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Thursday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 22, 2016 – 4:26 pm

The Cardinals actually won the first game played (that counted) at what is now CenturyLink Field.

It was 2002, and Thomas Jones had his best game as a Card and even though Jake Plummer couldn’t do much, the Cards knocked off the Seahawks, 24-13, the second week of the regular season. The building was simply a new building back then, certainly not the intimidating factor it has grown to be (although, as with most places, the stadium is intimidating when the team playing there is good. If the team playing there isn’t as good, not so much.)

The Cards with Carson Palmer have been good there. Two Palmer starts, two Cardinals wins. When the Cardinals lost in 2014, Palmer was injured and Drew Stanton was behind center. Palmer will be there Saturday, but the team around him is beat up and broken down. It’s not how the Cardinals wanted this matchup to be, especially with the Seahawks in mostly better shape than the first time these teams met this season. But the NFC West has been determined, the Cards are out of the playoffs and all there is for the Cardinals to spoil Seattle’s hopes for that No. 2 seed. Which isn’t nothing, but this game was supposed to be about so much more.

— Well, offensive line of John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, A.Q. Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford, welcome to Seattle. They held up OK against the Saints, but, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, this is a different animal, no?

“This is a very different animal,” Goodwin said. “It’s from outer space. It’s not necessarily an animal, it’s an alien.”

Goodwin said he hasn’t really said much to the group along those lines, however.

“To be honest, I leave them alone,” Goodwin said. “You don’t want to do too much talking. The film speaks for itself. The place we are going this weekend, the crowd noise … we know what we are up against.”

— That’s why the Cardinals need to be able to run the ball — it’s nice having David Johnson for that, although Johnson had to grind out his yardage in the first meeting, the infamous 6-6 tie. There can’t be penalties or sacks. Get at least a little something on each down. “This is not the place you want to go, this is not the team you want to see, in third-and-long,” Goodwin said.

— I don’t know how far Robert Nkemdiche has come yet. But I think it’s been proven that Bruce Arians wouldn’t give him praise unless something has gotten better. Doubtful we’ll see much the last two games, although he will play. It’s about 2017 for the first-round pick.

— Injuries always play a factor, but not having money linebacker Deone Bucannon against the mobile Russell Wilson tends to give one pause. Bucannon’s ability to run is unmatched by the guys filling in for him, and Wilson is clearly running better than how he did in the first meeting when he was hobbled with injuries.

— The secondary is also hurting. Arians acknowledged cornerback Marcus Cooper probably wouldn’t be able to play Saturday — if he doesn’t play, rookie Brandon Williams (who missed practice Thursday with a tight back) would get the start. Justin Bethel, who did say his foot is finally feeling better after the stress fracture that has hampered him for two seasons, remains behind Williams on the depth chart.

— There doesn’t seem to be any indication Tyrann Mathieu won’t play — the Cards need the bodies right now — but Mathieu playing and Mathieu being Honey Badger are two separate things. Arians on Mathieu’s play against the Saints: “He gave it everything he had. It ain’t Ty.” UPDATE: I guess I was wrong. Mathieu went to IR on Friday.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, on whether the defense took last weekend’s meltdown against the Saints personally. “Absolutely we took it personally,” Bettcher said. “There wasn’t a guy on our defensive staff and there wasn’t a guy  in the locker room that wasn’t extremely disappointed in our performance. It wasn’t acceptable, it wasn’t up to our standard, that’s me included. It wasn’t up to my standard. We all own that.”

— Michael Floyd finally met with the New England media and talked about his DUI.

— Larry Fitzgerald said he has talked to David Johnson a lot about how to handle his burgeoning stardom off the field, like Emmitt Smith did with Fitz when Fitz first came into the league. For instance, Fitzgerald told Johnson to be fully dressed and “buttoned-up” when he talks after the game in front of the camera — you never know when a decision-maker at a company might see you and want you to be a spokesman.

“He doesn’t need a lot of advice,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s like a Christmas toy under the tree that doesn’t need any assembly. He’s out-of-the-box-ready.”

