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Chip Kelly comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 12:14 pm

It certainly hasn’t been quiet in the Cardinals’ division, even with the regular season over. The Cardinals and Seahawks are among the final eight teams in the playoffs. The Rams moved to Los Angeles. And now the 49ers, wanting to make sure no one forgot about them, went out and hired Chip Kelly as their new coach.

It’s an interesting pick. Whether Kelly was their first choice or — as some reports have said — they turned to Kelly after they couldn’t get Hue Jackson (who went to the Browns), it’s a drastic change from Jim Tomsula, that’s for sure. The immediate reaction? That assumed divorce between rehabbing QB Colin Kaepernick and the team might not happen — Kaepernick would seem to be the perfect type of QB for Kelly’s system, to the point many wondered this season if Kap was cut would the then-Eagles coach Kelly snap him up — and also how the relationship will work between Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. But we’ll see how quickly Kelly can get that team changed up after a very rough 2015.

The Cardinals have done fine against Kelly’s Eagles, winning two of three, including the division-clinching rout in Philly this season.

I’ll say this, the NFC West certainly isn’t boring.

Bruce Arians, Chip Kelly

 


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Wild Card weekend aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 10, 2016 – 9:07 pm

The Cardinals didn’t play this weekend but there was football that meant something from their perspective. The NFC games Sunday determined their first playoff opponent — it’s the Packers — and now, the build-up for a postseason game many on the team have been waiting for since that rough loss in Carolina at this time last year.

The NFC results weren’t a shock. The Seahawks are a better team than the Vikings. The Packers are better than Washington. Of course, the way the Seattle-Minnesota game played out, the Seahawks should be eliminated by now. They aren’t. So we see who will come out of the very interesting dogfight between the Seahawks and Panthers, and if the Cardinals can beat the Packers a second time, whomever they play in the NFC Championship will have gone through the gauntlet to get there (and the Cards could still host that game if the Seahawks win.) But there will be time to look at that. As for the games that were just played:

— It’s hard to believe the Seahawks won. Not because they played poorly, but because the Vikings put themselves in a spot to win and should have. To see Blair Walsh just yank a 27-yard field goal left is simply crushing for that team. Seattle did enough. The frigid weather was clearly a factor, but it was not Russell Wilson’s best game. And if anyone was thinking momentum was going to carry over from that season finale romp over the Cardinals, well, it didn’t (which is the other side of why the Cards kept saying that game wasn’t going to matter either.)

— Speaking of Walsh, this is a great story about him after the game. Something to think about the next time a player doesn’t make the play — and when fan disappointment has a chance to become more than that.

— The Packers looked a ton better Sunday than they did in their final two games in Arizona and Minnesota. Then again, Washington’s defense has a much worse defense than both the Vikings and Cardinals. I’d expect a better showing from Green Bay this week, but the Cards will rightfully be favored.

— There is hope from the Packers they will get cornerback Sam Shields back from his concussion, but they thought they’d have him back this weekend too and it didn’t happen. Other key injuries for the Packers to watch: left tackle David Bakhtiari, who remained out with an ankle injury (he missed the first game against the Cards) and wide receiver Davante Adams, who said he expects to be ready after hurting his knee Sunday, but you have to wonder even if he can what his effectiveness will be, especially on a short week.

— The Cardinals are off Monday still. They return to practice Tuesday.

AftermathWldcardBLOG


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A few good Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2016 – 11:12 am

I have seen the movie “A Few Good Men” a few times. Or 50. It’s one of those films I can’t help but leave on the TV when I come across it. (I know I’m not the only one.) So much of the dialogue is memorable.

(Hang with me here. I’m getting somewhere with this.)

The last day-plus of the Cardinals-Seahawks aftermath heading into the Cards’ playoff bye week has been filled with opinions on both sides of the fence, not entirely unexpected. The Cardinals are saying it meant nothing in the grand scheme. The players insist there will be a rally. Some on the outside are calling what the Seahawks did “The Most Impressive Victory of the Year” in the NFL and are saying the Cards rank behind both the Panthers and Seahawks in the NFC — in large part because of that finale result. There are spots in history that point to each side as being right, examples of teams that have lost late and done fine in the postseason, teams that have lost late and tripped.

