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A chance at a comp pick

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2015 – 12:26 pm

The spring owners meetings get underway Monday here in town at the Biltmore, and among the many things that will go on will be the annual reveal of the compensatory picks for April’s draft.

A quick refresher for those who don’t know about comp picks: Each year, there are a bunch of extra draft picks sprinkled in through the draft (starting in the third round) that are awarded to teams with a net loss of free agents from the year before. The exact formula for doling out picks isn’t public, but it’s a mixture of the player, his free agent contract and performance. Basically, if you lose more free agents than you sign, you’ll get an extra pick or two.

(Or more, perhaps. Baltimore often lets players leave as free agents with the idea of stockpiling comp picks to replenish the roster with cheap labor. It’s great if you hit on many draft picks. The Ravens have made it an art form.)

As for the Cardinals, overthecap.com has estimated that the Cards are in line for an extra seventh-round pick. Now, there are caveats to the various qualifying players in this admittedly complicated guesswork. The Cards could conceivably get an extra fifth-rounder instead of a seventh or maybe no comp pick at all. As it stands, the Cardinals have their seven original draft picks, starting with the 24th overall in the first round. Last season, the Cardinals added tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, guard Ted Larsen and running back Jonathan Dwyer in free agency. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas. (Players that are cut by their previous team do not factor in the equation, which is why bringing in Antonio Cromartie did not hurt the Cards in this example and why losing Darnell Dockett this year will not help in next year’s comp equation.)


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With Fitzgerald done, next on to-do list

Posted by Darren Urban on February 18, 2015 – 2:10 pm

The first thing the Cardinals needed to get done was re-doing Larry Fitzgerald’s contract. That’s done. Cap space has been cleared. But the Cardinals probably will look for more.

GM Steve Keim said today he will be talking to DT Darnell Dockett about his contract, which has one year left and a cap number of $9.8 million. That’s lofty anyway, but especially for an older player who is coming off major knee surgery. Ted Ginn, who sunk to the fifth receiver by year’s end, is another player who seems likely to be looked at, contract-wise. There are other veterans with higher cap numbers who could get a look from Keim. But there are lines to walk; CB Jerraud Powers is due more than $4 million in salary this season, for example, but if Antonio Cromartie leaves in free agency, you have to make sure you have the depth you want. A total of 13 Cardinals carry cap numbers of more than $3 million for 2015, including Powers ($5.3M), C Lyle Sendlein ($4.3M), Ginn ($4M), and QB Drew Stanton ($3.9M).

Keim’s point that the Cardinals, with Fitz’s new contract, will allow the Cards to be active in free agency is crucial. There is little doubt the Cardinals need to upgrade, but what will the market bear? I could see the Cardinals looking heavily at running back, at linebacker (both inside and outside), perhaps interior offensive line. If Cromartie doesn’t return, they could look at cornerback. And one of the quieter stories of the offseason is the potential loss of nose tackle Dan Williams and what the Cards do if Williams does not return.

Fixing the Fitz situation was important. But it wasn’t the only thing in front of Keim that needs tending.

“There are some additional tough decisions we will have to make,” Keim said.

Steve Keim


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Cardinals 11th in NFL special teams rankings

Posted by Darren Urban on February 5, 2015 – 3:33 pm

The season for the Cardinals’ special teams had its highs and lows. Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro proved to be a find and made the first 17 field goals of his career. Return man Ted Ginn, save for one (very important) punt return for a touchdown, was disappointing in his work. Justin Bethel remained a Pro Bowl specialist. Punter Drew Butler had his struggles (especially in the playoffs) but the Cardinals were still one of the best teams in the league when it comes to blocking field goal attempts.

Overall special teams play isn’t easy to analyze — especially in the return game, when there are questions about how much the return man himself struggled or how much was his blocking. But Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News has long tried to tangibly rate what Ron Wolfley loves to call the “transition game.” And in Gosselin’s 2014 rankings, the Cardinals were actually 11th in the NFL in overall special teams.

Gosselin has 22 categories that he looks at, and the formula from there is simple: The best team in a category gets one point, the worst gets 32 points. Lowest score when those 22 categories are totaled is the best. This year, that was the Eagles, and that makes sense — Philly had Darren Sproles returning kicks, they had a record-setting rookie kicker, a good punter, and blocked six kicks (returning three blocked punts for touchdowns).

