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Going deep, Friday before the Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2016 – 3:22 pm

It’s a weekly occurrence, the concern about the Cardinals’ deep ball that just isn’t there anymore. Is there anything that can be done about it? Maybe not. It’s a simple equation for offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin of why they’ve dried up.

“Because no one is giving them to us,” Goodwin said. “People are playing deep coverage on us, and forcing us to make intermediate and underneath throws. That’s one reason the running game is a little bit better too.

“People know we live for the shot and people aren’t going to give it it up anymore. We respect that. We just have to beat them in different ways.”

The Panthers are a team that’s had problems on the back end and would seem to be susceptible down the field. Then again, the same things were said about the game against the Jets and the Jets played off and the Cardinals bludgeoned them to death with David Johnson. The Panthers are stout against the run, but the Cards aren’t giving up that part of the game.

But Bruce Arians continues to say — with a stronger nod to running the ball these days — that there will be times to take shots and some are still open. Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer definitely lamented the J.J. Nelson bomb against the Seahawks that Palmer simply threw too far out of bounds.

“I missed a couple,” Palmer said. “I had J.J. on a couple the other night. I’ve taken shots that I shouldn’t have in certain situations. I think one thing I need to do is be a little bit more picky – when to take them, when not to take them. That’s something I’ve really been trying to work on.”

— I didn’t think the Panthers were going to be 15-1 again this season. But they shouldn’t be 1-5. I thought Kelvin Benjamin was going to be a huge upgrade in helping their passing game. In all honesty, I didn’t think Josh Norman — or a lack thereof — would have this sort of an impact.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a tough flight home the last time the Cardinals were in Carolina. Bruce Arians, not so much. “Steve (Keim) and I were working on next year already.”

— The Cardinals need better special teams. And not just Chandler Catanzaro kicking field goals. Protections have to be cleaned up. Last week, the Cards were hurt when Jaron Brown went down, forcing Kerwynn Williams in as a wing protector on the punt team. Williams is the one who surrendered the blocked punt. There’s no question injuries have taken a toll on special team — Four guys on IR, Tyvon Branch, Jaron Brown, Alani Fua and Troy Niklas, were all key special teams pieces to begin the year.

“You always have to be ready,” special teamer Stepfan Taylor said. “It’s kind of a want-to and a technique kind of deal. We do a good job of everybody ready, but you can only suit up 46 people in the game. It becomes limited. You have people who have never played it before having to be in-game ready and jump in.”

— We’ll see if the 10 a.m. kickoff Arizona time impacts anything. The Cardinals didn’t play well in the 10 a.m. kickoff in Buffalo, although I’m not sure that was time-related. It would’ve been better to have the 1:25 p.m. Az time kick as originally scheduled (TV moved it because both teams aren’t playing well), but it’s not like they haven’t done it before. The team is in the air right now flying out to Carolina.

At least I’ll get home at a reasonable time. Hey, I’m looking at the silver lining.

— Injuries will play a big role in how the pass rushes for both teams might look. When the Cardinals are on offense, how does left tackle Jared Veldheer hold up with a cast on his right hand against the formidable Carolina defensive line? On the other side, not having starting left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) could make things interesting against edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.

— One last word on the two field goal block/miss in Seattle. The NFL explains why both were legal in this video.

— There’s been a lot of talk about the tie the Panthers had in 2014, allowing them to win the NFC South at 7-8-1 over the 7-9 Saints. In context, of course, it was a point made after the Cardinals had their own tie last weekend. There’s only one problem — while the tie made the final standings cleaner in terms of seeing who won, the Panthers were going to win the division anyway. The Panthers and Saints split their two games, and the Panthers had a better division record. So even if the Panthers had lost and not tied the Bengals, they would’ve won the South.

— Don’t forget the Pat Tillman “A Football Life” tonight at 6 p.m. on NFL Network (and probably replaying a time or two. Check your local listing.)

— The Cardinals get the bye next week. There’s a pretty big difference between 4-3-1 and 3-4-1. At least in the chase to make the postseason.

beforepanthersblog


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Bethel playing for Cards-Pats, Taylor sits

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2016 – 4:02 pm

The Cardinals are fairly healthy, so Bruce Arians had some choices to make with his inactive list for Sunday night’s game against the Patriots. Not surprisingly, cornerback Justin Bethel (foot) is going to give it a go. Running back Stepfan Taylor (knee) will not. The full list of inactives:

— S Marqui Christian

— RB Stepfan Taylor (knee)

— G Cole Toner

— DT Olsen Pierre

— DT Ed Stinson

— NT Xavier Williams

— LB Kareem Martin (knee)

The Patriots’ inactive list wasn’t surprising since so many guys were hurt. One healthy scratch was former Arizona State running back D.J. Foster, who won’t be dressed. Again, no Gronk, no Jonathan Cooper, no Nate Solder.


