Windows and sea(hawk) change in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2018 – 12:48 pm

The so-called “windows” all stay open for only so long in the NFL. That doesn’t mean a team can’t sustain competitiveness, or that any success must be followed with a significant down period. But rosters turn, great players get older, and the equation always changes. The Cardinals have gone through a ton of change this offseason, transitioning from Bruce Arians to Steve Wilks as coach and seeking out a quarterback now that Carson Palmer has retired. It demands the focus locally, but clearly, it’s not the only transition going on in the NFC West.

The Seahawks have traded away star defensive end Michael Bennett. Star cornerback Richard Sherman, coming off a major Achilles injury, looks like he very soon will become an ex-Seahawk. Safety Earl Thomas is reportedly on the trading block, and the future of defensive cogs defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor is very much in doubt. And that doesn’t even include the fact coach Pete Carroll blew out the majority of his coaching staff and brought in new guys.

The Rams were on the upswing last season and it looks like — although not guaranteed — that the 49ers are trending the same. Everyone is waiting to see what the new versions of both the Cardinals and Seahawks will look like. It’s one thing to have Avril or Bennett not around. It’s quite another to think that Sherman might not be a Seahawk, especially when it comes to playing Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals.

The division definitely has a different feel to it.

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Rams loss means rare early NFCW exit

Posted by Darren Urban on January 6, 2018 – 10:22 pm

Since the Cardinals moved into the NFC West during the great NFL realignment of 2002, the division has had its ups and downs. There were a few seasons in which the division winner won less than double-digits (the Cardinals made the Super Bowl in 2008 after going 9-7 but running away with a division title) or even sub-.500 (the Seahawks going 7-9 but becoming NFCW champs in 2010.)

But Saturday night, as the West champions Los Angeles Rams — the only division team to make the postseason — lost at home to the Falcons after an 11-5 season, it meant that for the first time since that 2002 realignment, an NFC West team did not reach at least the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Even in those “down” years, the NFCW survived the Wild Card round. The Cards in 2008, that alleged “worst team to ever make the playoffs,” won the NFC Championship. Even that 7-win Seattle team, through the “BeastQuake” game, advanced to the next round. (The NFC West streak goes back further, in fact, prior to the Cardinals’ arrival, thanks to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams.)

Funny enough, the NFC West was one of only two divisions (the NFC South being the other) to have at least three teams finish at least .500 or better, thanks to the Cardinals’ two-game winning streak to close the season.

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Seahawks — and the season — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 7:59 pm

It was late in Sunday’s game, right after Phil Dawson kicked his field goal to put the Cardinals ahead by two with a little more than two minutes left, when offensive coordinator/O-line coach Harold Goodwin found someone on the sideline and exclaimed, “We’ve got no linemen left.”

Goodwin smiled, because the reality was that he was right and that the Cardinals had also somehow made it work well enough to win – again – in the one place they want to win more than any other. It was also fitting given how the year unfolded. The Cardinals very well could have had issues even if everyone had played this year. But they wouldn’t be convinced they wouldn’t have overcome it and found a way into the postseason, not after getting eight wins despite their starting offensive line getting all of eight snaps together and their MVP-type running back playing less than a game and their quarterback less than half a season.

“It’s really hard to walk away from this,” Bruce Arians said. “It wasn’t hard to walk away four weeks ago, when you looked at what we were playing with. But to win three out of four, it’s very hard to walk away from that.”

Arians insisted he hasn’t made a decision. We’ll know soon enough. But for all the ups and downs of the season, it is remarkable they went 8-8.

“We’re just happy we finished the way we did,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “We didn’t want to finish 7-9. We wanted to finish 8-8.”

— The Cardinals, after all that, were the only 8-8 team in the league. They will draft 15th in the first round – unless, of course, they make a trade.

— Kerwynn Williams set a career-best with 23 carries (for 75 yards) and Elijhaa Penny added 39 yards and a touchdown. The Cards, even with all the offensive line issues, ran the ball decently. They struggled late, but it was enough. Penny was huge on the winning field-goal drive.

