The Cardinals finally have a game to play.
The preseason opener will start a week that will feature two games and a week in San Diego, plus a couple of practices against the Chargers. First though come the Raiders, which will be a typical preseason matchup — a handful of snaps for the main vets, and then a training ground for the inexperienced.
Some thoughts as we head into the first game:
— Yes, you are going to watch D.J. Humphries at right tackle, which is how it should be. But I think I’m more interested in Brandon Williams at cornerback. Humphries is important, but he at least already played four preseason games a year ago. He’s done this. Williams not only is a rookie but he’s still only about a year into playing the position. Plus, it just feels — at least to me — that his performance will end up playing a larger role in the outcome of this team than Humphries.
— That doesn’t mean Humphries isn’t one to watch (or isn’t important for the outcome of this season.) He’s already a pretty good run blocker, and he’s shown a want-to that was missing a year ago. I’m not saying Humphries is ready to be an all-pro, but I think as a replacement for Bobby Massie, he will be fine.
— Some other new (and returning) players I’ll be watching: CB Alan Ball, CB Harlan Miller, G Antoine McClain, all the ILBs not named Kevin Minter — that’s a wide-open battle — TEs Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah, and WR Chris Hubert.
— Matt Barkley is going to get a lot of playing time. We’ll see if he can leave an impression.
— And as always, let’s just not have anyone get too banged up.
Tags: Alan Ball, Antoine McClain, Brandon Williams, Chargers, Chris Hubert, D.J. Humphries, Harlan Miller, Ifeanyi Momah, Matt Barkley, Raiders, Troy Niklas
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It’s that time of camp, Bruce Arians said.
It’s that time when players get a little bored, and no matter what the warning from the top, it shows up on the field. So Arians was irritated with the Cardinals’ practice Monday after a Sunday off.
“It hits you right in the face when you put the sheet up there and there are 18 penalties and 45 mental errors,” Arians said, noting that there were “some veteran Pro Bowlers who had five mental errors.”
Arians was confident the Cards would respond well later Tuesday, but lamented the fact Monday’s was practice time the Cards won’t be able to get back.
“I’m disappointed with leadership of the team, because that’s their job,” Arians said.
— WR J.J. Nelson (groin) is returning to practice, but Swiss Army knife OL Earl Watford is out after bruising his knee Monday (it actually looked like it could have been worse, although Watford didn’t miss a play) and CB Cariel Brooks (quad) is also out for now.
— Arians thinks WR Smokey Brown (concussion) will be cleared in the next day or two, but the coach ruled Brown out from playing Friday night.
— There is a chance DBs Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Bethel could come off PUP next week. But Arians said if they are not ready to take part in the two practices against the Chargers, the team will probably hold off.
— Current frontrunner for quote of camp: Arians said TE Troy Niklas has been playing well, playing like the guy the Cards drafted in the second round in 2014. About this, Niklas was happy. Always good to hear the boss is pleased. “He gets my name confused with dumb mother(expletive) a lot,” Niklas said with a smile.
Tags: Bruce Arians, John Brown, training camp, Troy Niklas
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Sunday night was a good night for the Cardinals. They dominated. They won the NFC West. They had a rookie running back rush for 187 yards and look tremendous doing it. They were happy to win the division, but know they haven’t yet accomplished what they want, which is the right mindset to have.
“We want to put banners up,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said. “We want to keep this thing rolling, and we’re on the right track.”
But it was hard not to see the stoic faces of both Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer after Tyrann Mathieu went down on a non-contact play late in the game, his knee buckling. Non-contact plays like that are a scary thing in this league, and when Palmer said he had already been praying for Mathieu, it shows where his head was at.
No, the Cardinals have not yet reached their goals. There are a lot of boxes left that need to be checked before/if the Cards can start thinking about a Super Bowl. It would really help if Mathieu is there to help. That answer isn’t out there yet as the Cards fly home from Philly in the middle of the night.
