In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)
Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.
The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.
Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.
While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Chris Borland, Chris Culliver, Colin Kaepernick, Dan Skuta, Darnell Dockett, Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, NFC West, Patrick Willis, Perrish Cox, Rams, Reggie Bush, Seahawks, Torrey Smith
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You have to hand it to GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians, who managed to make a 30-minute pre-draft press conference entertaining considering that no real news can come out of it. As willing as both are to interact with the media, no secrets are coming out. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun with it.
“Everything you hear this time of year is the furthest thing from the truth. Except from us two,” Keim deadpanned.
And as far as mock drafts go, Arians — who smiled and said he read ’em all — was blunt: “They make for banter and chatter and good bar talk, but there isn’t much reality to it.”
As far as the other quick-hit highlights (I’ll post a story later today on the homepage):
— Keim wouldn’t rule out trading up but made it clear trading down made much more sense. Keim wants to have more than the six draft picks the Cards already have. It’ll be wait-and-see if that can happen.
— Keim said coaches and scouts have already reached out to some players who may not get drafted, to try and sell them on the idea of the Cardinals as a good fit and signing in Arizona as an undrafted free agent. That’s interesting, since the draft itself will alter the roster landscape.
— Neither would rule out drafting a quarterback, although Arians acknowledged it’s tough to have a first-round pick sit. There are quarterbacks they like. No, they wouldn’t say who. (At one point, Arians was asked how many QBs they would take in the first round. “Ten,” Arians said with a grin.) But taking a guy later? That sounded less promising as Arians talked about how many holes are in the games of QBs that last that long. “To think you’re going to draft (a QB) in the third round and he’s going to beat out (third-stringer) Ryan Lindley, that’s tough to do.”
— Arians said the potential suspension of Daryl Washington would not change how the Cards make their picks.
— The Cardinals finished their “120” board this morning, the list on which the Cards will make their draft selections. The powers-that-be will run through a bunch of mock draft scenarios Tuesday in order to try and get a sense of the many ways the first round can go.
— Keim said Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier can play inside or outside, and in regard to Shazier’s smaller size, noted that he was similar to the 49ers’ Patrick Willis and bigger than Navarro Bowman.
— He said ASU’s Will Sutton is more of a 4-3 under tackle.
— Keim said there are “four to five” safeties at the top of the list. After that there is a dropoff to guys who may or may not be able to start in the NFL at some point.
— Arians was impressed with Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas’ arm strength. He hesitated slightly when asked if Thomas’ future position is QB. “He thinks so,” Arians said.
— Keim on Johnny Manziel: “He’s one of the few guys this year when you are evaluating players where you want to get a big Coke and a popcorn box, put your feet up and it’s fun to watch. … There are not many guys who have come out with his skill-set. He’s a polarizing figure.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Daryl Washington, draft, Johnny Manziel, Logan Thomas, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, quarterbacks, Ryan Shazier, Steve Keim, Will Sutton
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The Pro Bowl voting is over for the fans, which counts toward one-third of trying to assemble the rosters. The other two-thirds, from the voting of players and coaches, takes place today for the Cardinals.
The Cards will need some help on that end. Only two players ended up in the top five of fan voting at their respective positions in the NFC. Linebacker Daryl Washington, with 159,407 votes, was third among NFC inside linebackers behind the San Francisco tandem of Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman. Cornerback Patrick Peterson was fourth among NFC cornerbacks with 154,736 votes, behind the Bears’ duo of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman and Seattle’s Richard Sherman (although I was reminded by someone via Twitter that if Sherman fails his appeal on his PED suspension, that also means he can’t play in the Pro Bowl.)
No sign of defensive end Calais Campbell or safety Kerry Rhodes among the top five. And while it isn’t surprising given how this year has gone, it’s depressing to see that Larry Fitzgerald isn’t among the wide receivers. No one can argue he should be in there, but no one can argue he isn’t one of the top five receivers in the NFC either.