— There probably wasn’t a better place for Chandler Jones to try and get two sacks to break the franchise record, but there it was – and Jones missed out on a couple more, losing one on a facemask and having another near-miss. To get 17 sacks in a season is impressive. To have Jones do it in the first year of his new contract bodes very well. That trade couldn’t have worked out better.

— After the first half, it looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to have a good shot at the NFL receptions title for a second straight season. Eight catches in the first half, but none in the second – although he was targeted. He and Drew Stanton just couldn’t connect. Fitz needed just one catch to set a career-high in a season, and instead he had 109, tying his big 2015 season.

Whether he gives it another try in 2018, well, that too is up in the air. But you knew that.

— You can argue about Drew Stanton’s ceiling but he did go 3-1 as a starter and Fitz tweeted he was playing on a torn ACL. I’m not sure how much medical background Fitz has, but that says a lot about Stanton. UPDATE: Stanton said it was not an ACL, but a bone bruise.

— Dawson bounced back so well this season. When Arians mentions winning three of the last four, he was a big reason why. He made 22 of his final 24 field goals, and one of those was blocked. It’s interesting that the Cardinals have won two games in a row in Seattle thanks to field goals.

— The Seahawks’ big second half cost the Cards’ defense a chance to be top five in the rankings. They finished sixth.

— It’s New Year’s Day tomorrow, but certainly no holiday, not for the Cardinals. Exit interviews await, as well as, well, a lot of stuff. One way or another.

“There are a ton of decisions this offseason,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Steve Keim has his work cut out for him.”

— Time to fly home. The offseason is here.

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Watford, Niklas playing; Bynes sits in finale

Posted by Darren Urban on December 31, 2017 – 12:59 pm

The Cardinals will have offensive lineman Earl Watford (ankle) and tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) in today’s season finale in Seattle. With John Brown playing again, Chad Williams will be inactive again one more time — he will be facing a big offseason heading into his second year. Linebacker Josh Bynes (ankle) was listed as questionable, but he was DNP all week so again, not a surprise to see him sit.

The final inactives for the season:

— QB Matt Barkley

— WR Chad Williams

— LB Edmond Robinson

— LB Josh Bynes (ankle)

— C Max Tuerk

— TE Gabe Holmes

— DL Xavier Williams

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A playoff, sort of, Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2017 – 2:45 pm

One game left, and for one team, so much is on the line. “We’re anticipating by far their best game of the year,” Bruce Arians said about the Seahawks. “It’s a playoff game for them.” This is true. The Seahawks have to win and have the Falcons lose at home against the Panthers to make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

The Cardinals could spoil that. We’ll see how it goes.

“I keep telling our guys it’s a playoff game for us but I didn’t really feel a playoff this week for us,” Arians said. “I think we’re ready to play, but the playoffs are so different.”

The Cards have never really had a problem getting up for the game in Seattle. I mean, last year, the Cards were already eliminated and they still went out and played well – woefully undermanned on the offensive line – and beat the Seahawks. But the Seahawks knew they were already going to win the division. There was no urgency on their part. That’ll be different. It could have an impact.

— The Cards, however, did win last year. Their offensive line, to jog your memory, was John Wetzel at left tackle, Mike Iupati at left guard, A.Q. Shipley at center, Taylor Boggs at right guard and Earl Watford at right tackle. Boggs even got hurt, forcing rookie center Evan Boehm to fill in.

This year, it’s rookie Will Holden-Alex Boone-Shipley-Boehm-Wetzel (unless Watford is healthy enough to come back and start.) So what does last year’s win mean?

“Just to let them know it can be done,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of going out and beating your guy one-on-one.”

