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Friday before the Rams – and season’s end

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2016 – 3:27 pm

One of the friends and family of Frostee Rucker that will be at the game Sunday in Los Angeles will be his first football coach. Rucker was 6 at the time. He later ended up playing at USC, and so will be back at the Los Angeles Coliseum playing for the first time since college.

“It’s almost like full circle in a sense,” Rucker said.

The season will come to an end as well. Can’t say it’s full circle, since at the beginning expectations were so high and here we are, on the final day of practice and it’s not even January. That certainly wasn’t the plan back in August. The mood was good this week, I’m sure in part because of the win in Seattle. They’d like to finish off with the revenge win against the Rams. “You build your team to win in the division,” coach Bruce Arians said, and, despite all the ups and downs, if the Cardinals win Sunday, they will have gone 4-1-1 in the NFC West.

That’s a record that Arians admitted, had he known before the season, he’d have assumed they would have won the division.

— Here’s another stat (oh, those sometimes misleading stats) that also would’ve made you think they could’ve (would’ve?) won the division: There are only three teams in the NFL ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. The Cardinals (eighth in offense, third in defense) are one of them. The others? Playoff-bound New England and Pittsburgh.

— The Cardinals have not lost an NFC West road game since 2014. They’ve won five straight heading into this one.

— It’s amazing to think the Cardinals will be starting their fifth different right guard Sunday. It’s gone Evan Mathis to Earl Watford to John Wetzel to Earl Watford to Taylor Boggs and now to Evan Boehm.

— For those wondering, I had a chance to ask Carson Palmer about the late slant pass to J.J. Nelson. It indeed was an audible.

— The crazy stat of the week: Running back David Johnson is averaging 10.7 yards per catch (77 receptions). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is averaging 9.6 yards per catch (102 receptions). Yes, Fitz has more catches, but you’d never think a running back would be ahead of a receiver.

— Speaking of Fitzgerald, Arians said he would not lobby the veteran wide receiver to return in 2017. “It’s up to Larry,” Arians said of Fitzgerald playing another year. “I’ve got my fingers crossed. Hopefully he will come back but that’s strictly up to him.”

— Arians does have other business with Fitz, though. On Chandler Catanzaro’s game-winning field goal last week, Fitz celebrated with the coach a bit too hard. The jumping bear hug hurt Arians’ right shoulder, and he admitted Friday it still hurts. What did the MRI show? “Haven’t taken one yet,” Arians said with a chuckle. “I don’t even want to know.”

There could still be a price to pay, though.

“If I can’t play golf this year (in the offseason), I’ll be driving one of those real nice cars,” Arians added with a grin.

— The in-flux offensive line, whatever its shortcomings, has allowed only two sacks total the last two games.

“Proud of them,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “That’s what I told them Wednesday. Just proud of them.”

— Palmer doesn’t like sitting out Wednesday practice but he never really fought it either. The Cardinals put a lot of time and effort into the sports science of workload, hits and repetitions — led by assistant strength coach Anthony Piroli — to judge such things. Palmer’s Wednesday work is part of that science.

“There’s reason for it,” Palmer said. “There’s data behind it. It’s amazing the stuff that they keep track of and the information that you get back from that. It makes sense. I see why they do it, and like I said, they’re paid professionals. That’s their job and that’s their role, and you don’t have a choice but to listen.”

— This Rod Tidwell “Football Life” trailer is pretty good, NFL Network. I’m going to stick with my Tidwell effort, however.

— Congrats to Johnson for being named MVP by the Arizona chapter of the PWFA. Same for Kevin Minter for taking the “Good Guy” award for his dealing with the media. Truth be told, there are a bunch of guys that could win the Good Guy award — Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson, D.J. Humphries, Tyrann Mathieu and A.Q. Shipley immediately come to mind, and that’s not a total list — but the truth is, we have a very good locker room when it comes to this part of the job.

— Another season (almost) done. That’s 17 in the books for me. Where does the time go?

beforeramsblog


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Keim: “It’s OK to take this thing personal”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2016 – 8:28 am

Steve Keim is, admittedly, not happy.

“We have a chance to create sustainable success and I hold myself as accountable as anybody,” the Cardinals General Manager said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “It’s OK to take this thing personal.”

