The Cardinals’ initial foray into free agency was offense-heavy. Not a big shock, since that side of the ball need the most work. As the draft approaches, however, the focus may just shift. Because even though Bruce Arians is an offensive guy, GM Steve Keim has a belief that the good teams in this salary cap work have a dominant side of the ball. And the Cardinals — with the No. 1 rush defense and the sixth-ranked defense overall — aren’t in that realm on the offensive side of the ball.
“Seattle was a dominant defense with a solid offense,” Keim said. “Denver was a dominant offense with an OK defense. In our situation, we are closer to having a dominant defense. So I think you have to continue to throw gas on the fire. Continue to build the strength.”
That’s why cornerback Antonio Cromartie shot to the top of the to-do list after he was cut by the Jets. The move surprised the Cards — they did not think New York would let him go — but rallied to understand the situation and aggressively court him. It was only a one-year contract, but the team proved last year with linebacker Karlos Dansby that could be a golden type of situation. There are still spots defensively that need shoring up (like the need for a safety or inside linebacker depth), and there is also Keim’s quest to get longer and more athletic with his 3-4 defensive ends and the pass rushers outside. The draft could very well provide those things. But when you start looking at the top end talent on the roster, it is the defense that claims many of the spots, whether it is Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell or Daryl Washington. (Or even, as Ron Wolfley points out, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who fortunately for the Cards did not get a head coaching job.)
The offense isn’t going to be ignored — “We know we have areas we need to fix and it certainly needs to catch up with the defense,” Keim said — but a defensive juggernaut is the first goal. It’s what has put the Seahawks and 49ers into the stratosphere they are in, and why the Cards returned to relevance last season.
Tags: 49ers, Antonio Cromartie, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, defense, draft, Patrick Peterson, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Todd Bowles
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The news around the salary cap — which will be officially set closer to the start of the new league year/free agency on March 11 — continues to be an adjustment upward of its estimate. Now the possibility is that it is around $132 million, which of course means every team’s projected cap space continues to get bigger. Kevin Seifert has the Cardinals, with that $132M cap, with a projected $15.295 million of cap space. That’s not a bad number, although it ranks in the lower half of the league — 18th, to be exact. A whopping 13 teams are projected to have more than $22M of cap space, and the Raiders ($66.39M), Jaguars ($55.13M), Browns ($51.23M) and Colts ($40.01M) all have more than $40M in cap space.
So there will be the possibility for some big free agent deals.
The Cards are in the same stratosphere, but that’s OK. The Cards don’t want to get sideways with big commitments to players who shouldn’t get them. There is enough room, however, to make some things work. The other plus is that the Cards, right now, have the most cap space in the NFC West. The 49ers are next with $11.84M, then the Rams at $6.32M and then the Seahawks at $4.78M.
This is all fluid, of course, with Seattle able to cut players if they want, for example, or the Cardinals re-signing one of their own guys (Karlos Dansby, anyone?). The Cardinals could still also release a player or two that they know they won’t be moving forward with to create more cap room.
The Dansby situation is one that bears watching, in fact. There is enough cap room across the league that would allow more than a few other teams to money-whip Dansby if they so chose. Again, in the case of Dansby, I don’t see the Cardinals getting into a big bidding war. They will want to reward him, but within reason. Extra space also could play into potential Patrick Peterson negotiations.
Tags: 49ers, Karlos Dansby, NFC West, Patrick Peterson, Rams, salary cap, Seahawks
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The chances of Peyton Manning repeating his historic 2013 season are slim anyway. No one has ever thrown 55 touchdown passes in a season for a reason. But after watching the Broncos’ offense struggle in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, you wonder what kind of season Manning can compile when a fourth of his games will be against the intense defenses of the NFC West.
