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Three straight openers against a rookie QB

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2012 – 7:18 pm

With the news today that the Seahawks will start rookie third-round quarterback Russell Wilson at quarterback (over free-agent signee Matt Flynn, in a mild upset given that Wilson had been generating big buzz since the offseason), it obviously impacts the Cardinals. The regular-season opener is Sept. 9, when the Seahawks visit University of Phoenix Stadium. That will make Wilson the third straight rookie quarterback to make his debut against the Cardinals in the opener.

In 2010, the Cards opened in St. Louis, when Sam Bradford had some trouble with Adrian Wilson in his first NFL game. In 2011, Cam Newton ended up setting an NFL rookie record for passing yards in his first game. In the Cards’ favor, they ended up winning both games (17-13 against the Rams, 28-21 against the Panthers).

Now the defense will get a chance at Wilson, who, unlike Bradford and Newton, was not the first overall choice in the draft. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will also get a chance at Wilson, who is under 6-feet tall, the reason he went in the third round. I’m sure it will be one of the storylines for the game in about a week (you know, after we get past the last preseason game, any forays into the waiver/free-agent pool by the Cards, and their own decision at quarterback.)


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Before 2012, a glance at 2013 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 17, 2012 – 1:22 pm

Yes, yes, I know I am early. Way early. But as long as the info is out there — and while we still have a little bit before we get to training camp — here is a look at who the Cardinals’ opponents will be for the 2013 season.

HOME

— Indianapolis (Andrew Luck!)

— Carolina (Cam Newton!)

— Houston (Arian Foster.)

— Atlanta (Roddy White?)

— NFC North team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings

— and of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

AWAY

— New Orleans

— Tampa Bay

— Jacksonville

— Tennessee

— NFC East team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings

— and, of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

I was going to do a little analysis, but then I realized how foolish that was this far out.


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Throwing deep UPDATE

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2011 – 8:10 am

One of the more popular topics with the Cards has been getting the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, a subject that comes up time and again. But an offshoot of that is the Cardinals taking shots downfield period. While the progress of quarterback Kevin Kolb has also been constantly analyzed, the gentlemen at profootballfocus.com complied a “throwing deep” list this season, checking out accuracy and other stats for QBs throwing deep (by their definition, a pass 20 yards in the air or more).

Kolb has the fewest deep attempts in the NFL right now for starters. Kolb has tried only 11 deep passes this season, completing five. (And let’s be clear; throwing deep doesn’t exactly equate with win-loss record; the second-fewest attempts, 12, have come from the 49ers’ 5-1 starter Alex Smith, and he’s played in one more game than Kolb). Kolb has five completions for 205 yards, a touchdown (the bomb to Fitz in Washington) and three interceptions.

The list is fun to peruse. Carolina rookie Cam Newton has already tried 43 such passes this season.

As for the reasons Kolb hasn’t thrown deep more often, they are likely multiple, and all the ones we have gone over before. Protection not holding up, being uncomfortable in the pocket (it takes times for such routes to develop), and probably fewer playcalls to do so. There is all kinds of risk usually when you take shots downfield, whether it is a chance at a sack or getting picked off on a jump ball (like the Antrel Rolle interception in the Giants’ game). It’s a part of Kolb’s game — and the offense — that will be interesting to watch as the season moves forward.

UPDATE: The ProFootballFocus.com guys were kind enough to send along, for comparison, what Kurt Warner did deep his final two seasons in Arizona. That’s also very interesting. In 2008, Warner had the highest accuracy percentage throwing deep (58.7) but his 46 attempts (23 completions, 4 drops, 5 TD, 3 INT) were still tied for the fewest among the the full-time quarterbacks that season (JaMarcus Russell and Ben Roethlisberger were the only other two with fewer than 50 that season).

In 2009, Warner’s deep accuracy percentage dropped off the table to 32.4 percent (11-of-37, 1 drop, 3 TD, 5 INT) and again, his attempts were fewest in the league.

