Sometimes, the mother of invention is simply right place, right time. Running back Kerwynn Williams has taken snaps before in his football career. He played quarterback in high school (surprisingly, Williams said) and at Utah State he was used in some wildcat formations. But with the Cardinals, it really hadn’t come up until the week of practice heading into the game against the Vikings.
The Vikings use the wildcat. So the Cardinals were practicing against it with their scout team. Normally, practice squad running back Elijhaa Penny would have served in that role. But Penny wasn’t at practice that day, his child being born. So Williams jumped in, and apparently, coaches liked what they saw.
“I guess the rest is history,” Williams said.
The next week, Williams had a part in the offensive package. Williams was in the wildcat twice in Atlanta. He handed off to David Johnson for a 16-yard gain on the first play. The second time, Williams broke for a nice 11-yard gain, although it was wiped out on an A.Q. Shipley holding penalty. It “adds a different wrinkle to the offense,” Williams said, and there is little question that Williams has proven over his years in Arizona — even though he has been on and off the roster — that he can run the ball. That’s never really been in doubt, and it flashed again against the Falcons.
As for playing wildcat quarterback, there is also the chance to pass the ball too, right?
“I did have a little bit of the laser back in the day,” Williams deadpanned. “It’s still there. I’ve still got the fundamentals.”
Williams smiled. “But that’s what Carson is for,” he added. “He’s a great quarterback, he makes a lot of great passes. I don’t think they need me to throw the ball.”
Tags: Elijhaa Penny, Falcons, Kerwynn Williams, Vikings
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Steve Keim has looked at his offensive line since the day he started. He signed Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati as his most high-profile free-agent additions. He drafted D.J. Humphries with the idea he could eventually upgrade at tackle over Bobby Massie. He signed Evan Mathis as a veteran to be the other guard this season.
We know how it’s turned out so far.
Veldheer and Mathis are done for the season with injuries. Humphries has gone through growing pains this year after sitting all of last year. Iupati, banged up himself, has struggled of late. Fellow guard Earl Watford, Mathis’ replacement, has also been banged up this week. The players off the bench are inexperienced.
As Carson Palmer said this week, continuity is ideal along the line — and the Cardinals have not had continuity. Not anymore. That isn’t to say there weren’t issues anyway, but juggling up front is not what you want. The Cardinals will likely need to score Sunday in Atlanta, since the Falcons are the league’s top scoring team. We might see a steady diet of David Johnson running, but it’s not like the Falcons don’t know that either. In a season of up-and-down offensive production, the tenuous nature of the offensive line has not helped.
“We’ll have five of them out there, for sure,” coach Bruce Arians said.
— Michael Floyd might yet play Sunday even after hurting his hamstring and missing Thursday and Friday on the practice field. But it seems like anything that could go wrong for the free-agent-to-be wide receiver this season has.
— Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will have Patrick Peterson on him most of the game Sunday. Teams have sometimes had a cornerback “travel” to cover Jones, but Jones said it usually comes with a caveat.
“Teams have been trying to do that, but they’ve been playing a lot of two-man while they were doing it,” Jones said. “They’ll take their ‘OK’ corner and put him over me and then just have safety help, and try to put the better corner on the other side, try to let him lock that side down. Pat P, it’s just usually one-on-one.”
— So it turns out neither Peterson — for his unnecessary roughness call for knocking down QB-turned-WR Sam Bradford — or Tony Jefferson — for his hit on the still-trying-to-go-forward Stefon Diggs — were fined for their play. It’s fair to wonder if that means the league disagreed with the calls. Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson was fined $18,231 for his fourth-down hit on Palmer that extended the Cards’ final drive.
— The Vikings offensive linemen weren’t happy with Peterson about the hit. But Arians defended his player, not surprisingly, starting with the fact Bradford was lined up as a wide receiver and no longer had quarterback protections.
“That’s my understanding, and he just threw a flea-flicker on the exact same play, so don’t let it happen,” Arians said. “(Peterson) did what he was coached to do.”
As for the Vikings offensive linemen being upset, “Well, they shouldn’t have threw the flea-flicker the first time then,” Arians said. “He ain’t going to let it happen a second time.”