— Johnson, by the way, would tie Barry Sanders’ record for consecutive games with 100 scrimmage yards in 15 straight games in a season if he can reach that milestone Saturday.

— Bring on Seattle. Bring on 39 degrees and chilly rain. Bring on what always promises to be an interesting road trip.

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Before the Cardinals, extra time

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2016 – 11:06 am

When the schedule comes out in April, everybody knows exactly what it means — one what holidays you play, when you have a short week, and (with just a little bit a legwork) what the situation of the teams you are playing have coming into your game. So the Cardinals understood their road tests this season. And they understood how much prep time their opponents had for them.

Saturday’s Christmas Eve game in Seattle marks the fifth time — and four of their road trips — that the Cards’ opponent has had extra time to prepare for the Cardinals. The Panthers and Falcons were coming off byes. The Redskins, Bills and now the Seahawks were coming off Thursday games.

“It is what it is,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We’ve got Sunday to Saturday (to prepare). It’s better than Sunday to Thursday.”

Whether the extra time is really a factor here can be debated. The Cards came out slow in Carolina and were just bad in Buffalo. The Falcons simply outplayed them after a fairly even start. The Cards actually beat Washington in the one home instance. It’s not ideal, especially from the rest aspect, but this season, the way the Cardinals have played, the blame goes well beyond schedules.

— With all the Fitz retirement talk, I thought this week’s Cardinals Underground podcast — in which we have lots of Fitz analysis — was one of our better podcasts of the season.

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Yes, a tie: Seahawks aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2016 – 12:14 am

Maybe Donovan McNabb shouldn’t have taken so much grief. That’s kind of how Frostee Rucker — who played in the infamous tie game when he was with the Bengals and they tied the McNabb’s Eagles and McNabb admitted later he didn’t know you could tie — sees it, after being in yet another tie game Sunday night.

“Donovan McNabb got so much heat because he didn’t know the overtime rules, but who knew the overtime rules?” Rucker said, noting that the only reason he knew was because he had played in the one previous. “He took so much heat then and I wish I could say to him today, ‘You know what Don? People still don’t know.’ ”

(This is true. On the sideline late in overtime, I had at least three people — not players — ask what happened when the clock ran out.)

Then again, why would it matter? Why would a tie even come into play, on a night when the Cardinals moved the ball pretty well and stonewalled the Seahawks’ offense almost the whole way. I mean, Seattle had just 65 net yards (including penalty yards lost) in regulation. Say that again: 65 yards. The defense was excellent (especially since it was the pass rush forcing holding calls on many of those penalties.)

Instead, though, there were way too many missed opportunities — and when you get inside the 5-yard line and don’t score any points, you probably are fortunate not to lose.

I never thought I’d see a game in which a sub-30-yard field goal would win it for both teams, and both teams missed. And while I indeed did know the tie rules, I never really thought I’d see that either.

— David Johnson got his 100 yards rushing (113 to be exact), although it took him 33 carries. With eight catches too, Johnson had 41 touches, and make no mistake, they were hard touches. They needed Johnson, but there’s another rough-and-tumble front seven coming in Carolina. Something tells me Johnson will be ready for his bye week.

— Michael Floyd has had his drops, but that one he had around the Seattle 15-yard line in overtime, which would have been a first down on a drive when a touchdown would have ended it, was different. Floyd lay on his back for what seemed like a long time, upset he dropped it, and for the first time looked outwardly like his struggles bothered him. Floyd had five catches for 65 yards and made several key grabs — but this mysterious up-and-down season continues.

— Lost a bit in all this is the injuries piling up. Floyd’s hammie. Patrick Peterson’s back. Darren Fells’ ankle. Jaron Brown’s knee. Smoke’s sickle-cell problem. The injury report Wednesday will be interesting to say the least.

— It’ll be a long time until the Cards see the Seahawks again — Christmas Eve in Seattle — but that offense is going to be in trouble unless Russell Wilson’ knee gets better. When he cannot run, they are going to struggle against good defenses.

— It was the lowest scoring tie since the overtime rules were introduced in 1974. So … history. Right? It was the 21st tie in that time frame.

