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The hard, hard NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on July 21, 2014 – 10:39 am

Some NFL training camps are underway. The Cardinals get started themselves by the end of the week, with the team’s “Quarterback School” going on in a couple of days. The season is here. Many believe the Cardinals — including those who work at 8701 South Hardy — are going to be competing for a playoff spot again this season. It makes a lot of sense. But the raw reality of the division is also apparent, driven home this morning by Peter King’s initial “Fine Fifteen” ranking in the NFL.

King has the Cardinals 11th in the NFL, not altogether a bad spot (and about where many of these types of things put the Cards). There are 12 playoff teams in the NFL, so conferences aside, there is the thought the Cards belong in the postseason. But it is interesting to note that, if King’s rankings were to hold, the Cardinals would also be the last place team in the NFC West.

He has Seattle No. 1 and San Francisco No. 3, and also as St. Louis as No. 10. In the end, such rankings mean little, because they play the games on the field and not on paper and yada, yada, yada. But it does underscore what everyone talks about when it comes to the “NFC Best.” The division still plays a role in your season, although not as big as it once did — you can in theory go winless in your division and still finish with 10 victories. Last year, the Cardinals lamented their 2-4 division record, especially two close losses to the 49ers they felt were within their grasp.

It makes for an interesting question: Is it better to have your division be the best in football? Or would it be better to harken back to the days of 2008-2010, when the Cards not only were able to see lesser teams around them but in the case of 2010, remain in the hunt for the division title late in the year even though it was a bad year? Carson Palmer votes for the way it is now. “It’s a great challenge the competition within the division,” Palmer told NFL Network. “I think it really kind of hardens you as the season goes on. … It’s a grind getting through this division, but I think with Seattle and San Francisco getting to the championship game, a lot of that has to do with playing within this division. It gives you an edge.”


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Cardinals among top 50 valued sports teams

Posted by Darren Urban on July 16, 2014 – 9:54 am

Forbes came out with another list ranking the (estimated) value of sports teams, in this case, the world’s 50 most valuable franchises. The Cardinals make the list at No. 40, with an estimated worth of $961 million. Only the Raiders and Jaguars don’t make the top 50 list among NFL teams, meaning that even though it is top-heavy with soccer clubs (the top three are soccer, a major nod to the global fan base the sport produces) the list still provides context of how powerful the NFL — which dominates the United States — remains.

The top team is the soccer club Real Madrid, valued at $3.44 billion. The top non-soccer franchise is the New York Yankees, worth $2.5 billion, at No. 4. The top NFL team is at No. 5, with the Dallas Cowboys coming in at $2.3 billion. The Patriots, Redskins and Giants are also in the top 10.

Among NFC West teams, the San Francisco 49ers ($1.224 billion) are 20th, the Seattle Seahawks ($1.081 billion) are 28th, and the St. Louis Rams ($875 million and hoping for a new stadium, which would boost their value) are 45th.


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Salary cap heading into free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on February 26, 2014 – 10:36 am

The news around the salary cap — which will be officially set closer to the start of the new league year/free agency on March 11 — continues to be an adjustment upward of its estimate. Now the possibility is that it is around $132 million, which of course means every team’s projected cap space continues to get bigger. Kevin Seifert has the Cardinals, with that $132M cap, with a projected $15.295 million of cap space. That’s not a bad number, although it ranks in the lower half of the league — 18th, to be exact. A whopping 13 teams are projected to have more than $22M of cap space, and the Raiders ($66.39M), Jaguars ($55.13M), Browns ($51.23M) and Colts ($40.01M) all have more than $40M in cap space.

So there will be the possibility for some big free agent deals.

The Cards are in the same stratosphere, but that’s OK. The Cards don’t want to get sideways with big commitments to players who shouldn’t get them. There is enough room, however, to make some things work. The other plus is that the Cards, right now, have the most cap space in the NFC West. The 49ers are next with $11.84M, then the Rams at $6.32M and then the Seahawks at $4.78M.

This is all fluid, of course, with Seattle able to cut players if they want, for example, or the Cardinals re-signing one of their own guys (Karlos Dansby, anyone?). The Cardinals could still also release a player or two that they know they won’t be moving forward with to create more cap room.

The Dansby situation is one that bears watching, in fact. There is enough cap room across the league that would allow more than a few other teams to money-whip Dansby if they so chose. Again, in the case of Dansby, I don’t see the Cardinals getting into a big bidding war. They will want to reward him, but within reason. Extra space also could play into potential Patrick Peterson negotiations.





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Peyton’s place in the NFC West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 8, 2013 – 8:24 pm

There was so much good. Carson Palmer, taking – basically – the week off and slicing and dicing the Rams regardless. Larry Fitzgerald being a frequent and effective target. John Abraham coming up with three sacks and making GM Steve Keim look like a genius for signing him. Karlos Dansby having yet another fantastic game and making Keim look like an uber-genius.

