The Cardinals need better play at quarterback. Everyone gets that. But that hope they had for their running game before the season, taking some pressure off whomever would be playing QB, has dissolved.
There have been moments, for sure. LaRod Stephens-Howling, who got off to an awful start this season in limited time, has had a couple of 100-yard games. But the Hyphen also leads the team in rushing with 313 yards on 92 carries — both easily tops on the team — and considering what was expected for Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells before the year, that isn’t a good sign.
Even in the games Stephens-Howling shined, the Cardinals had trouble converting short-yardage downs for first downs. Beanie’s return was supposed to help that, but against the Jets, when Wells couldn’t grind out a couple of yards on back-to-back third- and fourth-downs early in the game, it was a deflating moment for an offense that didn’t need one. Williams wasn’t effective enough when he played prior to his season-ending shoulder injury (2.8 yards a carry) and Wells has struggled mightily this season. He is averaging just 2.4 yards a carry and while he acknowledged his knee was not healthy before he spent his eight-week stint on IR, he was back to being limited following his season re-debut against the Rams and still looked like he had some trouble against the Jets.
“I don’t know if I would say it was a setback,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “But you’re going to always have some reactions when you get back into playing (off a long-term injury). We said a couple weeks ago that we’re not under any illusion that he’s going to come back in and be perfect. I think that’s normal.”
The team’s top back has been William Powell, who has averaged 4.2 yards a carry over 32 totes (I could have said safety Rashad Johnson, who has pulled off a pair of beautiful fake punts for 24 and 40 yards.) Some of this falls on the offensive line issues, because the holes have not always been there. Some of it falls on the passing game/QB play, because defenses can afford to focus on stopping the run first since the passing game hasn’t been good enough. Some of it is on the backs, failing to maximize production when holes have been there. Some too can be attributed to the play calls too I am sure. As Whisenhunt has said many times, nothing has been good enough to leave out of the equation.
The Cardinals started the season by rushing for just 43 yards on 20 carries in a win against the Seahawks, the team they play this weekend, and that included a 15-yard end-around by wide receiver Andre Roberts. Whoever is installed at QB this weekend could use more production than that to give the Cards’ offense a chance.
Tags: Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, Seahawks, William Powell
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Talking injuries in the NFL is always about walking a fine line.
There are few coaches that don’t get particular the way their team’s injuries are discussed on a weekly level, and that includes coach Ken Whisenhunt. There is a reason as little information as possible is divulged as team’s go along, why a team like the Patriots used to clog the injury report with as many players as possible, why guys are often “game-time decisions” when some are and some probably aren’t. No one wants to give the other side an advantage.
But on a bigger picture, there is another way the fine line is encountered with injuries: When a team is undercut by the sheer amount that crop up, talking about how much it’s affecting the team can be a minefield.
That’s what the Cardinals are going through right now. It’s impossible to know what this team would be like with better health, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If Beanie Wells, Kevin Kolb, Todd Heap, Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges and Ryan Williams were all still available, what would it mean? Then again — and this is the fine line part — no one wants to hear about it usually. One of the biggest cliches out there is a coach or player for an injured team noting of their upcoming opponents “The (fill-in-the-blank) aren’t going to feel sorry for us.” In the Cardinals’ case, the 49ers are in the blank this week.
“That’s the NFL,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You face (injuries). I think part of our continuity on offense is struggling because of that. You can’t use it as an excuse. You have to move forward.”
Guard Daryn Colledge said during his years on the Packers, there were a couple of years when the team was crushed by injuries. One season, the Packers finished 6-10. The other, the Packers rallied on their way to a Super Bowl title. “It can go both ways,” Colledge said.
The reality is that no one sits at the end of the season and says, “Hey, the such-and-such only won the Super Bowl because injuries crippled such-and-such.” No, the team that wins will be the team that wins, with no asterisks. If the Cardinals can’t parlay a 4-0 start into the playoffs, no one outside of Arizona is going to care or even note it. Last year’s Bears probably make the playoffs if quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t get hurt, but that didn’t stop the Bears from making a change at general manager. It’s a harsh world to live within.
The Cards aren’t getting Brown, Bridges or Williams back. Wells is gone at least three more games. Kolb is out indefinitely. The Cards have to keep progressing tight end Rob Housler, because Heap’s return remains an unknown. In the short term, the Cards have been missing fullback Anthony Sherman, and guard Adam Snyder was limping pretty good with a quad problem after the Vikings game. Have the injuries hurt the Cards? Of course they have. That’s not an excuse as much as a fact. But it’s also a fact the Cards can’t do anything about it.
