The Cardinals had a lot of roster change this week with injuries and other moves impacting the roster, and that includes the inactive list against the Saints. Coach Bruce Arians praised the practice work of first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, and now Nkemdiche will be active against New Orleans. I’m sure he’ll have to show some things today and in practice to remain active every week the rest of the way, but it’s a good sign, and Nkemdiche could use some momentum heading into the offseason.
Young wide receiver and local product Marquis Bundy is also active, for the first time. As expected, tight end Jermaine Gresham, safety Tyrann Mathieu and wide receiver John Brown are also playing. The full inactive list:
— QB Zac Dysert
— WR Jeremy Ross
— CB Tharold Simon
— DT Olsen Pierre
— T D.J. Humphries (concussion)
— DT Xavier Williams
— DT Ed Stinson
Tags: inactives, Marquis Bundy, Robert Nkemdiche, Saints
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For the final home game of the season and for the second straight time, the roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Sunday (barring something crazy changing with the weather) when the Cardinals host the Saints.
The roof was open a couple of weeks ago when the Cards beat Washington. The Cardinals are now 15-10 all-time with the stadium roof open, including a 4-2 mark when Bruce Arians has been head coach. The weather is supposed to be 62 degrees and sunny at kickoff Sunday.
Tags: roof, Saints, University of Phoenix stadium
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Larry Fitzgerald slowly sat in the chair in front of his locker for his weekly meeting with the press.
“The body is definitely feeling Week 15-ish and 33-ish,” Fitzgerald said with a weary smile.
The season has taken a toll on the Cardinals physically. You can see that in the lengthy injured reserve list alone. An inability to reach expectations has taken a toll mentally too, and that was apparent this week with the virtual elimination from the playoffs and the Michael Floyd situation.
“When things are not going the way you expected or hoped it would go, it does feel not only worse on the body but it feels like the season is longer,” Fitzgerald said. “I remember last year, I woke up and we were in the playoffs. It was like it was fast forward the whole season. I guess that’s how it goes when you are having fun and enjoying it and things are kind of clicking.”
Things have not been clicking for the Cards, not lately, and not enough. You think back to the last time the Saints were in town and the Cardinals beat them, 31-19, in the 2015 opener in a game sealed by David Johnson’s first touchdown.
Man, that seems like a lifetime ago.
— With a ton of free agents and even the possibility of a Fitzgerald retirement, this could be the last home game for a lot of guys. One is defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who will be a free agent and as we noted last week, may be too expensive to keep. So this could be his last home game too.
“It’s only natural to think back and realize that possibility,” Campbell said on his Big Red Rage radio show Thursday night. “It’s a harsh reality but it is reality. I really want to embrace it and enjoy it. It’s sad — it’s been nine years and I’ve had an unbelievable time playing at University of Phoenix Stadium and playing with the Arizona Cardinals in front of these amazing Birdgang fans. It’s been quite the ride, so I’m looking forward to it and hopefully we can make some good things happen.”
“It’s definitely going to be emotional,” Campbell added. “Probably going to have to hold back some tears.”
— Bruce Arians said newcomer Scooby Wright will be active Sunday. The former University of Arizona star will play special teams. I don’t expect him to play defense. Sio Moore is replacing Deone Bucannon in the defensive lineup.
— It’ll be interesting to see how the new offensive line holds up and how much quarterback Carson Palmer will have to endure. This week is one thing, but the Cards face the daunting defensive fronts of the Seahawks and Rams — on the road — the final two games.
— Palmer insisted he wasn’t worried about the line. He was going to play behind whomever was out there and it would be fine. So, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, if Palmer says he’s not worried, does that make you feel better?
“If he’s not worried, I’m not worried — but I’m always worried,” Goodwin said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”
— Arians wouldn’t say that rookie first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche would play Sunday, although he didn’t rule it out. He did say Nkemdiche was “working hard.” It was a more positive take on the defensive tackle. Hopefully that’s good news.
