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Watching Wilson and Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2014 – 3:52 pm

When the Cardinals beat the Seahawks last season, they took a quarterback who at times had looked like an MVP candidate with his efficiency and made him look very, very bad. Russell Wilson’s stats that day: 11-for-27, 108 yards, one touchdown, one interception. More importantly, he had just two rushing attempts (for 32 yards, including one outlier 27-yard scramble).

There aren’t many quarterbacks who throw on the run as well as Wilson. Aaron Rodgers, maybe, but his is a different style. With Wilson there is the constant fear he will take off. And he’s done that a lot this season – already Wilson has rushed for at least 100 yards in three different games – or triple the amount he had in his first two seasons.

The Cardinals would love to make sure Wilson has the same kind of game Sunday as he had against the Cards last year, but “I don’t think there is a blueprint,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “It’s catch ’em if you can.”

The top priority will be to slow Marshawn Lynch, because it always is. The Seahawks, without any real dynamic receivers, don’t have a scary passing game. If there is a way to slow Lynch and not let Wilson go off on broken plays, the Cardinals will have gone a long way toward winning another one in the Pacific Northwest.

– A player to watch in this regard: Rookie Deone Bucannon, the safety who is playing linebacker in in nickel and who has essentially replaced Wilson antidote Daryl Washington this season.

– This game, even if the Cardinals win, does not clinch the NFC West. But it goes a long way in doing so, as long as there isn’t an epic collapse down the stretch. And teams that win in Seattle and are 9-1 before that don’t collapse. A loss, and things could get interesting, especially with another game left to play with the Seahawks. The tough games do not end yet.

– As I mentioned, my gut here on a Friday is that Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t play, and as I mentioned, I’ve been wrong on Fitz before. It’s hard not to remember the obvious confidence OC Harold Goodwin showed in the rest of the receiving corps though. They want Fitz to play, of course. But if Jaron Brown and John Brown and Michael Floyd are the top three guys, the Cardinals can live with that. They are better suited to survive a short-term injury at receiver perhaps more than anywhere else.

– The Cards have to find a way to run the ball with some success, and it can’t be all Andre Ellington, Rashard Mendenhall had 21 carries in the Seahawks game in Seattle last year, Ellington 15 as the Cards had the most rushing attempts in a game in more than a decade. Yes, it was Jamaal Charles, but the Chiefs were able to run a lot and well against the Seahawks last week. Ellington plus, Step Taylor? Marion Grice? They just need to give Drew Stanton a chance.

– Stanton needs to be smart, but the Cards can’t be too cautious either. So far, the Cardinals, with Stanton, have moved the ball immediately in all his starts. It speaks to the Arians/Goodwin plans, and how much Stanton understands the offense. They just have to have it carry through the game.

– Great note pointed out to me on Twitter by @DylanCarey11. Stanton will be the sixth different starter at quarterback the Cardinals have used in Seattle the last six trips there:

2014 – Stanton
2013 – Palmer
2012 – John Skelton
2011 – Kevin Kolb
2010 – Max Hall
2009 – Kurt Warner

– As an additional note to that, the Cardinals will have used eight QBs in those six games, because Ryan Lindley played in relief of Skelton in 2012 and Derek Anderson came in for Hall in 2010. Neither time it was injury related. Just bad football.

– If you haven’t seen it, Michael Silver did a great piece on Bruce Arians and his path to Cardinals’ head coach. Some of it goes over familiar territory, but there is some good stuff, like the just-fired Ken Whisenhunt telling Arians good things about the franchise and encouraging Arians to interview for the job.

– There is also this great story by David Fleming covering the family of the donor woman who gave Carson Palmer his original ACL replacement – and the feeling after it gave out against the Rams, sidelining Palmer.

– There is also this story on the rise to GM by Steve Keim. It happens to be my work, so if you haven’t read it, just sayin’ …

– Matt Shaughnessy was back on the field this week for practice for the first time since a knee injury forced him to the IR-designated to return list. He can’t play the next two games, but he will be back for the Dec. 7 game against the Chiefs. Arians wasn’t definitive in how Shaughnessy will fit in the lineup; Shaughnessy’s replacement, Alex Okafor, is playing the best of the outside linebackers. Could it be Shaughnessy and Okafor, with Sam Acho as a reserve? Possible. Arians said he wants to see where Shaughnessy is first; there’s going to be rust that must be knocked off.

– Last year at the end of the Seahawks’ upset, a handful of defensive linemen had a snack of Skittles on the sidelines in the waning moments. Skittles, for the uninitiated, are famously the favorite treat of Lynch. There won’t be any this year, alledgedly.

