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Free agency looms big — next year

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2015 – 4:21 pm

I have posted my annual roster breakdown, where you can see (right here) where everyone of note on the current roster stands in terms of how long their contract runs — at least right now, before guys are released or extended or otherwise restructured. If you want to see the details of this year’s free-agent concerns, here’s my story on that. But one of the things you notice when you peruse the list of players is just how many guys have their contracts expire after the 2015 season.

By my count, it’s 25 guys, and while that will most certainly change by this time next year — a rookie class will push some of those guys off the roster, for instance — it’s something to watch as General Manager Steve Keim maneuvers through this offseason. Many of these players are up so soon because they were found off the street or as undrafted rookies and had shorter-term contracts. But, at least for now, here are some of the names that are scheduled to be up after 2015:

— DT Darnell Dockett
— QB Drew Stanton
— WR Michael Floyd (who does have a 2016 team option)
— C Lyle Sendlein
— T Bobby Massie
— DE Frostee Rucker
— LB Matt Shaughnessy
— CB Justin Bethel
— CB Jerraud Powers
— S Rashad Johnson
— S Tony Jefferson

Again, I don’t expect all of them to remain on that schedule. The Cardinals will make an attempt to extend some of them. Others could be released as the normal roster overhaul takes place. But this is the way a team clears cap space and doesn’t get into cap problems, like Keim has worked to try and do. It means there are few real long-term deals. And more work every offseason.

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Friday before the Panthers and the Wild Card

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2015 – 11:58 am

Remember the last time the Cardinals went to Carolina for a playoff game? It turned out pretty well for the Cards. They flipped Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme into a turnover-machine – six in all – as the Cards crushed the 12-4 Panthers on their Super Bowl run.

The Cardinals (and the Panthers, for that matter) are way different than that team. Only three Cardinals who were there in the 2008 season will be on the field Saturday: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (who destroyed the Panthers that night), center Lyle Sendlein and defensive end Calais Campbell, who was just a rookie.

That game didn’t start well but we knew from playing them earlier in the season we could beat them,” Campbell said this week, choosing “resilience” as the one word to describe that game.

Campbell’s current team is looking for that resilience. The Cardinals are the underdog for their playoff game – as usual, coach Bruce Arians said – but even with a two-game losing streak, they carry with them a confidence they will be fine. Everyone has the same record at this point is the message coming from the team’s locker room. It’s a fresh start.

The Cards were the underdog once upon a time too. “I remember at halftime, Kurt Warner saying, ‘We’ve got them down, we’ve just got to finish them,’ ” Campbell said of that night in January, 2009. “He didn’t talk big too often, so when he said ‘Finish them,’ we all got focused.”

We’ll see where the Cardinals’ focus is Saturday.

— Campbell was named second-team all-pro Friday, underscoring a big season in which Campbell also was named to his first Pro Bowl. Campbell got 11 votes at defensive end, trailing only Houston’s J.J. Watt (unanimous 50 votes) and Buffalo’s Mario Williams (24). (Campbell also got a vote at defensive tackle for some reason.)

Four Cardinals got a single AP vote at their respective positions: tackle Jared Veldheer, linebacker Larry Foote, kicker Chandler Catanzaro and safety Rashad Johnson.

— There isn’t much more to be analyzed about quarterback Ryan Lindley. He can’t turn the ball over, and while he shouldn’t have to throw for 260 yards in a half for the Cardinals to win, he will have to make some plays. In a lot of ways, this game feels like it will come down to the quarterbacks – The Cards need Lindley to hold up, and they need to hold down Cam Newton.

— There was a players-only meeting Monday after the 49ers game. “I think a lot of good things we said in there,” Arians said during his appearance on the “Bickley and Marotta” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, and it was probably some important things. When you are having issues communicating – which especially has happened on defense a few times – and there is a need to refocus on the tackling, such a meeting can help. If nothing else, it was a chance for guys to clear the air and make sure the most important message was heard: It’s not easy to get to the playoffs or win in them. Don’t squander the opportunity with self-inflicted mistakes.

— Arians said he doesn’t want the defense to feel it has to do extra just because Lindley is at quarterback. Interestingly, that’s the opposite of what former Buccaneers coach-turned-ESPN-analyst Jon Gruden said he did once upon a time.

