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Gurley, David Johnson, and the right situation

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2016 – 12:54 pm

Here we have the tale of two very different running backs.

Not necessarily in the way they play, although the styles of Todd Gurley and David Johnson — friends from their time in the 2015 draft — aren’t exactly parallel. No, this is about the seasons each is having, both on teams that have not been as good as expected. For Gurley, that has meant disaster. Johnson, of course, has been electric — arguably the best in the NFL.

A couple of weeks ago, Gurley noted after a Rams’ loss that the team “looked like a middle school offense.” He’s averaged just 3.2 yards a carry this season, and unless he torches the Cards’ defense for at least 155 yards, he won’t reach 1,000 for the season. Interim Rams coach John Fassel was asked about Gurley’s confidence.

“He’s struggling to maintain it,” Fassel said. “There’s really no other way around it. I’m sure he wanted more this season, and it really just hasn’t happened yet. But, he’s tough, practices every rep at practice, he’s there early and attentive at every meeting. But, there’s no doubt confidence deteriorates a little bit when you don’t have the success that you anticipate.”

Contrast that to Johnson, who is playing for an offense that is unquestionably much better than the Rams but still has struggled much more than expected this year. Yet Johnson has been spectacular, reaching 100 scrimmage yards in every game despite constant shuffles in the offensive line, threatening to become only the third 1,000-1,000 player in NFL history (like Gurley, he likely won’t reach his mark either) and scoring a franchise-record 20 touchdowns already.

The issues with the Rams’ offense were known coming into the year. L.A. has bigger offensive line problems than the Cards. But Johnson is having the kind of season running backs dream about — the kind of season everyone was waiting for Gurley to have.

David Johnson, Todd Gurley


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Rams (and Palmer) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2016 – 7:20 pm

These visits by the Rams.

Two years ago, Carson Palmer was left with a torn ACL. Last year, the Rams delivered a painful loss at the time. Sunday, it was both — a painful loss (one that, given the circumstances is more hurtful than last year’s) and a Palmer injury. The Palmer injury hopefully isn’t nearly as bad, although his concussion very well could keep him out in Thursday’s game at San Francisco. The Cards need their quarterback, although the hole in 2016 got much deeper in a six-minute period Sunday. Drew Stanton awaits his chance to start for the first time since late in 2014.

Bruce Arians was definitely trying to stay positive postgame. For those looking for fire and brimstone, it’s not coming. Not publicly. Not right now. Arians clearly sees a steady message as important to his team.

“Stick together,” is what Arians told all the players, one-by-one, postgame. The players are going to try and do that — “There is nobody in here saying the season is over,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said — but a win soon is crucial to help the message take full root.

— We’ll see how Palmer goes through concussion protocol. If he’s iffy at all, you’d think the Cardinals will have to put practice squad QB Zac Dysert on the active roster.

— The Cardinals did a great job on Todd Gurley running. Unfortunately, he got loose a couple of times as a receiver, including gaining 8 on a third-and-8 on the Rams’ game-winning TD drive. A stop there, and a field goal, and the Cards might’ve been just fine.

— It can be traced to Justin Bethel getting poked and going down early on the play, but again, a special teams play — this time the Tavon Austin return — hurts the Cards bad.

— It was good to see Smokey Brown break out as a receiver. Funny, but even after playing little in the first half, Michael Floyd still ended up with seven targets, tied with Fitz for second most to Brown’s 16. Floyd played well after a very slow start. Drew Stanton admittedly tried to force that one into him late, and it cost the Cardinals their one decent chance at a late rally.

— The Rams are lucky. They got two 15-yard penalties on the Cards’ last possession. The Cardinals probably shouldn’t have even been in position to heave a Hail Mary.

— Best game Chandler Jones has had with the Cardinals.

— Aaron Donald is a beast.

— Remember how the Cardinals hadn’t turned the ball over at all and were plus-5 after two games? They’ve turned the ball over 10 times the last two games, and despite that early cushion are now, amazingly, a minus-1 in turnovers on the season.

— The Cardinals ran the ball well. Chris Johnson looked good until he hurt his groin. David Johnson looked good but had a costly fumble. Right now, every silver lining seems to bring with it a hefty cloud.

— Short week. Practice Monday, flight to the Bay Area Wednesday, game Thursday night. There’s going to be another NFC West game before you know it — probably with Stanton behind center — and we’ll see how the Cardinals respond.

afterramsblog


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Friday before the (memorable) Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 30, 2016 – 3:10 pm

It’s the Cardinals vs. the Rams, a game that in Bruce Arians’ time as the Cards’ coach has often provided some memorable moments over six meetings.

