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Blogs

Glancing at the 2015 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 14, 2014 – 2:46 pm

You know that it’s the dead of the offseason — real dead — when it comes to mind to point out who will be on the Cardinals’ schedule for 2015.

But here we are, inside of two weeks before training camp begins and a week away from the quarterbacks and a handful of other players reporting for a couple of days of “quarterback school” prior to the opening of camp. It’s the last hurrah for time off for both coaches and players. It doesn’t leave a lot to discuss right now. That’s all coming. But as I flipped through the new edition of the NFL Record and Fact Book, I came across the 2015 opponents for the Cardinals. So I thought I’d point them out.

As always, there are the home-and-away games against the NFC West opponents. The teams visiting University of Phoenix Stadium include the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and then an NFC South team that ends up inhabiting the same position in their division that the Cardinals do in the NFC West by the time the 2014 season is over.

Road trips in 2015 for the Cardinals include the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the corresponding NFC East team.

FitzInChicagoBLOG

 


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Odds, ends and Bowles

Posted by Darren Urban on January 7, 2014 – 10:27 am

So it’s gonna be about 70 degrees today. Sunny. Just sayin’. Seems like everyone else is making comments about the weather, so I thought I’d chime in.

Anyway …

– Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles reportedly met with the Browns for their head coaching job on Friday and was supposed to meet with the Vikings about their opening Monday. Neither team seems close to making a decision on their coach, although Bowles reportedly made an impression with the Vikings. Both Minnesota and Cleveland continue to look at more and more candidates, and that doesn’t include coaches still in the playoffs. Bowles won’t be interviewing in Detroit, where he was a candidate back in 2009. That makes sense, because many reports say the Lions would likely hire Chargers offensive coordinator and ex-Cards boss Ken Whisenhunt for that job once the Chargers are knocked out of the playoffs.

On the all-pro team from profootballfocus.com, Tyrann Mathieu makes first team as a slot cornerback, Justin Bethel first team for special teams. Patrick Peterson is second team at cornerback.

– Cardinals director of football administration (and salary cap guru) Mike Disner was named on Forbes list of top 30 rising stars under age 30 in sports. (The man next on the Forbes slideshow after Disner? Kevin Durant. LeBron and Gronk are among the athletes on the list too.)

– I am not a fan of messing with the playoff format. It caught up with the Cardinals this season yes, it benefited them in the 2008 season. I do not think extra teams should be added to the postseason. That said, it is still often discussed. That doesn’t mean anything is imminent, but things could change at some point.

– In case you missed it — and in case you’d like a smile or two — check out here the year in quotes and quips from coach Bruce Arians.


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Bowles scheduled to interview for two jobs

Posted by Darren Urban on January 2, 2014 – 7:53 pm

So far, Todd Bowles is scheduled to interview for a pair of head coaching jobs: With the Browns Friday and then with the Minnesota Vikings sometime next week. Does that mean Bowles is leaving as Cardinals’ defensive coordinator? Of course not. Last year at this time, DC Ray Horton was set up for three head coaching interviews — Cleveland, Buffalo and Arizona — and as we all know, Horton was still the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator when Bruce Arians decided to let him leave so he could be the DC in Cleveland and Arians could hire Bowles.

We’ll see how this turns out. Bowles fulfills the minority requirement of the Rooney Rule. Not that he isn’t a legitimate candidate, but that’s a possibility too. The Houston job (Bill O’Brien) and Tampa job (Lovie Smith) are now filled, so the only openings left are Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington. It’s also hard to get a sense about what candidates are in play since many of the playoff teams will have assistants up for jobs when their seasons end.

(On a side note, so Horton doesn’t get the Cleveland job last year but goes to the Browns to be DC. Now that job is open again and I can’t think Horton would be thrilled if he was kept under contract when Bowles — the man who replaced him — then got the head Browns gig.)

I don’t know exactly what Bruce Arians, who has made clear his hope that Bowles someday becomes a head coach, would do if Bowles left. I’m not sure there is an automatic candidate on the staff already. But that’s a long way off. It still seems likely to me Bowles will be around for another year as defensive coordinator. Certainly, the Cards would like that to happen.


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Mac’s last speech

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2013 – 5:19 pm

It was the last day of the 2003 season, and the Cardinals shocked the NFL — and certainly, the Vikings — when they rallied from an 11-point deficit with less than two minutes to go by winning on a Hail Mary TD pass from Josh McCown to Nate Poole. I was thinking about it again now that McCown, after his long roller-coaster ride of an NFL career, is starting for the Bears after Jay Cutler’s groin injury.

Back in 2003, though, McCown was getting a shot at what everyone knew was the end of the Dave McGinnis coaching tenure. McCown not only survived, he impressed new coach Denny Green enough to be the quarterback choice the next year over some impressive potential draft picks (and notably allowing the Cards to pick Larry Fitzgerald.) As it was, McCown made sure the Cards didn’t get (cost them?) the No. 1 overall pick and Eli Manning when he crushed the Vikings’ hopes and dreams in 2003 with his Poole pass.

