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“Same defense” for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on January 30, 2015 – 6:16 pm

Bruce Arians said Friday he will announce all his defensive hires next week save for one, which he wants to “hold for a while.” One of the coaches he will hire will “hopefully be a former player,” as Arians continues to try and refresh the up-and-coming coaches on his staff. As of now, the Cardinals have three vacancies from last season to fill: Defensive coordinator (Todd Bowles), inside linebackers (Mike Caldwell, who joined Bowles with the Jets) and defensive assistant (Ryan Slowik, whose contract was not renewed.)

Arians has said the hiring plan is set although it’s still “top secret” he added with a smile Friday. He did clarify why he wanted to stay in-house with his new coordinator, and it answers definitively the question of if the Cardinals will change defensively.

“I did not want our players to walk in and not know what they were doing the first day,” Arians said. “No new language. It’s the same defense, the same philosophy.”

With Arians already saying the hire will also be a young coach, current outside linebackers coach James Bettcher continues to be the logical choice.

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Mathieu has confidence in new DC, same scheme

Posted by Darren Urban on January 28, 2015 – 5:29 pm

Tyrann Mathieu chose his words carefully — no reason to want to undercut the announcement sometime next week of the new defensive coordinator — but the Cardinals safety seemed comfortable in the plan for the Cardinals’ defense going forward and who will be leading it.

“I think I’ve heard enough and I’m confident enough to know we’ve been playing too well to have the scheme change,” Mathieu said during a trip around the Super Bowl’s Radio Row. “We look forward to one of our position coaches being DC.”

Coach Bruce Arians has already said the DC position will be filled in-house by a young coach. All signs point to outside linebackers coach James Bettcher. It won’t be the only coaching hire, not with inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell leaving to join outgoing defensive coordinator Todd Bowles with the New York Jets. Putting an experienced coach with the linebackers makes sense, and Arians has promised he will get the new DC “help.” I will not be surprised to see at least one defensive hire to have NFL defensive coordinator experience.

There will be an understandable wait-and-see approach with a new defensive coordinator, but that was there with Bowles too.

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Cromartie keeping options open

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2015 – 9:53 am

Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie has been a natural go-to guy the last few days to talk about Todd Bowles as the new New York Jets coach, since Cromartie just played for Bowles and since he still has a lot of media relationships with New York media after playing so many years with the Jets. He went on NFL Network to talk about Bowles — and also about his future given his impending free agency.

During his Bowles’ analysis, Cromartie noted “$50 million in cap space” the Jets have to work with. That probably wasn’t a coincidence, especially from a guy who didn’t really want to leave the Jets last year in the first place.

“I’m leaving the door open,” Cromartie said. “Right now, until the Super Bowl is over, I’m still an Arizona Cardinal. Until they come to me about a conteact, I’m still an Arizona Cardinal. Once March 10 at 4 o’clock hits, March 12 at 9 a.m. hits, and no one’s offered me a contract, then I’m free game. And I’m open to anything to go out and try to win a championship and help any organization.”

(Free agency does indeed start March 10 at 2 p.m. Arizona time, which will be 4 p.m. Eastern.)

Cromartie made $3.5 million on a one-year contract this season. He had a good season and is a Pro Bowl alternate. But his signing, and his season, has long played out as a parallel to the one linebacker Karlos Dansby had in 2013 for the Cardinals. Dansby, like Cromartie, signed with the Cardinals for one year when the free agent market did not play out the way they wanted. Dansby, like Cromartie, had a good season (Dansby actually had an excellent season, even better than Cro’s.) But both are on the wrong side of 30 in a league that values youth. There has always been a good chance Cromartie’s situation plays out just like Dansby’s did — I expect the Cardinals to make a solid offer, although it may only be for two or three years. And it’s easy to see another team swooping in to offer more years/more money. The Browns did that with Dansby, and maybe the Jets — or the Bills, who now have Cro’s former coach, Rex Ryan — will do the same with Cromartie.

Cromartie, as he said, is open to everything.

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Waiting for a new defensive coordinator

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2015 – 3:40 pm

The coaches’ offices are dark right now, not a surprise at this time in the offseason. But there is still work to do and moves to be made for Bruce Arians, now that Todd Bowles is headed to be the Jets’ head coach.