“Naw,” defensive tackle Dan Williams said. “I got to cut back on calories.”

– Last year, the win in Seattle was the Cards’ 10th win of the season. Can they do that two years in a row?

BeforeSeahawksBlogUSE


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The fine line of finding a quarterback

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2014 – 11:39 am

So if you are the Cincinnati Bengals, what are you thinking about with Andy Dalton? And what does it say about “finding” your long-term quarterback?

These questions are not easily answered. The Cardinals have been looking for their “long-term” quarterback since, well, since they moved to Arizona. There were the Kurt Warner years, but the time where Warner was both the unquestioned and winning (a key adjective) quarterback for this franchise was less than three seasons: A few games into the 2007 season through 2009. Carson Palmer has come along, and was 10-6 in his first season, and likely is the Cards’ starter in 2014, but how long does he have?

Again, finding the young replacement isn’t simple. Look at Dalton. He has won nine, 10 and 11 games in his three seasons in Cincinnati. The Bengals have made the playoffs every single season. It’s a foundation many teams — even the Cards — would love to have with a quarterback after he was drafted. He threw for almost 4,300 yards this season and already has 80 TD passes in his young career. It’s the definition of finding a long-term guy … right?

Yet the Bengals have lost all three playoff games Dalton has quarterbacked, and he has not played well in any of them. He is, not surprisingly, getting hammered about it again and there are some who think the Bengals should look elsewhere. Now, there are QB-needy teams across the league who would probably love to have Dalton. Yet his situation underscores the minefield that is filling that position.

Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton have worked well. It looks like Colin Kaepernick has too (although I think he still tends to be more up and down than you’d like at this early stage) and Nick Foles flourished in Chip Kelly’s offense. Side note, you look at the playoff teams and the winners and it drives home the point this league is about good quarterback play.

Is Matthew Stafford the answer, even with all his gaudy stats? (Ken Whisenhunt may be hired soon to find out.) Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were not. Sam Bradford? It’s no wonder Steve Keim says he has to fall in love with a QB to want to draft him, because let’s face it, if you do draft one early, you are married to him for a few years to see if he works out.

And, in the case of someone like Dalton, you still may be wondering if he is working out even when it seems like he is.

DaltonBlogUSE


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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2013 – 9:59 pm

It was a must-win game and everyone knew that. The playoffs were only possible with a victory, and the Cards got that. But it felt like more. For all the success the Cardinals had this season, there was a reason Bruce Arians called the trip to Seattle a barometer. Were the Cardinals in purgatory, a good team but a notch below Seattle and San Francisco? Now we have an answer.

It’s a far cry from the 58-0 pasting from a year ago. Everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen again. Last year’s team was out of it by the time it got to Seattle and that played a major role in last year’s meltdown. This team is in a totally different place. This team believes it can win. This team is confident enough to bring Skittles to the sideline – the favorite treat of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch – and break them out (picture below) at the end of a rugged victory in which Lynch was neutralized in the second half.

Arians downplayed last year’s game in Seattle, but he slipped in a postgame reference: “I guess we are 66 points better than last year,” Arians quipped. The math says it was really 65, but you get the point.

– “Any time you come on the road and a team beats you 58-0 and you’ve got to go back to their place, it lingers in the back of your head,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “If you’ve got any pride or care about football, when a team beats you 58-0, you think about it. And it stuck with us. People ask, ‘You get a butt-whupping, does it stay on you a while?’ That one stayed on us for a whole year. We were determined not to let that ever happen again.”

– Playoff update, in a nutshell: If the 49ers win Monday night, the Cards have to win against San Francisco next week and hope the Saints lose – at home – to Tampa Bay. If the 49ers lose Monday night, the winner of Arizona and San Francisco is in the playoffs.

– Carson Palmer has thrown at least three interceptions in a game twice this season. He is 2-0 in those games. Sunday, he beat the Seahawks with four picks. And he beat the Panthers with three.

– Palmer was not on target most of the game. He threw too many interceptions. But he never should’ve been benched, despite what seemed like a constant call from the fanbase. He wasn’t the main reason the Cards won Sunday but he was a reason when he piloted the final drive. And he’s been good enough to win 10 games.

– Defensively, the Cardinals were outstanding. I am of the belief Russell Wilson is an MVP candidate and the Cards made him look very much like an overwhelmed second-year quarterback Sunday.

– Of the Seahawks’ 14 possessions, 12 were of four plays or fewer. Nine gained nine yards or less.

– The Seahawks had won 26 straight games – dating back to 2001 – when they forced at least four turnovers. Until Sunday.