(You can see the end of the game right here. Be sure to notice my radio broadcast partner Damien Anderson, who recovers the onside kick to even give the Cards a chance to make their game-winning drive.)

But I digress. The NFL Network, on its 10th anniversary, has made available to teams a handful of historical clips, and I happened to notice one in the system that I had never seen before. It was McGinnis’ locker room speech after that emotional Vikings win. I had never seen it before. Pretty powerful stuff. It was cool to step back in time, to see all those players I used to cover (Anderson sneaks into the Mac video too, just off to the left of the screen, as does current front office man Josh Scobey.) No one says it, but everyone knows it’s goodbye.

“You’ve got my heart. You’ve got my heart.”


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Fitz too has hometown rooting interests

Posted by Darren Urban on July 16, 2013 – 1:08 pm

Suddenly, it causes a stir when players have some connection to a team that isn’t their own. When Colin Kaepernick wore a Dolphins hat — presumably for the look, since he isn’t from that part of the country — it probably shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. (Although he didn’t handle it very well and the defiant response forced a lingering backlash). Then Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who is from Atlanta, mentions he grew up rooting for the Falcons and still likes to see them do well when he isn’t playing them.

That too seemed to gain headlines. As if there was something, if not wrong with it, too weird about it. All I could think about was Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitz, if you have been paying attention, has said many times how he remained a Minnesota Vikings fan given where he was raised and how he was a ballboy for the franchise. Last year, I went to Minnesota to talk to Fitz specifically about being a Minnesota boy and he made it plain then too.

“I grew up a Vikings fan and I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I was still a Vikings fan,” Fitzgerald said then. “Growing up in Minnesota it’s second nature. I still pull for them when I’m not playing them. A lot of my closest friends in the NFL are Vikings. I’m close with (Everson) Griffen, Jared Allen, Phil (Loadholt), Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph. You pull for your friends.”

I didn’t think anything of it. It made sense to me, as a matter of fact. It doesn’t mean Fitz wants to beat the Vikings any less when the Cardinals play them (or that Newton, battling the Falcons within the same division, doesn’t want to sweep Atlanta). If memory serves, often you want to beat your brother/friends more. You can see the frustration on Fitz’s face when the Cards lose and it has always seemed moreso when the Vikings beat him. He wants to topple the hometown team, to talk a little trash to his Minnesota guys back home.

Now, would Fitz slide a Vikings cap on? No. He’s smart enough to not do that. But NFL players who grew up rooting for teams that aren’t their own? You’re silly if you don’t realize that — and that they won’t necessarily turn it off once they get to the league. It doesn’t mean they are trying any less to beat those teams.


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Finalizing the equation of Jefferson trade

Posted by Darren Urban on February 15, 2013 – 7:43 pm

Many have asked over the months since the Cardinals traded cornerback A.J. Jefferson to the Vikings at the end of August. Thanks to my friend Tom Pelissero, erstwhile Vikings guru, those trade results have been finalized. Ultimately, the trade was Jefferson and the Cardinals’ seventh-round pick in 2013 for the Tennesee Titans’ 2013 6th-round pick, which the Vikings had previously acquired.

Considering the Cards were on the verge of cutting Jefferson (and the league knew the Cards were corner-heavy) when the trade went down, moving up a round wasn’t a bad result. It gives the Cards, at least before the compensatory picks are doled out, seven total draft picks covering the first six rounds of the draft.


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No assumptions about the Hyphen

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2012 – 4:40 pm

There was a weary smile when LaRod Stephens-Howling was asked about the assumption that, as a 5-foot-7, 180-some pound guy, he can’t be a full-time running back in the NFL.

“I am so tired of that assumption,” Stephens-Howling said. “I have to hear it every time. I just want to be a running back. I don’t know what else to say about that.”

The Hyphen doesn’t have to say much of anything. He can just point to his day Sunday, after the Cards lost to the Vikings through no fault of his own. He had 20 carries for a career-high 104 yards and a touchdown, and added another four receptions for 45 more yards. Coach Ken Whisenhunt called Stephens-Howling a “warrior” for the performance, and assuming Stephens-Howling stays in such a groove, Whiz said he doesn’t have a problem using him that much.

Stephens-Howling has been in this spot before, as situational guy. He was bounced out of a regular role in college when LeSean McCoy showed up at Pitt, which frustrated him at the time. He’s always been fine to play whatever role the Cards want, but after both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams went down with their serious injuries, the Hyphen made it clear he was looking forward to increased work. After Sunday’s use, “I feel a little beat up, but that’s how you want to feel after a game,” he said. “You want to feel like you have been in a game.”