But it’s hard here on Sunday night to get past the Tyrann Mathieu knee injury. It’s probably a torn ACL. That’s the mood in the locker room and what Bruce Arians said, although the coach put in the caveat that Monday’s further tests are needed to cement such a diagnosis. Usually, if the team is willing to come out and say that’s probably what it is, that’s what it is. The Cardinals are fortunate to have a ton of defensive back depth, and assuming Mathieu is down Rashad Johnson goes back to starting and the Cards have Antoine Cason and/or Javier Arenas to fill in. It’s not ideal. There is a reason Mathieu was starting and playing so much and his versatility really helped this team. But we’ll hear all about next man up, because what else can you do?

– Abraham has 11 sacks. This was a guy unwanted – for his price, I’m sure – by the rest of the league before the Cards picked him up. He went sackless the first six games. Now he’s a menace. And he’s playing all the time. Abraham was thanking the Cards on Twitter for picking him up when no one else believed in him. The Cards need to be thanking him. He’s the first Card with double-digit sacks since Bertrand Berry had 14½ in 2004. Berry made the Pro Bowl. I don’t know if Abraham makes the Pro Bowl, but he deserves some thought.

– Speaking of Pro Bowl, Dansby anyone?

– I mean, what a season. It’s driving him batty he dropped all those picks early in the season, which cost him gaudier stats and probably a touchdown or two. As it is, Dansby now has six sacks, three interceptions and more than 100 tackles. Re-signing him is not going to be an easy process – which, because it’s because Dansby is playing so well, is not a horrible thing for Keim.

– The Cardinals went 8 for 14 on third downs. That was impressive. Easily the best percentage (57) of the season.

– I am probably the only one who cares, but I loved that Abraham was rocking the Vancouver Grizzlies Mike Bibby jersey as his post-game dress today. Not sure he knows Bibby is a Valley product, but Mike Bibby Griz? Priceless.

– Michael Floyd did not look like himself on his gimpy ankle. They got him a couple of late catches, but they need him to be healthy down the stretch.

– Jay Feely misses a 50-yard field goal, barely. OK. But then he missed a 25-yarder and we all know that does not sit well with Bruce Arians.

– They gave left tackle Bradley Sowell help and Palmer was smart about things, but the offensive line deserves credit for holding up the way they did in pass protection. And Arians deserves credit for making sure the coaching staff adjusted from Week One.

– Tight end problems? What tight end problems? Jared Cooks sliced up the Cards last time. Today? Three catches (in six targets) for 49 yards. And 31 of those yards were meaningless on the final play of the first half with the Cards playing prevent.

– The Cardinals got unlucky that tight end Jim Dray fumbled right before the goal line on what should have been Palmer’s second TD pass. They got lucky it was called a TD so a long return was negated – although the Cardinals clearly didn’t chase Janoris Jenkins on the runback having seen a touchdown signaled.

– You can’t say enough about Palmer. That first drive? Impressive. That TD drive right before halftime? More impressive.

– It was good the Cards snapped the NFC West losing streak. But as solid as the Rams can be, they aren’t the Seahawks or 49ers. Those tests still await.


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Mathieu “appears” to have ACL tear

Posted by Darren Urban on December 8, 2013 – 6:52 pm

More on the homepage in a bit, but the Cardinals have apparently lost rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu with a torn ACL suffered in Sunday’s game against the Rams.

“We’ll wait and see,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I think that’s just the early prognosis of the exam we have right now. He’ll go through the MRI and the rest of the tests and we’ll just keep our fingers crossed.”

Mathieu suffered the injury returning a Rams free kick — a punt — following a safety when John Abraham sacked Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens in the end zone. Mathieu tried to jog off the field but eventually fell.

“I appreciate everyone’s prayers,” Mathieu tweeted. “We go through things in life to test our faith & strength.”

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Palmer playing versus Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 8, 2013 – 12:52 pm

The (not unexpected) news: Quarterback Carson Palmer is playing today with his right elbow injury. Again, coach Bruce Arians said Friday that was probably going to happen. Also active, RB Andre Ellington, TE Rob Housler (who suffered a hip injury late in the week) and WR Michael Floyd. All good signs in a must-win for the Cardinals today against the Rams.

The inactive list:

– WR Brittan Golden

– QB Ryan Lindley

– RB Ryan Williams

– G Earl Watford

– LB Dontay Moch

– DE Ronald Talley

– TE Kory Sperry

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Join the conversation – #STLvsAZ

Posted by since1898 on December 8, 2013 – 12:45 pm



BACK TO #since1898

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Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2013 – 3:03 pm

It’s hard to get away from what is the main storyline for Sunday: Is Carson Palmer going to be the quarterback?

