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Turnovers and a trip to Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2015 – 9:30 am

It’s Seattle week. More specifically, at Seattle week, a game the Cardinals have been anxious to play for a long time now that Carson Palmer is healthy. It’s interesting that the Cardinals are coming off that four-turnover game in Cleveland, a game in which they won — because the last time they had turned the ball over four times in a road game, they had also won. That game was the 17-10 stunner in Seattle near the end of the 2013 season, the one in which Palmer threw four interceptions yet found Michael Floyd for a touchdown pass late in the game for the clinching points.

The Cardinals are now 2-1 in four-turnover road games under Bruce Arians. The one loss was a 32-20 defeat in San Francisco in 2013, a game that is remembered for a crucial Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cards driving for a go-ahead score — but what might be better remembered for the 18-play, smashmouth TD drive of the 49ers that took up 9:32 and 11 of the plays (including the final eight) were runs up the gut.

The point is that there are always ways to overcome even messy turnover days. The three-turnover games that led to the Cards’ two losses this season weren’t based on the turnovers alone — in both cases, the Cardinals still had chances to win the game late.

But turnovers make the job so much harder. The Cardinals have 14 turnovers total in eight games and 10 turnovers in the aformentioned three games — the win in Cleveland, the losses to the Rams and Steelers. Other than the Packers and Bengals, the Cardinals (while facing a much harder schedule) don’t see a lot of great offenses. None that match up to what the Cards can bring on that side of the ball. But turning it over can change those odds quickly.



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Keim: Losing is not acceptable

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2015 – 8:13 am

The Cardinals lost their first game of the season Sunday, and Monday, General Manager Steve Keim was predictably upset.

“Losing is not acceptable to me,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “I’m not very happy. and that’s the way this organization needs to be run. From the top down, we don’t want to lose. That’s what we should get our fans in a habit of having, a team that is not accustomed to losing here.”

There wasn’t a whole lot of breakdown from Keim, because, as noted, the Cardinals were minus-three in turnovers and 1-of-5 in the red zone and that’s how you lose in the NFL. “It’s pretty simple — football 101,” Keim said. The one positive was that the Cardinals still had a chance to win in the closing minutes even though they played poorly, and even that didn’t sound like it improved Keim’s mood much.

— Keim did say he wasn’t sure he had ever seen an interior defensive lineman dominate a game like Calais Campbell did (11 tackles). Keim said he thought it was “maybe his best game as a pro.” Campbell was excellent. But Keim also emphasized Campbell was the only player he was willing to say had a good game. Everyone else might have had flashes, but also mistakes.

— The offensive line was “average,” Keim said, saying he thought they did a decent job against three- and four-man fronts but had trouble if any more players were brought in and the hot receiver wasn’t found immediately.

— There was “good and bad” from guard Mike Iupati. Iupati definitely had some rust, Keim said. (He also said there was good and bad for almost every individual he was asked about.)

— Keim was disappointed in defenders getting out of their gaps and not being in run lanes, noting specifically Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon (Minter after the game blamed himself for much of it) and bringing up Rashad Johnson’s bad angle taken on one play trying to chase Todd Gurley.

— The good-and-bad applied to QB Carson Palmer too. Keim said rookie David Johnson (again, a good and bad day for him too) was “wide open” on the final fourth-down slant and Palmer just put the ball too high.

— Keim said running back Andre Ellington was close to playing Sunday, and provided he has a good week, Ellington seems to be tracking to be available against the Lions.

— Keim was not asked about this, but I noticed after the game that while he was active, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon did not play Sunday.

— Keim’s final thoughts: “I’m more disappointed for the organization and fanbase. … We’ve just got to bounce back. It’s a long season.”

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After the first loss, Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2015 – 7:25 pm

Now that it’s over, Sunday’s loss for the Cardinals reminded me so much – just from the feeling you’re left with – like a similar loss at University of Phoenix Stadium a few years back. It was the season opener, the Cardinals were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, and they were better than the 49ers team that came into the building that day. But the Cardinals played poorly, they lost 16-10, and it felt like a giant opportunity missed, especially in the division.

Of course, the Cardinals then won 10 their next 14 (even though they lost their next home game too, to Peyton and the Colts) and won the division.