“The year we won the Super Bowl (in the 2002 season), we had to beat Chicago in Week 16 with our backup quarterback, and we had never won a game in below‑freezing temperature,” Gruden said. “So what I did is I went down to Warren Sapp’s locker and Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and said we’ve got to play some defense tonight.

“That’s what Bruce Arians has to do. You’ve got to go get Calais Campbell, you’ve go get your star players on defense, hopefully Larry Foote is ready to go, get Patrick Peterson and Cromartie and say, ‘Let’s pick it up, let’s play the game of the year on the road.’ Go down to Ted Ginn and say ‘Return a punt just like you did against the Giants.’ Let’s get after them in the kicking game, as well. Let’s run the ball.  Let’s not be afraid to punt the football, and let’s take our shots here and there when we strategically get the one‑on‑one isolations that we want. Don’t turn it over, play great defense, and find a way to win.”

— The chance for rain on game day has shrunk to 50 percent. It’s also warmer in Charlotte than it is in Phoenix.

— The Panthers did finish on a four-game win streak, but they played four sub-.500 teams – the Saints, Bucs, Browns and Falcons. Something to consider.

— Getting Larry Foote back at inside linebacker is more important than most realize, I think.

— The Cards, if they win, won’t know where they are playing until Sunday. A Cowboys win Sunday and the Cardinals would travel to Seattle. A Lions win, and the Cards would travel to Green Bay.

Of course, they’ve got to win first.

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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2014 – 12:37 am

Ryan Lindley walked toward the door in the locker room that takes people into the postgame interview room, and as is often the case, media members allowed Lindley to go in first. Lindley went through the door – and then held it open as reporters streamed through. It was an odd sight, especially for a quarterback who just went through a rough baptism on national television.

Unfortunately, Lindley did not look much better at quarterback than he had in some of his 2012 appearances. The Cardinals will flush the result of Sunday easily enough. There was talk about the 24-hour rule and they will start prepping for the 49ers. The question will be, who will be quarterback? Is there any way Drew Stanton can be ready by next Sunday? More importantly, is that a risk you want to take at this point, knowing how much you need him in the postseason?

Lindley talked about watching the video and correcting what was wrong, and he definitely needs more of a run game to help him, but it is hard to see how he played out there against the Seahawks translating into a ton of postseason success if he needs to play. Then again, no one with the Cardinals is naïve. You lose Carson Palmer, it hurts. You lose Drew Stanton, and you go to a third-string QB, and it’s going to be really hard to win. That would be true for any team in the league. The Cardinals are not immune, even in this season where they have been able to overcome so much else.

As for everything else, this one is going to be short and sweet. It’s late, and there isn’t much to pull from the still smoldering wreckage of Sunday night.

— Russell Wilson isn’t always great – the Cardinals made him look very human in Seattle last season – but man was he unreal Sunday night. The Cards’ defense did not play well. But Wilson made more than a few plays that just said “NFL star.” And that it’s going to be tough to deal with him for a lot of years going forward.

— The Cards had seven sacks in Seattle. Sunday night, just one – and on the very next play, Wilson completed a 39-yard pass.

— Not being able to convert that first drive into a touchdown changed some things, in my opinion. The Cards start at the Seattle 6-yard line, run a couple of times, and OK, have a third-and-goal at the 4. But then guard Ted Larsen has a false start and that’s a killer. Still, it looked like Lindley had Larry Fitzgerald open on third down and in front of Richard Sherman, and Lindley didn’t see him, instead trying to get a pass to John Brown that was nearly intercepted. Those are the chances you can’t miss on.

— Linebacker Larry Foote said he was the one who “blew the assignment” on the first Luke Willson 80-yard touchdown pass – the one where safety Rashad Johnson was trying to chase Willson down from behind.

— I don’t have a problem not putting Logan Thomas in. I get the swell of “he can’t be any worse than Lindley” but he probably isn’t any better either, and unless Bruce Arians sees an upside, I’m not messing with a rookie’s psyche. Not when you have hopes for him down the road.

— Arians talked about guys giving Lindley more help. That’s not about poor effort or even that Lindley played well and was let down. But when you are rolling with a third-string quarterback, you have to have exceptional play around him, especially against a team like the Seahawks.