— It’s so cool to see Tim Hightower still having some NFL success. I still remember being on the field, standing on the sidelines at the 10, watching him pile into the end zone to win the NFC championship.
— This is, by the way, the 200th career game for Fitzgerald.
— One home game left. In some ways, it does seem like it flew by. But mostly, Fitz is right — kickoff against the Patriots seems years past, and not just months.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Robert Nkemdiche, Saints, Scooby Wright, Sio Moore, Tim Hightower
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The Cardinals never played at home in Week 1 of the NFL season during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium. Sunday night will be the seventh time in 11 seasons at University of Phoenix Stadium that the Cardinals have hosted a Week 1 game. With the Patriots coming to town for “Sunday Night Football,” it makes a difference.
The Cards have won six straight home openers and have won 10 straight home games in September. It’s interesting to note that the last time the Cardinals lost at home in September was back in 2009, when the reigning NFC Champions lost not once but twice.
You remember that season, right? The Cards lost their opener, at home, to a lesser 49ers team. A couple of weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts blew them out of the building. The Cardinals were 1-2, everyone asked “What’s wrong?” — and then they got to 10-5 before shutting it down in the regular-season finale against the Packers.
Since then, the Cards’ home opener has been in Week 1 four times (wins over Carolina in Cam’s first start in 2011, Seattle in Russell Wilson’s first start in 2012, San Diego on “Monday Night Football” in 2014 and New Orleans last year), Week 2 once (beating Detroit in 2013) and Week 3 once (beating Oakland in 2010.)
You can argue, easily, that the Patriots represent the best team the Cardinals have hosted in the home opener in that span (although the 2012 Seahawks turned out to be pretty good). But the Cardinals have made that first home game advantageous.
Tags: 49ers, Chargers, Colts, Panthers, Patriots, Saints, Seahawks, University of Phoenix stadium
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The Cardinals ran for 120 yards against the Saints, 115 against the Bears and 139 Sunday against the 49ers. It is the first time the Cardinals have rushed for at least 115 yards in each of the first three games of the season since 1988. The 374 rushing yards are the most for the franchise in the first three games of the season since the Cards had 416 in 2002. (That 2002 start was aided by Thomas Jones’ 173 yards in the first regular-season game ever at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, a Cardinals’ win, the second week of the season. The Cardinals had 249 yards rushing in that game alone.)
The Cardinals have done it with nearly equal contributions from Andre Ellington — who looked great against the Saints before he got hurt — and David Johnson and Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the 49ers, and showed plenty of burst just a couple of days after his 30th birthday. Better yet, after Bruce Arians said that generally Earl Watford was a better run blocker than Bobby Massie at right tackle, the Cards had their best rushing game against San Francisco with Massie in there. And this team hasn’t even gotten to see what guard Mike Iupati — arguably their best run blocker — has to offer yet.
“It’s just a start,” veteran center Lyle Sendlein said. “You can’t just show up and expect you’ll get that kind of yardage every week.
“Obviously it had a level of importance in the offseason that they had been working on, and when I got here (in training camp) it was pretty apparent we were going to commit to getting yardage in the run game.”
Under Arians, the Cardinals are 14-1 when rushing for at least 100 yards. That can be misleading; Arians always says being committed to balance only counts in the first three quarters and then the game itself dictates how the fourth quarter will be called. Against the 49ers, for instance, the Cardinals went into the fourth quarter with a 40-7 lead and 10 of 13 Arizona offensive plays were runs as they drove for one more touchdown. (The final “drive” was three Drew Stanton kneeldowns, which count as “runs” but also screw up the stats with minus-one yard on each kneel.)
Like everything else, Sendlein emphasized it’s only a start. But it’s a start. The Cardinals, since 1995, have ranked higher than 21st in the NFL just once — 15th in that 2002 season — and haven’t been higher than 23rd since 2004. Seven times they have been ranked 30th or lower. This year, the Cards are currently 11th in the NFL.
