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Blogs

Bright lights, big schedule for 2014

Posted by Darren Urban on April 23, 2014 – 6:05 pm

The Cardinals know when they are playing their games and they know people will be watching. The 2014 schedule has been announced and it includes the prime-time games that the Cards have been pining for. Monday night to open the season at home? Bruce Arians couldn’t have drawn it up any better. And while the Dec. 11 Thursday night game in St. Louis is no picnic, at least the Cards are coming off a home game against Kansas City. Plus, it will give the Cards an extra few days before hosting Seattle in “Sunday Night Football” on Dec. 21.

There is little reason to completely analyze a schedule because, frankly, it can mean little when the games are played months from now. Still, there are takeaways to note (and here is a schedule you can print/download):

– Cool to open on Monday night in a home game. Last time the Cards opened on a Monday night, it was Ken Whisenhunt’s debut in 2007 in San Francisco. Could’ve been a win if Eric Green had just fallen on the ball.

– Strange, however, to open with a team you just closed the preseason with. My guess is that the starters might not even play in the preseason finale now, as opposed to their usual one series.

– Season closes with three straight division games. Given this era of the NFC Best, perhaps that’s only fitting.

– Bye week in Week 4. Early. Too early? Well, given that it is after what figures to be a rough-and-tumble 49ers game and gives the Cards two weeks to prep for Peyton Manning, maybe it’s just right.

– No more than two straight weeks either at home or on the road. Can’t complain there.

– It could be chilly in Seattle in late November. Maybe SF in late December too, although Santa Clara will be warmer than the ‘stick. But New York in September is perfect, Denver in early October … weather should not be a factor.

But now that the schedule is out, I guess it’s time for the draft. It’s always something, right?


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Peyton’s place in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2014 – 11:57 am

The chances of Peyton Manning repeating his historic 2013 season are slim anyway. No one has ever thrown 55 touchdown passes in a season for a reason. But after watching the Broncos’ offense struggle in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, you wonder what kind of season Manning can compile when a fourth of his games will be against the intense defenses of the NFC West.

It was a notion I pondered briefly on Twitter yesterday. One game is not nearly enough of a sample size, of course. But — depending on whatever turnover all the teams involved have — the physical nature of all the defenses in the division seems unlike most of the ones the Broncos play. It certainly seemed that way Sunday. Manning got his completions (34 for 49) but only had 280 yards and one touchdown. In fact the 280-1-2 INT line looked a lot like what a QB might put up in an NFC West game. Something Carson Palmer might do. But Palmer had a much better defense at his disposal.

The NFC West defenses were ranked first (Seattle), fifth (SF), sixth (Arizona) and 15th (St. Louis). Of the 13 teams the Broncos faced in the regular season, eight were ranked 20th or lower, and only two — the Giants and the Texans — were officially top 10 defenses, although both teams struggled all season.

(And before anyone gets it twisted, I am a Peyton believer. He didn’t play well Sunday but that doesn’t take away from him being one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time — which is always going to be a subjective title anyway. No one else has done what he has done in a season like 2013, regardless of the defenses faced. And before anyone in the NFC West can get too high and mighty, remember that the Rams were the only team in the division who didn’t try to sign Manning in 2011.)

We’ll see if the gaudy stats make a comeback. Interestingly enough, the Broncos did see the NFC West this season, kind of. The four-game preseason slate was against all four NFC West teams. But that’s preseason, and with all due respect to Denny Green, it was pretty meaningless, even that third game against the Rams.

In Manning’s long career, the Cardinals have only faced him — truly, without him sitting in a meaningless game — once. That was in a Sunday night game in 2009, when Manning tore them up and the Colts bombed the Cards. Manning is still pretty dang good. But the Cards’ defense is much, much better than that 2009 version. The Broncos do get to host the Cardinals next year (the 49ers also go to Denver; the Broncos visit St. Louis and Seattle.) Already, a subplot emerges for the 2014 season.

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Pressure wins championships

Posted by Darren Urban on February 3, 2014 – 3:22 pm

The Seahawks’ defense is being lauded today and rightfully so for their throttling of the Broncos’ record-setting offense in the Super Bowl. There are a bunch of breakdowns out there comparing Seattle’s defensive year to those of the best ever, and the Seahawks deserve to be in that conversation with teams like the 2000 Ravens and the 1985 Bears (I’d think some of those Steel Curtain teams should be in the discussion too, but I digress.)