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Broncos — and preseason — aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 1, 2016 – 11:32 pm

It’s late, it’s the fourth preseason game, and the reality is not much can be said until final cuts are made. So this aftermath will be short and sweet. There were some “stars” Thursday night — Elijhaa Penny ran the ball really well — but then you hear Bruce Arians talking about Stepfan Taylor being one of the core guys on special teams and you remember that many of these roster spots have already been determined, the process of seeing all these guys over offseason workouts and an entire training camp and three previous games.

(Still, if a guy like Penny isn’t picked up on waivers, I can’t see how he wouldn’t be on the practice squad.)

I tweeted late in the game that if I had a do-over on my guess at the 53, it’d be that Lamar Louis would make the team. He’s impressed, and more importantly, Arians keeps talking him up. We’ll see. Special teams is the key to these final couple of spots, Arians stressed, and Louis is playing well in that area.

— Special teams will be impacted with the short-term loss of linebacker Kareem Martin. Martin hurt his MCL and Arians said they are hoping he’s only out two or three weeks. You have to wonder, if fellow linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo hadn’t gotten hurt earlier (it was announced as a right knee; Arians said after it was a hamstring) and was still playing if Martin even would have been on the field. Bad luck all around.

— In terms of outside linebacker depth, if Martin is down, Arians said Alani Fua can play outside as well as inside. And if anyone was unsure if Fua was going to be on the team, there’s your answer.

— Earl Watford had never played left tackle in a game. Now he has. Could the Cardinals go with just three backup OL right now — center Evan Boehm, perhaps guard Cole Toner and Watford, who can play every position? Watford can play all five positions and will be the sixth offensive lineman.

— The Cardinals have run the ball very, very well all preseason. Bodes well.

— Robert Nkemdiche played well, in different spots, and was in on a sack late.

— Not a great night for the top cornerbacks. Justin Bethel sat out because of his foot. Brandon Williams didn’t have one of his better games, but it was better than Cariel Brooks, who was in position to be the fourth cornerback and did not play well at all.

— Nice pick-6 by ILB Gabe Martin late in the game, but I’m not sure it was enough to make the team. Would they keep Martin over veteran Chris Clemons?

— I don’t expect cuts to be announced before the weekend, even though Arians was talking about hard decisions being made Friday.

— Finally, a 59-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro, which would have been the second-longest in team history had it been in the regular season (Jay Feely booted the 61-yarder against Buffalo in 2012). Will Cat Man have chances like that in the regular season?

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Mathieu and the Cards’ contract cliff

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2016 – 10:25 am

Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.

But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:

— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor

That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.

Contacrtcliffblog


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CJ2K down until Super Bowl, so …

Posted by Darren Urban on December 1, 2015 – 3:49 pm

After it came out that Chris Johnson had a fracture in his knee (to be clear, it is a tibial plateau fracture, with a chip in the tibia near the knee), it was pretty clear he was going to miss some time. The Cardinals clarified that Tuesday when CJ was put on the IR-designated to return list, meaning he cannot play before the Super Bowl. You know, assuming the Cardinals can get there.

Many have asked if the Cardinals were going to sign a running back. They promoted Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad. They are hoping Andre Ellington, who looks like he’ll be week to week with a turf toe, comes back sooner rather than later. And I was reminded of what running backs coach Stump Mitchell told Chris Johnson when Johnson was considering signing with the Cardinals back in August.

“I love Andre Ellington,” Mitchell said. “I love Kerwynn Williams. I love Stepfan Taylor. I love all the running backs we have here right now. Honestly, we don’t need you to win.”

This isn’t to denigrate Chris Johnson or what he has accomplished. He is shelved with 814 yards rushing, fourth-best in the NFL for now (and sadly, he won’t be one of the few 1,000-yard rushers for the franchise since moving to Arizona. But I digress.) But assuming the Ellington problem is short-term, the Cardinals are prepared and were prepared to attack this season without CJ2K. Rookie David Johnson has looked pretty good in limited time and he looks like he’ll be the starter if Ellington is gimpy. Would they have been as successful? Hard to know — David Johnson certainly would’ve gotten more work by now — but this isn’t something they feared.