— The Cardinals are trying to get past an interception drought. They have now gone four games without one, the last time picking off an opposing QB coming way back on Oct. 17 when they nailed Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. Matt Ryan has just five interceptions this season (compared to 24 touchdown passes) but the Cardinals have gotten to Ryan in the past. He threw four interceptions against the Cardinals in Arizona in a 2013 game, and five picks in a game against the Cards in Atlanta in 2012. (Alas, the Cards still lost that 2012 matchup.)
— If Carson Palmer throws two touchdown passes, he’ll surpass Joe Montana on the all-time TD passes list. Palmer sits at 272, Montana 273.
When Palmer was asked about it, his response just reinforced to me my thought Palmer has every plan to play in 2017, regardless of how this season has gone/will go.
“What excites me about the game is the anticipation for Sunday, the process, going through and getting mentally prepared and physically prepared, obviously,” Palmer said. “There is no doubt that it would be an honor to do that, but I love playing the game because I love Sundays.”
— So atlantafalcons.com apparently does weekly simulations about the game ahead, and this week, they had the Cardinals winning the game, 21-19, behind David Johnson’s two touchdowns. So there’s that.
Tags: Carson Palmer, D.J. Humphries, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Evan Mathis, fines, Jared Veldheer, Julio Jones, Michael Floyd, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve Keim, Tom Johnson, Tony Jefferson, Vikings
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Carson Palmer walked off the field Sunday, baseball cap on his head, his look muted. He was by himself, and if it wasn’t for a brief stop to sign a Cardinals helmet for a disabled fan in a wheelchair when he entered the tunnel, he would have been alone in his thoughts until the locker room.
The quarterback said the same things as always when he met with the media – the team needs to figure out what mistakes they made and then set out on correcting them – but he knows the opportunities are slipping away for this team this season. All the Cardinals do. As safety Tony Jefferson said – quietly – “It’s never over ’till it’s over,” and mathematically the Cards aren’t really that close to eliminated.
But the tea leaves make it harder to remain optimistic, especially after a loss against a team the Cardinals are directly battling for a wild card spot. The Seahawks were handling the Eagles Sunday, and that’s another blow in the NFC West race.
It’s not like the Vikings were great Sunday. Bruce Arians said once again, it was his team beating itself. That’s happened way too often this season.
— Arians was asked if the special teams were being coached well enough. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones was not named specifically. “Extremely, extremely well,” Arians said.
— Special teams did have some good plays. Justin Bethel blocking an extra point. Brittan Golden getting a 49-yard kickoff return. But the kickoff return was a killer, and the failure of John Brown to catch the final punt hurt a lot too – although there was no guarantee the Cards would have moved it either.
— That was the first time a team had an interception return of at least 100 yards and a kickoff return of at least 100 yards since the Cowboys did it in 1962.
— According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings targeted receiver Stefon Diggs eight times when Patrick Peterson was covering him. The result? Five receptions for 35 yards.
— The offensive line actually did a nice job blocking for the run all day – David Johnson was fantastic in both the run and pass game – but whatever it may have been able to do in the pass and play-action game was undone by the final quarter when Palmer was swamped repeatedly. Taylor Boggs was in at right guard at the end and not Earl Watford; there was no Watford injury reported.
— Palmer said he thought there was an obvious hold on John Brown on the 100-yard interception. Brown also said he was held although he was more muted in his statement.
— There was confusion – and anger – over the two 15-yard penalties called on Patrick Peterson (hitting QB-turned-wide receiver Sam Bradford) and Tony Jefferson (hitting what looked like a live Diggs on the sideline apparently too hard) and I personally am not sure why they were flagged. But it only lead to a field goal, and the Cards unfortunately couldn’t even generate enough to get into field goal range anyway. (UPDATE: This ESPN story contains a good analysis of the Peterson hit and the rule book.)
— Arians said the receivers didn’t run great routes. Michael Floyd can’t slow up on a deep ball, even if he isn’t sure if the ball will come his way. I’ll have to re-watch the end too, but when Palmer couldn’t find anyone open late, the wideouts seemed to have a tough time moving around to help him.
— It’s becoming weekly now – Chandler Jones with an important play. His strip-sack in the fourth quarter made it a game.
