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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

PressureBlogUSE


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In the last-second, Eagles aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2014 – 8:31 pm

As the clock wound down and Nick Foles was trying to get the Eagles in for a touchdown and the Cardinals were trying to hang on to the lead and the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd was deafening, it was hard not to have a flashback standing on the sideline.

No, Sunday’s game in no way matches the Cards’ NFC championship win. But it was a big win, and it certainly caused a few heart palpitations of its own, given multiple throws into the end zone that ended up very close to game-winning scores. The heady play of Rashad Johnson to shove Jordan Matthews out on the final throw – Nate Poole would like to remind everyone the force-out rule was abandoned long ago – capped a win that frankly, seemed improbable the way it played out.

But the Cardinals weren’t getting too giddy after beating the Eagles. Which is a big reason they’ve gotten to 6-1 in the first place. Sure, they get a Victory Monday, but the focus won’t wane.

“You know what our reward for today’s win is?” Larry Fitzgerald said. “A road trip to Dallas to play against the NFC East-leading team.”

Still, you have to wonder, as the Cowboys prepare to play the Redskins Monday night, if those players noticed that they have to play the NFC West leaders next week. The Cardinals have holes, yes. And they seem to overcome them every single time.

– The defense will not get enough credit for Sunday. They gave up a ton of yards (521). Foles threw for a ton of yards (411 – yeah, that pass defense ranking isn’t helped). But yet again, the scoreboard read only 20 points allowed. They twice forced turnovers as the Eagles smelled their goal line and another time held them out of the end zone to force a field goal – a stand that proved to be the difference in the game.

– They did all of that without Patrick Peterson. That scene, where Peterson was face-down on the turf after the helmet-to-helmet-to-helmet collision he had with Jeremy Maclin via the Deone Bucannon hit, was frightening. Peterson tweeted he was OK after the game, and Bucannon said Peterson was OK – OK in the grand scheme of things – but a scary moment. It’ll be interesting to see if he can be ready for the Cowboys.

– Peterson goes out, and that’s when you are very happy to have an Antonio Cromartie. And a quickly-getting-better Tyrann Mathieu.

– I counted eight deep shots (including the 30-yard pass to Fitz and a 25-yarder to Smokey Brown) Sunday. Palmer connected on three, including Brown’s 75-yarder at the end. There was a flea-flicker to Michael Floyd in the first half that was out of Floyd’s reach, otherwise it too might’ve been a TD. It’s a reason why Palmer completed only 20 of 42 passes.

– But 20 of 42 can be overcome when you generate 329 yards. And when you take no sacks and throw no interceptions. Another amazing day taking care of the things that hurt an offense bad.

– Oh, and to think Palmer had a nerve problem that wasn’t even letting him throw much at all three weeks ago. Could he have made the throw to Smokey Brown two weeks ago, Palmer was asked? “I’ll say yeah,” Palmer deadpanned. “Because you can’t prove me wrong.”

– The Cardinals need better pressure on the quarterback, but Arians felt moving the QB “off his spot” meant something. Unfortunately, Foles is pretty good “off his spot” – like on his 50-yard bomb on the run to Riley Cooper – but they did what they could.

“We’d like to sack him, but if he’s off the spot …. He hurt us off the spot, and we lost containment once or twice, but just to get him off the spot and disrupt the play,” Arians said.

– The Cardinals live and die with the blitz. So do the Eagles. That’s what cost them on the Brown TD.

– Interesting Andre Ellington was the only Cardinal with a rushing attempt in the game. Although 23 carries for 71 yards won’t be the production the Cardinals want or need.

– This one was memorable, for sure.