But that’s when I think back to the line Kevin Pollack delivers to Tom Cruise wondering if Cruise’s character should take a legal run at Jack Nicholson’s character as “A Few Good Men” pushed toward a conclusion. Pollack’s “Sam Weinberg” makes it clear that as a lawyer, he wouldn’t, and he doesn’t think the late lawyer father of Cruise’s “Danny Kaffee” would either.

“But here’s the thing–and there’s really no way of getting around this–neither Lionel Kaffee nor Sam Weinberg are lead counsel for the defense in the matter of U.S. v. Dawson & Downey,” Pollack says.

And here’s the thing — and there’s really no way of getting around this — none of those previous teams are the 2015 Arizona Cardinals.

This was a team, after all, that many thought a week ago were the Super Bowl favorite. They may or may not have been, but one game shouldn’t change everything, either. Comparing now to past situations is natural, but by the time the Cards play, two weeks down the road, it’ll be a distant memory. The Cardinals are either going to play a team in their first playoff game that a) they have beaten or b) they finished four games better than in the standings against a more difficult schedule. If the Cardinals win that game and reach the NFC Championship, that finale will be part of the final statistics but little else. No one knows really what that finale loss means, or if it even means anything.

Hopefully, you can handle that truth.

FewGoodCards

 


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Keim: “I saw it as an outlier”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 4, 2016 – 8:10 am

The Cardinals were overrun Sunday by the Seahawks. And General Manager Steve Keim said he is … “actually encouraged”?

“I know what kind of team we have,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “To jump off the ship because of one game … I saw it as an outlier.”

Keim said he’s looking forward to the playoff run. Yes, he had concerns the Cardinals were handled pretty easily up front on both sides of the ball. Yes, it bothered him with the talk the Cardinals had nothing to play for, especially when the Cards then played like they had nothing to play for. “Seattle outplayed us in every facet.”

But Keim also said it’s been a rewarding season, with a franchise-record 13 wins. The last game didn’t go well, but he noted how the Seahawks were the red-hot team just a couple weeks ago, then lost at home to the Rams, who then lost to the 49ers this weekend. The Cardinals were everyone’s darlings last week, and getting beat up Sunday has already changed the thought process. “It’s a week-to-week league,” Keim said.

He added he has no doubt the Cardinals will take these two weeks to bounce back, and, like Bruce Arians, believes the Cardinals have learned a lesson. “Our name hasn’t been printed on any Super Bowl ticket yet,” Keim said.

— Keim’s highlights this season? Carson Palmer’s return from ACL surgery to have an MVP-type season, the impact of many of the one-year vets who signed, like Dwight Freeney, and Larry Fitzgerald rallying for a big season after some down statistical years.

— Keim said he thought the defense missed the energy of rookie linebacker Markus Golden, who sat out with a knee bruise. Golden is expected to be back for the playoffs.

— Finally, Keim was asked if he wants the Cardinals to play the Seahawks again. “Absolutely,” he said, noting the bad taste Sunday left. “As a competitor, I’d love to see the Seahawks again.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that Keim knows, another game against the Seahawks means the Cardinals are hosting the NFC Championship game.

 


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Seahawks aftermath, before the bye

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2016 – 8:06 pm

It was ugly yes, and whether Bruce Arians did indeed see it coming, I’m not sure there is a way to stem that mindset the Cardinals played with Sunday against the Seahawks. It wasn’t anything like the team had played like all season – not like the losses to the Rams and the Steelers, even though they were sluggish in those too.

Larry Fitzgerald said the game reminded him of the Packers finale at the end of the 2009 season, also a home game in which the Cards were hammered because there was nothing to play for, also as the Cards prepared to go into the playoffs (I tweeted the same during today’s game.)

But you know what game this really reminded me of, after it was over: The lost trip to New England in 2008. At least in 2009, coach Ken Whisenhunt had basically said the Cardinals were going to pull back if they had nothing to play for. But that trip to New England, it was messy because the players simply weren’t ready to play, didn’t want to play, didn’t want to be in the snow. They lost 47-7, and they were called the worst playoff team ever, and we know how that turned out.

I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened Sunday, because I believe this current team is stronger mentally than the 2008 squad. But the Cards didn’t show up against the Seahawks, like they didn’t against the Patriots, and it means, well, not a whole lot, really.

