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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.


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Friday before the playoffs and Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2016 – 12:30 pm

Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.

No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.

Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.

A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:

Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams

This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.

This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.

— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.

— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.

“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.

“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”

Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.

— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.

— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”

Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.

— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.

— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.

— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.

— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”

— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.

This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.


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Mixed messages from the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 9:49 am

At this point, it’s become clear that, at least publicly, no one is expecting a score in Saturday’s playoff game like the first time the Cardinals beat the Packers. Still, it was weird to hear complete opposite notions come from the Packers in the last couple of days.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday: “We’re no underdog going to Arizona. I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday: “We’re going in as the underdogs. We’re going to be loose and ready to go, and it’s going to be their stadium, it’s going to be rocking, but the pressure’s going to be on them.”

Technically, the Packers are the underdog. The point spreads say so, the circumstances say so (the Cards are at home, they had a better regular season, yada, yada, yada.) But what does all the Pack talk mean? It means the talk leading up to a game doesn’t really mean much. The Cardinals have been consistent in saying the Packers are a different team than the first time they met, but other than a couple of injury situations, that’s not true. The Cards still have a deeper roster. The Packers might be playing better, but the sample size — one game — is awfully small.

The Cardinals will have pressure on them. When you are 13-3, you are expected to win at least one playoff game. But it’s not like they are playing, say, the Bears. They are playing a team with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a fan base that has such high expectations that some were wondering if the Packers needed a coaching change this season — a season in which the Packers won 10 games. At this point, pressure is everywhere.


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Divisional playoff date sells out

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2016 – 11:43 am

It didn’t take long — officially less than an hour, and anecdotally, even less time than that — but the Cardinals’ game Saturday against the Packers is sold out. There are definitely tickets out there on the secondary market, from what fans are telling me, but the team has no more.

What that means for the crowd makeup at University of Phoenix Stadium is yet to be seen, but I don’t see how there will be as many Packers fans this time around as there were for the last meeting. In that game, Green Bay fans had months to plan for the trip and line up tickets. That game was also Christmas weekend, a time when it was easy for people to be off from work and make the flight out to Arizona.

Yes, I know there are Packers fans around everywhere. And I still expect to see some green. But as quickly as the tickets were sold out, I think the crowd will be very much red come Saturday night.

The game, by the way, will be the 104th straight sellout at University of Phoenix Stadium — every game the Cardinals have ever played in the building.



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Wild Card weekend aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 10, 2016 – 9:07 pm

The Cardinals didn’t play this weekend but there was football that meant something from their perspective. The NFC games Sunday determined their first playoff opponent — it’s the Packers — and now, the build-up for a postseason game many on the team have been waiting for since that rough loss in Carolina at this time last year.

The NFC results weren’t a shock. The Seahawks are a better team than the Vikings. The Packers are better than Washington. Of course, the way the Seattle-Minnesota game played out, the Seahawks should be eliminated by now. They aren’t. So we see who will come out of the very interesting dogfight between the Seahawks and Panthers, and if the Cardinals can beat the Packers a second time, whomever they play in the NFC Championship will have gone through the gauntlet to get there (and the Cards could still host that game if the Seahawks win.) But there will be time to look at that. As for the games that were just played:

— It’s hard to believe the Seahawks won. Not because they played poorly, but because the Vikings put themselves in a spot to win and should have. To see Blair Walsh just yank a 27-yard field goal left is simply crushing for that team. Seattle did enough. The frigid weather was clearly a factor, but it was not Russell Wilson’s best game. And if anyone was thinking momentum was going to carry over from that season finale romp over the Cardinals, well, it didn’t (which is the other side of why the Cards kept saying that game wasn’t going to matter either.)

— Speaking of Walsh, this is a great story about him after the game. Something to think about the next time a player doesn’t make the play — and when fan disappointment has a chance to become more than that.

— The Packers looked a ton better Sunday than they did in their final two games in Arizona and Minnesota. Then again, Washington’s defense has a much worse defense than both the Vikings and Cardinals. I’d expect a better showing from Green Bay this week, but the Cards will rightfully be favored.

— There is hope from the Packers they will get cornerback Sam Shields back from his concussion, but they thought they’d have him back this weekend too and it didn’t happen. Other key injuries for the Packers to watch: left tackle David Bakhtiari, who remained out with an ankle injury (he missed the first game against the Cards) and wide receiver Davante Adams, who said he expects to be ready after hurting his knee Sunday, but you have to wonder even if he can what his effectiveness will be, especially on a short week.

— The Cardinals are off Monday still. They return to practice Tuesday.


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A few good Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2016 – 11:12 am

I have seen the movie “A Few Good Men” a few times. Or 50. It’s one of those films I can’t help but leave on the TV when I come across it. (I know I’m not the only one.) So much of the dialogue is memorable.

(Hang with me here. I’m getting somewhere with this.)

