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Five Cardinals make PFF’s top 101

Posted by Darren Urban on June 16, 2016 – 10:03 am

While the NFL Network top 100 list continues to be counted down, profootballfocus.com has their own list of the top 101 players in the league. The site usually has a top 101 list after the season based on the season just completed. But now, they have a top 101 list of players right now based on overall body of work and with all positions being equal — meaning a good quarterback could still be behind a lineman if the lineman is exceptional.

Five Cardinals made the list: DB Tyrann Mathieu at No. 18 (PFF is one of the strongest outlets in referring to Mathieu more as a cornerback instead of a safety, since he plays so many snaps there), CB Patrick Peterson at No. 32, QB Carson Palmer at No. 40, DT Calais Campbell at No. 89 and G Evan Mathis at No. 98. Here’s a sampling of what PFF said on each:

Mathieu: “Whether you want to call him a safety or a cornerback, Tyrann Mathieu is one of the league’s best defensive backs. He is a true playmaker on defense and has the ability to move around and cause matchup problems for offenses, putting them on the back foot for once in a league that usually forces defenses to react, not the other way around.”

Peterson: “At his best, Patrick Peterson is one of the league’s top shutdown corners, or as close as anybody can get to that term in today’s NFL of pass-happy rules.”

Palmer: “Palmer had the league’s highest average depth of target, and his expected inaccuracy rate given the passes he was attempting should have been the highest in the league. As it turned out, he was the best on intermediate and deep throws, and if I knew I was getting that guy in 2016, he would by vying for a place inside the top-five on this list.”

Campbell: “While his ceiling may be some way short of J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald, he is still a major impact player on defense and capable of screwing up an offense’s plans almost single-handedly.”

Mathis: “PFF’s affinity for Evan Mathis has been no secret over the years. He is a player that has consistently graded well when he has been on the field, and even this past season when carrying injuries and splitting time in Denver, he was one of the best-graded guards in the league, and the highest-graded run blocker.”

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WR coach Drake earns award

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2016 – 8:03 am

Pro Football Focus decided to hand out awards for position coaches for the first time this season, and the Cardinals had a winner — wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who shepherded Larry Fitzgerald through his transition to inside receiver and Smokey Brown’s transition to the NFL and Michael Floyd’s evolution to consistent downfield threat.

What PFF had to say about Drake:

Drake may have had a superior set of talent to work with, but he squeezed the best out of every one of his players. All six receivers seeing playing time graded positively this season, and all but one improved over the previous year. And it wasn’t just their receiving prowess that shined—they did a more than competent job blocking for the run, finishing the year as our second-highest graded unit in that regard.

Drake wasn’t the only one mentioned in the article. Harold Goodwin, fresh off his first head coaching interview, was named first runner-up as the top offensive coordinator, behind only Mike Shula of the Carolina Panthers.

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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.

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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.

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Motivating Calais

Posted by Darren Urban on November 3, 2015 – 10:12 am

Bruce Arians was asked about the play of defensive tackle Calais Campbell Monday, and Arians was (as he is wont to do) blunt on the subject.

“He needs to be dominating the game,” Arians said. “He got very close, but he loses his technique sometimes and doesn’t use his hands. He should have had a four-sack day (in Cleveland). His stats were minimal. Frostee (Rucker) had a great day.”

It was interesting to see later in the day profootballfocus.com, in their highlighted analysis of the Cardinals-Browns game, praise Campbell as the best player on the Cards’ defense Sunday.

“Calais Campbell again led the way for the defense at +3.3 (as a grade), including four QB hurries and three defensive stops” was the chatter line.

This isn’t new for Campbell. The coaches have pushed him constantly, and truth be told, Campbell in turn has been pushing himself. He had a great game in the loss to the Rams, and he wasn’t necessarily happy. I asked him then if there was a game after which he was satisfied and he said no. “I guess if there was a game where I was like, I made every play I could, I mean, maybe. But I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t done it yet. I’m hoping for it. I’m chasing it.”

That’s where Arians is with Campbell. The coach never says Campbell is playing poorly. He only says Campbell could be playing better. It’s that quest for perfection all the players and Arians keep bringing up. Campbell is the Cards’ best defensive lineman (although Rucker indeed played very well in Cleveland.) He is playing that way. Arians just wants more.

“He’s got the talent,” Arians said. “He’s got the talent and he’s shown he can. He needs to do it all the time.”

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A quarter in, PFF gives props to top Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2015 – 12:56 pm

Four games into the season simply means there are 12 games left and an eternity for an NFL season — and a single team’s season — to roller-coaster to various places. But four games usually gives you an idea of how a player’s season is headed, and the fast start by the Cards (their loss to the Rams notwithstanding) gathered the attention of the folks at profootballfocus.com.

PFF decided to make a quarter-season all-pro team, and the Cardinals have four representatives, one of which — in a slight upset, given the competition — is quarterback Carson Palmer.

The other four are Larry Fitzgerald as the slot receiver, Tyrann Mathieu as the slot cornerback, and Justin Bethel as the special teamer.

Palmer beats out Tom Brady (who has only played three games because of the bye), and Aaron Rodgers, and the PFF guys note that Ben Roethlisberger’s injury probably cost him the spot. But Palmer has been great, save for a couple of errant throws Sunday. His passer rating is 106.4, he has completed better than 63 percent of his passes, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns compared to only three interceptions and he’s on pace to throw for more than 4,600 yards.

