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Keeping the staff together for 2014

Posted by Darren Urban on January 16, 2014 – 9:45 am

There is often change this time of year for any coaching staff and front office. Coming off a 10-6 season, it wouldn’t have been surprising if anyone was poached from 8701 S. Hardy. But it sure looks like — barring something unforeseen — that the band will stay together for another season.

Bruce Arians already said he was hoping his coaching staff would stay intact. There were rumblings Alabama might want quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens for their offensive coordinator spot, but it was clear quickly Kitchens didn’t want to leave the NFL and the Tide went with Lane Kiffin. When Ken Whisenhunt was hired to be the Titans’ new head coach, there was a chance he might seek a reunion with Cardinals strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott — but then came the news that the Titans would be retaining their own strength coach, Steve Watterson. (Now, some assistant coaches are sometimes retained in the wake of a head coaching change only to be let go soon after. That happened with the Cards just last season, when the defensive coaches were kept after Whisenhunt was fired, only to have them let go in the wake of the Bruce Arians hire.)

Vice president of player personnel Jason Licht has interviewed for the vacant general manager jobs in both Miami and Tampa Bay, but the Dolphins keep bringing in new candidates and the Bucs apparently are leaning elsewhere.

And of course, the biggest news for the Cardinals is that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will be sticking around. The Vikings hired Mike Zimmer to be their head coach, meaning Bowles wouldn’t be getting that job, and he had already withdrawn his name from consideration for the Browns’ vacant head coaching job. Having Bowles around for another season to build on a defense that ended up sixth in the NFL (and No. 1) against the run should put the Cardinals in good defensive shape for 2014. Continuity is always a good thing.

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Whisenhunt gets second chance

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2014 – 8:02 am

Ken Whisenhunt gets his second chance. The news came down Monday evening that the Titans had hired the Chargers offensive coordinator and former Cardinals head coach to be their new head coach. It was a surprise on a lot of levels, not the least of which that so many reports came out linking Whisenhunt with the Detroit opening and the fact the Lions are the lone team with a (more or less) established quarterback in place. It’s impossible to know if Whiz chose Tennessee over Detroit or if the Lions never really were that interested in Whiz. It doesn’t mean much now.

It will be interesting however to see how Whisenhunt works with QB Jake Locker. Can Whiz develop Locker, who thus far has not shown enough signs of being a long-term answer? Clearly, the inability for Whisenhunt (and to be fair, General Manager Rod Graves) to figure out the post-Kurt Warner QB situation in Arizona killed his tenure here.

What really struck me about the hire when I first heard it was the link between Nashville, the Titans, Whiz and the Cardinals. That too goes back to the QB problems Whiz had in the desert. Back in the preseason of 2010 — that first go-round of football after Warner retired — the Cardinals had Matt Leinart as the starter, Derek Anderson as the backup and back-to-back exhibition games in Tennessee and in Chicago. In between, there was a few days in Nashville, a joint practice versus the Titans and then a final practice at Vanderbilt.

The relationship between Whisenhunt and Leinart was already fraying. In the joint practice, Leinart struggled against the Titans — at the time, Titans defenders started noticing how quickly Leinart went to his checkdown receiver — and the next day at Vandy, Whisenhunt shocked everyone by giving Anderson first-team snaps. Afterward, it became official that Anderson would be starting in Chicago. Leinart was angry. And things devolved from there.

Now Whisenhunt starts it over. Whiz had a very good run in Arizona, getting the franchise to places they had never been. He also made mistakes. It will be interesting to see if Whisenhunt learned from those missteps and apply that with the Titans.

– There is a lot of speculation about Whiz and if he would reach out to try and bring over current Cardinals strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott. It wouldn’t surprise me, but we’ll see how that develops.

– There are still job openings in Detroit, Minnesota and Cleveland, the latter two of which have interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. But I am guessing Bowles stays put in Arizona.

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Titans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2013 – 10:13 pm

Somehow, it turned into 2009 again. It shouldn’t have, not with the Cardinals having built a 34-17 lead and holding that lead with less than four minutes to play, but I’ll say this, the Titans kept going and Ryan Fitzpatrick looked damn good.

So, like 2009, when the Titans drove 99 yards to score on the final play of the game and rip one away from the Cards, there the Titans were, heading for the same end zone, facing a chance to score a touchdown and rip a win away from the Cards. Sure, it would just be temporarily since overtime was coming (and there was a moment there where the Titans looked like they were contemplating going for two and ending it one way or the other), but it still hurt.

