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Panthers playoff aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2015 – 10:53 pm

The Cardinals didn’t have enough. They just didn’t, and while Bruce Arians said he doesn’t buy into that line of thinking – “We have to gameplan to win games” – it doesn’t make it any less true. For weeks even some of the players kept noting that eventually, Next Man Up would run out of bodies. It wasn’t just the quarterback situation, even though that was the most important position. Guys looked like they wore down in certain positions, and that’s what happens when you ask some guys to play at an ultra-high level for so many games and so many plays above what you originally intended.

It spoke to their effort that the Cards won 11 games, and to the coaching. That’s why Bruce Arians insisted there was no missed opportunity, because the Cardinals with what they had created the big season in the first place. I get the teeth gnashing and frustration over certain parts of both Saturday and the end of the season. But this was a good season, it was the most wins this franchise has had in Arizona, and it was another step forward under the Steve Keim/Arians regime.

That said, there are a ton of difficult and major decisions coming in the offseason and a lot of important question marks. I’m not going to address them all here now, because that’s what the coming weeks are for and I’m sure I will post about them soon (and often, I’m guessing my Larry Fitzgerald post from Friday will be the first of a few between now and early March, when his roster bonus comes due.)

— I’d have to dig it out, and I’m not sure if I tweeted it or wrote it in a post or said it on a podcast or on the radio, but at some point I know I said something along the lines – in regards to Logan Thomas as being raw – “if you are down to your third-string quarterback, you’re in trouble anyway.” That’s what the Cardinals had at the end, even if the third-stringer eventually became Ryan Lindley because Thomas was so raw he dropped on the depth chart.

That’s the NFL. You lose your best quarterback – and that’s assuming you have someone who you think is good, and the Cardinals believe they have that in Carson Palmer – and the road will be difficult. Everyone knew that’s what would happen with Lindley, and that’s what did happen. The Cardinals got the turnovers Saturday night and were trying to make it work, but the margin for error was thin at best, and had been for the last month.

— The officials had a bad game, starting when Ed Hoculi tried to give the Panthers the win of the coin toss when the Cardinals, in fact, had just correctly called it. Arians was right, it wasn’t why the Cards lost. But a couple of the calls didn’t help, particularly the Michael Floyd non-pass interference.

— Top things, in my mind, the Cardinals need to upgrade in the offseason (assuming there isn’t a good quarterback there to be drafted and Palmer is the choice for 2015): Linebacker (both inside and outside), more speed on offense, more defensive line depth. These things can change if certain veterans aren’t back.

— Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will now organize his head coaching interviews. He reportedly has five teams that want to talk to him. I’ll be surprised if he interviews with all five.

— I’ll also be curious to see if Bowles leaving, if it happened, would be the only change on the coaching staff or if Arians makes any moves.

— I think, with the way Drew Butler finished up, Dave Zastudil has to be confident when he comes back this offseason.

— Arians, on the missed tackles in the game: “Missed tackling, that was way overblown for this game, that’s not even the story line.”

— That’s about it. Going to try and get a little rest on this flight back. The final locker room cleanout and wrap-up interviews are early tomorrow morning. And then we’re into the 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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Stanton won’t play against Panthers; Lindley up

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2015 – 1:03 pm

Bruce Arians confirmed what seemed like was coming all week as quarterback Drew Stanton couldn’t practice with a bad knee: Stanton will not be able to play Saturday against the Panthers, and Ryan Lindley will start. Stanton always seemed like a longshot to go anyway as the week went on.

The good news: Arians said everyone else is ready to play.

The plus for the Cardinals is that Stanton has been out a few weeks now and it’s not like Lindley starting is a surprise. He’s been taking all the first-team reps and, while Stanton’s status is sometimes murky on the outside looking in, the bet is that his teammates had a pretty good idea which way the quarterback situation was headed.

“When you get experience in big games, and (Ryan) has been in two big games, it affects how you play,” Arians said. “I think he’s more than ready and I think he’ll play extremely well.”