AftermathHappyUSE


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(A quiet) Friday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2014 – 4:46 pm

Oh, there was still drama Friday that impacted the Cardinals, but for the first time in a couple of weeks, it wasn’t directly related to the Cardinals themselves. Instead, the Seahawks traded (the guy who seemed to be a dangerous) playmaker Percy Harvin to the Jets. That means the Cards never had to play against the guy when he was in Seattle – he was injured for both 2013 meetings, and the Cards have yet to play the Seahawks this season. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about why Harvin was dumped soon – a lot of stuff out there already basically saying Harvin had worn out his welcome – but the Cards aren’t going to be dealing with him.

Otherwise, it was a boring Friday for the Cards as they prepare for their road trip to Oakland. That’s a good thing. No quarterback questions. No wondering about chop block fines. No new injuries. Just a game.

How about that?

– Bruce Arians all but scoffed at the idea of trap games, and the way he and his staff operates, that doesn’t surprise me. There has been zero looking ahead (Philly and Dallas are up next) from what I have heard/can tell. Arians did say the Cards can’t be as listless to start in Oakland as they were against Washington and I totally agree. The lesson hopefully was learned.

– Speaking of listless, the last time the Cardinals went to Oakland for a regular-season game was 2006. It was a disaster. It was a week after the Cardinals had the infamous Monday Night Meltdown and Denny popped off (hey, that eight-year anniversary, by the way, was yesterday!) The Cardinals had fallen to 1-5, but we’re playing the 0-5 Raiders and the I-don’t-give-a-flip version of Randy Moss. The Cards were terrible. Moss actually scored a TD. That was a long time ago.

– Andre Ellington believes the run game is close. He actually said he feels more fresh right now than he probably should, because his foot injury means he doesn’t do as much as practice as he normally would. Ellington has also be careful, as he was going to have to, of getting down on plays once he figures out he’s not going to gain any more yards.

It was noticeable against Washington, and I even heard from a couple of fans wondering why he was going down so easily. In the end, Ellington said, it’s about thinking big picture.

“I don’t have the strength to fight away from tackles,” Ellington said. “I try to do myself justice by getting down and getting ready for the next play.

“(Other people) are not out there taking those hits like I have to. I feel like once I get all I can get, I’m going to go down. I moreso do it on plays when I get a big gain. If it’s third-and-one, I’m going to fight for that yard.”

– Ellington also said the Cardinals would have “some surprises” in the run game Sunday. We’ll see what that means.

– Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker was fined $10,000 for ripping the helmet off quarterback Carson Palmer on that in-the-grasp-probably-should-have-been-a-sack pass completion Palmer made to Robert Hughes. Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson was fined $16,537 for a horsecollar tackle on the sideline made on safety Rashad Johnson after Johnson’s first interception. Neither play drew a flag from the officials (although Dan Williams, Jared Veldheer and Tony Jefferson tried to get in Jackson’s face after the play.)

– Running back Marion Grice got a few first-team reps at running back this week, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said, although Goodwin made it sound it was more exploratory rather a harbinger of anything imminent. Goodwin also reiterated he thinks Grice can perform all the same tasks as Ellington.

– The Cardinals are third in the NFL in run defense, meaning they moved up in the rankings even after losing Calais Campbell and Matt Shaughnessy. Now they face the next-to-last rushing team in the league.

– How about Dan Williams playing some defensive end? The nose tackle likes it. “I’ll take it where I can get it,” Williams said. “It kind of reminded me of college a little bit. I haven’t played that much end since my rookie year.”

– You just get a feeling Patrick Peterson is motivated to have a big game Sunday.

– You know the Raiders buried a football? That’s what interim coach Tony Sparano did with his team, symbolizing the end of the poor play that culminated with coach Dennis Allen’s firing.

“If you keep looking back with that same old mindset like, ‘Oh, yeah man, we can’t do it because this, this and that, we already lost five games,’ well you defeated yourself before you even tried to get on the field and to make something happen,” Raiders defensive end and former Cardinal Antonio Smith said. “I think that was the main thing that Tony was trying to symbolize when burying that ball—burying whoever you were before that day, whatever team we were before that day.”

The Raiders played better last week. But they still lost. The Cards don’t want that changing. Not yet.