— The tie hurts against the Seahawks. Not as bad as a loss, of course, but when it probably should have been a win, it stings. The Cards remain two back in the loss column, so they not only have to keep winning but hope the Seahawks stumble. Had they won Sunday, you’d only have to have that happen once. Now, it’s got to happen at least a couple of times.

— Some big plays from lesser-known factors. J.J. Nelson was great (3 catches for 84 yards) and Ifeanyi Momah (2 catches for 50 yards) got open twice for giant plays.

— Arians clearly was not happy about the Bobby Wagner blocked field goal in which he leaped over long snapper Aaron Brewer. And Arians wasn’t happy when the Seahawks did it again on Chandler Catanzaro’s OT miss. “I’ll talk to the league and we’ll get some kind of explanation that’s all bulls*** like normal,” he said, and that’s probably true. It’s not like anything will change. It will, however, bring more clarity to a rule that seems difficult to understand.

— I was impressed with Palmer late with his leadership. When Floyd dropped that pass, Palmer rushed over to him and got in his face to tell him the Cards were still going to need him and not to get down. He did the same exact thing with Catanzaro after Catanzaro’s miss. I know there will be many who aren’t happy with either of those players — I’ve heard from plenty via Twitter — but Palmer is right. The Cards are going to need both. That’s what leaders should do.

The path to the playoffs is hard and probably suffered a setback with a tie. It’s not a loss. But it’s not a win either.

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Palmer active, but no John Brown against Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on October 23, 2016 – 3:56 pm

No surprise after Friday’s news, but wide receiver John Brown won’t play tonight against the Seahawks because of his leg issues stemming from a sickle-cell problem. I think there is optimism Brown will be back at some point. When that is is an unknown for now. Coach Bruce Arians said the team was working on a solution. Short-term, a game off makes sense.

Other than that, an expected inactives list. Jaron Brown (knee) is going to play. Carson Palmer (hamstring) is going to play. The full list:

— WR John Brown (leg)

— CB Brandon Williams

— LB Gabe Martin (knee)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Ed Stinson

— DT Xavier Williams

For the Seahawks, safety Kam Chancellor (groin) is inactive tonight. He didn’t practice all week so it isn’t a surprise, but it’s a key missing piece.


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Friday before the Seahawks, with Smoke down

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2016 – 3:38 pm

All week, the talk was Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer, Carson Palmer. Then comes the Friday curveball: Palmer should be OK to play Sunday, but Smokey Brown isn’t OK. Brown has the sickle-cell trait that is causing leg pain, coach Bruce Arians said. I’m not a doctor and there is precious little information (Brown was not in the locker room to answer questions Friday), but it doesn’t sound great. But it does sound like it can be helped now that the Cardinals and Brown know about it — plenty of NFL players have the trait. One, former Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers, tweeted he has it (and that he recently talked about it for an article.)

No, I don’t know what this means long-term or even short-term for Brown, although Arians wouldn’t rule him out for Sunday’s game. Still, it’s a jarring finish to a week that I’m sure the Cardinals would have liked to be a lot more stable heading into such a game with the Seahawks.

— At least Palmer is playing. Is he 100 percent? Clearly not. But there never seemed to be any doubt about his availability. One way to read the tea leaves when it comes to the starting QB — given that Drew Stanton is the only other QB on the roster, as long as they don’t activate Zac Dysert from the practice squad, you have to feel that they are confident in Palmer. Otherwise, they’d want Dysert available just in case.

— Michael Floyd had fallen behind Brown on the depth chart. Now, it looks like Brown might not play. And Floyd frequently does well against the Seahawks. This is his time. Will he take it?

— With Palmer dealing with his hamstring and Brown hurting, it would seem to point even stronger in the direction of heavy David Johnson Sunday. Easier said than done against a very good Seattle run defense. If you look back to the lousy games the Cards have played against the Seahawks, the terrible imbalance in rushing yards (547 for Seattle, only 86 for the Cardinals) is a big reason why. Johnson himself was held to 23 yards on 11 carries last year.

— The Cardinals (who, yes, have trailed big most of the time in those games, costing them chances to run) haven’t rushed for more than 30 yards in any of those three games. In contrast, Andre Ellington’s game-clinching touchdown scamper in Seattle last season covered 48 yards.