The Cardinals prevailed, though, leaving Tennessee with a win that keeps their playoff hopes alive. That life span is shrinking though. The other results the Cards really could have used across the league did not happen Sunday. So the monumental task of winning in Seattle is now saddled with the realization that the Cards are going to need a sequence of events to unfold to make the postseason regardless of what they do.

– Because I’ve found on Twitter some confusion, here’s the deal: The Niners have already clinched the tiebreak over the Cardinals because of a better record in the division, regardless of the outcome of the team’s Week 17 contest. The way the tiebreaks work, a three-way tie – say between the Cards, Niners and Panthers – first checks to see if there are two of the teams in the same division. Because the Niners and Cards are, that tie is broken first, and as we already know, the Niners win that tiebreak. Cardinals are out. Which is why any tie involving the Niners is playoff death.

– Just as an FYI, I’m not interested in debating whether that’s fair or not. That’s the tiebreak procedure. It is what it is.

CLARIFYING: The three-way tiebreak does get only the first spot determined. Which does eliminate Arizona. But head-to-head between Carolina and SF is Carolina because the Panthers won head-to-head. So Carolina would be the No. 5 seed, leaving SF tied with Arizona for the No. 6. We know how that turns out. So again, a three-way tie between those teams leaves the Cards out (and by the same breakdown, the same goes for a three-way tie between SF, AZ and NO.)

– Lost a bit in the end of that thriller were the injuries to Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Ellington. Fitz got a concussion when he was hit trying to recover the final onside kick. Ellington left with a thigh bruise. Ellington was fantastic running (7.1 yards a carry) or receiving (21.8 yards per catch on four catches). The Cardinals need both of them healthy and ready in order to beat the Seahawks.

– Spare me the comments that Fitzgerald shouldn’t be out there for an onside kick. It’s called the “hands” team for a reason. You want the guys with the best hands grabbing the ball.

– Justin Bethel did not get a hand on the shanked 50-yard Rob Bironas field goal attempt. “Unfortunately I didn’t,” Bethel said. “If he would have kicked it (straight) I probably would have blocked it.”

– But it is easy to make the argument that without Bethel’s hard push from the right, Bironas would not have kicked the ball like he did.

“A miss is a miss,” Bethel said. “It’s as good as a block so I’ll take it.”

Antoine Cason with a hero game. Two important interceptions, and he recovered Jay Feely’s “mortar” pooch kickoff to start the second half. Great kick by Feely by the way, and great timing by special teams coordinator Amos Jones to call it there.

– Ryan Fitzpatrick with 402 yards passing? Yeesh.

– The Cardinals had no penalties in the first half. Then they got four on the Titans’ 16-play touchdown drive to begin the second half — two of which negated third-down stops – and the Cards were not happy. They cooled down a bit postgame (winning tends to do that) but didn’t forget.

“There were some weird things that happened,” QB Carson Palmer said. “Some weird things that weren’t called in this game. I don’t know what the penalty, as far as who had more penalties. I’m pretty sure we had more penalties than they did. It was just a weird game, kind of an eerie game like that.”

Said S Rashad Johnson (who was ticked off after his penalty for an illegal hit of a receiver near the goal line and screamed at the officials), “No matter what happened out there, what calls were made, we were going to go home with that win. It just shows the maturity of this ballclub and how much we’ve grown through the year.”

– Ellington led the Cardinals in rushing (71 yards) and receiving (89 yards). The last guy to do that? Running back Marcel Shipp in December of 2002, when he had 79 yards rushing and 79 receiving in St. Louis against the Rams.

– Palmer surpassed three Hall of Fame quarterbacks in career passing yards: Troy Aikman, Y.A. Tittle and Steve Young. Palmer now has 33,154 yards passing, 27th in NFL history.

– The Cardinals just keep winning.


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Housler sits, but Palmer, Floyd playing

Posted by Darren Urban on December 15, 2013 – 1:06 pm

Not surprises with the Cardinals’ inactives list today in Tennessee. Tight end Rob Housler, who didn’t practice all week with a groin injury, is not dressing. Quarterback Carson Palmer (right elbow) is playing, as is wide receiver Michael Floyd (ankle). Tight end Kory Sperry is playing in Housler’s place. Wide receiver Brittan Golden is also active this week while reserve safety Curtis Taylor is inactive.

The other five inactives:

– QB Ryan Lindley

– RB Ryan Williams

– LB Dontay Moch

– G Earl Watford

– DE Ronald Talley

In a big development, the Titans made wide receiver Justin Hunter inactive because he violated team rules. He’s been a good weapon for Tennessee of late and that can only benefit the Cardinals.