  • In 2013 in St. Louis, Arians’ first game as coach, Tyrann Mathieu had his famous forced fumble from behind, although it wasn’t enough in a Cardinals’ loss;
  • In 2014 at home, Carson Palmer tore his ACL but the Cards, thanks to Drew Stanton and the defense, poured on late TDs to move to 8-1;
  • In 2014 on the road, Stanton suffered what turned out to be a season-ending injury, and the defense was brick-wall-esque in a brutal 12-6 win. That’s the game in which Arians talked about a team “always 8-8.”
  • In 2015 at home, Todd Gurley broke out and the Rams managed a big upset over the undefeated Cardinals.

What comes this Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium could determine the direction of the season. A 1-3 start is a difficult hole out of which to climb. The Cardinals are 2-2 — especially with a short week and trip to San Francisco coming Thursday — and life is much more settled.

— It will be helpful, to say the least, to have guard Evan Mathis in the lineup against that defensive line.

— I know the Cards knew the Bills were going to run last week and the Bills still killed them on the ground. I know Gurley is good. But I’m betting this defensive performance will look more how the Cardinals dealt with Gurley in St. Louis than that out-of-control 144-yard half in Arizona last year.

— Usually, no one pays attention to the long snapper. That hasn’t been the case with the Cardinals, and newcomer Aaron Brewer — who snapped for the Super Bowl champion Broncos last season — would like for that to change.

“Hopefully everybody forgets who I am and I kind of fall away into the shadows,” Brewer said. “That’d be the best. … That means you do your job well, when no one knows who you are.”

— It’s not ideal when two of the three pieces in the kicking operation changes in one week, but kicker Chandler Catanzaro said he’s already found a comfort level with Brewer and new holder/punter Ryan Quigley. “I understand the business of it, that it is a production business and things have happened,” Catanzaro said. “That’s something I can take on my shoulders and we can fight through it. That’s part of the deal as a specialist.”

— Yes, punter Drew Butler was supposed to hold but his bad calf won’t let that be possible. I don’t know what happens if Quigley impresses. Arians said this week Butler would remain on the roster unless an injury forced a move.

— Roy Green will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime Sunday (we will have a story posted Saturday about Green.)

— Much talk this week about Mike Leach coming out of retirement. The former long snapper told the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports he actually went out and practiced snapping at his house with a helmet and pads on, to see if he could still do it. He could — except the way his body felt the next day reminded him why he retired. Few know how much time Leach spent in the training room the past few years getting his body ready to play every week.

— If you missed it, here’s the Cardinals Underground podcast from this week.

Black uniforms Sunday.

— This point was brought up to me by a fan, that the passing game stumbles through the first three games is reminiscent of similar issues Kurt Warner and the Cardinals had through three games in 2009 after big expectations. That year, the Cardinals found their rhythm and won nine of their next 12 games (although the passing game never quite reached 2008 levels.)

This isn’t about streaks right now, though. The Cardinals just want one win, at home, against a team they’ve played generally well against (even in last year’s loss the Cards moved the ball, they just lost the turnover battle and stalled in the red zone.)

— In 2002, the Rams — coming off a tough Super Bowl loss and bringing back basically the same powerful team — ended up starting 0-5. Then-quarterback Kurt Warner has said (and reiterated this week on Arizona Sports 98.7) it was because the Rams were pressing too hard to show how good they were.

Warner said he thinks that is happening to the Cardinals. Arians agreed. Now we’ll see if the Cards can adjust that and fix the direction they are going.

beforeramsblog


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Cardinals-Packers called best game of 2015

Posted by Darren Urban on April 8, 2016 – 1:16 pm

NFL.com and the NFL Network compiled a ranking of the top 20 games of the 2015 season, and the Cardinals were part of the game picked as the best.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the Divisional playoff game between the Cards and Packers earned the top spot, although it took the Cards allowing an emotionally crushing Hail Mary to get there. It was played less than three months ago, so it’s not hard to remember the highlights, like Michael Floyd’s rebound TD catch, the Aaron Rodgers miracle and, of course, Larry being Larry. (I have to admit thought I had forgotten about Patrick Peterson’s 100-yard interception return that would have been legendary itself had it not been called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty). A truly classic game with many twists and a heckuva ending.

The Cardinals actually appear on the top 20 list two other times. Their 24-22 home loss to the Rams, when Todd Gurley broke out for the first time, was No. 20. The Cards’ big win in Seattle, capped by Andre Ellington’s TD run, was picked as No. 12.

PackBlogWin


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Rams aftermath, with No. 2 on the mind

Posted by Darren Urban on December 6, 2015 – 6:40 pm

Short weeks are just that. Short.