There are differences now, of course. The Seahawks loom as a stout division champion, and there was nothing like that back in 2009 the Cardinals had to fend off. The Rams are going to be a tough out too, because they have a defense that is good. Very good.

But it’s not like the Cardinals drove off the road, or were exposed Sunday. They moved the ball a lot. They just didn’t score touchdowns, which I think, given the first three weeks, is not going to be a long-term problem. They can’t turn the ball over, but that too is something that I don’t think will be a lingering problem.

We’ll see what comes next. It’s an interesting little stretch for the Cards now. A game in Detroit, a week in West Virginia and then a game in Pittsburgh. Then comes the Monday night home game against the Ravens. The Cardinals get the Lions on a short week, because Detroit plays in Seattle tomorrow night. Sunday was not the result Bruce Arians wanted, but it’s what they earned, and you go play the next one.

— Carson Palmer took his share of hits. He was sacked four times, after being sacked only once the first three games. But as for the physical abuse, Palmer shrugged it off.

“It’s an NFC West game,” Palmer said. “That’s the nature of it. It’s a physical game. They are a very physical team, a physical defense. I feel fine, other than obviously what happened.”

— Palmer wasn’t the only one taking some hits. Other than a couple of hard hits during play, wide receiver John Brown was basically bodyslammed on his final catch near the sideline by cornerback Tremaine Johnson. No flag was thrown, although the Cardinals sideline was upset there was not a penalty.

“I as kind of surprised, but that’s part of the game,” Brown said later. “The referees don’t call everything so you just play, do what you’ve got to do.”

— Rams coach Jeff Fisher, on whether his team’s physical play bothered the Cardinals: “We’re going to play hard. I think we can play better, but we’re going to play hard. There was some contact out there, there’s no doubt.”

— It was surprising that the Benny Cunningham fumble-that-wasn’t was blown dead as fast as it was. Watching the replay, it’s hard to believe that from the time Cunningham was first hit to the time the ball popped loose the whistle could sound. Because it was ruled that forward progress had stopped, the play was not reviewable.

— All that said, I didn’t think the officials had a huge factor in this game. That was the turnovers and the red-zone play. To not get a touchdown after first-and-goal from the 1-yard line was a killer. To not ever take the lead at any point was too hard to overcome. It was probably fitting that last drive fizzled out, although it did look like driving for a field goal to win was going to happen – if the Cardinals did anything well Sunday, it was drive into field goal range.

— I thought Calais Campbell played his best game of the year, and he filled up the stat sheet (11 tackles, three tackles for loss, half a QB sack).

— This time, it was the Rams who suffered a crucial injury. Linebacker Alec Ogletree had a team-best 10 tackles and he went out in the third quarter with an ankle injury that needs surgery. It was friendly fire too – a teammate rolled up on his leg during a play. Ogletree is a big part of that deep defense.

— That was only the second time the Cardinals have run for 100 yards in a game under Arians and they have lost. The Cards are now 14-2 in those games.

— Chris Johnson looked good running the ball again. He had 83 yards on 16 carries, 5.2 yards a tote. As for those asking why he wasn’t in the game at the end, David Johnson was in the offensive nickel package (which is what the Cards were in down the stretch) so he was on the field. David Johnson is also the better overall receiver at this point.

— Six of the next eight are on the road. Lots of airplanes in the near-future.


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Confidently, Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2015 – 4:23 pm

Carson Palmer was asked why the Cardinals are so confident right now.

“We are confident because we are good,” the quarterback said. “And we know it.”

It was a matter-of-fact statement. Palmer followed up by saying he didn’t think it was being cocky, or a false confidence. In this case, the Cardinals are simply a good football team. They’ve been building to this point for a couple of years, GM Steve Keim has filled in some of the weak spots, and this is the year to really push.

The Cards are only three games in, but they know that. They are playing the best defense they’ve seen to date on Sunday when the Rams visit, but they know that and are prepared. After Sunday, they have six of their next eight games on the road, so a 4-0 start would be, while not necessary, at least important. They know that too.

— If one of the big storylines for Sunday is how the Cardinals protect Palmer, it doesn’t sound like max protection – keeping everyone in to block save for a couple of receivers down the field – is a legit option.

“It’s not a lot of who we are,” Palmer said. “We get into big personnel groups to run the ball, not to try and fake you out and take shots with one or two receivers. We will take shots with five receivers in the game.”