What’s most impressive for the Cardinals is their ranking of 11th (and there is a significant dropoff from 11 to 12) is that the Cards and Ginn were last in the NFL in kickoff return average at 19 yards per runback. They were also last in average starting point after kickoffs (the 19-yard line — ouch). But they were best in the league in punts downed inside the 20 (35, so Butler did do some things right).

There will be things different on the Cards’ special teams in 2015. The team is expected to move on from Ginn as a return man. And any roster change from year to year impacts special teams the most, because it’s those new rookies and back-half-of-the-roster players who make up the bulk of special teams work.

Dan Bailey, Justin Bethel


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Taking a second to look at third downs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2014 – 10:24 am

Bruce Arians was talking about the third down the Cardinals faced last weekend in Atlanta in the third quarter when the team needed just two yards for a first down. Speedster wideout Ted Ginn’s route called for a double move and sprint down the sideline. Arians felt the Falcons’ defensive back committed illegal contact, but there was no flag. Quarterback Drew Stanton took the shot. It fell incomplete. The Cards punted.

“That’s the way we play football,” Arians said. “That’s the way (Stanton) is coached to play, and Teddy ran a good route.”

It pretty much summed up the way third downs have gone of late for the Cardinals too. It’s not like throwing a bomb on third down has been odd for this team. The 75-yard touchdown bomb to beat the Eagles was on third-and-5 (with the Cards needing just a field goal) late in the game. Risks will be taken by a B.A.-offense.

But obviously, the Cardinals have to find a way to turn third downs into first downs more often. In the past two losses, the Cards are 4-for-19. Only once did two of those conversions come on the same drive. But it was in Seattle, and the chance for a third third-down conversion bounced off the chest of wide receiver Jaron Brown in the end zone on a painful dropped pass.

Arians makes the point — which is both good and bad — that it’s not like the situations have been third-and-long most of the time. Of those 19 third downs, the Cardinals have needed six or fewer yards on 10 of them. Unfortunately, of those 10, the Cards have converted only two of them. That’s stunning.

“That’s the thing that’s kind of surprising is we were in very manageable third downs,” Stanton said. “We just had a tipped pass here, didn’t throw the ball accurately there, a lot of different things. We just need to understand why it’s happening and move on.”

The math is simple for the Cardinals. In their nine wins, they have converted 49.2 percent of their third downs. In their three losses, the percentage is just 20. Getting Larry Fitzgerald back on the field should help the cause, but regardless, the Cardinals have to find a way to sustain more drives. Yes, we’re talking the obvious here. But it’s the basics of football the Cards are searching for these days.

thirddownsUSE


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Giants aftermath, with a Stanton twist

Posted by Darren Urban on September 14, 2014 – 4:56 pm

Carson Palmer couldn’t play. Might not be able to play, at least another game. So that gives you … a Bruce Arians shrug. “Drew’s a starter in this league in my opinion,” Arians said. “Always has been.”

Drew being Drew Stanton, of course, and he was at a starter Sunday. Unlike the recent past, where backup quarterbacks would come in for the Cardinals and it usually meant problems – although at that time, the starters weren’t all that good either – this team is equipped to live through something like the quarterback going down and still coming away, after a cross country flight, with a victory.

The Giants are not the 49ers, of course, and if Stanton is still in the lineup next week, the Cards aregoing to have to up their overall game. The same can be said even if Palmer plays, realistically. But 2-0 is certainly much better than any of the alternatives.

The fact Stanton didn’t turn the ball over was a big deal. Sure, Eli Manning had better stats, but Stanton avoided causing his team trouble. Arians said Stanton played better than his stats would indicate. Perhaps. Stanton does need to capitalize on a couple of red-zone attempts – he wasn’t that close on some throws and another touchdown would have made life a lot easier – but he looks like a guy who knows the offense.

— When Palmer comes back is anyone’s guess. He kept talking about the nerve “waking up.” I would think it will be ready when it’s ready. Arians said he’s looking at this long-term with most of the season to go, so I’d expect Stanton against San Francisco if Palmer isn’t sure. Then again, if Palmer was possible to play Sunday Arians was going to put him in, so it sounds like it’s on Carson.

— What a day for special teams coordinator Amos Jones. Bad kickoff returns from Ted Ginn – Arians said he might be firing Ginn from that part of the game – and another punt block, this time because protector Robert Hughes allowed Rashad Jennings to push him back enough so that Jennings could get a hand on the ball. That’s two blocks in two games because of a poor block. But then Ginn snapped off his 71-yard return – and Ginn most certainly isn’t leaving punt returns – showing off his hellaspeed, and then Kenny Demens knocked loose the ensuing kickoff return for a fumble the Cardinals turned into a field goal.

