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Blogs

Cards could use some Super pressure

Posted by Darren Urban on February 8, 2016 – 3:24 pm

Just two weeks ago, Steve Keim was emphasizing the need to improve the Cardinals’ pass rush. This is no state secret, or hard to analyze. After watching what the Broncos did to the Panthers in the Super Bowl — and what the Cardinals could not do to Cam Newton in the NFC Championship game — that plan of action couldn’t have been made any more crystal clear.

It changes the game to be able to pressure off the edge consistently. It makes a difference in the biggest games. After the 2007 season, the Patriots, with their 18-0 record and a passing game that scored more than 50 times by itself, stalled in the Super Bowl. The Giants’ defense wasn’t even that powerful overall, necessarily — but it had a front four that could get to the quarterback (and depth up front), that made life hellish for Tom Brady and brought down the undefeated season with a crash.

This has been a constant topic around the Cardinals in recent years. Even looking back at the 2011 draft, when the Cardinals picked future All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 overall choice, the team was eyeing Super Bowl 50 star Von Miller had he dropped that far (although it became clear in the days leading up to the draft he would not.) You can scheme all you want and blitz more than any other team — which the Cards have done the last couple of years — but blitzing is a risk that can burn a club. And the Cards didn’t always provide the pressure even when they did blitz. The pass rush doesn’t guarantee a title (ask the Panthers, who harassed Peyton Manning pretty well themselves) but it’s an uphill climb without it.


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Search for a pass rusher

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2016 – 9:54 am

Steve Keim was blunt when bringing up his number one priority of the offseason: “Create a pass rush.” It’s nothing new. This is something the Cardinals have been talking about every offseason for a decade pretty much. Yes, John Abraham had a nice 2013 but he wasn’t brought in until training camp and it was always known he’d be a short-term solution.

It’s not like the Cardinals didn’t look at it last offseason. They tried to trade up in the draft to get one of the “name” pass rushers in the first round. They still took Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick among their seven picks. Golden was solid as a rookie. Is he ever going to be the dynamic edge guy every team wants/needs? Maybe not, but he’ll be an important cog. We’ll see on Riddick, who never got on the field as a rookie, but they love his size and speed if he can learn the game.

Going forward, the Cards still need much more. Dwight Freeney helped, but he isn’t the answer at this point even if he comes back. I thought it was interesting that Bruce Arians, talking on Arizona Sports 98.7 said of the edge rusher sought “I doubt it would be a free agent.” Now, if Von Miller were to actually hit the open market and not get the inevitable franchise tag from the Broncos, that might change but still — it says something about the potential available pass rushers (or those who could be available but likely won’t by March.)

The next three months leading into the draft will be interesting in that regard. But it was clear there were too many times when the Cardinals didn’t pressure the quarterback enough, even when they blitzed. That’s a tough way to live in the rarified air of the upper echelon teams in the NFL.

Rusherblog


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Keim on Palmer: “He will bounce back”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 25, 2016 – 8:16 am

There wasn’t a lot of time for reflection — Steve Keim did his radio spot just about five hours after the Cardinals landed on their return trip from Carolina — and the Cardinals General Manager was not surprisingly muted after his team lost in Sunday’s NFC Championship. But Keim made clear that despite Carson Palmer’s bad game, Palmer was the man who would lead the Cards into 2016.

“There is nobody I respect and appreciate more than Carson Palmer,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “In a league full of teams who are looking for a quarterback, I’m certainly proud he’s our guy.”

Keim was asked directly if Palmer choked.

“I don’t think he performed particularly well but I would say that goes for a lot of our players,” Keim said. “You look at the big picture and some of our stars had a rough night. But make no mistake, we wouldn’t have been in the position we were in without Carson Palmer and his play this year.”

Keim was asked again if Palmer’s finger was a problem. “He would be the only one who can tell you that,” Keim said (and Palmer has insisted every time it has come up that it was not an issue, including again last night.)

Going forward, Keim remains bullish on his QB: “I feel strongly he will bounce back and be ready in 2016.”

— Keim’s take on the NFC Championship overall: “It’s a bitter ending and the harsh reality of the NFL … 2015 was a special year for all of us, yet at the end of the day there are 31  teams that end the season in disappointment and unfortunately we are one of them.”

— “Experiences like this only fuel me,” Keim said, noting that this game will be a lot like the 58-0 loss in Seattle did a couple of months before Keim became GM. Keim said he is flying out to Mobile soon to do work at the Senior Bowl. “I couldn’t be more excited to put this team back together.”

— Asked what the first thing is on his priority list, Keim didn’t hesitate: “Create a pass rush.” The Cardinals didn’t do that enough, either last night or most of the season, and Keim noted that when a team has to blitz a lot to do so, problems can easily happen. He acknowledged the secondary did not play well in Carolina, but added part of that was because Cam Newton had too much time to throw.

— The offseason has already started. Keim said he and coach Bruce Arians were already discussing various offseason moves on the plane ride back from Charlotte.