— Finally, it wasn’t a happy homecoming for Larry Fitzgerald. He started hot, with four catches for 53 yards in the first half, including a dazzling one-handed catch to get a first down inside the Minnesota 10 on the Cardinals’ first scoring drive. But he only had two catches for 10 yards after halftime. And the Cards suffered a painful loss.
“We had a bunch of yards and time of possession but at the end of the day it comes down to wins,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty or ugly. You are trying to come out with a win any way you can.”
Tags: Brittan Golden, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, David Johnson, Earl Watford, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Taylor Boggs, Tony Jefferson, Vikings
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Safety Tyrann Mathieu is inactive against the Vikings today because of his shoulder injury. He was limited all week, and in the end wasn’t quite ready to go. Fellow cornerback Tharold Simon (ankle) also is inactive, so Justin Bethel and/or Brandon Williams will need to play bigger roles this week again. The good news is money linebacker Deone Bucannon (ankle) is healthy and will be playing for the Cardinals.
The full list of Cardinals inactives:
— WR Chris Hubert
— CB Tharold Simon (ankle)
— S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder)
— G Cole Toner
— DT Olsen Pierre
— DT Robert Nkemdiche
— DT Corey Peters (foot)
Tags: Deone Bucannon, inactives, Tharold Simon, Tyrann Mathieu, Vikings
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The very first game Larry Fitzgerald played in the NFL was in Minnesota. That’s where the Cardinals opened the preseason in 2004. (He was targeted twice, making one catch for five yards.)
The first game Fitzgerald played that counted in Minnesota was in 2006, and that’s the game he set his regular-season best in yards, with 172 on 11 catches. (He had 176 yards against the Packers in the playoffs in 2015.)
Fitz insists this is just a business trip, and truth be told, he spends enough summer time in Minnesota where I could see how he would be able to separate. Shameless plug: Here’s the story I did after going to Minnesota in 2012 and talking to him at his house on the lake.
(By the way, one part of the interview burned into my brain from that Minny visit: Did you know Fitz wants to go into space?)
Besides, Fitzgerald has big enough reasons to want to get this one aside from his 0-4 record against the Vikings in Minnesota (The Fitz-era Cardinals are 2-1 against the Vikings in Arizona.) It’s not the fact the franchise hasn’t won there since a 1977 game, with an eight-game losing streak. It’s the fact the Cardinals need the win basically to stay in the playoff race. Mathematically they won’t be eliminated, but with a game coming in Atlanta and the Vikings struggling like they are, this one is crucial. No way to argue otherwise.
— It’s easy to wonder about the Cardinals’ offensive line, and John Wetzel and D.J. Humphries will be tested (yes, that is an understatement) against this front in this building. The Cards have to run the ball better than they did last week, you’d think.
But the Vikings are facing the same issues, if not moreso. With no Adrian Peterson and line injuries, the Vikings have one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. QB Sam Bradford has been solid when he has time – he’s only thrown two picks – but he can be sacked. For the noticeable hiccups the Cardinals have had on defense, and some blown coverages, the Cardinals have allowed a league-low 4.7 yards per play this season and their pass defense has nine interceptions and has allowed only six passing touchdowns.
— Along those lines, the Patrick Peterson-covering-Stefon Diggs matchup is incredibly intriguing. Diggs has made 26 catches total the last two games. That’s a huge number. By comparison, Pro Football Focus has Peterson allowing just 20 receptions all season.
— The Vikings have 38-year-old cornerback Terence Newman, who has played a significant role. Peterson shook his head at such longevity. Peterson, at age 26 in his sixth year, said he wants to make double-digits for a career before he thinks beyond that.
“My mindset is I want to go as long as my body will let me go,” Peterson said.
— Michael Floyd is also going home this weekend. He’s from St. Paul. He was asked if he looked forward to seeing some snow, since it’s supposed to snow tonight. “I’m glad they have a roof,” he said with a smile, referencing the new stadium.
— We’ll see on Tyrann Mathieu playing. It felt like a red flag when Bruce Arians said he was sore on Friday. It’s hard to tell if the safety will be playing Sunday. It could be a true game-day decision.
