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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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A pair of Petersons, Friday before the Bucs

Posted by Darren Urban on October 13, 2017 – 3:59 pm

Adrian Peterson was the story of the week after he was traded to the Cardinals Tuesday. For a few days, all you can really have is speculation. The coaches and players are enthused about his arrival and what he might be able to do. Really, you’d expect nothing else. Optimism tends to reign in these situations.

“You got Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald on the same team, and Carson (Palmer) is delivering the ball to both of them,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “It’s like, ‘What?’ That sounds like something you would do on ‘Madden,’ a team you’d create on ‘Madden.’ ”

The spotlight will be on “All Day” Sunday. If I had to guess – and this is purely a guess – I’m guessing on 12 or 15 touches. The revamped offensive line has to make some inroads, and that’s no guarantee. And while Peterson supposedly has looked good since arriving (we cannot watch practice), there’s no way to know exactly what the 32-year-old will do in a game situation.  Still, there is little arguing that, after a bad game in Philly, there was a vibe of hope around this offense this week.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d be on my team,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “But he is.”

— The Cardinals have another Peterson. Patrick represents the other side of the ball. Unlike Adrian Peterson, who is still looking to prove he has a lot left, Patrick Peterson doesn’t need to, because he is at the height of his powers. But that can only go so far. And before the offensive Peterson arrived, it was the defensive Peterson’s overflowing passion in Philly that underscored some of the issues with a defense of which so much was expected.

Let’s say P2 does his job on Mike Evans this weekend. The Cards have to find a way to control DeSean Jackson and some good tight ends. They have to get off the field on third-and-long. (An aside, the Cardinals have been good at forcing third downs and even third-and-longs. They just have to close the deal.)

“It’s definitely something we’ve struggled with all season,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think it’s something we can correct. We’ve got a veteran group on the backend. Everything has to go together. If you call a zero blitz, the pressure has to get home. If you’re dropping zone, you’ve got to affect the passer. I think everything goes hand-in-hand.”

A zero blitz, like the one that didn’t get home at third-and-19 last week.

— Speaking of getting home, it was a tough first game at outside linebacker for rookie Haason Reddick. He made a couple of nice plays – there was one great stay-at-home play on a zone-read run by Eagles QB Carson Wentz – but mostly was locked up and a non-factor as a pass rusher.

“I don’t think he played as well as he wanted to play,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “He had four days playing the position. Play fast and play hard, he did that. Now we stack pieces on top of that.”

— Sunday is the Cardinals’ “Crucial Catch” game so if you have a chance to wear pink and represent, here’s your opportunity.

— Will be interested in seeing how the interior of the offensive line handles Gerald McCoy.

— With the running game having its issues and Palmer throwing all the time, he’s up to 1,573 yards passing. That’s a pace for 5,033 for the season, which would obliterate the franchise record.

— Another reason defense always seems to be a key: Under Arians, the Cardinals are 34-3-1 when holding the other team to 20 points or fewer.

— The Cardinals will wear their black uniforms Sunday (and for those who have forgotten, it was the Buccaneers who were the opponent in 2010 when the Cards wore their black alternates for the first time.)

That’ll be two straight home games in which the Cards wear black, because they’ll break out their Color Rush unis for the next home game Nov. 9, Thursday, against the Seahawks. The difference? The Color Rush jerseys will have red numbers instead of white. And the pants will be black, not white.

Here endeth the jersey conversation for today.

— OK, maybe not all the jersey conversation. After the talk about Adrian Peterson and Justin Bethel and wearing 28 (and there is a chance the league wouldn’t allow an in-season change, but I could not get an official answer on that), Larry Fitzgerald was asked if he went to a new team if he would expect whoever had No. 11 to give it to him.

“I would just go where I fit in,” Fitzgerald said. “It wouldn’t bother me. I wore No. 1 my whole life until I got here. They gave me 11. At the end of training camp a couple of 80-numbers were available, but I was like, I’ll stick with it, this is what they gave me. The number doesn’t make the player. The player makes the number. I’ve always thought that.”