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Keim talks Bowles interest and QB status

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2014 – 8:25 am

The playoffs are here, but for 20 non-playoff teams, the business of the NFL does not stop. Black Monday arrived in the NFL and already there are five teams with head coaching openings: The 49ers, Raiders, Jets, Falcons and Bears. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to generate interest in that market, and while the Cards gave Bowles a big raise this season, they also know there is the possibility Bowles could be offered and accept a head coaching job. It has always felt more like a question of when rather than if.

“Our expectations are that several teams will reach out to us,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Now, it remains to be seen whether there will be mutual interest or not, but Todd has done an excellent job and at some point he deserve an opportunity. Hopefully for us we can keep him in place for a little while longer.”

The defense has had its issues the past two games but I do not expect that to undercut Bowles’ potential candidacy. I also think Bowles likes it in Arizona, and have always believed he will be very choosy in what jobs he may or may not want.

As for Keim, some of the other topics he covered the day after the Cardinals finished the regular season with an 11-5 record:

— The fact the Cardinals won 11 games playing four quarterbacks “is a testament to the coaching staff and their flexibility and quite frankly some of the young players who have stepped up,” Keim said.

The Cardinals are “the epitome of team,” Keim added.

— As for the status of quarterback Drew Stanton, he is “day to day and we’re hopeful” he can play this week, Keim said. Certainly the GM gave no indication Stanton was anything of a sure bet to be back. Keim said it was still unknown if Stanton could practice Tuesday.

— Even without Stanton, Keim (not surprisingly) professed confidence in Ryan Lindley’s ability to start. “I thought Ryan played a good game” Sunday, Keim said.

— Keim said rehabbing quarterback Carson Palmer is doing well and is “as fired up as ever” to play in 2015. “He’s very excited about the future here,” Keim said. “I think it goes back to show you, when you go through some injuries, how valuable Carson Palmer really was. The guy was having an excellent year. I think he’ll have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and he’ll be ready to prove some people wrong.”

I think it’s pretty clear that Palmer will be the No. 1 in 2015, barring something crazy happening in the offseason.

— Keim, like coach Bruce Arians, wasn’t happy with the tackling. “The tackling in general was unacceptable,” Keim said. He went on to say that he tends to be old school on the subject, and that tackling does have a technique to it, it is “mostly want-to.” He reiterated he had been disappointed Sunday. “(The 49ers) made us look extremely bad in space,” said, noting that against the Panthers in the playoffs, “we’re going to have to get that fixed in a hurry.”

— Guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist) will also be day-to-day, Keim said.


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Niners aftermath/Panthers prologue

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2014 – 8:32 pm

It was a weird day Sunday.

It was weird because of what was swirling around the 49ers as Jim Harbaugh coached what everyone knew was going to be his last game as a 49ers boss but pretended nothing was going on yet (including the very awkward hug between Harbaugh and 49ers owner Jed York on the field pre-game). It was weird because Ryan Lindley threw three interceptions, but it was hard not to feel the Cardinals may indeed be able to tread water at quarterback if Drew Stanton can’t come back this week. It was weird because the game for a while felt like it would mean a heck of a lot, with the Seahawks trailing and the Packers losing Aaron Rodgers – and then the Seahawks pulled away and the Packers pulled away and the outcome meant just nothing.

Maybe that’s why the Cardinals falling short didn’t feel like that so much, that Lindley’s last interception was simply moot. It didn’t cost the Cardinals anything.

I’m not going to sit here and say Lindley was the second coming of Rodgers, or even Carson Palmer Sunday. The first half, he was pretty good, with 260 yards and his two touchdowns and yes, a very bad interception, but he had the Cardinals ahead. By all accounts – including his own and by my own eyes – it’s the best he’s played in the NFL. I thought he looked better than he had even in the practices I have seen. The second half, he and the offense dropped off, but the Cards stuck with the run more too.  You can’t turn the ball over. That’s obvious. But there’s a way to make this work, at least against a 7-8-1 Carolina team.

The Cardinals’ playoff game will kick off at 2:35 p.m. Arizona time Saturday and will be televised on ESPN.