– So a Washington state lawmaker decided to tweet out (since deleted, of course) that the Seahawks’ loss to the Cardinals was worse because the state is a “racist wasteland.” Alrighty then.

Oh, here’s the radio call of Spanish play-by-play voice Gabriel Trujillo on Michael Floyd’s touchdown.

– Linebacker Karlos Dansby had six tackles, missed one early interception but made the big one at the end, and postgame was classic Karlos. “I am putting my name in the hat. Defensive player of the year,” he said. “You are looking at him. No one is playing better. That is how I feel. I am going to hang my hat on that. I am going to go out there and make my statements and I put one out today.”

– The officials weren’t on their ‘A’ game again. Both teams had issues. The Cardinals shouldn’t have had a first-and-20 after Frostee Rucker’s unsportsmanlike penalty after a kickoff, and they certainly weren’t happy with the flag on the extra point that negated a Seahawks miss. The Seahawks didn’t like, among other things, the Rashard Mendenhall fumble-that-wasn’t or the final Dansby did-it-hit-Baldwin’s-arm-or-the-ground interception.

– The offensive line, I thought, played pretty well. They opened up lanes on the ground and the Cardinals ran the ball well. The game was won up front on both sides. That’s something the defensive line has come to expect. The offensive line, that’s a nice victory.

The postseason may be out of their hands, but Sunday will make Christmas be a little bit nicer for the Cards.

SkittlesBLOG


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Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2013 – 11:52 pm

The Cardinals were hoping to at least get a split in this five-game stretch against the elite of the NFC West. That didn’t happen, clearly. So the Cards move on, with an extra couple of days to prep for a flailing Atlanta team that will come into Arizona a week from Sunday. The next three games are home against the Falcons and Texans – neither of which have played very well and have been punished with injuries – and then a road trip to Jacksonville. The season could turn quickly. But the Cards better figure out what ails them, especially offensively.

It’s late. This won’t be long. But in light of a rough game against the Seahawks Thursday night:

– Bruce Arians said he didn’t consider a quarterback change. What would go into the process, he was asked. It’s not just interceptions themselves.

“It’s the reasons for the interceptions,” Arians said. “Is it his decision-making? If it’s his decision-making, then we will make the change. The first (interception) to me was obvious pass interference (on Larry Fitzgerald), and the safety makes a great play. The second one was just a poor decision. Those are the ones we have to look at.”

– No surprise defensive end Calais Campbell played. He said there was a doubt coming into the day, but once he ran around he felt ready. He had a team-high eight tackles. Campbell also warmed up in an old-school Bryan Cox neck-brace/extension (google the image) but apparently discarded it before coming out for kickoff.

– I haven’t seen Andrew Luck play yet, but my vote right now for the best QB out of the current young bunch is Russell Wilson. He is so impressive on so many levels.

– The slow start was on both the offense and defense Thursday. Veteran safety Yeremiah Bell lamented too many busted coverages early — something that shouldn’t be happening — and Daryl Washington complained about the shoddy tackling. The offense needs to be much, much better but that’s 66 points allowed in the two games this week.

– So in the last two Thursday games the Cards have played, they have allowed a total of 16 sacks. That’s a tough way to live on national TV.

– Not the way I’m sure Machine wanted his send-off. Regardless, good luck in retirement.

– Larry Fitzgerald could have drilled defensive back Walter Thurmond on a blindside block early in the game. He did not, and Thurmond, while blocked, could’ve been much worse for wear. Later in the game, Fitzgerald did pop Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman harder, although replays showed Fitz could’ve creamed him much harder. And you wonder why Fitz has such a good reputation among his peers.

“I tried not to hit him too hard,” Fitzgerald said. “They fine you on those crackbacks and penalize you too. I didn’t want to put my team in a position to lose 15 yards in the red zone like that. I just tried to make a smart play.”

– GM Steve Keim said Bradley Sowell was going to have his ups and downs at left tackle. Thursday was definitely a down. He had a rough game getting pushed back, down and away by what is a very good Seattle defensive line. There were plenty of plays where other linemen had issues, but Sowell – with the Seahawks able to pin their ears back and come without fear of the run – was overmatched one-on-one much of the time.

– Not a whole lot else to say on this one. The Seahawks a good team. Better than the 49ers right now. After these two games, the Cards know where they stand. They wish it was in a better spot.

HawksBlogUSE


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Wednesday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on October 16, 2013 – 3:57 pm

When Steve Keim was named general manager of the Cardinals, he pointed to a pair of moments that went through his head that were driving forces in motivating him in his new job. One was the feeling he had standing on the turf at University of Phoenix Stadium after the Cards won the 2008 NFC Championship game, being showered by we’re-going-to-the-Super-Bowl confetti. The other was the feeling he had standing under the gloomy Seattle sky late last season as the Cardinals were getting run over by the Seahawks, 58-0.