— David Johnson was tremendous. He provided an injury scare himself late in the first half – after he had already surpassed 100 yards for the first time in his career – but came back. He said he knew he was fine, and he was. Johnson had 187 yards rushing and 229 total yards and is firmly entrenched as this team’s No. 1 running back.
— This nugget from longtime Eagles beat writer Reuben Frank: Two players have ever rushed for at least 185 yards and three touchdowns in a game against the Eagles. David Johnson Sunday night … and Jim Brown.
— What was it with the drops? From jump, when Smokey Brown dropped what should have been a 78-yard touchdown on the game’s first play, it was something that receiving group never does. Brown ended up with three drops – including one in the end zone – and Michael Floyd had a couple himself. Bruce Arians said it should’ve been a big game for Brown. (There were about three other deep shots to Brown that just didn’t connect.)
— The Cardinals wanted to get better in short yardage and self-scouted to do so. Sunday night, the Cardinals had third down/goal to go and either one or two yards to make nine times. They passed it four times and ran it five – and they converted all nine attempts.
— A.Q. Shipley did a nice job in replacing the gimpy Lyle Sendlein at center.
— Two hardest hits of the night: New safety D.J. Swearinger hammering tight end Zack Ertz to prevent a completion in the first quarter to force a field goal, and tight end Troy Niklas, who accidentally belted punt returner Patrick Peterson hard enough that Peterson fumbled. Niklas jumped on the ball to save the play.
— Well, it’s very late. The attention is starting to wane, so I’m going to cut this off. The Cardinals may be 12-2, but they haven’t wrapped up a bye yet, and the team chasing them comes to town this week. Packers-Cardinals is a pretty good game, no?
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, D.J. Swearinger, David Johnson, Eagles, Frostee Rucker, Jim Brown, John Brown, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Troy Niklas, Tyrann Mathieu
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The Cardinals will not have tight end Jermaine Gresham tonight because of his knee, but that wasn’t unexpected after he was listed as doubtful. More work for Troy Niklas alongside Darren Fells, and I’d think A.Q. Shipley or Jonathan Cooper could get tight end work in jumbo packages.
Injuries actually made the inactive list for tonight’s game fairly simple. With the short week, those extra couple of days might have helped a couple of guys. Safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) is active, although the Cards have new safety D.J. Swearinger if needed.
The full list of inactives:
— QB Matt Barkley
— CB Jerraud Powers (calf)
— RB Andre Ellington (toe)
— LB Shaq Riddick
— T D.J. Humphries
— TE Jermaine Gresham (knee)
— DT Frostee Rucker (ankle)
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, inactives, Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas
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Smoke said he was good to go and it turns out he is, so wide receiver John Brown is among the active players for tonight’s game against the Ravens, a positive thing for the Cardinals. It should be noted, however, that with Brown’s hamstring issues of the last two weeks, the Cardinals will have all six wide receivers active for the game — including both Brittan Golden and rookie J.J. Nelson, who is playing in his first games since hurting his shoulder in Chicago.
The Cardinals, with Darren Fells hurt, also only have two tight ends active — Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas — so I would guess in the situations where the Cards need a third tight end in jumbo situations, we’ll see reserve center A.Q. Shipley. (Or maybe, with the Ravens’ struggling secondary, we will just see lots and lots of three- and four-wide receiver sets).
The full inactive list for the Cardinals:
— QB Matt Barkley
— LB Alex Okafor (calf)
— LB Shaq Riddick
— T D.J. Humphries
— T Earl Watford
— TE Darren Fells (shoulder)
— NT Xavier Williams
Tags: A.Q. Shipley, Brittan Golden, Darren Fells, inactives, J.J. Nelson, Jermaine Gresham, John Brown, Ravens, Troy Niklas
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Run versus pass. It’s always at the forefront of any analyzation of the Cardinals and the game Bruce Arians is calling. After the way the Cardinals had been running the ball, the team tried many fewer runs in Pittsburgh – and the run wasn’t as effective – than passes. What to expect Monday against the Ravens? Well, Baltimore has been susceptible to the pass and their secondary has had all kinds of trouble. So we’ll leave it to everyone’s imagination where this might be headed.