It was a notion I pondered briefly on Twitter yesterday. One game is not nearly enough of a sample size, of course. But — depending on whatever turnover all the teams involved have — the physical nature of all the defenses in the division seems unlike most of the ones the Broncos play. It certainly seemed that way Sunday. Manning got his completions (34 for 49) but only had 280 yards and one touchdown. In fact the 280-1-2 INT line looked a lot like what a QB might put up in an NFC West game. Something Carson Palmer might do. But Palmer had a much better defense at his disposal.
The NFC West defenses were ranked first (Seattle), fifth (SF), sixth (Arizona) and 15th (St. Louis). Of the 13 teams the Broncos faced in the regular season, eight were ranked 20th or lower, and only two — the Giants and the Texans — were officially top 10 defenses, although both teams struggled all season.
(And before anyone gets it twisted, I am a Peyton believer. He didn’t play well Sunday but that doesn’t take away from him being one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time — which is always going to be a subjective title anyway. No one else has done what he has done in a season like 2013, regardless of the defenses faced. And before anyone in the NFC West can get too high and mighty, remember that the Rams were the only team in the division who didn’t try to sign Manning in 2011.)
We’ll see if the gaudy stats make a comeback. Interestingly enough, the Broncos did see the NFC West this season, kind of. The four-game preseason slate was against all four NFC West teams. But that’s preseason, and with all due respect to Denny Green, it was pretty meaningless, even that third game against the Rams.
In Manning’s long career, the Cardinals have only faced him — truly, without him sitting in a meaningless game — once. That was in a Sunday night game in 2009, when Manning tore them up and the Colts bombed the Cards. Manning is still pretty dang good. But the Cards’ defense is much, much better than that 2009 version. The Broncos do get to host the Cardinals next year (the 49ers also go to Denver; the Broncos visit St. Louis and Seattle.) Already, a subplot emerges for the 2014 season.
Tags: 49ers, Cardinals, defense, NFC West, Peyton Manning, Rams, Seahawks
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The Seahawks’ defense is being lauded today and rightfully so for their throttling of the Broncos’ record-setting offense in the Super Bowl. There are a bunch of breakdowns out there comparing Seattle’s defensive year to those of the best ever, and the Seahawks deserve to be in that conversation with teams like the 2000 Ravens and the 1985 Bears (I’d think some of those Steel Curtain teams should be in the discussion too, but I digress.)
Defense doesn’t necessarily win championships — I saw a stat that said the team with the higher-ranked defense actually has lost six of the last eight Super Bowls — but it certainly doesn’t hurt. But I believe pressure can help win a title, and that’s certainly what the Seahawks did to Peyton Manning and why the Cardinals had defensive success this season.
Profootballfocus.com charted that the Seahawks blitzed Manning on only six of 51 dropbacks in the Super Bowl, yet were in his face all game. That’s the kind of pressure the Giants put on Tom Brady in the last Super Bowl played in Arizona, the one in which New York placed the stunning upset on the previously undefeated Patriots. When you can pressure with four, everything changes.
The Cardinals had a lot of pressure success in part because defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was a genius with mixing up attack plans on the quarterback, and there was a lot of blitzing involved in that. They also benefited when linebacker John Abraham played like the John Abraham who had spent a career getting double-digit sacks every season. That kind of rusher is important. And going forward, it’s one of the reasons General Manager Steve Keim will lean toward not only the offensive but the defensive line in terms of trying to make the most improvement. It’s great to have one of the best cornerbacks in the game in Patrick Peterson, but without pressure, it doesn’t mean much. The same goes for Seattle’s Richard Sherman and the rest of that defensive backfield — they can afford to be aggressive, because they know the pressure will be coming sooner rather than later.
Tags: John Abraham, Patrick Peterson, Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Super Bowl, Todd Bowles
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The Seahawks have lost just three times this season in 18 games, including the postseason. The largest margin of those losses was the seven points that separated the Cardinals and Seahawks during the Cards’ 17-10 win in Seattle in December. The Cardinals did it with a stifling defense and a good enough running game — parts that don’t particularly run parallel to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl opponent, Denver. The Broncos have been able to run and their offense was much more productive than the Cardinals (much more productive than any other team, actually), with a defense that doesn’t compare to what the Cards have.