Speaking of turnovers, the Cardinals suddenly aren’t getting any. The Cardinals forced two turnovers against St. Louis on that Thursday night win – although one came on the last play of the game – and haven’t forced one since. Those turnovers were a big reason the Cards were winning earlier in the season. They have to create something in Carolina.

— Arians said there was no new news on Stanton. We’ll see if he can go. My gut says the Cards will have to go with Lindley.

— Cam Newton doesn’t quite run as much as he used to (and he’s still dealing those back issues after his car accident.) But the way that both Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have sliced up the Cardinals running the football the past two games, the Cards have to be concerned.

— Safety Tyrann Mathieu, on the trouble stopping the run: “We have to play with more of an attitude. We have to play with that chip on our shoulder. We come into the game at 11-4 and in the playoffs and we’re not necessarily playing with a chip on our shoulder. Hopefully we can gain that edge again.”

— Tight end Darren Fells is still raw. But it looks like the Cardinals might have found something there. With him and Troy Niklas, it’s a nice young tight end foundation going forward.

— In case you missed it, click here to see the Cardinals’ opponents for 2015. The schedule comes out in April.

— I don’t think Bruce Arians will forget about Kerwynn Williams again. Williams wasn’t great but he’s a guy who needs to have carries for the Cardinals.

— The Cardinals did have a pretty good day the last time they played a postseason game in Carolina.

— That was the Michael Floyd the Cardinals have to have.

— This was the first season in franchise history four different quarterbacks have thrown a touchdown pass in one season. Not that you’d be striving for such a thing, but …

— Random quote, this one from Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, said during the NFL Network’s pregame show Sunday morning: “I would not pass up the opportunity to play for Bruce Arians. Bruce finds ways to win games without his best players. … The fact that he’s found a way to win 11 games after going 10-6 and missing the playoffs. You win 11 games this year and you’re missing probably four or five of your best players on your team. How do you do that? That means there is great coaching going on.”

— Short week. The players get their day off Monday, and all the practice days are moved up one with the Saturday game. The Stanton watch is on. Otherwise, more Lindley.

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Stanton infection creates doubt on availability

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2014 – 9:56 am

Maybe there was a reason Ryan Lindley could be re-elevated to starting quarterback for the Cardinals. Multiple reports Friday morning — first from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport — said that Drew Stanton suffered an infection on his injured knee, forcing arthroscopic surgery. The team believes the infection came from some sort of outside treatment. Certainly Stanton’s availability for the playoffs is in doubt, especially if the Cardinals stay as a wild card and have to play in about a week.  If that’s true, Bruce Arians and company have to reassess what they think will be best for the team overall. Stanton’s issue was discovered Wednesday. Stanton hadn’t needed surgery on the knee injury in the first place — so to need it now is a gut punch to a team that was counting on his return.

Monday, Arians was saying Stanton would practice this week and that he thought there was an 85 percent chance of Stanton being ready for the first playoff game. By Wednesday, Arians was saying the Cardinals had their “fingers crossed” Stanton could come back and that there were “no sureties” in his recovery. Walking back Stanton expectations makes a lot more sense now.

Arians will address the media after practice around lunchtime. We’ll see what it all means, although it’s clearly not the news the Cardinals wanted to receive at this point in the season.

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A tale of four quarterbacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2014 – 9:19 pm

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The former was 2009, with Kurt Warner, or 2013 when Carson Palmer took every snap at quarterback for the Cardinals. The Cards had quarterback stability because they stayed (pretty) healthy and because Warner and Palmer were good. It’s what you need in the NFL to win. The worst of times, well, the Cardinals have done that too. When you are on a merry-go-round of quarterbacks in a season, it turns painful. The Cards did that in 2010, when Derek Anderson was backed up by rookies Max Hall and John Skelton (with a sprinkling of Rich Bartel at the end of the season). They did it in 2012, when Skelton and Kevin Kolb traded starts and injuries and then ineffectiveness leading to then-rookie Ryan Lindley (and a sprinkling of Brian Hoyer at the end of the season.)

Those years were totally different than this one, of course. The Cardinals struggled in those years. They weren’t battling for a division title going into the final regular-season game and they certainly weren’t playoff bound regardless. The Cards have only played four quarterbacks this season because of injury, not because of choice. That’s good, but it’s bad too. As offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said Christmas afternoon, “Week-to-week different quarterback, do you like it? No.” It certainly isn’t a present you want to find under your tree.

