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The workload of the Honey Badger

Posted by Darren Urban on January 3, 2018 – 1:10 pm

Even Tyrann Mathieu had hoped he would’ve played a little better this season, but he did improve as the season went on and was healthy. And not only was the Honey Badger healthy, he played a lot. It’s remarkable that the safety, who didn’t play a full season until this year, ended up leading the entire NFL in snaps played.

Mathieu finished with 1,263 snaps on the field — 1,058 on defense and another 207 on special teams. That topped Tennessee cornerback Adoree Jackson’s 1,258 (1,022 on defense, 224 on special teams, and 12 on offense.) There were a handful of players who played more on defense (including former teammates and safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger) but that was in part because the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense was able to get off the field more often. It wasn’t like Mathieu rested much. He sat out only six defensive snaps all season.

Five Cardinals played at least 1,000 snaps this season — Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, A.Q. Shipley (who played 100 percent of the Cards’ 1,124 offensive snaps) and Larry Fitzgerald.

But the other four don’t grab the attention as much as Mathieu, who truly maximized his first season of total health.


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Jones, Baker top positions in NFC Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 16, 2017 – 1:46 pm

Fan voting — which accounts for a third of the Pro Bowl vote — ended this week, and the Cardinals had a pair of players that ended up with the most votes at their position in the NFC. Both Chandler Jones at outside linebacker and Budda Baker on special teams got more votes than anyone else in the conference, which usually is a pretty good harbinger of Pro Bowl status.

We will see — the coaches get another third of the vote and the players the final third, so there is a still a chance for it to go drastically different, especially on special teams when only one player per conference is chosen. In all, the Cardinals had five players to finish in the top 10 at their position in the fans’ Pro Bowl vote. The Cards’ complete list:

— OLB Chandler Jones (fourth in voting in the NFL, first in the NFC)
— ST Budda Baker (1,1)
— WR Larry Fitzgerald (5,3)
— CB Patrick Peterson (7,4)
— FS Tyrann Mathieu (7,4)

The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Tuesday at 6 p.m. Arizona time. The game will be played Jan. 28.


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Five Cards hold steady in Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2017 – 9:40 am

With a week left in the Pro Bowl voting, the Cardinals still have five players among the top 10 at their positions, and are still led by rookie Budda Baker’s second-place overall among special teams players (and Baker is also second among NFC vote-getters, with Philly’s Kamu Grugier-Hill atop the standings.) What is a little surprising is that Patrick Peterson is eighth among cornerbacks and only fifth among NFC cornerbacks. Peterson certainly is deserving of Pro Bowl recognition this season.

Besides Peterson and Baker, the other Cardinals in the hunt are:

— WR Larry Fitzgerald (fifth overall, third in NFC)
— FS Tyrann Mathieu (eighth overall, fourth in NFC)
— OLB Chandler Jones (fourth overall, first in NFC)

The fan vote is only part of the equation for Pro Bowl selections, of course. The vote of both the players and the coaches is heavily weighted, but it sure seems like the Cards will be in line for a handful of selections. Voting goes through Dec. 14 and you can vote by clicking here.

 


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Budda now second in Pro Bowl voting

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2017 – 9:25 am

Budda is now second.

A week after the rookie surprisingly led all NFL players in votes for the Pro Bowl special teams spot, Budda Baker dropped to second behind Philadelphia’s Kamu Grugier-Hill. You have to wonder if Grugier-Hill’s emergency turn as kicker — quite a sight on national TV for a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker who looks even bigger — made an impact. Still Baker is in good shape, even if he shrugs off the current standings.

“It feels good but I don’t really pay attention to any of it,” Baker said. “I didn’t really even know about that. Chandler (Jones) told me about it. It’s cool, but it’s still early.”

A quick rundown on the rest of the Cardinals currently among the top 10 vote-getters at their position in the NFL:

— WR Larry Fitzgerald (fifth overall, third in NFC)
— OLB Chandler Jones (fifth overall, first in NFC)
— CB Patrick Peterson (eighth overall, fifth in NFC)
— FS Tyrann Mathieu (ninth overall, fifth in NFC)

Again, the voting goes through Dec. 14. Click here for a ballot.


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Keim: Low risk, possible reward of Blaine Gabbert

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2017 – 8:23 am

Blaine Gabbert said after the game that he is just playing — there is no thinking about being on a one-year contract, or about the idea he is auditioning for a future role with the Cardinals. General Manager Steve Keim wasn’t saying he isn’t thinking about Gabbert in terms of the future, but even Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7 — wasn’t saying exactly what Gabbert might be. He’d only say that, well, Gabbert might be something.