Now, if David Johnson gets hurt, or Ellington can’t get healthy, then there’s a problem. It’s not like this offense was anchored by Chris Johnson. This offense still revolves around Carson Palmer and the passing game. You want the running game to be effective, but there is belief that it will be (with better blocking). There is little question every single guy in that locker room is hoping CJ2K plays again this season. Both for his sake, and for theirs.

NoCJblog

 


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Ellington’s PCL injury looks short-term

Posted by Darren Urban on September 14, 2015 – 1:17 pm

Bruce Arians said running back Andre Ellington indeed has a “mild” PCL sprain in his right knee. He suffered it on the 16-yard run the play before he went down for good. Arians is not putting a timeline on Ellington’s return — the Cardinals have avoided putting timelines on injuries of late, which is smart because it lowers the expectations on a return — although he said “it could be one week, it could be three.” The main takeaway is that Ellington isn’t out long-term.

Chris Johnson is the starter, David Johnson the backup. Arians said he doesn’t anticipate adding a running back, and would be OK playing the Johnsons and Stepfan Taylor in Chicago.

Arians also said there were no other injuries suffered that would cause players to miss time.

AEinijuryiuse


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Analyzing the initial 53-man roster

Posted by Darren Urban on September 5, 2015 – 5:28 pm

The roster will change. Now that the Cardinals are down to 53 players, the chances of it staying the same by the time the team comes back together Tuesday isn’t great. GM Steve Keim seems almost a lock to make at least one waiver claim that comes through. But for now, here’s some of the highlights to Saturday’s choices:

— The breakdown by position looks like this:

QB 3
RB 4
TE 4
WR 6
OL 9
DL 7
OLB 5
ILB 4
CB 3
S 5
ST 3

— The Cardinals will have four cornerbacks at some point. I don’t see how they don’t. It might not be until after the first game, but I am confident they will keep the search going.

— The trade for Matt Barkley ended the chances for Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims. I don’t see them keeping a fourth QB on the practice squad.

— Two undrafted rookies make the roster in nose tackle Xavier Williams and Alani Fua. Fua, at 6-foot-5, is one of those choices Keim wanted to make the team longer and more athletic. It’s why they still like Shaq Riddick even though Riddick has been hurt so much.

— Stepfan Taylor is your “big” back with the cut of Robert Hughes. Kerwynn Williams is a fan favorite but his skill-set is just too close to Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson.

— With the suspension of Bobby Massie, it might have saved Bradley Sowell a roster spot for now. When Massie returns, we’ll see what happens. By then, the Cards might have a better sense of who they want at center, or maybe they let a tackle go.


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Broncos/CJ and Spoon aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 3, 2015 – 10:52 pm

Sean Weatherspoon as he noted the exact date when he had last played in an NFL game: Dec. 22, 2013. It took him a little longer to get back out there than he wanted – and the same goes for Chris Johnson – but there they were Thursday night. They didn’t play like superstars but they both played well, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals needed to see after aborted training camps for both.

Everyone can bag on preseason games if they want, but the two vets were exhibits 1 and 1A of why they are always a necessity for someone. Said Johnson, who hadn’t played in a game since last season and only had a handful of practices with the Cardinals with a bad hamstring, “I don’t think I needed to start the season not getting reps because I did it one time before and I just didn’t feel right the first game.”

Better yet, Bruce Arians said he expects both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas to return to practice this week, so the feeling is that the Cardinals should have more tight ends available than just Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah. If Gresham does indeed return, it’ll turn out that those three vets signed on one-year deals – including Weatherspoon and Johnson – should be available for the opener against the Saints. And that’s what the Cardinals want to hear.

— Both Johnson and Weatherspoon said they need to work on their conditioning. “I’m just thankful to be part of the team and get a chance to go out there,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s good to make some hits, takes some hits.”

— Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points but Arians didn’t even let the question come up. “No, I’m not concerned about Cat Man and the missed extra points,” Arians said in his opening remarks, saying the question didn’t even need to be asked. I’m sure Catanzaro knows it can’t happen again, but as Arians said, at least it was in a preseason game.

— There were two penalties called on rookie tackle D.J. Humphries on back to back drives, but both were iffy. The false start might not have even been that much of a move. And the holding given to him was apparently on No. 64, Cameron Bradfield, and the officials just messed up the number.