The Pro Bowl rosters are going to be announced Dec. 26.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Charles Tillman, Daryl Washington, Kerry Rhodes, NaVarro Bowman, Patrick Peterson, Patrick Willis, Pro Bowl voting, Richard Sherman, Tim Jennings
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Pro Bowl voting for fans is over and players and coaches will soon be doing their version for the teams that will be announced next week. I know there is a lot of speculation over how many Cardinals might be able to find their way to Hawaii. Profootballfocus.com named their Pro Bowl teams — not that it means anything with the actual roster — and included defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Kerry Rhodes.
Campbell impressed the PFF guys enough to remain even though he missed a couple of games. “(I)n spite of missing a long stretch of the season Calais Campbell’s impact for the Arizona Cardinals cannot be denied as he put up strong pass rush numbers (5 Sacks, 9 Hits and 17 Hurries) and also brought a greater presence as a run defender than he mustered in 2011.”
As for Rhodes, “Kerry Rhodes has re-discovered some of his best form as a coverage defender and all round safety after missing much of the 2011 season.”
Can’t argue with either one. As for the missing, well, there are arguments to be made. The PFF guys noted they left off linebacker Daryl Washington, who has been very, very good, but apparently not good enough (in PFF’s eyes) to beat out the 49ers duo of Patrick Willis or NaVarro Bowman. And I know a lot of people have wonders about Patrick Peterson. Peterson didn’t get a mention in a group of Seattle’s Richard Sherman, Chicago’s Charles Tillman and Green Bay’s Casey Hayward. Again, we will see who actually gets the call next week, and don’t forget there are always guys who beg off — meaning replacements will be named too as the weeks go.
UPDATE: PFF owner/founder Neil Hornsby saw my post and wanted to give his thoughts on Peterson: “He’s had a very good year and was highly graded and reasonably consistent but as with most things Pro Bowl-related it’s a numbers game. Only someone who doesn’t watch much football would argue against Tillman and Sherman so it comes down to one place. The choice of Hayward was tough because he’s only played nickel so we had to think long and hard especially putting him up against Tim Jennings, Tarrell Brown and Peterson.
“The truth is though, (Hayward) has been unworldly in his 633 snaps. In that time he has only one less interception and twice as many passes defensed as Peterson and quarterbacks have a 23.5 rating throwing at him. Those numbers are not a fluke and he’s one of the few people to live in the middle with Cruz for example. Peterson was our fifth man up, after Jennings but before Brown, but most significantly was much improved on last year and will almost certainly have his day.”
Tags: Calais Campbell, Casey Hayward, Charles Tillman, Daryl Washington, Kerry Rhodes, NaVarro Bowman, Patrick Peterson, Patrick Willis, Pro Bowl, Pro Football Focus, Richard Sherman
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The NFL Network’s summer tour of the top 100 players — as chosen by a vote of players — wraps up tonight. Somewhere in the final 10, Larry Fitzgerald will have his named called.
(The show airs at 5 p.m. Arizona time. And I am sure we will have Fitz’s segment available on the site soon after. … And here it is.)
Last year, Fitz was No. 14. Where will he be in a couple of hours? Don’t know. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis remain. I will be interested where Fitz is in relation to Johnson. Something tells me that could get the fans riled up. I already know — since I watched it unfold on Twitter — that people aren’t thrilled Calais Campbell/Adrian Wilson/Darnell Dockett didn’t make the list. Only Patrick Peterson will join Fitz.
Is Campbell or one of the others one of the current 100 best players in the league? An argument can be made, sure. I don’t know how many players participated in the voting, but someone came up with this list. (I mean, is Eli Manning really only the 31st best player? Worse than James Harrison? Or Wes Welker? Um, no.) This is about talking about the NFL in the deadest time of the NFL calendar, however. Don’t ever forget that. Lists are popular to make because they generate such conversation. And we are certainly talking about it, right?
UPDATE: Fitz was seventh. Calvin Johnson was third, behind Rodgers and Brees. Said Fitz on Twitter, “Honored 2 b voted a top 10 player by my peers. Congrats 2 all others. I will continue striving 4 perfection. 6 spots 2 go.
UPDATE, THE SEQUEL: Fitz had an even longer — and poignant — response on Facebook:
“Having been voted a Top 10 NFL player for the 2012 season is a cherished honor because the selection was made by my peers, and a player can have no greater accolade nor satisfaction than knowing that those he lines up against for 60 minutes every week value to the highest degree his talent, competitiveness, effort, productivity and achievement.