“It’s no different than the reason we signed him in the springtime,” Keim said. “It was very little risk to possibly a high reward. A lot of people scoffed at the fact that we signed him and I don’t think they were very high on that decision, but at the end of the day, I liked him coming out (of college), coach (Bruce Arians) liked him a lot coming out. He’s always had the physical gifts. What was the real risk involved to sign a guy to be the third quarterback?

“The fact that he has stepped up, he’s looked poised and he got a lot of patience in this offense, he’s been a great fit so far and he’s worked his tail off off the field. This gives you the confidence as a general manager and as a coach to make these decisions and hopefully it pays off moving forward.”

I don’t think there’s much question that Gabbert will continue to start regardless of Drew Stanton’s health, but I am sure Arians will be asked later today.

— More Keim on Gabbert: The GM said he couldn’t stop watching the final pass the QB threw, a dart on the run to running back D.J. Foster. Gabbert eluded the rush, running toward the line of scrimmage before he launched. “The way (the ball) jumps out of his hand is phenomenal,” Keim said. He added that he didn’t know what was more impressive on the play, Gabbert’s throw of Foster’s toe-tapping catch.

— He praised Gabbert and the whole team for staying with it despite losing a 16-3 lead and falling behind 17-16 on the Calais Campbell fumble return. “It was a point in the game when you could have had a ‘woe is me’ attitude,” Keim said. The Cards did not.

— Keim was asked about Campbell. He said “I love Calais” but then the GM noted that the big reason Campbell was allowed to walk as a free agent was because that was the money the Cards allocated for the huge contract of OLB Chandler Jones — who, with two sacks and five tackles for loss, leads the NFL in both categories.

— On kicker Phil Dawson, who made all four of his field goals, including the game-winning 57-yarder: “Phil was money,” Keim said. “That’s the guy we signed.”

— Keim said he was happy for safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had arguably his best game. “Sometimes you forget is that the guy has been through quite a few traumatic injuries,” Keim said. “It’s one thing to come back from the physical aliments but to come back and play with the confidence mentally. That’s an obstacle we all have to go through when we incur those types of injuries. He’s coming back into form, he’s always been an instinctive player, and to see him come up with that interception … that can build on the confidence going forward.”

— Keim said it was one of the offensive line’s best games as a unit. He also liked the play of young players like Budda Baker, Foster and Chad Williams, and raved about tight end-who-can-split-wide Ricky Seals-Jones. “He’s a guy we really haven’t had in this offense for a long time,” Keim said — a tight end that can create mismatches.

— On Arians passing up going for it on fourth down and punting, a smart move, after the Cards failed on fourth down the week before, Keim said he had no doubt Arians would make the safe play. “He’s beaten himself up pretty good,” Keim added.


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Splash plays, and Jaguars aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 26, 2017 – 8:16 pm

The Badger was active.

He made a huge interception at the most crucial of times – on a drive where it looked like the Jaguars had stolen momentum and were on their way for a game-winning field goal. But Tyrann Mathieu read the play perfectly and got the pick. That’s two this season, and while you’d hope for more, you can’t argue that the two could have come at better times.

The plays were there Sunday. Blaine Gabbert was pretty good again. You see what he can do when his legs are needed (although, as Bruce Arians pointed out, there are times when that can cause an issue too, because the fumble was a play that need not have happened.) Another touchdown pass to rookie Ricky Seals-Jones, and a run game too.

Defensively, Chandler Jones had two sacks and five tackles for loss and deserves consideration for all-pro. I don’t know if he’ll get any given the Cards’ record, but he has earned it thus far. The run game stops are what impressed me the most Sunday.

Next week will be interesting. The Rams come to town, playing so well, and the Cards are anxious to play them again after the London wax job. Jacksonville is a good team with a very good defense. That’s what this three-game homestand – good opponents – is about.

— Calais Campbell returned a fumble 10 yards for a touchdown, but otherwise was held in check. Gabbert spun away from a potential sack or two. But the Cards didn’t let their former star beat them, all the while welcoming him back. It was good to see the big guy.

“The Birdgang showed a lot of love to me and that felt pretty good,” Campbell said. “Definitely have me chills down my back. My old teammates on the Cardinals, talking to those guys and getting all the love before the game and during the game and even after. The coaching staff, I have a lot of friends in that building, so that was fun. I really wanted to get this win so it definitely hurts right now.”

