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.”
Tags: Aaron Donald, Deone Bucannon, Kevin Minter, Rams, Rashad Johnson, Robert Nkemdiche, Robert Quinn, Steve Keim
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“No risk-it, no biscuit.” Bruce Arians loves to repeat the mantra by which he coaches (and lives, but that’s another blog post). Sometimes, that causes some to fret about the chances Arians takes late in games — passes the Cardinals try that fall incomplete and stop the clock, or a shot down the field. But there is tangible proof it works.
Football Outsiders writer Scott Kacsmar tweeted out this amazing fact today: Arians, since 2012 (so including his stint coaching the Colts), is a stunning 31-1 in games where his team held a one-score lead at any point in the fourth quarter and overtime. The one loss came in Arians’ very first game as Cardinals’ coach, when the Cards had an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter in St. Louis but eventually lost, 27-24.
It not only shows the ability of the Cardinals to play the kind of fourth-quarter offense necessary to hold on to wins but also rally (think of both wins in Seattle in 2013 and 2015.) It also underscores that the defense has made big plays to seal wins (Rashad Johnson and the secondary versus the Eagles in 2014, Tony Jefferson versus the Ravens last season come to mind.) Overall, it also shows a good team — good teams know how to win close games. The Cardinals have definitely done that.
Tags: Football Outsiders, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson
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It’s not “Hard Knocks,” and that’s something Bruce Arians insisted upon from the start. That’s why the coach always said he didn’t want to do the HBO training camp series, because of how it showed things like players being cut — a cold way to have someone’s professional life laid bare for the world to see. Michael Bidwill agreed, although both liked some of the things “Hard Knocks” did show, like the human side of players and coaches.
In a very general way, that’s how “All or Nothing,” the story of the 2015 Cardinals, came to be.
There are still a few weeks before the series is available on Amazon. July 1 is that date (if you didn’t already know), when all eight episodes will be there on demand for everyone to see. Want to binge? Go ahead. Want to space them out? Your call. Do you prefer to watch with your kids and have the sometimes harsh words of the NFL bleeped out? There will be both unrated and edited versions.
I have only seen one episode, the seventh that chronicled the win over the Packers in the playoffs. It was, as you can imagine in something put together by NFL Films, pretty epic. The original score — which has a main theme that can be heard during the Brentson Buckner portion of the trailer — is excellent. And even though you know what will happen, to see how the emotions flowed not just for the players but others (like Arians’ wife Chris) is simply riveting television.
A couple other thoughts I had about the series, based on what we saw:
— Buckner, who is a great quote and a colorful figure, sure seems like he is going to be one of the stars.
— It reminds you of who isn’t here anymore. Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson were so important to last year’s team and this will rightfully reflect that and it’s a little weird since they are no longer on the roster.
— Carson Palmer had said that even with the mics and cameras Arians “was still B.A.” all last season and, yes, that was apparent.
— Crazy to think defensive coordinator James Bettcher specifically talked to the team about defending an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary before the game, and yet Rodgers still pulled one off.
I’m looking forward to seeing the whole series. I’m guessing it will live up to the hype.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, All or Nothing, Brentson Buckner, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, James Bettcher, Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson
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Friday’s news that Rashad Johnson was signing with the Titans was not a surprise. The safety had visited them, and it was becoming pretty clear the Cardinals were moving on at the position. Johnson confirmed as much when he said the Cardinals did not extend him an offer to stay. It’s a harsh business, the NFL, and this was one of those cases. Johnson was one of the few players left who dated back to the Kurt Warner era (Johnson was a rookie on the 2009 team during Warner’s final season). His stint echoed his college career, in which Johnson started as a walk-on at Alabama and finished a starter and team captain.
In Arizona, he was an unheralded third-round draft pick who took a while to find regular playing time. He re-signed the last time his contract was to expire before he hit free agency, and eventually became a key cog in the secondary. But he was more than that. Johnson was a leader on the entire defense, a coach on the field (the man will be coaching someday when his career is over. He once told me high school coaching appealed more than anything to him, but would I be surprised if he ended up in the NFL? Nope.)
Steve Keim has shown how he will move on from older players no matter what they have meant to the franchise. The Cards cut Lyle Sendlein last year (although Sendlein ended up coming back for one more year — I don’t expect him to return in 2016) and Keim even released good friend Adrian Wilson at one point. Johnson is still playing, of course, but it reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald’s line a couple weeks ago how, in this game, you are usually retired instead of retiring.