If the Cards were to be upset in their first playoff game, it won’t be because they lost against the Seahawks in the Week 17 game. This team has proven it is very good, and potentially great. For all the chest-pounding some of the Seahawks were doing after the game, they just lost to the Rams at home themselves.

Not the way you want to finish. But as Carson Palmer said, there is no panic, and talking with the veterans, it’s not just a brave face. This team understands they must do better. But they are not worried.

(UPDATE: Here’s the playoff info.)

— There were a couple of bright spots. OK, bright moments. Dwight Freeney got his eighth sack. The Cardinals finally had an opponent miss a field goal for the first time all season (which is unbelievable).

— And there were some record breakers. Smokey Brown surpassed 1,000 yards receiving, finishing with 1,003 on the season (although it was Smoke that was Richard Sherman’s target of his taunting penalty, which Sherman said was to mime Brown going to sit on the bench  — not a faux pulling his pants down.) Fitzgerald broke his own team record for receptions in a season (he finished with 109 catches). Palmer broke the franchise record for passing yards in a season (4,671).

— Some other cool numbers took a beating – the point differential, the defensive rankings – but no one will care if the Cardinals go on to win a Super Bowl. No one will really care if they don’t, in the end.

— Special teams reared its ugly head, whether it was the punt coverage on Tyler Lockett or a fifth missed extra point by Chandler Catanzaro. Catanzaro missed a field goal as well.

— After all that, the Cardinals seemed to come out pretty healthy. Center Lyle Sendlein limped off late – Bruce Arians said it was a bone bruise of some kind – but Palmer is OK, as are the top guys. Plus there is two weeks to get ready.

— That’s all for now. There’s two weeks to talk about the next game. And not much to say about this one.

AfterSeaBLOG


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Inactives “normal,” so starters ready for Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2016 – 12:58 pm

The inactive list looks like it has the last few weeks, so it certainly seems like Bruce Arians will follow through with his comment that the Cardinals are playing this straight today. S Rashad Johnson and WR Michael Floyd are indeed active. In fact, every player who was questionable for the Cards Friday is active today.

The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— CB Corey White

— LB Markus Golden (knee)

— LB Shaq Riddick

— T D.J. Humphries

— NT Xavier Williams

— DT Josh Mauro (calf)

The Seahawks are without starters T Russell Okung, G J.R. Sweezy, RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Luke Willson and S Kam Chancellor.

The bigger pre-game news was that the Cardinals watched former teammate Ryan Lindley throw a TD for the Colts:


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Friday before the finale against the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on January 1, 2016 – 4:00 pm

The first game of Russell Wilson’s career started with a loss at University of Phoenix Stadium. It was close, but the Cardinals held on as one of those wins in their mirage of a 4-0 start back in 2012. It was before anyone really knew Russell Wilson was Russell Wilson. It was also the last time the Cards beat the Seahawks at home.

The last two years haven’t been close, even though it’s been in a tremendous upgrade of the Arians era. It’s the only team the Cards have had issues with at home. The first game, Carson Palmer and the offense weren’t ready yet (and the Seahawks defense was at its peak in 2013). Last year, Ryan Lindley started and, well, you know.

We bring up this history lesson in part to understand why Arians is looking to play Sunday’s game straight. Sure, there’s a chance things will change as the game goes along, if the Panthers start to pull away (although Arians said that won’t be a factor) or if the game itself gets sideways.

But mostly, I expect Carson Palmer throwing to Floyd and Smoke and Patrick Peterson covering Doug Baldwin (mostly). Yes, there are risks. But there is still something to play for.

— Speaking of that something to play for, no, I do not expect the Buccaneers to win in Carolina. Never say never.

— The Cardinals aren’t going to get nine sacks a week – especially when Markus Golden, who quietly has had a very, very good rookie season, is sitting out – but their pass rush is rounding into form. Dwight Freeney has been impressive, clearly. But the Seahawks are without starting guard J.R. Sweezy and likely will be without starting tackle Russell Okung. There could be some opportunity to take down the slippery Wilson.

— Bruce Arians said the Cardinals will practice three days next week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Each day will be spent on different potential playoff opponents. The plus the Cardinals have is that, aside from the Redskins (whom the Cards did see in 2014), the Cardinals will have played every single other one of their possible playoff matchups in the last month – Vikings, Packers, Seahawks.

— Since the Cards beat the Seahawks earlier this season, Wilson has thrown for 21 touchdowns and only one interception.