— The secondary was torn up last year too, with Tony Jefferson getting hurt early and Marcus Cooper down (and Tyrann Mathieu already on IR), so Brandon Williams was playing cornerback and Justin Bethel and Harlan Miller were out there. Looking back, it was indeed an impressive performance – knowing, of course, the offense had both Carson Palmer and David Johnson. Those two are on IR this year, so …

— As of right now, the Cardinals are picking 13th – right where they were choosing in the first round last year. My cursory math says they could pick as high as 11 (if they lose and a couple of other teams win), and as low as 18 (with a win and certain teams lose), but likely somewhere in between. We’ll see how that turns out.

— As for next year’s opponents, those are already set. The Cardinals have – of course, judging in December of 2017, long before next year’s rosters are set and injuries happen – a rough road schedule next year.

— Of all the records and plateaus Larry Fitzgerald has reached this season, there isn’t really anything out there in this game – save for his catch streak, which will reach 211 games and equal Tony Gonzalez for the second-longest ever. Fitz has a chance to lead the league in catches for a second straight season, however. He has 101 receptions, which trails Miami’s Jarvis Landry by two. Landry and the Dolphins play at home against Buffalo, which is trying to make the playoffs.

— A win, and Arians becomes the all-time winningest coach in franchise history, snapping the tie he has with former coach Ken Whisenhunt. Before Whisenhunt was hired by the Cardinals, he was close with Arians – Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, Arians was the quarterbacks coach. They lived in the same neighborhood, played a lot of golf together. Whisenhunt tried to hire Arians on his Cardinals’ staff at one point.

Both have 49 total wins – Arians 48 in the regular season, one in the playoffs, with Whisenhunt’s split at 45-4.

“To say I played for the all-time winningest coach and the second all-time winningest coach, that’s not really that good but it’s saying I was part of the best era in Cardinals history,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s pretty cool.”

— A lot could happen this offseason. But first, we go to Seattle.

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On a brutal night, Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 10, 2017 – 12:16 am

It was hard to disagree with Larry Fitzgerald Thursday night when he said it felt like every time he turned around, trainers were running on to the field. I don’t know if football on a short week had anything to do with some of the injuries – when a large man rolls up on your leg during a play, that’s not day-of-the-week-related – but nonetheless, when you are talking about looking forward, that’s where you start.

A loss is a loss and it took a late touchdown to get a six-point deficit, but mostly, the Cards felt they put themselves in a position where they could have beaten the Seahawks. They didn’t, they are in a bad place in terms of chasing a playoff spot with seven games to go, and part of the reason it’s a bad place is because the injuries are headed to insurmountable.

If D.J. Humphries is done with an ACL injury, it’s a killer. A big reason the Cards’ offensive line had so many problems earlier in the year was because their left tackle was hurt. He had truly taken a step forward, and now his 2017 season sounds like it could be over after just five games. As good as Tyvon Branch has been this season, that is a little different, because Budda Baker is there and he’ll get a chance to have some defensive snaps.

Meanwhile, John Wetzel will go back into the lineup. I don’t expect Jared Veldheer to flip sides, but we’ll see. And the Cardinals will have to make it work.

— Adrian Peterson got his carries. He just couldn’t get any yards. But the Cardinals stuck with it.

— It wasn’t a good game for Peterson with the fumble on the first play and the safety. But the Cardinals’ punt return team can’t put the offense on its own 2 against the Seattle defense, with Kerwynn Williams fielding a ball inside his own 5 and then Justin Bethel getting a second holding call.

— Also, for those complaining about the Peterson run on the safety with the loaded box, I’ll respectfully disagree. If Stanton had thrown on first down and there was a holding call in the end zone or he was sacked, the village folk would’ve come after Arians with the torches and pitchforks. I’m OK with a run. Just has to be executed much better.

— I understand Antoine Bethea might’ve played the Baldwin 54-yard catch differently, especially when it was second-and-a-mile. I get that. But don’t talk to me about Russell Wilson being lucky. When he’s done it dozens – he’s probably up to the hundreds at this point – of times, it’s not luck anymore. The guy is both amazing and frustrating. Knowing he’ll be a roadblock to the Cards for years makes him feel like Jordan with the Bulls and the Cards are those Cavaliers from back in the day.