— Keim’s final thoughts were simply that he and the team appreciate the fan support all season, including more fans coming to road games than Keim could remember. “I apologize we let them down at the end.”


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NFC Championship aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2016 – 11:18 pm

Larry Fitzgerald fought back tears.

The wide receiver has now played 12 NFL seasons. He doesn’t know exactly how many he has left – he has one year remaining on his contract – and at age 32, the end is much closer than the beginning. He also knows the NFL reality that coming as close as the Cardinals did to the Super Bowl, with the best team he’s ever been on, doesn’t necessarily happen more than once.

That’s why the pain was apparent on his face after Sunday night’s blowout loss in Carolina, a game that, frankly, the Cardinals never really were in. If the Cards had lost in a shootout, or a close game, Fitzgerald said, perhaps he could have dealt with it better, knowing the Cardinals at least made it a battle.

Instead, “we just didn’t have it today,” Fitzgerald said quietly. “And that really stings.”

Things will change. They always do in the offseason. Free agents will leave. New players will be signed and drafted. You hope that comes together. You hope that you can stay relatively injury-free, which the Cards – for the most part – were able to do this season. You hope that as a team you can build again, as the Cardinals have in each Arians’ season. Win totals have gone up and the postseason ladder has been climbed one rung at a time.

You hope. But as Fitz’s emotions explained, nothing is promised.

“The emotions are still so raw for me. So raw,” Fitzgerald said, when asked to assess 2015 as a whole. “In a couple days I might be able to have a little bit better answer for you. It really hurts.”

“Obviously,” Fitzgerald added, “I didn’t want it to end this way.”

— Carson Palmer stood up and answered the painful questions after the game. He took responsibility. He said “I” often and while there was plenty of things weren’t great on the rest of the team – the defense did not have its best game either – Palmer had to play well for the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl. He did not play well. He did not come close.

— While the Cardinals and Keim will continue to look for their quarterback of the future, Palmer is going to be the quarterback in 2016. He should be. He did not play well in the postseason but he was a deserving MVP candidate this year.

— Running back David Johnson was excellent, but it’s too bad the Cards got so far behind. He has definitely shown his future as the lead running back.

— The secondary as a whole was not good. Some of that was because of a lack of pressure on Cam Newton, but there were other mistakes. Justin Bethel was not the only player to get caught, but even Bruce Arians noted Bethel by name as someone who had a tough night. Arians added Bethel will get better. The Cardinals need him to.

— Among the free-agents-to-be are cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson. Both emphasized how much they want to return. But we will see how that plays out. I expect the Cardinals to try and get a Tyrann Mathieu extension done at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cornerback taken in the draft.

— The Cardinals will pick 29th in the NFL draft. There will be only 31 first-round selections after the Patriots surrendered theirs during Deflategate.

— There are a lot of other things to talk about heading into the offseason. But with the Cardinals done, there is time to get to all of that.

FitzAfterNFCblog


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Keim: Cards didn’t play well, but were resilient

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2016 – 8:18 am

There are going to be close games in the playoffs, Cardinals GM Steve Keim acknowledged. He also said during his appearance Monday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that “I didn’t think we played particularly well” Saturday night against the Packers. (Which you could kind of see as Keim walked off the sideline following Fitz’s touchdown. Among the sea of celebration, Keim wasn’t smiling. He didn’t look mad, but he looked like someone who knows the Cards have to play better to reach the Super Bowl.)

Keim’s greatest praise came for the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd, saying the atmosphere was great that that “it gives me chills” to think about the white towels waving.” The Cardinals won’t get that in the NFC Championship, since the game will be in Carolina. Maybe that’s why Keim noted the improvements that have to be made.

— Keim noted that, aside from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, “I don’t think a ton of guys played great.” But the Cardinals were resilient, Keim added, which has been a hallmark of the team all season.

— On the 75-yard Fitzgerald catch in overtime, “what was the better play, Larry or Carson?” (As great as Fitz was on the run, Palmer made that thing happen.)

— Keim said he does not believe Palmer’s injured finger was a factor in Palmer’s game — which featured a few near-interceptions, aside from the two he threw. In the first half, Palmer had too much pressure in his face, Keim said. In the second half, Palmer just missed on some throws.

— The offensive line “played hard,” he said, but made mistakes, especially with second-level blocks. The run game has to produce more.

— On defense, pressure was sporadic (Keim wouldn’t touch the notion the Packers weren’t called enough for holding) and there were some mixups in the secondary and in gap discipline. Keim said he hadn’t yet talked to coaches about the last Packers drive, particularly the fourth-and-20 the Packers converted on a 60-yard pass when Jeff Janis got behind cornerback Justin Bethel. That can’t happen, Keim said, and he also said he thought a safety should have been over the top. “That’s Football 101, to be in the right place at the right time.”

— Finally, asked about Bruce Arians’ decision to throw the ball on second-and-8 with some 2:25 left in the game and the Cardinals up four points, Keim pointed out that the Cards threw up five with 1:44 left on second-and-8 in the season opener against the Saints. Running back David Johnson took that pass and scooted for a 55-yard touchdown.