In both years, Warner threw deep only 7.7 percent and 7.2 percent of the time respectively (Kolb is at 6.4 percent of the time). By contrast, Derek Anderson threw deep 14.4 percent of the time last season when he was playing.


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Hitting 400

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2011 – 9:26 am

Let’s start with this disclaimer: The Cardinals need to play better defense. Everyone knows that, acknowledged that. “We let them get some first downs, move the ball on us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Cam Newton played a great game. He’s a lot better quarterback than a lot of people thought, I’m sure. But we found a way to get it done at the end.”

But — and there is always a but, right? — a bit of perspective on Cam Newton’s 422 yards passing, best pointed out by Campbell again. “We still got the ‘W’ and that’s what it is about,” he said.

On my drive home last night I started mulling the 400-yard passing games I have seen over the years. It’s a fantastic number. And frankly, it usually means a loss. Ask Drew Brees, who was great last Thursday night and piled up 419 yards passing with no interceptions and still lost to Green Bay. The rookie record for passing yards in a game, prior to Matthew Stafford’s 422 in 2009 (tied yesterday by Newton) was the Cardinals’ own Matt Leinart, who threw for 405 in Minnesota in 2006. The Cards lost that game, 31-26 (Stafford did win his game, however, 38-37 over Cleveland, with five TD passes).

Kurt Warner had a pair of monster passing yardage days as a Card. He threw for 484 yards at home against the 49ers in 2007, and for 472 in New York against the Jets in 2007. The Cards lost the former in overtime, 37-31, and the latter was also a loss, 56-35. In fact, while Boomer Esiason’s team record 522-yard passing day in Washington in 1996 was an overtime win, the next five top passing games in franchise history (Warner’s two games, Neil Lomax at 468 yards, Jake Plummer at 465 yards and Lomax again at 457) were all losses.

Steve Beuerlein, who threw for 431 yards in Seattle in 1993, did win in overtime.

Newton’s certainly didn’t pile up numbers chasing a big deficit, which is impressive. But the Cards didn’t allow the Panthers to run well — 74 yards, a 2.7-yard average — which is the flip side of the big passing day. The point, again, is that gaudy numbers are always nice. But they are hollow without the right outcome. And in the Cards’ case, they don’t sting nearly as much with the right outcome.


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Panthers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2011 – 8:04 pm

I kept thinking, standing down on the field around the 10-yard line after watching the Panthers’ final offensive play Sunday, it reminded me of the final play of the Rams-Titans Super Bowl – the one where Rams linebacker Mike Jones grabbed Kevin Dyson and stopped him a yard short of the end zone. Obviously, the gravity of Sunday’s Cards’ win wasn’t quite the same. But seeing linebacker Paris Lenon stop running back Mike Goodson’s reception for four (plus an inch or two) instead of the five needed for a first down or the six needed for a touchdown was an echo.

Certainly, the Cards have to revel in Lenon’s play. To fall short in what was really an odd game would have been a gut punch. The way the Cards blew chances to score hurt, but they really would have left a mark if it would have meant a loss.

If you would have said beforehand Kevin Kolb would throw for 309 yards and two TDs without a pick and Beanie would have 90 rushing yards and a TD, I would have been thinking it’s a lock. Instead it was quite a bit harder.

They won, though.

— Here’s hoping Daryl Washington is OK with his calf strain. He had an interception, he had another called back on the Richard Marshall roughing penalty (more on that in a minute), was credited with half-a-sack and, I think, will be the one who ends up with the one credited to Joey Porter as well. Plus, on the play he got hurt, he flashed his amazing speed to catch up and tackle Steve Smith from behind. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be a very, very good player.

— Marshall still was incredulous after the game about his penalty. I have a feeling it was because Marshall “launched” himself at Newton, leaving his feet to deliver the hit. But Newton is 6-foot-5 and Marshall 5-11; all it did was allow Marshall to hit Newton’s shoulder with his shoulder. There was no helmet-to-helmet.

“We will see why they threw the flag, but I guess they will let me know,” Marshall said. “I’ve got to play full-speed. I’m not going to slow down. I just have to deal with it.”