Coach Bruce Arians sounded pretty confident Friday talking about it and was in a pretty good mood too after practice. If the key starting QB had been hurt in this way under the old regime, playing or not, you could usually tell on the face of former coach Ken Whisenhunt. But Arians is a true believer in next man up – he was the same way with Andre Ellington’s injury on Thanksgiving – and he does have Drew Stanton, a man to whom Arians was prepared to start before the Palmer trade happened.

And again, Palmer may indeed be playing and the limited work all week comes down to making sure the vet was rested. I did think it was interesting that Arians made it clear that he thought the two interceptions Palmer threw had nothing to do with a sore elbow. And Palmer, who was hurt on his first drop-back in Philly, did throw for 302 yards and three touchdowns after that.

The Cards need Palmer. That’s no slight to Stanton but instead the acknowledgement that for whatever issues Palmer has had with turnovers this season, the offense has clicked a lot more of late and that is necessary going into a crucial game with the Rams Sunday.

– The Cardinals will have Andre Ellington back and that’s a huge deal. Pairing him with an improving Rashard Mendenhall means the Cardinals have a formidable tandem with which to run – meaning that whether you have Palmer and an iffy elbow or Stanton playing QB, the Cards have good options on offense upon which to lean.

– It’s been an eternity since the Cards went to St. Louis to play. “It’s funny to watch them on film,” Palmer said. “It seems so long ago.” What doesn’t seem so long ago was the loss incurred that day – because the eventual 27-24 decision in which the Cardinals led by 11 in the fourth quarter is hurting the team big right now in the playoff chase. The swing that would have happened in the overall, conference and division records would have been momentous.

– Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek scored three touchdowns last week against Arizona, and we know all about tight end issues against the Cards’ defense (remember St. Louis’ Jared Cook in Week One, getting it started?) There’s a give-and-take there, though.

“Going into a ballgame, you try to take away (LeSean) McCoy, try to take away (Desean) Jackson, try to take away (Riley) Cooper, and you try to maintain and limit what the tight ends can do,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “You don’t let the big three beat you. We accomplished that. The tight ends got loose for a couple balls inside the red zone. I think we need to play better red zone coverage. The 24-yard touchdown pass there was some technical issues we need to clean up. But going into the game, (tight end) was probably fourth on the totem pole.”

Said linebacker Daryl Washington on the tight end subject, “I think it’s a small adjustment. I don’t think it’s a major issue.”

– I don’t think there is any question that as good as Cook was the first time around, the Cardinals are going to want to make sure Tavon Austin and Chris Givens don’t break off big plays. So we’ll see how that develops when it comes to Cook.

– Speaking of Washington, remember, he didn’t play the first time these teams met. That would seem to be a major factor in the Cards’ favor.

– No one is going out on a limb here, but Eric Winston vs. Chris Long and Robert Quinn vs. Bradley Sowell matchups are probably the key to the game.

– Speaking of the offensive line, the Cardinals used Bobby Massie for 11 offensive snaps last week in Philly as a jumbo tight end in running packages. I don’t think Massie would ever be thrown a pass — “I’m athletic enough to do anything,” Massie said with a smile – but his presence has helped the running game.

“It’s a good thing getting a chance to play,” Massie said. “It’s better than standing on the sideline watching.”

Until Sunday …

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Wounded Palmer is a game-day decision

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2013 – 12:59 pm

Carson Palmer’s status for Sunday’s game against the Rams is going to come down to a decision on game day, coach Bruce Arians said, and the quarterback — who was limited again Friday — will officially be questionable with his ailing right elbow. Arians expressed confidence Palmer will be able to play.

“He’ll be a game-time,” Arians said. “I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.”

Arians did say he needs to see Palmer throw some Sunday, which is what makes it a game-day choice. Not surprisingly, he emphasized how much faith he has in backup quarterback Drew Stanton should Stanton have to play. “If it comes to that, Drew will do a hell of a job,” Arians said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

Arians said Palmer’s two interceptions in Philadelphia did not have anything to do with the injured elbow. One game because Palmer was being hit as he threw, Arians said, and the other was a poor decision by Palmer where he was throwing the ball. The limited work all week for Palmer in practice would seem to be a setback in preparation, but Arians said it shouldn’t be in part because the Rams have a fairly straightforward defensive philosophy and in part because Palmer has gotten in tune with the offense.

“Sometimes it is good this time of year to give the veteran a couple days off and let the young guy get some reps anyway,” Arians said. “He got every mental rep. I’m sure he will be fine throwing the ball.”

As for Stanton, he has not thrown a regular-season pass since Dec. 19, 2010, when he had his best NFL game playing for the Lions, completing 23 of 37 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. Arians said he isn’t worried about having to turn to a quarterback with such rust, if needed. “He’s prepared,” Arians said. “Having been with him all last year, there was never a doubt … because he does know the offense inside and out.”

–  Arians said running back Andre Ellington (knee) “looked just like himself” and is no longer wearing a knee brace. He also said wide receiver Michael Floyd (ankle) is fine. Both are expected to play.


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