“You know our style, you know our aggressiveness,” Keim said. “We play to win.” But was he nervous on that play? “Not at all. I trust our coach and I trust our players.”


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Friday before the playoffs and Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2016 – 12:30 pm

Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.

No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.

Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.

A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:

Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams

This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.

This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.

— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.

— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.

“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.

“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”

Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.

— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.

— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”

Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.

— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.

— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.

— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.

— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”

— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.

This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.

MoneyMike


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Keim: Cards healthier after bye

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2016 – 8:05 am

There wasn’t much new to talk about this morning when General Manager Steve Keim made his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. That happens when the Cardinals don’t have a game. But Keim did note that the Cardinals’ bye gave certain players needed rest — the roster should be fairly healthy by the time game day rolls around. Keim specifically noted that running back Andre Ellington benefited as he continues to work with his sore toe, and quarterback Carson Palmer got another week to take care of his sore finger.

A couple of other Keim thoughts:

— The Packers ran the ball much better Sunday in Washington. Offensively, they “looked like they got some of their swag back,” Keim said. We’ll see how much that had to do with going against a defense that was down near the bottom of the league.

— As for facing a team that the Cards beat up, 38-8, a few weeks back, “I’m sure they will use that last game as some fuel to their fire,” Keim said. It’s kind of the opposite of what the Cardinals would deal with against the Seahawks. A little bit, at least.

— Keim fully expects the Packers to have “some different wrinkles.” “We just have to focus and have intensity,” Keim said.


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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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In a rush for 2,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2015 – 10:33 am

It’s been a popular question posed to me recently, from fans and when I’m doing radio interviews: What’s the difference between this year’s team and last year’s pre-Palmer knee team? There are a few. But the most obvious — and the most important, in my opinion — is the Cardinals’ ability to run the football.

The Cardinals, with one game left, are sixth in the NFL with 126 yards a game rushing. This is a team that hasn’t ranked higher than 23th in rushing since 2005 and has been in the bottom three in rushing six times in that span — including last season, when they were 31st. Yes, injuries played a big factor in last year’s troubles. Still, the massive improvement isn’t just being healthy. In fact, like last year, Andre Ellington has been banged up much of this season. And the Cardinals lost Chris Johnson. But GM Steve Keim drafted David Johnson and made sure he had three capable runners. He signed very good run blocker Mike Iupati for his offensive line.

This is a team that got 814 yards rushing out of Chris Johnson — which was third in the league after 11 games, when CJ2K got hurt — and looks like they upgraded at the position with David Johnson. Don’t forget too, Ellington was off to a great start running the ball as starter in the season opener before he got hurt (Ellington only has 43 rushing attempts this season, but he has averaged an eye-popping 6.7 yards a carry.) David Johnson has 556 yards on 114 carries, 4.9 yards a tote.

Overall, the Cardinals need 110 yards rushing against the Seahawks to reach 2,000 rushing yards this season. (By comparison, the Cards rushed for 1,308 yards in 2014.) But 2,000? That’s a total this franchise hasn’t reached since 1988 — the first year the Cards were in Arizona. If only Drew Stanton didn’t have his 13 kneeldowns for minus-13 yards, right?

Rush2000Blog


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Keim: Palmer “as tough as they come”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2015 – 8:12 am

GM Steve Keim said he knew some were concerned about quarterback Carson Palmer after he hurt his right index finger in Philadelphia, and acknowledged Palmer did have to adjust a bit to account for the finger against the Packers. But he said he wasn’t surprised Palmer went out and played well despite being nicked up — Palmer “is like a machine,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday — and Keim never saw anything watching the video that made him think Palmer was impacted by the injury.

“He’s as tough as they come,” Keim said.

Mostly, Keim had nothing but praise for a team that slapped around the Packers Sunday.

— Keim said that was the closest the Cardinals had come to playing a complete game this season. The Cards have won nine straight. It’s amazing to think the Cards, at 6-2, were considering such a daunting second-half schedule. Thus far, they are 7-0 in that stretch.

— Keim noted the intelligence of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, saying that one of the things he likes of all the coaches is that they cater to players’ strengths. As for Bettcher, he liked the fact he took some things from former boss/former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles but “at the same time, he’s true to himself.”

— The discussions between Keim and coach Bruce Arians about whether to rest players in the regular-season finale will go on the next day or two.

— The third-round pick of running back David Johnson continues to look incredibly smart. “Every week he continues to amaze me,” Keim said. “Some of the things he does athletically for a big man … he makes things look so easy.”

— Another good game for safety D.J. Swearinger, highlighted by his forced fumble to start the second half. Keim liked the performance, and it again looks like a smart pickup for Keim.

— Keim, a man who loves his men in the trenches, said he thought the offensive line played “excellent” and the defensive line rotation showed exactly why the Cardinals brought in so many guys, in order to stay fresh.


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