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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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Schedule coming Thursday — finally, a London date

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2017 – 2:43 pm

Many have asked, and now we know for sure — the NFL is releasing the regular-season schedule on Thursday (April 20) at 5 p.m. Arizona time. Here at azcardinals.com we will have it all covered, from the actual dates to a printable schedule to a very cool video (you’ll have to check it out.)

The opponents are, of course, known. Dates are not. So the biggest news for the Cardinals Thursday will be the reveal of their London game against the Rams. It’s long been known the game was either going to be Oct. 22 or 29 but it has yet to be announced for some reason. It will be out there Thursday, so people can make plans to go across the pond if they so choose.

Bruce Arians has already said the Cardinals plan to fly out on a Monday night to London, so I’m expecting the game before London to be at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cards are also expected to get their bye the weekend after London.


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No East Coast trip for Cards before London

Posted by Darren Urban on March 29, 2017 – 12:58 pm

The Cardinals still are making plans with how they are going to handle their travel to London to play the Rams — the date remains TBD — but Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings, Bruce Arians knocked down one possibility: The Cardinals will likely not take one of their East Coast road games (Washington, Philly) and fly from there to London. Instead, the Cardinals will likely play a home game and then leave from Sky Harbor the next day.

“Our plan is to leave from here,” Arians said. “We don’t know. We haven’t gotten it all finalized. But Michael (Bidwill) has made that trip so many times that we feel right now we would probably leave Monday night. When we went to Berlin (with the Chiefs in 1990) quite a few years back, we got off the plane and went right to practice and broke a sweat.

“We’ll get off and do a glorified walkthrough practice, break-a-sweat deal, and then get acclimated to that time, and then go into a normal week.”

The Cardinals, as do most teams returning from a London game, are expected to have a bye the week following the London game.

“The jet lag is a bitch when you get back,” Arians said. “I can’t imagine, even on the East Coast even though it’s a five-hour flight. It’s probably not as bad as going from Miami to Seattle and playing the next week. It’s kind of like that. That’s really hard on your guys. You have to be aware of how tired they are.”

Alas, there is still no date for the London game, which will be either Oct. 22 or Oct. 29. At this point, it is not expected to be announced until the full NFL schedule is released sometime in mid-April.


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Bidwill aids St. Louis high school athletes

Posted by Darren Urban on March 25, 2017 – 10:38 am

The Cardinals haven’t been in St. Louis since 1988, but the team continues to have ties there. So many of the organization’s great players still live in the area, and when the Rams were in St. Louis, the Cardinals would have alumni functions every year when the Cards went to St. Louis for their annual road trip.

Still, it’s good to hear that team president Michael Bidwill and the Cardinals decided to help the St. Louis chapter of the National Football Foundation. (Bidwill had been inducted into the NFF’s Leadership Hall of Fame in January of 2016.)

It would have gone unnoticed if the executive director of the St. Louis group hadn’t talked about it with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Bidwill donated $10,000, helping underwrite an annual banquet that honors the 25 best high school players in St. Louis and gives out scholarships to 11 student-athletes. The Rams had been doing it, but that ended when the Rams moved to Los Angeles.


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Bidwill: Franchising Jones, and London talk

Posted by Darren Urban on February 14, 2017 – 10:30 am

It’s been no secret — Bruce Arians made it pretty clear the day after the season — that the Cardinals are planning on using the franchise tag on linebacker Chandler Jones if necessary. Team president Michael Bidwill reiterated that Tuesday during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

“We’re not going to mess around with that,” Bidwill said. “He’s a great pass rusher, but if we can’t agree to terms that work for us, we’re just going to franchise him. His people know that.”

Some of the other points Bidwill made (aside from a concert moving training camp for a few days):

— On the Cardinals’ own significant free agents: “We’re going to be negotiating with these folks and we already are, and we’re hopeful to get everyone under contract,” Bidwill said. “If we get everybody under contract, that’ll be a huge win for us. If we get most of them, that will be very good for us.”