Defense doesn’t necessarily win championships — I saw a stat that said the team with the higher-ranked defense actually has lost six of the last eight Super Bowls — but it certainly doesn’t hurt. But I believe pressure can help win a title, and that’s certainly what the Seahawks did to Peyton Manning and why the Cardinals had defensive success this season.

Profootballfocus.com charted that the Seahawks blitzed Manning on only six of 51 dropbacks in the Super Bowl, yet were in his face all game. That’s the kind of pressure the Giants put on Tom Brady in the last Super Bowl played in Arizona, the one in which New York placed the stunning upset on the previously undefeated Patriots. When you can pressure with four, everything changes.

The Cardinals had a lot of pressure success in part because defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was a genius with mixing up attack plans on the quarterback, and there was a lot of blitzing involved in that. They also benefited when linebacker John Abraham played like the John Abraham who had spent a career getting double-digit sacks every season. That kind of rusher is important. And going forward, it’s one of the reasons General Manager Steve Keim will lean toward not only the offensive but the defensive line in terms of trying to make the most improvement. It’s great to have one of the best cornerbacks in the game in Patrick Peterson, but without pressure, it doesn’t mean much. The same goes for Seattle’s Richard Sherman and the rest of that defensive backfield — they can afford to be aggressive, because they know the pressure will be coming sooner rather than later.

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A way to beat the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on January 31, 2014 – 2:17 pm

The Seahawks have lost just three times this season in 18 games, including the postseason. The largest margin of those losses was the seven points that separated the Cardinals and Seahawks during the Cards’ 17-10 win in Seattle in December. The Cardinals did it with a stifling defense and a good enough running game — parts that don’t particularly run parallel to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl opponent, Denver. The Broncos have been able to run and their offense was much more productive than the Cardinals (much more productive than any other team, actually), with a defense that doesn’t compare to what the Cards have.

Nevertheless, how the Cardinals knocked off the Seahawks was a demonstration in basic football. On offense, the Cards played it safe– 43 run plays, 27 pass plays — and played keep-away — time of possession was more than 37 minutes for Arizona. When the Cards did run, they were fairly effective, with their running backs gaining 142 yards on 38 carries (a not-spectacular-but-good-enough 3.7 yards a try). They often ran into the heart of the Seattle defense, not allowing the Seahawks’ speed to help run down the ballcarrier for little gain and looking to wear on them as the game went along.

Carson Palmer was only sacked twice so the protection held up most of the day. The Broncos shouldn’t have an issue since Peyton Manning is the best ever at getting the ball out quickly and to the right place almost all of the time. Palmer tried a couple times to make quick choices, but there was a reason he had four interceptions that day. Those four picks, by the way, should have cost the Cardinals the game.

They didn’t. Why? Because the Cardinals’ defense was unreal and to me, that is the ultimate hinge of this Super Bowl — can the Broncos keep Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in check long enough to allow Manning time to get done what he needs done. Lynch got off to a decent start against the Cards that day but his production quickly fizzled, highlighted by his inability to force his way into the end zone late in the first-half after a terrible Cardinals’ turnover. The Cards’ defense stoned Lynch then, the Seahawks missed the gimme field goal, and that was a turning point.

Lynch, as everyone knows, is a pain in the rear to bring down. The Broncos have to be able to swarm, even when it looks like the play might be over. Then there is Wilson, who had probably his worst day as a pro against the Cards: 11-for-27 for only 108 yards, a touchdown but also a pick, four sacks and only two rushing attempts (for 32 yards.) Wilson was inaccurate all day, and the Cards got pressure through a Seattle offensive line that isn’t very good.

Of course, for as well as the defense did, it took some luck for the Cardinals that day as well, for instance the third-and-3 scramble out of the pocket by Palmer that led to an improbable 17-yard pass play to tight end Jake Ballard on the game-winning drive. But that drive was mostly about the run before Palmer flung his touchdown toss to Michael Floyd. One thing about Peyton Manning — he’s never forced passes when he thinks the run can work. And if it means tiring the Seattle defense/keeping Wilson off the field, I could see Manning doing that.