— I thought Earl Watford held up at right tackle, and I fully expect him to be the right tackle starter going into the regular season.

— Rookie wide receiver Jaxon Shipley had 11 targets and nine catches (for 58 yards) and continued to push the best he can. Still, I don’t see him as more than the practice squad right now. He’s not cracking the top five. Same goes for inside linebacker Gabe Martin, who was working hard on defense all night.

— On the flip side, the way Alani Fua was used, I’m guessing he’ll make the 53 at inside linebacker.

— Markus Golden played well at outside linebacker and if Golden isn’t starting early in the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get to the starting lineup at some point this year.

— He only had three carries, but Stepfan Taylor’s powerful run for 12 yards up the middle made an impression. Maybe he can be the Cards’ short-yardage guy over Robert Hughes, which could open a roster spot if the Cards only want to keep four running backs.

— I thought Phillip Sims came around. I thought Logan Thomas played better. I still think we are talking about the likelihood of carrying two quarterbacks, meaning Sims or Thomas would have to be practice squad. But we’ll see if, after the Cards watch the tape, they are convinced to do otherwise.

— Arians was asked if he was happy the preseason was over.

“Extremely,” he said, as a grin crept over his face.

You can’t see it, but I have a similar grin. Let’s get to the regular season.

Stepfan Taylor, Josh Bush


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Chris Johnson’s hammy, and where he fits

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2015 – 9:24 am

Bruce Arians suggested Wednesday that running back Chris Johnson could be back practicing by the end of the week, and there is a possibility that Arians will say in a couple of hours that indeed, Johnson is returning today from his sore hamstring. With only two preseason games left — and with Johnson sitting out the entire offseason — there is little time left to prep for games that count. (UPDATE: Arians said Johnson will go through a run test Thursday, and hopefully will practice Friday and play Sunday.)

Johnson acknowledged Wednesday he feels he needs to play in preseason games, to at least get a couple of carries and get a feel for the game. If that ends up being the normally fringe-heavy fourth preseason game, so be it. But, Johnson also said, “I think they know what I can do already.”

That may be true, and I would still lean toward CJ being on this roster heading into the regular season. But it’s not necessarily a lock, with what David Johnson has shown and Kerwynn Williams still lingering in the background and Stepfan Taylor so valuable on special teams. Can’t keep ’em all.

Johnson noted “I’ve never been a guy that really misses games or practices or anything like that,” and that’s true (save for a contract holdout once upon a time.)

“It’s a situation where it’s frustrating watching practice,” Johnson said. “I know I need to be out there practicing. But it has kind of helped me be able to really focus on the playbook and get the playbook down.”

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The race at running back

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2015 – 9:30 am

So now Chris Johnson joins the Cardinals and the team did not get rid of a running back as he walked in the door. It’s a crowded backfield. For the record, the Cards now have Andre Ellington, two Johnsons — David and Chris — Kerwynn Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Marion Grice, Robert Hughes and Paul Lasike.

Johnson — the new one — only signed a one-year contract. He becomes the latest in a line of vets who were wooed by GM Steve Keim for the chance at getting a shot on a good team to revive their contract worth. Frostee Rucker. Matt Shaughnessy. Karlos Dansby. Eric Winston. Antonio Cromartie. LaMarr Woodley. Jermaine Gresham. Even Lyle Sendlein. Johnson reportedly will only make the minimum salary too, unless he rushes for at least 1,300 yards (which a back has never reached since the team moved to Arizona.)

What does all that mean? Well, for starters, if Johnson doesn’t work out the way the Cardinals want through the rest of the preseason, he can be released without much impact on the salary cap ($400,000 is guaranteed.) More likely he’ll simply be part of the rotation. If I had to guess right now, the Cardinals will keep five running backs. Ellington will be the starter. The two Johnsons will be there. After that? I’d think there would be one between Hughes and Lasike as the “big” back — Hughes has the inside track there — and one among Taylor, Williams and Grice. Taylor is good on special teams, and Williams’ game is similar to Ellington’s and Chris Johnson’s (plus, he could go on the practice squad if necessary.)

As for the desire to pick up a veteran and supplanting a recent draft pick, this too is something Keim has already done. The Cardinals drafted inside linebacker Kevin Minter in 2013 in the second round and turned around and signed Dansby just couple weeks later, and Dansby’s play left Minter on the bench all season. Now, David Johnson may have the same thing with Chris Johnson. For Keim, it’s about what the Cardinals can do this year.

RunningBacksShot

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