He also wanted to feel like he was doing something productive. It hadn’t been the best season for Stephens-Howling before the Vikings’ game. He had been injured. He had struggled, at one point before the Buffalo game he had just one rushing yard on 12 carries. His first game back from his hip and groin problems he couldn’t get going against the Bills despite a start and was outperformed by William Powell. That showing was underscored when Stephens-Howling dropped a screen pass in overtime — a play that would have gained significant yardage — right before John Skelton threw the interception that ultimately cost the Cards the game.

That play “kept me up some nights,” he said, but he had to flush it out against Minnesota. So he had a fresh start, plus a strong week of practice where Stephens-Howling felt for the first time he had his moves back, going into the Metrodome. He “felt more like myself” and turned that into a 100-yard game.

So don’t get all “LaRod can’t be an every-down back” on the Hyphen. He is even keeping his weight up — an issue in the past — when he checked in at 184 pounds last Friday, his highest total since before training camp.

“I’m a solid 184,” Stephens-Howling said, crediting his girlfriend’s home cooking. But it’s good weight. “There are desserts every once in a while,” he said smiling. “Always need those to keep it going.”

– For those wondering, offensive lineman Chris Williams signed with the St. Louis Rams Monday, so he will not, obviously, be coming to Arizona.


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Vikings aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2012 – 5:34 pm

Early last week, guard Daryn Colledge talked about how the offense had to play better, but that the defense was always going to keep the Cardinals in the game. Then came Sunday, what may have been the harshest way to demonstrate the point.

I’m not sure what the hardest thing to handle was for the Cardinals. The first stop that led to a punt giving the Cards the ball first in Minnesota territory, only to have the drive go nowhere? The following long drive into the red zone that ended with a fumble and no points? The gift interception at the end of the first half – why on God’s green earth were the Vikings throwing at that point anyway – only to have Jay Feely’s field goal miss? The pick-6 to start the second half that made it a two-score game?

“The plays that were there to be made were being made earlier in the year,” quarterback John Skelton said. “Now we are missing.”

It’s going to be hard not to re-play what could have been in the collective minds tonight.

– The Cardinals have now lost two games this season in which the opposing quarterback had fewer than 10 pass completions (the Rams’ game was the other.) That’s unheard of in today’s NFL. The Vikings ended up with a net of 43 passing yards.

– Those 43 net passing yards – and Christian Ponder’s 58 gross – were the fewest allowed in an NFL game this season, by the way. The Cards hadn’t allowed so few in a game since giving up 37 net passing yards to the Ravens in December of 2000 – a game the Cards also lost, 13-7, to the Trent Dilferific Super Bowl-bound bunch.

- The Cards had the ball for more than 10 minutes more than the Vikings, including holding the ball for more than 11 minutes of the 15-minute third quarter.

– LaRod Stephens-Howling had been off to the worst start of his career running the ball, but he was back on track Sunday. Yes, it was partly due to the Vikings’ defensive alignment, but that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of his first 100-yard game. You figure next week’s game against the 49ers will be much more difficult, but considering where the Cards were when they lost both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, it’s a start.

– Guard Adam Snyder was limping around pretty good because of the quad contusion that sent him out of the game and brought Rich Ohrnberger in for relief. You know Snyder is going to badly want to play against his former teammates a week from tomorrow. We’ll see if he can recover in time.

– Adrian Peterson sure didn’t look like a guy who had ACL surgery less than a year ago. He looked like 2008 Adrian Peterson with his 153 yards on just 23 carries, ramping up to full speed seemingly as soon as he was handed the ball in the backfield.

– Larry Fitzgerald called the offense’s overall lack of production scoring “disheartening.” It seems like the Cards have had more issues this year getting Fitz freed up than ever before. The offense is missing that kind of playmaking.

– I know the TD came late, but Andre Roberts quietly had a productive day (7 catches, 103 yards).

– The one thing Kevin Kolb was doing really well when the Cards were winning – and what has gotten lost a bit when the Cards ended up on the wrong side of things a couple weeks ago and then again today with John Skelton – is the turnovers. They cost at least 10 points today, with the Vikings getting seven on the interception return and the Cards losing at least three on the red-zone fumble by Skelton. Many teams can’t afford turnovers, but for the Cards, that margin is even smaller. The Cards generated a pair of turnovers themselves, but couldn’t win the turnover battle.

That’s enough from 30,000 feet. The Cards will have an extra day to regroup for the 49ers. That game was always big. Now it’s probably something that will determine where they go the balance of the season.

UPDATE: The Cardinals aren’t going to work out quarterback Vince Young, despite rumors to the contrary.


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Heap remains inactive

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2012 – 8:38 am

Tight end Todd Heap remains inactive with his bad knee today against the Vikings, on an inactive list that is filled up with injured players.