Monday Bruce Arians said he was leaning toward starting Logan Thomas unless he saw something in practice that made him change his mind, and then Thursday came the Kent Somers report that the Cards would instead start Lindley again. Either way, the Cardinals are trying to find the best option — especially if Drew Stanton can’t come back from his knee injury for the first playoff game.

UPDATE: Ian Rapoport is reporting Stanton had to have arthroscopic surgery because of an infection and could be done for the season.

“All our quarterbacks looked good, even the kid (Jeff Mathews) we have on practice squad now,” Goodwin said after practice (which is closed to the media) Thursday. “We’ll be OK no matter what.”

The Cardinals don’t really have a choice at looking at it any other way. Lindley or Thomas, Nos. 3 and 4, are the options — perhaps even as the Cards play in the playoffs.

“If they both go out this week and throw for 300 (yards), that’d be great,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

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“Frustrated” Lindley handles demotion

Posted by Darren Urban on December 23, 2014 – 12:54 pm

Ryan Lindley was out giving back Tuesday, taking part in the Cardinals’ annual “Teddy Bear Express” event at Phoenix Children’s Hospital — in which some players hand out teddy bears to the kids who are stuck in the hospital this time of year. The quarterback also was able to reflect on Monday’s news that Logan Thomas would be starting for the Cardinals against the 49ers Sunday, and that Lindley’s starting gig was over after one game.

“As a competitor you’re frustrated,” Lindley said. “I told (coach Bruce Arians) that I’m more frustrated in myself and the way I played. He made it clear it wasn’t as much in how I played, based on that. I told him, ‘Regardless of whether it is or not, me personally and the pride I take in what I do, it details the amount of frustration I have.’ We’ll go out and Logan’s going to have a great week. I’ll do anything I can to help him get ready. The biggest thing is to beat the 49ers this week.”

Lindley said he’s aware of the “quick hook” Arians talked about with Thomas, and knows there is a chance he will play in San Francisco. If he’s needed, Lindley said, he’ll be prepared. Lindley also said it was good that Arians was willing to publicly express confidence in him despite a poor game. Lindley was 18-for-44 for 216 yards and an interception in the loss to the Seahawks.

“That’s something that’s special and different about B.A. and this organization, the way they’re running things right now,” Lindley said. “We’re transparent, we’re up front with everything. B.A. is a guy who doesn’t pull any punches. He’s going to tell you how it is, the good or the bad. For him to say that, it definitely does boost my confidence a little bit, to know where I stand in his eyes. From then on out, it’s about me becoming a better each day and me doing whatever I can to help this team win on Sundays.”

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Why Warner isn’t/wasn’t an option

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2014 – 3:47 pm

I hesitate to bring up the ‘W’ word at this point, with Sunday night and Ryan Lindley’s struggles still so fresh on everyone’s mind. I don’t see the Cardinals making any kind of quarterback transactions at this point, just trying to tread water until Drew Stanton can play. But after all the talk about Kurt Warner and can he come back and hey, maybe he’s even thought about coming back, bottom line, he can’t.

Yes, even if the Cards thought it was a good idea and he thought it was a good idea, it’s a non-starter. A league spokesman confirmed Warner is on the Cardinals’ reserve/retired list. NFL rules state someone on the reserve/retired list cannot be reinstated in the last 30 days of a season. That means even when Warner first hinted about it during the game against the Rams, it was already too late.

(Forget about the fact he’s 43 and has been out of football for five years and isn’t physically or mentally prepped to be able to jump into an NFL lineup.)

No, it was never going to work.

(Profootballtalk.com pointed out that Warner could be reinstated had he been put through waivers, but that another team could have and likely would have claimed him just to block such a move.)

In the meantime, the Cardinals are turning to Logan Thomas for a start Sunday against the 49ers, although Bruce Arians said he will have the quick hook in place for Thomas. Stanton is unlikely to play this week as the Cardinals try and get him ready for a playoff game.

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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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