“As an offensive lineman and as an offensive line coach, I’m sure you want to run it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “But at the end of the day, as long as we have more points than they have, so what. So what. At the end of the year, if we’re holding that trophy in San Jose, do we really care how much we ran the ball?”
It can be argued, of course, that the chance to hoist the Lombardi is impacted by offensive decisions. But Goodwin – who admitted he’d worry about run/pass ratios in the offseason when he was breaking down the previous season’s games – is not wrong.
— Goodwin wasn’t happy with the run blocking overall last week from the line, the tight ends and the wide receivers. That should improve this week with the focus on it during practice.
— There was a ton of talk about focus and finishing this week from the Cardinals after a second loss in which the defense seemed to soften up in the fourth quarter.
“Our confidence is still there,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s just a reality check for us.”
Given the spotlight of “Monday Night Football” and the energy of a home game, I’m not expecting a letdown this week.
— It will be fun to watch Patrick Peterson versus the NFL’s own little ball of hate, Steve Smith Sr. Smith isn definitely a receiver who plays like he craves confrontation and given that he’s the lone standout receiver the Ravens have, he’ll need to be targeted.
“Can’t want to see some of his new antics and the emotion he has after each and every catch,” Peterson said. “Whether it’s a negative play or he felt you said something wrong to him the previous play, he always tries to get his get-back.”
— Peterson was talking about how he’s ended up with fewer penalties this season, and naturally, he talked about his improved technique and how he had to adjust after last season after the league put an emphasis on the contact defensive backs can have on receivers.
Interestingly, Peterson also said he didn’t know – until an official said something a few games ago – that once a defensive back releases his jam on a receiver, he cannot jam the receiver again even if they are still inside the legal five-yard chuck zone.
“I thought you could jam him as much as you wanted within five yards,” Peterson said.
— The Cardinals got 19 snaps out of new pass rusher Dwight Freeney last week. The hope is that the veteran will be a little more productive as the weeks go by and he both gets in football shape and learns the defense.
“I was doing May/July/training camp all in one,” Freeney said of his three practices leading into the Steelers game. “My body was confused.”
“We don’t have the easiest playbook – a lot of exotics – but I just have to cram,” Freeney added.
— A couple of quick reminders: If you are going to Monday’s game, remember the Cards are holding their annual food drive so please bring non-perishable food items (or donate some cash.) If you are watching the game at home, the ESPN telecast can also be seen on ABC-15 for those who don’t have cable.
— If you missed it earlier this week, here’s my story on tight end Troy Niklas and his potential everyone is waiting on. Niklas will have a bigger role this week with Darren Fells sidelined.
— Arians, on what the Cardinals are looking for in practice squad players: “We want somebody who knows football that has an upside. You can find a ton of guys who’ll come in and work their ass off, but you don’t want them playing on Sunday. They make good sons-in-laws.”
— A good sign D.J. Humphries is making progress. He won’t play unless there are injuries, but his target date was always 2016.
— The Cards could withstand a game without Smokey Brown. But they’d rather not.
— A parting “Monday Night Football” memory from Bruce Arians, who grew up in Pennsylvania: “It was late, that was the big thing,” Arians said. “I didn’t get to see the second half most of the time. My brother would always sign us up for altar boys at 6 o’clock mass, so I had to get up early.”
Why would he do that?
“He went away to be a priest in the eighth grade,” Arians said. “ I think the nuns talked him into that stuff.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, D.J. Humphries, Dwight Freeney, Harold Goodwin, John Brown, Patrick Peterson, Ravens, Steve Smith, Troy Niklas, Tyrann Mathieu
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So looking over some statistics this morning while mining for information, I started looking at the receiving numbers for the Cardinals through six games. It’s amazing that both Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown are now on pace for more than 1,300 yards each. But that wasn’t the main thing that caught my eye.