“It would be nice to have guys out there more than a week and find some continuity on offense,” Colledge said. “But again, it’s on us to find the playmakers and find ways to win games.”
Tags: Adam Snyder, Anthony Sherman, Beanie Wells, Daryn Colledge, Jeremy Bridges, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Levi Brown, Ryan Williams, Todd Heap
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Larry Fitzgerald has always liked LaRod Stephens-Howling. They both went to Pitt, so it’s hard not to have a bond. The wide receiver has no problem talking about the Hyphen’s strengths, which include versatility — and size.
“He’s so small, when he comes through the line you don’t see him until he’s too close, and then when he’s that close, there’s no way you can tackle him in a phone booth,” Fitzgerald said. “When he’s in space, he creates so many mismatches for us. He’s got big-play capabilities.”
Stephens-Howling, assuming his health holds up, will be the running back under the spotlight Sunday when the Cards play the Bills. There will be work for William Powell and even Alfonso Smith, but the Cards need their Hyphen to make some things happen like the last time he started. That was in the season finale against Seattle last year — the Cards sat Beanie — and Stephens-Howling had a good game. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is hoping for a repeat.
“The last time I saw LaRod as a starter he went for 92 yards against a good Seattle defense,” Whisenhunt said. “I’m hopeful he can get those extra eight yards this week.”
That would be a huge deal for the Cards. The top individual game a running back has had this season was Ryan Williams’ 83-yard effort against the Eagles. In the end, Fitz said, the Hyphen’s pedigree will shine (OK, maybe Fitz smiled a little bit as he delivered the following quote):
“He’s a Pitt guy,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s capable of doing whatever. He can play quarterback, he can play defensive tackle, whatever we need him to do. When you go to Pitt, good things happen for you.”
– Whisenhunt said tight ends Todd Heap and Jim Dray are healthy enough to give him options at the position. “Thank goodness.”
“When you look at the roster when you go to the 53, people say, ‘Why do you keep four tight ends?’” Whisenhunt said. “It’s because we’ve been through this before. It seems like it never fails you are going to be stuck with two or one-and-a-half. We’ve been that way, and I think we’re finally past that point for right now.”
The full injury report is due out in a bit.
Tags: Alfonso Smith, Jim Dray, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Ryan Williams, Todd Heap, William Powell
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The expected happened this morning, with running back Ryan Williams going on injured reserve — officially ending his season, even though that was made plain yesterday — and the Cardinals adding not a running back but a cornerback to his place on the roster. Crezdon Butler comes back for the secondary. Not only did coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasize yesterday that the plan for now was to use LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith as the running backs and probably not add anyone right now (don’t forget Beanie Wells will be back in about six weeks), but Butler’s return also may speak to the health of the cornerbacks.
Don’t forget Greg Toler, on the bomb he was beaten on in St. Louis, limped off the field with some sort of leg injury. Michael Adams has also been on the injury report with a sore hamstring, although he’s been playing. Maybe the Cards need insurance at corner. I know everyone is waiting for a new running back, but as I said a couple times in a couple places yesterday, I don’t expect one, not anytime soon.
As for Williams, he was in surprisingly good spirits last night at the Cards’ Kingpin Challenge bowling event. I’ll be honest, I was surprised to see him there, his left arm in a sling while he waited to have the left shoulder surgery that he said would take place today. But he mentioned to me he had been through so many emotions the past year with his patella injury that he feels like he can conquer anything.
“After the roller coaster I went through last year, and made it through, I’ll get through this,” he said.
Tags: Crezdon Butler, Greg Toler, Ryan Williams
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Monday brought some hard news to the Cards: Running back Ryan Williams ended up needing surgery on his shoulder and is out for the season. I know there were some who wondered about it being a shoulder injury at the time, but there is no question about that now.
UPDATE II: Williams said his injury is a coracoid process fracture, which he said is rare. He is having his surgery Tuesday. For more details, go here.
That leaves LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith as the running backs. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said there is a chance the Cards could sign someone but he didn’t commit to it. The Cards have to hope Stephens-Howling is healthy after missing two games with a hip injury, and everyone waiting for Powell to get his chance is now going to see it. But Beanie Wells remains out until Nov. 25 at the earliest and the Cards’ running game, which needs to improve anyway, takes a personnel blow.