“This” is the Cardinals’ 1-3 start, after Sunday’s loss to the Rams. Keim, like everyone in the building, is trying to figure out how the Cardinals can fix their issues, knowing they play again Thursday in San Francisco and starting quarterback Carson Palmer is unlikely to play after suffering a concussion. The Cardinals had been winning these close games, especially at home, during the Bruce Arians era.

“Those were different teams and this is a different time,” Keim said. “We will find out what we are made of quickly.”

Keim did say — and acknowledged it sounded weird — that he saw a lot of good things against the Rams. There was a good run defense, the Cardinals were the more efficient team in total yards. But the same issues continue to plague the team. Miscommunication in the secondary. Turning the ball over. Missed tackles. Finishing drives. Those things aren’t new, “which is difficult to deal with,” he said.

“There were signs that let me know we have, one, a talented football team, and number two, we have time on our hands,” Keim added. “At the same time, we can’t mess around. We are in a position, as we all know, that it better start changing quickly.”

— Keim called it “embarrassing” the Cardinals had already lost two home games. The Cards went 6-2 at home last season.

— Asked directly if the Cardinals were missing the leadership of former safety Rashad Johnson on the secondary, Keim said no. “I think we have enough leaders back there and have guys that can get people lined up,” Keim said. “It’s a matter of execution.”

— The pass rush was decent, Keim said, but he said he was bothered that when guys did get pressure they didn’t keep their eyes up, allowing Rams QB Case Keenum to move in the pocket or scramble for yards.

— Keim said his interpretation of panicking is doing things out of the ordinary, and he doesn’t see the need to do that at this point. “I think we have good football players that need to play better,” he said, “and guys that need to get their heads straight in terms of preparation off the field. The mental side of it.”

— There was no update on the condition on Palmer. My guess is that there won’t be today, other than he’s going through the concussion protocol. Again, Arians said Palmer was likely to miss Thursday’s game.

— Most of what Keim talked about was overall with the team. Few names were mentioned. He said he thought Deone Bucannon played well, but fellow linebacker Kevin Minter made some mistakes. He said he thought overall, the offensive line held up. The Rams definitely beat them a few times, but with talents like Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, that was going to happen.

— Keim said rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was still not 100 percent on his bad ankle, one of the reasons he remained inactive. But Keim also said Nkemdiche needs to “continue to grow” off the field, including studying the playbook.

— Keim said he thinks Arians will be meeting with the captains and leaders, and he would guess there will be meetings among the players themselves. “There was definitely anger in the locker room after the game,” Keim said. “In a good way.”


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Rams (and Palmer) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 7:20 pm

These visits by the Rams.

Two years ago, Carson Palmer was left with a torn ACL. Last year, the Rams delivered a painful loss at the time. Sunday, it was both — a painful loss (one that, given the circumstances is more hurtful than last year’s) and a Palmer injury. The Palmer injury hopefully isn’t nearly as bad, although his concussion very well could keep him out in Thursday’s game at San Francisco. The Cards need their quarterback, although the hole in 2016 got much deeper in a six-minute period Sunday. Drew Stanton awaits his chance to start for the first time since late in 2014.

Bruce Arians was definitely trying to stay positive postgame. For those looking for fire and brimstone, it’s not coming. Not publicly. Not right now. Arians clearly sees a steady message as important to his team.

“Stick together,” is what Arians told all the players, one-by-one, postgame. The players are going to try and do that — “There is nobody in here saying the season is over,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said — but a win soon is crucial to help the message take full root.

— We’ll see how Palmer goes through concussion protocol. If he’s iffy at all, you’d think the Cardinals will have to put practice squad QB Zac Dysert on the active roster.

— The Cardinals did a great job on Todd Gurley running. Unfortunately, he got loose a couple of times as a receiver, including gaining 8 on a third-and-8 on the Rams’ game-winning TD drive. A stop there, and a field goal, and the Cards might’ve been just fine.

— It can be traced to Justin Bethel getting poked and going down early on the play, but again, a special teams play — this time the Tavon Austin return — hurts the Cards bad.

— It was good to see Smokey Brown break out as a receiver. Funny, but even after playing little in the first half, Michael Floyd still ended up with seven targets, tied with Fitz for second most to Brown’s 16. Floyd played well after a very slow start. Drew Stanton admittedly tried to force that one into him late, and it cost the Cardinals their one decent chance at a late rally.