“I’m going to watch Minnesota (tape) on the way home,” Carson Palmer said, after the Cardinals’ win against the Rams. “We’ve got a three-hour flight, whatever it is (technically, two hours and 48 minutes). I’ll get a good jump on them tonight, but there is no celebration. We did what we expected to do. We’ve got to move on.”

Palmer is right. The Cardinals did what they were supposed to do in St. Louis: Beat up a struggling team that, simply put, has no offense to speak of. Their building was half-empty, a crowd dulled by losing and anger toward an owner who wants to move them to Los Angeles.

On the plane ride home, the Cardinals got to watch the Panthers pull out a win in New Orleans, and their possibility of running down the NFC’s No. 1 seed continued to fade. But now the Cardinals are in control of the No. 2 seed, holding a two-game edge on the Packers/Vikings. They can put the Vikings (who were hammered at home by the Seahawks Sunday) out of their misery Thursday night.

There is a lot left here. Games against the Eagles, who won in New England, and the Packers, in a game that could still mean something for the No. 2 seed, and the Seahawks (…. the Seahawks.) But the Cards control what happens to them. That’s all you can ask.

— It would’ve been nice if David Johnson could have gained 100 yards. He came up a yard short. But he was excellent Sunday. Catching the ball, blocking – his blitz pickups, while not perfect, were solid, and that was a big concern for the rookie – and running.

— Johnson was going to come out of the game to give the other backs work right around the time he fumbled, Bruce Arians said. He wasn’t benched for the fumble. In fact, Arians brushed off the fumbles of both Johnson and Kerwynn Williams, saying it was something that will happen with young players.

— Nevertheless, you would’ve liked for Johnson to get through his first start without a fumble.

— The defense made Todd Gurley their mission. One tiny slip, but otherwise, mission accomplished. And the Cardinals have allowed the last two teams (Niners, Rams) to convert just 1-of-21 third downs. Scary good.

— The Cardinals had four drives of at least 80 yards. Carson Palmer quietly had a very good game. It may be tough to displace Cam Newton and Tom Brady in the MVP race, but Palmer deserves to be in the discussion.

— It will be under the radar, but that was a Hall of Fame-type catch by Michael Floyd to gain 30 yards to convert the first third down during the 98-yard drive. I’m not saying Floyd is a Hall of Famer, but that was a manly play. That’s why the Cardinals took him 12th 13th overall in 2012.

— That last 68-yard bomb to Smokey Brown? I’m guessing his hamstring is pretty OK (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cards keep him limited in practice, just in case.)

— Safety Rashad Johnson gets interception No. 5, leading the team, on great recognition on a deep route. Like Justin Bethel, Johnson was/is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Bethel got paid. Johnson is hoping he will too.

— Speaking of Bethel, he held up fine starting in place of Jerraud Powers, but there were a couple of times he lost track of the ball and that’s something I’m sure he’ll be working on.

— Three days of prep (and practice will likely be very little actual full-speed practice, if any). Then the Vikings — another game with meaning. The best part of December.

Marcus Roberson, Rodney McLeod, Kerwynn Williams


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Friday before the Rams, and Fitz’s 1,000

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2015 – 3:50 pm

There is no guarantee Larry Fitzgerald will have eight catches Sunday in St. Louis, but how fitting would it be if he did. Eight receptions would mean Fitz would reach 1,000 for his illustrious career, and he would do it in the same building where he caught his first – that flea-flicker over Cardinal-turned-Ram Aeneas Williams way back in 2004.

Fitz is also just eight yards shy of getting to 1,000 yards for the first time since 2011, a dry spell that didn’t seem possible once upon a time. Now, Fitz is on pace for 120 receptions – which would be a career-best by far – and 1,442 yards, which would also be a career-best (he has surpassed 1,400 yards Larry Fitzgeraldfour times previous.)

Fitz, of course, isn’t going there. “It’s not time to start smelling the roses now,” he said. “We are in the middle of something special here.”

This is true. The fact Fitzgerald is in the middle of it so spectacularly after the last couple of seasons is one of those things where … well, let’s be honest, it’s one of those stories that is perfect for Super Bowl week and the glare of the NFL spotlight.

Just sayin’.

— The Fitz down period can be explained. In 2012, he had no quarterback. In 2013, well, Carson Palmer was learning a new system and Fitz was learning a new position.

“I think we both went through a period, year-long period, of just figuring out each other, and more importantly, figuring out the system,” Palmer said. “I think you learn by trial and error and trying to fit certain balls into him and trying not to.”

Last year, things were clicking before Palmer went down (and Fitz was hurting much of the year too.) Now, it’s all come together.