Nevertheless, how the Cardinals knocked off the Seahawks was a demonstration in basic football. On offense, the Cards played it safe– 43 run plays, 27 pass plays — and played keep-away — time of possession was more than 37 minutes for Arizona. When the Cards did run, they were fairly effective, with their running backs gaining 142 yards on 38 carries (a not-spectacular-but-good-enough 3.7 yards a try). They often ran into the heart of the Seattle defense, not allowing the Seahawks’ speed to help run down the ballcarrier for little gain and looking to wear on them as the game went along.
Carson Palmer was only sacked twice so the protection held up most of the day. The Broncos shouldn’t have an issue since Peyton Manning is the best ever at getting the ball out quickly and to the right place almost all of the time. Palmer tried a couple times to make quick choices, but there was a reason he had four interceptions that day. Those four picks, by the way, should have cost the Cardinals the game.
They didn’t. Why? Because the Cardinals’ defense was unreal and to me, that is the ultimate hinge of this Super Bowl — can the Broncos keep Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in check long enough to allow Manning time to get done what he needs done. Lynch got off to a decent start against the Cards that day but his production quickly fizzled, highlighted by his inability to force his way into the end zone late in the first-half after a terrible Cardinals’ turnover. The Cards’ defense stoned Lynch then, the Seahawks missed the gimme field goal, and that was a turning point.
Lynch, as everyone knows, is a pain in the rear to bring down. The Broncos have to be able to swarm, even when it looks like the play might be over. Then there is Wilson, who had probably his worst day as a pro against the Cards: 11-for-27 for only 108 yards, a touchdown but also a pick, four sacks and only two rushing attempts (for 32 yards.) Wilson was inaccurate all day, and the Cards got pressure through a Seattle offensive line that isn’t very good.
Of course, for as well as the defense did, it took some luck for the Cardinals that day as well, for instance the third-and-3 scramble out of the pocket by Palmer that led to an improbable 17-yard pass play to tight end Jake Ballard on the game-winning drive. But that drive was mostly about the run before Palmer flung his touchdown toss to Michael Floyd. One thing about Peyton Manning — he’s never forced passes when he thinks the run can work. And if it means tiring the Seattle defense/keeping Wilson off the field, I could see Manning doing that.
What I don’t think the Broncos can overcome is turnovers. The Cardinals were lucky Palmer’s picks didn’t turn into disaster. Manning’s abilities aside, the Seahawks feed off of that. But if there is a way to slow Lynch, the Seahawks’ offense has been less than dynamic of late. That, even with a great defense available, would seem to call for a close game. And in a close game, anyone can win.
Tags: Broncos, Carson Palmer, Marshawn Lynch, Peyton Manning, Seahawks
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When the Super Bowl is played Sunday, it will feature the best offense in the NFL — Denver scored 606 points this season, an incredible 37.9 per game — against the best defense in the NFL — Seattle not only allowed the fewest yards, but also the fewest points this season. A tangible example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It’s hard not to see it as the answer about that “defense wins championships” cliché that floats out there.
It also got me thinking about the Cardinals, and their better recent teams.
The 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl after scoring 427 regular-season points (26.7 points a game) and followed up in the playoffs with 30, 33 and 32 points before scoring 23 in the Super Bowl. Of course, that team allowed 426 points, which is why they eeked out a 9-7 record. It was a potent offense. This season, the Cardinals put together 10 wins in large part because of the defense. The Cards were tops in the league in run defense, sixth overall and seventh in scoring defense. It would be interesting to consider that 2008 offense — Kurt Warner, Fitz in his prime, Anquan Boldin, 1,000-yard Steve Breaston and the Edge/Hightower RB tag-team going against the 2013 Cardinals defense.
