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Lacking sacks, Cards blitz for “distruptions”

Posted by Darren Urban on October 29, 2014 – 10:17 am

The Cardinals looked hard for a pass rusher prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. Nothing materialized. That’s really not surprising. In this league — especially when a team can flip into a playoff contender in one offseason — you just don’t trade decent pass rushers. You need them too much. And if you are willing to trade, you’re probably asking for more than they are worth, because they are at a premium, and a team like the Cardinals can’t just shred their draft options for that.

(Now, if Justin Houston was being offered for a first-round pick, yes, I make that move. I’d think GM Steve Keim would too. But the Justin Houstons of the world aren’t being offered.)

That leaves the Cardinals wanting on the pass rush. Yes, I’d think that will be the top target of the offseason, whether it is through free agency or the draft (or even both.) But the offseason is the offseason. That doesn’t help now.

The Cardinals have only seven sacks in seven games, and two of those are from defensive backs and one is from an inside linebacker. It’s no secret the Cards are blitz-happy out of necessity. It’s the only way they can generate consistent pressure, and it’s been a Todd Bowles staple, with the Cards blitzing about half the time. Would more sacks be welcome? Of course. But Bruce Arians sounds OK with the results so far. The last play Sunday is a great example. The Cardinals brought the blitz. They couldn’t sack Nick Foles — they couldn’t sack him all day, through 62 pass attempts — but it was the heavy pressure up the middle that forced Foles to backpedal and throw off his back foot. Jordan Matthews had been open in the back of the end zone, but the bad throw under pressure gave safety Rashad Johnson just enough time to recover and make sure the pass wasn’t completed.

“The thing we want to do defensively is be disruptive,” Arians said. “I thought we were disruptive (against Philadelphia). We created turnovers. Yardage doesn’t really matter. We want to lead the league in points (allowed) and we want to lead the league in sacks and turnovers. Sacks are the one thing that are obviously down, but there are disruptions there.”

At this time last year, the Cardinals had 19 sacks, en route to 47 on the season. A big part of that was John Abraham’s 11.5, and obviously losing Abraham — when the team had been counting on him to create some of those sacks — has left a mark. It was interesting to see that Marcus Benard is part of the outside linebacker rotation to create pressure, when Benard was one of the guys originally cut to add outside linebacker Thomas Keiser, who has mostly been inactive. Getting Calais Campbell back on the field will help, but it is, as Keim has said, beating a dead horse when talking about the Cardinals and creating/finding more of a pass rush.

The snap breakdown for the defensive line/outside linebackers against the Eagles, on 92 defensive snaps (92 – yikes!): Okafor 69, Acho 65, Campbell 62, Kelly 62, Stinson 51, Rucker 31, Dan Williams 18, Benard 16, Martin 10.

 

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Larsen a top lineman, and trade calls

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2014 – 9:16 am

Ted Larsen at left guard? It wouldn’t be a total surprise. Larsen was working at guard a lot before starting center Lyle Sendlein got hurt and General Manager Steve Keim said today during his weekly appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 that Larsen “has been one of our five best offensive linemen” during training camp. The veteran free agent who had played for Tampa Bay has been solid at center for Sendlein and at this point, there are still questions about when Jonathan Cooper will come back and how he will do when he does come back.

Keim said Cooper’s turf toe was “significant” and he isn’t sure if Cooper will be back this week or next. It would make sense when Sendlein returns from his calf injury — Keim said that could be Wednesday — that Larsen could be in the left guard mix. (That also likely means Earl Watford has not left as good of an impression playing left guard as the Cardinals would have liked.)

– The Cardinals have not received any phone calls about someone possibly interested in a Ryan Lindley trade, Keim said. The reality is that barring injury, Lindley will be the odd man out at QB. Keim said such calls wouldn’t hear up until next week anyway. Keim said the Cardinals have had a few calls about their wide receivers. In what really isn’t a surprise, Keim said it is “more realistic” the Cardinals will keep six wide receivers. I’ve thought that for a while, given the play of Jaron Brown and rookie Walt Powell behind Fitz, Floyd, Ginn and John Brown.

– Stuff Keim liked from the Vikings game: linebacker Larry Foote’s play, quarterback Carson Palmer, Jaron Brown and how all the wide receivers did blocking on the perimeter.

– Stuff Keim didn’t like: The inability to create pressure on the quarterback, blown coverages and the lack of explosive runs (although he admitted not playing Andre Ellington much didn’t help the latter.)