(Which, interestingly, still has yet to be officially announced at 3:40 p.m. Arizona time here on Wednesday. UPDATE: Twenty minutes later, it is.)

Bowles is expected to bring Cardinals’ inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell with him for his staff, and there is a chance he also brings along someone else, like defensive assistant Ryan Slowik. So there very well could be a couple of coaching staff openings Arians will have to fill when this all filters out. But for now, the focus is on the coordinator spot Bowles is vacating. All season, Bowles was trending toward getting a head coaching job somewhere, so when Arians said late in the season he had a plan in place to replace Bowles, that certainly wasn’t a surprise.

That was before Dick LeBeau left the Steelers. Arians has talked to LeBeau about a job, and when you connect the dots, it does make sense to have LeBeau in a Tom Moore-esque role and to hire a defensive coordinator, as reports suggest. It also rings true to me that Arians would look to his existing defensive staff to find his defensive coordinator, although who that would be remains a guess. There is also a question of whether LeBeau would want to move, at age 77, this far away from his Ohio-based family.

(LeBeau’s potential arrival does make for other interesting questions, even if he isn’t DC. Darnell Dockett, for instance, didn’t love the scheme of former DC Ray Horton, who was a LeBeau disciple.)

I know many want to know what this all means for the Cardinals in terms of scheme. If the Cardinals stay in-house, does the defense simply echo what Bowles had been doing all along? Is it tweaked and if so, how much? I’m sure Arians has already thought these things through already. With empty offices right now, we’ll see how quickly this all comes together.

Dick LeBeau, Mike Tomlin, Bruce Arians


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Bowles, the Falcons and LeBeau availability

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2015 – 9:50 am

Rex Ryan is the Bills coach, the Seahawks are favorites to return to the Super Bowl (and thus extend their season another three weeks) and now is the time when teams without head coaches begin to get a little antsy when it comes to their coaching vacancies. So it’s probably no surprise that, with Ryan choosing Buffalo, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has reportedly become the front-runner for the opening to coach the Atlanta Falcons.

Bowles was said to have had a good interview with the Falcons over the weekend. There are ties there to the man now charged to run the football side — Scott Pioli — since Pioli is Bill Parcells’ son-in-law and Bowles coached under Parcells in both Miami and Dallas. More importantly, Bowles is a defensive mind for a team that needs to upgrade on the defensive side. For Bowles, the Falcons’ job would have to be as attractive as any, given the softness of the divison (for now) and the fact he has a quarterback (Matt Ryan) in place. It’s not often you can walk into a head coaching job with a good QB already there; that’s usually why there is an opening in the first place.

We’ll see if that plays out. (The Falcons are not only getting Bowles for a second interview, but so are the Jets.)

But if it does, what then for the Cardinals? Bruce Arians has already said he has a plan in place if Bowles left. That was a plan put together before the startling news this weekend that Dick LeBeau was resigning as defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a move that initially sure gave off similar vibes as when the Steelers announced Bruce Arians was “re-fired” once upon a time. (In hindsight, B.A. loves that story.) As soon as the LeBeau story hit, the questions came: If Bowles leaves, does Arians — who worked with LeBeau all those years in Pittsburgh — replace Bowles with LeBeau?

There are a lot of things that go into this. LeBeau made it very clear he was resigning but not retiring. At 77, is LeBeau what Arians wants for his staff (although, obviously with Tom Pratt and Tom Moore, the age itself isn’t an issue). Does the Cards’ personnel fit what LeBeau would want to do? More importantly, how crucial did Arians see his previous moves to fill Bowles’ spot had Bowles’ left? (Was there a promotion coming in-house?)

It would be interesting, however, after how badly former coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to lure LeBeau to the Cardinals once upon a time (in 2011, back when Ray Horton ended up the choice), if LeBeau finally did make it to the Cards long after Whisenhunt was gone.

First, though, Bowles has to take a job elsewhere, which still isn’t a sure thing.

UPDATE: A report from Pittsburgh says Arians has already spoken to LeBeau about joining the Cardinals.

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Bowles will be busy this week

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2015 – 2:59 pm

Now that the Cardinals’ season is over, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can begin interviewing with various teams for their head coaching spots. And it sounds like that will make this a busy week.

