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Considering another flex for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2015 – 10:53 am

The Cardinals have made it through their “Sunday Night Football” gauntlet of two weeks running. They have at least one more primetime game — their next home game is on “Thursday Night Football” against the Minnesota Vikings. But that might not be the only one. Their games down the stretch might mean something. Whether those games will be free to flex is another story.

As of right now, the game that would make the most sense to flex to “Sunday Night Football” would be the Dec. 27 home game against the Green Bay Packers. Two good teams, likely with something on the line as the Packers battle the Vikings for the NFC North title and with both teams possibly fighting for a first-round bye. Meanwhile, the scheduled “Sunday Night Football” game is Pittsburgh at Baltimore, normally a lock to stay there with such a great rivalry. But the Ravens have lost quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Terrell Suggs all with season-ending injuries. They are struggling anyway. It’s not going to be the same.

Even if Cardinals-Packers makes sense, though, it’s far from a guarantee, because Fox has the ability to protect a game that week and Cards-Pack would seem a natural one to keep. It has national interest, and it’s a good game. The Panthers play the Falcons that week, so it might be worthy of Fox’s protection too — in fact, whichever one Fox doesn’t protect becomes a strong candidate to be flexed. (The Patriots play the Jets that week, but the Jets are fading fast.)

As for Week 17, which doesn’t have a named “Sunday Night Football” matchup — NBC gets to pick a game with playoff implications — the Cardinals and Seahawks is possible, but I’m guessing the NFC West will have been determined by then and there will be other games that mean more (Washington-Dallas? Minnesota-Green Bay? Philly-Giants?)


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Arians explains his second-down pass

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2015 – 4:41 pm

The Cardinals punted the ball back to the Ravens with two minutes to go Sunday after the Cards were called for intentional grounding on a second-down pass play. The incomplete pass would’ve stopped the clock anyway, and the decision bought the Ravens precious time. Bruce Arians was asked what led to him throwing as opposed to running on the play.

“We knew they had the timeout at the two-minute warning so we could not kneel,” Arians said. “We had to make another first down and we had a good play-action pass set up on a crack sweep. Larry (Fitzgerald) was wide open but it looked like there was going to be pressure. The offensive line went too far and turned one down lineman loose. That’s really who Carson felt, and like I said, he was going to be real careful with the ball. But that’s the time to go for the throat, and then at that point in time, the game’s over.”

Arians took the blame for Palmer not just taking the sack in the first place.

“The intentional grounding was probably me overcoaching him,” Arians said. “Because of Andre (Ellington) running the ball out of bounds, we had to keep playing football to win the game and kneel down and I told him to be extra careful with it. He saw what looked like was going to be a blitz and we actually picked it up and missed an interior block. He wasn’t going to take the sack when he probably should have taken a sack.”


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Ravens Monday night aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2015 – 11:42 pm

Tony Jefferson likes his Twitter. And so it wasn’t a surprise to see him sitting in his locker after the game Monday, sweat and eye black still on his face, scrolling through his phone following his game-clinching interception.

“Got to go straight to the Twitter, man,” Jefferson said.

The safety reveled in the fact he was trending, which is par for the course after getting a pick like he did on nationally televised “Monday Night Football.”

“That’s the worst part, sometimes you get on Twitter and they bash you,” Jefferson said (with Patrick Peterson chiming in with a “Yeah they do.”) “But now, they can’t really bash me. I got the game-winning (pick).”

There would be no bashing Monday. Or at least, only a little. You can wonder about the decision to throw the ball late by the Cardinals, a play that provided the Ravens an extra 40 seconds or so. (Bruce Arians said he just wanted to put the game away.) And the mistake that led to the blocked punt, which was the only reason there was a close game in the first place. Then again, people were wondering if the Cardinals would win a close game, and now they have. More importantly, they won a game they were supposed to win, so they stay in front in the division.

“Everyone is going home feeling good,” wide receiver Smokey Brown said.

