. I loved being outdoors. I wasn’t really a gamer, so I always wanted a bike.”

Wait — a new bike every other year?

“My Grandma would spoil me,” Peterson said. If Peterson wanted a new bike, he got it, and the old one would either be donated to Goodwill or given to another kid in the neighborhood.

Of course, that was when they were kids. Now, Fitz said, he’s still getting great Christmas gifts.

“This is definitely the best gift my teammates could have ever given me,” Fitzgerald said. “To win 12 games in a season, that’s something money can’t buy.”

BikesBlog

 


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