Multiple reports have Bowles interviewing with the Jets on Wednesday, the Falcons Thursday, the 49ers on Friday and the Bears on Saturday. There are still rumblings that the Bills and Raiders could still ask to interview too. Either way, Bowles would seem to be a good chance to be promoted before too long, but after he signed his extension (which gave him a hefty raise) Bowles can afford to be choosy — which he was always going to be anyway. That’s just who Bowles is.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed both ways,” coach Bruce Arians joked Monday, on one hand hoping his friend and former player gets a head coaching gig and on the other hoping he stays in place.

We still don’t know who would be Arians’ choice to succeed Bowles as defensive coordinator (on staff, could it be Mike Caldwell? James Bettcher? Someone else?) but Arians has said a plan is in place. Now we wait for Bowles to go through the interview process.

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Panthers playoff aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2015 – 10:53 pm

The Cardinals didn’t have enough. They just didn’t, and while Bruce Arians said he doesn’t buy into that line of thinking – “We have to gameplan to win games” – it doesn’t make it any less true. For weeks even some of the players kept noting that eventually, Next Man Up would run out of bodies. It wasn’t just the quarterback situation, even though that was the most important position. Guys looked like they wore down in certain positions, and that’s what happens when you ask some guys to play at an ultra-high level for so many games and so many plays above what you originally intended.

It spoke to their effort that the Cards won 11 games, and to the coaching. That’s why Bruce Arians insisted there was no missed opportunity, because the Cardinals with what they had created the big season in the first place. I get the teeth gnashing and frustration over certain parts of both Saturday and the end of the season. But this was a good season, it was the most wins this franchise has had in Arizona, and it was another step forward under the Steve Keim/Arians regime.

That said, there are a ton of difficult and major decisions coming in the offseason and a lot of important question marks. I’m not going to address them all here now, because that’s what the coming weeks are for and I’m sure I will post about them soon (and often, I’m guessing my Larry Fitzgerald post from Friday will be the first of a few between now and early March, when his roster bonus comes due.)

— I’d have to dig it out, and I’m not sure if I tweeted it or wrote it in a post or said it on a podcast or on the radio, but at some point I know I said something along the lines – in regards to Logan Thomas as being raw – “if you are down to your third-string quarterback, you’re in trouble anyway.” That’s what the Cardinals had at the end, even if the third-stringer eventually became Ryan Lindley because Thomas was so raw he dropped on the depth chart.

That’s the NFL. You lose your best quarterback – and that’s assuming you have someone who you think is good, and the Cardinals believe they have that in Carson Palmer – and the road will be difficult. Everyone knew that’s what would happen with Lindley, and that’s what did happen. The Cardinals got the turnovers Saturday night and were trying to make it work, but the margin for error was thin at best, and had been for the last month.

— The officials had a bad game, starting when Ed Hoculi tried to give the Panthers the win of the coin toss when the Cardinals, in fact, had just correctly called it. Arians was right, it wasn’t why the Cards lost. But a couple of the calls didn’t help, particularly the Michael Floyd non-pass interference.

— Top things, in my mind, the Cardinals need to upgrade in the offseason (assuming there isn’t a good quarterback there to be drafted and Palmer is the choice for 2015): Linebacker (both inside and outside), more speed on offense, more defensive line depth. These things can change if certain veterans aren’t back.

— Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will now organize his head coaching interviews. He reportedly has five teams that want to talk to him. I’ll be surprised if he interviews with all five.

— I’ll also be curious to see if Bowles leaving, if it happened, would be the only change on the coaching staff or if Arians makes any moves.

— I think, with the way Drew Butler finished up, Dave Zastudil has to be confident when he comes back this offseason.

— Arians, on the missed tackles in the game: “Missed tackling, that was way overblown for this game, that’s not even the story line.”

— That’s about it. Going to try and get a little rest on this flight back. The final locker room cleanout and wrap-up interviews are early tomorrow morning. And then we’re into the offseason.

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“Black Monday” and inevitable coaching change

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2014 – 10:20 am

Bruce Arians was asked about his thoughts of “Black Monday,” the day after the NFL regular season when a handful of coaches and GMs inevitably lose their jobs.