FriRaidersUSE


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2014 – 12:15 pm

As we come to the end of June (and the beginning of a little time off), it’s time for my annual pre-vacation pair of posts – the ones in which I take a stab at who will be in the starting lineup on opening day, which in this case will be Monday night against the Chargers. Some picks are obvious. Some are not. We’ll defense today, offense tomorrow. And then we’ll wait to see what training camp brings.

(For the offense, click here.)

DE – Darnell Dockett. There are a lot of questions, given Dockett’s age and 2015 salary, about what his situation will be next season. But this season, Dockett will be right where he always is – in the starting lineup. The Cards do like to rotate on the line. It’s necessary for good defenses to stay effective. And rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson will get some time.

NT – Dan Williams. It’s a big year for Williams, who goes into the last year of his contract. He might have been pushed by Alameda Ta’amu, but Ta’amu is coming off knee surgery. Ta’amu will return early in the season, and the one-two combination will help. It has to start with Williams, though.

DE – Calais Campbell. He’s deserved Pro Bowl consideration the last couple of years, even if he hasn’t gotten it. When the Cardinals’ braintrust say they hope Martin turns into another Campbell, that says something.

ROLB – John Abraham. Abraham turned into a real find last year. He was supposed to be a part-time pass rusher and proved to be much more. He’s ahead of Sam Acho these days, but at some point, Acho (who’s in the last year of his contract) or someone has to step forward to provide a future.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He was going to be a starter as soon as Karlos Dansby left. Now, with Daryl Washington absent, there is a lot on the second-year man.

ILB – Larry Foote. There is a chance Lorenzo Alexander could win this job, but I think Alexander will end up filling multiple depth roles and Foote will get the starts. His signing has proved to be fortuitous given Washington’s situation.  What will be interesting to watch will be where someone like Kenny Demens fits in – with Washington out, there’s an opportunity for someone.

LOLB – Matt Shaughnessy. The Cardinals had the best run defense in the NFL last season in large part because Shaughnessy was so solid. It’s what you’d expect when you have a former defensive end playing outside in the 3-4. The Cardinals are hoping Alex Okafor develops down the road, but his inexperience leaves him a question mark for now.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Forget the criticisms (yes, he needs to get better, like everyone) and forget the chatter of who is the best, which is really meaningless anyway. He’s an anchor, and he’ll be an anchor for a long time.

CB – Antonio Cromartie. He looked healthy in the offseason and that’s a good sign. If he can regain the consistent level of play he’s had in the past, the Cardinals will be in great shape for their coverage.

FS – Rashad Johnson. With Tyrann Mathieu on the mend, Johnson is the natural choice. He’s a vet who won’t make mistakes. Tony Jefferson has been playing strong safety in offseason work, but Jefferson should be in the mix when dime packages are used.

SS – Deone Bucannon. The aforementioned Jefferson was running first unit in the offseason but the Cardinals are going to play their first-round pick if he shows anything in camp. I expect that to happen and Bucannon will get his shot as the season begins.

Tomorrow, we’ll have the offense.

 DefenseWorthBlog


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Voluntary workouts can be rewarding

Posted by Darren Urban on April 25, 2014 – 12:49 pm

The Cardinals have had good turnout at their voluntary work thus far, which is always good to see. I’ve seen almost everyone on the current roster at some point (I keep getting questions about players that aren’t in photos — Patrick Peterson, Ted Ginn and Carson Palmer in particular. I have seen all three. Workouts run at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. after meetings. I’m not taking pictures at 6 and usually I’ve moved on in my day at 12:30, so just because they aren’t in a photo doesn’t mean anything.) It’s important to have guys around, as Darnell Dockett noted yesterday.

“This is voluntary, so when you have guys here, voluntary, and we grade out at 94 percent every day of people coming in, that shows the right direction we’re trying to go in,” he said. “Not showing up with 20 guys, missing 15 here and 30 here, 20 guys late, people missing in the classroom. That’s a bad sign. So right now every day we’re getting out this work, and we’re appreciating it and enjoying it. We’re getting better. Chemistry is not all about coming in talking about football and weights. We’re getting to know each other.”