— The Rams are lucky. They got two 15-yard penalties on the Cards’ last possession. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have even been in position to heave a Hail Mary.

— Best game Chandler Jones has had with the Cardinals.

— Aaron Donald is a beast.

— Remember how the Cardinals hadn’t turned the ball over at all and were plus-5 after two games? They’ve turned the ball over 10 times the last two games, and despite that early cushion are now, amazingly, a minus-1 in turnovers on the season.

— The Cardinals ran the ball well. Chris Johnson looked good until he hurt his groin. David Johnson looked good but had a costly fumble. Right now, every silver lining seems to bring with it a hefty cloud.

— Short week. Practice Monday, flight to the Bay Area Wednesday, game Thursday night. There’s going to be another NFC West game before you know it — probably with Stanton behind center — and we’ll see how the Cardinals respond.

afterramsblog


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Friday before the (memorable) Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2016 – 3:10 pm

It’s the Cardinals vs. the Rams, a game that in Bruce Arians’ time as the Cards’ coach has often provided some memorable moments over six meetings.

  • In 2013 in St. Louis, Arians’ first game as coach, Tyrann Mathieu had his famous forced fumble from behind, although it wasn’t enough in a Cardinals’ loss;
  • In 2014 at home, Carson Palmer tore his ACL but the Cards, thanks to Drew Stanton and the defense, poured on late TDs to move to 8-1;
  • In 2014 on the road, Stanton suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury, and the defense was brick-wall-esque in a brutal 12-6 win. That’s the game in which Arians talked about a team “always 8-8.”
  • In 2015 at home, Todd Gurley broke out and the Rams managed a big upset over the undefeated Cardinals.

What comes this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium could determine the direction of the season. A 1-3 start is a difficult hole out of which to climb. The Cardinals are 2-2 — especially with a short week and trip to San Francisco coming Thursday — and life is much more settled.

— It will be helpful, to say the least, to have guard Evan Mathis in the lineup against that defensive line.

— I know the Cards knew the Bills were going to run last week and the Bills still killed them on the ground. I know Gurley is good. But I’m betting this defensive performance will look more how the Cardinals dealt with Gurley in St. Louis than that out-of-control 144-yard half in Arizona last year.

— Usually, no one pays attention to the long snapper. That hasn’t been the case with the Cardinals, and newcomer Aaron Brewer — who snapped for the Super Bowl champion Broncos last season — would like for that to change.

“Hopefully everybody forgets who I am and I kind of fall away into the shadows,” Brewer said. “That’d be the best. … That means you do your job well, when no one knows who you are.”

— It’s not ideal when two of the three pieces in the kicking operation changes in one week, but kicker Chandler Catanzaro said he’s already found a comfort level with Brewer and new holder/punter Ryan Quigley. “I understand the business of it, that it is a production business and things have happened,” Catanzaro said. “That’s something I can take on my shoulders and we can fight through it. That’s part of the deal as a specialist.”

— Yes, punter Drew Butler was supposed to hold but his bad calf won’t let that be possible. I don’t know what happens if Quigley impresses. Arians said this week Butler would remain on the roster unless an injury forced a move.

— Roy Green will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday (we will have a story posted Saturday about Green.)

— Much talk this week about Mike Leach coming out of retirement. The former long snapper told the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports he actually went out and practiced snapping at his house with a helmet and pads on, to see if he could still do it. He could — except the way his body felt the next day reminded him why he retired. Few know how much time Leach spent in the training room the past few years getting his body ready to play every week.

— If you missed it, here’s the Cardinals Underground podcast from this week.

Black uniforms Sunday.

— This point was brought up to me by a fan, that the passing game stumbles through the first three games is reminiscent of similar issues Kurt Warner and the Cardinals had through three games in 2009 after big expectations. That year, the Cardinals found their rhythm and won nine of their next 12 games (although the passing game never quite reached 2008 levels.)

This isn’t about streaks right now, though. The Cardinals just want one win, at home, against a team they’ve played generally well against (even in last year’s loss the Cards moved the ball, they just lost the turnover battle and stalled in the red zone.)