— It was a rough game for Patrick Peterson. It did not help the physical cornerback was in a game with an officiating crew that was taking the edict on emphasizing illegal contacts/defensive holding very seriously. But Peterson said after he has to adapt, and he’s right. There is no other choice. The TD he gave up on the fade to Reuben Randle was a nice throw and a great one-handed catch from Randle, but in the end, that’s the kind of play Peterson – who now carries the weight and expectations of being the highest-paid cornerback – has to make.

— Andre Ellington was excellent Sunday. He nearly got to 100 yards – 91, actually – on only 15 carries, and this is a guy who isn’t 100 percent. Ellington said he isn’t even sure if he’ll be 100 percent at any point because his foot only gets better with rest and the bye week may not be enough time. Regardless, if he plays like Sunday, he and the Cardinals will make it work. The guy is a threat with his speed to get a first-down running on third-and-14, like he did Sunday.

— Safe to say going with Chandler Catanzaro was a good call? The kid looks good.

— For those scoring at home, that’s Cardinals 27, opponents 0 in the fourth quarter this season. And a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks.

— Fitz was back. Ten targets, six catches (for 51 yards). Almost had a touchdown, and should’ve have another catch for 36 yards had Jared Veldheer not been caught facemasking a pass rusher.

— Big game for Calais Campbell. A team-high 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and would’ve had a another sack (and forced fumble the Cardinals recovered) if not for one of those pesky illegal contacts. He has to play like the great player he is for this defense to survive all its losses.

— Antonio Cromartie made a great play on that third down bomb late in the game to Randle, getting his hand in just enough to mess up a potential catch. That hits, and all kinds of drama. Instead, the Cardinals stopped the Giants the next play, and the game was over.

— Larry Foote on his game-ending interception: “There’s a dirty rumor going around my locker room that I can’t catch,” Foote said. “I told ’em I’d catch it when it counts.” Looked Fitz-like to me.

— Tyrann Mathieu with only a few plays (but his first tackle). It’s going to be a slow process, but he’s back on the field.

— The Seahawks lost. On the road, but it was to a Chargers team the Cardinals just beat. Yes, the NFC West should be interesting all year.

Rueben Randle, Patrick Peterson


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Chargers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2014 – 1:05 am

Jonathan Dwyer had just run up the gut for a first down to clinch the win Monday night, and it was hard not to notice the player who looked like he had the biggest grin on the field: Larry Fitzgerald. Yes, Fitzgerald only had one catch on the night but it was a doozy, a 22-yarder that he hauled in to put the Cardinals into San Diego territory on the game-winning drive. Fitzgerald’s targets — four of them officially — will be a topic of conversation, but the Cardinals won and so those things move into the background. Hard to argue when the quarterback still gets 300 yards and there are enough others to make the plays when Fitz isn’t (Michael Floyd, 5 for 119 to start what I’m guessing will be a very big year.)

Besides, it’s tough to get that smile out of my head as the clock ticked down.

— The Cardinals look like they are going to be fine on defense. Yes, Todd Bowles is going to have to dial up some different things. The pass rush on some plays was, match up with receivers one-on-one across the board and send everyone else. That’ll be tough against Detroit with Calvin Johnson, but Bowles sees what he has and goes with it. He lost two more pieces during the game when linebacker John Abraham (concussion) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (calf) went out. Oh well. “Survival of the fittest,” Bowles said. “Your healthy, you play.”

— One of those guys who is playing is Larry Foote. No, he’s not Daryl Washington. But a good camp was followed up with a good opening game, something that brought a smile to Bruce Arians’ face. “He’s going to be the bellcow for us all year,” Arians said.

— The good was Deone Bucannon looked comfortable and solid as that dollar linebacker in the nickel defense. The bad was him missing the block that allowed new punter Drew Butler to get one blocked. “I was just overexcited,” Bucannon said. “I was trying to get out too soon, trying to get down there to make a tackle. Totally stupid. Selfish by me.”

— Overall, the “kicking game hurt us more than it should have,” Arians said. Besides the block, Ted Ginn did not have a good opening game returning kickoffs. Field position wasn’t great much of the time. Chandler Catanzaro, however, held his own as kicker. The Cardinals look like they made a good choice with the rookie.