— By the way, that’s two straight games in which Campbell has returned a fumble for a touchdown when playing at University of Phoenix Stadium. His final game here as a Cardinal was against New Orleans last season, when he scooped up a loose ball and rumbled 53 yards for a score. Campbell’s team has lost both games.

— A few weeks ago, I’m guessing not many thought Phil Dawson would be booting a 57-yard field goal to win a game. That would’ve been good from 62- or 63-yards, I’m thinking.

— D.J. Foster gets a spectacular 12-yard toe-catch to set up the field goal, and also had a very nice kickoff return. It was called back on a penalty, but you can see where he excels there. He’s got a chance to make an impact, especially with T.J. Logan still hurt. It’s a great story too, since he went to Scottsdale Saguaro High School and ASU.

“It’s pretty incredible, kind of a surreal moment to get out there on that field and represent Arizona,” Foster said.

— Mathieu talked this week about getting a chance to face friend Leonard Fournette on the field for their first time after the two came from the same neighborhood yet never played together. Mathieu did his job one specific time, tracking down Fournette on a screen pass and dropping Fournette for a loss of five.

“It’s a tough challenge, especially being 190 pounds and running a 4.5 and he’s 230 and runs a 4.4, so the advantage is on his side,” Mathieu said. “There was actually one play, he ran through the hole and then Budda (Baker) came flying in, so kudos to Budda. I was just waiting on (Fournette) and just trying to get in front of him but Budda made a great play. I might take him out to dinner after this.”

Mathieu smiled. It was a good day.

— There was a scuffle post-game between Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham and Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, with some swings. It looked heated, but it was calmed quickly and as soon as it was over, Gresham was shaking hands with other Jaguars personnel. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Gresham. Jackson simply said “it was a misunderstanding.” Cardinals guard Alex Boone was there too, looking like he was trying to help end things. Asked about the emotions after a win like the Cards had, Boone said “I mean, I think they’re kind of high.”

— It was a quiet, workmanlike performance from running back Adrian Peterson, but those 79 yards on 20 carries were so important. The Cardinals gained 108 yards on the ground, which is the only way they are going to have a chance to win games.

— Fitz and Campbell swapped jerseys. As did Fournette and Mathieu, and Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey. Lots of mutual respect there.


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Budda leads Pro Bowl voting at special teams

Posted by Darren Urban on November 23, 2017 – 10:43 am

The Cardinals haven’t had the kind of season they want record-wise, but they still have a handful of players who have appeared in the top 10 in Pro Bowl voting thus far. That’s led by Budda Baker among special teamers — a surprise given that he is a rookie, but deserved the way Baker has played special teams this season. Baker has the most votes of anyone in the NFL in the special teams category.

Four other Cardinals are in the top 10 at their positions. Larry Fitzgerald is fourth among wide receivers and second among NFC wideouts (behind Julio Jones). Chandler Jones is fourth among outside linebackers, but the leading vote-getter in the NFC. Patrick Peterson is eighth among cornerbacks, fifth among NFC corners (Jaguars cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, whom the Cards will face Sunday, are first and second.) At safety, Tyrann Mathieu is ninth, and sixth in the NFC.

Voting goes through Dec. 14. Click here to vote.


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Texans aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 19, 2017 – 4:25 pm

The focus going in to Sunday’s game was the quarterback. That made sense. The Cardinals were on their third one of the season and it is the most important position on the team. And for the most part, Blaine Gabbert acquitted himself pretty well. There were the two picks late, and you can’t have those, but the Cards were chasing 10 points by then.

No, it was the issues that have been around all season that doomed the Cards in Houston. A running game that has echoed the struggles of the pre-Adrian Peterson ground game. A defense that makes some plays but just can’t clamp down when the team desperately needs it. An offense that needs to find more consistency overall.

— Drew Stanton was healthy enough to be the backup Sunday. Could that mean he’s healthy enough to start next week – and does Bruce Arians drop him right back in? (I know the public-at-large’s answer.) Gabbert did look very comfortable, and he clearly has some chemistry with rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. That makes sense, because Seals-Jones and Gabbert have been working together on third team since the offseason. We’ll see. It’s fair to point out the Texans secondary has struggled quite a bit against the passers it has seen, and next week’s game against the Jaguars will feature one of the better secondaries the Cardinals have seen.

