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Barwin and where things are in free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on April 9, 2018 – 1:50 pm

There was a report Monday morning that the Cardinals would be getting a free-agent visit from veteran pass rusher Connor Barwin, who played for the Rams last season. Whether or not something comes of that, it’s a good reminder of where things are in the NFL when it comes to free agency, especially this close to the draft.

The bigger contracts for free agents have dried up. Players still out there usually have to consider playing for a little bit less than they originally planned in order to get a spot now, or they can wait until after the draft, see what teams fill up the holes at that player’s particular position, and then try and get a little leverage that way. Jordan Matthews, a receiver who visited the Cardinals among others early in free agency, didn’t sign until he got  a one-year, minimum deal with the Patriots recently.

The Cardinals, in the Steve Keim era, rarely sign a free agent in April prior to the draft, in fact. The last time they did it was 2015 — and that was just to allow Adrian Wilson to retire as a Cardinal. The last time they signed players who actually took the field in the offseason was when they signed cornerbacks LeQuan Lewis and Eddie Whitley in 2014, and neither lasted into the regular season.


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Wilks: Despite Suh, NFCW moves, “focus on us”

Posted by Darren Urban on March 27, 2018 – 9:48 am

There has been a ton of roster movement for all four teams in the NFC West this offseason, and it was hard not to notice the most recent by the odds-on division favorite L.A. Rams. They signed Ndamukong Suh to add to Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers as an incredibly formidable defensive line. It does not bode well for the rest of the division, including — obviously — the Cardinals.

“I commend the Rams for what they are doing,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Tuesday at the NFL owners’ meetings. “You know how they are on offense already with (Todd) Gurley and (jared) Goff, and they are trying to shore up that defense. It’s going to be a very competitive year in the west with some difficult games in the division. But the biggest thing we will do, we are always going to keep the focus on us. That’s the most important thing.”

Wilks is still in the middle of getting together his initial roster. The draft hasn’t even occurred. To be clear, at some point, the focus will be on the Rams — or Seahawks, or 49ers — when those teams come up (twice) on the schedule. The Cardinals were already trying to upgrade the offensive line, so it’s not like a new Rams’ defensive line is changing that thought process. Wilks still hasn’t gotten a chance to fully outline his philosophy and culture with the players (that comes next week when the players return for the start of the offseason program), so there is still a lot to do before getting to opponents, division or not.


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Windows and sea(hawk) change in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2018 – 12:48 pm

The so-called “windows” all stay open for only so long in the NFL. That doesn’t mean a team can’t sustain competitiveness, or that any success must be followed with a significant down period. But rosters turn, great players get older, and the equation always changes. The Cardinals have gone through a ton of change this offseason, transitioning from Bruce Arians to Steve Wilks as coach and seeking out a quarterback now that Carson Palmer has retired. It demands the focus locally, but clearly, it’s not the only transition going on in the NFC West.

The Seahawks have traded away star defensive end Michael Bennett. Star cornerback Richard Sherman, coming off a major Achilles injury, looks like he very soon will become an ex-Seahawk. Safety Earl Thomas is reportedly on the trading block, and the future of defensive cogs defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor is very much in doubt. And that doesn’t even include the fact coach Pete Carroll blew out the majority of his coaching staff and brought in new guys.

The Rams were on the upswing last season and it looks like — although not guaranteed — that the 49ers are trending the same. Everyone is waiting to see what the new versions of both the Cardinals and Seahawks will look like. It’s one thing to have Avril or Bennett not around. It’s quite another to think that Sherman might not be a Seahawk, especially when it comes to playing Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals.

The division definitely has a different feel to it.


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Rams loss means rare early NFCW exit

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2018 – 10:22 pm

Since the Cardinals moved into the NFC West during the great NFL realignment of 2002, the division has had its ups and downs. There were a few seasons in which the division winner won less than double-digits (the Cardinals made the Super Bowl in 2008 after going 9-7 but running away with a division title) or even sub-.500 (the Seahawks going 7-9 but becoming NFCW champs in 2010.)

But Saturday night, as the West champions Los Angeles Rams — the only division team to make the postseason — lost at home to the Falcons after an 11-5 season, it meant that for the first time since that 2002 realignment, an NFC West team did not reach at least the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Even in those “down” years, the NFCW survived the Wild Card round. The Cards in 2008, that alleged “worst team to ever make the playoffs,” won the NFC Championship. Even that 7-win Seattle team, through the “BeastQuake” game, advanced to the next round. (The NFC West streak goes back further, in fact, prior to the Cardinals’ arrival, thanks to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams.)