— The Cardinals leave Monday night for London. But first, the Bucs. See you Sunday.


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That Philly feeling, Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2017 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals are en route to Philly right now, the fifth trip there since 2008, and the previous four have had some memorable moments. The 2008 game was the ugly Thanksgiving night beatdown, with the Cardinals losing by four touchdowns yet coming out of it not afraid at all of the Eagles (which showed a couple months later when they beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) The 2011 game was an improbable 21-17 win with John Skelton throwing a pair of perfect passes on the game-winning drive, one on a wheel route to the Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and then a bomb to Fitz. In 2013, Bruce Arians’ first year, the Cards lost 24-21 when a late pick by Patrick Peterson was wiped out by a flag on Tyrann Mathieu, a penalty the Cards weren’t thrilled was called.

But it was the last trip that encapsulated so much with the Cardinals, especially in relation to where they are now. It was a 40-17 domination by the Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football.” The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title that night, an accomplishment that seems so much longer ago than 22 months. It was David Johnson’s coming-out party, with his Beastmode-like run and his career-best 187 yards rushing. And it was Mathieu’s devastating second ACL tear, that took all the wind from the excitement of the night and might’ve cost the Cardinals a chance at the Super Bowl.

The Cards have been a .500 team since then. Mathieu is still trying to find his groove. Johnson is hurt and cannot help. Chasing a division title is still a goal, but there is much to be fixed for that to be a topic.

— The Cardinals not only will have the early start Sunday – 10 a.m. Arizona time – but there might be a little rain. Bruce Arians doesn’t care. “They are all excuses,” the coach said in his opening statement Friday. It’ll be the first game the Cards will have played outside this season.

— After two rough games, right tackle Jared Veldheer was the highest-graded offensive lineman from the San Francisco game and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said he was “proud” of Veldheer. “The biggest thing for him is gaining confidence but I was pleased,” Goodwin said.

— Arians, who was hired as Temple’s head coach at age 30 and left the job in part because it literally was making him physically sick, was asked if in-his-30s Arians would have imagined himself still coaching now (Arians turned 65 earlier this week).

“I would hope so, if I wasn’t dead,” Arians said. “That job down there killed me.”

— Another Philly guy is Earl Watford, who just signed this week and now could be in the starting lineup at guard Sunday. It looked like Watford’s days as a Cardinal were over, having played out his contract and with both sides ready to start fresh. But here we are.

“A lot of people would think that, but it’s just another opportunity,” Watford said. “I’m glad to be back here. To be familiar with people, playbook, coaches, I’m excited to be here.”

— Linebacker Haason Reddick now finds himself in the outside linebackers meeting room, trying to cram for a new role after the loss of Markus Golden. I’m very curious to see the snap spilt between he and Kareem Martin.

— Reddick, who is technically from New Jersey but lived just five miles from Philly and went to school there at Temple, said his call for the best cheesesteak comes from Max’s and he’s going to try and get some teammates to join him there.

As for the best way to eat a cheesesteak, it’s American cheese for Reddick. “I don’t do Cheese Whiz.”

“Cheese Whiz is a tourist attraction,” Reddick said. “Anyone who is really from Philly, I’ve never seen them put Cheese Whiz on their cheesesteak. I think that’s a little bizarre.”

(To be fair, it looks like an ongoing debate.)

— Carson Palmer has taken a lot of hits – 43, officially, in four games. “Hey, I don’t want to see him get hit,” Goodwin said. “Mr. Bidwill is paying that guy a lot of money.”

Part of that is the Cards’ lack of run game. Palmer is passing so much he’s inevitably going to be hit more, just like he’s on pace to obliterate his personal highs in attempts, completions and yards. But that doesn’t absolve the pass protection – or the struggles therein. Goodwin said he woke up early last week and the protection issues popped into his mind so quickly he just got up and came to the office. It was 4:30 a.m.

“That’s my job,” Goodwin said. “I embrace the pressure though. It’ll never break me.”