“I’ve completed 8 NFL seasons, & while I am somewhat satisfied with personal achievements, I have come close only once to achieving the ultimate team goal.
“Being a productive WR is no longer enough. I’ve grown into a position of leadership as a Cardinals team captain and have tried to expand my role as a mentor and example for our core of young players.
“My sincere hope is that we can get back to the playoffs on a regular basis and become Super Bowl Champions.
“Our team was 2minutes away from that goal on February 4, 2009, and similarly, my 7th rank of NFL top players leaves room for improvement.
“I will strive as always to expand my role and contributions to team success, be as productive as possible,and win a Championship…..”
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Wilson, Calais Campbell, Calvin Johnson, Darnell Dockett, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, James Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Willis, Tom Brady, Wes Welker
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The Cardinals are winners of four of their last five. Of course.
But those four wins test the heart. A 99-yard punt return in overtime by P-Twice. A touchdown drive with less than two minutes left in Philly. Running out the clock with a couple of third-down conversions in St. Louis. And, of course, The Hyphen comes alive in overtime last week.
At least the Cards are coming out ahead. Two teams have had a league-high nine games this season decided by seven points or fewer: The Denver Tebows, and your Arizona Cardinals. Of course, for a while, that just stung. Head back to the six-game losing streak (I know, picking at a scab here). There was a one-point loss in Washington, a three-point loss in Seattle, a four-point loss to the Giants and a three-point loss in Baltimore.
The Cards are 5-4 in those games decided by a touchdown or less. “It’d be nice to blow somebody out,” LaRod Stephens-Howling said this week, and that’s true. But it probably won’t be how these last four games play out.
— Niners linebacker Patrick Willis did not practice again Friday and he has not practiced all week with the bad hamstring. He’s questionable, I think we all know guys who have been listed questionable after sitting out all week and it is very, very difficult to find scenarios when they have played. I expect Willis to sit. The 49ers have greater aspirations than just this game, even if they like beating the Cards.
— The Niners have other defensive talent though. Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike Miller, talking about San Francisco’s “other” linebacker, NaVorro Bowman compared to Willis: “Watch them on film, they almost look like the same player.”
— There has been a lot of talk this season about defensive coordinator Ray Horton and only having a percentage of the defensive playbook in. What about the offensive playbook, especially considering that quarterback Kevin Kolb arrived without an offseason?
“For the most part, our plan is our plan, and the system is what it is,” Miller said. “It takes time. You’d like for anyone, a quarterback or a running back or whoever, to line up and play right away, but it takes time. But we have everything operating. It’s just about whether we want to dial it up in a game or not.”
— This game will be about mistakes. Can the Cards force any? Can they avoiding making them? Ken Whisenhunt was technically right when he said the previous games don’t mean anything Sunday, but the way the Niners have controlled the scoreboard – the Cards haven’t scored double digits the last four games or reached 17 the last five – the Cards need to be smart and take care of the ball. Turnovers always hurt. They seem to inflict more damage when they come against the Niners.
— No, no new updates on the contract status of defensive end Calais Campbell. I don’t know what will happen. He is having a fantastic season though. The defensive turnaround has been Campbell’s hot streak; in those five games he has three sacks, 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, an interception, six QB hits and two blocked field goals. Not bad for a 3-4 DE. Pro Bowl possibility, anyone? “I think that’s everyone’s goal,” Campbell said. “If not, you shouldn’t be playing. It’s something a lot of people value, including myself. I would really like it, but in the end, it’s about winning games.”
— He didn’t get to do anything on punt returns last week, but Patrick Peterson played possibly his best game as a cornerback last week. And while his value as a punt returner is greater than most punt returners because of the scoring chances, the Cards still need him more as an elite cornerback, all things being equal.
— Don’t forget – the roof will be open Sunday.
— Don’t forget – there will be a toy drive at the stadium Sunday, so bring new, unwrapped toys (or donate money) to any stadium entrance.
— Don’t forget – Beanie and Fitz are chasing 1,000.