“You feel bad for them, but there’s only two kinds of coaches — those that are fired and those who are going to get fired,” Arians said.

The Cardinals went through it recently when Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves were let go, and that opened the door for the arrivals of Arians and Steve Keim. But even for the teams that don’t make changes, “Black Monday” represents the possibility of staff upheaval. Especially for the good teams who have assistants who are attractive head coaching candidates. For the Cardinals, that means defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Don’t forget, when Arians walked in the door and announced the hiring of both Bowles and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, he said at the time his whole goal was to get both of them head coaching jobs. So losing one (or both) at some point was at least portrayed as inevitable. Will Bowles go anywhere? We’ll see. He’s made it clear he won’t just take any job. Then again, there are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs and you only remain a “hot” candidate for so long. (Ask Russ Grimm.) He must also sort through the part of the equation where teams need to interview at least one minority candidate to satisfy the Rooney Rule; Bowles has to figure out what may be a legitimate chance at a job and what might not be.

Reports have the 49ers, Jets and Falcons all wanting to interview Bowles. He cannot be interviewed until next week. Those teams asking permission to do so, by the way? That’s just a formality. The Cardinals cannot refuse permission for an assistant to be interviewed/take a head coaching job. And given that Arians has long talked about Bowles as a head coach, it only makes sense the Cardinals have a plan in place if Bowles leaves.

(No, I don’t know what it would be at this point.)

In the meantime, the Cardinals have a playoff game against Carolina. Arians, Bowles and crew are prepping for that, so there is no black cloud hovering around the Cards’ complex this week.

“Thank God it ain’t me this time,” Arians said, grinning. “It will be someday.”

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Keim talks Bowles interest and QB status

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2014 – 8:25 am

The playoffs are here, but for 20 non-playoff teams, the business of the NFL does not stop. Black Monday arrived in the NFL and already there are five teams with head coaching openings: The 49ers, Raiders, Jets, Falcons and Bears. Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to generate interest in that market, and while the Cards gave Bowles a big raise this season, they also know there is the possibility Bowles could be offered and accept a head coaching job. It has always felt more like a question of when rather than if.

“Our expectations are that several teams will reach out to us,” General Manager Steve Keim said Monday during his weekly appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “Now, it remains to be seen whether there will be mutual interest or not, but Todd has done an excellent job and at some point he deserve an opportunity. Hopefully for us we can keep him in place for a little while longer.”

The defense has had its issues the past two games but I do not expect that to undercut Bowles’ potential candidacy. I also think Bowles likes it in Arizona, and have always believed he will be very choosy in what jobs he may or may not want.

As for Keim, some of the other topics he covered the day after the Cardinals finished the regular season with an 11-5 record:

— The fact the Cardinals won 11 games playing four quarterbacks “is a testament to the coaching staff and their flexibility and quite frankly some of the young players who have stepped up,” Keim said.

The Cardinals are “the epitome of team,” Keim added.

— As for the status of quarterback Drew Stanton, he is “day to day and we’re hopeful” he can play this week, Keim said. Certainly the GM gave no indication Stanton was anything of a sure bet to be back. Keim said it was still unknown if Stanton could practice Tuesday.

— Even without Stanton, Keim (not surprisingly) professed confidence in Ryan Lindley’s ability to start. “I thought Ryan played a good game” Sunday, Keim said.

— Keim said rehabbing quarterback Carson Palmer is doing well and is “as fired up as ever” to play in 2015. “He’s very excited about the future here,” Keim said. “I think it goes back to show you, when you go through some injuries, how valuable Carson Palmer really was. The guy was having an excellent year. I think he’ll have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and he’ll be ready to prove some people wrong.”

I think it’s pretty clear that Palmer will be the No. 1 in 2015, barring something crazy happening in the offseason.

— Keim, like coach Bruce Arians, wasn’t happy with the tackling. “The tackling in general was unacceptable,” Keim said. He went on to say that he tends to be old school on the subject, and that tackling does have a technique to it, it is “mostly want-to.” He reiterated he had been disappointed Sunday. “(The 49ers) made us look extremely bad in space,” said, noting that against the Panthers in the playoffs, “we’re going to have to get that fixed in a hurry.”

— Guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist) will also be day-to-day, Keim said.