– New linebacker Desmond Bishop, who dressed for practice Thursday but didn’t practice much at all, looked good in his 12 snaps, Keim said. I think Bishop, assuming he progresses, has a chance to stick. It’ll be interesting to see who that might cost in terms of a roster spot.

– Speaking of inside linebackers, Kevin Minter may still sit because of his pectoral injury. Keim said the Cards will be careful with Minter. No reason to risk anything right now.

– Linebacker John Abraham could return to individual drills either today or Wednesday.

 


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The chances of trading down

Posted by Darren Urban on May 4, 2014 – 10:56 am

General Manager Steve Keim made it pretty clear last week when it came to his thoughts on potential draft-day trades, especially with the Cardinals sitting with only six draft choices as of right now: “I think our philosophy would be to acquire more picks and move back.”

(Yes, it could be a smokescreen but I do not think so. Keim is about the draft picks.)

“We do think it’s deep enough where I really do think that you are going to get third-round players in the fourth and fifth round, guys who can come in and be immediate impact players for you,” Keim added. “I think, when it’s all said and done, you want to acquire more picks.”

Whether that can happen will be seen. Sure, the Cards would like to pick up an extra pick or two. They pulled off a couple trades last year that could end up paying off. The second-round trade down — essentially giving up the chance to take linebacker Manti Te’o and instead picking up linebacker Kevin Minter — provided the extra fourth-round pick to take guard Earl Watford. Watford could very well end up being a starter this season. And trading down in the fourth round so the Giants could take QB Ryan Nassib (the Cards took pass rusher Alex Okafor six picks later) netted an extra sixth-round choice that turned out to be running back Andre Ellington — and we all know how that turned out.

“Acquiring more picks, it gives you a better chance to hit on players,” Keim said. “It’s just simple mathematics.”

But another team would have to want to trade up, obviously, to make something happen. The Cardinals aren’t the only ones who a) like to gather draft picks and b) understand the depth of the draft. It also depends on what is going on in the draft at the time the Cardinals are on the clock. Who is sitting there the Cards might take, and who could be there by the time the Cards — if they trade down — would be able to pick again. Those are the factors a team must weigh.

“If we’re trading back, in particular, what clump of players are we looking at in our own (top) 120 that are still going to be there?” Keim said. “Dropping back six or seven picks, then you know you have to have six or seven guys left on your board that you like or have a similar value to the player you’re possibly missing out on. That’s the one thing you have to really drive home with the room is, ‘Guys, we may miss out on this player, but here are the five or six guys that could be in contention.’ As long as you’re OK with those players and they fit what you do, I think trading back makes sense.”


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Levi already done in Pittsburgh

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2013 – 8:30 am

That didn’t take long.

Levi Brown, set to start Sunday in Pittsburgh in the Steelers’ first game since trading for the Cardinals’ left tackle, hurt his triceps in warmups (after, as it turned out, the team had put in the game’s inactives, leading them to be short for the day.) Today, the Steelers put Brown on injured reserve, ending his season before he ever took a snap for Pittsburgh. Given Levi’s contract, I’d expect at the very least for the Steelers to release him after the season. Could they bring him back? Maybe, but not under this deal. He is due $6 million in 2014.

What does this mean for the Cardinals? Well, we know there was a conditional pick involved coming from the Steelers. That usually means based on some sort of playing time — which I feel confident in saying Brown didn’t reach, since he never even played a down. The Cards also sent a pick back. Essentially, it means (and this is total speculation on what is involved, just trying to give an example) the Cards got, for instance, a sixth-round pick and gave the Steelers a seventh, and maybe the sixth could have become a fifth. Now, there will be no change, whatever the deal might have been. UPDATE: Kent Somers reports Brown had to be on Steelers’ active roster for five weeks to force draft pick compensation in the first place. Now that Brown won’t be, there will not be any swap of picks. In the end, the Cards basically cut Brown but saved about $600,000 that the Steelers ended up paying.

The Cards, based on what GM Steve Keim said at the time of the trade, sounded close to releasing Brown anyway. More importantly for the Cardinals, they moved on from the Levi Brown era, which was probably necessary.


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A close battle among the corners

Posted by Darren Urban on August 13, 2013 – 5:09 pm

Coach Bruce Arians said he thought cornerback was among the closest battles on the roster and that’s not surprising. The depth of experience there is better than the Cardinals have had in a few seasons. Assuming everyone stays healthy — and Javier Arenas left practice early Tuesday with some sort of injury — it will be very interesting to see how it plays out.