— This is one of those games that feels like, as long as the Cardinals don’t hurt themselves with bad turnovers or bad blocking, they will be fine. Even last year, when the Rams had a great defense and Palmer was knocked from the game, the Cardinals still won because of defensive pressure and timely offense. Since Bruce Arians arrived, it’s hard to beat the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Mike Iupati is back. He’ll start Sunday, and Arians finally has the offensive line – although it’s funny, it wasn’t the original projected line. Remember, by the time Iupati signed, center Lyle Sendlein had been released. Still, it’ll be good to get the team’s premier free agent on the field, in a game you know the Cards want to run.

— The Cardinals’ five- and six-defensive back packages would seem to come in handy against an offense that struggles to run the ball yet whose passing game seems to rely more of short passes and runs.

— Through three games: Larry Fitzgerald, five touchdowns. St. Louis Rams offense, four touchdowns.

— This is the best three-game start of Fitzgerald’s distinguished career, by the way: 23 catches, 333 yards and those five scores. In all three categories.

— Left tackle Jared Veldheer committed three early penalties last week, including a hold that wiped out a 44-yard bomb to Michael Floyd.

“We can’t have penalties, especially Jared, that’s unlike him,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin admitted. “It’s just refreshing as a coach to be able to yell at him because other times you don’t get opportunities.”

— Anyone worried about punter Drew Butler? (That’s rhetorical, because I hear from plenty of you.) Guess who isn’t: Arians.

“He’s been kicking well,” Arians said. “Had the one bad kick but he’s been doing a good job kicking inside the 20, which is what we want him to do.”

— The lack of Rams’ offense would seem to bode well for the Cards in this regard: Under Arians, the Cardinals are 20-2 when the opponent scores 20 or fewer points.

— Although the Cardinals don’t officially announce sellouts anymore (no need, since the NFL no longer blacks out games locally), this will be 97-for-97 in terms of sellouts of Cardinals games at University of Phoenix Stadium.

— This will be a great test for the Cards’ huge red-zone start. So far, the Cards are 11-for-12 in the red zone, and the only “miss” was a field goal at the end of the first half last week in which the Cards had a first down at the San Francisco 4-yard line.

— The Cardinals will wear their black jerseys Sunday. And it’s their Breast Cancer Awareness game too, so black-and-white with pink accents. In case you need to color coordinate.

See you Sunday.


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No reason for Cards to put up a fight

Posted by Darren Urban on August 19, 2015 – 9:06 am

Bruce Arians mentioned early in training camp he would have liked to have a joint practice with another team in training camp, to break up the monotony and to raise the level of practice that inevitably comes with going against another team rather than teammates. Given how averse Arians is to training camp fights, however, maybe it’s good that the Cardinals never did work that out.

The Rams-Cowboys joint practice donnybrook Tuesday was just the latest in joint practice battles. The Redskins and Texans got into it earlier this month and last training camp, it was the Cowboys and Raiders. The two this month were bad enough that the joint practices were called off and the teams went to practice on separate fields.

It would be interesting to see what Arians would do if his players got into a training camp tussle with another team. He’s made no bones about it happening with his own team — last summer’s Darnell Dockett/Bradley Sowell laps and then a separate abrupt end to practice underscored the head coach’s feelings on the subject. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the coaching tree either. Todd Bowles made the Jets run because of a practice fight recently.)

And while there are plenty that feel there is good that can come out of a camp scrap — ask Ron Wolfley — there is tangible evidence the downside is too great. The Cardinals know about injuries. Back in 2003, guard Leonard Davis broke his hand punching defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. (Amazingly, my story at the time is still floating around on the internet.) That’s never good.

Bruce Arians

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As 2015 begins, a look at … 2016 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2015 – 8:46 am

Yes, training camp starts today (hopefully you can check out our redesigned homepage and our training camp page.) But before we get off and running, how about a quick glance at the Cardinals’ opponents for the 2016 season — which, as you know, the league has determined 14 of the 16 regular-season games already.