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Join the conversation – #AZvsTEN

Posted by since1898 on December 15, 2013 – 1:20 am

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Friday before the Titans

Posted by Darren Urban on December 13, 2013 – 3:58 pm

The last time the Cardinals were on pace to win 10 games, they went to Tennessee. You remember that one don’t you? Kurt Warner was coming off a concussion and the Cards shut him down that day, putting Matt Leinart under center for what turned out to be his final time as a starter in Arizona.

(It was in Tennessee the following year in the preseason, with a game, joint practice and then benching for Derek Anderson, that essentially ended Leinart’s tenure with the Cards, but that’s a rehash for another day.)

Leinart played well enough to win, but the defense allowed Vince Young and the Titans a 99-yard touchdown drive culminating in a Kenny Britt touchdown catch on the final play of the game. It was a heartbreaker, and stopped the Cards from being 7-0 on the road at that point. They did, however, still win 10 games.

The Cardinals have to win in Tennessee this weekend to reach 10 games, you’d think. Mathematically that isn’t true, but with a road trip to Seattle and a home game against San Francisco left, this is one the Cards should get. Beyond that, they have to get it. We’ve covered the playoff situation, and while it tends to look bleak even if the Cards win all three of their remaining games, they can’t be eliminated this weekend if they win.

– Carson Palmer should play Sunday. If he did last week without throwing a pass in practice, he will this week barring something unforeseen. He was limited again this week – no one is saying if he threw some in practice or just took another week of rest – but Palmer said he didn’t like doing it last week at all.

“Completely different, kind of eerie,” Palmer said. “I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not enjoyable.  When you are practicing you are always looking at the guys that aren’t practicing, and you are jealous. But, then when you are that guy standing on the sidelines, you want to actually be out there. You kind of get stuck in that, ‘Well, I wish I wasn’t, but I wish I was.’”

– Here’s where we find out defensive life without Tyrann Mathieu. I actually think it will be a little less important against the Titans than against the final two NFC West opponents, but don’t forget that Mathieu was arguably the Cardinals’ best tackler. Now that’s gone.

– I know veteran cornerback Antoine Cason has been itching to play more defense. He’s going to get a chance now.

– If the Cards keep getting the same kind of play out of Karlos Dansby and John Abraham, the Mathieu loss can be mitigated.

– Darnell Dockett was fined $7,875 for intentionally stepping on the hand of Rams offensive lineman Chris Williams last week. Defensive end Eugene Sims (who was called for a personal foul for hitting Palmer during the Jim Dray fumble-runback-that-wasn’t), Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (who was flagged for spiking his helmet at the feet of an official) and Dansby (who was called for a personal foul) were not fined.

– With the end of the regular season in sight, it will be interesting to see if a few offensive players can reach yardage milestones. Palmer needs 542 yards passing to throw for 4,000 yards with his third different franchise. That seems doable, even with games coming against Seattle and San Francisco. Michael Floyd, gimpy ankle and all, needs 114 yards receiving to reach 1,000. That too seems reasonable.

More interesting is the case of Larry Fitzgerald, who needs 226 yards to reach 1,000, a not easy number given the Niners and Seahawks. You know Fitz wants to get there.

– Pro Bowl voting ends Dec. 26. Click here if you’d like to have your voice heard.

– The Cardinals have benefited big-time by the return of cornerback Bryan McCann, who was cut at the end of training camp. His special teams work replacing the injured Teddy Williams, especially at gunner opposite Justin Bethel has been impressive.

“You kind of got to,” McCann said. “It’s part of the business. The whole point is that you don’t have a drop off in production when the next man steps in.”

McCann said he wasn’t frustrated with getting cut when he had had a pretty good camp. “It’s the way the business goes. Can’t complain. I’m back here, I’m back working and I’m happy for it.”

– The weather is supposed to be 36 degrees and clear Sunday for the late afternoon start. We’ll see if the Cards can make sure it ends a little differently than last time.


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After tragedy, Dan Williams goes back home

Posted by Darren Urban on December 13, 2013 – 10:00 am

In September, Dan Williams’ family — his father, mother and sister — were driving from their home in Memphis to New Orleans to watch Williams and the Cardinals play the Saints when they were in a bad accident. Thomas Williams was killed.

This weekend, Dan Williams, who missed a couple of games while being with his family and attending the funeral, will head back (close to) home when the Cardinals play at Tennessee in Nashville. The nose tackle insists it will not be emotional for him.