— If the Cards win, they will clinch at least a .500 home record this season – and Whisenhunt will become the first coach in franchise history with five straight seasons at home of at least a .500 record. Whiz would also tie Don Coryell for most wins by a head coach (42) in franchise history if the Cards win.
I’m interested in seeing if this defense can carry the Cards to another win. I’m sure it’d be close. Of course.
Tags: 49ers, Calais Campbell, Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Miller, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Peterson, Patrick Willis, roof
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No reason to draw this edition of “Friday before” out. It’s New Year’s Eve, you’re all waiting to bring in a new year tonight and I’m in the same boat. I suppose if this game was to crown the division champ that’d be something else, but it’s not.
As for the importance of winning this game in particular, well, I’ll let coach Ken Whisenhunt speak for the team.
“Some people want us to do bad so we will do better in the draft — I don’t know,” Whisenhunt said. “I think for a football team, for us, it’s important you finish well. That’s something we have made strides in doing. Just like in the ’07 season propelled us into the offseason, and the next year we went to the playoffs.
“I’m not saying that going to the playoffs or having a great season is tied into how we play this game. But I think there’s no question, winning the game against Dallas has been tremendous for us, our young players, our organization to show right mindset what we have to do it week in and week out.”
— The fact the 49ers are willing to start Alex Smith this week means to me that offensive coordinator Mike Johnson is calling the shots on that side of the ball. Smith was always the guy Johnson leaned toward to execute the offense he wanted to put out there after he replaced Jimmy Raye.
— Who said it: “It makes it difficult when you’re changing quarterbacks because you have to build that chemistry with your quarterback. You want to know the guy you’re going to be up with because at the end of the day, you’re going to have to be on the same page.”
Steve Breaston? Larry Fitzgerald? Try 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Once again, underscoring the issues any team has when it doesn’t really know about its most important position.
— One final QB note for this game. Amazingly, the Cards-49ers meetings still can’t get a matching quarterback battle. Since the teams joined the same division in 2002, the last time both teams had the same quarterback start in both games during the season was 2003 (Blake v Garcia). This year, neither team can pull it off (Anderson v Troy Smith a month ago, Skelton v Alex Smith this Sunday).
— Now is when we talk possible retirements after the season. Safety Kerry Rhodes tweeted a strong hint today that defensive lineman Bryan Robinson will be done after the season, although B-Rob later told Kent Somers he hasn’t made a final decision yet. Guard Alan Faneca is mulling the end too and it’s something a lot of players pause to consider (although usually only briefly) as a rough season ends.
— Since the last three Cards-49ers games have been basically lousy, I’m hoping for something better Sunday. The 49ers beat up the Cards the last two games and that 2009 season opener – a SF win – was a testament to uneven opening-game play.
— With star linebacker Patrick Willis out, the Cards should benefit. Willis has been a pain to the Cards. Maybe Beanie and/or Hightower can go off.
— After failing to target Breaston and only throwing towards Fitzgerald three times last week, I expect John Skelton to switch that up. And frankly, I think that’s important for the Cards and both players. I don’t think Fitz can make two TD catches to avoid his career-low, but maybe he can get his first since Kansas City Nov. 21. He’s not going to get the 18 catches he needs to equal last years’ 97, but he can get 80 more yards to match his 2009 yardage total.
— It’s been a long year for everyone around the Cards. “I think we found our identity,” Faneca said, and then paused to consider. “It just didn’t translate.”
Unfortunately, no. Talk to you in San Francisco. Happy New Year everyone.
Tags: 49ers, Alan Faneca, Beanie Wells, Bryan Robinson, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt, Kerry Rhodes, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Willis, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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It was the last Wednesday practice of the season today, and during it came a fairly steady rainfall. Afterward, some boisterous freestyle rap battles (Do not mess with Rex Hadnot).
— The only Cardinal not to practice was LB Joey Porter (tricep). He continues to rehab, but the Cards don’t want him to play and totally tear the injury, so they will be cautious. Three others — RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (hamstring), TE Ben Patrick (hamstring) and LB Clark Haggans (groin) — were limited today.