Tags: 49ers, Andre Ellington, Bears, Bobby Massie, Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Lyle Sendlein, Saints
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The gains will be lost over time, because penalty yards have no way of appearing on either the Cardinals’ passing offense or John “Smokey” Brown’s personal statistics. But there is little arguing that the two pass interference calls Brown drew against the Bears Sunday were crucial. One went for 42 yards, one for 38. The first ball was in a perfect spot, until cornerback Kyle Fuller simply karate-chopped Brown’s arms down before the ball got there. The other was a little underthrown, and Brown smartly stopped and came back into cornerback Alan Ball, who was then forced to hit Brown just before the ball arrived.
More importantly, the first set up a six-yard inside screen touchdown to wide receiver Jaron Brown, while the second set up Larry Fitzgerald’s first of three touchdowns.
Technically, Smokey Brown had only five catches for 45 yards in the game, but those penalties were worth 80 yards and put the Cards into the red zone twice from long range. He said wide receivers coach Darryl Drake has pounded that into the receivers heads all through training camp, about working back to the ball if it is underthrown to try and draw a penalty.
“That’s the mindset that coach Drake and coach Bruce Arians, they tell me, draw attention back into them,” Brown said. “I’ve been doing a great job of that.”
He’s not wrong. Brown also drew a 17-yard pass interference in the end zone in the game against the Saints (a call that was a little more suspect), setting up a 1-yard Andre Ellington touchdown run. So in two games, Brown has already accounted for 97 yards down the field on three plays for which he will never have credit.
“Hey, I’m about winning,” Brown said. “I’m not much about stats. As long as we’re winning, I’m fine.”
Tags: Bears, John Brown, Saints
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Rashad Johnson had already pulled off his jersey and shoulder pads as he made his way off the field Sunday, the Cardinals’ 31-19 win official. The shirt he wore under his jersey for the game, now drenched in sweat? None other than one that proclaimed “9 More” – or the saying the veteran safety uttered back in 2013, after the last time the Cardinals played the Saints and Johnson lost a fingertip.
He was back with the team a couple days later, telling everyone he was fine because he still had nine more fingers.
It was kind of cool that Johnson got the Cardinals’ lone interception Sunday – he nearly had a second later on. He wasn’t going to get his finger back, but he was able to extract a small revenge.
The offense got gutsy with their playcalls and ended up putting 31 points on the board, but the new James Bettcher defense did a lot of the same things the old Todd Bowles defense did, including stiffening in the red zone to force field goals instead of touchdowns. The defense must be better – as acknowledged by many, way too many yards surrendered on short passes-and-long-runs by running backs – but it was a good enough start.
— The right knee injury to Andre Ellington was scary-looking. But as we got into the postgame, both Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer sounded optimistic that the injury – Arians said the belief is that Elllington hurt his PCL – wouldn’t sideline Ellington permanently.
— That said, we see where the running back depth makes so much sense. Ellington goes down, and you turn to a veteran who still has a little juice left in Chris Johnson. Then you let speed merchant David Johnson loose on the pass – I was down on the sideline when the rookie blew past everyone, and I have to say I didn’t expect that kind of speed – and you figure the Cards can weather an Ellington absence.
— Bruce Arians said he was “anxious” to make the play call that ended in Johnson’s 55-yard touchdown. Which is odd because few do such a thing. ESPN’s Mike Sando tweeted this great stat: From 2010 through last season, NFL teams ran 94.8 percent of the time on second down in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter when leading by six or fewer points.
— Then again, Arians does not lay up. He goes for the pin.
— There were many upset at the sequence at the end of the first half that ended with two incomplete bombs and a Palmer scramble as time ran out, costing the Cards a field-goal try. But remember, that’s the mentality that led to the Johnson touchdown. No risk it, no biscuit. That’s B.A.
— The offensive line did solid. There were hiccups. There always are. But there were not a lot of them and for the most part, there is little to complain about. Earl Watford hung in there at right tackle against the very talented Cameron Jordan. Jonathan Cooper had a rough start but rallied. Most importantly, Carson Palmer was not sacked.
— Backup center/guard A.Q. Shipley played fullback and was lead blocker on Ellington’s touchdown run. Fantastic, and good use of the 46-man active roster on game day.