“That’s the NFL,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Teams have to fight through adversity and keep going. We’ve done a good job of that the first five weeks of the season, and now we’ve got another challenge, but that’s okay. We’ll work through it.”
I know people have suggested Tim Hightower, for one. Again, I don’t see them rushing to sign anyone right now, and if they do sign someone, I don’t know if he would jump in and get playing time above the three guys here already anyway.
For Williams, it’s a second straight season he’ll end up on injured reserve, although this time the time frame to return is three months, Whiz said, so while he’ll miss the season he’ll be back for the offseason. Frustrating for sure — Williams insisted after the Rams’ game he as going to be OK – and Williams’ mental strength will be tested once again. He’s got to be crushed. He’s an emotional sort anyway, and this is devastating. UPDATE: I know people want specifics on the injury, but Whiz declined to get specific. Here’s the story.
Tags: Alfonso Smith, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, William Powell
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With 10 days before the next game, the Cardinals need time to get healthy. As usual, coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t have a day-after injury update, although he reiterated that the Cards have a lot of players banged up. Asked if he would like to be able to get the players on the field today and repair some of the many mistakes from Thursday night’s loss, Whiz said it wasn’t worth it.
“Physically, it wouldn’t be productive right now,” he said.
Take Darnell Dockett, for instance. The defensive tackle tried to play against the Rams, but in the end his injured hamstring allowed him to play only 19 of 56 defensive snaps. The Cards need tight end Todd Heap and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, and that doesn’t include things that may have cropped up last night, like Ryan Williams’ shoulder injury.
I’ll have more in a story in a bit, but there were lots of questions about the offensive line today. Whisenhunt said he was “not going to panic” about the line situation, which caused a Twitter kerfuffle when I tweeted it out. Look, Whiz isn’t going to panic about anything. That’s his style. Same reason he wasn’t going to rant and rave last season at 1-6 — and the Cards aren’t 1-6. Whiz sees a line that did an adequate job in the first three games and believes it can get back to that level of play. Russ Grimm isn’t going to be fired and it sure doesn’t sound like there are changes afoot.
What stuck with Whiz was the chances, noting the Cards had a first-and-10 at the St. Louis 36- , 38- , and 27-yard lines and first-and-goal at the Rams’ 9 without scoring any points. Those are the missed opportunities he lamented.
– Kicker Jay Feely was fined $7,875 for his personal foul penalty against the Dolphins earlier this week.
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Jay Feely, Ken Whisenhunt, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Ryan Williams, Todd Heap
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It’s late, and I’m not sure how many will be reading this before tomorrow morning – or even before coach Ken Whisenhunt talks again. The winning streak comes to an end with a thud. It didn’t look good when the Rams went right down the field to score to open the game, but then the Cards were able to tread water for a long time. They just couldn’t put it together offensively for any consistent stretch in order to get it in the end zone.
So we get to the topic everyone seems like the want to talk about – the offensive line.
“We got beat,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We got beat on the edge a couple of times. We have to work on technique and our sets and do some things to help those guys out.”
I get there are many out there frustrated. I see on the blog and on Twitter. The reality is the Cards are playing two tackles right now they hadn’t planned on being the starters when training camp opened and there was a reason for that. The reality is if they don’t run the ball better – and yes, I know that is also in part on the offensive line – the opposition is going to have the chance at a field day rushing the quarterback.
There is no realistic option of change on the roster. I don’t see rookie Nate Potter as a possibility right now at left tackle. Do I think the Cards will look elsewhere? Maybe. I’m pretty sure they’ve been paying attention to the waiver wire ever since their injuries struck. They obviously haven’t seen a better option. Again, reality – there’re probably aren’t enough good left tackles out there period, much less when guys start to get hurt. That’s why the Cards wanted to make sure they brought back Levi Brown in the first place.
– The Cards made the pass protection manageable when Kevin Kolb’s pass attempts were in the 20s. The last two weeks he’s thrown almost 100 passes. That’s a ratio that’s tough to manage. That’s why everyone, from Whisenhunt to guard Daryn Colledge to Kolb to Ryan Williams, all brought up the need to run the ball better. Better will eventually translate into more.
– The hit on Williams was scary, but he almost looked confused why everyone thought it was a big deal after the game. “I’m straight,” he insisted, and was acting like he was fine. Which he may be. We’ll see. Obviously to lose him for even one game right now, with Beanie already down and LaRod Stephens-Howling a question, would be a killer.