As has been the case with long-term guys around here, though, I’ll just remember the man. The Cardinals have plenty of good guys in the locker room, guys that are easy to go to when you need some comments in my line of work. But there was no one better than Johnson, who could talk with perspective on any subject (the whole 2015 secondary was pretty good at that, actually) and saw the big picture. As usual, he seemed to understand what was happening as the season was over and what the future was, that a full career in Arizona was probably not going to happen. This is, most of the time, how it works. Even in a different uniform, though, he’s a guy you root for.
Tags: Rashad Johnson, Titans
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Nothing official yet, but multiple reports have veteran safety Tyvon Branch agreeing with the Cardinals on a two-year contract. Branch, who was in Kansas City one year after seven years in Oakland, is 6-foot, 210 pounds and also ran a 4.26 40-yard dash when he first came into the league. GM Steve Keim had said he wanted to add speed in the secondary.
In 16 games – one start – for the Chiefs last season, Branch had 43 tackles, a sack and an interception. Branch, 29, was a long-time starter with the Raiders, but played in just five games his final two seasons in Oakland because of injuries.
The safety position is one in flux for the Cardinals right now. Rashad Johnson is a free agent, and his spot is the one most likely taken by Branch as free agency gets underway. Tony Jefferson is a restricted free agent who could still sign an offer sheet elsewhere — the Cardinals have the right to match any offer — and Wednesday was the first day Jefferson was able to discuss options with other teams.
Tags: Chiefs, Raiders, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyvon Branch
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Tony Jefferson likes his video games, and he likes his Madden. He has long paid attention to the rating the EA product has given Jefferson in its game — his Twitter bio actually reads, in full, “Just trying to raise my Overall rating on Madden”.
So after his solid 2015 season, the folks at Madden did just that, jumping Jefferson nine points in his overall rating to an 86 (Tyrann Mathieu jumped 11 points to a 94 and Rashad Johnson went up six, to an 83.) “It’s all I’ve ever wanted,” Jefferson tweeted — although he did note he still wants to get into the 90s on the 100-point scale. (He also tweeted how he was a 67 when he originally came into the league. As I’ve said, he has paid attention.)
Now, is it really all Jefferson has ever wanted? The man is a restricted free agent-to-be. He’ll be back with the Cardinals in 2016 almost certainly. The question will be if the Cardinals just tender him an offer (it would have to be at least at a second-round level, since Jefferson was originally undrafted, meaning in theory Jefferson could be tendered, sign elsewhere, and that team would owe the Cardinals a second-round pick) or if they sign him to a longer deal. With Johnson an unrestricted free agent, the Cards may buy time with the one-year tender and go from there.
In the meantime, Jefferson will undoubtedly be working on a big 2016, both because he could be an unrestricted free agent after the season and, of course, because he wants to be in the 90s.
Tags: free agency, Madden, Rashad Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Larry Fitzgerald fought back tears.
The wide receiver has now played 12 NFL seasons. He doesn’t know exactly how many he has left – he has one year remaining on his contract – and at age 32, the end is much closer than the beginning. He also knows the NFL reality that coming as close as the Cardinals did to the Super Bowl, with the best team he’s ever been on, doesn’t necessarily happen more than once.
That’s why the pain was apparent on his face after Sunday night’s blowout loss in Carolina, a game that, frankly, the Cardinals never really were in. If the Cards had lost in a shootout, or a close game, Fitzgerald said, perhaps he could have dealt with it better, knowing the Cardinals at least made it a battle.
Instead, “we just didn’t have it today,” Fitzgerald said quietly. “And that really stings.”
Things will change. They always do in the offseason. Free agents will leave. New players will be signed and drafted. You hope that comes together. You hope that you can stay relatively injury-free, which the Cards – for the most part – were able to do this season. You hope that as a team you can build again, as the Cardinals have in each Arians’ season. Win totals have gone up and the postseason ladder has been climbed one rung at a time.
You hope. But as Fitz’s emotions explained, nothing is promised.
“The emotions are still so raw for me. So raw,” Fitzgerald said, when asked to assess 2015 as a whole. “In a couple days I might be able to have a little bit better answer for you. It really hurts.”
“Obviously,” Fitzgerald added, “I didn’t want it to end this way.”
— Carson Palmer stood up and answered the painful questions after the game. He took responsibility. He said “I” often and while there was plenty of things weren’t great on the rest of the team – the defense did not have its best game either – Palmer had to play well for the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl. He did not play well. He did not come close.
— While the Cardinals and Keim will continue to look for their quarterback of the future, Palmer is going to be the quarterback in 2016. He should be. He did not play well in the postseason but he was a deserving MVP candidate this year.