— New Orleans Saints
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— New England Patriots
— New York Jets
— NFC East team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (assuming the Rams are still in St. Louis)


— Carolina Panthers
— Atlanta Falcons
— Buffalo Bills
— Miami Dolphins
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (even more important to see if Rams are still in St. Louis)

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Palmer and battling the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on June 12, 2015 – 10:40 am

The health of Carson Palmer is the linchpin to the Cardinals’ 2015 season. No one is disputing that, which is why it’s been so important for Palmer to get back on the field and why his full return in minicamp generated the headlines it did. It also (obviously) would make an impact on the NFC West race. Right after the season, Bruce Arians was asked about battling Seattle going forward.

“I’d like to play them with a first-string quarterback,” Arians said. “We beat them with our first-string quarterback. We didn’t get the chance to play them this year with our first-string quarterback.”

The fact is, the Cardinals hardly got any play from Palmer against their division rivals. Because of the schedule and thanks to the shoulder injury that cut down Palmer’s season early before the knee got him late, Palmer played a little more than three of a possible 24 quarters against the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks. That’s a tough way to maneuver through a difficult division. (The Cardinals ended up going 3-3 in six division games, rallying behind a Drew Stanton TD pass to beat the Rams in the one game Palmer did get to play.)

Palmer plans to change that in 2015, of course. While he only got six starts last season, Palmer was healthy in 2013, not only starting every game but taking every snap. If he can manage that again — or at least come close to it, since taking every single snap doesn’t necessarily have to happen — it’ll give the Cards even footing in the NFC West.

Carson Palmer

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The offensive line best in the West?

Posted by Darren Urban on May 27, 2015 – 3:03 pm

The tweet came from SiriusXM NFL Radio over the weekend, with host and former NFL QB Jim Miller saying that it is the Cardinals with the best offensive line in the NFC West. (His partner, Pat Kirwan, has the Cardinals second behind Seattle.) My first reaction, which I tweeted, was that I couldn’t remember the last time someone held the Cardinals’ offensive line in such high regard. It makes sense, with the Cardinals’ big free-agent purchase the past two offseasons being offensive linemen (Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati) in addition to a No. 1 draft pick (Jonathan Cooper.)

Veldheer was asked about being compared — on both the offensive and defensive line — to the Seahawks, and the tackle was pretty blunt.

“I think they’re both solid lines, but I’d take our guys any day over those guys,” Veldheer said. “That’s part of the fun part, too, getting that rivalry going, wanting to puff your chest out more than the guy across the line from you.”

In terms of the division’s offensive lines, the reality is the bar has dropped some. The Seahawks traded their center Max Unger to get tight end Jimmy Graham, who may help in catching the ball but won’t much as a blocker. The Rams have added defensive linemen aplenty of late but seem to have ignored the need on the offensive line. The 49ers lost one of their better lineman when Iupati came to Arizona. As for the Cardinals, they have upgraded. You can see why someone would consider them the best unit in the division. But as always, it’s difficult to tell much of anything on the offensive line in the offseason. What is done in the offseason isn’t enough of football to be sure the line will translate once the games actually start.

Then again, it’s better to be thought of as the best this time of year than the alternative.



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Todd Gurley comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2015 – 6:26 pm

The Rams pulled a mild surprise with the 10th pick of the draft tonight, taking Georgia running back Todd Gurley — considered by most the top back in the draft and a potential star. If Gurley, who isn’t even 21 years old yet, pans out it’s going to be a tough matchup twice a year for the Cardinals. Then again, the Rams still don’t have much of an offensive line. In the short-term, Gurley is coming off an ACL injury and while he said he is hoping to be ready for training camp, the chances he is at full speed Oct. 4 when the Cardinals host the Rams in Week 4 seems unlikely. Their second 2015 matchup, in St. Louis Dec. 6, could be a different story. The draft hasn’t been chaotic as expected thus far through 12 picks. No trades, Marcus Mariota goes to Ken Whisenhunt’s Titans.

It seems unlikely RB Melvin Gordon lasts until the Cards at 24 now that Gurley is gone. Not with as many teams figuring to consider backs. Not that it matters — I thought all along it was unlikely the Cards went running back in round one anyway. (UPDATE: Gordon to the Chargers at No. 15, who traded up with the 49ers.)

Todd Gurley, Brison Williams

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A rough time for 49ers in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2015 – 1:42 pm

In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)

Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.

Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.

While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.

John Brown, Leon McFadden


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