The Ravens won the Super Bowl and the 49ers reached the Big Game. Both teams have long been known for their defenses, and at one point last week, I saw someone note that regardless of what big numbers guys like Brady and Manning and Brees put up, teams with strong defenses were left standing at the end. Defenses win championships.
Except it’s not true.
I’m not saying the defenses of Baltimore and San Francisco aren’t good. Of course they are, and the 49ers’ defense in particular spurred them to another great season. But you can’t have a Super Bowl end with a score of 34-31 and say defense wins championships. It’s about the teams that can be effective offensively enough these days that will win the title. The Ravens did lock down the Colts in the Wild Card round (nine points) and the Patriots in the AFC Championship (13 points), but in both cases the offense did plenty, and certainly, the Ravens’ wins against the Broncos and Niners were more about scoring points than not allowing them. The 49ers provide a greater example, allowing 31, 24 and then 35 points in three postseason games. San Fran did shut out the Falcons in the second half of the NFC Championship, but if it wasn’t for an offense that could pile up four touchdowns, that wouldn’t have mattered.
Is it any wonder, then, that teams were looking for offensive head coaches? As well as the Cardinals’ defense played this season, the offense just wasn’t enough (and yes, I realize that is the understatement of the year.) The Cardinals’ defense in the 2008 season was just OK statistically, but it had it’s moments — and it could rely on an offense that could score points with anyone. Bruce Arians is here because the offense needs a fix. The Seahawks and Niners will be favorites going into next season not because they have good defenses — which they do — but because their offenses suddenly look explosive behind young quarterbacks.
A team still needs a good defense. The Ravens still needed a crucial stop at the end of the game in New Orleans to clinch their title. A poor defense gets you nowhere near a Super Bowl no matter what your offense is like (right, Saints?) But the days when a team can ride a defense practically alone to a title are long gone, like the 2000 Ravens did. The rules don’t allow it, and at some point, points are needed. These days, you need a championship offense to win a championship.
Tags: 49ers, Ravens, Seahawks, Super Bowl
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It seems now a lifetime ago, a few years before the Cardinals would even move into their new stadium and the culture shift within the organization just beginning to take root. But the Cardinals had a high pick — sixth overall — in the 2003 draft, a need for a pass rusher and a local kid who dominated on the college level who wanted very much to play for the home team. It seemed logical that the Cards would end up with Terrell Suggs.
They didn’t, of course. The Cards instead made a trade with the Saints, swapping the first-round pick for the Saints’ two first-rounders (17 and 18) and the teams also swapped second-round picks. That actually moved the Cards lower in that round as well. In the end, the Saints took defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan, who was a wash-out. The Cardinals took defensive end Calvin Pace and wide receiver Bryant Johnson, each of whom had limited success (although Pace to parlay a decent 2007 season into a big free-agent contract with the Jets.) Of course, the Cards’ draft was made that year when, with the second-round pick, they took wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who performed like a first-rounder from jump.
Meanwhile, Suggs, who had 24 sacks in his final season at Arizona State, was taken 10th, by the Baltimore Ravens. That turned out pretty well for both him and the Ravens, and now he finds himself in the Super Bowl for the first time. That doesn’t mean the near miss with the Cardinals doesn’t still resonate, however.
“I was disappointed because I did want to play at home,” Suggs said during media day Tuesday on the Cards passing on him, “but it worked out better for everybody.”
Suggs began his prep career at Chandler High School a few miles from the Cardinals’ facility, eventually transferring to new (and burgeoning football powerhouse) Chandler Hamilton High School where he starred as both a defensive end and running back. Then he went to ASU where he dominated. The Cardinals were still battling perception around the league as a franchise, but Suggs wanted to stay right where he had made a name for himself.
The trade didn’t come out of nowhere — rumors of the Saints deal were floating around a day or two before the draft commenced — but it did leave an impact locally. Obviously, in hindsight, Pace (or even Pace plus Johnson) didn’t equal Suggs. On the flip side, no one would have guessed that day the Cards would have actually reached the Super Bowl before the Suggs-infused Ravens. (From the file of storylines-that-could-have-been: The Ravens and Suggs lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the year the Cards made it to the Super Bowl.)
“We had a hint that they might do (a trade), but I was thinking that they wouldn’t,” Suggs said. “I wasn’t surprised, but like I said, it was a rumor that they might do it so it didn’t catch me all off-guard. I was disappointed when they did, but like I said, that was 10 years ago and it all worked out for the best now.”