– Darnell Dockett was active, but he didn’t play a ton and wasn’t a major factor. He’s one of those guys the Cards need to get all the way healthy.
– The Cards had themselves just one sack, snapping their 10-game streak of games with at least two sacks.
– The 40-yard missed field goal by Jay Feely was important not just because it would have made the game 10-6 at the half. It felt like it changed the complexion of the fourth quarter. Do the Cards go for it on fourth-and-goal inside the 10 with five minutes left when a field goal would have made it 17-9 and a one-score game? Probably not.
– Kevin Kolb missed too many receivers in the first half. There were drops definitely, and missed chances because pass catchers didn’t make a play they should have. But obviously Kolb missed on some throws he just can’t – including a bomb to a wide-open Andre Roberts, who had gotten behind the defense.
– That said, this narrative that Kolb is “made of glass” or as Tommy Kelly said in the preseason, “skittish” needs to go away. Kolb was beaten up and bloodied Thursday night and kept getting back up. Question him as a quarterback if you want to – and we all know some of you will – but please spare me the other stuff.
– Given the way these last two Thursday night games have gone – Thanksgiving in Philly in 2008 and tonight – I’m guessing Whisenhunt would love to take a pass on these outings for good if he could.
– If you would have told me Sam Bradford would complete just 7-of-21 throws and the Rams would win – rather easily, even – I’d have said you were dumb. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team collect more sacks (nine) than pass completions.
– Rob Housler just trucked a couple of defenders on catch-and-runs tonight. It’ll get lost, but man, you can see the potential there.
– We’ll walk off with a Daryl Washington quote: “It’s a long season. The good thing about the division is you get to see them twice. They have to come to our place.” The Cards are still in first place.
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Jay Feely, Ken Whisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, Nate Potter, offensive line, Rams, Rob Housler, Ryan Williams, Sam Bradford
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Maneuvering through a short week is difficult. The flip side, of course, will be Friday, and Saturday and Sunday and the extra days off. That could really benefit the Cards as banged up as they have been.
But they have to get through Thursday first. And truthfully, those benefits would feel a little bit better with a victory in St. Louis.
“(A short week) is pretty tough, but I think everyone in this locker room feels the same way – we’ve put together four decent games and are in position to be 4-0 and have an opportunity to play on national TV in front of the masses,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think guys are relishing the opportunity.”
I do get the sense that the vibe is better for this Thursday game than it was back in 2008, for the Thanksgiving game in Philly. Back then, it didn’t feel like anyone was relishing anything. It showed on the field. This team is in a different place. We’ll see how it plays out on the turf.
– Andre Roberts has four touchdown catches – that’s the most of any receiver in the NFL right now. He’s a long way from training camp of 2011, when every “name” receiver that popped up as available quickly was linked to the Cardinals. Roberts has become a real weapon – he has been since midseason last year – but as usual, downplays his situation.
I asked him if he thought he had crossed some kind of threshold as a player. “I don’t know if it is a threshold,” Roberts said. “I just try to make the best out of my opportunities. When it comes my way, I want to make the most of it.”
– The steady play of Kevin Kolb and the clutch play late in the Miami game obviously plays well with teammates. But it’s also about a settling of the position. That’s all the rest of the Cards ever wanted was to find a player who was effective. They don’t care if it is Kolb or John Skelton.
“I’m pleased it’s not become an ordeal in the locker room,” center Lyle Sendlein said.
– It will be interesting to see who is playing cornerback across from Patrick Peterson. Will Greg Toler stay there after finishing the game at the spot? Does William Gay, who struggled, go back? If Toler gets more time, given that Gay stayed at nickel last game when that happened, it looks like rookie Jamell Fleming will be the one losing defensive snaps. Toler was the starter last year before he got hurt. I’m sure he’d like to regain that spot for good.
– The Rams are not the same team they were. They barely lost to the Lions and had they won that game, Jeff Fisher’s bunch would be 3-1. “This team is not sitting here with aspirations of going to the Super Bowl, because I think those things are unrealistic at this time of the year,” Fisher said. “Realistic goals are improving, accepting the next challenge, and doing whatever it takes to try to win the next game.” It’d be a big feather in the cap to beat division rivals Seattle and Arizona in back-to-back home games. The Cards will be tested to make sure that doesn’t happen.
– As I mentioned before, the Cardinals could make some headway with their struggling running game. They need to. Ryan Williams figures to get more carries. St. Louis has always been a place where Cards’ runners can get healthy, stats-wise.