Funny enough, the NFC West was one of only two divisions (the NFC South being the other) to have at least three teams finish at least .500 or better, thanks to the Cardinals’ two-game winning streak to close the season.


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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 3, 2017 – 7:54 pm

The past few years, when the Cardinals had been good and the Rams not so much, the Cardinals would go on the road and beat the Rams. Period. And now, the script has been flipped. The Cardinals are not as good as they once were, and the Rams most certainly are good, and that’s how you end up with results like Sunday. The Cardinals were better than London. It wasn’t 33-0, even though it started like it might have been. But 16 points – which is what the Cards finished with – isn’t enough to win most games and it definitely isn’t enough to beat a Rams team that even on a day where they weren’t completely clicking offensively, they still put up 32.

Blaine Gabbert will remain the starting quarterback, Bruce Arians said, and that, as last week, makes sense. It was a terrible start to the game for Gabbert Sunday, with two early picks. Gabbert said he needs to look at the film on the first throw, and on the second, he said the Rams went against what they had always shown on film in that formation – usually LB Alec Ogletree rushed and didn’t drop – and so Gabbert didn’t expect him there.

Gabbert settled down, and you can see the difference a running game makes. True for any QB, I suppose. There is a lot to take it. Gabbert now has thrown five interceptions in three games. The Cardinals will have to continue to evaluate where he might be as a QB candidate for 2018.

That’s what a lot of this must be. Arians talked about the young players Sunday, making plays and, understandably, making some mistakes. Evaluations are ongoing for everyone with four games left.

— There is no way to say how impressive it was to see Kerwynn Williams play the way he did, knowing his has broken ribs. I loved his response when he was asked if he was experiencing pain during the game: “I feel like everybody is in pain,” Williams said, and it just felt like the opening lyric of a very personal song rather than a postgame quote. It would’ve been nice to get him to 100 yards, given that he had 86 at halftime. All that guy does is produce whenever he is thrust into the lineup.

— With a decent day next week, Larry Fitzgerald is going to surpass Randy Moss for third-place all-time in NFL receiving yards. He needs 26 yards to do so.

— Back and forth with the Cardinals linebackers on picks. Karlos Dansby dropped one he should’ve had, and it cost the Cards at least three points, since the Rams went on to kick a field goal. “We didn’t make the plays that we needed to make, me included,” Dansby said. “I’ve got to make that play. That changed the whole dynamic of the game.”

Then there was the athletic pick by linebacker Kareem Martin, which short-circuited a Rams drive (although Gabbert threw a pick-six a couple of plays later.) “We work on screen drills a lot,” Martin said. “I pretty much just pressed off him to attempt to go pursue. By the time I was about to turn around, I see the ball.”

— There was some wondering how the Rams could go through the long snapper Justin Drescher for the blocked field goal. The rules don’t say you cannot hit the long snapper. You cannot line up over him when the snap happens. As long as you do not, and then go against him after the ball is snapped, contact with the long snapper is legal.

— For the most part, I thought the Cards did a good job on Todd Gurley when Gurley ran the football. The problem was, and this is what defenses must deal with against David Johnson, is that Gurley was so dangerous catching the ball. He had 84 yards receiving (compared to 74 rushing).

— Arians noted the young players. Ricky Seals-Jones dropped one, but he had a couple of nice catches and would’ve had a TD on a good throw from Gabbert on one play. Budda Baker continues to be all over the field, getting eight more tackles defensively (and maybe should’ve had a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff, if there had been Sunday Night Football-type cameras.)


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Jim Hart, and Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2017 – 4:27 pm

When you’re talking about long-term quarterbacks, Jim Hart is a good example. Hart was basically the Cardinals’ starting quarterback from 1967 to 1981, work that is getting him inducted into the franchise’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday when the Cards play the Rams.

On either side of that halftime ceremony will be another guy who is trying to get himself in the discussion about being a long-term quarterback. Blaine Gabbert is back for round three – and from the sound of it, all the rest of the rounds this season. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the QB of the future, or what it might mean in terms of the thought process for Carson Palmer, but it’s a solid test drive.

It’s funny, since the Jaguars have arguably the best defense in the league, but it feels like the Rams present Gabbert’s biggest challenge. Given the questions about the running backs and Adrian Peterson’s health, maybe that’s why. The first time the Cards played the Rams in London, the run game was DOA, and that in no small part played into the 33-0 loss. A big reason why the Cardinals did just fine against that good Jacksonville defense was Peterson and the run game.