— Running back David Johnson was excellent, but it’s too bad the Cards got so far behind. He has definitely shown his future as the lead running back.
— The secondary as a whole was not good. Some of that was because of a lack of pressure on Cam Newton, but there were other mistakes. Justin Bethel was not the only player to get caught, but even Bruce Arians noted Bethel by name as someone who had a tough night. Arians added Bethel will get better. The Cardinals need him to.
— Among the free-agents-to-be are cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson. Both emphasized how much they want to return. But we will see how that plays out. I expect the Cardinals to try and get a Tyrann Mathieu extension done at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cornerback taken in the draft.
— The Cardinals will pick 29th in the NFL draft. There will be only 31 first-round selections after the Patriots surrendered theirs during Deflategate.
— There are a lot of other things to talk about heading into the offseason. But with the Cardinals done, there is time to get to all of that.
Tags: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, draft, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, NFC Championship, Panthers, Rashad Johnson, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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The inactive list looks like it has the last few weeks, so it certainly seems like Bruce Arians will follow through with his comment that the Cardinals are playing this straight today. S Rashad Johnson and WR Michael Floyd are indeed active. In fact, every player who was questionable for the Cards Friday is active today.
The full inactive list:
— QB Matt Barkley
— CB Corey White
— LB Markus Golden (knee)
— LB Shaq Riddick
— T D.J. Humphries
— NT Xavier Williams
— DT Josh Mauro (calf)
The Seahawks are without starters T Russell Okung, G J.R. Sweezy, RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Luke Willson and S Kam Chancellor.
The bigger pre-game news was that the Cardinals watched former teammate Ryan Lindley throw a TD for the Colts:
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) January 3, 2016
Tags: inactives, Michael Floyd, Rashad Johnson, Seahawks
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Safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) will be inactive today, meaning the Cardinals’ secondary will be without two key members after Tyrann Mathieu was put on IR last week. The Cards are deep in the secondary, but those are two valuable pieces to be without. Running back Andre Ellington will play today for the first time since the game in San Francisco last month.
The full inactives list:
— QB Matt Barkley
— CB Corey White
— LB Shaq Riddick
— S Rashad Johnson (ankle)
— T D.J. Humphries
— NT Xavier Williams
— DT Josh Mauro (calf)
Tags: Andre Ellington, inactives, Packers, Rashad Johnson
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It is unquestionably a harsh reality the Cardinals and Tyrann Mathieu were officially handed Monday, with the news Mathieu had torn his ACL and was done for the year. Mathieu has had a fantastic season. They will miss him on the field. But what struck me is how personal this is, for Bruce Arians and players. This cuts them, because Mathieu is such a great person. This is ground that has been covered many times, but it makes sense why people want to root for this guy. He has a charisma that few have. He is genuine. Add in the fact he can play football, and it resonates. I’m not afraid to say he’s one of my favorite guys to cover in my 16 years around this team.
This is why the news is extra painful.
“Luckily we have the next couple of days off to let this emotionally sink in,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “Not so much not having our guy to play in the playoffs, but our hearts go out to him because of everything he’s been through and how hard he has worked to get back to this point and having the season he’s having.”
As for on the field, the Cardinals have to find a way to make due defensively without Mathieu. You can’t replace the playmaking ability. That’s innate. You do have — assuming no more serious injuries — depth, however. Johnson should be back from his ankle injury. Jerraud Powers plays more slot. Justin Bethel gets on the field. And new safety D.J. Swearinger plays more with Tony Jefferson.
Also part of the equation: This happens. Take a look around the top teams. Almost all have lost at least one significant player, if not for the season, for an extended period of time.
— Seahawks: TE Jimmy Graham, RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Thomas Rawls
— Panthers: WR Kelvin Benjamin
— Steelers: RB Le’Veon Bell
— Packers: WR Jordy Nelson
— Bengals: QB Andy Dalton
— Patriots: WR Julian Edelman, every decent running back they had
— Broncos: LT Ryan Clady, QB Peyton Manning (yes, I understand you can quibble with the Peyton pick.)
The point is it’s the living example of that well-worn quote coaches and some players have been saying for years: “The other team isn’t going to feel sorry for us.” The other teams have their own personnel losses. It’s the business.
Tags: Andy Dalton, D.J. Swearinger, Jerraud Powers, Jimmy Graham, Jordy Nelson, Julian Edelman, Justin Bethel, Kelvin Benjamin, Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, Peyton Manning, Rashad Johnson, Ryan Clady, Thomas Rawls, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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