— Arians didn’t seem that bothered by the fact right tackle Bobby Massie didn’t just fall on the Andre Ellington fumble, which ended up with the Chargers and cost the Cardinals an early scoring chance. The cast on Massie’s hand — which he apparently has — was the culprit, Arians said. “He tried to pick it up and run with it,” Arians said. “The cast dropped it.”

— Safety Tony Jefferson said he got props from both San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates after the game, after Jefferson chased Gates around much of the game. Still, Jefferson was still irritated with the defensive holding he was called for on a play he ended up getting an interception on. He didn’t feel he held, although he admitted he needed to look at the video.

— Andre Ellington wasn’t at full speed, but that was still good enough. That 18-yard run he made on the game-winning drive was a huge play and if he can muddle through his tendon injury, the Cardinals will be much better off with him in there.

OK, that’s that. I’ll be doing a chat tomorrow (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. on this short week, if you want to take part. But now, it’s time to go home.

Blogafteruse


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Bengals aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2014 – 10:44 pm

No reason to overanalyze here tonight, not with Bruce Arians talking to the media again just 14 hours from now and a short week ahead. This is going to go quickly, from the 13 cuts that are coming in the next day or so (officially, they must be done by Tuesday at 1 p.m. Arizona time) to the “practices” the Cardinals will try and hold Monday and Tuesday even though everyone is beat up from Sunday night’s game and more football is on the horizon Thursday.

The big concern/talking point again was Carson Palmer. He deserved praise the first two games. He was not nearly as good against the Bengals, and even he would admit that. But watching the game, while Palmer wasn’t good enough for this team to keep up in the NFC West I did not think he was terrible. Arians backed that up afterward. “Carson is going to take the blame and the heat for his quarterback rating but there are two drops that are wide open,” Arians said. “I don’t put a lot of stock in that one.”

Arians said Palmer made the right read on his interception and that it was the receiver (who was Larry Fitzgerald) who made the mistake but not cutting across the face of the defender. Fitz owned up to it as well. Truth be told, it looked like there were so many defenders in the area maybe the throw was ill-advised, but it’s got zero chance if the receiver isn’t where the QB thinks he’ll be. Palmer can’t miss a wide-open Michael Floyd either — and when we say wide open, it is literal. The Bengals just forgot to cover him deep. That said, I saw a replay where Floyd stopped near his defender and then started running again, and if Floyd runs full out the whole time, maybe the ball is in the right place for the TD.

Doesn’t really matter. No one will remember this in a few days. The Cardinals will fix some things. It wasn’t a terrible game. It wasn’t what they wanted, but it wasn’t unforgivable.

— The run defense was impressive. Arians did say he is worried about the pass rush when it’s only four players, and that’s been an issue for a long time. LB John Abraham played for the first time and Arians said he actually played more than expected. Abraham also drew a holding penalty. But it can’t be all about Abraham when the Cards are trying to get non-blitz pass rush.

— It certainly looks like rookie John Brown is this team’s third wide receiver. And if a fourth is needed, it looks like Jaron Brown will get the call more often than Ted Ginn. There will be plays for Ginn in three-receiver sets I am sure, but right now, if I had to put together a depth chart, I’d peg Ginn as behind the Brown boys. Ginn is the return man and the “get deep” threat.

— Other notable spots on the live depth chart watching the game. UDFA Glenn Carson was with Desmond Bishop as second-unit ILBs, with Larry Foote and Kenny Demens starting. Kevin Minter is still out; Carson could be a practice squad candidate. Jonathan Dwyer is pretty clearly the No. 2 running back. Bradley Sowell was the second-unit right tackle, and Max Starks worked third team. Arians said Sowell had been doing better the last couple of weeks. It’ll be interesting to see if Starks or Sowell are kept, because the swing tackle backup job is between those two.

— No injuries Sunday night? That’s the best news of all.

— The offensive line played well. In protection and the run game. That’s an excellent development.

That’s good for now. I’ll make a stab at guessing the 53-man roster in the next couple of days. Time to go home. Back to work in a few hours.