The last day-plus of the Cardinals-Seahawks aftermath heading into the Cards’ playoff bye week has been filled with opinions on both sides of the fence, not entirely unexpected. The Cardinals are saying it meant nothing in the grand scheme. The players insist there will be a rally. Some on the outside are calling what the Seahawks did “The Most Impressive Victory of the Year” in the NFL and are saying the Cards rank behind both the Panthers and Seahawks in the NFC — in large part because of that finale result. There are spots in history that point to each side as being right, examples of teams that have lost late and done fine in the postseason, teams that have lost late and tripped.

But that’s when I think back to the line Kevin Pollack delivers to Tom Cruise wondering if Cruise’s character should take a legal run at Jack Nicholson’s character as “A Few Good Men” pushed toward a conclusion. Pollack’s “Sam Weinberg” makes it clear that as a lawyer, he wouldn’t, and he doesn’t think the late lawyer father of Cruise’s “Danny Kaffee” would either.

“But here’s the thing–and there’s really no way of getting around this–neither Lionel Kaffee nor Sam Weinberg are lead counsel for the defense in the matter of U.S. v. Dawson & Downey,” Pollack says.

And here’s the thing — and there’s really no way of getting around this — none of those previous teams are the 2015 Arizona Cardinals.

This was a team, after all, that many thought a week ago were the Super Bowl favorite. They may or may not have been, but one game shouldn’t change everything, either. Comparing now to past situations is natural, but by the time the Cards play, two weeks down the road, it’ll be a distant memory. The Cardinals are either going to play a team in their first playoff game that a) they have beaten or b) they finished four games better than in the standings against a more difficult schedule. If the Cardinals win that game and reach the NFC Championship, that finale will be part of the final statistics but little else. No one knows really what that finale loss means, or if it even means anything.

Hopefully, you can handle that truth.



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Packers aftermath, now with more sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2015 – 8:54 pm

The last time the Packers played in Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. It only made sense that this time the Packers came to Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. Actually, two. And actually, that’s the only thing those two games had in common.

That game long ago was seemingly who was going to have the ball last because Rodgers and Kurt Warner were so excellent that day (kinda ironic it ended on a defensive stop, so …) Sunday wasn’t that. Sunday was Cardinals’ domination, the kind of game that has to make any team that has to come to Arizona in the playoffs pause.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald both said they don’t think the Cardinals are peaking, and that’s in part because they would rather the team peak in about three or four weeks, when the playoffs begin. But the Cards were pretty good against an admittedly banged-up Packers team (although with the Cards without Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson, sympathy wasn’t forthcoming) and don’t have a whole lot of complaints.

Now, next week is going to be interesting. The NFL officially moved the Panthers-Bucs game to a late kickoff, matching it with the Cardinals, so the Cards can’t just base their playing time on the Panthers outcome (A Panthers loss and Cards win and the Cardinals are the No. 1 seed.) Meanwhile, you don’t know what the Seahawks are going to do. Do they definitely want to escape the sixth seed, which is still possible? The difference between going to frigid Minnesota/Green Bay or Washington in that case might mean something to the Seahawks.

So much to consider.

— There seemed to be a lot of concern about the right index finger (wrapped, as you can see below) of Palmer that was jacked up in Philly. He only missed one play, but some thought it was going to be an issue. Didn’t look like it to me.

— The Cardinals now have 57 touchdowns this season, soaring past the franchise record of 53 set in 1948. So, so many touchdowns.

— How’s this for interesting: With their nine-sack game Sunday, the Cardinals have 35 on the season – the same number as the Seahawks. The teams are tied with the Eagles for 14th in the league. The Cards are tied with Denver for fourth in scoring defense, at 18.5 points a game.

— Veteran DT Cory Redding couldn’t get to the end zone in Detroit, getting tackled after an interception after a 30-yard return down to the Lions 4. After he picked up a Packers fumble Sunday at the 36, it wasn’t going to happen again.

“I would not be denied,” Redding said. “My boys and teammates gave me a hard time the first time. Letting the quarterback tackle you, blah, blah, blah.

“I picked up the ball and tried to go as far as I could. I had a nice little convoy. (Packers RB Eddie) Lacy tried to (get me), I didn’t even know it was him. I just shoved off somebody and kept running.”

— Crazy Palmer numbers: He is now 29-8 as a starter for the Cardinals, and 26-4 in his last 30 starts. Quite a happy birthday for a guy who turned 36 Sunday.

— It was funny to see Larry Fitzgerald dress so quickly Sunday to try and do his interview at the podium. Usually Fitz is among the last but he wanted to get out of there. He was ready to go after Calais Campbell – except Dwight Freeney already thought he was next. Freeney, told he was going to go after Fitz, fixed that quickly. He pulled rank, telling Fitz he was older. So Freeney went first, and Fitz sat in the corner waiting, legs out like he was a kid waiting for his mom to finish shopping.

— Freeney has had three sacks in a game six times before Sunday, but Sunday was the first time since 2006.

— In three seasons, Bruce Arians – after taking out the Packers Sunday — has already beaten every NFC team at least once.

— Many asked during the game if David Johnson was hurt. He was not. He came out because of the big lead and Andre Ellington’s need to work. Arians said Johnson is fine.

