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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

PressureBlogUSE


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Extending Palmer and the 2015 offseason

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2014 – 10:21 am

It comes as no surprise that the Cardinals want to extend quarterback Carson Palmer. GM Steve Keim said he has had initial discussions with Palmer’s agent, and given the landscape, keeping Palmer around makes sense for both sides. For Palmer, who will turn 35 in December, he has found a comfort — and success — working in Bruce Arians’ system. Considering there probably aren’t many teams that are going to want to bring in a 35-year-old QB, at least not believing in him at the level the Cardinals do, Palmer wanting to remain is only logical.

The Cardinals have a quarterback who works for them, not only passing the ball but as a leader, a guy who easily was voted captain by his teammates. Palmer stands tall in that locker room, and it has nothing to do with his 6-foot-5 frame but the way he carries himself and plays off every guy in there. At some point, the Cardinals will have to find their long-term QB answer, and maybe it’s Logan Thomas and maybe Keim sees the franchise QB sitting there late in the first round this coming April, but there are no certainties and having Palmer in place is almost obvious for the team too.

The shoulder nerve issue probably threw a wrench into things somewhat. You have to believe Palmer will stay healthy. But assuming that, this should work. If it makes so much sense for both sides, it almost has to, right?

But that also leads into this incredibly interesting offseason to come for Keim. Last year, he said the 2015 season was really when the Cards would be in better shape in terms of the salary cap. You can only assume he was already taking into account the Larry Fitzgerald situation, and what he may or may not do with Darnell Dockett’s contract (a spot that’s gotten stickier now that Dockett, who turns 34 in May, will be coming off major knee surgery.)  That doesn’t include the scheduled free agents: Antonio Cromartie, Dan Williams, Sam Acho, Tommy Kelly, Larry Foote and Paul Fanaika among them.

If there is anything Keim has shown with a couple of offseasons under his belt, it’s that the Cardinals have a plan on how they spend. And going overboard isn’t part of it. There is a number the Cardinals have in mind they will want to give to any of these guys for 2015 — for a Fitz, for a Dan Williams. For a Palmer. Selling a chance to stay with a winner helps.

Of course, winning only happens when there is a QB in place. Palmer is that guy for the Cardinals. You want him to stick around.

PalmerCool1BLOG


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The bear in Niklas, and a closed practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2014 – 5:38 pm

We start this post with words of wisdom from tight end John Carlson, a sage who to my cohort Kyle Odegard described rookie tight end Troy Niklas thusly: “He looks like a 12-year-old boy who swallowed a grizzly bear.”

That’s better than thinking him a outsized refugee from a boy band, but nevertheless, I don’t think it’s going to stop the spike in girls who retweet any item with a Niklas photo on it.

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As for practice today, it was strange to watch a workout at University of Phoenix Stadium with it closed to the public. Usually there are cheers for every single catch, and to have a reception in a vacuum was a different feeling. Among the things I noticed:

– Ted Ginn hauled in a nice long bomb early. Taking the top off the defense just like Bruce Arians likes.

– Earl Watford continued to get some first-team reps splitting with Jonathan Cooper.

– Clearly there wasn’t supposed to be much if any hitting — defenders were pulling off completely on many plays — but in one bang-bang instance, linebacker Sam Acho leveled running back Stepfan Taylor on a swing pass only by going hard after the ball. The hit was incidental and yet Acho came out way ahead. Acho has had an impressive camp thus far.

– Quarterback Logan Thomas continues to be up and down. He’ll have a nice throw and then another than you aren’t sure what was happening. When the pocket breaks down and he tries to hold his ground, he definitely looks uncomfortable much of the time.

– Rookie safety Deone Bucannon got himself an interception and almost had another.