— In 2002, the Rams — coming off a tough Super Bowl loss and bringing back basically the same powerful team — ended up starting 0-5. Then-quarterback Kurt Warner has said (and reiterated this week on Arizona Sports 98.7) it was because the Rams were pressing too hard to show how good they were.

Warner said he thinks that is happening to the Cardinals. Arians agreed. Now we’ll see if the Cards can adjust that and fix the direction they are going.

beforeramsblog


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With 2016 here, a look at the 2017 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2016 – 10:51 am

Training camp officially begins tomorrow when the Cardinals get back together at University of Phoenix Stadium to hold their annual run test. The first practice of camp is Friday (keep in mind, because of the CBA-mandated “acclimation” period, the Cardinals won’t be in pads until Sunday, making these next two days a little bit like glorified OTAs.)

We know the Cardinals’ schedule for 2016, of course, which starts in the regular season with a home “Sunday Night Football” game against the Patriots.

But what about 2017, I’m sure you were about to ask? Fear not. Here are the opponents for 2017, home and away:

HOME

— Dallas Cowboys
— New York Giants
— Jacksonville Jaguars
— Tennessee Titans
— NFC South team that finishes in same 2016 divisional place as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams

AWAY

— Philadelphia Eagles
— Washington Redskins
— Houston Texans
— Indianapolis Colts
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional place as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams


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No Norman when Cardinals visit Carolina

Posted by Darren Urban on April 20, 2016 – 3:43 pm

As if the Eagles-Browns trade wasn’t big enough news for the NFL Wednesday, this afternoon the Panthers in a stunning move rescinded the franchise tag from all-pro cornerback Josh Norman. Norman is now free to sign anywhere, and while in theory that includes back with the Panthers, it’s hard to see a scenario where that happens.

Norman had not signed his tender offer — worth nearly $14 million — and was in a position where he and Carolina had until July 15 to sign a long-term deal. Reportedly, Norman, 28, was looking for around $16M a year. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said today it had become clear to him the team and Norman would never reach a long-term contract. Still, it’s odd the team would just let him go. Norman might have threatened to sit out (without signing the tender, he wasn’t obligated to show up, even to training camp) but he wouldn’t be the first, and he just said last month he was willing to play under the tag this season.

How does this impact the Cardinals? Not directly. Norman is a free agent, but the Cards a) only have about $6.5 million of cap space, b) are already paying a cornerback a ton of money (Patrick Peterson)and c) are on deck to pay another secondary member (Tyrann Mathieu) a lot of money. Norman isn’t coming here. But the Cardinals do visit the Panthers in 2016, so no Norman figures to help the Cards’ deep receiving corps.

That doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t see Norman. Both the 49ers and Rams had been trying to sign premier cornerbacks in free agency, and the 49ers especially ($52 million in cap space) would seem to have the resources to give Norman what he wants.

NormanOut


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Draft (i.e. QB) trade changes NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on April 14, 2016 – 8:06 am

The draft was changed significantly Thursday morning, and with it, so was the NFC West. The Rams, now in Los Angeles, completed a huge trade with the Tennessee Titans to acquire the No. 1 overall pick. It will be a quarterback, either Carson Wentz or Jared Goff (the conventional wisdom seems to be Wentz.) The Rams were picking 15th overall, so the price to move up 14 spots was hefty: The Titans get back not only L.A.’s first-round pick but also two second-round picks and a third-rounder this season, as well as the Rams’ 2017 first-round pick (which if the rookie QB struggles, could be pretty high.)

The Titans did add in a fourth- and sixth-rounder in the 2016 draft back to the Rams.

It’s a reverse of what the Rams did in 2012 when they shipped the No. 2 pick to the Redskins so Washington could take QB Robert Griffin III. RGIII flamed out after an excellent rookie year, but the Rams didn’t really benefit much from the trade either — they have yet to make the playoffs since then. Now coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have come to the point where they need to make a push or get pushed out of their jobs, so they pushed all their chips in for a QB. Neither Wentz or Goff have the same kind of buzz around them like a Cam Newton or Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston. Its a risk.