— Nick Foles will start for the Rams at quarterback – the same Nick Foles who was benched, only to be forced into playing because of Case Keenum’s concussion. Foles has been bad this season, but in his three games against the Cardinals, he has eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The defense has to make him look like the benched Foles (who has four TD passes and nine interceptions against non-Cardinals opponents.)

— Jonathan Cooper may still yet emerge as the guard the Cardinals want. But the fact he’s lost his spot in his third season, injuries or not, is not a good sign.

— Here’s a fun game you can play with your friends: More rushing yards Sunday, Todd Gurley or David Johnson? I think it’s a very good question.

— Bruce Arians, by the way, said Johnson should get around 25 touches. That may or may not come to pass, but it makes sense with Andre Ellington out.

— While 49ers defensive tackle Quinton Dial was indeed fined for his roughing-the-passer penalty he was flagged for last week — Dial thought it was a bad call; usually a league fine means the league agreed with the flag — 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone told Matt Maiocco he was not fined for his (heavy) criticism of officials after the game.

— Arians reiterated Friday that there will be defensive snaps for wide-receiver-turned-(just-this-week)-cornerback Brittan Golden. He said the same for newly signed CB Corey White, but that makes some sense. Golden’s role, it’ll be interesting to see.

— As has been the custom in recent years, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and the team will host old-school St. Louis alumni from the franchise Saturday night and then at the game. We will see if this is the Cardinals’ last trip to St. Louis, at least to play the Rams.

— A win Sunday would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. After that 11-1 1948 team you are so fond of.

— I don’t know how much J.J. Nelson will be in the gameplan, not with John Brown seemingly close to health and Michael Floyd getting better. But if he does make a catch, I’m guessing it’ll be down the field. Nelson has nine receptions this season and he’s averaging an astounding 29.4 yards per catch. And that’s with a 12-yard reception thrown in.

— The short week is coming. There would be nothing better for the Cardinals than to get a lead early and not have Sunday be as grind-it-out as it’s been against the Rams (or against the Niners last week.) Easier said than done, but it’s another source of motivation. That Thursday night game against the Vikings next week is gigantic in terms of the NFC playoff picture.


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Blocking communication an issue against Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 5, 2015 – 3:49 pm

Bruce Arians called the Cardinals’ pass protection “very iffy” against the Rams — not a total shock given the talent the Rams have up front — and said it extended to the tight ends and the running backs at various times.

“Our communication was terrible in this ball game,” Arians said. “With the three-man line and nickel blitzes, we did not do well.”

Center Lyle Sendlein acknowledged the need to communicate better. “There was a lot for us to talk about,” Sendlein said. “That’s a good defense. They did a good job disguising their blitzes, and they’ve always done a good job bringing their linebackers through if the back blocks. That’s something that lands on me, getting everyone on the same page.”

— Arians said again that running back Andre Ellington was close to playing against the Rams. It came down to having Ellington available in case versus having a healthy player active. I’d guess Ellington would be available against the Lions barring a setback this week.

— On the late TD pass to Tavon Austin surrendered by cornerback Jerraud Powers, Arians said it wasn’t Powers’ responsibility.

“Jerraud gave inside leverage to a guy who was supposed to be waiting for him,” Arians said. “Wasn’t there.”

— The holes for Todd Gurley came from various mistakes, almost all from trying to do to much. Arians said one example was rushing the passer instead of squeezing what turned into a cutback lane. In another case, linebacker Kevin Minter — who had taken much of the Gurley blame himself Sunday — tried to spin off a block and by doing so vacated his lane.

“Something as simple as that,” Arians said.

— Arians thought the Rams fumble-that-wasn’t was “obvious,” but he shrugged it off by noting the Rams fumbled moments before. “We should’ve recovered the fumble the play before and it would’ve never happened, when it was laying between our legs. We had our chances.”

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Todd Gurley comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on April 30, 2015 – 6:26 pm

The Rams pulled a mild surprise with the 10th pick of the draft tonight, taking Georgia running back Todd Gurley — considered by most the top back in the draft and a potential star. If Gurley, who isn’t even 21 years old yet, pans out it’s going to be a tough matchup twice a year for the Cardinals. Then again, the Rams still don’t have much of an offensive line. In the short-term, Gurley is coming off an ACL injury and while he said he is hoping to be ready for training camp, the chances he is at full speed Oct. 4 when the Cardinals host the Rams in Week 4 seems unlikely. Their second 2015 matchup, in St. Louis Dec. 6, could be a different story. The draft hasn’t been chaotic as expected thus far through 12 picks. No trades, Marcus Mariota goes to Ken Whisenhunt’s Titans.