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Sendlein out three weeks and Abraham arrest

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2014 – 12:29 pm

The Cardinals collected a handful of injuries on their first day of padded practice, the most serious of which is the left calf injury to starting center Lyle Sendlein that will sideline Sendlein for three weeks, coach Bruce Arians said. In his place, Ted Larsen will play center. It’s not a huge deal, since Sendlein will return in camp and is experienced enough to overcome missing practice.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie is also expected to miss four or five days with a pectoral injury, while running back Andre Ellington (neck) will miss Tuesday’s work. Also hurting are linebacker Ernie Sims (back spasms), nose tackle Christian Topou (groin) and cornerback Todd Washington (groin). The Topou injury is interesting because fellow nose tackles Dan Williams (knee) and Alameda Ta’amu (PUP – knee) are already sitting. All hands on deck, Arians said, which means some mixing and matching on the defensive line.

– The news came out that linebacker John Abraham, who has been absent from training camp thus far, was arrested for a DUI in Georgia in late June. Arians had no comment, other than to say he knew of the arrest and was actually in Georgia at the same time. Arians also had no comment when asked if the arrest had anything to do with Abraham’s absence, and said he does not know when Abraham will show up to camp. Given Abraham’s experience, missing some training camp isn’t the worst thing in the world. But he barely was on the field all of the offseason too, and the sack production on the roster beyond him is extremely limited. His situation will be important to watch as the days pass.

– Arians said LB Sam Acho had a good day in his first padded practice with a couple of forced fumbles and with his pass rush, a big deal given the Abraham circumstances.

– The kicking rotation will remain with two guys going in a day and the third resting. As for Arians’ evaluation so far, “Cat (Chandler Catanzaro) has been perfect, that’s the only impression I can gather from it. The rest of the guys haven’t been. The numbers don’t lie.” As for the eventual decision, “We’ll see how they do in games. Practices are one thing, games are another. I’ve seen Jay in games for 12 years so I don’t need to see Jay in a lot of games. I know he’s got nerves. The other two guys, you want to see them do it in front of the crowd.”

– Former Cardinals tackle Eric Winston finally found a team Tuesday, signing with the Seahawks.


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 26, 2014 – 12:15 pm

As we come to the end of June (and the beginning of a little time off), it’s time for my annual pre-vacation pair of posts – the ones in which I take a stab at who will be in the starting lineup on opening day, which in this case will be Monday night against the Chargers. Some picks are obvious. Some are not. We’ll defense today, offense tomorrow. And then we’ll wait to see what training camp brings.

(For the offense, click here.)

DE – Darnell Dockett. There are a lot of questions, given Dockett’s age and 2015 salary, about what his situation will be next season. But this season, Dockett will be right where he always is – in the starting lineup. The Cards do like to rotate on the line. It’s necessary for good defenses to stay effective. And rookies Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson will get some time.

NT – Dan Williams. It’s a big year for Williams, who goes into the last year of his contract. He might have been pushed by Alameda Ta’amu, but Ta’amu is coming off knee surgery. Ta’amu will return early in the season, and the one-two combination will help. It has to start with Williams, though.

DE – Calais Campbell. He’s deserved Pro Bowl consideration the last couple of years, even if he hasn’t gotten it. When the Cardinals’ braintrust say they hope Martin turns into another Campbell, that says something.

ROLB – John Abraham. Abraham turned into a real find last year. He was supposed to be a part-time pass rusher and proved to be much more. He’s ahead of Sam Acho these days, but at some point, Acho (who’s in the last year of his contract) or someone has to step forward to provide a future.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He was going to be a starter as soon as Karlos Dansby left. Now, with Daryl Washington absent, there is a lot on the second-year man.

ILB – Larry Foote. There is a chance Lorenzo Alexander could win this job, but I think Alexander will end up filling multiple depth roles and Foote will get the starts. His signing has proved to be fortuitous given Washington’s situation.  What will be interesting to watch will be where someone like Kenny Demens fits in – with Washington out, there’s an opportunity for someone.