Meanwhile, you figure a No. 1 overall pick would play right away, meaning the Cardinals will be seeing a rookie QB twice this season. The Rams have two very good part in place to help a rookie QB — a running back who looks like he will be great in Todd Gurley, and a very good defense. If the QB pans out, the Rams will be in good shape over the next few years. If not, their roster will take a hit from giving up so many high picks. But like Cardinals GM Steve Keim says often, most of the time the QBs that become the “QB of the future” can only be found at the top of the draft. The Rams made sure they made it to that mountaintop, regardless of the price.

RamsTrade

 


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Cardinals-Packers called best game of 2015

Posted by Darren Urban on April 8, 2016 – 1:16 pm

NFL.com and the NFL Network compiled a ranking of the top 20 games of the 2015 season, and the Cardinals were part of the game picked as the best.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Divisional playoff game between the Cards and Packers earned the top spot, although it took the Cards allowing an emotionally crushing Hail Mary to get there. It was played less than three months ago, so it’s not hard to remember the highlights, like Michael Floyd’s rebound TD catch, the Aaron Rodgers miracle and, of course, Larry being Larry. (I have to admit thought I had forgotten about Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard interception return that would have been legendary itself had it not been called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty). A truly classic game with many twists and a heckuva ending.

The Cardinals actually appear on the top 20 list two other times. Their 24-22 home loss to the Rams, when Todd Gurley broke out for the first time, was No. 20. The Cards’ big win in Seattle, capped by Andre Ellington’s TD run, was picked as No. 12.

PackBlogWin


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Chip Kelly comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 12:14 pm

It certainly hasn’t been quiet in the Cardinals’ division, even with the regular season over. The Cardinals and Seahawks are among the final eight teams in the playoffs. The Rams moved to Los Angeles. And now the 49ers, wanting to make sure no one forgot about them, went out and hired Chip Kelly as their new coach.

It’s an interesting pick. Whether Kelly was their first choice or — as some reports have said — they turned to Kelly after they couldn’t get Hue Jackson (who went to the Browns), it’s a drastic change from Jim Tomsula, that’s for sure. The immediate reaction? That assumed divorce between rehabbing QB Colin Kaepernick and the team might not happen — Kaepernick would seem to be the perfect type of QB for Kelly’s system, to the point many wondered this season if Kap was cut would the then-Eagles coach Kelly snap him up — and also how the relationship will work between Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. But we’ll see how quickly Kelly can get that team changed up after a very rough 2015.

The Cardinals have done fine against Kelly’s Eagles, winning two of three, including the division-clinching rout in Philly this season.

I’ll say this, the NFC West certainly isn’t boring.

Bruce Arians, Chip Kelly

 


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Now, Cardinals will visit L.A.

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2016 – 8:10 am

At least for now, the NFL has settled — finally — what will happen with teams possibly moving to Los Angeles. It was a lot of talk and speculation, especially over the last year or so, but in the end, what went down seemed the most likely scenario from the start. The Rams are leaving St. Louis and going back to Los Angeles, where they once left (in 1994, when Aeneas Williams broke up that pass, pictured below, to Flipper Anderson) to move to St. Louis.

The Rams moved, of course, after the Cardinals left St. Louis to move to Arizona. But that isn’t why this matters now to the Cardinals. This move matters now because it means the Cards now have a different trip every year within the NFC West. Now, instead of a flight to St. Louis, it’s a quick hop to L.A. for one division game a season (if there is a road night game now against the Rams, no more getting home in the really wee hours. So there’s that.)

The other reason it’s important is because the speculation can now stop about whether a team might have to switch conferences (and whether that team might have to be the Cards, which I never really thought anyway.) There was talk that if the two AFC West teams were L.A.-bound (Chargers and Raiders) then one would have to switch to the NFC West and an NFC West team would have to go to the AFC. Now, never mind.

The Chargers and Raiders are in limbo. The Chargers have a year (and maybe two, if you look at the details) to decide if they want to leave San Diego for Los Angeles. The Raiders have to figure out some things. And the Rams are going to have a JerryWorld-type stadium in a few years, which the Cards will get to visit every fall.

It also figures to increase the stakes in the NFC West. Not that Rams ownership didn’t have money to spend before, but with a stadium/complex that will likely cost near $2 billion when it’s all said and done, the Rams are going to push hard to win in a division that has been difficult anyway.

Aeneas Williams

 


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