— Tracking down Russell Wilson will be a key, as usual. Wilson isn’t running nearly as much (only 35 yards rushing thus far, after hurting his knee early in the season) but it’d be naïve to think losing track of him won’t kill the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals have done a great job with their four-man rush. Maybe that will help allow the Cardinals to use a robber/spy in the middle of the field to watch Wilson.

— You know the Cardinals are looking closely at the Seattle offensive line, and in particular, left tackle Bradley Sowell — the former backup here. “Bradley looks like he’s the same guy that he was here,” Arians said. “Tough, plays hard. Has had some problems, but he’ll play extremely hard against us.”

— Curious to see if the Cardinals feel there is a place to use the seven defensive backs-approach at all. The first time they used it against the Jets, it was three guys up front, money linebacker Deone Bucannon (who some might still see as a safety and therefore an eighth DB) and then a bunch of defensive backs.

It not only worked ex-Seahawk Tharold Simon into the mix but Justin Bethel saw his first defensive action of the season. If not for his foot problems, Bethel would’ve gotten a shot at that No. 2 CB job that has become Marcus Cooper’s.

“I like the fact that they came up with a package to start giving me something on defense,” Bethel said, who admitted it might not mean a lot more work. “We brought in a lot of good guys. Coop’s been playing great. Tharold has been playing great in ‘penny’ situations. As long as they’re playing the way they are, there’s no point in taking them out. I think they’ll find ways to get me out there, and I’ll do whatever I can do to help us get these wins.”

— A reminder that the parking lots will open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

— Another reminder: One week from today the NFL Network will premiere its “A Football Life” episode about Pat Tillman.

— One more thing to reflect upon with the Seahawks coming to town: Last year, the Cardinals actually were only down 10-6 in the second quarter (they missed an extra point) before it got sideways. In 2014, the incredibly short-handed Cards were leading 3-0 midway through the second quarter. It’s not just about matching the Seahawks’ intensity to start but matching it through the whole game. We’ll see if the Cardinals can make that happen.

See you Sunday.

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The Cards and playing in primetime

Posted by Darren Urban on October 14, 2016 – 8:43 am

The Cardinals are in the midst of a three-game stretch of primetime games — “Thursday Night Football” in San Francisco, “Monday Night Football” against the Jets early next week, and then a home “Sunday Night Football” game against the Seahawks. These games under the lights have been fairly good for the Cards, and it’s been suggested that this is a franchise that flourishes in such matchups.

To be sure, Bruce Arians has done a nice job in his tenure. The Cardinals are 8-3 in primetime games since Arians arrived in 2013, and that’s including the Seattle “SNF” loss in late 2014 when injuries — particularly at quarterback — undercut that matchup before it even arrived.

But the Cardinals have also been a good team under Arians, and, as with most situation, the Cardinals do well under the lights when the team is good — and struggle when the team isn’t as good.

Starting with the University of Phoenix Stadium era — the 2006 season — the Cards have played a total of eight “Monday Night Football” games and 12 games on either Sunday or Thursday night. Their overall record? 10-10. Last year’s excellent team went 5-0 in such games, just another ancillary highlight from a fantastic season. It doesn’t mean there weren’t other memorable nights, win or lose — like the Monday Night Meltdown, how Derek Anderson takes certain things serious, finding a way to beat the ageless Brett Favre or how one team is always 8-8 — but these days, it’s always about the result and how the Cardinals can improve their playoff chances.

Certainly, these next two games, even if they were played 9 a.m. on a Friday, will be crucial. The Cardinals are hoping their latest primetime run of six wins of their last seven carries over.

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First home game usually means victory

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2016 – 10:34 am

The Cardinals never played at home in Week 1 of the NFL season during their 18 seasons at Sun Devil Stadium. Sunday night will be the seventh time in 11 seasons at University of Phoenix Stadium that the Cardinals have hosted a Week 1 game. With the Patriots coming to town for “Sunday Night Football,” it makes a difference.

