The Cardinals will play their 100th game at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night against the Bengals. They still have one player who has been around for all 100. In fact, Larry Fitzgerald – who, once we get there, will have played in 97 of them – actually can make comparisons, since his first two seasons were spent playing home games at Arizona State.
“I remember back in the days playing at Sun Devil Stadium when you couldn’t pay someone to watch us play out there,” Fitzgerald said. “Now you can’t get a seat in the building. It’s great to see the turnaround.”
It’s been a few weeks since the Cardinals last had a home game. That too was nationally televised against an AFC North team. The Cardinals beat Baltimore on “Monday Night Football.” Now, thanks to a flex choice, the Cardinals get Cincinnati on “Sunday Night Football.”
The 100 games – all official sellouts – includes everything: Preseason and postseason. This one will have a bit of a postseason feel too, given that the Cardinals are 7-2 and battling (for now) to keep the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the 8-1 Bengals hoping they can still catch the undefeated Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
This one should be fun, even with the Cards a little beat up. The Bengals have their issues too.
— The Cards will likely be down one starting offensive lineman in right guard Jonathan Cooper, but I’d think Ted Larsen would start for him (Earl Watford is still possible.) They will have Mike Iupati at left guard. I don’t think Michael Floyd plays after missing practice all week, and Smokey Brown isn’t at full strength. But the Bengals are also likely to not have two defensive starters in defensive end Michael Johnson and No. 1 cornerback Pacman Jones, so there’s no advantage.
If Floyd is down, J.J. Nelson will be active, and you figure he’ll be the deep threat if Brown cannot be. Besides, as long as Carson Palmer is in the pocket, the passing game will survive.
— Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin didn’t seem particularly worried about where the injuries left the Cards.
“We don’t turn the ball over, we’re a pretty good freaking offense,” Goodwin said.
— Bruce Arians acknowledged that he didn’t notice much of a difference last year when the University of Phoenix Stadium roof was open for “Sunday Night Football” against the Seahawks compared to when it is closed.
But, “do I like having it closed?” Arians said. “Hell yeah.”
— No official word about the roof status until Sunday afternoon, most likely.
— Speaking of the stadium, don’t forget there will be heightened security around the game because of recent terrorist events around the globe. Give yourself plenty of time to get into the building.
— With defensive tackle Cory Redding out with a bad ankle, there is a chance we could see undrafted rookie nose tackle Xavier Williams active for the first time this season.
— Palmer was fined $11,576 for his sideline gesture that was caught on camera in Seattle following Andre Ellington’s late touchdown run. Palmer had a couple of first pumps but then threw in a pelvic thrust toward the crowd. Palmer said after the game his reaction was toward three friends he had in the stands.
“I had my buddies on the sideline right four or five rows up,” Palmer said. “I saw them pretty excited, and it got me excited to see them excited.”
— Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright was fined $23,152 for his crushing hit to the head on Larry Fitzgerald. The Seattle Times reported that Wright, who is appealing, said he apologized to Fitz and that Fitz got up laughing after the hit. (I’m not sure what that matters in terms of the fine, but …)
— ESPN did a breakdown on the luckiest and unluckiest teams in the NFL based on random events, and the Cardinals actually were called unlucky. That’s because out of their own 12 fumbles on offense, the Cardinals have recovered only four, and out of 10 opponent fumbles while on defense the Cardinals have recovered only three. Since fumble recoveries are usually luck of the bounce/right place, right time, the Cards should have more. Also, opposing kickers have yet to miss on 16 field-goal attempts.
— Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is happy with his outside linebacker rotation of Alex Okafor, LaMarr Woodley, Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden, but he said it’s hard to get everyone the playing time they deserve. Golden only played 10 snaps in Seattle in the first game with all four players available.
“As a defensive coach, you don’t want to play more snaps, but you wish there were more snaps for guys to get,” Bettcher said.
— Profootballfocus.com said of their grades, only three cornerbacks do not have a game with a negative number this season: Carolina’s Josh Norman, and the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. (PFF considers Mathieu a slot cornerback since he’s played the most snaps there.)
— Ex-Bengal and current defensive line starter Frostee Rucker has been quietly one of GM Steve Keim’s best signings. Rucker signed in 2013 to be a backup and role player, but has emerged as a highly effective starter and locker-room leader. And Rucker is enjoying his increased role.
“It’s the pat on the back that someone doesn’t have to say, because you know you’re contributing to something that’s good,” Rucker said.
