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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Sean Weatherspoon as he noted the exact date when he had last played in an NFL game: Dec. 22, 2013. It took him a little longer to get back out there than he wanted – and the same goes for Chris Johnson – but there they were Thursday night. They didn’t play like superstars but they both played well, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals needed to see after aborted training camps for both.
Everyone can bag on preseason games if they want, but the two vets were exhibits 1 and 1A of why they are always a necessity for someone. Said Johnson, who hadn’t played in a game since last season and only had a handful of practices with the Cardinals with a bad hamstring, “I don’t think I needed to start the season not getting reps because I did it one time before and I just didn’t feel right the first game.”
Better yet, Bruce Arians said he expects both Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas to return to practice this week, so the feeling is that the Cardinals should have more tight ends available than just Darren Fells and Ifeanyi Momah. If Gresham does indeed return, it’ll turn out that those three vets signed on one-year deals – including Weatherspoon and Johnson – should be available for the opener against the Saints. And that’s what the Cardinals want to hear.
— Both Johnson and Weatherspoon said they need to work on their conditioning. “I’m just thankful to be part of the team and get a chance to go out there,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s good to make some hits, takes some hits.”
— Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points but Arians didn’t even let the question come up. “No, I’m not concerned about Cat Man and the missed extra points,” Arians said in his opening remarks, saying the question didn’t even need to be asked. I’m sure Catanzaro knows it can’t happen again, but as Arians said, at least it was in a preseason game.
— There were two penalties called on rookie tackle D.J. Humphries on back to back drives, but both were iffy. The false start might not have even been that much of a move. And the holding given to him was apparently on No. 64, Cameron Bradfield, and the officials just messed up the number.
— I thought Earl Watford held up at right tackle, and I fully expect him to be the right tackle starter going into the regular season.
— Rookie wide receiver Jaxon Shipley had 11 targets and nine catches (for 58 yards) and continued to push the best he can. Still, I don’t see him as more than the practice squad right now. He’s not cracking the top five. Same goes for inside linebacker Gabe Martin, who was working hard on defense all night.
— On the flip side, the way Alani Fua was used, I’m guessing he’ll make the 53 at inside linebacker.
— Markus Golden played well at outside linebacker and if Golden isn’t starting early in the season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get to the starting lineup at some point this year.
— He only had three carries, but Stepfan Taylor’s powerful run for 12 yards up the middle made an impression. Maybe he can be the Cards’ short-yardage guy over Robert Hughes, which could open a roster spot if the Cards only want to keep four running backs.
— I thought Phillip Sims came around. I thought Logan Thomas played better. I still think we are talking about the likelihood of carrying two quarterbacks, meaning Sims or Thomas would have to be practice squad. But we’ll see if, after the Cards watch the tape, they are convinced to do otherwise.
— Arians was asked if he was happy the preseason was over.
“Extremely,” he said, as a grin crept over his face.
You can’t see it, but I have a similar grin. Let’s get to the regular season.
Tags: Alani Fua, Broncos, Chandler Catanzaro, Chris Johnson, D.J. Humphries, Earl Watford, Jaxon Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, Logan Thomas, Markus Golden, Phillip Sims, preseason, Sean Weatherspoon, Stepfan Taylor, Troy Niklas
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Troy Niklas is sidelined again, done in by the same hamstring that put him out of practice at the beginning of camp. It’s another blow for the young tight end, who flashes what the Cardinals want to see on the field. He’s just never on the field, thanks to a broken thumb/bad ankle/hamstrings over the past year-plus.
“He’s the player we liked,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We just have to keep him healthy.”
Can that happen? Niklas is frustrated and I’d guess the team is frustrated. Arians said he isn’t sure how long this will sideline Niklas, and with Jermaine Gresham hopefully playing this week — but still not a lock — the Cards must still think about where they are at tight end.
— Arians is hopeful the hamstring trio of RB Chris Johnson, ILB Sean Weatherspoon and CB Jerraud Powers will all be back later this week (which is running out of days), but all are sitting Wednesday. OL Earl Watford (ankle) is sitting again too.
— WR Michael Floyd (hand) said he is sticking with his rehab protocol but he expressed optimism he could be back for the regular-season opener. Floyd isn’t catching yet, but said he thinks it will be mental hurdles and not physical hurdles that will be the key. Arians too is hopeful Floyd will return. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he was ready,” Arians said.
— Another sign undrafted rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams is going to make this roster — Arians’ comment Wednesday. “We’d be very, very happy if he was our third- or fourth-round draft choice right now.”
— Arians said he is “anxious” to see OLB Shaq Riddick on the field after missing, well, basically almost every practice since he was drafted. It’s Riddick’s potential speed off the edge that has the Cardinals wanting more. Might be hard to get him through to the practice squad — which is another thing to keep in mind with the final 53-man roster.
— Both Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims are expected to play Sunday (and the whole game in Denver, likely). That third QB battle will go through the Denver game, Arians added. Sims may come in before Thomas this week, however, because Arians wants Thomas to get a chance at a two-minute drill.
Tags: Logan Thomas, Michael Floyd, Phillip Sims, Shaq Riddick, Troy Niklas, Xavier Williams
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