— Speaking of Smoke, he made an emergency call to his trainer from Miami to come out and help rehab his bad right hamstring this weekend. That, and the work of head athletic trainer Tom Reed and his staff, is what Brown credited for his being able to play against the Ravens.

“I was kind of in doubt,” Brown said. “(Sunday) I was hurting. My trainer came out and did a little work on me … and Tom and his guys did a great job. I actually went out there feeling pretty good. Not 100 percent, but I made it through to help my brothers out.”

You wouldn’t have noticed by watching Brown. He looked fine, he caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, and he looked fast as ever doing it.

— I think it’s fair that Ravens coach John Harbaugh was upset about the Chris Johnson 62-yard run after it looked like he was down. Johnson never touched the ground and the whistle didn’t blow, so he had the right to keep going. But I also understand Harbaugh’s point that had one of his players gone in to finish Johnson off, they likely would have been flagged for a personal foul.

— Again, though: Chris Johnson, quite the free-agent signing. He’s second in the NFL in rushing.

— Speaking of those one-year blue-light specials, tight end Jermaine Gresham had a solid day as receiver with Darren Fells out. And Dwight Freeney had his first sack and a couple of pressures.

— It was a weird red-zone day for the Cardinals. In the end, they scored TDs on two of their four trips, and 50 percent in the red zone usually will win you games. But the two fails finished inside the 5 and you need to finish those off. You don’t want any 21-yard field goals, much less two in one game.

— The hamstring injury to cornerback Jerraud Powers could be a blow, depending on the situation. The bye coming after this coming weekend’s game in Cleveland will be well placed. If Powers has to miss a game, Justin Bethel will have to start opposite Patrick Peterson and the third cornerback (who isn’t used much thanks to safety Tyrann Mathieu) would be undrafted rookie Cariel Brooks. It’s a situation to watch.

— Mathieu, by the way, lit it up on national TV. Seven tackles, three for loss, and a sack when blitzing Joe Flacco. “I’ve been begging for that all year,” Mathieu said.

— Now come the Browns. McCown? Manziel? Either way, the Cardinals walk right back into a need-to-win situation.

Tony Jefferson, Crockett Gillmore


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Smokey Brown active against Ravens

Posted by Darren Urban on October 26, 2015 – 3:59 pm

Smoke said he was good to go and it turns out he is, so wide receiver John Brown is among the active players for tonight’s game against the Ravens, a positive thing for the Cardinals. It should be noted, however, that with Brown’s hamstring issues of the last two weeks, the Cardinals will have all six wide receivers active for the game — including both Brittan Golden and rookie J.J. Nelson, who is playing in his first games since hurting his shoulder in Chicago.

The Cardinals, with Darren Fells hurt, also only have two tight ends active — Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas — so I would guess in the situations where the Cards need a third tight end in jumbo situations, we’ll see reserve center A.Q. Shipley. (Or maybe, with the Ravens’ struggling secondary, we will just see lots and lots of three- and four-wide receiver sets).

The full inactive list for the Cardinals:

— QB Matt Barkley

— LB Alex Okafor (calf)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— T Earl Watford

— TE Darren Fells (shoulder)

— NT Xavier Williams

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Saturday before the Ravens

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2015 – 2:46 pm

Run versus pass. It’s always at the forefront of any analyzation of the Cardinals and the game Bruce Arians is calling. After the way the Cardinals had been running the ball, the team tried many fewer runs in Pittsburgh – and the run wasn’t as effective – than passes. What to expect Monday against the Ravens? Well, Baltimore has been susceptible to the pass and their secondary has had all kinds of trouble. So we’ll leave it to everyone’s imagination where this might be headed.

“As an offensive lineman and as an offensive line coach, I’m sure you want to run it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “But at the end of the day, as long as we have more points than they have, so what. So what. At the end of the year, if we’re holding that trophy in San Jose, do we really care how much we ran the ball?”

It can be argued, of course, that the chance to hoist the Lombardi is impacted by offensive decisions. But Goodwin – who admitted he’d worry about run/pass ratios in the offseason when he was breaking down the previous season’s games – is not wrong.