— You feel better about Deone Bucannon playing, despite only one day of limited work. Arians said he was “fine.” He’d be an option on tight end Kyle Rudolph. The good thing for the Cardinals is that this is the first time in a while they aren’t dealing with a mobile QB (Wilson, albeit gimpy; Newton; Kaepernick).
— Fitz, by the way, had ditched the knee brace for Friday’s practice after wearing one Thursday (and in the second half of the 49ers game.)
— Will be cool to see the new building. Everything I have heard (and seen on TV) makes U.S. Bank Stadium the jewel it was supposed to be. We’ll see if the Cardinals can find a way to break their losing streak now that they’re in a new place.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, D.J. Humphries, Deone Bucannon, John Wetzel, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Sam Bradford, Stefon Diggs, Terence Newman, Tyrann Mathieu, Vikings
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The Cardinals are playing well, statistically, on defense. They are second in total defense, and tied for third in scoring defense. But of late, the turnovers have dried up.
In their last three games, the Cardinals’ D has forced only one turnover — a fumble recovery in Carolina, a play that was negated by a Carson Palmer interception soon after. (The Cardinals did recover a fumble against the 49ers, but it was on special teams.) The Cards haven’t had an interception since picking off Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick twice on “Monday Night Football.”
It’s a big missing element right now. Perhaps it has something to do with the year Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu has had — or hasn’t had — trying to come back from his knee injury and then sitting out last week with his shoulder problem (there is a possibility Mathieu will play Sunday in Minnesota). The Cardinals still have nine total interceptions this season, not a bad total given the bagel posted over the last month. But on a team that has struggled to score points consistently, those are the kind of plays that can change fortunes.
It could be tough Sunday — Vikings QB Sam Bradford has been careful with the ball, letting his great defense do the heavy lifting. Bradford has thrown only two interceptions this season in 283 attempts while taking 24 sacks. He’ll be smart. The Cardinals hope to get enough pressure to force a mistake — and maybe that can jump-start the Cards on the other side of the ball.
Tags: Sam Bradford, Tyrann Mathieu, Vikings
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The Cardinals’ defense has become very stingy. Hasn’t allowed a touchdown in nine quarters and two games. The franchise hasn’t had a stretch where it didn’t allow a touchdown in two straight games since 1970. That’s a long time ago (and when the NFL game was a completely different animal.) The Cardinals are now fifth in the NFL in scoring defense at 15.7 points a game and second (behind Minnesota) in total defense.
The current stretch, however, has come against clearly lesser offenses. The Panthers, who the Cards visit this weekend, are fifth in the NFL in scoring at nearly 27 points a game. Carolina is not playing well enough to win, but it is scoring well enough to win (which tells you something about the Panthers’ leaky defense.)
Many teams have quarterbacks that can move a little bit. The Cards benefited from the fact Russell Wilson, with a knee and an ankle banged up, clearly can’t run around as well as he normally can. Now comes Cam Newton, who can definitely run around and has the giant frame to boot. Newton has taken a lot of punishment this season as he’s run around, so maybe that impacts the Carolina game plan, but it would be foolish to think Newton carrying the ball — either by design or scrambling — won’t be a concern.
Still, the Panthers are facing a different defense than the one they saw in the NFC Championship. The effective four-man pass rush, and the way Chandler Jones is playing, changes the dynamic. Tyrann Mathieu isn’t quite himself — Bruce Arians said on Sirius XM radio Tuesday Mathieu was about 85 percent, in his estimation, and will be better once the knee brace can come off — but at least he is on the field, unlike January. The odds aren’t with the Cards to keep the Panthers out of the end zone — although when the Panthers met the Vikings earlier this season in Carolina, the Panthers only scored 10 points.
Tags: Chandler Jones, Panthers, Tyrann Mathieu, Vikings
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Bruce Arians may have been a little salty about how the offense played in the Cardinals’ win Sunday, but he has left no doubt how he feels about the team’s turnover margin. “That’s probably the best thing we’re doing right now,” Arians said. Then again, how could he not see it that way?
Yes, there have been a couple of near-picks for quarterback Carson Palmer, but they have not been picks. So after two games, the Cardinals have yet to turn it over, and have amassed seven turnovers themselves — four interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Math and the law of averages says the fumbles won’t always bounce the Cards way, but they aren’t putting the ball on the ground themselves.