— Drew Stanton made some bad throws. But I felt like his pass catchers let him down more than he had errant throws. (*Waits for everyone to say how Blaine Gabbert needs to start*)

— Fitz was solid. Another 100-yard game, and it might’ve been the quietest 100-yard game of Fitz’s career.

— The Seahawks had 12 penalties, and they were already leading the league with more than 10 a game. Six of them gave the Cardinals first downs.

— Chandler Jones gets another sack, his 10th. Of course, I’m sure he wishes he had gotten his 11th on that second-and-21.

— Defensive lineman Olsen Pierre had an excellent game. And cornerback Tramon Williams continues to show he has something left.

— OK, that’s enough for tonight. The mini-bye awaits, and the Deshaun Watson-less Texans, in Houston, are next. Time to regroup. Again.


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Health makes for ordinary Cards inactives

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2017 – 5:00 pm

Bruce Arians said Wednesday everyone on the active roster would be available for tonight’s game against the Seahawks, and because of that, the Cardinals have all their crucial pieces in place. The only questionable player who normally plays was wide receiver Brittan Golden, and he is active for the game.

For the Seahawks, safety Earl Thomas (hamstring), who was listed as doubtful, will not play.

The Cardinals’ full inactive list:

— WR Chad Williams

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Bryson Albright

— OL Will Holden

— C Max Tuerk

— TE Ricky Seals-Jones

— DL Xavier Williams


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Of Fitz and fans, Wednesday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 8, 2017 – 4:33 pm

Drew Stanton targets Larry Fitzgerald more than any other receiver when he is quarterbacking.

“Wouldn’t you throw it to Larry?” Stanton asked with a raised eyebrow.

OK, it makes sense. Fitz is kinda good. But Stanton said there are other reasons to look for Fitzgerald, and it can help the Cardinals Thursday night against the Seahawks.

“I’m not dumb,” Stanton said. “I know that we get in this stadium Thursday night, and I throw him a pass and he gets up and goes nuts, that crowd is going to respond. That’s a huge asset for us. The offense goes through him. We feed off of that.”

I can imagine Fitz after a 17-yard pickup in a big moment, jumping off the turf and putting his head back in one of those primal screams as the crowd chants “LAR-RY” over and over. The Cardinals will need some of that. They are 4-4 and a win puts them ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West and Seattle is likely down one of their best defenders in Earl Thomas. But this is a Cards team that’s still banged up itself, missing its quarterback, and yet to shut down an offense as capable as Seattle’s. It feels like emotions will matter. (Not as much as a solid defense, but you get the point.)

— Fitzgerald, by the way, shrugged off Stanton’s suggestion. “We’ve got to get the ball to Adrian,” Fitz said. “Let him feed and we’ll get him opportunities. He’s the linchpin right now.”

Adrian is Adrian Peterson, of course, the man who had 37 carries Sunday and could get a whole heaping helping of more Thursday night. It won’t be simple, of course. The Seahawks a) know it’s coming and b) are much better up front than the 49ers.

— Peterson knows what’s up too. As he said Wednesday, it can be “famine, famine, feast” when it comes to carries. Stick with the run, he was saying. So the defense just needs to keep it close.  As Bruce Arians noted, the formula against the Seahawks is often, run, run, run to make sure that defense can’t make big plays. I don’t know if AD gets 30 carries – he’s only had back-to-back 30-carry games once in his eventual Hall of Fame career – but he’ll be used. A lot.

— Speaking of workloads, a side note: While researching my Peterson story from earlier this week I came across this one, only part of which I knew. Buccaneers running back James Wilder had an incredible 407 carries in 1984, which is one I remembered. What I didn’t know is he had 85 pass receptions that season as well. Mind-boggling.