– Speaking of guys who pop in St. Louis, Adrian Wilson is one. Against the Rams, he has six career interceptions and 7½ career sacks. Plus he is coming off a strong game, even if his diving interception (below) was eventually eliminated. Wilson thought the Rams, in 2001, might draft him with multiple high picks. They didn’t. He remembers.
Bring on Thursday night.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Andre Roberts, Greg Toler, Jamell Fleming, Jeff Fisher, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Rams, Ryan Williams, William Gay
Posted in Blog | 55 Comments »
The Cardinals aren’t running the ball as well as they would like. That’s not a mystery. “It’s disappointing we’re not running the ball better,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “but that’s something that we can work on. Hopefully we can get better at it.”
It’s not as if the Cards haven’t flashes, especially late in the Philadelphia game when Ryan Williams had the majority of his 83 yards on 13 carries for that game even though the Eagles knew he would be toting the ball. But against Miami — a team with arguably the best run defense in the NFL — Williams managed only 26 yards on 13 carries. The Cards only had 15 total attempts for 28 yards (William Powell had the other two carries and two yards) as they played catch up most of the game.
“I think we still have a lot strides to make in the running game,” Williams said. “(Find out) what are our bread and butter plays, things of that sort.”
By coincidence, the Rams are next up, and that might just make an impact.
The Rams are giving up 135 rushing yards a game (the Cards are averaging 68.) And it should be noted, the last time the Cards went into St. Louis last season, Beanie Wells blew up. By the time the Cards finished with a 23-20 win, the running back had piled up a franchise-record 228 yards. Now, Wells isn’t around this time, having gone to temporary IR last week. This is Williams’ show now. But history provides optimism: Since Whisenhunt arrived in 2007, a Cardinal back has surpassed 100 yards rushing in the five trips to St. Louis four times — Wells, Tim Hightower (twice), and Edgerrin James. A good day from Williams would help the cause.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Edgerrin James, Rams, Ryan Williams, Tim Hightower
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The Cardinals will practice tonight — for an hour — as their short week begins. They aren’t going to do much because they really can’t, not after finishing a game just about 24 hours before. The body just isn’t ready for that. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he won’t really know much about the injury situation until he sees his players like Darnell Dockett (hamstring) and Todd Heap (knee) doing things in practice, and it will be so light this evening that tonight probably isn’t going to give much of a barometer.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson just tweeted, “Quick turn around big game on Thursday. This game will say a lot about our team, can’t wait.
#Don‘tBlink” That’s true. This game will tell a lot about the Cards. The last time the Cards had a Thursday game, it didn’t go so well.
– Whisenhunt said Greg Toler has been working back to health after missing all last season with the ACL tear. Toler was available all of camp, but he never was quite right. “He was fighting it in camp and he’s been getting healthier,” Whisenhunt said. “During the course of the game we made the move (to play him more) because we thought it was best because of the matchup situation.” Whisenhunt said “we’ll see” when it comes to keeping Toler in that spot. Toler ended up playing across from Patrick Peterson at cornerback instead of William Gay, and in nickel, instead of Jamell Fleming (with Gay staying at nickel). Gay played 50 defensive snaps Sunday, Toler 44 and Fleming 12.
– Because running back Ryan Williams is not part of the no-huddle because of where he is in his development and William Powell does work in that package, Powell actually played more offensive snaps (34) than Williams (33) Sunday.
– The play-action was very effective for the Cards Sunday. Whiz said if he could guarantee that success, he’d run it every snap. It’s a little strange too. “It’s not like we’ve been killing it in the run game,” Whisenhunt acknowledged.
– Many have asked about the push Dolphins defensive back Sean Smith made on Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone on Kevin Kolb’s interception. Fitz said after the game “when the quarterback is out of the pocket he’s allowed to push me” and the Pro Bowler was absolutely right. It says in part in Rule 8, Section 4, Article 7 of the rulebook, “If the quarterback leaves the pocket area with the ball in his possession, the restrictions on illegal contact and illegal cut block both end, but the restriction on defensive holding remains in effect.” Kolb still had the ball and was out of the pocket when Smith shoved Fitz.
– The game Thursday will be televised on NFL Network and for those who don’t have NFLN, it will be also shown on KPHO (Ch. 5).
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Greg Toler, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Ryan Williams, Sean Smith, William Gay, William Powell
Posted in Blog | 60 Comments »