Bidwill wasn’t specific about the players, but among them are defensive keys, Jones, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson.

— On the London game against the Rams, which will be either Oct. 22 or 29. “We’ve been lobbying for us to get over there,” Bidwill said. “(The league) wanted us to give up a home game, which we will have to do as part of the next bid for the Super Bowl, but we really wanted to be a visiting team. This year we finally got the call.”

Bidwill said the NFL is “overdue” in making the announcement over the specific date, and he will be pushing for that decision so that the team and fans can plan for the trip.

— Wide receiver John Brown should regain his form after battling his sickle cell issues, Bidwill said. “He is very healthy,” Bidwill said. “It looks like they found the issue and we’ll get Smoke back the way we had him.”

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Rolling over cap space for 2017

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2017 – 1:57 pm

Each year, teams have the option (and why they wouldn’t use it boggles the mind) to roll over any unused salary cap space from the current season on to next year’s cap. It is helpful, of course, buying a little more space with which to use the following season. The NFL Players Association released the list of each team’s rollover money for 2017 Wednesday. The Cardinals have slightly more than $4.4 million they are carrying over for 2017, which just means they will tack on $4.4M to whatever the salary cap is this season.

That number has yet to be set (although reports have it going from $155M to between $166M and $170M). Until then, it’s tough to know how much cap space the Cards will have going into the offseason. It’s safe to say the Cardinals won’t have a ton to spend, not with their own free agents they are trying to retain and the raises others are due this coming season.

The $4.4M rollover is the second-largest amount in the NFC West. The Rams have only $305,000 or so, and the Seahawks are at $2.07M. But the 49ers rolled over a massive amount — $38.7M — which will give them a ton of room to play with. (Amazingly, that’s not the most rolled over in the NFL. The Jaguars are rolling over $39.3M, and the Browns are rolling over a whopping $50.1M. Of course, you have to have places to spend that cap space to make it mean anything.)

Figuring out exact cap space is always a tricky thing, although the NFLPA does attempt to release the information when the new league year (and free agency) starts. It’s frequently a moving target, especially in the offseason with the top 51.

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Coaches, interviews and the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2017 – 9:21 am

The Cardinals are basically going to be set up the same next season — OK, we wait for official word on what Larry Fitzgerald is going to do — because after almost all of the vacant head coaching jobs have been filled, Harold Goodwin remains in Arizona. The Cardinals’ offensive coordinator had three head coaching interviews, but those teams all went with other candidates: The Jaguars with Doug Marrone, the Bills with Sean McDermott, and the Rams with Sean McVay.

The move to McVay was an interesting one for the Rams. He’s 30, younger than current Cardinals players Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Frostee Rucker (McVay does turn 31 in a couple of weeks.) He’s an offensive guy, brought in to develop QB Jared Goff and that wretched Rams offense. He did, however, hire one of the best defensive coordinators around in Wade Phillips — a guy McVay can lean on with Phillips a one-time head coach, and certainly a guy who can make the Rams’ impressive defensive talent work. Phillips was excellent in his stint with the Broncos.

In the meantime, the one team without a new coach (and without a GM at this point) is the San Francisco 49ers. Cardinals vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough is scheduled to interview for the GM spot today, although the Niners will have as many as nine GM interviews completed by the time it’s all said and done. The rumor mill has the 49ers eventually hiring Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as coach, although we’ll see how it plays out — the Patriots seem likely to have a few weeks left in their season.

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Rams, and the season, aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 9:15 pm

That sound you heard from the direction of California Sunday night was the Cardinals exhaling. No, David Johnson hasn’t had his MRI yet, but there is optimism that the knee injury he suffered Sunday will cost him only that record of 100 yards from scrimmage in every game and nothing further. If his ligaments are intact – and Bruce Arians seemed to think they were – then he will recover in plenty of time for training camp. And at this point, that’s all that matters.