— Finally, there’s the case of Fitz the Philly killer. He had a nondescript three catches for 43 yards in that 2015 blowout of the Eagles – and even with that game averaged in, he’s still averaged (including the NFC Championship game) more than six catches, 104 yards and more than a touchdown per game against the Eagles all-time.

“He’s the same guy all the time,” Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN.

The Cards wouldn’t mind some of that same ol’ Fitz Sunday.


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Keim: Veldheer “has to get better”

Posted by Darren Urban on September 26, 2017 – 8:13 am

As a former offensive lineman, it frustrates General Manager Steve Keim to no end when the offensive line struggles. You could hear that Tuesday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. Keim at one point was asked specifically about the struggles of right tackle Jared Veldheer, and Veldheer’s move there.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with right tackle,” Keim said. “The fact of the matter is he has to get better. He’s got to improve all the little things … his footwork, his technique, his hand placement and get back to basics. Again, 64,000 people saw it last night. Jared is a prideful guy, and I expect nothing less than for him to be in here this week and make some improvements.”

Keim called the O-line play “unacceptable.” He said reinforcements should be coming, with left tackle D.J. Humphries having a good chance to return after his knee injury and the possibility guard Mike Iupati (triceps) could return as well. The latter may be important, since guard Alex Boone strained a pectoral muscle late in the game and will have to undergo an MRI today. Keim sounded optimistic Boone’s injury wouldn’t be serious, but we will see on that.

— Keim lauded both Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer. Palmer got much of the praise, given the circumstances in which he played behind the struggling offensive line.

“Ball placement, accuracy, decision-making, I just think in every way I thought (Palmer) played exceptional,” Keim said. “Under the circumstances, down a couple of playmakers injury-wise, not having David Johnson, not having John Brown, J.J. (Nelson) had some hamstring issues, and to do what he did under pressure and to create with his feet and his arm at the same time … some of the balls he fit into tight windows, he gave our receivers a chance, again I thought it was exceptional. There is no doubt in my mind he played as well as he could possibly play, under the circumstances.”

— The poor offensive line play didn’t help the special teams/field position, Keim said, with the punts out of the Cards’ own end zone. As for Phil Dawson’s missed field goal, “when you don’t produce there is always concern,” Keim said. “The thing that gives me confidence is Phil’s body of work. At the same time, it doesn’t minimize fact we need to be concerned with those types of kicks.”

— Keim said the defense played “lights out” for the most part. He was disappointed with the two chunk plays when Dak Prescott escaped the pocket, and also because defensive backs Justin Bethel and Tyrann Matheiu “did not turn and find the football.”


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Colts aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

When the game ended and Tyrann Mathieu was leaving the field, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett found his Sunday overtime nemesis for a moment.

Seems that when Mathieu was at LSU and Brissett was at Florida in 2011, Brissett’s first college start came against the Tigers and Mathieu picked him off that day. Then Sunday, in Brissett’s first start for the Colts, there was Mathieu again.

“He was like, ‘Damn, bro, every time I start, why you have to pick me off?’ ” Mathieu recounted. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know why you threw it at me then.’ ”

The Honey Badger smiled, because it was humorous and it was also the kind of story you really only tell after a win. The Cardinals did that with the 16-13 overtime squeaker – and props to my cohort Kyle Odegard, who on our podcast this week talked about how the Cards would be happy even with a 14-13 win and oh, was he close – and so Mathieu could be happy. He made the big play and Phil Dawson finished the rest.

No one is proclaiming the Cardinals in a good place. They have to score more, they have to force more turnovers. But if it wasn’t for a bad leverage penalty on a field-goal block try by Rodney Gunter, the Colts still would not have a touchdown this season. The defense did OK (the Cowboys are going to be a much sturdier test next week). The offense is what it is right now, trying to find itself through injuries and with a quarterback who is not playing anywhere near the level they need.

“The quarterback has to play better,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Simple.”

The protection has to be better too, Arians said, but everyone knows it starts at QB. Palmer got better when he needed to – that 45-yard throw to Nelson for the touchdown was gorgeous – but he can’t make the forced interception like he did, either.