— The Seahawks are playing some pretty unreal football right now. That’s part of this too.

That’s all. I’ve got to get some sleep before getting back into the office in what will be too few hours from now.

Seablowafteruse


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Pro Bowl, Rashad Johnson and some Friday notes

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2014 – 3:26 pm

Do the Cardinals have a Pro Bowl player?

I’m not saying the Cardinals don’t have any players talented enough to make it. But usually, in seasons where your team is 11-3, there are at least a couple of locks. You would be hard-pressed to come up with any locks for the Cardinals. Offensively, the production hasn’t been consistent enough to see anyone getting a major push. Defensively, there are possibilities, but it’ll be interesting to see how many can find a way in, at least before guys start dropping out.

In the latest Pro Bowl voting numbers this week, it was interesting to see that safety Rashad Johnson — who I do agree has had a very good season for this team — has found his way into the top 10 among safeties. Johnson is eighth, and judging by those who keep tweeting that they want him to get even more votes, maybe Johnson can climb the ladder.

In fact, it’s only the secondary that is represented for the Cardinals right now, at least among the top 10 vote-getters at their positions. Patrick Peterson is eighth and Antonio Cromartie 10th among cornerbacks, while cornerback Justin Bethel is ninth among special teamers.

If you want to vote for the Pro Bowl, click here.

Now for some housekeeping items as the week comes to a close and the Cards get a mini-bye:

— Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali was fined $16,357 for hitting Cardinals QB Drew Stanton low in last week’s game. You remember the play, the one where it looked then for a split-second Stanton was lost for a long time. There have been a couple of those. Cardinals defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was fined the same amount for roughing Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman, who decked wide receiver Smokey Brown by what looked like it might have been a possible helmet-to-helmet, was not fined. He wasn’t flagged for that play either.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t backing down from his comment after Thursday’s game, when he said “I love it when nobody says you’re going to have a chance to win. There’s an 11-3 team and a team that is always 8-8. You figure it out.” Many took it as a shot to the Rams — and obviously, it wasn’t a compliment — but I took it more as a jab against the media picking against the Cardinals in the game rather than the Rams themselves.

Not that it really matters. Asked why he made such a comment, Arians responded simply, “I just tried to state the facts.”

Cory Harkey, Rashad Johnson


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Friday before the Chiefs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2014 – 3:48 pm

It’s been a while since the Chiefs have come to Arizona. The last visit was in 2006, in the first season of University of Phoenix Stadium. It, like this Sunday’s visit, comes a week after the Cardinals made a trip to Atlanta and lost. Back then, the Chiefs’ game was the first NFL start of a first-round draft pick – quarterback Matt Leinart. This week it’s the first NFL start of first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper.

It’s an interesting parallel even if it doesn’t relate directly to Sunday’s game. Leinart actually played well that day with a couple of touchdown passes (even though Larry Fitzgerald left with a hamstring injury that would ultimately keep him out three games, the longest down-time of his career) and should have had a third if Bryant Johnson didn’t let a throw go right between his arms.

But that was then, this is now. Game-day decision Fitzgerald should play against the Chiefs after missing the last two games – keeping that three-game stretch back in 2006 as his career-high (or low?). And Cooper’s play, while important, won’t be as important as the play of quarterback Drew Stanton, who needs to bounce back. The QB is in the crosshairs, especially with the Cardinals without running back Andre Ellington and his problem hip.

— If the Cardinals win, they remain the NFC’s top team, regardless of any other game, with three games to go. If they lose, they will no longer be the NFC’s top team regardless, because Philadelphia and Seattle play each other and a win with a Cards’ loss puts either ahead in the standings. The Cardinals don’t want that.

— One running back the Cards won’t have is Michael Bush, who was released Friday. That could be a short-term thing, but for now, the non-Ellington backfield will feature Stepfan Taylor—who will get the start in a running-back-by-committee scenario — and Marion Grice. Arians had some praise for Grice Friday. And all season, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said he saw Grice as a player who could fill the Ellington role. Now he has to.

“We have a lot of trust in him,” Goodwin said.

— This is interesting: Cardinals punter Drew Butler was fined $8,268 for facemasking Falcons punt returner Devin Hester on Hester’s 70-yard punt return for a touchdown that was called back. It was called back because Hester was flagged for facemasking Butler. Except … Hester wasn’t fined for the penalty.