Right now, they lead the league in takeaways (Carolina, Minnesota and San Francisco each have six) and lead in turnover differential (two ahead of the Vikings’ plus-5.) Oakland and Philadelphia are the other two teams without a turnover yet.
The Cardinals were second in the league in takeaways last season with 33, and they are doing it right now without one of their dynamic back-end players playing at full Honey Badger. That’s a good sign. Another good sign? The only other time the Cards went the first two games without turning the ball in the first two games of the season since 1940 was 2008 — the year the franchise reached the Super Bowl.
(OK, as coincidences go, it’s a stretch. But we’ll see.)
Tags: 49ers, Carson Palmer, Eagles, Panthers, Raiders, turnovers, Vikings
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Free-agent tackle Andre Smith, a former No. 1 pick of the Bengals who has started 73 of the 82 NFL games in which he has appeared, visited the Vikings Monday. And he told St. Paul Pioneer-Press writer Chris Tomasson that he was supposed to visit the Cardinals as well.
“It’s between (the Vikings) and Arizona. It’s even,” Smith told Tomasson.
It’s an interesting possibility. Smith, who has been the starting right tackle for the Bengals since 2011 (he was drafted in 2009), would seemingly be looking for a starting job and not just to be depth. The Cardinals, of course, have 2015 No. 1 pick D.J. Humphries sitting there after not being active for any games in 2015. And they have Jared Veldheer as a starting left tackle. If Smith were to sign with the Cards, does that mean a competition between the three (Humphries is a natural left tackle, after all). Would someone be asked to play guard? Intriguing to say the least.
Then again, maybe the Cardinals just want Smith for depth and Smith is trying to use what leverage he can in getting a better deal from Minnesota.
It was quiet around the Cardinals’ facility Monday. No word on how things have progressed, if at all, with free agent cornerback Leon Hall or free agent guard Amini Silatolu.
Tags: Amini Silatolu, Andre Smith, D.J. Humphries, free agency, Jared Veldheer, Leon Hall, Vikings
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The Cardinals didn’t play this weekend but there was football that meant something from their perspective. The NFC games Sunday determined their first playoff opponent — it’s the Packers — and now, the build-up for a postseason game many on the team have been waiting for since that rough loss in Carolina at this time last year.
The NFC results weren’t a shock. The Seahawks are a better team than the Vikings. The Packers are better than Washington. Of course, the way the Seattle-Minnesota game played out, the Seahawks should be eliminated by now. They aren’t. So we see who will come out of the very interesting dogfight between the Seahawks and Panthers, and if the Cardinals can beat the Packers a second time, whomever they play in the NFC Championship will have gone through the gauntlet to get there (and the Cards could still host that game if the Seahawks win.) But there will be time to look at that. As for the games that were just played:
— It’s hard to believe the Seahawks won. Not because they played poorly, but because the Vikings put themselves in a spot to win and should have. To see Blair Walsh just yank a 27-yard field goal left is simply crushing for that team. Seattle did enough. The frigid weather was clearly a factor, but it was not Russell Wilson’s best game. And if anyone was thinking momentum was going to carry over from that season finale romp over the Cardinals, well, it didn’t (which is the other side of why the Cards kept saying that game wasn’t going to matter either.)
— Speaking of Walsh, this is a great story about him after the game. Something to think about the next time a player doesn’t make the play — and when fan disappointment has a chance to become more than that.
— The Packers looked a ton better Sunday than they did in their final two games in Arizona and Minnesota. Then again, Washington’s defense has a much worse defense than both the Vikings and Cardinals. I’d expect a better showing from Green Bay this week, but the Cards will rightfully be favored.
— There is hope from the Packers they will get cornerback Sam Shields back from his concussion, but they thought they’d have him back this weekend too and it didn’t happen. Other key injuries for the Packers to watch: left tackle David Bakhtiari, who remained out with an ankle injury (he missed the first game against the Cards) and wide receiver Davante Adams, who said he expects to be ready after hurting his knee Sunday, but you have to wonder even if he can what his effectiveness will be, especially on a short week.
— The Cardinals are off Monday still. They return to practice Tuesday.
Tags: Blair Walsh, Packers, playoffs, Sam Shields, Seahawks, Vikings
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