No team in the NFL should ever endure a game like that. When it does, it signals that there is much more wrong than just a talent difference. It also tends to leave a bad taste, although for the most part, the Cardinals shrugged it off this week. Center Lyle Sendlein didn’t have much reaction, although he pointed out he was injured by that point in the season and absent. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was blunt: “Different team, different year. That’s ancient history.”

Indeed, many on the roster not only didn’t play in that game but weren’t even members of the Cardinals. The coaching staff has turned over almost completely. With the Cardinals playing the Seahawks tomorrow night for the first time since then, it doesn’t mean it isn’t remembered this week at all by the Cards still left. But it doesn’t seem to be some major rallying cry either.

“Not a lot of guys were here to experience it,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We brought it up one time in a team breakdown (post-practice) this week and we left it at that. Guys know the magnitude of this game.”

– Turnovers have been brutal for the Cards – eight of them in the three losses – and Bruce Arians certainly hasn’t been happy with it. How to fix it? “Quit doing it,” Arians said. “Hold on to the damn ball and quit throwing it to the other team. It’s really simple. It plagues some teams and right now it’s plaguing us and we have to fix it.”

Arians knows he’s stating the obvious, but especially with the fumbles, he really does believe it’s that simple. Cutting down Carson Palmer’s interceptions is more complicated, especially since Arians said because Fitzgerald has been limited in practice so much because of his hamstring problems “the timing that we had earlier in the season is gone.”

– The drives from the 49ers’ games were still bothering both Cardinals’ coordinators this week – for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, it was the failed drive on which Fitzgerald fumbled. For defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, it was the San Francisco possession right after that fumble that lead to the game-sealing touchdown.

“Man, I just feel personally, had we just scored on that second (third-quarter) drive, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Goodwin said. “We had our mojo. Anytime you turn the ball over you lose momentum and you put your defense in a bad situation. If we could just stop turning it over. You can see the development of our offense coming along. We just have to stop killing ourselves.”

Bowles said his unit’s problem was that suddenly, players started trying to do way too much and overcompensated in the idea of making a big play and ending the drive. So players were out of position and the Niners ran it right down the field.

“Guys trying to make a play and going over the top or going underneath to do something they didn’t need to do,” Bowles said. “Opening things up and we couldn’t get off the field.”

– Fines from last week’s games don’t usually get confirmed until Fridays, but a couple of players involved apparently spoke up. Mike Jurecki reported that nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was fined $10,000 for kicking 49ers guard Alex Boone, while Matt Maiocco reported Boone was dinged $7,875 after swiping at Ta’amu before the kick.

– Hard to believe the last time the Seahawks visited, Russell Wilson was quarterbacking his first NFL game. He’s built quite a résumé in a very short period of time.

– Rookie Andre Ellington is averaging 7.04 yards per carry, best among NFL running backs with at least 25 carries this season.

– I think it’d be an upset if Calais Campbell doesn’t play. I think he’s fine and his scare from last weekend won’t impact his play. Which is a good thing. Campbell always plays well against the Seahawks and the Cards need him.

– The Cardinals haven’t won a division game since beating the Seahawks here last season in the opener. However this game turns out will influence greatly how this season plays out for the Cards.

RoberstSeaUSE


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Thoughts on a schedule

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2013 – 6:31 pm

So here are some quick thoughts on the Cardinals’ schedule, for what they are worth. No one knows exactly what will happen between now and when the games will be played and so much can change. Nevertheless, this is what we do, so we press on …

– What smacks me in the face first is the back-to-back games against the 49ers — in San Francisco — and the Seahawks just four days later for their NFL Network game. That’s in October (13 and 17). Those teams aren’t easy with which to deal, and to have them so close together is tough. I guess, with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson with similar games (I know Wilson doesn’t run as much as Kaepernick), the defense will be in the right frame of mind. Todd Bowles, are you ready?

– Opening in St. Louis isn’t a bad place to start. The Cards have had a ton of success there, winning seven straight before last year. These aren’t the 2009 Rams, but they aren’t the Niners and Seahawks either.

– Offenses with which the Cards must deal without suspended linebacker Daryl Washington: Rams, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers. All in all, not the worst thing.

– A bye at exactly the midway point of the season.

– The Bruce Arians-faces-his-former-Colts-team game comes Nov. 24. Will be very interesting to see where the Cards are at that point — we will be long past the storybook of the Colts season last year — and, for that matter, where the Colts stand.