Which is the better path to take? It’s hard not to think that defense wins titles. It’d be good to see Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl, but I’m not totally sure why the Seahawks aren’t favored in this game, at least a little. Maybe it’s because of last year’s Super Bowl, when a couple of defensive-dominant teams ended up playing in a scorefest. That was in the climate-controlled Superdome, though, and Manning won’t have that advantage Sunday.
As far as the score-first Cardinals versus the defense-first Cards? There’s a reason why Kurt Warner has said this year’s Cardinals team was better than his 2008 version. Part of that was that this year’s team could score a little bit too — with 379 points (23.7 a game) it wasn’t like the Cardinals couldn’t find their way into the end zone. I’d argue that Andre Ellington gave the offense an explosive element that 2008 offense didn’t really have either. Nevertheless, it’s a great debate to have.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Anquan Boldin, Broncos, defense, Edgerrin James, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, offense, Seahawks, Steve Breaston, Super Bowl, Tim Hightower
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If you pay attention to the NFL at all, you know how Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman went off on 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree both on national TV and again in the post-game press conference. This was after Sherman taunted Crabtree right after making the play that led to the NFC Championship-clinching interception on a pass to Crabtree. Seems that the Cardinals — or at least Larry Fitzgerald — have a role in all of this. As you can see in the video below from NFL Network, the genesis of the bad blood between Sherman and Crabtree came when the two were part of the celebrities in town to play at Fitz’s annual charity softball game, which includes a dinner where they all get together. Sherman and Crabtree apparently had words then.
So, if I am understanding correctly, that means without Fitz, this whole thing — which, for now, has totally overshadowed the Seahawks making the Super Bowl — might not have happened? Fitz, bringing people together.
Actually, it’s interesting, because Fitzgerald is the absolute last guy that is going to engage in that stuff. Earlier this year, in fact, Sherman was kind of complaining that Fitz wouldn’t trade barbs and it made it hard to not like him. There is a reason Fitz can get these guys to attend his charity events and why Fitz keeps getting voted to the Pro Bowl. (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of trash-talking myself. If you are good, it seems to me your play does the talking. If you are not good, why, exactly, would you be talking?)
Meanwhile, these are all components of the Cardinals’ universe. It’s not like Crabtree doesn’t have history with the Cardinals too, and going up against the Cards’ own star cornerback Patrick Peterson, who also (kind of) weighed in when all of this Sherman/Crabtree/best cornerback stuff started happening.
Ahh, the NFC West. It’s quite the universe within which to live these days.
Tags: 49ers, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Seahawks
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If the NFC West was the best division in the NFL this season, it’s only fitting that the NFC Championship comes down to the 49ers visiting the Seahawks. The Cardinals, of course, know both intimately. It hasn’t been a great matchup for the 49ers in Seattle — yes, the Niners beat the Seahawks in the last meeting, but the last two times the 49ers have gone to Seattle, the Seahawks have won 29-3 and 42-13. Pretty dominant and one-sided.
I’d be shocked if the 49ers don’t make it much closer. The Seahawks deservedly will be favored though, and it will be difficult to pull off a road win. Then again, the 49ers are playing very well, better than the team that went into Seattle much earlier this season. I’d also guess that regardless of the AFC team, the winner of 49ers-Seahawks will be favored in the Super Bowl in the cold of New York. Both teams have been the best in the NFC all season. And, with the Broncos possibly sprinkled in, they have reason to lay claim to being the best two teams in the NFL.