Only guard Senio Kelemete is a healthy scratch. Sitting out are QB Kevin Kolb (ribs), S Kerry Rhodes (back), CB Greg Toler (hamstring), FB Anthony Sherman (knee), and LB Reggie Walker (concussion). Rashad Johnson is starting in place of Rhodes, while Regan Maui’a is starting in place of Sherman.

The Vikings have all their key players available who were on the injury report, including RB Adrian Peterson, DE Jared Allen and WR Jerome Simpson.

– Also this morning, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Cardinals are expected to work out free agent QB Vince Young this week. If true — and I haven’t heard anything about it — it’s an interesting turn. Young, given his background and recent play, wouldn’t have been a guy I’d think the Cards would consider as an option.


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Friday before the Vikings

Posted by Darren Urban on October 19, 2012 – 4:58 pm

Trips to Minnesota since I’ve been covering the Cardinals have frequently ended poorly. OK, not frequently. Always. My first trip there was for a 2000 preseason game, where four or five Cardinals suffered serious injuries on the one-time crappy turf, including the ACL tear for wide receiver Rob Moore. There were not very close losses in 2000 and 2006 (although the Cards were a Hail Mary away at the end to get an amazing comeback). There was the 2010 loss, which looked like it was in the bag with a two-touchdown lead with six minutes left (Favred!) and then last year, when the Cards simply melted down in the first quarter.

Year-to-year doesn’t matter – it’s a new team here, the Vikings are a new team, and for the most part, nothing carries over – but that’s at least the backdrop for the Cards this weekend. I don’t need to get into the schedule again (but if you forgot, it’s Niners, Packers, Falcons in the next three games) but this is important. The coaches know it. So do the players.

– This is an early game, kickoff 10 a.m. Arizona time. The Cards had one of those in New England, but that was after flying in on a Friday. The Cards don’t fly to Minnesota until tomorrow. They can’t afford to sleepwalk through the first quarter.

– I watched the video of Vikings defensive end Jared Allen meeting with the Minnesota media. Not surprisingly, he was asked multiple times about the Cards surrendering 22 sacks the past three games and the opportunity he had. Not surprisingly, he dodged bulletin-board material. Who knows? Maybe he actually made a good point:

“I’ve been in this league for so long, I’ve played teams where they’ve given up … I always go back to the Texans, who had given up, like, 50 sacks and we came in there like Week 10 or Week 11 (when he was with the Chiefs),” Allen said. “All we saw were bootlegs. Teams also know that. So you can’t sit there and say, ‘We’re going to lick our chops and get after the quarterback,’ because you’re going to get burned in the run.”

The Allen pass rush – he’s only got four sacks this season, below expectations — will be under the microscope Sunday, whether it is against D’Anthony Batiste or Bobby Massie.

– Linebacker Daryl Washington repeated the same message over and over: We have to stop 12 and 28. That’s Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, in case you weren’t sure. Obvious, yes. But last year, quarterback Donovan McNabb was god-awful against the Cards (another reason why it confounds me a Cardinals fan would suggest signing McNabb) and yet the Vikings rolled. Peterson was awesome (three first-quarter TDs) and Harvin is a Swiss knife of a playmaker.

– Speaking of Peterson, it is still amazing he has returned from ACL surgery so quickly (he blew out his knee Christmas Eve 2011). He already has 499 yards rushing. “He’s not quite as bombastic in what he used to do,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton said, “but he still has our full respect.”

“He just never ever doubted,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “The only time he showed any doubt was when we were flying back from the game when he was injured in Washington. But after that it was full speed ahead from a mental standpoint and he’s never regressed.”

– The Cards are allowing just 16.2 points a game, fourth in the NFL behind the Bears, 49ers and Seahawks. Whatever the rest of the stats say, that works for Horton. “That’s the only stat that should be measured,” Horton said.

– It hurts to be missing safety Kerry Rhodes, down with the bad back. That means the Cards will have gone through a game without Rhodes, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett so far. It’d be nice to have all the key pieces in place, and Rhodes is having a pretty good year. Horton more or less shrugged it off. “Hopefully we’re not built like a house of cards where one guy gets hurt it is doom and gloom,” he said. “I don’t think we are built that way.”

– In case you missed it, my visit this summer to Minnesota turned into this story about how Larry Fitzgerald loves his home state. (But don’t worry, he loves being in Arizona too.)

– Minnesota native Michael Floyd isn’t getting the kind of work he was hoping – 7 catches, 84 yards – but he’s hanging in there. “The ball doesn’t come that way often, so when it does, you have to make the play,” he said. Floyd made the spectacular catch against the Bills after failing to come down with one a couple of weeks previous. Both Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Mike Miller say Floyd is doing fine in his steps forward.

“If we were doing better offensively (overall), he’d probably be more involved, have more statistics,” Whisenhunt said.

John Skelton, you’re up.


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