Jamell Fleming finally got back on the field after dealing with a hamstring problem. Justin Bethel is too valuable of a special teamer to let go, but he’s still learning the cornerback position. Patrick Peterson and Jerraud Powers are locks. I’d think vet Antoine Cason is too, especially with Cason running as cornerback in nickel when Powers slides inside. One interesting name this week was Bryan McCann, who was singled out by Arians as having a good camp. If McCann really is in the mix, there are a ton of decisions that have to be made.

– And again, I’d expect a possible trade at the end of the preseason for guys they don’t want to keep here, a la A.J. Jefferson last season. At least get an extra 6th- or 7th-round pick.

– Because the Cards are off tomorrow, I don’t expect an Arenas injury update until Thursday.

– Among Tuesday’s highlights: WR Robby Toma made a beautiful one-handed catch on the sideline to beat Tyrann Mathieu. Cason, covering “wide receiver” Peterson, made an interception as Peterson went down and Cason basically had to climb over Peterson’s prone body to grab the ball. (Those two are both in the highlight package below.) And Peterson finished the session by slicing in front of WR Kerry Taylor during the final two-minute drill against the second-unit offense, sticking out his hand and having the ball stick there like it was flypaper for the drive-killing interception.

– Sitting out Tuesday was S Jonathon Amaya (knee), S Rashad Johnson (knee/ankle), RB Ryan Williams (knee), TE Jeff King (knee), TE Kory Sperry (ankle), DE Frostee Rucker (undisclosed), LB Karlos Dansby (hamstring), DT Ricky Lumpkin (ankle), DT Dan Williams (ankle) and LB Dan Giordano (PUP – toe.). RB Andre Ellington returned to practice limited.


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For now, you can’t have too many corners

Posted by Darren Urban on May 3, 2013 – 11:20 am

The trade earlier this week for cornerback Javier Arenas provided the Cardinals their 10th cornerback on the roster. That isn’t a surprise, but when seven of them have NFL experience already, the numbers alone will make for a very interesting battle heading into training camp. It doesn’t matter who the coaches have been that I have covered over the years, every single one — when asked about a situation like this — likes to say, “You can never have too many cornerbacks.” True, but you can’t keep too many cornerbacks either.

The quick lineup, aside from Arenas: Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Jamell Fleming, Justin Bethel, Bryan McCann and three UDFAs in Josh Hill, Prentiss Waggner and Ronnie Yell.

(And as a quick aside: I think the Cards didn’t mind adding another corner, but realize that they were going to get rid of fullback Anthony Sherman regardless, and if the only option coming back was a corner like Arenas, it’s better than just cutting Sherman loose.)

Here are the facts thus far when it comes to this cornerback situation:

– In minicamp, Powers was with the first unit opposite Peterson. Now, Cason seemed to be nursing some kind of leg injury that may have limited him, but again, it was Powers who signed the three-year contract. He might be getting the first shot there.

– Bethel was told he’d be playing corner rather than safety when the coaches first got a chance to talk to him. But who knows, given the cornerback/safety situation (the Cards have seven safeties and much less experience there) maybe Bethel ends up a swing guy again.

– This math of course counts Tyrann Mathieu as a safety because that’s what Bruce Arians said he’d be at first, but Mathieu also could be a nickel corner.

– Arenas’ size (5-9) seems to dictate he’d be a slot cover guy only.

– The numbers and influx of guys will make the second offseason for Fleming very, very interesting and very important. Third-round picks usually are locks to stay a second season. But with a new staff, you never know.

– Usually, teams keep nine or 10 defensive backs. With nine, you could see four cornerbacks and five safeties or, given this roster, probably five and four.

– It does open up trade possibilities, like when the Cards dealt A.J. Jefferson at the end of the preseason last year given their glut at the position.

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With Sherman swap, the shuffling continues

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2013 – 11:39 am

So Anthony Sherman is gone, a victim of a regime change more than anything else, with his trade to K.C. today in exchange for cornerback Javier Arenas. This is what happens when new coaches come in (and obviously, both the Chiefs and Cards have new coaches) and existing players are deemed expendable. In Sherman’s case, he plays a position that isn’t used in Bruce Arians’ offense. In Arenas’ case, the Chiefs had brought on a bunch of cornerbacks and he was looking to be moved, although he comes to a team with a ton of potential cornerbacks as well — in addition to a safety (Tyrann Mathieu) who could end up playing slot receivers like Arenas is best suited for. Arenas came into the league in the 2010 draft.