— Tyrann Mathieu kept promising his savage season and he was all over the field Sunday. He had a team-high eight tackles and three passes deflected while the Cardinals went heavy with their four safety-packages.
— I thought Patrick Peterson played well. Yes, he got beat once by Brandin Cooks for a 30-yard gain. But mostly, Cooks – the Saints’ best offensive weapon – was a non-factor. And mostly, Cooks was covered by Peterson.
— It’s hard to find a better story or more likeable guy (and the Cardinals’ locker room is filled with likeable guys) than tight end Darren Fells. To see him break out is cool, and reinforces what Arians has been saying about his development. There are times when Arians moves into hyperbole with his players, but Fells is proving his coach right on target.
— Michael Floyd played, and had an 18-yard catch early. Arians said he wasn’t on a “pitch count” to hold down his plays, but Floyd certainly didn’t play as much as he normally would.
Road game in Chicago next weekend. One down, at least 15 to go.
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson, Darren Fells, Earl Watford, James Bettcher, Jonathan Cooper, Michael Floyd, offensive line, Patrick Peterson, Rashad Johnson, Saints, Tyrann Mathieu
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Big picture, there are a lot of expectations around the Cardinals this season, as the games that count begin Sunday against the Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium. But sometimes, there is the smaller picture, the one of the journey traveled by individual guys to get to this point, like with Carson Palmer’s intense ACL rehab or Earl Watford’s roller-coaster career to suddenly starting right tackle or rookie Rodney Gunter going from nobody to nose tackle.
There is running back Chris Johnson, who everyone knows as the 2,000-yard rusher (way back in 2009) and the guy who didn’t quite fit in with the Jets. But now he’s the running back who was shot in a drive-by in March, his shoulder still carrying the bullet and leaving him mentally shattered.
“Lot of nights crying myself to sleep,” he said Friday.
Johnson was in mourning at that point, fearing the loss of his career. When he was forced into bedrest for six weeks, “that’s when I wondered about what direction my life would take.”
Flash forward to today, where he’s part of the three-pronged running back attack with Andre Ellington and David Johnson, prepping for the Saints. Chris Johnson may not be running for 1,000 yards this season, but he certainly sounds motivated to make yet another one-year deal for a vet by GM Steve Keim look like a bargain.
— Speaking of Johnson, he switched from jersey number 27 to 23. Why? He just didn’t like 27. Neither did Palmer, it turned out.
“It didn’t look good,” Johnson said. “Playing in it, always knew I didn’t like it but once Carson said something to me I knew it was time for me to get out of it.”
The two were playing cards on the plane during the road trip to Denver, and Johnson said Palmer asked him point-blank, “Twenty-seven? You going to stay in that number?” Johnson made up his mind then. “I was like, ‘Nah, I gotta get out of that number.”
— Arians said Michael Floyd was a game-day decision, but it certainly seems like Floyd is trending toward playing. Whether he’d be the “normal” Floyd in terms of gameplan, I don’t know.
— The tight end situation, and the iffy status of both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas, is the more interesting injury watch. Those two are also game-day decisions. If I had to pick one, I’d say Gresham would play, but we’ll see. If a choice had to be made is a gimpy Gresham or Niklas better than the just-got-here Joseph Fauria?
— There is a lot of talk about how Watford will hold up or the pressure on Palmer or the pass rush, but honestly, one of the top things I’m watching for is Patrick Peterson versus Brandin Cooks. Peterson has set himself up for a big year, a big year that’s needed. Cooks is a tough draw with his speed. Peterson said a key is to stay close, so a simple Cooks wiggle won’t let him get away and race for a big gain. The spotlight has never been brighter on Peterson, whose 2015 confidence is apparent.
— Bruce Arians had to be careful with the game plan this week. Don’t want to make it too hard on the players because of volume.
“You have so much offense and defense from training camp,” Arians said. “A lot of times you feel you have to use it all. That’s a bad feeling when you can’t practice everything you have. Then you have way too much in there.”