CPbengalsblog


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Arians: Starters’ playing time to be limited

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2014 – 12:35 pm

When your head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators and many of the main players are the same as last season, and after the team has a whole looked pretty good in the preseason opener, the thought process for the preseason sometimes with be adjusted. That sounds like it might be true for coach Bruce Arians, who said today that he might “buck the trend” and not play starters as much as he might normally in the preseason. It’s obviously on his mind. He mentioned running back Andre Ellington in particular, who should play a little more Saturday in Minnesota but “Andre is not going to see a whole lot of action this preseason.” Arians wants to keep Ellington healthy. (I know. Stunner.)

— Speaking of healthy, the Cardinals didn’t suffer any major injuries in the preseason opener. A handful of guys will miss practice today and Arians said they are all day-to-day: G Jonathan Cooper (toe), T Max Starks (ankle), G Anthony Steen (neck), T Nate Potter (back) and LB Kevin Minter (pectoral). Arians said C Lyle Sendlein (calf) will miss the Vikings game and it’s possible WRs Ted Ginn (knee) and Michael Floyd (groin) will too, but all three are expected back next week at the latest.

— Arians on his running game, which had Ellington with only two carries and a total of three kneeldown plays: “I am not concerned. We ran the ball effectively even with some mental errors from some young guys.” The Cardinals had a total of 81 yards rushing on 37 official attempts.

— The fight for positions in the backfield, tight end, wide receiver, defensive line and secondary are all intense, Arians said. “You better not have a bad day,” he said. “One bad day could cost you your job.”

— As for the idea the Cardinals could keep six receivers, Arians said the roster makeup isn’t locked into certain numbers. “We won’t cut a player at one position to keep someone just for depth,” he said. “If he is a better player, we want the best players on the team. There are some great battles from 45 to 53. Knock on wood, hopefully injuries won’t deplete us.”

— No sign yet of linebacker John Abraham. Asked if he still expected Abraham to arrive this week, Arians said “we’re hoping.” As for what the Cardinals can expect from Abraham when he does get here, Arians said he isn’t worried. “He was in great shape when he showed up (last year) and I’d think he’d come back in just as good of shape,” Arians said. “Knocking that rust off and getting up to playing speed in a lot of the new stuff on defense (that) he hasn’t been exposed to. There will be a learning curve but he will hopefully have more than 20 days to be ready.”


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Floyd, Ginn sit out Texans game

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2014 – 4:22 pm

Earlier in the week, Bruce Arians said he expected all but center Lyle Sendlein (and the PUP guys) to be available tonight against the Texans in the preseason opener. Turns out it wasn’t quite the case. Wide receivers Michael Floyd (groin) and Ted Ginn (knee) ended up scratches for the game for what I can only expect are minor issues. Sendlein’s bad calf will keep him out, and obviously LB John Abraham (still awaiting to have him show at camp) and PUPers Tyrann Mathieu and Alameda Ta’amu are out.

I don’t think Larry Fitzgerald will play a ton either. I do expect to see a lot of John Brown, Jaron Brown, Walt Powell and Brittan Golden.

The Texans did not announce the players they are not expecting to dress tonight.


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The bear in Niklas, and a closed practice

Posted by Darren Urban on August 4, 2014 – 5:38 pm

We start this post with words of wisdom from tight end John Carlson, a sage who to my cohort Kyle Odegard described rookie tight end Troy Niklas thusly: “He looks like a 12-year-old boy who swallowed a grizzly bear.”

That’s better than thinking him a outsized refugee from a boy band, but nevertheless, I don’t think it’s going to stop the spike in girls who retweet any item with a Niklas photo on it.

Niklas2useblog

As for practice today, it was strange to watch a workout at University of Phoenix Stadium with it closed to the public. Usually there are cheers for every single catch, and to have a reception in a vacuum was a different feeling. Among the things I noticed:

— Ted Ginn hauled in a nice long bomb early. Taking the top off the defense just like Bruce Arians likes.

— Earl Watford continued to get some first-team reps splitting with Jonathan Cooper.

— Clearly there wasn’t supposed to be much if any hitting — defenders were pulling off completely on many plays — but in one bang-bang instance, linebacker Sam Acho leveled running back Stepfan Taylor on a swing pass only by going hard after the ball. The hit was incidental and yet Acho came out way ahead. Acho has had an impressive camp thus far.

— Quarterback Logan Thomas continues to be up and down. He’ll have a nice throw and then another than you aren’t sure what was happening. When the pocket breaks down and he tries to hold his ground, he definitely looks uncomfortable much of the time.

— Rookie safety Deone Bucannon got himself an interception and almost had another.


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