— Kerwynn Williams has shown he can gain yards in this league, but it sure looked like the Cardinals’ best course of action at running back with David Johnson down will be to use veteran Chris Johnson. CJ2K gained four yards a carry on 11 carries, and looked comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arians ends up more comfortable with a lot of CJ too.

— So many near-sacks again. Markus Golden had a couple early. Chandler Jones too. The defense did well most of the game, but they need to finish off some of these sacks. A turnover before overtime would help too.

— J.J. Nelson has become a significant weapon. Arians is right, it’s not important in John Brown’s absence, it’s important regardless.

— The Cardinals didn’t appear to get anyone injured, which is a good result after the carnage in Detroit.

— The Cardinals had a third-and-1 on the drive that ended up being Nelson’s 45-yard TD catch. Whatever the play was supposed to be, Palmer fumbled the snap on an awkward-looking play to begin with. Somehow, the middle of the defense parted, and Palmer picked up the ball and fell forward four yards for a first down.

“That wasn’t a quarterback sneak, that was a total FUBAR,” Arians said, “from the coaches on the sideline getting the right players in the game to the right players staying in the game and executing the play. We were lucky.”

— Not sure if Jared Veldheer is still having comfort issues on the right side of the line, but he was beat a couple of times. Not that the other guys don’t make plays – Jabaal Sheard is proving to be a pretty good player – but they are expecting more (and needing more) from Veldheer.

— Surprising Phil Dawson missed the first one. He also mentioned he had heard so much about last year’s Cards’ kicking woes it “built up.” The last thing the Cardinals need is for the new guy to be impacted. Hopefully the OT kick gets things smoothed over.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a big smile after the win. He didn’t do much – three catches, 21 yards – but they won. And that made everyone happy.


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Defensive opportunity, Friday before the Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm

So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.

It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.

“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.

“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”

The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.

“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”

This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.

— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.

“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”

— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.

— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.

— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.

— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.

— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.

“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”

Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.

— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.

— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.

“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’

“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”

See you in Indy.


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The past as future, and Friday before the Lions

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2017 – 3:03 pm

The past is the past, and each team is different, and I get that. Matthew Stafford isn’t the same guy who was benched the last time the Cardinals visited Detroit in 2015, and that’s not just because he got a new mega-contract. The Cardinals aren’t the same team that floundered disappointingly in 2016.

But the past still can be fun to revisit. The last time the Cards opened up in Detroit was a memorable one for me. That was the day Anquan Boldin burst on the scene with his 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, back in 2003. How about you, Tyrann Mathieu? Do you have a memorable opening game at any point in your life?

“I always think about my rookie season and nobody thought I was going to be able to play, and I go ahead and make that big-time play against St. Louis,” Mathieu said. “That was one of those special moments for me.”

See, that moment, to me, does have some bearing. That Mathieu that burst on the scene in 2013? That Mathieu who dominated in 2015? That’s the guy we’ve been seeing in camp and the preseason. He’s a big reason why there is optimism about this defense. Sometimes, you look backward to see what is coming. With the Badger, that seems fitting as the Cardinals finally get started in the regular season.

— To me, the keys Sunday are fairly simple. Offensively, can you allow Carson Palmer to have time to throw the ball down the field once in a while, protecting against an at-best average pass rush? I know John Brown keeps saying he’s not totally healthy, but I think Smoke is healthy enough to make at least some sort of impact.

— Defensively, it’s that defensive line. If I had to guess, I’d guess Robert Nkemdiche wouldn’t play, but we are still two days away. In the end, with seven defensive linemen, at least one is probably inactive every week anyway, and I just don’t think they’ll risk Nkemdiche coming back too fast when there is confidence in the other guys. That said, they have to hold up. This defense has the pass rushers. They definitely have the playmakers in the secondary. But to get there, you have to lock down the run, something this defense has done well the last couple of years.

— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, on newcomer Alex Boone – who was a right guard those years in San Francisco when playing with old/new teammate Mike Iupati, and then went to the left side after Iupati came to Arizona: “We all know that’s Mike’s position,” Goodwin said with a chuckle. “Kind of funny, I was talking to Mike, he said, ‘Alex called and he wants to come here but he’s not playing left.’ ”

Reminded me of Evan Boehm insisting he wasn’t going to be displaced on the right side either.

— Goodwin said Boone fits the Cardinals’ style, but “you know I don’t like anybody,” he added. “That’s just my nature. I won’t like anybody until I’m standing on the podium holding a Super Bowl trophy. Then I’ll start liking guys.”

— The Lions have a pair of former Cardinals tight ends. Darren Fells is there as a starter, a guy who will try and get going again after having a disappointing 2016 in Arizona, which is one reason the team let him leave in free agency. The Lions also signed Hakeem Valles to the practice squad this week. Any little edge, right?

— Speaking of tight ends, Goodwin chuckled again when asked if the tight ends would be more involved in the passing game. (In my opinion, I wouldn’t hold your breath.) Goodwin knows Jermaine Gresham got a big contract, and Troy Niklas has looked solid and stayed healthy. But as he as mentioned before, from a long ago warning from Arians in a meeting, “We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) a whole lot of money.”

— Stafford’s numbers since being benched in Week 5 against the Cardinals in 2015: 50 touchdown passes, only 15 interceptions, 67 percent completions and a 99.1 quarterback rating. Also, in what is coincidence, but take it for what it is worth, that 2015 Detroit game was a late kickoff – 4 p.m. locally, 1 p.m. in Arizona. It wasn’t early, like Sunday’s will be.

— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, like the other coaches, is convinced Justin Bethel has earned that starting job. The reason, among others, is that health allowed him to practice.

“When you are finally healthy, and you get a whole offseason to work your craft, it does wonders how you progress as a player,” Bettcher said.

— Fitzgerald needs 82 yards receiving to become only the fifth player to have 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over a career in season openers. The fabulous four so far? Don Maynard, Andre Reed, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.

— Finally, back to Mathieu. One of the things the Cardinals lost last year when the Honey Badger was not Badgeriffic went beyond dynamic play in the secondary. It lost an emotional jet engine, which Mathieu simply couldn’t be when he isn’t playing like he knows he can. That component is back.

“I try to feel out games,” Mathieu said. “Some games I won’t say a word. Other games I’m pretty well vocal. I won’t know until I actually get to game day.”

It’s meaningful. Said Patrick Peterson, “He finds ways to pass his energy to his teammates.”

See you Sunday. The regular season is here.


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Falcons aftermath, and Stanton’s hard count

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2017 – 9:38 pm

That Drew Stanton hard count. Those of us who were at training camp practice every day saw it … well, just about every day. There it was, with the Cardinals 21 yards from the end zone, and he barked and the Falcons jumped. He had done it earlier, but guard John Wetzel flinched too. (Bruce Arians let him know: “I already got Wetzel – he don’t have much ass left.”)

But this time, just the Falcons moved and it gave Stanton a free play, and he lobbed a 21-yarder to Smokey Brown that Brown somehow came down with over-the-shoulder.

“We went back to (the hard count) and they kept jumping,” Stanton said.

Those two TD passes to Brown, along with a defense that made Matt Ryan look miserable (preseason, yes, but an 8.1 passer rating is not what the Falcons wanted to see in the third game of the preseason) made Saturday pretty good for the Cardinals. Not great. But good. Much better than this time last year. The starters and main guys are done now. They won’t play Thursday in Denver. Anyone playing this coming game is either not going to be on the team or is likely fighting (a few locks will play – they have to – but the last preseason game is what it is, especially with 90-man rosters).

That opening trip to Detroit, when things count for real, is only two weeks away.

— The running backs situation is interesting. Arians would not say Chris Johnson has locked up a roster spot, notable after Johnson fumbled twice. Elijhaa Penny also lost a fumble. Kerwynn Williams is making this team as a return man, but beyond he and David Johnson, it feels like Penny, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington are battling for two spots.