ESPN scout Matt Williamson tweeted this about Arenas: “Pure slot CB-Size hurts him, but fiesty & big time asset on special teams.” It’s a crowded secondary now. Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Antoine Cason, Justin Bethel, Jamell Fleming and Bryan McCann all have experience in the league and now Arenas comes aboard. Someone isn’t making it to September (unless the Cards end up sliding Bethel back to safety to ease the logjam.)

More importantly, it’s yet another move as General Manager Steve Keim continues to overhaul the roster with Arians’ vision of what he needs. The Cardinals currently have 88 players on the roster and 45 of them are new. Now, 25 of them are rookies so they were going to be new regardless. But the number of veterans — veterans that played large roles on the team last year — that have been cut or traded continues to move up. The transactions list has a ton of action, and May just started.  I count 31 moves where the Cards either made a trade, signed a veteran from outside the team or released a player.

(And to think, when Arenas lined up against Larry Fitzgerald during the Cards-Chiefs joint practice last August, you think either one contemplated being teammates?)

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Breaking down a trade, and other Palmer aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on April 2, 2013 – 6:22 pm

There is really no way to know how long the Cardinals have been thinking about Carson Palmer, but it’s clear it’s been a little while even if the official trade talks with the Raiders didn’t start until last Friday. The Cards were in a good spot, since it seemed obvious Palmer wasn’t going to go back to Oakland. The price wasn’t steep, not even if it had been straight up for a sixth-round pick, and the Cards got a seventh-rounder back. (The conditional pick next year is reportedly another seventh rounder, and since the conventional wisdom that a pick a year later is worth less than the current year, does that mean the Cards might have given up an undrafted free agent?)

The price for Palmer — about $8 million in salary, according to reports — is fair for a veteran QB with a decent resume. More importantly, the Cardinals were good with it.

“Not only with the draft compensation but with the restructuring of the contract, we had an area we felt comfortable with as an organization,” General Manager Steve Keim said. “We stuck to it and we were patient and it worked out.”

Keim said he and Team President Michael Bidwill had a long talk about the direction of the organization when Palmer’s availability came to light. Keim stressed the opportunity to get a franchise quarterback at this stage (which sounds even better given the prospects in the draft, which are clearly not exciting too many QB-needy teams league-wide given all the QB moves.) The Cards had gone for a franchise QB trade recently, and that didn’t work out all that well.

“I think there were many lessons we learned from that trade and from other trades that we brought collectively to the table,” Bidwill said of the Kolb deal.

The changes have come fast and furious over the past month or so. “All along we talked about being proactive and being aggressive,” Keim said. The Cardinals have. And now they have a new quarterback to run out there.

– It does feel like this is a perfect fit for what Bruce Arians does. I do think Palmer can still play well, and I do think he was the best option for the Cards. Is he the long-term solution? Of course not. Even if he has a Kurt Warner-like renaissance, the Cardinals are going to keep looking for long-term answers. They already were caught short once when Warner retired and they don’t want it to happen again.

– There was also cautious optimism from players today. “Any time you add a weapon, it helps your team,” running back Rashard Mendenhall said. “But we are all waiting to see how it shakes out.” As Fitz said, “I’m coming off the most disappointing season of my career and I’m in ‘Prove it’ mode.” Everyone on the Cards, especially on offense, probably needs to view it that way.

– It can’t hurt on the timing, which got Palmer to Arizona right when voluntary work started. He lost out on most of Tuesday as the deal was completed, but emphasized he is now in Arizona ready to work. I assume that means starting full bore Wednesday. (He did get a post-contract mini-workout in with John Lott, and talked a little with new teammate Dan Williams as you can see below.)

– Speaking of Warner, Palmer knows the parallel of coming to the Cards at this late stage of his career (Palmer is 33, Warner was 34 when the Cards got him.) “It’s hard to make those comparisons. Kurt was a phenomenal player. He came here and just lit people up. I’d love to be compared to some of the things that he did here when it’s my time to leave here.”

– In his opening statement, Palmer addressed the many stories about his leaving the Raiders, including the one out there that he declined to renegotiate his contract down from $13 million in 2013 even though the Raiders were reportedly still offering $10 million this season.