Perhaps Peterson can play with whatever problems his neck is giving him. Or Kerwynn Williams can deliver a herculean effort. As solidly as Gabbert has played, you don’t want everything offensively on his shoulders.

— If Peterson does play, he needs just 37 yards to surpass all-time great Jim Brown in career rushing yards. (Of course, Peterson, healthy, had just 21 yards rushing on 11 carries in the first Rams meeting.)

— I keep getting questions, but no, I do not think David Johnson is returning this season. He’s not even practicing yet, and he’s not talking like a guy who is expecting to play this season either.

— How far have the Rams come offensively? They scored on 21.8 percent of their possessions last season, according to profootballreference.com. This year, they are at 48.4 percent, second only to the Patriots.

— There will be a lot of work to do this offseason in terms of roster overhaul/building. Perhaps more than most years, depending on certain situations. But I think the Corey Peters extension was important. Of all their free-agents-to-be, there are only going to be a few I think that the Cards want to try and extend. Peters was one of them.

— Health matters. The Rams have started the same five offensive linemen in every game. The Cardinals, of course, have started six different offensive line combinations in 11 games. “Yeah,” Cardinals offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said. “I’m jealous.”

— A focus of the defense Sunday will be Todd Gurley. I know. Duh. But defensive coordinator James Bettcher said the Cardinals focused on the London debacle, when the Rams ran for 197 yards on 40 attempts. The Cards went into that game having not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Gurley gained 106 on 22 attempts. Gurley remains the only player to gain 100 yards rushing against the Cards this year.

— Bring your binoculars to see all the players taking part in My Cause, My Cleats Sunday. Or you can check out this photo gallery.

— LB Chandler Jones was fined $18,231 for his roughing the passer penalty last week on Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. Kareem Martin and Frostee Rucker weren’t fined for their roughing the passer penalties. There was also no fine for Jags LB Myles Jack for his horsecollar tackle on Peterson.

— One big reason for the Cardinals’ current 5-6 record is the fact last week’s win against the Jaguars was the first time all season they were a positive in the turnover column for a game. In the seven games they have been even, their record is 4-3.

— It’s been a while since the Cardinals played the Rams at home with the Rams being the favorite. The Cards would like to mess with their playoff push. See you there.


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London — and Palmer injury — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2017 – 4:11 pm

The story became so much more than just a week in London and what that meant for the Cardinals and why they played poorly in Sunday night’s across-the-pond loss to the Rams. Now it’s about the quarterback positon, the loss of Carson Palmer to a broken arm, and what that means for the future – on a couple of levels.

For Palmer, a player who no one was really sure how many seasons he still wanted to play, it leaves big questions. If he’s out eight weeks like Bruce Arians said, that’s basically the rest of the season. Does he stay on the active roster for that possibility?  A trip to IR is at minimum eight weeks. Maybe that’s what Arians was talking about, but bringing Palmer back would mean the end of bringing both T.J. Logan and David Johnson back, because you can only bring two players total back from injured reserve.

For Palmer, does he try to come back for 2018 for sure, so this isn’t the way it might end? There is so much that is potentially in flux for the Cardinals this offseason, especially given the age of many on the roster, that I doubt it’s a question that can be answered anytime soon.

As for the QBs that remain, Bruce Arians was adamant Drew Stanton would be his starter the rest of the season. Stanton is the backup and Blaine Gabbert the third-stringer for a reason, Arians said. And maybe the Cards have seen all the need to in order to evaluate what Gabbert can do for them. But I had thought Gabbert might get a chance if the season got away in the won-loss column. Perhaps not.

The Cardinals are going into a bye week. There is time to sort it out, but obviously, Sunday couldn’t have gone any worse.

— Stanton’s first start of the season is going to be in San Francisco. That’s where he had his lone start of 2016, when he threw a pair of TD passes to beat the Niners as Palmer missed his only game of last season because of a concussion.

— The Phil Dawson 32-yard field goal miss was his fifth of the season, more than he had all of last year. The footing was not great at Twickenham and the snap was low, but holder Andy Lee looked like he did a nice job getting it in place. It was also rougher when Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein converted all four of his field-goal attempts.

Arians said Dawson is “our guy” and all he can do is tell him to make the next one. But it’s hard to believe Dawson has struggled so much because it goes against everything he has been up until this season.

— Todd Gurley 106 rushing yards, Adrian Peterson 21. Boiling the game down really far, that’s it right there.

— I don’t know what would’ve happened if Palmer hadn’t been hit on his interception. He doesn’t break his arm. He probably doesn’t throw a pick. And the game was only 6-0 at that point. It just got ugly after Palmer left.

