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Blogs

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.

OLbest

 


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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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No Dockett decision yet UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on March 4, 2015 – 4:58 pm

UPDATE: Thursday morning, Dockett signed with the 49ers.

———

It sounded good when it came over Twitter a little after 6 a.m. Arizona time. Adam Schefter reported that Darnell Dockett’s decision on a new team would come at some point today.

It hasn’t happened, at least not yet. #DockettWatch2015 is ongoing. ESPN’s Jim Trotter, who has a good relationship with Dockett, said this afternoon it’s still possible Dockett takes another visit or two. Don’t know if that means the Rams and Seahawks — why wouldn’t he just cover the whole NFC West, right? — or elsewhere. No, I don’t know which way he is leaning, although you’d think if someone had really wowed him with an offer, he’d probably have taken it. It would also seem to me the Cardinals’ offer — reportedly $2.5 million for 2015, plus incentives — would at least be competitive to whatever else he has heard.

Could this stretch into Friday? Saturday? Maybe. You’d think some decision would come down by the start of next week, though, because free agency will start and other players will hit the market. Dockett’s early release leverage will be gone. And usually, teams will start moving on from (most) players if they haven’t gotten an answer. If you need a defensive lineman and are in on Dockett and he hasn’t committed, it’s probably necessary to go to Plan B.

DockwaitUSE


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Rams (and 11-win) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2014 – 2:02 am

Yes, Drew Stanton is hurt, and yes, there is a fear this could be a serious thing – ACL? – to take yet another quarterback away from the Cardinals.

But first, let’s talk about what the Cardinals did Thursday night (the Cards’ first Thursday win since 1948, albeit only with a handful of Thursday opportunities over the years), on a short week. They won on the road without a touchdown for the first time since 1935, and became the first team in the NFL to win without a touchdown since the Ravens did in in Detroit Dec. 16, 2013.

They’ve won 11 games for the first time as a franchise in 39 years. They’ve all but made the playoffs, unless the Eagles and Cowboys conspire for a backbreaking tie (Not gonna happen.) It’s been an amazing run even as the body shots accumulate, and if Bruce Arians doesn’t win another coach of the year award, I’ll be truly surprised.

(If the Cardinals manage to beat the Seahawks a week from Sunday, you might as well engrave his name on it that evening.)

That’s why there were so many laughs and smiles coming off the field Thursday night. This isn’t how you’d draw up a Super Bowl team, not losing all these guys. But the Cards have won in spite of all of it anyway. To paraphrase a former Cardinal great, it’s hard to win in the NFL. (I’m leaving off the expletive at the end.)

— OK, spinning this forward: Is Stanton done? We will see. No one is saying one way or the other, at least not at 1:45 a.m. on this plane ride home. But let’s assume, for the moment, Stanton won’t be available. That means Ryan Lindley, I’d think.

Arians made it clear Logan Thomas isn’t ready yet. And no, Lindley doesn’t have a great track record after his disastrous 2012 rookie stretch – when, like Thomas, he shouldn’t have been playing – but at least he has played. He was gone until Carson Palmer blew out his ACL, a cut so that the prospect of Thomas could be kept, and that’s why he was third-string when he returned. But it always made more sense that, if the Cards had to turn to the backup’s backup, that guy would probably be Lindley.

— As my cohort Kent Somers tweeted, Arians is going to talk about how much confidence he has in Lindley. Because that’s what B.A. does, especially with QBs. If that’s the guy who is playing, he’s going to have Arians’ full support.

— I expect the Cards to sign a third QB, maybe bring back Dennis Dixon. But for those on Twitter tonight (at 1 a.m. Arizona time on a Friday? Don’t you people have to work in a few hours?) asking about who the Cards are going to get, I don’t see any earthly way it’s someone who they plan to play. These are the cards these Cards have been dealt. The top two QBs could be done. You gotta make it work.

— Amazing that Antonio Cromartie thought he ruptured his Achilles five days ago, and not only played Thursday night but did it without looking like he was ever hurt.

— They take a lot of heat, but Arians was right, special teams was excellent. Chandler Catanzaro drilled his field goals. Drew Butler, after a horrible first punt, was great the rest of the night, constantly pinning the Rams deep, with help from his coverage units. (Long snapper Mike Leach with the awesome downing of the ball around the 5.) Six punts were downed inside the 20 out of eight. Ted Ginn broke off a 42-yard punt return. A very nice night for special teams coordinator Amos Jones’ guys.

— Quiet MVP from Thursday: Left tackle Jared Veldheer. Not only led a great night for the offensive line, but jumped on that late Kerwynn Williams fumble that could have changed the game.