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Bryan Johnson, Calvin Pace, draft, Johnathan Sullivan, Ravens, Terrell Suggs
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It’s an inevitable comparison, especially when the NFL gets down to a Final Four and the team you cover (or root for, in the case of a fan) isn’t one of those four: How exactly did Team Whomever fare against those left? The Cardinals had four games against three of the teams, sporting a 1-3 record. They split with the 49ers, of course, playing poorly (especially on offense) in San Francisco and then dramatically holding off the division champs in Arizona (in the only one of the last five home games of the season that didn’t go to overtime).
The losses to the Ravens and Giants, of course, were the two most painful of the season. In both cases the Cardinals probably should have won given the circumstances, with a 24-3 lead in Baltimore late in the first half in the first case and a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left at home in the second.
Of course, “should have” is a dangerous concept in this league. There are eight opponents of the Cards this season that were undoubtedly thinking “should have” after the Cards knocked them off. Still, second-guessing isn’t limited to fans and media. Players and coaches all say they put it behind them by Tuesday — and in the context of the season, they usually do — but it lingers and gets rehashed.
Not that it has an impact this weekend.
Speaking of this weekend, I’d be curious, if I could take a poll (and it was answered honestly) what the results would be about the 49ers’ place in the NFC title game and what they want to happen. Is it a case of guys wanting the NFC West to succeed? Or has enough bile built up that they are hoping the Niners get knocked off?
– As a postscript apropos of nothing, guard Daryn Colledge (who has been here rehabbing his surgically repaired elbow) and his wife donated $150,000 to his alma mater, Boise State, today to improve the weight room for the athletics program. Colledge was a four-year starter at Boise from 2002-05.
Tags: 49ers, Daryn Colledge, Giants, Ravens
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I’ll start with Beanie.
You could see it, every time he tried to bounce it outside, that his right knee was trouble. He had no burst of speed. He couldn’t get the corner. And a few times after he was hit, the Ravens blasted him on the leg. He couldn’t get as many carries as he normally would have. Physically he couldn’t do it.
Yet there he was, plowing into the line. There he was, going over the top for a touchdown. There he was, probably needing to come out of the game after being blasted by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata on a third-and-1 but insisting to the sideline he wanted to stay in for a crucial fourth down and cracking off a four-yard rush on the next play.
The Cardinals didn’t win, but I – and anyone else watching – had to be impressed by Wells. That is one of those tangible things you see when anyone asks about the team shutting it down during this losing streak.
Of course, that doesn’t make the losing easier. Not the way it happened Sunday. For a half, it felt like a corner had been turned. There were things that helped, with Ravens’ turnovers and Patrick Peterson’s electric punt return, of course. Kevin Kolb didn’t have exciting numbers in the first half (other than the 66-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald) but he did look more comfortable.
From there, though, the offense stumbled and the defense couldn’t stop Anquan Boldin. Hard loss.
– Larry Fitzgerald only had three receptions, for 98 yards. He was only targeted on five passes total, much too low of a number. Fitzgerald, however, said the Cards called his number “six or seven times” in the second half.
“It’s not like they’re not calling my number,” Fitzgerald said. “The ball has to go where the ball needs to be depending on the coverage. If Kevin forces the ball and (Ravens safety) Ed Reed is over the top of me, time and time again, Ed Reed makes people pay for those types of mistakes. The calls were there.”
Fair enough. The Cards have to find a way though.
– The Ravens’ defense harasses quarterbacks better than any defense in the NFL, but Kolb has to complete more passes. Under 50 percent for a game in today’s NFL – where you really need to be at least at 60 percent to be better than average – isn’t going to get it done.
– The Cards had a defensive sub-package that had Richard Marshall at safety instead of Rashad Johnson. After A.J. Jefferson’s tough game – he was the one covering Boldin most of the time when Boldin went off — Marshall took Jefferson’s spot on the last drive when Jefferson was kept on the sideline. Marshall still gave up the bomb that sealed the Cards’ fate.
– One last cornerbacks thought: Peterson likes playing physical, but in the NFL, it’s going to get you penalties more often than not. That’s going to be part of his learning curve – until/if he becomes a star and they let him get away with it more often.
– Right tackle Brandon Keith was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Jeremy Bridges. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he didn’t know if it’d be permanent. “We made a move because we had, obviously, given up two plays there and weren’t getting the job done,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll work this week and whoever practices better will be the guy that plays there.”
– Boldin insisted again after the game playing the Cardinals meant nothing extra. No, I don’t believe him either.
– Linebacker Terrell Suggs, the ASU product from Chandler who everyone thought was going to be drafted by the Cards until the Cards traded on draft day, 2003, was the opposite. He admitted it does mean something to go against the Cards. He played like it – 13 tackles, a sack, four tackles for loss.
– I don’t know if Sam Acho or O’Brien Schofield will ever get to that level, but they each got a sack in the first game Joey Porter missed. Acho has two sacks, one more than Porter, in much less playing time.