Kent Somers does a nice job chronicling how Dockett’s mindset has changed after multiple offseasons when he wasn’t here. Part of the change for the Cards — and around the NFL for that matter — has been a proliferation of workout bonuses in contracts. Players get paid for their weekly attendance, but it’s not much really, $175 a day as stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement. If you make the workouts a fruitful part of the paycheck, you tend to motivate. Overthecap.com writes about this. Seven teams in the league have invested at least $2 million of cap space into offseason workout bonuses, including the Cardinals at $2.085 million. The most is the Packers, at $4.325M, and that’s not a surprise knowing that many players probably wouldn’t want to stick around Green Bay in the offseason if they could avoid it.

Nine Cardinals collect six figures just for showing up for whatever the prescribed amount of offseason workouts would be (it’s usually a high percentage of the total days available.) Dockett, DE Calais Campbell, WR Larry Fitzgerald and QB Drew Stanton get $250,000. C Lyle Sendlein and S Rashad Johnson get $150,000. Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy gets $125,000. Linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Daryl Washington get $100,000. And there are eight other players who get money.

Cash doesn’t explain everything. There are a ton of guys on the roster — big-name guys — who have been here and get no extra monetary reward for doing so, including new players like Jared Veldheer, Antonio Cromartie and Ted Ginn. There is a push from those on the roster to make sure teammates are hear for the reason of just making sure the team will be as good as possible. But as always, money plays a role.

WorkoutCash

 


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Rashad Johnson voted Cardinals’ Ed Block Courage Award winner

Posted by since1898 on March 18, 2014 – 9:21 am

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Rashad Johnson enjoys vacation time in Paris

Posted by since1898 on March 10, 2014 – 1:21 pm

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Free-agent targets and their board

Posted by Darren Urban on February 13, 2014 – 12:00 pm

That the Cardinals will likely consider signing a left tackle in free agency would be no surprise. Who the targets might be remain mostly speculation, especially since there is still a chance some of them won’t make it to the open market, whether they are signed to an extension before March 11 or are given the franchise tag. Kansas City’s Branden Albert is the most notable choice (and there was a report out of Kansas City that the Chiefs will let Albert walk). There is also the Ravens’ Eugene Monroe, the Raiders’ Jared Veldheer or the Bengals’ Anthony Collins.

Whatever the Cards decide to do — at tackle or another spot — they will be prepared. That’s what General Manager Steve Keim and his front office group have been doing in the run-up to the Scouting combine, building their free-agent board for a second straight season. Last year, the Cards did the same, and ended up signing seven of the top nine players they had listed (which included one of their own free agents, safety Rashad Johnson.)

That board is more complicated than just listing the top talent on the market. It takes into account positions of need, of course, in addition to estimated salaries of what these players might want, what they should be worth when it comes to metrics, and what the Cards would be willing to offer. It delivers a blueprint so the Cards are prepared when free agency begins.

As the Cardinals proved last season, they have numbers in mind for all their offers. It doesn’t sound like Keim likes to do a ton of negotiating. Last season, for many free agents early in the process, the Cardinals told visiting players their offer could very well be off the table if they left without signing. That proved fruitful. The Cards didn’t sign everyone they went after last season, but that’s where the board helps.

“It will help us move on to the next guy if a guy decides to drag his feet or to not take the deal,” Keim said.

A lot can still change until March 11, because of the Cards’ own free agents that may or may not re-sign. The board, though, will be a crucial part of the process going forward.

FAboardbloguse


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#ThrowbackThursday – Young Rashad Johnson

Posted by since1898 on February 13, 2014 – 9:39 am

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Happy Birthday Rashad Johnson

Posted by since1898 on January 2, 2014 – 12:00 pm

RASHAD B DAY

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