What I don’t think the Broncos can overcome is turnovers. The Cardinals were lucky Palmer’s picks didn’t turn into disaster. Manning’s abilities aside, the Seahawks feed off of that. But if there is a way to slow Lynch, the Seahawks’ offense has been less than dynamic of late. That, even with a great defense available, would seem to call for a close game. And in a close game, anyone can win.


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Peterson first-team All-Pro (and Dansby second)

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2014 – 10:24 am

Patrick Peterson’s big year just got a little better Friday, when he was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. The AP All-Pro team has generally been accepted as the “the” All-Pro team of the NFL. It encompasses the entire NFL, not a conference. Peterson joined Seattle’s Richard Sherman as the cornerback choice. And there is some good news for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was a Pro Bowl snub. Dansby ended up making second-team All-Pro along with Bengals star and former ASU Sun Devil Vontaze Burfict. The first team inside linebackers were Luke Kuechly of Carolina and NaVorro Bowman of San Francisco.

It was interesting that there is no second-team All-Pro quarterback — which can only mean that Denver’s Peyton Manning received all 50 of the votes from the AP selection committee.

I know a lot of people, for some reason, had issues with Peterson’s play this season. I get the frustration as punt returner but I thought Peterson was very good most of the time at cornerback. I believe he is deserving of an All-Pro slot. I guess I wasn’t the only one. It was nice to see Dansby recognized after he did not get named to the Pro Bowl list nor rank high enough on the alternate list to be so named. There are some great inside linebackers in the NFL right now, though. Patrick Willis, for instance, is not on the All-Pro list.

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McCoy headed to Chargers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2013 – 8:12 am

The Cardinals, it seemed, wanted to get a second chance to talk to Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy about their open head coaching job. It certainly doesn’t look like they will get it, not after the news early Tuesday that McCoy is finalizing a deal to become the Chargers head coach and has told the Broncos he is leaving. (In an interesting twist, former Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt reportedly would be a candidate to replace McCoy as Broncos offensive coordinator, which if it comes to pass would mean Whiz got to team up with Peyton Manning after all.)

UPDATE: McCoy to Chargers is done.

With McCoy going elsewhere, that leaves defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. (I know I don’t have Todd Haley in here. Maybe I should but I just don’t see it. Could be totally wrong.) I am going on gut here only, but I’d think Horton would have a strong chance at this point. I have no idea who his assistants would be on the offensive side of the ball — I’m not sure anyone does, outside of Cards’ ownership and the front office — but I don’t think anyone would be hired without confidence in those choices. Again, president Michael Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim know how poorly the offense played and how it must be fixed. Bidwill insisted he wouldn’t make a choice based on offense/defense, but Gruden is an offensive guy.

Does this mean a decision will be made today? We will see. Anymore, it’s tough to forecast anything in a world of coaching searches that seem to change every few hours.


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Snyder to sit out preseason finale

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2012 – 6:54 pm

Starting right guard guard Adam Snyder (elbow) is sitting out tonight’s game, one of six Cardinals listed as out for the game. Also sitting out will be WR Stephen Williams (Achilles), S Adrian Wilson (calf), RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (groin), S Rashad Johnson (abdomen) and TE Rob Housler (hamstring).

The Broncos’ list is something like 25 players. Peyton Manning will not play. Yep, it’s the preseason finale.


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Wednesday before the Broncos

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2012 – 10:25 am

It’s an early entry for the “Before” version of the Broncos game, because later today I’ll put out my best guess at what the 53-man roster will look like on Friday. I know — I’m sure you are all waiting with bated breath. There isn’t much to say before the final preseason game. We can talk about the final 53 and fighting for spots, but there are only a couple of roster holes you figure are still being determined (and really, it might not even be that many.)

– I wouldn’t want to have a post without mentioning the quarterback decision. I had one of those crazy thoughts as I was drifting off to sleep last night, a “What if” – as in, “What if coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to announce his QB in the postgame presser after the Denver game?” It won’t happen, I know, but that’d be one heck of a way to do it. Instead, I expect a press conference Friday since final cuts have to be made that day. That makes sense as a time he could do it. (Maybe I’m just wishing and hoping so I get a weekend off.) Either way, the decision is coming, which is good. I’m sure everyone is tired of talking about it. I know I’m ready for it to be over.