— Speaking of secondary, the Cardinals sure look like they have a star-in-the-making back there with rookie safety Budda Baker. He was everywhere Sunday. He was great on defense and continues to play so well on special teams – I repeat that he deserves (heavy) consideration for the NFC’s Pro Bowl special teams spot.

— Bruce Arians opened his press conference by taking the blame on the failed fourth down. I’ll admit I was on the move when the play happened, seeing it on the TV screen as I made my way down to the field. But I agree that the Cards had been stuffed all day inside. There wasn’t much to get, but the Texans made it obvious the wanted Gabbert to try and beat them. It was going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson on every run play, and the fourth-down try was only the one in the spotlight.

–Peterson ended up with 13 yards on 12 carries after his first two totes gained six and seven yards.

— I do think the absent D.J. Humphries makes a big difference when it comes to the run game.

— The Patrick Peterson vs. DeAndre Hopkins battle was exactly how it was expected to go. Peterson did give up the back-to-back big plays, finishing with Hopkins’ TD. But he broke up/defended a bunch of other tries, and nearly got a second interception late in the game with perfect technique. It’s funny that his first pick was on a pass that wasn’t even thrown to Hopkins or at Peterson. A deflection, and the right place, right time.

— Speaking of missed chances on turnovers, the Cards were there. There were a couple of other fumbles on the ground by the Texans that the Cards just couldn’t fall on, in addition to Peterson’s near-pick. Tyrann Mathieu also dropped a deep pass that could’ve been an interception, although the play was wiped out by an Arizona penalty. The Cards need all the turnovers they can get. At least they converted their two short-fields into TDs.

— Arians said he’d be going to different receivers this next week. That would seem to me that Chad Williams has a chance to be active, but other than that, I’m not sure where you turn. Maybe more Brittan Golden? I don’t see them bringing up Carlton Agudosi from the practice squad, but who knows.

— As much as Tom Savage had struggled this season, it hurts to give up a 97.1 passer rating to him, and 31 points to the Houston offense without the aid of turnovers.

— Fitz was asked about playing in 2018. He did not answer, one way or the other, and wouldn’t even say if he’s still thinking about it. So he leaves everyone in suspense – and makes sure the questions keep coming probably more often than not the rest of the season.


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The Cardinals as firefighters, overcoming bad things

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2017 – 10:39 am

Larry Fitzgerald noted a lack of urgency and intensity from the Cardinals Sunday. Bruce Arians wasn’t sure about that, with the offense driving down the field to open the London game (only to have Phil Dawson miss a 32-yard field goal) and the defense stiffening to hold the Rams to a field goal themselves on the opening drive.

But, Arians said, that didn’t mean there were not issues.

“I think our team right now doesn’t overcome bad things very well,” Arians said. “If there’s one thing I can say about our team is – and I hate to say we’re kind of frontrunners – when things are going good, they’re going really good. Right now, we have to be able to adjust on that sideline emotionally when something doesn’t go our way.”

Arians said a lot could be explained by youth, except that the Cardinals have a ton of veterans who are on the roster specifically for things just like this. There is a snowball effect to be sure. The offense has been uneven all season, and when it sputters, it feels like that is permeating to the defensive side.

“We have to find a way to put the fire out,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Football is really a game of momentum. There are little plays that may not show up on the stat sheet, all that adds to the energy and momentum of the game. Whoever makes those plays consistently, they’ll always have the momentum.”

The Cardinals have found momentum this season, but too often it is of the negative kind. They will try and reverse that going forward, but without the starting quarterback, the fire just got a little more out of control.


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Cardinals consider rugby – and padless hitting

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2017 – 4:07 pm

The Cardinals have practiced this week at the London Irish Rugby Football Club in London, and Thursday, the team just so happened to be practicing right before the Cards took the field themselves on one of the further fields. It became a popular topic, the idea of essentially playing football without pads.

“I played sandlot football growing up a lot, but we were 80 pounds back then,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said with a smile. “I can’t imagine somebody 240 (pounds) hitting me without any pads on. I’m pretty sure I’d be on IR.”

Larry Fitzgerald has seen rugby matches during his world travels. He’s also watched a lot of Australian Rules Football, a similar game, because former teammate and Cardinals punter Ben Graham is the general manager of a team in his country and Fitzgerald has gone to watch those practices too. Fitz said the padless game of rugby actually provides something from which NFL players should learn.

“Those guys have much better technique than we have,” Fitzgerald said. “You see them tackle, they tackle proper – heads up, wrap and run. They have less issues than we do. We could learn a thing or two from the way they play.”

 

 

 


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