Again, we’ve only played six games and this likely will change. But the Cardinals have had 10 players catch passes so far this season — and every single one of them is averaging at least 10 yards per reception (actually, at least 10.2, technically.) That’s crazy. There is no running back with a couple of dump-offs and that’s all. All the tight ends are gaining double-digits. For all the talk about Fitzgerald in the slot, not only is he putting up catches but he’s averaging 13.6 yards a catch, which is on par for the averages he used to have in his routes-outside-the-numbers days.
Here’s the full list:
- Larry Fitzgerald 43-583-13.6
- John Brown 33-497-15.1
- Michael Floyd 13-154-11.8
- David Johnson 10-145-14.5
- Darren Fells 9-146-16.2
- Chris Johnson 5-56-11.2
- Jermaine Gresham 5-51-10.2
- Jaron Brown 4-48-12.0
- Andre Ellington 3-54-18.0
- Troy Niklas 1-13-13.0
It says something about the yards the Cardinals have been able to generate through the air. It should’ve been more too, after some misses Sunday. (I finally watched a couple of replays; I can see why Bruce Arians was upset after an offensive pass interference flag thrown on Floyd negated a 14-yard TD pass. And the play before John Brown was wide-open for a 14-yard TD pass and Carson Palmer just missed him.)
Tags: Andre Ellington, Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson Jermaine Gresham, Darren Fells, David Johnson, Jaron Brown, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Troy Niklas
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All those game-day decision Bruce Arians said he had turned into guys that are playing, which is good news for the Cardinals. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas are both active, as is wide receiver Michael Floyd — who just had surgery on his dislocated fingers on Aug. 5. An impressive comeback for Floyd, although after watching him dive on the turf in the practice bubble this week for onside kick recoveries it sure seemed a good bet he’d be playing.
Because of that, the inactive list contains few surprises:
— QB Matt Barkley
— WR Brittan Golden (meaning David Johnson probably will return kickoffs)
— LB Shaq Riddick
— T D.J. Humphries
— G Mike Iupati (knee)
— TE Joseph Fauria
— DT Xavier Williams
Tags: inactives, Jermaine Gresham, Michael Floyd, Troy Niklas
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Big picture, there are a lot of expectations around the Cardinals this season, as the games that count begin Sunday against the Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium. But sometimes, there is the smaller picture, the one of the journey traveled by individual guys to get to this point, like with Carson Palmer’s intense ACL rehab or Earl Watford’s roller-coaster career to suddenly starting right tackle or rookie Rodney Gunter going from nobody to nose tackle.
There is running back Chris Johnson, who everyone knows as the 2,000-yard rusher (way back in 2009) and the guy who didn’t quite fit in with the Jets. But now he’s the running back who was shot in a drive-by in March, his shoulder still carrying the bullet and leaving him mentally shattered.
“Lot of nights crying myself to sleep,” he said Friday.
Johnson was in mourning at that point, fearing the loss of his career. When he was forced into bedrest for six weeks, “that’s when I wondered about what direction my life would take.”
Flash forward to today, where he’s part of the three-pronged running back attack with Andre Ellington and David Johnson, prepping for the Saints. Chris Johnson may not be running for 1,000 yards this season, but he certainly sounds motivated to make yet another one-year deal for a vet by GM Steve Keim look like a bargain.
— Speaking of Johnson, he switched from jersey number 27 to 23. Why? He just didn’t like 27. Neither did Palmer, it turned out.
“It didn’t look good,” Johnson said. “Playing in it, always knew I didn’t like it but once Carson said something to me I knew it was time for me to get out of it.”