– I didn’t think weather would be a big deal, but it could be chilly in Philly (Dec. 1) and Tennessee (Dec. 15). And perhaps Seattle (Dec. 22) for that matter.

– It did catch my eye that the preseason Dallas game is at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I prefer that rather than night preseason games.

– A trip to Raymond James Stadium Sept. 29. Let’s see, the last time the Cards were there


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Reading the options of the future of offense

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2013 – 10:48 am

The Super Bowl run-up this week — on both TV and in print — will be filled with a handful of the obvious stories this week: The last game for Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, and, with the 49ers becoming explosive on offense with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick, there will be plenty written and said about the read-option offense.

The conventional wisdom has long been that running quarterbacks will have a hard time having long-term success in the NFL. Defenders are faster and stronger in the pros than college. The chances of a quarterback getting hurt — and the chances that a coach wants to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get hurt — are high. Of course, that all got turned on its head this season, with Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson (to a lesser degree) all making the read-option incredibly dangerous to opposing defenses.

Where does it go from here?

It’s impossible to know for sure. I do know that defensive coordinators are going to have an entire offseason to prepare to defend it. If you are Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who could/will see some version of it up to seven times in 2013 — the Niners twice, the Seahawks twice, the Panthers (Cam Newton), Titans (Jake Locker) and Eagles (with new coach Chip Kelly) — you know the Cards are going to study the strengths and weaknesses carefully. There have been comparisons made to the Wildcat offense, and that version became a lot less effective the year after it hit the scene hard.

Then again, the Wildcat was done in a situation where the main ballhandler wasn’t a quarterback. The threat of the pass was only that, a threat. It wasn’t normal. That’s what makes the read-option so difficult, because the quarterback could instead fade for a quick throw. That’s why Kaepernick and Griffin and Wilson have been so good. It’s not because they run the ball well — although they do do that — but because they are accurate passers and can make defenses pay through conventional ways too. (In other words, Tim Tebow they are not.) As more and more college quarterbacks find ways to do both, it will inevitably find its way into the pro game.

Injury concerns are legitimate. The Redskins understand this. The more hits a QB takes, the more chance he gets hurt. Simple math. Maybe the success can be sustained on a football level, but on a player level, the quarterback won’t last as long. Or maybe the QB has to morph after a few years, like Michael Jordan went from going to the hoop every time into one of the best jump shooters. Pocket passers aren’t going away. It’s really about what the talent is coming from colleges and what coaches are willing to do to adapt. I doubt every team suddenly starts running the read-option, but I don’t see it going away.

readOptionblogUSE


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Bevell to join coaching candidates

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2013 – 7:06 pm

On a day when Mike McCoy chose to take the San Diego job, the Cardinals added a new name to their list of candidates. Multiple reports have the Cards hoping to interview Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell not only worked with Russell Wilson this year but was a long-time coordinator/QB coach with Green Bay and Minnesota while Brett Favre was playing in those cities. He also happens to be a local product, having gone to Scottsdale Chaparral High School, playing QB there for his father and coach, Jim Bevell.

Bevell is a finalist for the Bears job and the Jaguars also want to include him on their search. Kent Somers reported the interview is scheduled for Wednesday. There hasn’t been any official word from the Cards yet.

Besides Bevell, Steelers OC Todd Haley, Bengals OC Jay Gruden and Cards DC Ray Horton are the known available candidates for the Cards.

UPDATE: And during the night, it came out that the Cards had requested permission to talk to Colts OC Bruce Arians too.


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Three straight openers against a rookie QB

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2012 – 7:18 pm

With the news today that the Seahawks will start rookie third-round quarterback Russell Wilson at quarterback (over free-agent signee Matt Flynn, in a mild upset given that Wilson had been generating big buzz since the offseason), it obviously impacts the Cardinals. The regular-season opener is Sept. 9, when the Seahawks visit University of Phoenix Stadium. That will make Wilson the third straight rookie quarterback to make his debut against the Cardinals in the opener.

In 2010, the Cards opened in St. Louis, when Sam Bradford had some trouble with Adrian Wilson in his first NFL game. In 2011, Cam Newton ended up setting an NFL rookie record for passing yards in his first game. In the Cards’ favor, they ended up winning both games (17-13 against the Rams, 28-21 against the Panthers).

Now the defense will get a chance at Wilson, who, unlike Bradford and Newton, was not the first overall choice in the draft. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will also get a chance at Wilson, who is under 6-feet tall, the reason he went in the third round. I’m sure it will be one of the storylines for the game in about a week (you know, after we get past the last preseason game, any forays into the waiver/free-agent pool by the Cards, and their own decision at quarterback.)


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