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Friday before the Chiefs

Posted by Darren Urban on December 5, 2014 – 3:48 pm

It’s been a while since the Chiefs have come to Arizona. The last visit was in 2006, in the first season of University of Phoenix Stadium. It, like this Sunday’s visit, comes a week after the Cardinals made a trip to Atlanta and lost. Back then, the Chiefs’ game was the first NFL start of a first-round draft pick – quarterback Matt Leinart. This week it’s the first NFL start of first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper.

It’s an interesting parallel even if it doesn’t relate directly to Sunday’s game. Leinart actually played well that day with a couple of touchdown passes (even though Larry Fitzgerald left with a hamstring injury that would ultimately keep him out three games, the longest down-time of his career) and should have had a third if Bryant Johnson didn’t let a throw go right between his arms.

But that was then, this is now. Game-day decision Fitzgerald should play against the Chiefs after missing the last two games – keeping that three-game stretch back in 2006 as his career-high (or low?). And Cooper’s play, while important, won’t be as important as the play of quarterback Drew Stanton, who needs to bounce back. The QB is in the crosshairs, especially with the Cardinals without running back Andre Ellington and his problem hip.

— If the Cardinals win, they remain the NFC’s top team, regardless of any other game, with three games to go. If they lose, they will no longer be the NFC’s top team regardless, because Philadelphia and Seattle play each other and a win with a Cards’ loss puts either ahead in the standings. The Cardinals don’t want that.

— One running back the Cards won’t have is Michael Bush, who was released Friday. That could be a short-term thing, but for now, the non-Ellington backfield will feature Stepfan Taylor—who will get the start in a running-back-by-committee scenario — and Marion Grice. Arians had some praise for Grice Friday. And all season, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said he saw Grice as a player who could fill the Ellington role. Now he has to.

“We have a lot of trust in him,” Goodwin said.

— This is interesting: Cardinals punter Drew Butler was fined $8,268 for facemasking Falcons punt returner Devin Hester on Hester’s 70-yard punt return for a touchdown that was called back. It was called back because Hester was flagged for facemasking Butler. Except … Hester wasn’t fined for the penalty.

— So to recap, the man who was penalized was essentially exonerated with no flag, and the man who should have been flagged wasn’t. Throw in the fine-but-no-penalty for William Moore on Cards’ wide receiver Jaron Brown, and it doesn’t seem like the officials had the best game.

— For those who want to know, the Cardinals will again wear their red pants Sunday (with the normal red home jersey.)

— The Cardinals are holding their annual toy drive Sunday at the game. Partnering with The RoomStore, volunteers will join cheerleaders to collect unwrapped toys and donations for underprivileged children outside each entrance at University of Phoenix Stadium.

— If the Cardinals win, they will have seven home victories. That would be the most for the franchise since 1925, when the Cards had 11. Eleven home wins. It helps that the Cards that year played 13 of 14 games at home (which was in Chicago at the time.)

— In 59 career games before he infamously lost the tip of his finger trying to make a tackle in New Orleans, safety Rashad Johnson had three interceptions. In 22 games since, he has seven interceptions. To be fair, Johnson didn’t start really playing a lot until the second half of the 2012 season, but still.

— Larry Fitzgerald, asked if he takes pride in his run blocking in the offense: “I take a lot more pride in catching passes.”

Fitz laughed as he said it, and he did say he does want to help with his blocking. But let’s not confuse this. Later, Fitz said “I have nothing to do with the run game. I’m a wide receiver.”

— Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said the game in Atlanta was a “bad day at the office” for his unit. Bowles said they forgot it quickly, and have to move on. The defense needs to. They will be crucial down the stretch, especially as offensive injuries mount.

— Bowles was on the staff of Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid in Reid’s final year as Eagles’ head coach. It didn’t go well – the Eagles were bad, and Bowles, who eventually took over as interim defensive coordinator, was hammered by fans and media as the defense struggled – but Reid said now Bowles was the best interview he’s ever had. Bowles returned the compliment.

“It was great working for him,” Bowles said. “I probably learned more from him in one year than I have from a lot of people over a long time.”

— Hopefully for the Cardinals, it also means Bowles learned Reid’s tendencies. The Cards need every advantage.

See you Sunday.

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