LOLB – Matt Shaughnessy. The Cardinals had the best run defense in the NFL last season in large part because Shaughnessy was so solid. It’s what you’d expect when you have a former defensive end playing outside in the 3-4. The Cardinals are hoping Alex Okafor develops down the road, but his inexperience leaves him a question mark for now.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Forget the criticisms (yes, he needs to get better, like everyone) and forget the chatter of who is the best, which is really meaningless anyway. He’s an anchor, and he’ll be an anchor for a long time.

CB – Antonio Cromartie. He looked healthy in the offseason and that’s a good sign. If he can regain the consistent level of play he’s had in the past, the Cardinals will be in great shape for their coverage.

FS – Rashad Johnson. With Tyrann Mathieu on the mend, Johnson is the natural choice. He’s a vet who won’t make mistakes. Tony Jefferson has been playing strong safety in offseason work, but Jefferson should be in the mix when dime packages are used.

SS – Deone Bucannon. The aforementioned Jefferson was running first unit in the offseason but the Cardinals are going to play their first-round pick if he shows anything in camp. I expect that to happen and Bucannon will get his shot as the season begins.

Tomorrow, we’ll have the offense.

 DefenseWorthBlog


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Lining up to begin OTAs

Posted by Darren Urban on May 20, 2014 – 10:05 am

There are, in the end, few starting spots that will truly be up for grabs as the Cardinals move toward the regular season. That’s reality. But as the Cards begin organized team activities today, there are some things to watch for. Through the Phase 2 work, there have been certain people running with the first unit. For instance, on the offensive line, Bradley Sowell is the first-team right tackle and Paul Fanaika remains the starting right guard. Bobby Massie and Earl Watford are with the second team. I don’t know if that is going to change before we get to training camp — I’d be a little surprised if it did — and camp will be when Massie and Watford will have to make their push.

At tight end, there’s been a lot of work for John Carlson and Jake Ballard and I think Rob Housler is going to have to work hard to stay up on the depth chart, although with his skill set and Bruce Arians’ love for multiple tight ends there will be plenty of work to go around. On defense, Kevin Minter and Daryl Washington are your inside linebackers, although Larry Foote is there to step in if Washington can’t be there. On the outside, Matt Shaughnessy and Sam Acho are getting reps although I’d expect John Abraham to be the starter when he’s around (remember, all this work is voluntary right now).

The rookies, meanwhile, will be worked in slowly. It was interesting to see first-round pick Deone Bucannon basically shadow Tony Jefferson at strong safety during the Phase 2 run-throughs of defensive plays. That’s one way to learn on the job. I anticipate a two-field system like last summer for the young players, although we’ll see if Arians sticks with that. I’ll have more after today’s workout.

DefesnivehikeUSE


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Okafor, Acho, Alexander and OLBs

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2014 – 10:03 am

The Cardinals got 11.5 sacks out of starting linebacker John Abraham and excellent edge-setting run defense from fellow starting linebacker Matt Shaughnessy last season. With both coming back in 2014, it’s hard to believe those won’t be your starters at the position. It’s also hard to believe neither were starters when 2013 opened — instead, it was Sam Acho starting over Shaughnessy, and Lorenzo Alexander instead of Abraham.

That changed early in the season, when both Acho (broken leg) and Alexander (foot) suffered season-ending injuries Week 3 in New Orleans. Oh, and that was the same day rookie outside linebacker Alex Okafor (biceps) also was lost for the season. It opened the door for Abraham — who hadn’t been thrilled with his playing time — and Shaughnessy to play a lot and ultimately play well. But it also leaves in question the roles of Acho and Alexander going forward, as well as the spot for Okafor.

It would be an upset if the Cardinals do not take a pass rusher/outside linebacker in the draft. As well as Abraham played last season, he is 35 and in the last year of his deal and the team needs to find a longer-term solution as a dynamic pass rusher. Acho and Alexander have their strengths, but neither figure to fit that bill. Okafor (who said late last week he has been officially cleared to work post-rehab) still could become that guy, although missing his rookie year set him back in his development. Acho did have seven sacks as a rookie in 2011 but only four in 2012. Alexander, meanwhile, might not end up outside. Coach Bruce Arians has talked about Alexander’s ability to move inside and right now, the Cards could use the depth there after cutting Jasper Brinkley and losing Karlos Dansby to free agency.