So in that regard, Sunday’s 44-6 beatdown of the Rams isn’t like the beatdown of the Eagles last season, which won a division but had an ugly hangover because of the Tyrann Mathieu ACL tear. Nobody wants any of that.

Johnson wasn’t moping or looking like disaster had struck after the game, so take that for what it’s worth.

You also take for what it’s worth the pounding of the Rams. Jared Goff is nowhere near ready to play quarterback, and certainly not behind that line he had today or with the receivers he has. Still, the Cardinals held the Rams to a crazy 2.1-yards per play today – that’s nothing – and had a sack party in the backfield.

Momentum doesn’t carry over from one season to the next. I firmly believe that (just as the NFC title loss didn’t carry over.) But confidence can. And this team has a lot of confidence going into the offseason.

Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be figured out in the offseason. But that’s to talk about for the next few months.

— The Cardinals will pick 13th overall in the draft.

— Arians confirmed earlier reports that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is set to have three head coaching interviews in the coming days. ESPN reported those teams as the Bills, Rams and Jaguars. Goodwin joked the other day of getting a couple of calls from CFL teams, but it was always expected that Goodwin would be getting interviews after interviewing with the Buccaneers last offseason.

Obviously, the Rooney Rule makes an impact with Goodwin, an African-American. But you can’t get a job without interviewing, and at some point, someone is going to decide Goodwin is the right man for the job.

— By the way, a major point in Goodwin’s favor – the amount of points the offense generated the last three games with his deep-in-the-depth-chart offensive line. Props to those players, but Goody can coach up an offensive line.

— Carson Palmer was wearing a glove on his left hand after cutting it on Christmas day and getting four stiches. Palmer joked he was saving orphans from a burning building. Whatever the reason, he said it didn’t bother him.

— Safety D.J. Swearinger again made a strong argument for the Cardinals wanting him to stay. A couple of big hits, a couple of nice tackles, a sack, an interception that was lost on a questionable Kevin Minter roughing-the-passer penalty.

— Chandler Catanzaro with a nice finish: 3-for-3 on field goals, 5-for-5 on extra points.

— Justin Bethel told me recently his foot – which has been injured basically since last year and never fully healed after he hurt it again in the offseason and needed surgery – is finally feeling better. So to see him play his best two games as a cornerback the last two weeks, including a 68-yard pick-6, is gratifying. Especially after Arians called him out after the Miami game.

— We’ll finish on this note: The Cardinals finished the season with a plus-56 point-differential. That’s something that usually translates into a playoff berth, not 7-8-1. In the NFC, only Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle are better. (AFC South winner Houston was minus-49!) But that’s how this season went. We move on to 2017.

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Cardinals’ opponents set for 2017

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 2:10 pm

It’s not exactly on par with the news that the Cardinals will play a game in London next season, but the opponents the Cards will play in 2017 is just about set. The only part left is Sunday night’s Packers-Lions game. The Cards will travel to play the loser of that game next season. UPDATE: The Packers beat the Lions, so the Cardinals will go to Detroit.

As always, the schedule is to be announced, although we know the London game will be either Week 7 or 8 (and will be followed by their 2017 bye). The full NFL schedule comes out in mid-April.

HOME

— Dallas Cowboys
— New York Giants
— Jacksonville Jaguars
— Tennessee Titans
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams

AWAY

— Philadelphia Eagles
— Washington Redskins
— Houston Texans
— Indianapolis Colts
— Detroit Lions
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams (in London)


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Ankle sidelines Nkemdiche in finale

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2017 – 12:57 pm

The ankle injury defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche suffered in practice this week will cost the rookie the last game of the year, as he is inactive for the finale against the Rams in Los Angeles. Other than that, a relatively normal inactive list:

— QB Zac Dysert

— WR Marquis Bundy

— CB Brian Dixon

— DT Olsen Pierre

— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)

— DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)

— DT Ed Stinson


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