Mathieu has a couple of picks, and he’s been all over the field. Plus he tweets stuff like this, which lets you know he wants a little more:

Fitzgerald has 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns already. He’s on pace to make 120 receptions, which would crush his career-high (I don’t expect this pace to continue on receptions as defenses wake up to Fitz’s play, but he’s going to have a big year barring injury.)

Bethel hasn’t played as much as he had hoped defensively, but he remains the “gold standard” for special teams play, PFF writes.

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TE Fells as “secret superstar”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2015 – 3:01 pm

Every year the website profootballfocus.com compiles a list of players it dubs “secret superstars” — guys who are under the radar but have the potential to break out in some way, shape or form. Their choice for the Cardinals is tight end Darren Fells, which makes a lot of sense given the circumstances.

It’s pointed out that Fells does his best work as a blocker, and at this point, it’s obvious that is what Bruce Arians is looking for first from his tight ends. What strikes me is Fells’ possibility as a leader at the position. Fells is modest, in keeping with his humble NFL beginnings being late to the party after playing professional basketball overseas. He is still inexperienced but he isn’t young — he’s 29 — and the tight ends room needs a voice now that John Carlson has retired. He is definitely playing with more confidence now than he did when he showed up in 2013 or even late last season when he was getting some playing time.

“Superstar” is a loaded term. Fells isn’t going to turn into Antonio Gates. (At least, I don’t think he will.) The Cardinals will need more from the position. Troy Niklas, another blocker-first, is a guy who has to come along, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim bring in a veteran tight end when training camp begins. But on a team that needs steady tight end play, I think PFF is on the right track in pegging Fells as a guy who can deliver.

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Debating X, O, Jimmy, Joe

Posted by Darren Urban on April 3, 2014 – 4:01 pm

The cliché has been around awhile, some version of “It’s not about the ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ but the jimmys and joes.” And no, pizza has nothing to do with the conversation. It’s a simple concept really, one that emphasizes the reality that without players, you can draw up the best plays in the world and you still aren’t going to be successful. It came up in the context of profootballfocus.com releasing their full season stats from the NFL and the best defenses in producing unblocked pressure. The Cardinals were the best in the league midway through the season and held on to the top spot by season’s end with 82 unblocked pressures.

In the stats, the Cardinals were led by two players in particular — linebackers John Abraham and Karlos Dansby. Dansby had 13 total unblocked pressures and Abraham 12, and Dansby produced four sacks in those pressures (Abraham two). So it stands to reason with Dansby leaving for Cleveland, the Cards will be hurt in this regard in turning the role over to Kevin Minter — not as athletic as Karlos — or whomever. You lose a ‘joe,’ maybe the ‘O’ doesn’t hold up, right?

Or maybe not?

First of all, at least in this context of rushing the QB unblocked, scheme would seem to have a ton to do with it. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is doing something to confuse the other team, regardless of the players. Even “lesser” players are supposed to be accounted for every play by the offense. Of those 82 pressures, 23 came through an ‘A’ gap (the spots between the center and either guard). No one is supposed to forget the guy standing near the ball, even if he is a step or two off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes it was an overload on one side situation (35 of 82, according to PFF) and sometimes the offense simply didn’t block a guy even if there was someone there to do so (19 times).

Certainly, a talent like Dansby played into the equation, as did Abraham. You’d have to look at every play individually to really know if the result was a combination of factors, a Dansby “win” or a Bowles’ scheme result. You figure there is a mix. You figure Bowles knows what Minter can and can’t do, and while the Cardinals won’t run the same things exactly for him as Dansby, I’d guess if Minter comes free through the ‘A’ gap he’ll probably find a way to create some havoc. The Cards didn’t have the same ‘jimmys’ in the secondary once Tyrann Mathieu got hurt, but Bowles’ ‘Xs’ were good enough to fluster both the Seahawks and 49ers pretty good the final two weeks of the season.

There is a reason Steve Keim is always looking to upgrade the roster where he can. And you take Patrick Peterson and Daryl Washington off the defense, for instance, and the scheme is not going to look as good. But scheme matters too.

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Campbell, Dansby aren’t overlooked everywhere

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2014 – 10:17 am

Defensive end Calais Campbell had a Pro Bowl year, although he didn’t make the team. (He was an alternate, but alas, no bump up.) Linebacker Karlos Dansby had a Pro Bowl year (yet, stunningly, he wasn’t even an alternate). But they haven’t been completely overlooked, with both showing up on a couple of more all-star-type postseason lists.

Profootballfocus.com did their all-NFC West team, and given the strengths of the defenses in the division, cracking that lineup is impressive. Campbell and Dansby did, along with cornerback Patrick Peterson (and there was also a mention of Daryl Washington as a strong candidate, too.) Offensively, the Cardinals got wide receiver Michael Floyd and running back Andre Ellington on the team, as well as special teamer Justin Bethel, whom PFF considers the best special teams player in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the USA Today has put out its annual “All-Joe” team, which is a nod to the under-appreciated around the league. Two Cards found their way on to that list: Campbell and Dansby.

The line on Campbell: “The best 3-4 end in the NFL not named J.J. Watt, Campbell posted a career-best nine sacks while crushing tailbacks for the NFL’s top run defense. He also excels at blocking kicks with his 6-8 frame.” The line on Dansby: “Returned to the desert after three years in Miami and turned in his best season. His career-high 114 solo tackles complemented 6.5 sacks. He also picked off four passes (returning two for scores) and broke up 19 passes, tied for most among linebackers.”

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A trio of Cardinals make the Pro Football Focus All-Pro Team

Posted by since1898 on January 7, 2014 – 2:22 pm

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