Like cornerback, outside linebacker (and more specifically, pass rusher) is a position at which a team will constantly throw numbers. You always need multiples, and you can never have too many. Where Acho, Alexander and Okafor fit in Year 2 of the Arians/Steve Keim era will be something to watch. The landscape is definitely different from the last time they stepped on the field.

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Ranking positions of need

Posted by Darren Urban on February 10, 2014 – 1:01 pm

Next week, the decision-makers for the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL will head to Indianapolis for the annual Scouting combine. Already teams, including the Cards, have been meeting and ranking their rosters and figuring out what direction they will need to go in. Free agency, which begins March 11 officially (although teams came start to talk to guys from other teams a couple of days before that), will impact what happens in the draft and the rest of the offseason.

But before all that, and before the Cardinals re-sign any more of their own players, here are — in my opinion — the positions that need to be addressed the most over the next few months:

1) Offensive line: It doesn’t hurt that this encompasses multiple positions. Ultimately, it is left tackle that the Cardinals likely need to go after the most. I have no doubt Bradley Sowell can be depth at the position, but clearly the Cards would like to upgrade there. Easier said than done, of course, and we’ll see if it comes in free agency or the draft.

2) Defensive line: You’re not going to win in the NFC West unless both lines of scrimmage are fortified. As it stands now, the defensive line seems to be OK, with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. But Alameda Ta’amu was an important co-nose tackle with Williams, and he is coming off ACL surgery. Dockett’s age and contract will likely call into question his future after 2014. And with Frostee Rucker a free agent, the Cardinals need depth there, especially after using rotations during the season.

3) Linebacker: This is in part a continuation of the defensive line issue, because whether you consider a pass rusher a linebacker or a defensive end in nickel situations, the Cards still need pass rushers. John Abraham was a godsend in 2013 but he is not getting younger, even if he has another double-digit sack year in his arsenal. Alex Okafor is an unknown quantity at outside linebacker after his lost rookie season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Shaughnessy get away as a free agent. It’s hard to tell, since both missed most of the season, how well Lorenzo Alexander and Sam Acho fit in the defense as well. That doesn’t even include the inside, where Karlos Dansby could still leave.

4) Tight end: This position probably should be higher on the list, considering all the free agents the Cardinals have. Then again, maybe I’m just used to the Cards just getting along the best they can at tight end to make sure other spots are taken care of first. But Bruce Arians likes to use the tight end in multiple ways and use multiple tight ends. The Cards need bodies, and that’s even if Jim Dray returns. Rob Housler had flashes again last season but this is likely a make-or-break season for him to stay healthy and be consistent.

5) Safety: Even if Yeremiah Bell returns he is older. Tyrann Mathieu is coming off major knee surgery. The depth is thin, and the Cardinals, as you might have heard, had some issues covering tight ends last season. As good as Richard Sherman is, a big reason why the Seahawks secondary is so good is because Earl Thomas is backstopping Sherman and all those corners. Getting a safety like that wouldn’t be too bad.

Bonus) Quarterback: There’s no reason to list QB in the top five because the Cardinals are fine going into next season playing with Carson Palmer. There’s no argument there, really. But reality says the future QB has to be acquired sooner rather than later. This is a draft-only kind of scenario. I don’t see the Cards seeking another trade or anything. But at some point, GM Steve Keim is going to come across a quarterback he likes very much when the Cards are on the clock. And he needs to pull that trigger for down the road.

NeedTEBlog


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Sam Acho spends some time at the AZ State Fair

Posted by since1898 on October 24, 2013 – 4:57 pm

 

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Sam Acho keeps a positive attitude after leg injury

Posted by since1898 on September 25, 2013 – 12:07 pm

READ SAM’S BLOG ON HIS LEG INJURY TITLED THE “FIBULA DIARIES” HERE

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