— Frostee Rucker caused all kinds of havoc in the backfield. He’s been quietly great the past few games.

— Another guy causing backfield havoc was … cornerback Jerraud Powers? Yep. He was the blitzer a lot of the night. One delayed blitz was timed perfect and he drilled Shaun Hill late in the first half. It caused an incompletion and was a split second from causing a fumble. On the Rams’ last legit drive, his blitz on fourth down and leap allowed him to knock down Hill’s pass.

“I had some guys in my group texts, (former teammate) Antoine Bethea and a couple other guys, saying, ‘Who do you think you are? Dwight Freeney?’ ” Powers said. “I’m like, ‘Nah.’ ”

— So the last three times the Cardinals have played the Rams they have lost Tyrann Mathieu to an ACL tear, Palmer to an ACL tear and now, maybe Stanton has a serious injury? Unreal.

— Williams looked like the real deal again. Didn’t get 100 yards splitting time with Stepfan Taylor, but he averaged five yards on 15 carries and a couple of times was one defender away from breaking a TD run.

— The Cards are (probably) in the playoffs. They have more than a week to prep for the NFC West-deciding home game against Seattle. That will be an event on “Sunday Night Football.” It’d be nice if somehow, Stanton is OK.

“Obviously we’d like a full deck of cards, no pun intended,” Larry Fitzgerald said.

If not, there will probably be a shrug of the collective shoulders. Why should the end-all, be-all NFC West showdown be any different than the rest of the season?

AfterRamsBlog1use


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Are you ready for some football? On a Thursday?

Posted by since1898 on December 11, 2014 – 8:30 am

STL-AWAY-TWITTER

BACK TO #since1898


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Wednesday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 10, 2014 – 2:02 pm

There are variables that play into the fact Drew Stanton has statistics that are noticeably different at home (a 3-0 starting record, plus one come-off-the-bench-to-lead-Cards-to-a-win-after-trailing-Rams, with six touchdowns and only two interceptions) and on the road (a 1-3 record, one TD, three picks). Bruce Arians says the noise is a factor. The teams the Cards have faced on the road are pretty tough, including the two Super Bowl teams from a season ago. Larry Fitzgerald missed two of the road losses.

Regardless of the whys, the point is Stanton has to have a better game Thursday to win in St. Louis. The Rams are playing incredibly well defensively. Yes, the back-to-back shutouts came against the Raiders and Redskins, but that doesn’t mean they are meaningless (perhaps you noticed Derek Carr just threw three TD passes against the 49ers the week after the Rams destroyed him.) Plus, when you have talent playing with confidence, it’s a scary combo.

Arians says he has to call better plays. Maybe that’s something. Stanton said he doesn’t really feel a big difference playing home or away in terms of how he does things.

“I think that it’s one of those things where communication is obviously a premium on the road,” Stanton said. “You have to be able to identify that and do that. I think that at the end of the day, like I said from the get-go, all I’m trying to do is get a win, and whatever that means, at the end of the day, that’s how you’re evaluated. We have to go on the road, and obviously the last two times we’ve gone on the road we didn’t take care of the football and we weren’t good on third downs.

“We have to go do those two things and be more productive in the red zone and come away with touchdowns instead of field goals and hopefully put ourselves in a good position at the end of the game.”

Simple enough. But as Stanton pointed out in terms of the run game – and the same can be applied here – everyone wants to do certain things, in this case, not turn it over and produce in the red zone. It’s executing that’s the key.

— Speaking of confidence, Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers was told the Rams have back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1945. “1945?” Brockers responded. “We’re about to shut out three! When’s the last time we shut out three?”

Wonder if the Cardinals heard that.

— Antonio Cromartie is a game-day decision. He didn’t blow out his Achilles, but it still seems tough to picture him being able to play after just a few days. The Cards need him, but they really need him for the Seattle showdown in 10 days, and you wonder if that could factor in to the equation.

— Speaking of injuries, the Cardinals have everyone listed as probable except for a couple of guys, but they aren’t as healthy as the Rams. Even Jeff Fisher acknowledged such. “You’re going to have to look far and long to find a team that deactivated seven healthy players last weekend like we did,” the Rams coach said. “I know injuries have been tough on Arizona. From that standpoint, we’re in pretty good shape.”

— The Cardinals haven’t won 11 games since moving to Arizona. So a win is a big accomplishment beyond its playoff implications.

— Considering both these teams got off to terrible starts this season in terms of accumulating sacks, they have both rallied big-time. The Rams have 34 sacks in their past eight games; The Cardinals have 23 in their past five.