– If FB Anthony Sherman’s left ankle injury is a lingering problem, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cards do at the position. There are no other fullbacks. And with Todd Heap and now Rob Housler gimpy, they are short on tight ends too.
– I don’t know how bad the Kolb foot injury is. (UPDATE: I have been alerted Whisenhunt said on the postgame radio show Kolb has turf toe.) He played the whole game, and even had that gutsy first-down scramble late in the game, prior to the Cards’ final punt. Between that and Beanie’s injury – and Wells thinks his knee is going to be an issue the rest of the season – ouch.
– Of course, that’s what the day was too.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Sherman, Beanie Wells, Brandon Keith, Jeremy Bridges, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, O'Brien Schofield, Patrick Peterson, Ravens, Richard Marshall, Rob Housler, Sam Acho
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The question was about quarterback Kevin Kolb taking “heat” – or too much of it – given the way the first six games had gone. Coach Ken Whisenhunt shook his head, although his answer wasn’t just about Kolb.
“I don’t think anybody can take too much heat when your record is where it is,” Whisenhunt said. “We have to be very clear about it. Our expectations are not to be where we are as a team. We are disappointed. It hurts. We hurt all the time, because we want to be good. We want our fans to be proud of our team. We haven’t done that.
“Criticism is justified. That’s this game. If fans weren’t out there caring then we’d be concerned. All I’ll tell you is that we are working hard and we that we believe we are going to get it fixed.”
Getting it fixed this weekend in Baltimore is a major task. The time change shouldn’t be an issue – I write this at 30,000 feet on the flight east on Friday – although playing better is. I remember the last time the Cards played in Baltimore/played the Ravens. That was the 2007 visit, in which Kurt Warner had his initial “Wow, maybe he’ll have a rebirth” thoughts has he shredded the Ravens splitting time with Matt Leinart (Anquan Boldin, coincidentally, had 14 catches for 181 yards that day too).
– Given that Whisenhunt acknowledged Monday that the fear was that running back Beanie Wells was done for the season when he first hurt his knee last weekend against the Steelers, it’s amazing to me he was able to practice as much as he did this week. I thought there would be three DNPs, and instead, Beanie got in a pair of improving “limited” showings. Will he play Sunday? I think he is about as truly “questionable” as a player can get – which is 50/50.
– Speaking of questionables, I can’t see how tight end Todd Heap doesn’t make it back on the field. He downplayed going back to Baltimore, but at the same time, admitted it’s hard to not carry the knowledge of playing his former team. (Plus, Heap made a big deal this weekend by taking out a full-page ad in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.)
His former Ravens mates are looking forward to seeing him too. “The love is always going to be there off the field,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Of course, once you put on a different colored jersey, here we go again. If the ball comes his way, and it just happens I’m there, I might tap him on his shoulder a little bit.”
– Speaking of carrying the knowledge of playing his former team, I don’t believe for a second Anquan Boldin is treating this like any other game.
– And speaking of Heap, he was at the center of that 2007 game. The Ravens won that game by kicking a field goal right at the end of the game after Heap made an impressive catch – and somehow held on when Adrian Wilson absolutely blew him up on a hit (pictured below). Wilson was flagged (I still don’t think it should have been a personal foul given the rules at the time, although these days, it might be) and the Ravens got 15 free yards toward their field goal.
– It was the story of Ravens tackle Michael Oher that was immortalized in the movie “The Blind Side.” The Cardinals have their own tie – practice squad cornerback Marshay Green is close friends with Oher, having played together in college at Ole Miss.
“He was one of the first people I met and ever since then we’ve been tight,” Green said. Green spent a ton of time with the family, including Oher’s adoptive parents Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. Then, the movie came out.
“It was crazy,” Green said. “I had spent my whole college career with the guy, we joked around, all kind of stuff, playing video games — I never thought it’d be a movie.”
– Given the Ravens’ status as the No. 1 defense and their own offensive troubles, this is a huge game for the Cards’ own defense. Darnell Dockett declined to speak this week – he is from the Baltimore area and it’s safe to say this game means a ton to him – but he did tweet at one point, in part, “I gave 6 games to give the other cats some now its time to give 90 a run.” Not sure if that means Dockett is getting more free reign or what, but he will be one to watch Sunday.
On to Baltimore.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Darnell Dockett, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Marshay Green, Ravens, Todd Heap
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In the middle of waiting for the labor problems to be resolved comes the news the 2011 regular-season schedule will be released tomorrow — Tuesday — at 4 p.m. Arizona time (which is 7 p.m. Eastern). I know, I know, there are some of you who feel “What’s the point” until there is a labor agreement, and clearly, the NFL has taken part of that into account. Another game in London, between the Bears and Bucs, has been scheduled for Oct. 23 — except there is a caveat that the game will move back to Tampa Bay if a new labor agreement hasn’t been reached by Aug. 1.