– There are three areas where you really wonder if this game will determine some spots. One is reserve offensive line – specifically, whether draft picks Senio Kelemete and/or Nate Potter have shown enough to nudge out a veteran. Another is defensive back, where you have a lot of choices and not a ton of spots. The other is running back, where William Powell gets his shot to play early, and we see if that is enough to unseat Alfonso Smith for a place on the roster.

– Peyton Manning is not expected to play against the Cardinals Thursday night. But the Broncos do have another quarterback that will generate interest, with rookie Brock Osweiler slated to come in after starter Caleb Hanie.

– With Dave Pasch off to be ESPN’s voice for the first game of the rest of Penn State’s life, Paul Calvisi will team with Ron Wolfley for the TV broadcast tomorrow night on ABC 15. It’s like Cardinals Underground, without me.

– The Cards are taking part in a backpack drive again this year, collecting new or gently used backpacks for needy kids. The program benefits the “Hope Endures” organization. Backpacks can be dropped off at UoP Stadium gates before the Broncos game.

OK. I’m off to the annual Kickoff Luncheon with the team. I’ll opine on the roster later. The preseason is almost over.


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Whiz addresses QB competition (but not that other QB)

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2012 – 12:36 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cardinals are trying to split the first-team reps between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb as close to 50/50 as they can.

“I’d have to chart the plays,” Whisenhunt said. “It might be 51 (percent) to 49. I don’t think there’s a great discrepancy.”

And what, he was asked, should be read into that?

“That it’s a competition, like we’ve said all along,” he said.

Whisenhunt did insist that, out on the field, the other factors in the QB conversation — specifically, the amount of money Kolb makes and has been paid — doesn’t enter in. That’s been his philosophy.

“I don’t really think about that,” Whisenhunt said. “I don’t look at a player and think, ‘What’s he making?’ I don’t think that’s the way you do it. I look at the plays he has been making. There has been a lot of guys, free agents or players you didn’t know about who showed up and made big plays for you. I don’t think about (the money). I’ll be honest, I obviously know what we’ve invested in Kevin. I want Kevin to be successful, I want him to be our quarterback. But I’m not going to ignore the fact John Skelton worked pretty hard and did a good job when he was playing and he’s earned the right to compete for that spot.

“I’ve tried to be fair with how we have evaluated players and how the competition goes.”

– Since it’s been brought up, Kent Somers asked Whiz if the Cardinals were “pursuing” or “evaluating” Peyton Manning back in March when the quarterback visited the team complex. Whiz declined to comment, wisely avoiding the subject. We are left to guess. Ah well.

– Rookie WR Michael Floyd sat out today with a quad strain, Whisenhunt said. It isn’t serious, the coach said, and in fact Floyd wanted to try and practice. The Cards decided discretion was the better part of valor.


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Whisenhunt: Peyton no longer an option

Posted by Darren Urban on March 16, 2012 – 1:49 pm

With everything happening today, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt released a statement in regards to Peyton Manning and Kevin Kolb. Here it is in its entirety:

“Regarding today’s developments and our quarterback position, acquiring Peyton Manning is no longer an option for us.

“Since the end of last season we made it very clear that our plan was to head into 2012 with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, let the process play out and – like at every position –  go with the quarterback who gives us the best chance to win.

“Obviously something very unique and unexpected presented itself. We’ve said it many times: if there’s an opportunity to make our team better we’ll explore it; we view the potential of adding a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback as one of those. The organization quickly put together an aggressive plan to go after it. We’re proud of that and feel very strongly about what we have to offer as a team and as an organization. In the end it didn’t work out but from our perspective it was very positive and we certainly don’t have any regrets about it.

“We sit here today in the same spot we were heading into the offseason. That’s with two experienced quarterbacks who have both demonstrated positive things in the past and who we feel good about. Like we said at the end of the season when we won seven of the last nine games, carrying the momentum of that strong finish into 2012 is important and that remains unchanged.”


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