— The amazing touchdown-to-punt ratio stat held up for another week. The tally now is 57 touchdowns for the Cardinals this season, and 55 punts. It’s hard to fathom if the Cardinals can make that hold up through the season finale.


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Friday before the Rams, and Fitz’s 1,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2015 – 3:50 pm

There is no guarantee Larry Fitzgerald will have eight catches Sunday in St. Louis, but how fitting would it be if he did. Eight receptions would mean Fitz would reach 1,000 for his illustrious career, and he would do it in the same building where he caught his first – that flea-flicker over Cardinal-turned-Ram Aeneas Williams way back in 2004.

Fitz is also just eight yards shy of getting to 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011, a dry spell that didn’t seem possible once upon a time. Now, Fitz is on pace for 120 receptions – which would be a career-best by far – and 1,442 yards, which would also be a career-best (he has surpassed 1,400 yards Larry Fitzgeraldfour times previous.)

Fitz, of course, isn’t going there. “It’s not time to start smelling the roses now,” he said. “We are in the middle of something special here.”

This is true. The fact Fitzgerald is in the middle of it so spectacularly after the last couple of seasons is one of those things where … well, let’s be honest, it’s one of those stories that is perfect for Super Bowl week and the glare of the NFL spotlight.

Just sayin’.

— The Fitz down period can be explained. In 2012, he had no quarterback. In 2013, well, Carson Palmer was learning a new system and Fitz was learning a new position.

“I think we both went through a period, year-long period, of just figuring out each other, and more importantly, figuring out the system,” Palmer said. “I think you learn by trial and error and trying to fit certain balls into him and trying not to.”

Last year, things were clicking before Palmer went down (and Fitz was hurting much of the year too.) Now, it’s all come together.

— Nick Foles will start for the Rams at quarterback – the same Nick Foles who was benched, only to be forced into playing because of Case Keenum’s concussion. Foles has been bad this season, but in his three games against the Cardinals, he has eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The defense has to make him look like the benched Foles (who has four TD passes and nine interceptions against non-Cardinals opponents.)

— Jonathan Cooper may still yet emerge as the guard the Cardinals want. But the fact he’s lost his spot in his third season, injuries or not, is not a good sign.

— Here’s a fun game you can play with your friends: More rushing yards Sunday, Todd Gurley or David Johnson? I think it’s a very good question.

— Bruce Arians, by the way, said Johnson should get around 25 touches. That may or may not come to pass, but it makes sense with Andre Ellington out.

— While 49ers defensive tackle Quinton Dial was indeed fined for his roughing-the-passer penalty he was flagged for last week — Dial thought it was a bad call; usually a league fine means the league agreed with the flag — 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone told Matt Maiocco he was not fined for his (heavy) criticism of officials after the game.

— Arians reiterated Friday that there will be defensive snaps for wide-receiver-turned-(just-this-week)-cornerback Brittan Golden. He said the same for newly signed CB Corey White, but that makes some sense. Golden’s role, it’ll be interesting to see.

— As has been the custom in recent years, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and the team will host old-school St. Louis alumni from the franchise Saturday night and then at the game. We will see if this is the Cardinals’ last trip to St. Louis, at least to play the Rams.

— A win Sunday would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. After that 11-1 1948 team you are so fond of.

— I don’t know how much J.J. Nelson will be in the gameplan, not with John Brown seemingly close to health and Michael Floyd getting better. But if he does make a catch, I’m guessing it’ll be down the field. Nelson has nine receptions this season and he’s averaging an astounding 29.4 yards per catch. And that’s with a 12-yard reception thrown in.

— The short week is coming. There would be nothing better for the Cardinals than to get a lead early and not have Sunday be as grind-it-out as it’s been against the Rams (or against the Niners last week.) Easier said than done, but it’s another source of motivation. That Thursday night game against the Vikings next week is gigantic in terms of the NFC playoff picture.

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Home means so much — now, and then

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2014 – 11:40 am

The  Cardinals are 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They are 13-2 at home since Bruce Arians became coach — a meaningless, close loss to the 49ers to close out the 2013 season, and the the 34-22 loss to the Seahawks in October of last year. The home-field advantage is real for the Cards, a big reason why this team still has the optimism it does going into this game despite having to dig deep into the depth chart for a quarterback.

Only three times have the Cardinals ever won more than seven games at home in a season, the most recent being 1925 and that total (11 home wins) was helped by the fact the Cards played 13 of 14 games at home. (That is a seriously unbalanced scheduling.) The Cardinals are the only team in the league to have given up 20 points or fewer in every home game this season.

Details of what player will be the QB aside, that’s ultimately what Sunday’s game is about. If the Cardinals win, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Literally, in fact, since that would include a Super Bowl appearance. If the Seahawks win, they are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, and it almost goes without saying the home-field advantage the Seahawks have in Seattle. There’s still a chance the Packers could be the top seed, and no one wants to play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau in January.

So it’s fitting that, for the Cardinals, it’s a home game that determines future home games — and possibly the direction of the entire postseason in the NFC.


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