— Arians said the offensive prep remains the same with Palmer. Palmer gets to pick the top 15 pass plays with which he is most comfortable, and Arians puts in running plays for the top 30 calls for the game.
— If it’s the Saints, then you have to always tip your cap to the fingertip-less Rashad Johnson, still plugging away after that fateful day in New Orleans almost two years ago. “I’ve got nine more” remains one of the best quotes ever.
— The Cardinals have only lost once in nine home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium. That was 2009, a 20-16 loss to the 49ers coming off the Super Bowl appearance. Oh, and the Cards have yet to lose a home game to a non-NFC West team since Arians took over.
— There’s been a lot said and written the past week. If you missed Cardinals Underground, or Kyle Odegard’s story about the Saints-Cards trade that netted the Cards John Brown or my story on Fitz and where he is in his career, please check them out.
— Otherwise, it’s time for an actual game that counts. (OK, first I have to write a story about the facility renovations and the cool new Tillman locker tribute, to be posted soon). There’s been plenty of talk about it.
See you Sunday.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, Earl Watford, Jermaine Gresham, Patrick Peterson, Saints, Troy Niklas, University of Phoenix stadium
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We’ve delved into why the Cardinals took Matt Barkley at quarterback already, but General Manager Steve Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Tuesday morning — got into a little more detail.
“When you are looking at a quarterback … and you’re saying, ‘What are the traits you look for,’ the first thing you don’t say is arm strength, or foot speed or mobility,” Keim said. “To me, when you look at quarterbacks, the first thing you want is mental toughness, the second thing is the ability to process and learn.
“Those are the things that excited us about Matt Barkley. When he came out of college we spent a lot of time with him. We liked him coming out. We know he is a football junkie. The mental part of the game is not too fast for him. Now, we bring him in, not a lot of risk involved, and you see what he’s got physically. To me, that’s how you have to approach that position because they are so hard to find.”
Other Keim’s points:
— The roster is “always in flux.” Keim wouldn’t even say the current 53 would stay static through Sunday’s opener against the Saints. Something to watch, although I’d be surprised if there was a move at this point just given what is out there (and assuming no one gets hurt in practice.)
— The fact the Cardinals have only three cornerbacks on the roster isn’t lost on Keim. Having safety Tyrann Mathieu there is a bit reason the Cards were comfortable with the move, but Keim did point out there is a reason the team has three cornerbacks on the practice squad. Any one of them could be pulled up in a given week.
— Once Bobby Massie is reinstated from his two-game suspension, then Keim and Bruce Arians will figure out who might be released to make room on the roster. No reason to talk names now, Keim said, because no one knows what injuries may happen, if any, over the first two games. Keim was pleased with the way Earl Watford played right tackle in the final preseason game.
— That said, Keim deferred to Arians on any starting lineup announcements, including center. He also said he had nothing concrete to report on injury updates of G Mike Iupati and WR Michael Floyd. Arians already said Iupati wouldn’t be playing this week.
— Keim said it was “good to see” both RB Chris Johnson and LB Sean Weatherspoon play “extremely well” in the final preseason game. Keim reiterated the Cards were excited for both additions when they signed and the team is counting on their contributions.
Tags: Bobby Massie, Chris Johnson, Earl Watford, Matt Barkley, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Roster, Saints, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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Yes, training camp starts today (hopefully you can check out our redesigned homepage and our training camp page.) But before we get off and running, how about a quick glance at the Cardinals’ opponents for the 2016 season — which, as you know, the league has determined 14 of the 16 regular-season games already.
— New Orleans Saints
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
— New England Patriots
— New York Jets
— NFC East team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (assuming the Rams are still in St. Louis)
— Carolina Panthers
— Atlanta Falcons
— Buffalo Bills
— Miami Dolphins
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional spot as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— St. Louis Rams (even more important to see if Rams are still in St. Louis)
Tags: 49ers, Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Falcons, Jets, opponents, Panthers, Patriots, Rams, Saints, Seahawks
Posted in Blog | 10 Comments »