— The Cardinals battled the Seahawks to a 6-6 tie last season in Arizona and it was a game that belonged to the Cards’ defense. The Seahawks only were able to send it to overtime because of a blocked punt. The defense earned that win against Russell Wilson and company. That’s the kind of performance that side of the ball will need again.

— It came late, but Chandler Jones got another sack Sunday, and with nine in eight games he’s on pace to beat the franchise record. Simeon Rice had 16½ in 1999.

— Fitzgerald is a key, but not just because he can catch the ball. It’s his importance in the run game, and blocking (something Fitz does not get enough credit for, and something that always seems to jump out against the Seahawks.) Fitz calls the Seahawks the toughest matchup of the year because he has to block big strong safety Kam Chancellor so often. He even said he pushes his final bench press of Seattle week to 315 pounds knowing the rugged day he is in for.

“It’s like blocking a refrigerator for 60 minutes,” Fitzgerald said. “Toradol shots and smelling salts, everything else I can muster up to try and deal with this guy.”

— With the returns of David Johnson and Carson Palmer on the back burner at best, Arians did say that the return from IR by running back T.J. Logan has not been ruled out. Logan has been out since dislocating his wrist back in early August in the Hall of Fame game. Arians said Logan, who has already been eligible to return, will finally get on the field next week to see if he can catch punts while wearing a brace.

“To see where he’s at,” Arians said.

— The offensive line finally has some long-term continuity going, and it’s showing up. It goes beyond the tangible 159 yards rushing for Peterson last week.

“They were running some tricky stuff up front and we were passing it off,” center A.Q. Shipley said. “It was cool to watch on film. That helps us moving forward because now Seattle and other teams moving forward they’re like, ‘OK, they can pick things up.’ It’s huge. We all get along very well, communication comes easy in that group. Hopefully we can stay with it.”

— Speaking of the O-line, hope you had a chance to read how D.J. Humphries’ kid kept him in the NFL.

— One of the things that has hurt the Seahawks this season is penalties. Seattle is averaging an astounding 10.2 per game. There is still half a season to go, but only one team in NFL history has averaged 10 penalties a game, the 2011 Oakland Raiders.

— The roof at University of Phoenix Stadium will be open Thursday night. Plan accordingly.

See you there.

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Jimmy G will he/won’t he, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on November 3, 2017 – 3:18 pm

Jimmy Garoppolo is not playing against the Cardinals this week. Right?

“I’m expecting to see him, honestly,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “I think he’ll start. That’s just my opinion. What do they have to lose?”

(Other than maybe Garoppolo’s head, behind a struggling offensive line that now won’t have left tackle Joe Staley.)

Peterson isn’t the only one. Karlos Dansby said on the “Big Red Rage” Thursday night Garoppolo will play and many of the Cardinals defensive players have said similar things. It makes little sense to me, given how beat up the Niners are and how little time Garoppolo has had to get ready. Jacoby Brissett did start against the Cards for the Colts earlier this year, but that was Brissett’s second week with the Colts, not the first. Dropping in a quarterback that soon is just too complicated on the NFL level, not when you want good results. To be fair, Garoppolo will be active Sunday – as the backup, coach Kyle Shanahan insists – so the door is cracked. No, the Cardinals defense has not played consistently well. But I don’t see Jimmy G happening against the Cards this year. Beginning in 2018, yes.

— Speaking of that defense, which is around the bottom of the league in third downs and scoring, this is a chance to get better. The Cardinals played very well defensively against the 49ers the first time around. The last two road games, however, the Cardinals have surrendered a total of 67 points.

“You have a week off to have a chance to look at yourself in the mirror and be truthful with yourself,” Peterson said. “That’s where we were last week.”

— It’s stunning to believe that these teams met just about a month ago, and neither starting quarterback is on their team’s active roster.

— For all the struggles on the road of late – and there have been some ugly ones – if the Cardinals win Sunday it will be the 20th road win for coach Bruce Arians, which would be a franchise record.