— I will admit that I was dead wrong on Cam Newton. I thought he was going to struggle, at least for a while. Whoops. He played a hell of a game, and was much better from the pocket than I expected. Those were 422 real yards, not anything piled up in garbage time.

Does that mean the Cards couldn’t have played better on defense? Of course. They’ll say that. “It is (a work-in-progress) but at the same time, we made mistakes,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “It is a new defense but there are no excuses. Everybody understands that.” Patrick Peterson will get better, but anyone who expected a lot more from him to begin with wasn’t being realistic.

— The same goes for the offense’s issues. You just have a feeling that’s going to get fixed (Jay Feely’s miss is a great example. After he was so consistent last year, does anyone think today’s miss was anything but a fluke?) If Beanie Wells can run like that, the Cards will be OK. The Cards will have to figure out the best ways to get the ball to Fitz – he’ll need more than three catches, obviously – but think of it this way: If Kolb is throwing for 309 on a day when things don’t seem to be altogether smooth, what happens when the offense really “clicks?”

— Tight ends made an impact. Todd Heap had a pair of 20-yard catches early, and Jeff King made his early bid as the Cards’ speed receiver with that 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown. So too did Early Doucet with his 105 yards receiving (including his 70-yard TD, pictured below).  There’s another guy who continues to show he can play … as long as he is healthy.

— I know people want to jump on Peterson for his premature high-step (and I’d be curious, with the new college rules, if that would have been flagged if he was still at LSU and the ball put at the 18 or wherever it happened). In the end, though, it can be a lesson learned. He didn’t finish the high-stepped, he instead stepped up his speed and got into the end zone.

— Speaking of the punt, Wilson deadpanned that there was only one reason to be “mad” at Peterson: Because he fielded the ball back around the 10, instead of letting it drop and bounce into the end zone. “I don’t know if coach is going to scold him,” Wilson said. “Technically, at the 10-yard line, he’s not supposed to catch the ball. It was 89 yards, so I don’t know if he can really get mad at him.”

Tough to get mad after a win.

I think it’s time to go home.


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A new role for Derek Anderson

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2011 – 9:27 am

A year ago, Derek Anderson was starting at quarterback for the Cardinals heading into the opener at St. Louis. The Cards won that day, 17-13, and Anderson threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Then, as everyone knows, it unraveled from there.

Anderson and the Cardinals will  be in the same building again Sunday in the opener, except this time, Anderson could be the Carolina Panthers’ backup to rookie starter Cam Newton. Because of the lockout, Anderson remained on the Cards’ roster until right before training camp, but that was always just a formality. As soon as teams started making moves, Anderson was released. He caught on with Carolina because his former offensive coordinator in Cleveland, Rob Chudzinski, was now on the Panthers’ staff, and head coach Ron Rivera wanted a veteran presence. He not only worked out, he might’ve surpassed Jimmy Clausen on the depth chart (Rivera isn’t saying) and, Newton said, became a mentor.

“(He’s had a) big impact. Big impact,” Newton said. “His presence alone is good for our meeting room. Especially being in coach Chudzinski’s offense (before) he helps our coaches out. I know he’s been a big help for me and Jimmy in terms of our maturation for this offense. He’s been a good person to talk to about what this offense’s philosophy is. He had a Pro Bowl season in this offense so he knows the ins and outs, but more than that, he’s been a good teammate. He always has an upbeat mentality.”

That mentality was severely tested during Anderson’s lone season in Arizona. His inconsistent play forced him in and out of the lineup, the offense struggled all year, and it all came to a head during a Monday night blowout loss against San Francisco in which TV cameras caught Anderson laughing on the sideline talking to guard Deuce Lutui when the Cards were down big. Asked about it afterward, Anderson lost his cool in the postgame press conference, and that video — more than any game footage — was what got played over and over.