— The trip to St. Louis used to be the one road game the Cardinals could ring up as a win. At one point after the Cards joined the NFC West, the Cards won seven of nine in St. Louis. But the Rams have won two straight there – one in 2012 when the Cards played their on Thursday night when it was impossible to protect Kevin Kolb, and then last year when the Cards blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead.

— It’s telling that Darren Fells, emerging blocker at tight end, got by far the most tight end snaps last week. I don’t know if it will remain lopsided, but I’m guessing Fells is going to be an important cog going forward.

— These teams are a lot different than they were just four weeks ago when they last played, especially with both starting different quarterbacks. It’s hard to read what that will mean. Plus, it’s a short week. Arians said he isn’t worried about his players being physically ready to handle it. We’ll see if they are mentally ready to go.

Beforeramsbloguse


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Beat the Rams, and the playoffs are all but a lock

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2014 – 9:39 am

The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.

The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.

There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:

Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:

— The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.

(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)

That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)

A win in St. Louis would be a major step.

Playoffclinchbloguse

 


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Rams — and Palmer knee — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2014 – 10:53 pm

I remember, when Calais Campbell got hurt in Denver – at the same time Matt Shaughnessy got hurt – and Campbell said something along the lines that he’d eventually be back, Shaughnessy would eventually be back, Carson Palmer (who still wasn’t back) would eventually be back, and it would all be part of this amazing story of the 2014 Cardinals when they made their playoff run.

The Cards can stop adding hurdles they need to overcome.

Carson Palmer will have an MRI Monday on his left knee. We’ll see what happens, but while you hope for the best, you prepare for the worst, and the worst would be losing Palmer for the season. When your team is 8-1 and talking – legitimately – about a possible playoff run, losing a starting quarterback is vicious.

The positive is that Drew Stanton has played well when he’s had to play. He did it again Sunday. But the last time, it was as a placeholder until Palmer came back. What happens if there is no coming back for Palmer?

Lost in it all was the fact Palmer just signed his contract extension Friday, which obviously is seen in a much different light with an injury. That said, all those wondering if the Cardinals re-signed Palmer too quickly? No. Not in my opinion, not unless you are now predicting serious injuries.

The Cardinals made the right move. They were just hit with bad, bad luck.

— Arians had this to say about Palmer’s new contract: “He’s the leader of our franchise right now and it will stay that way.”

— On a short-term note, it’s too bad Palmer got hurt because it overshadowed the job the defense did against the Rams. I keep going back to the thought the Rams had 40 yards rushing on their first-quarter touchdown drive – and just 70 rushing yards total for the game. The defense simply clamped down, and since the Rams had a rookie QB, St. Louis had no chance.

— Yes, Patrick Peterson has figured it out. That pick-6 was unreal – watch carefully how he tipped it to himself, an amazingly athletic play. “For the first time in a long time I felt 100 percent,” Peterson said. “I just got tired of hearing all the criticism, people not knowing the situation.”

— Calais Campbell was a monster Sunday. As well as Peterson played, Campbell was the best guy on defense.

— Campbell had two sacks of the Cardinals’ six in the game. The Cards had just eight sacks in the first eight games.

— The Rams have not had a very good run defense. So it’s a concern the Cardinals could not run against the Rams. At all. The Cardinals had only 28 yards on the ground, and Andre Ellington got a mere 23 yards on 18 carries. That won’t work for many wins going forward, especially if the Cards have to turn to Stanton.

— Larry Fitzgerald was the backbone of the receiving corps, Yes, Smokey Brown made a beautiful  TD catch, but it was Fitz making multiple crucial catches through the first part of the game, and he’s on a solid path for 1,000 yards now.

— Brown probably shouldn’t have been able to catch that TD. A fantastic individual effort. That kid catches key touchdowns, whether it was the game-winner against the Chargers, 49ers, Eagles and now Rams.

— Michael Floyd got off to a good start this season. But man, he has become MIA. He made a nice catch Sunday for a first down and took a hellacious hit. After that, though, he wasn’t involved.

— Ed Stinson is dinged up, with a groin issue and a toe issue, but he dropped an interception with three minutes left that was right in his hands.

— As I wrap this up, I’m watching Tom Jackson and Cris Carter on ESPN talk about the Cardinals. They are talking about the team under the assumption Palmer is lost and Stanton will be the starter from here on. And both said they can still see this team with the ability to make a playoff run.

It says a lot about this team and the impression it has left nine games into the season.

PalmerThumbUSE


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