— Goodwin wasn’t happy with the run blocking overall last week from the line, the tight ends and the wide receivers. That should improve this week with the focus on it during practice.

— There was a ton of talk about focus and finishing this week from the Cardinals after a second loss in which the defense seemed to soften up in the fourth quarter.

“Our confidence is still there,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s just a reality check for us.”

Given the spotlight of “Monday Night Football” and the energy of a home game, I’m not expecting a letdown this week.

— It will be fun to watch Patrick Peterson versus the NFL’s own little ball of hate, Steve Smith Sr. Smith isn definitely a receiver who plays like he craves confrontation and given that he’s the lone standout receiver the Ravens have, he’ll need to be targeted.

“Can’t want to see some of his new antics and the emotion he has after each and every catch,” Peterson said. “Whether it’s a negative play or he felt you said something wrong to him the previous play, he always tries to get his get-back.”

— Peterson was talking about how he’s ended up with fewer penalties this season, and naturally, he talked about his improved technique and how he had to adjust after last season after the league put an emphasis on the contact defensive backs can have on receivers.

Interestingly, Peterson also said he didn’t know – until an official said something a few games ago – that once a defensive back releases his jam on a receiver, he cannot jam the receiver again even if they are still inside the legal five-yard chuck zone.

“I thought you could jam him as much as you wanted within five yards,” Peterson said.

— The Cardinals got 19 snaps out of new pass rusher Dwight Freeney last week. The hope is that the veteran will be a little more productive as the weeks go by and he both gets in football shape and learns the defense.

“I was doing May/July/training camp all in one,” Freeney said of his three practices leading into the Steelers game. “My body was confused.”

“We don’t have the easiest playbook – a lot of exotics – but I just have to cram,” Freeney added.

— A couple of quick reminders: If you are going to Monday’s game, remember the Cards are holding their annual food drive so please bring non-perishable food items (or donate some cash.) If you are watching the game at home, the ESPN telecast can also be seen on ABC-15 for those who don’t have cable.

— If you missed it earlier this week, here’s my story on tight end Troy Niklas and his potential everyone is waiting on. Niklas will have a bigger role this week with Darren Fells sidelined.

— Arians, on what the Cardinals are looking for in practice squad players: “We want somebody who knows football that has an upside. You can find a ton of guys who’ll come in and work their ass off, but you don’t want them playing on Sunday. They make good sons-in-laws.”

— A good sign D.J. Humphries is making progress. He won’t play unless there are injuries, but his target date was always 2016.

— The Cards could withstand a game without Smokey Brown. But they’d rather not.

— A parting “Monday Night Football” memory from Bruce Arians, who grew up in Pennsylvania: “It was late, that was the big thing,” Arians said. “I didn’t get to see the second half most of the time. My brother would always sign us up for altar boys at 6 o’clock mass, so I had to get up early.”

Why would he do that?

“He went away to be a priest in the eighth grade,” Arians said. “ I think the nuns talked him into that stuff.”


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Ravens make first trip to University of Phoenix Stadium

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2015 – 9:42 am

There are only four teams left that have never played at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Ravens — who come in for “Monday Night Football” this week — are one of them. (When the Cincinnati Bengals come to Arizona in late November, it’ll be the first time they have come for a regular-season game, although they were here in 2014 for a preseason game. And the Patriots have never been here for a regular-season game, last visiting in 2004, but they of course have played two Super Bowls in the stadium.)

The others on the list, all AFC teams (of course): Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans.

It’s the quirk of the rotating schedules and the fact the NFC West got flip-flopped at one point between home and road trips to help spread out Eastern teams’ travel. The last time the Ravens (and the Bengals, for that matter) played a regular-season game in Arizona was 2003. The Ravens won that game, 26-18. The Bengals lost that year to the Cardinals, 17-14. The Cards played in both cities in 2007 and 2011.