The Cards have won six straight home openers and have won 10 straight home games in September. It’s interesting to note that the last time the Cardinals lost at home in September was back in 2009, when the reigning NFC Champions lost not once but twice.

You remember that season, right? The Cards lost their opener, at home, to a lesser 49ers team. A couple of weeks later, Peyton Manning and the Colts blew them out of the building. The Cardinals were 1-2, everyone asked “What’s wrong?” — and then they got to 10-5 before shutting it down in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

Since then, the Cards’ home opener has been in Week 1 four times (wins over Carolina in Cam’s first start in 2011, Seattle in Russell Wilson’s first start in 2012, San Diego on “Monday Night Football” in 2014 and New Orleans last year), Week 2 once (beating Detroit in 2013) and Week 3 once (beating Oakland in 2010.)

You can argue, easily, that the Patriots represent the best team the Cardinals have hosted in the home opener in that span (although the 2012 Seahawks turned out to be pretty good). But the Cardinals have made that first home game advantageous.

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With 2016 here, a look at the 2017 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2016 – 10:51 am

Training camp officially begins tomorrow when the Cardinals get back together at University of Phoenix Stadium to hold their annual run test. The first practice of camp is Friday (keep in mind, because of the CBA-mandated “acclimation” period, the Cardinals won’t be in pads until Sunday, making these next two days a little bit like glorified OTAs.)

We know the Cardinals’ schedule for 2016, of course, which starts in the regular season with a home “Sunday Night Football” game against the Patriots.

But what about 2017, I’m sure you were about to ask? Fear not. Here are the opponents for 2017, home and away:

HOME

— Dallas Cowboys
— New York Giants
— Jacksonville Jaguars
— Tennessee Titans
— NFC South team that finishes in same 2016 divisional place as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams

AWAY

— Philadelphia Eagles
— Washington Redskins
— Houston Texans
— Indianapolis Colts
— NFC North team that finishes in same divisional place as Cardinals
— Seattle Seahawks
— San Francisco 49ers
— Los Angeles Rams


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The pain of the Cardinals-Seahawks rivalry

Posted by Darren Urban on July 6, 2016 – 11:25 am

By now, there is little question about the rivalry between the Seahawks and the Cardinals of the last couple of years (if you need to see the raw emotion, at least from the Cardinals’ side, check out the episodes “The Penthouse” and “Endings and Beginnings” of the “All or Nothing series). When you look at the analytics of it, as Bill Barnwell did in this article, the question arises — is it good to have such a rivalry, or not?

It’s not so much about the rivalry itself but the fact both teams are so good. Barnwell points out, through recent historical data, that to have two powerful teams in one division — the argument can easily be made that the two are among the top four or five in the NFL going into 2016 — can cost both a significant chance at a Super Bowl win.

Again, it’s not so much that the two teams beat up on each other, which can be part of it, but the reality that home-field makes a big difference in the postseason. When two strong teams are in the same division, it’s that much harder to obtain. Still, in 2013, when the 49ers were still strong and the Cardinals had 10 wins and the Rams were still doing well in the division, the Seahawks managed to emerge as a Super Bowl champion. And during the season, these days, there is little like Seattle week for the Cardinals.

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Cardinals-Packers called best game of 2015

Posted by Darren Urban on April 8, 2016 – 1:16 pm

NFL.com and the NFL Network compiled a ranking of the top 20 games of the 2015 season, and the Cardinals were part of the game picked as the best.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Divisional playoff game between the Cards and Packers earned the top spot, although it took the Cards allowing an emotionally crushing Hail Mary to get there. It was played less than three months ago, so it’s not hard to remember the highlights, like Michael Floyd’s rebound TD catch, the Aaron Rodgers miracle and, of course, Larry being Larry. (I have to admit thought I had forgotten about Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard interception return that would have been legendary itself had it not been called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty). A truly classic game with many twists and a heckuva ending.

The Cardinals actually appear on the top 20 list two other times. Their 24-22 home loss to the Rams, when Todd Gurley broke out for the first time, was No. 20. The Cards’ big win in Seattle, capped by Andre Ellington’s TD run, was picked as No. 12.

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