As a quick reminder, the Cards’ home schedule includes the NFC West teams, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Carolina, Cleveland and the New York Giants. The away schedule includes the NFC West, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington.
Tags: Bears, Bengals, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Panthers, Ravens, Redskins, schedule, Steelers, Vikings
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As I complete what was a four-day weekend for me (i.e., don’t expect anything else today), just wanted to touch base after an interesting playoff weekend for the NFL:
– I don’t think the second interview for a defensive coordinator position came off last week, but I could be wrong. Maybe something was done over the phone, or pushed back. I don’t know. Obviously, if there is interest in a playoff coach — like Pittsburgh’s Keith Butler — that has been put on hold with the Steelers winning again. I don’t know if it means the Cards will move on or if they will continue to wait, or even if coach Ken Whisenhunt knows unofficially if he can or cannot get a chance at Butler. I think back to the Cards’ Super Bowl run, when Todd Haley becoming the Chiefs’ head coach was the worst kept secret around even though technically Haley was still coaching and hadn’t even had an interview yet. (And no, I’m not saying that is happening with Butler or anyone else, before someone runs with “Darren Urban is reporting Whisenhunt is having secret talks with a DC candidate.”)
– Senior Bowl week starts in a week, when every coach in the world descends on Mobile, Alabama. That too can be a place where candidates are found/interviewed.
– As I mentioned on Twitter, the Seahawks’ playoff run ended up mirroring the Cards’ 2009 playoffs (shootout home win then decisive road loss) than the 2008 team (home win and then shocking the world on the road to earn a home game in the NFC Championship).
– Man, did Santonio Holmes’ TD catch Sunday bring back some haunting memories.
– I am shocked Anquan dropped that pass. Although how does a defense like the Ravens’ give up third-and-19?
– Watching Aaron Rodgers dice up the competition every week, I keep thinking he would have done the same thing last year in the playoffs had Kurt Warner not come up with one of the greatest playoff performances ever. There was irony in that thought when people were trying to put into perspective how great Rodgers was against Atlanta — and he was, but still not quite up with Warner’s game versus the Packers.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Anquan Boldin, coaching staff, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Packers, Ravens, Santonio Holmes, Seahawks, Senior Bowl
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ESPN is reporting Anquan Boldin has been traded to Baltimore. The deal is, according to Adam Schefter, Q and the Cards’ fifth-rounder for the Ravens’ third- and fourth-round picks. I’ll have more as we go.
Schefter is also reporting Boldin has agreed to a new four-year, $28 million contract, the contract he wanted for so long. Could he have gotten something similar in Arizona? Very possible. I know that’s what fans are going to argue. But after Q’s blowup in 2008 at camp, the lines of communication were pretty frayed.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Ravens, trade
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ESPN’s Adam Schefter just tweeted this: “Arizona is closing in on a long-anticipated deal to trade Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Leading contender: Baltimore. KC also in.” Again, nothing surprising. Will it be for that suddenly much-talked about third-round pick? I always thought there was a good chance Boldin would be moved this offseason, I just figured it would be closer to the draft. And maybe it doesn’t happen. Profootballtalk.com is reporting the Patriots are in play too. Depending on what the Cards get, at least he’d be in the AFC. UPDATE: The Patriots are reportedly not in it anymore.
If it doesn’t, it’ll be interesting to hear Boldin speak tomorrow at Kurt Warner’s annual charity flag football tournament. Boldin is scheduled to play. If a deal goes down today, I’m guessing Q won’t be there.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Chiefs, Patriots, Ravens, trade
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The Sporting News just had a panel of 106 people — including 27 Hall of Famers, various long-time players, coaches and various front-office types — rank the top 100 players in the NFL today. Not only did five Cardinals make the list, but they did so in the top 75. Colts QB Peyton Manning is No. 1. The Cardinals were WR Larry Fitzgerald at No. 4, QB Kurt Warner at No. 25, WR Anquan Boldin at No. 31, S Adrian Wilson at No. 66 and DT Darnell Dockett at No. 75.
The Steelers and Vikings each had seven players on the list; the Chargers, Colts and Eagles each had six, and the Cards were joined by the Falcons, Cowboys, Patriots and Ravens with five. It is interesting to note, though, that the Steelers and Patriots had only four in the top 75, the Ravens four, the Falcons three and the Cowboys just two.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Darnell Dockett, Eagles, Falcons, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Patriots, Peyton Manning, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings
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