The last time the Jaguars played in Arizona was 2005, a 24-17 Jacksonville win (there have been trips to Florida in 2009 and 2013). The last time the Jets came to Arizona (and Sun Devil Stadium) was 2004, a dreary 13-3 Cardinals’ loss. The Cards played at the Jets in 2008 and 2012. The Titans played in Arizona last in 2005 — a 20-10 Cardinals’ win — with the Cards going to Tennessee in 2009 and 2013 (in the regular season; there was also a preseason trip mixed in there.)

In 2016, the Jets and the Patriots will get their first meeting at University of Phoenix Stadium with the Cardinals.

Terrell Suggs



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Steelers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2015 – 7:51 pm

It was tough not to get the feeling that, after a half in which it looked like the Cardinals would take control of their game against the Steelers but never did, the Cards missed their chance. That’s how it played out of course, with the hamstring injury of Mike Vick turning out to be the best thing to happen to the Steelers. Landry Jones looked OK, but the fact he was able to give Pittsburgh a semblance of a passing game made all the difference.

What it means now is that the Cardinals will again draw skeptics that they have lost to the only two decent teams on the schedule so far. That feeling probably won’t change in the next two weeks, with a Monday night game against the Ravens at home and then a trip to the feisty Browns. There was, not surprisingly, confidence in the locker room this will get fixed over the next week. It was, like the game itself, a lot like what happened after the Rams loss.

The Seahawks lost, at home to the Panthers, so the two-game division lead remains intact. The Cardinals play like they are capable, they win Sunday. But the math is simple in the NFL – everything else considered, when you’re minus-3 in turnovers, you’re almost always going to lose. If the Cards finish that next-to-last drive and Carson Palmer doesn’t throw a pick, well, again, we were saying the same thing after the near-game-saving drive against the Rams – you’re talking about a win regardless of the warts.

— It was a little surprising the Cardinals didn’t run it more. They gained only 55 yards on 20 carries, and the Steelers were stout on the day. But Andre Ellington only got one carry for seven yards, early, and then didn’t carry it again.

— Dwight Freeney got his first playing time as a pass rusher. I didn’t watch him a ton, but it seemed like he had a couple of pressures. That’ll be something to watch on the replay.

— The penalties just killed the Cardinals Sunday. Whether it was Michael Floyd’s offensive pass interference to negate a TD or Kevin Minter’s post-play push or the chop block, they didn’t help. There were definitely some questionable calls – the Markus Golden helmet-to-helmet hit wasn’t, as replays proved. But officials are calling that in real time and will always err on the side of caution.

Bruce Arians was blunt about how to fix the mistakes and penalties.

“Stop doing it,” Arians said. “Drag your foot closer and make a touchdown. Don’t give up an 80-yard touchdown.”

— He was talking about the Floyd-TD-that-wasn’t – a huge turn, and Floyd was a toe away from being in, it looked like – and then the final TD catch-and-run by Martavis Bryant. That may have been just as painful as the Palmer pick. A three-and-out there, and the Cards get the ball with about 1:50 left and one timeout. Instead, the game was over.

— So in the Cards’ two losses, they are 2-for-9 in the red zone. In their four wins, they are 16 for 17. The latter is an unrealistic pace to keep up, but still, it makes all the sense in the world to Larry Fitzgerald.

“Our issues on offense are pretty simple to me,” he said. “We are getting down there, we have a ton of offensive red zone snaps. We just have to execute them better. Point blank, that is where it stops. If we are scoring touchdowns and we put 30 points on the board we walk out of here with a win.”

This is true.

— Fitz did do one somewhat strange move late in the first half, during a timeout. He went over to the Steelers sideline to say hi to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who used to be the Cardinals’ OC back in 2007 and 2008. He promptly dove at Haley’s legs and tackled him – relatively gently – to the ground. Fitz used to do it all the time to Haley at practice (he’s done it to many people over the years, including me), although I will admit to see it during a game was different.

— Safe to say Floyd is back in the mix. One touchdown, and he was targeted for three others, although in one way or another they weren’t completions.