— A bunch of potential milestones well within reach of the Cardinals going into this game.

* Larry Fitzgerald’s first catch will give him a franchise record 104 in a season.
* Palmer needs 73 yards to set a franchise record for passing yards in a season.
* Smokey Brown needs 42 yards receiving to reach 1,000 this season. (Michael Floyd needs 167 to get to 1,000 – I don’t see that happening.)
* Chandler Catanzaro needs four points to set a franchise record in a season.

— Defensive tackle Red Bryant, who played the first six years of his career in Seattle and won a Super Bowl, gets the first chance to play against his former team.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” Bryant said. “I’m excited. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. I’m not bitter. I had six great years, accomplished a lot. Now I’m trying to help this team win. I’m not going to have a lot of emotion in terms of feeling I have to prove something. I’ll let my preparation do the talking.”

— With all of Arians’ talk about playing as normal, it doesn’t not look like first-round pick D.J. Humphries will be active for a game this season. And while Golden is down, I don’t expect to see fifth-round pick Shaq Riddick much if at all, given that Arians said Kareem Martin and even Alani Fua could see time in his spot.

— One more, and then on to the playoffs.

Befporehawksblog


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Friday — and Christmas — before the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2015 – 6:53 pm

The last time the Packers visited University of Phoenix Stadium, it ended up being the end of an era. It was a fantastic game, with Kurt Warner finishing with more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) in what he knew at the time was his final game at home. And, of course, there was the stunning overtime ending, when reserve defensive back Michael Adams came in on a blitz to strip-sack (with the help of a missed facemask/hands to the face call) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with linebacker Karlos Dansby returning it for the touchdown.

“Yeah, I think there might have been something like that,” Rodgers said this week.

The return visit Sunday for the Packers is not a playoff game. Both teams will be in the playoffs regardless of the loser. But it means so much for both sides. For the Cardinals, wrapping up a bye – with an injury list that has grown the last couple of weeks – would be nice.

The players know this. The talk in the locker room has been all about clinching that bye. The focus after clinching the division hasn’t waned, not outwardly (something that didn’t seem to be the case back in 2008 when the Cards clinched.)

— Arians had a big smile Friday afternoon. The Cardinals held practice much later than a normal Friday, in order to allow for Christmas morning home with the family. Arians also allowed for families to attend practice, making for a relatively sizable group watching.

“Largest crowd ever today,” Arians said with a grin.

— Quarterback Carson Palmer was limited all week because of the finger that got dinged in Philly, but he’s fine. Arians said he looked very good in practice Thursday and Friday.

— Palmer, by the way, turns 36 on Sunday. Wouldn’t be a bad birthday present to himself to get a win.

— If the Cards win and sew up a bye – and the Panthers win, which would seal the No. 2 seed – the finale against the Seahawks will mean nothing. So might Arians rest players? “Hopefully, we can have that conversation,” he said.

But Arians did chuckle at the idea of “resting starters,” noting the Cardinals can only dress 46 players total and injuries can play a factor on who is available. “We’re talking maybe three to five possible guys (to rest),” Arians said.

— With two games left, the Cardinals have already surpassed their rushing yards total by more than 400 yards this season. The Cards, sixth in the NFL in rushing, have gained 1,769 yards on the ground. And now Andre Ellington should be back to supplement David Johnson.

— The Cardinals have 52 touchdowns this season and only 51 punts. That’s a crazy stat. The franchise record for TDs in a season is 53, set in 1948. That should be broken Sunday.

— Hope everyone had a good Christmas. On to Sunday – which just happens to be the Cardinals’ first afternoon home game since they lost to the Rams way back on Oct. 4. Lots of road games and primetime games since then.

PackersBeforeBLOG


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An NFC West title without a win or Seattle loss

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2015 – 10:03 am

The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the NFC West is one — as in, one win for the Cards, or one loss by the second-place Seahawks. That will make it impossible for the Seahawks to at least tie the Cardinals at the top of the division, since the Cards are 11-2 with three games left and the Seahawks are 8-5.

But what if that tie happened?

The tiebreakers within the division are carefully laid out. If the Cardinals were to lose out (a rap on the wrist for even suggesting such a thing!) and the Seahawks were to win out to create the tie, the teams would also tie in the first four tiebreakers: head-to-head, win-loss percentage in the division, win-loss percentage in common games, and win-loss percentage in conference games.