— The 49ers have already ruled LB Patrick Willis (hand) out for the game. And interim coach Jim Tomsula said Alex Smith will be his starting quarterback. Why? “Experience” was Tomsula’s one-word answer. Remember, it was Troy Smith that beat the Cards on “Monday Night Football” back on Nov. 29.
— Long snapper Mike Leach was named the team’s Walter Payton “Man of the Year” award winner, given to a player both for playing excellence and community work. Each team names a winner, and the overall league winner is announced at the Super Bowl. Wednesday, team president Michael Bidwill presented the award to Leach (who, by the way, once managed to break down exactly how he, as a long snapper, could be named Super Bowl MVP. I wish I had a transcript).
Tags: 49ers, Alex Smith, Ben Patrick, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Michael Bidwill, Mike Leach, Patrick Willis, Rex Hadnot
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There’s been a lot of talk about contracts the last couple of days. The 49ers gave an extension to linebacker Patrick Willis, the Saints re-upped guard Jahri Evans. The totals are reported to be $50 million or more for each (although we all know that’s what former Cards’ coach Dave McGinnis once called “Roger Rabbitt money,” since much of the back end of the deal will never been seen). Still Willis is getting $29 M guaranteed, and Evans figures to do well in that regard too (the details haven’t leaked — yet. UPDATE: Evans will get almost $26 M in the first three years).
Inevitably, guys sign deals and that perks up the ears of others looking for money (I would guess Deuce Lutui, looking for a long-term deal and still unsigned, noticed Evans’ news). Markets are set and the watch for the next guy begins. And sometimes the watching comes from the guy himself. Obviously defensive lineman Darnell Dockett is hoping for a new deal and it’s not surprising he not only has noticed new contracts but in general, tends to have money on his mind.
But Dockett seems to have dealt with his current issues better this offseason. Maybe it’s because fellow disgruntled teammate Anquan Boldin is no longer a teammate. Maybe it’s because Dockett and agent Drew Rosenhaus have had multiple chats with management this offseason and, even if they aren’t agreeing yet, both sides at least have an understanding where the other one is coming from. Maybe it’s because Dockett sees how the Adrian Wilson extension happened, and realizes there may be no reason to give himself an ulcer about it.
Dockett, although he had left his stance vague, has remained here the last couple of days doing the voluntary workouts, which hasn’t happened the previous two years. He came to the charity golf tournament Monday and, even though he doesn’t really golf, at least hung out a while and took a cart out on the course to see and be seen. I still think the Cardinals will give him the money he has earned. It may not come quite on the timetable he wanted, but I think it will eventually happen. I heard Dockett on XTRA 910 last week say (despite all his rhetoric on the subject) he’d like to stay in Arizona, be a career Cardinal, be with this coaching staff and leave a legacy.
Who knows? Maybe, the longer he stays here, he’ll eventually gain a golf game.
Tags: contracts, Darnell Dockett, Deuce Lutui, Jahri Evans, Patrick Willis
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Last week, Darnell Dockett insisted he didn’t want to provide any bulletin board material for the 49ers. The Cards seemed to be careful about that, and there wasn’t much coming out of San Francisco either, until Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis decided to talk about the Cardinals’ running game.
“We’re not worried about the run,” Willis told Bay Area reporters. “We know that they’re not going to run the ball on us. They will not run the ball on us.”
OK, so it’s not exactly guaranteeing a win. But it is an interesting comment given that the Cards have run the ball much better over the last five games. In that span the Cards are averaging 135 rushing yards per game and almost five yards a carry. The Cards had 113 yards rushing (and averaged 4.5 yards a carry) against the Vikings, who had the third-best rushing defense in the league. The 49ers are fifth against the run.
Now, the 49ers have reason to be confident, seeing they held the Cards to 40 rushing yards in the teams’ first meeting. And part of Willis’ point is that the Cards have a very good passing game, one that will be much better tonight with a healthy Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston compared to the first meeting. Still, Tim Hightower is running the ball well much better than before (Hightower had just 15 yards on eight carries in the opener; he has 215 yards on just 31 carries the past three games) and Beanie Wells is improved as well. It would seem the Cards have a chance to prove Willis otherwise.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Beanie Wells, Patrick Willis, run game, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower
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