It seems unlikely RB Melvin Gordon lasts until the Cards at 24 now that Gurley is gone. Not with as many teams figuring to consider backs. Not that it matters — I thought all along it was unlikely the Cards went running back in round one anyway. (UPDATE: Gordon to the Chargers at No. 15, who traded up with the 49ers.)

Todd Gurley, Brison Williams


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Cards’ 24th pick could go a million different ways

Posted by Darren Urban on April 28, 2015 – 3:08 pm

OK, maybe it couldn’t go a million different ways. A million is a lot. But the closer the draft gets, it’s clear no one really has a good handle on how the picks will play out — and thus, no one has a good handle on who might be there for the Cardinals when pick No. 24 arrives. There are a lot of reasons for that. You have guys that would be locks to be top 10 or top 15 picks if not for off-field problems (Shane Ray, Randy Gregory, Dorial Green-Beckham.) You have a quarterback — probably Marcus Mariota, if you subscribe to the idea that the Bucs take Jameis Winston — that could go No. 2 but certainly seems to be anything but a sure thing, opening up the possibilities of trades very early. You have a ton of wide receivers that are talented and who goes before whom may come down to a matter of preference. You have probably the best running back dealing with a little thing called an ACL rehab, changing his stock.

There could be some serious talent sitting there for the Cards at No. 24. It may have an injury red flag or, more likely, a character red flag of some sort. This team desperately needs a good pass rusher, but they probably don’t need another linebacker who gets suspended. They could use a running back, but the draft is so deep with them, would they pass in the first round even if a Gurley or Gordon were there? (I’ve always thought yes, but I’ve been wrong before.)

Then there was this from the Voice of the Cardinals, Dave Pasch:

Pass rusher is not a surprise, nor is cornerback. And Pasch and I (and Kyle Odegard) discussed the reality of looking offensive line a couple weeks ago. Steve Keim is still looking to solidify the group up front to turn them into a unit that can grind out a ground game (and keeping in mind RG Jonathan Cooper remains unproven and RT Bobby Massie is a free agent after the season.) So a tackle makes sense too.

But I guess I’d be surprised if a wide receiver were the pick. Then again, there are some significant game-breaking wideouts that can be had in this draft — it’s the strength of the 2015 class — and another playmaker that can catch/return is always welcome. This all also plays into the very real possibility of a trade-down-for-an-extra-pick scenario for Keim, something of which Keim loves to do. I know this, that picking at 24 can provide a surprise. Last year, the Cards didn’t shock by taking a safety, but I don’t think anyone saw Deone Bucannon ahead of time.

2015 NFL Draft


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So, when Cards draft a running back early …

Posted by Darren Urban on April 16, 2015 – 12:51 pm

It is a deep draft for running backs. And the Cardinals are expected to take one at some point. It seems a favorite thing for mock drafters to do, putting a running back next to the Cardinals at their No. 24 first-round pick. I still don’t see this as likely, not with Andre Ellington around, the depth of the available prospects and the question about the top back in the draft (Todd Gurley’s ACL injury.) Another potential part of this equation? What the Cardinals have gotten, or haven’t gotten, out of the backs they have drafted early.

Since the team moved to Arizona in 1988, the Cardinals have drafted a running back in the first or second round nine times:

1988 Tony Jeffery (8 yards in one year in Arizona)
1990 Anthony Thompson (774 yards in three years)
1993 Garrison Hearst (1,503 yards in three years)
1994 Chuck Levy (15 yards in one year)
1996 Leeland McElroy (729 yards in two years)
2000 Thomas Jones (1,264 yards in three years)
2005 J.J. Arrington (654 yards in four years)
2009 Beanie Wells (2,471 yards in four years)
2011 Ryan Williams (164 yards in three years)

Obviously, it’s not a list with spectacular results. Hearst and Jones both had solid NFL careers, but only after they left Arizona. And while only three of those picks have come in the last decade, Arrington and Wells and Williams never made a big enough impact. Wells did have a 1,000-yard season in 2011, but injuries doomed him as they did Williams.

In two seasons, Ellington has already made more of an impact, as a sixth-round pick, than most of the guys on that list — and Ellington produced some in 2014 even though he was never healthy. Given the health concerns of Ellington, and the past issues of Wells and Williams, it’s hard to imagine the Cards taking a flyer on Gurley unless they were completely convinced he was a) not have any lingering effects and b) a special talent. Some believe both those to be the case. But there would be a certain leap of faith. I could see a second-round running back, but again, in this day and age of finding backs later — and with a team that is still going to use Ellington a lot — I think Steve Keim will carefully consider his options.

Beanie


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