— Larry Fitzgerald is usually quiet after bad losses, but he seemed particularly so after this one. Bad loss, loss of QB, that can happen. He’s another guy for whom retirement talk lingers. Now what does he have coming the rest of the year?

“We’re confident Drew can lead us and do the same things that we were able to do in terms of play calling that Carson was able to do,” Fitzgerald said.

— So the London week is over. No one really knows what it meant. The Cardinals lost big and did it have anything to do with being overseas for a week? It’s difficult to imagine the Cards doing any better in Los Angeles if Palmer is getting hurt and the excellent Rams defensive front is plugging any potential Adrian Peterson holes.

In any case, the bye week is here. Before that a long, long plane flight, in which the Cards will have time to ponder what went sideways in England and how exactly they can try and make things better the second half of the season – if they are able.


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Ellington out against Rams, Nkemdiche will play

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2017 – 8:31 am

The Cardinals will have to do some offensive shuffling today in London, because running back Andre Ellington (quad) won’t be able to play. That should increase the role of Kerwynn Williams — D.J. Foster remains on the sideline as inactive. The good news is that defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche is active, so he will finally return from his calf issue.

The weather, while chilly, also looks decent for this game. It is windy, which could impact things, but the moisture should stay away.

The full inactive list:

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— WR Chad Williams

— RB D.J. Foster

— RB Andre Ellington

— C Daniel Munyer

— DL Olsen Pierre

— TE Ricky Seal-Jones


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In London, Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 20, 2017 – 1:16 pm

The week in London is nearing its end. The Cardinals are hoping it means something. The Rams didn’t pull in until early Friday morning from Florida, while the Cards got here Tuesday morning. The players have adjusted for the time, but that doesn’t mean it’d be any easier for Carson Palmer to throw the ball if it turns out to be rainy and windy Sunday night at Twickenham Stadium.

It’s been a work week. Some players have gotten out – there were many who hit the city even Tuesday night, and I’ve just wrapped up a central London tour with rookies Haason Reddick and Rudy Ford, photos and video to come – but it’s been work.

(An interesting sidebar: Before leaving Jacksonville, Rams running back Todd Gurley told ESPN “they need to stop this, all this stuff. This London, this Mexico City stuff, it needs to stop.” He did say the the games are cool and he praised the fans, but it simply messed with the people’s schedule too much.)

Certainly an experience. But as kicker Phil Dawson said Friday, if the Cards play well Sunday, spending a week here makes sense. If the Cards play poorly, everyone will say they were there too long. It is all about results, just like every week.

— The trip to London probably muted what would have been a second straight week of Adrian Peterson buzz, but it’s still floating around. Peterson was blunt when he was asked if he thought those weeks with the Saints might’ve just been the end of his career.

“Oh, no,” Peterson said. “I definitely wasn’t going to let the devil do that to me. No, not at all. I knew things were going to change. I didn’t know when, but I knew. I refused to let that come into my mind. Like, ‘This is not the way it’s going to end. God has way more for me. My latter is going to be better than my beginning.’ That’s what’s in my mind, and this is just the start of it.”

There have been many players over the years who don’t think their career is over but they are the only ones who cannot see it. Turns out Peterson was right. The Cards will benefit from that.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said last week’s offensive performance was what the Cards were looking for all year (and likely what they had envisioned if David Johnson had stayed healthy.)

“We just hadn’t got it,” Goodwin said. “The plays didn’t change, it’s just the attitude changed when Adrian got here. … Even when he got tackled he’s slapping guys in the back of the helmet. He’s setting the tone and that’s spreading throughout the offense.”

— Dawson has played in London before, and he played many seasons in the wind-whipped conditions of Cleveland. “The grass here reminds me a lot of Cleveland, Ohio,” Dawson said. “The wind, the misty rain, the longer grass. Hopefully those years will prove me well, but one thing I’ve learned after all these years is just because you’ve played in conditions one time doesn’t mean you’ll be prepared for the next.”

The weather forecast for Sunday night is the upper 60s and only a small chance of rain.

— Bruce Arians reiterated cornerback Tramon Williams will have a bigger role in multiple packages. He did not say he was starting (although to be fair, he didn’t say he wasn’t either). Whatever happens, we will see how he does and how Justin Bethel reacts.

— I’ve been lucky enough to meet some European Cardinals fans the last few days, and I expect that I’ll meet a few more. Always good to know the team has a following around the world. Those here – and the U.S. fans who have flown in for the game – will see an important matchup Sunday. Being here, it is easy to lose sight of the magnitude of Sunday’s result.