“Just seeing my family and friends will be great,” Williams said. “I know what happened earlier, but I am pretty much past that. I love my dad and mom. But things in life happen. My mom is getting stronger every day. A lot of my high school and college buddies will be out there, cousins, family members. I am glad to have family I can count on and will be glad to see me play.”

Williams said his sister recovered quickly. His mother is doing well too, surrounded by her Williams’ grandmother and aunts. “I talk to her every day,” Williams said. “She sounds happy on the phone, she is getting better mentally too, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. There is a lot of family near her.”

Williams, who played college ball at the University of Tennessee, also is optimistic about the game. “I’ve never lost in Nashville before in a game that counted,” he said with a smile.

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Download the #AZvsTEN Facebook cover

Posted by since1898 on December 11, 2013 – 4:35 pm

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Arians sends penalties video to league

Posted by Darren Urban on December 2, 2013 – 2:20 pm

Bruce Arians opened his press conference today saying he was going to follow league protocol and send video examples into the league on plays with which the Cards questioned the penalties called or not called. This is not unique; Teams across the league often do it. “There were obviously problems in the ball game,” Arians said. “There is a protocol to follow. We followed the protocol.

“(NFL VP of officiating) Dean Blandino does a great job being honest on the calls. We will follow up more with the answers … later.”

Again, there is no real reason to dwell on it. It doesn’t make much difference. Even if the NFL fessed up (privately of course) that mistakes were made, it does not change the result. Arians knows this. He reiterated the Cardinals “regressed” back to the team that turned the ball over too much early in the year. He also stressed the Cardinals better worry not about penalties but about winning a division game for the first time in a long time against the Rams. That message was repeated by the players in the locker room Monday.

(For a breakdown of the officiating, here is a story today from MMQB.com talking about Eagles-Cardinals. I agree with Greg Bedard, which is that bad calls are going to happen and every team must deal with it. But for it to be inconsistent in a relatively short period of time — in this case, the last six minutes or so in the game — can be maddening.)

Arians said the Cardinals sent in “about 15″ plays for the league to look at. He also said “I’ve already gotten most of the answers. I got them before I left the locker room (Sunday.)” Arians added those answers came “from New York,” i.e. the league office. And he admitted that he did not get any satisfaction from those answers. “I just get madder,” Arians said.

– Looking forward a couple of weeks, the Cardinals’ game in Tennessee has been moved to the late TV window, which means it will now start at 2:25 p.m. Arizona time instead of 11 a.m. Arizona time. (That’s now a 3:25 p.m. kickoff in Tennessee.) We will see if that makes a difference to the way the Cards start the game.

– The only injuries of note, Arians said, were the shoulder of linebacker Kevin Minter and the knee of running back Andre Ellington (which of course caused him to miss the game). Both players are day-to-day, Arians said.

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In a rush to be tested

Posted by Darren Urban on November 21, 2013 – 11:00 am

The Cardinals are second in the NFL in rushing defense heading into Week 12, allowing just 81.4 yards a game (The Jets are first, at 73.2.) But as the Cardinals head down the stretch with their final six games, that ranking will be tested and how the Cards hold up may go a long way in determining how real their playoff hopes will be.

Of the Cards’ final six opponents, all but one rank in the top half of the NFL rushing the ball and three are in the top six — including the top two rushing teams in the league, Philadelphia (150.6 yards a game) and Seattle (147.9). The others are San Francisco (sixth, 141.0), Indianapolis (15th, 112.9), Tennessee (16th, 112.3) and St. Louis (22nd, 99.4).

(How the Cardinals run the ball themselves will make a difference too — Arizona is 25th in the NFL at 85.6 yards a game — but that’s a topic for another post.)

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles came into the season saying he wanted the Cardinals to stop the run first and his players have often echoed it. That wasn’t the case last season and it often bit the Cards. This year, only three times have the Cards given up more than 56 yards to the other team’s leading rusher. Of course, in all three instances, the Cardinals will play those teams again, with the Rams (Daryl Richardson, 63 yards), 49ers (Frank Gore, 101 yards) and Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, 94 yards) still out there. Richardson is no longer the Rams go-to guy but Zac Stacy, although Stacy has looked good. No reason to dwell on what Gore and Lynch bring; they are among the best in the NFL and the Cards have seen that up close and personal too many times.

Next week against NFL leading rusher Shady McCoy and Chip Kelly’s new-look offense will be interesting as well.

There’s a reason it’s a football cliché that teams must first stop the run. The Cardinals need to live it as gospel.

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