The two were playing cards on the plane during the road trip to Denver, and Johnson said Palmer asked him point-blank, “Twenty-seven? You going to stay in that number?” Johnson made up his mind then. “I was like, ‘Nah, I gotta get out of that number.”
— Arians said Michael Floyd was a game-day decision, but it certainly seems like Floyd is trending toward playing. Whether he’d be the “normal” Floyd in terms of gameplan, I don’t know.
— The tight end situation, and the iffy status of both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas, is the more interesting injury watch. Those two are also game-day decisions. If I had to pick one, I’d say Gresham would play, but we’ll see. If a choice had to be made is a gimpy Gresham or Niklas better than the just-got-here Joseph Fauria?
— There is a lot of talk about how Watford will hold up or the pressure on Palmer or the pass rush, but honestly, one of the top things I’m watching for is Patrick Peterson versus Brandin Cooks. Peterson has set himself up for a big year, a big year that’s needed. Cooks is a tough draw with his speed. Peterson said a key is to stay close, so a simple Cooks wiggle won’t let him get away and race for a big gain. The spotlight has never been brighter on Peterson, whose 2015 confidence is apparent.
— Bruce Arians had to be careful with the game plan this week. Don’t want to make it too hard on the players because of volume.
“You have so much offense and defense from training camp,” Arians said. “A lot of times you feel you have to use it all. That’s a bad feeling when you can’t practice everything you have. Then you have way too much in there.”
— Arians said the offensive prep remains the same with Palmer. Palmer gets to pick the top 15 pass plays with which he is most comfortable, and Arians puts in running plays for the top 30 calls for the game.
— If it’s the Saints, then you have to always tip your cap to the fingertip-less Rashad Johnson, still plugging away after that fateful day in New Orleans almost two years ago. “I’ve got nine more” remains one of the best quotes ever.
— The Cardinals have only lost once in nine home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium. That was 2009, a 20-16 loss to the 49ers coming off the Super Bowl appearance. Oh, and the Cards have yet to lose a home game to a non-NFC West team since Arians took over.
— There’s been a lot said and written the past week. If you missed Cardinals Underground, or Kyle Odegard’s story about the Saints-Cards trade that netted the Cards John Brown or my story on Fitz and where he is in his career, please check them out.
— Otherwise, it’s time for an actual game that counts. (OK, first I have to write a story about the facility renovations and the cool new Tillman locker tribute, to be posted soon). There’s been plenty of talk about it.
See you Sunday.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, Earl Watford, Jermaine Gresham, Patrick Peterson, Saints, Troy Niklas, University of Phoenix stadium
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Darren Fells chuckled. I mean, what else can you do? It’s not funny with all the injuries the team’s tight end room has absorbed — the latest being a knee problem for Ifeanyi Momah, after he got hurt in Tuesday’s practice — but it’s better than crying. Or punching a wall in frustration. Fells is the one healthy tight end, although Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) did finally practice full on Wednesday and Troy Niklas (hamstring) was able to go limited.
UPDATE: Momah will reportedly have to undergo surgery for a torn meniscus. I would guess Bruce Arians will give the official diagnosis Thursday.
“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Fells said, shaking his head.
(Wide receiver Michael Floyd also returned to practice on a limited basis, even diving to catch one pass.)
Fells laughed again when told that Bruce Arians said he wasn’t worried about his tight ends because at least “we’ve still got one.” That’s Fells, who has maintained his post atop the depth chart, the place he’s been since the summer when the tight ends began their roller coaster journey on the surprise retirement of John Carlson.
“That’s all you can do is laugh about it because … I mean, it’s a bad thing, but all you can do is, like B.A. always says, have next man up,” Fells said. Fells admitted, with all the two-tight end and three-tight end sets the Cards like to use, the lack of bodies makes things hard.
At least Fells is there, though, knocking on the wood of his locker.
Tags: Darren Fells, Ifeanyi Momah, Jermaine Gresham, John Carlson, Troy Niklas
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