Until then, cheerio.


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The past as future, and Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2017 – 3:03 pm

The past is the past, and each team is different, and I get that. Matthew Stafford isn’t the same guy who was benched the last time the Cardinals visited Detroit in 2015, and that’s not just because he got a new mega-contract. The Cardinals aren’t the same team that floundered disappointingly in 2016.

But the past still can be fun to revisit. The last time the Cards opened up in Detroit was a memorable one for me. That was the day Anquan Boldin burst on the scene with his 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, back in 2003. How about you, Tyrann Mathieu? Do you have a memorable opening game at any point in your life?

“I always think about my rookie season and nobody thought I was going to be able to play, and I go ahead and make that big-time play against St. Louis,” Mathieu said. “That was one of those special moments for me.”

See, that moment, to me, does have some bearing. That Mathieu that burst on the scene in 2013? That Mathieu who dominated in 2015? That’s the guy we’ve been seeing in camp and the preseason. He’s a big reason why there is optimism about this defense. Sometimes, you look backward to see what is coming. With the Badger, that seems fitting as the Cardinals finally get started in the regular season.

— To me, the keys Sunday are fairly simple. Offensively, can you allow Carson Palmer to have time to throw the ball down the field once in a while, protecting against an at-best average pass rush? I know John Brown keeps saying he’s not totally healthy, but I think Smoke is healthy enough to make at least some sort of impact.

— Defensively, it’s that defensive line. If I had to guess, I’d guess Robert Nkemdiche wouldn’t play, but we are still two days away. In the end, with seven defensive linemen, at least one is probably inactive every week anyway, and I just don’t think they’ll risk Nkemdiche coming back too fast when there is confidence in the other guys. That said, they have to hold up. This defense has the pass rushers. They definitely have the playmakers in the secondary. But to get there, you have to lock down the run, something this defense has done well the last couple of years.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, on newcomer Alex Boone – who was a right guard those years in San Francisco when playing with old/new teammate Mike Iupati, and then went to the left side after Iupati came to Arizona: “We all know that’s Mike’s position,” Goodwin said with a chuckle. “Kind of funny, I was talking to Mike, he said, ‘Alex called and he wants to come here but he’s not playing left.’ ”

Reminded me of Evan Boehm insisting he wasn’t going to be displaced on the right side either.

— Goodwin said Boone fits the Cardinals’ style, but “you know I don’t like anybody,” he added. “That’s just my nature. I won’t like anybody until I’m standing on the podium holding a Super Bowl trophy. Then I’ll start liking guys.”

— The Lions have a pair of former Cardinals tight ends. Darren Fells is there as a starter, a guy who will try and get going again after having a disappointing 2016 in Arizona, which is one reason the team let him leave in free agency. The Lions also signed Hakeem Valles to the practice squad this week. Any little edge, right?

— Speaking of tight ends, Goodwin chuckled again when asked if the tight ends would be more involved in the passing game. (In my opinion, I wouldn’t hold your breath.) Goodwin knows Jermaine Gresham got a big contract, and Troy Niklas has looked solid and stayed healthy. But as he as mentioned before, from a long ago warning from Arians in a meeting, “We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) a whole lot of money.”

— Stafford’s numbers since being benched in Week 5 against the Cardinals in 2015: 50 touchdown passes, only 15 interceptions, 67 percent completions and a 99.1 quarterback rating. Also, in what is coincidence, but take it for what it is worth, that 2015 Detroit game was a late kickoff – 4 p.m. locally, 1 p.m. in Arizona. It wasn’t early, like Sunday’s will be.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, like the other coaches, is convinced Justin Bethel has earned that starting job. The reason, among others, is that health allowed him to practice.

“When you are finally healthy, and you get a whole offseason to work your craft, it does wonders how you progress as a player,” Bettcher said.

— Fitzgerald needs 82 yards receiving to become only the fifth player to have 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over a career in season openers. The fabulous four so far? Don Maynard, Andre Reed, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.

— Finally, back to Mathieu. One of the things the Cardinals lost last year when the Honey Badger was not Badgeriffic went beyond dynamic play in the secondary. It lost an emotional jet engine, which Mathieu simply couldn’t be when he isn’t playing like he knows he can. That component is back.

“I try to feel out games,” Mathieu said. “Some games I won’t say a word. Other games I’m pretty well vocal. I won’t know until I actually get to game day.”

It’s meaningful. Said Patrick Peterson, “He finds ways to pass his energy to his teammates.”

See you Sunday. The regular season is here.


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