That brings the tiebreaker to strength of victory: The winning percentage of opponents each team has defeated during the season. And it is within that strength of victory tiebreaker that could have the Cardinals clinch Sunday even if they lose in Philadelphia and the Seahawks win.

(Something to keep in mind here: The Cardinals already are ahead by three games in strength of victory, so chances are, even with three games left and all the variables involved, they will own this tiebreaker at the end if needed. But the following is the opportunity for the clinch to happen this weekend.)

So, assuming the NFC West isn’t clinched by a Cards’ win or Seattle loss, the Cards clinch if the Bengals win in San Francisco and the Saints win at home against Detroit and the Steelers lose at home against Denver and the Cowboys lose at home against the Jets. It’s not a far-fetched scenario. Something to keep in mind.

Tiebreakblog


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Vikings aftermath, with a playoff berth

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2015 – 12:33 am

Sure, Michael Floyd had his fourth 100-yard outing in his last five games and Smokey Brown broke off a 65-yard touchdown catch and Larry Fitzgerald is (probably) headed to the Hall of Fame. But look out for Mike Iupati as a receiving option.

The mammoth guard caught a batted Carson Palmer pass on what turned out to be the Cardinals’ game-winning field-goal drive and plowed forward 10 yards for a first down.

“He got some yards,” Palmer said. “We might have to put a screen in for him or maybe a quick flat route down on the goal line. We have one in for (backup center/jumbo tight end) A.Q. (Shipley). But I think Mike is proven now. We have it on film. He can go in and I’ll fight for him. I’ll lobby for him to get a pass.”

Palmer called it a weird night, and it doesn’t get much weirder than Iupati not only making a catch, but averaging 10 yards per reception. It might’ve been weird because of the short week, although the players said no. What it was was a team in the Vikings who were embarrassed at home by Seattle and desperately needed to rebound.

It’s not like the Cardinals were bad. They looked like a team dead set on stopping Adrian Peterson which, except for the first drive, they pretty much did. Teddy Bridgewater completed passes, but the defense forced fumbles, and whether you say it was lucky they did – the Vikings were in at least field-goal range on all three of the fumbles – or you say they made the plays they needed to make for a stop, it still equates to a good enough defensive effort.

“We’d like to keep them out of the red zone if we can,” defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “But they played great.”

Hey, a win is a win. The Vikings are going to be in the playoffs, in all likelihood.

— The Cardinals clinched a playoff spot. Their magic number to clinch the NFC West is one. Interestingly, the Seahawks play twice before the Cardinals play another game – this Sunday against the Ravens, and then the Seahawks will play their game Dec. 20 against the Browns before the Cardinals kick off their game in Philadelphia on “Sunday Night Football” – so the Cards have two opportunities they could win the west before playing again.

— No, I don’t think the Seahawks are going to lose to the Ravens or the Browns.

— Adrian Peterson had just 13 yards on 11 carries in the second half.

— Palmer’s footwork within the pocket on the touchdown pass to Brown needs to be on an instructional video for young quarterbacks.

— Here’s why it was good that Dwight Freeney made that great strip-sack at the end of the game: It was inevitable that Blair Walsh would boot the game-tying field goal. It’s statistically odd, but Cardinals’ opponents have yet to miss a field goal this season – now 22-for-22.

— Wide receiver blocks were big. Fitzgerald led the way for Floyd’s long TD, and J.J. Nelson had a Brittan-Golden-in-Seattle-on-the-sideline block to free Brown streaking to the end zone.

Fitz pancaked Vikings safety Anthony Harris, but as usual, he didn’t want to dwell on his blocking. He’s a receiver.

“It’s part of the job, but catching touchdowns is much more glorious,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re not as sore, you don’t have to get in the cold tub as much, but it’s a role I’m privileged to have because I know it’s a dirty job but I’m capable of doing it.”

— There is nothing better than a mini-bye if you can get the win in a Thursday game. The Cardinals should be getting a good chunk of their banged-up guys back for Philly. Even running back David Johnson could use a couple of days. He said he was fine, but admitted he took a shot to his right thigh early in the game, which is why he limped off after his final catch. He came back in, but rest will do everyone some good.

— Rest sounds good about now anyway. I’m going home.

Campbellaftervikes


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