— The Cardinals, especially with Drew Stanton, won’t make the mistake of underusing Adrian Peterson. He’ll get his carries. It’ll be up to the blocking up front, but Peterson will be getting more than 11 carries this week. If you go back to Stanton’s lone start/win in 2016, when he won in San Francisco, he threw a couple of TD passes to Larry Fitzgerald although he only had 11 completions. The Cards still scored 33, in large part because David Johnson had a season-high 157 yards rushing. That’s the formula.

— Peterson has 11,983 yards rushing in his career, so he’ll surpass 12,000 in this game. He needs 92 yards to pass Thurman Thomas for 15th all-time, and 138 to pass Franco Harris for 14th place.

— Arians was asked if he’s had any talks with veteran kicker Phil Dawson, who has surprisingly missed five field goals in seven games.

“Phil’s had talks with me,” Arians said. “I haven’t said a word to him. He got a chance to go watch his son and come back fresh and reloaded. I really anticipate him to have a great finish to the season.”

— Adrian Peterson and his wife will be featured on the Animal Planet show “Tanked” tonight at 9 p.m. pacific. The show is about people getting custom-made fish tanks. Peterson’s is a doozy.

— Without Staley, the 49ers could have a hard time handling Chandler Jones on the pass rush. Jones is already on fire with his eight sacks in seven games.

— The Cardinals could be thin at wide receiver. Brittan Golden (groin) and Chad Williams (back) weren’t practicing at the end of the week, although both are game-day decisions. Williams is usually inactive anyway, but if both can’t go, the other wideouts need to stay upright. Arians also said tight end Ifeanyi Momah, formerly a receiver, can play there.

— It’s a short week. The Cards have to turn around and host the Seahawks on a Thursday night, and regardless of what happens in the Bay Area, they will be much more short-handed than last year when they forged the heartbreaking 6-6 tie at home against Seattle. More heartbreaking would be an inability to get to .500 going into that game. As was being said the last time the Cards were playing the 49ers, this is kinda important.

“We cannot fall any further behind in our division,” Arians said. “I don’t think there is ever a must-game, but this is pretty close.”

See you Sunday.

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Major NFC West tradewinds, including Jimmy G

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2017 – 6:20 pm

The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time. Monday night though delivered a pair of NFC West trades — neither involving the Cardinals — that will impact the division for a while. The first was Texans veteran tackle Duane Brown going to the Seahawks for veteran CB Jeremy Lane, a fifth-round pick in 2018 and a second-round pick in 2019. The other was Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo going to the 49ers for a 2018 second-round pick (which, as bad as the Niners have been, would be near a late first-round pick.)

The Brown deal makes sense for a Seattle team going for it. Their offensive line has been bad for a long time. Russell Wilson is so good, if they can get him a modicum of blocking, that offense — which was awesome against the Texans Sunday throwing the ball — will be that much better. But it’s the Jimmy G trade that gets everyone’s attention. So many teams are looking for long-term answers at QB. The Cardinals are one. Now, the Niners could offer a much better second-round pick. Garoppolo is going to be an unrestricted free agent, so he’s going to be due a lot of money. And frankly, he hasn’t played that much. No one is really sure what he will be. It’s not like Bill Belichick has ever flipped backup QBs where people have had high hopes only to have them be, um, less than expected (Ryan Mallett, Matt Cassel.)

So this will be Kyle Shanahan’s QB choice going forward (no QB in the first round for San Francisco, so that helps the Cards a bit.) He likely won’t play against the Cards this season — it’s hard to see him jumping in the lineup Sunday, especially since the Niners are 0-8 and are going nowhere.

The Cardinals made a trade too, don’t forget. They got Adrian Peterson, he just happened to come a couple weeks ago. As for their future QB, there are still options. Kirk Cousins may be a free agent (although the 49ers were believed to be a possible destination, so he may just stay in Washington.) There is the draft. At some point very soon, the Cards will have to address that. I don’t see how it can’t be this spring at the latest.

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