“There’s been a lot of rumors and stories and inaccuracies about my departure from Oakland,” Palmer said. “I want to clear the air on that. I was presented with a contract there and I was advised not to sign that contract, with no security, no guarantees. My agent told me he would never have me sign that contract. That opportunity led me here.”

Palmer said the Raiders were moving toward youth and he had no problem with that. He also called Head Coach Dennis Allen and General Manager Reggie McKenzie “stars” at their jobs.

– Arians was increasingly optimistic about his team. It lead to the funniest exchange of the day as Arians praised the players he saw for the first time Tuesday morning.

“Having walked into that room today, that’s as good a looking football team as I’ve seen in my 20 years of coaching, stepping in the first day,” Arians said. “There’s not a bad body in the room. It’s a great looking bunch of athletes, and we will never use talent as an excuse.”

Palmer didn’t hesitate. “You saying you’ve got a good body?”

“Yeah buddy. Yes indeed,” Arians fired back. “Sixty and sexy.”

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Finalizing the equation of Jefferson trade

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2013 – 7:43 pm

Many have asked over the months since the Cardinals traded cornerback A.J. Jefferson to the Vikings at the end of August. Thanks to my friend Tom Pelissero, erstwhile Vikings guru, those trade results have been finalized. Ultimately, the trade was Jefferson and the Cardinals’ seventh-round pick in 2013 for the Tennesee Titans’ 2013 6th-round pick, which the Vikings had previously acquired.

Considering the Cards were on the verge of cutting Jefferson (and the league knew the Cards were corner-heavy) when the trade went down, moving up a round wasn’t a bad result. It gives the Cards, at least before the compensatory picks are doled out, seven total draft picks covering the first six rounds of the draft.


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Trade winds blow

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2012 – 4:58 pm

Because of that storm called Sandy, the NFL’s trading deadline was moved back to Thursday this week. That means a couple of extra days of the rumor mill for a time that already picked up some steam because it is a couple of weeks later this year than in year’s past.

Today, we know:

– The Rams’ Steven Jackson, oft talked about, is staying put.

– Ravens T Bryant McKinnie, who is no longer playing because he was supplanted by a rookie, could be had. Peter King wrote the Cardinals “I hear have some interest in him.” What that means is anyone’ guess. Even King says McKinnie would just be a band-aid, and what exactly would you give up for a band-aid?

Coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked about the trade deadline today. “Well, we’re looking,” Whisenhunt said, and that’s really standard operating procedure for any team. “We’re always looking for ways to help this team. We always have been, so if there’s something available, we’ve got until Thursday. If we had an opportunity to get somebody we think can help us, we certainly would try to do that.”

I’ve said a few times, on Twitter and in response to blog comments, I’m not sure any trade will happen. Take McKinnie for instance. Is he an upgrade? You’d think so. He was also beaten out by a rookie. He’s had all kinds of off-field issues. The Vikings let him walk away rather than deal with him anymore. If he were a free agent, a band-aid makes sense. To give up a draft pick, even a later one, to me takes some consideration, especially if he is just a band-aid that won’t be around in the future.

If there was a deal, I can’t see it being for anything but an offensive lineman. Just my opinion.

We’ll see how this plays out.

– Whiz said running back Beanie Wells “is not there yet” but is on track to return to practice next week — the soonest he can off the IR-return list — and I would assume that means right now it looks encouraging for Wells to play in his first chance to come back, which is the Nov. 25 home game against the Rams. What will be something to watch is if Beanie’s whole body is right after this time off. Not just the torn ligament in the toe but also his knee, which still looked like it left him out of sorts earlier in the season.

– There are many wondering why Whiz doesn’t play rookie QB Ryan Lindley, and he isn’t, saying John Skelton is his starter. I get questions of why that is, and I’m not going to argue that Skelton isn’t exactly playing stellar right now. But there are a lot of issues that go into the offensive problems, and QB isn’t the only one. The Cardinals and Whisenhunt have been through the rookie thing before, and it usually isn’t pretty.

I’d guess Lindley will take some snaps in a game this season. I don’t expect it to be in a start, and I’m not even saying it will be soon. If a game gets out of hand, maybe we see him. Skelton has been through some things by now, though, and Lindley hasn’t, and while I’m sure I will get “Yeah, but Skelton can’t do it anyway and we might as well get Lindley experience,” well, that’s a fine line to walk as a team and as a coach.


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