— It’s been a long week. Time to get home.


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Friday draft aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2015 – 9:26 pm

Day Two is in the books. Some quick notes and thoughts before I call it a night:

— After the trade Friday with the Ravens, the Cardinals have six picks on Saturday. There is a chance they won’t still have six by the time they draft Mr. Irrelevant to end the whole thing. GM Steve Keim said the trades might not be done. He mentioned a trade up possibility twice, so it’s on his mind.

“There are still a lot of guys (left) that Coach and I like,” Keim said. “We’ve had some conversations about going up (in a trade.) We will be active and aggressive. If there is someone we think that can help us, we will certainly make a jump at them.”

— As I noted in my story, Keim had Markus Golden on the brain Friday morning, long before the Cards were on the clock. That doesn’t mean they would’ve taken him no matter what, but they definitely feel good about the pick. Can he turn into James Harrison, as Bruce Arians suggested in who Golden reminded him of, well, we will see.

— The addition of RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa will help, but he’s got a long way to go to battle for the title of best Cardinal to come from Northern Iowa. That happens to be a quarterback who directed the team to the Super Bowl.

— Johnson will be in the mix for kickoff returns. “Yes indeed,” Arians said. “He and anybody else who can catch it,”

— Keim acknowledged the Cards were headed toward taking another offensive lineman Friday because of how their board fell. He made the point that another pass rusher or offensive lineman could end up another pick on Saturday.

— Nice job by Adrian Wilson making the announcement of the Golden pick. “Go Birdgang.” He’s a natural.

Adrian Wilson

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A chance at a comp pick

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2015 – 12:26 pm

The spring owners meetings get underway Monday here in town at the Biltmore, and among the many things that will go on will be the annual reveal of the compensatory picks for April’s draft.

A quick refresher for those who don’t know about comp picks: Each year, there are a bunch of extra draft picks sprinkled in through the draft (starting in the third round) that are awarded to teams with a net loss of free agents from the year before. The exact formula for doling out picks isn’t public, but it’s a mixture of the player, his free agent contract and performance. Basically, if you lose more free agents than you sign, you’ll get an extra pick or two.

(Or more, perhaps. Baltimore often lets players leave as free agents with the idea of stockpiling comp picks to replenish the roster with cheap labor. It’s great if you hit on many draft picks. The Ravens have made it an art form.)

As for the Cardinals, overthecap.com has estimated that the Cards are in line for an extra seventh-round pick. Now, there are caveats to the various qualifying players in this admittedly complicated guesswork. The Cards could conceivably get an extra fifth-rounder instead of a seventh or maybe no comp pick at all. As it stands, the Cardinals have their seven original draft picks, starting with the 24th overall in the first round. Last season, the Cardinals added tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, guard Ted Larsen and running back Jonathan Dwyer in free agency. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas. (Players that are cut by their previous team do not factor in the equation, which is why bringing in Antonio Cromartie did not hurt the Cards in this example and why losing Darnell Dockett this year will not help in next year’s comp equation.)

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Glancing at the 2015 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 14, 2014 – 2:46 pm

You know that it’s the dead of the offseason — real dead — when it comes to mind to point out who will be on the Cardinals’ schedule for 2015.

But here we are, inside of two weeks before training camp begins and a week away from the quarterbacks and a handful of other players reporting for a couple of days of “quarterback school” prior to the opening of camp. It’s the last hurrah for time off for both coaches and players. It doesn’t leave a lot to discuss right now. That’s all coming. But as I flipped through the new edition of the NFL Record and Fact Book, I came across the 2015 opponents for the Cardinals. So I thought I’d point them out.

As always, there are the home-and-away games against the NFC West opponents. The teams visiting University of Phoenix Stadium include the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and then an NFC South team that ends up inhabiting the same position in their division that the Cardinals do in the NFC West by the time the 2014 season is over.

Road trips in 2015 for the Cardinals include the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the corresponding NFC East team.



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