— DT Olsen Pierre is in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’s OK. If he’s down for any time, depending on what happens with Robert Nkemdiche’s calf strain, things could get dicey on the defensive line.

— Stanton quietly had a nice night, completing 4-of-6 passes for 53 yards and his score.

— Linebacker Cap Capi probably isn’t making this team (although Jarvis Jones’ lingering back issue might create a need for a fourth OLB; that guy could still come from final cuts or a trade too). But Capi was impressive Saturday, enough to earn props from Arians. He had seven tackles, 1½ sacks and a tackle for loss.

— The playmakers on defense made plays. Markus Golden gets a strip sack. Tyrann Mathieu a pick on a tipped pass by Karlos Dansby. Patrick Peterson should’ve had a pick, but he lost it as he was going to the ground. “He’s getting fined for his drop,” Arians deadpanned.

— Matt Wile seemed to have a much better night than Richie Leone punting, although the numbers weren’t all that different. Right now, I’d guess Wile has the lead for a roster spot.

Huge comeback night for Brown. He spiked the ball on the pylon after his first score. “It was an emotional release to show people that I’m back and feeling good.” Brown said. Brown has to stay healthy. That’s a given. But the Cardinals need him out there and productive. His impact is obvious. We saw it Saturday.

— Arians acknowledged he considered not playing running back David Johnson Saturday until changing his mind, in large part because Johnson was part of the early script. Johnson made his lone catch of the preseason on the game’s second play, resulting in a first down. He came out after that.


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After practice: Nkemdiche limps off

Posted by Darren Urban on August 22, 2017 – 5:24 pm

Bruce Arians was talking at lunchtime about how healthy the Cardinals were getting. Then defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche limped off to the locker room, accompanied by a trainer. Looked like his left ankle or leg was bothering him. No way to know what it is — your first thought is that it isn’t serious, but we’ll talk to Arians tomorrow — yet with the very good preseason/camp Nkemdiche has been having, it’s certainly an undesirable situation.

— QB Carson Palmer took a rest day. So too did LB Karlos Dansby, who finally came back to practice Monday. I’m sure they are just being careful with Dansby, but it’s been a while since he’s had a couple practices in a row.

— With Dansby not out there, Josh Bynes was taking first-team reps at inside linebacker with Haason Reddick in Bynes’ first practice following a hamstring issue. It sure looks like Bynes has a roster spot, unless he collapses the rest of the preseason.

— RB Kerwynn Williams was also sitting out practice. Not sure his aliment. Arians did not mention him during his press conference.

— The last two days, Reddick has been taking reps as an OLB/pass rusher during one-on-one drills with the offensive line. (Actually, they have been two-on-two drills as  the OL works on protecting on stunts and twists.) The Cardinals aren’t going to overwhelm Reddick with too many non-ILB things right now, but Arians had said they want to get him a little more exposure to pass rushing.

— Is David Johnson getting to do enough? It’s interesting to watch the running back sprint 30, 40, 50 yards through a play sometimes — occasionally he doesn’t even have the ball — in what looks like an attempt just to get some running in. (Side note: He’s fast. Faster than you think.)

— During “thud” tackling, whoever is covering TE Jermaine Gresham better be ready. Gresham still plows into a defender who chooses to get in front of him.

— During scout team work, rookie QB Trevor Knight had a couple of nice 44-yard bombs to RB James Summers (over LB Chandler Jones) and WR Krishawn Hogan (over S Budda Baker.)

— Mostly though, it was a practice of the defense. Tyrann Mathieu was actually getting irritated late in the work because scout-look QBs were holding the ball so long against the No. 1 D (there would have been multiple sacks). Mathieu would have had one airborne pick before he yanked his arms down at the last second, preventing any kind of in-air contact, and on another play where Knight short-hopped a receiver Mathieu had defended perfectly, Mathieu angrily batted the ball back into the turf. He knows he would’ve had the pick.

— Guys that did get interceptions: CB Patrick Peterson, S Ironhead Gallon, LB Philip Wheeler in his first practice back from injury, and Baker.


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