It’s a feeling a lot of Cardinals have right now.
Tags: Bengals, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Cory Redding, Frostee Rucker, Harold Goodwin, James Bettcher, Jonathan Cooper, K.J. Wright, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Ted Larsen, Tyrann Mathieu, University of Phoenix stadium
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The Cardinals will play their second straight game on “Sunday Night Football” this weekend and have their third primetime appearance in their last four games. They have at least one more primetime game coming this season when they host Minnesota Dec. 10 on “Thursday Night Football.” Thus far, they are 2-0 in those headliner games.
The primetime games have become much more prevalent for the Cardinals since 2006, when University of Phoenix Stadium opened (the Bengals game, by the way, is the 100th game at UoP, including preseason and postseason. Cards have sold out each one.) The willingness to try and put more teams on those games — including the choice to give every team at least one Thursday game — helps, as does the fact the Cards have been more competitive.
Before the last two games, there were some concerned about the Cardinals on primetime. “They don’t do very well” was the worry. True or false? True. At least in the past. This team is proving different.
The Cardinals have played in 17 regular-season primetime games since 2006. Their record? It’s only 7-10, and that’s with the two wins this season. However, they have under Arians won 4 of 6. (Another note: 10 of those primetime games have been against NFC West opponents, including a “Monday Night Football” stretch of five in a row.)
On the other hand, the Bengals are 4-8 in primetime games with Andy Dalton as starting quarterback, and 8-16 in primetime games under coach Marvin Lewis. Most of those, like the Cardinals, were different teams in different years and don’t have much to do with this week. Take it for what it’s worth.
Tags: Bengals, Bruce Arians, Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, University of Phoenix stadium
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There are only four teams left that have never played at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Ravens — who come in for “Monday Night Football” this week — are one of them. (When the Cincinnati Bengals come to Arizona in late November, it’ll be the first time they have come for a regular-season game, although they were here in 2014 for a preseason game. And the Patriots have never been here for a regular-season game, last visiting in 2004, but they of course have played two Super Bowls in the stadium.)
The others on the list, all AFC teams (of course): Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans.
It’s the quirk of the rotating schedules and the fact the NFC West got flip-flopped at one point between home and road trips to help spread out Eastern teams’ travel. The last time the Ravens (and the Bengals, for that matter) played a regular-season game in Arizona was 2003. The Ravens won that game, 26-18. The Bengals lost that year to the Cardinals, 17-14. The Cards played in both cities in 2007 and 2011.
The last time the Jaguars played in Arizona was 2005, a 24-17 Jacksonville win (there have been trips to Florida in 2009 and 2013). The last time the Jets came to Arizona (and Sun Devil Stadium) was 2004, a dreary 13-3 Cardinals’ loss. The Cards played at the Jets in 2008 and 2012. The Titans played in Arizona last in 2005 — a 20-10 Cardinals’ win — with the Cards going to Tennessee in 2009 and 2013 (in the regular season; there was also a preseason trip mixed in there.)
In 2016, the Jets and the Patriots will get their first meeting at University of Phoenix Stadium with the Cardinals.
Tags: Bengals, Jaguars, Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Titans, University of Phoenix stadium
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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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The Cardinals are 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They are 13-2 at home since Bruce Arians became coach — a meaningless, close loss to the 49ers to close out the 2013 season, and the the 34-22 loss to the Seahawks in October of last year. The home-field advantage is real for the Cards, a big reason why this team still has the optimism it does going into this game despite having to dig deep into the depth chart for a quarterback.
Only three times have the Cardinals ever won more than seven games at home in a season, the most recent being 1925 and that total (11 home wins) was helped by the fact the Cards played 13 of 14 games at home. (That is a seriously unbalanced scheduling.) The Cardinals are the only team in the league to have given up 20 points or fewer in every home game this season.
Details of what player will be the QB aside, that’s ultimately what Sunday’s game is about. If the Cardinals win, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Literally, in fact, since that would include a Super Bowl appearance. If the Seahawks win, they are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, and it almost goes without saying the home-field advantage the Seahawks have in Seattle. There’s still a chance the Packers could be the top seed, and no one wants to play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau in January.
So it’s fitting that, for the Cardinals, it’s a home game that determines future home games — and possibly the direction of the entire postseason in the NFC.
Tags: Packers, playoffs, Seahawks, University of Phoenix stadium
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