— So to recap, the man who was penalized was essentially exonerated with no flag, and the man who should have been flagged wasn’t. Throw in the fine-but-no-penalty for William Moore on Cards’ wide receiver Jaron Brown, and it doesn’t seem like the officials had the best game.

— For those who want to know, the Cardinals will again wear their red pants Sunday (with the normal red home jersey.)

— The Cardinals are holding their annual toy drive Sunday at the game. Partnering with The RoomStore, volunteers will join cheerleaders to collect unwrapped toys and donations for underprivileged children outside each entrance at University of Phoenix Stadium.

— If the Cardinals win, they will have seven home victories. That would be the most for the franchise since 1925, when the Cards had 11. Eleven home wins. It helps that the Cards that year played 13 of 14 games at home (which was in Chicago at the time.)

— In 59 career games before he infamously lost the tip of his finger trying to make a tackle in New Orleans, safety Rashad Johnson had three interceptions. In 22 games since, he has seven interceptions. To be fair, Johnson didn’t start really playing a lot until the second half of the 2012 season, but still.

— Larry Fitzgerald, asked if he takes pride in his run blocking in the offense: “I take a lot more pride in catching passes.”

Fitz laughed as he said it, and he did say he does want to help with his blocking. But let’s not confuse this. Later, Fitz said “I have nothing to do with the run game. I’m a wide receiver.”

— Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said the game in Atlanta was a “bad day at the office” for his unit. Bowles said they forgot it quickly, and have to move on. The defense needs to. They will be crucial down the stretch, especially as offensive injuries mount.

— Bowles was on the staff of Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid in Reid’s final year as Eagles’ head coach. It didn’t go well – the Eagles were bad, and Bowles, who eventually took over as interim defensive coordinator, was hammered by fans and media as the defense struggled – but Reid said now Bowles was the best interview he’s ever had. Bowles returned the compliment.

“It was great working for him,” Bowles said. “I probably learned more from him in one year than I have from a lot of people over a long time.”

— Hopefully for the Cardinals, it also means Bowles learned Reid’s tendencies. The Cards need every advantage.

See you Sunday.

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Keim: Cards didn’t match intensity

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2014 – 8:23 am

GM Steve Keim said he as a tendency to be a pessimist, and in some ways, his job is inherently so as the man in charge of trying to upgrade the team — even when they are 9-2. Sometimes, Keim said during his weekly appearance on “Doug and Wolf” on Arizona Sports 98.7, he said he can think “the sky is falling.”

The sky isn’t falling after a lone loss following six straight wins, of course, but now it’s about curtailing that losing streak. To make sure it’s not a streak. Ron Wolfley made a cogent point following the interview too, noting that a GM and a coach probably see the video through a different prism given their jobs. But Keim and Bruce Arians could certainly agree on one main point after Sunday’s Seattle loss: “In a hostile environment, you have to match their level of intensity in all three phases,” Keim said. “We certainly didn’t do that in two.” Offense and special teams didn’t do nearly enough.

— Keim said he thought the offensive line needs to be more physical. Other that acknowledging a comment that right tackle Bobby Massie didn’t have his best game, Keim wasn’t specific on the offensive line but instead talking about them as a group. The entire offense has to play “in better unison” in the run game. The protection could have been better too.

— It was hard to evaluate QB Drew Stanton because the run game gave him no help, Keim said, but it wasn’t Stanton’s best game, noting Stanton’s inaccuracy at times.

— There was a miscommunication between cornerback Patrick Peterson and safety Rashad Johnson on the early 48-yard pass to Ricardo Lockette, Keim said.

— Keim said he thought new defensive end Josh Mauro stood out (so did I). The rookie out of Stanford has long been on the Cardinals’ radar. Keim said the Cardinals tried to sign Mauro as an undrafted rookie back in May, but he decided to go to the Steelers. When the Steelers cut him at the end of the preseason, the Cards again tried to sign Mauro to their practice squad, but Mauro chose to stay with Pittsburgh’s practice squad. Finally, the Cards decided to sign Mauro off the Steelers’ PS to the active roster.

— Here’s why the sky isn’t really falling for Keim: “The thing that gives me confidence is men in that locker room and that coaching staff.”

 


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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.

 

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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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