You can be sure there are a lot of Cardinals seeing the results of these playoff games and wishing they would have had a chance to be in the mix, especially with the way they played against both teams in the last two weeks of the regular season. With that, I have to include a tweet — a re-tweet, actually — from the Cardinals’ official Twitter account from earlier today. No, I was not the author.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) January 12, 2014
Tags: 49ers, NFC West, Seahawks, Super Bowl
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Tags: Arizona Cardinals, AZ Cardinals, AZ Cards, Dan Williams, NFL, Seahawks, Seattle Seahawks
Posted in Since1898 | 3 Comments »
It was a must-win game and everyone knew that. The playoffs were only possible with a victory, and the Cards got that. But it felt like more. For all the success the Cardinals had this season, there was a reason Bruce Arians called the trip to Seattle a barometer. Were the Cardinals in purgatory, a good team but a notch below Seattle and San Francisco? Now we have an answer.
It’s a far cry from the 58-0 pasting from a year ago. Everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen again. Last year’s team was out of it by the time it got to Seattle and that played a major role in last year’s meltdown. This team is in a totally different place. This team believes it can win. This team is confident enough to bring Skittles to the sideline – the favorite treat of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch – and break them out (picture below) at the end of a rugged victory in which Lynch was neutralized in the second half.
Arians downplayed last year’s game in Seattle, but he slipped in a postgame reference: “I guess we are 66 points better than last year,” Arians quipped. The math says it was really 65, but you get the point.
– “Any time you come on the road and a team beats you 58-0 and you’ve got to go back to their place, it lingers in the back of your head,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “If you’ve got any pride or care about football, when a team beats you 58-0, you think about it. And it stuck with us. People ask, ‘You get a butt-whupping, does it stay on you a while?’ That one stayed on us for a whole year. We were determined not to let that ever happen again.”
– Playoff update, in a nutshell: If the 49ers win Monday night, the Cards have to win against San Francisco next week and hope the Saints lose – at home – to Tampa Bay. If the 49ers lose Monday night, the winner of Arizona and San Francisco is in the playoffs.
– Carson Palmer has thrown at least three interceptions in a game twice this season. He is 2-0 in those games. Sunday, he beat the Seahawks with four picks. And he beat the Panthers with three.
– Palmer was not on target most of the game. He threw too many interceptions. But he never should’ve been benched, despite what seemed like a constant call from the fanbase. He wasn’t the main reason the Cards won Sunday but he was a reason when he piloted the final drive. And he’s been good enough to win 10 games.
– Defensively, the Cardinals were outstanding. I am of the belief Russell Wilson is an MVP candidate and the Cards made him look very much like an overwhelmed second-year quarterback Sunday.
– Of the Seahawks’ 14 possessions, 12 were of four plays or fewer. Nine gained nine yards or less.
– The Seahawks had won 26 straight games – dating back to 2001 – when they forced at least four turnovers. Until Sunday.
– So a Washington state lawmaker decided to tweet out (since deleted, of course) that the Seahawks’ loss to the Cardinals was worse because the state is a “racist wasteland.” Alrighty then.
– Linebacker Karlos Dansby had six tackles, missed one early interception but made the big one at the end, and postgame was classic Karlos. “I am putting my name in the hat. Defensive player of the year,” he said. “You are looking at him. No one is playing better. That is how I feel. I am going to hang my hat on that. I am going to go out there and make my statements and I put one out today.”
– The officials weren’t on their ‘A’ game again. Both teams had issues. The Cardinals shouldn’t have had a first-and-20 after Frostee Rucker’s unsportsmanlike penalty after a kickoff, and they certainly weren’t happy with the flag on the extra point that negated a Seahawks miss. The Seahawks didn’t like, among other things, the Rashard Mendenhall fumble-that-wasn’t or the final Dansby did-it-hit-Baldwin’s-arm-or-the-ground interception.
– The offensive line, I thought, played pretty well. They opened up lanes on the ground and the Cardinals ran the ball well. The game was won up front on both sides. That’s something the defensive line has come to expect. The offensive line, that’s a nice victory.
The postseason may be out of their hands, but Sunday will make Christmas be a little bit nicer for the Cards.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Frostee Rucker, Karlos Dansby, Michael Floyd, Rashard Mendenhall, Russell Wilson, Seahawks
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