Anderson told the Charlotte Observer Lutui was trying to make Anderson feel better after Anderson had been getting grief from a fan in the University of Phoenix Stadium stands. “Deuce just said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got your back no matter what happens.’ And I just kind of grinned at it,” Anderson said. “Obviously, I put a lot of time and effort into things and I don’t take anything like that lightly. I wasn’t laughing because we were losing.

“It was the frustration of kind of the whole season and how things had gone. A lot of time and effort had been put into things. I know that everybody on the team probably felt the same way. They were all just as frustrated as I was,” Anderson added. “I was trying to do everything I could every single week to plan something that was going to get us going. We couldn’t get it going. And it was kind of an accumulation of a lot of things.”

Anderson said he didn’t get enough reps in the offseason and training camp last year to feel comfortable in the offense because he was playing behind Matt Leinart the whole time. Not that it mattered. Anderson’s stats last season pretty much mirrored his career numbers. He was exactly what he could have been expected to be — which is why Anderson is now a Panther, and Kevin Kolb became the Cards’ top offseason target.


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Playing a new kind of Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on September 7, 2011 – 9:45 am

The Cardinals have made games against Carolina a habit over the past few years. In coach Ken Whisenhunt’s four previous seasons in Arizona, the Cards have faced the Panthers five times, with three of them having memorable side themes. There was the Panthers’ 25-10 win in Arizona in 2007, a game in which the Cards looked to have a massive advantage since Vinnie Testaverde was quarterbacking Carolina with only three days of practice — only to see Kurt Warner’s elbow get mangled by Julius Peppers early in the game, forcing Tim Rattay to play Rattay also had only three days of practice.

In 2008, the Cards had a close 27-23 loss in Carolina early in the season, a missed opportunity that only served to help with a playoff rematch later that year — the 33-13 Cards’ thrashing in Carolina where Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme had six turnovers and had his career derailed in one signature night.

In 2009, the Cards lost, 34-21, at home when Warner had one of his once-in-a-while meltdown games in which he threw five interceptions. Then came last years’ disappointment, a 19-12 loss in Carolina when the Panthers were headed to the worst record in football.

(It’s odd the Cards keep drawing the Panthers yearly, since it is certainly not automatic.)

This year, though, is different. Every meeting previous Carolina had John Fox as head coach. Now the Panthers finally have made a change, with Ron Rivera as boss (and rookie quarterback Cam Newton as the unquestioned starter). The first game always is a challenge anyway, since teams don’t show as much in the preseason. Doing it now, with a new coaching staff, makes it harder.

“We are watching a lot of San Diego stuff from last year,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, noting Rivera was the coordinator of the Chargers’ No. 1 defense last season. “Logic will say he will run some of the things he did last year.”

(On the flip side, Newton said the Panthers are watching film of the Steelers to get a sense of what new Cards DC Ray Horton will do — and the Panthers benefit because they just played the Steelers in a preseason game, Newton added.)

Whisenhunt said the Cards just have to be flexible as the game goes on to account for the “new” Panthers.

“This first game is always a little bit different, and probably not game planning in the preseason will help us from the standpoint of having to adjust and being ready to adjust,” Whisenhunt said. “We talked about that during the course of preparing for opponents during the preseason. You’re going to get to go against a team you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. You don’t know if what they’ve shown in preseason is what they’re going to show in the regular season, but that’s the way it can be every Sunday in the NFL. Making adjustments is going to be key to us having success Sunday.”


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Feeling familiar

Posted by Darren Urban on May 19, 2011 – 3:26 pm

While everyone waits for the league year to start — and, at its root, waits for the Cardinals to have a chance to figure out its quarterback situation — the possibilities remain open speculation. Suddenly, it begins to feel very familiar.

In fact, as I read about how NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi felt about Kevin Kolb during a Sports 620 KTAR interview this morning, and how Kolb has generated a range of believers and non-believers when it comes to his abilities and what it could mean to the Cardinals if there indeed was a trade here, it felt very deja vu. Is Kolb the right guy? What’s he worth in a trade? Is what the Eagles want and what the Cards (assuming they’d want Kolb) are willing to give up at least in the same ballpark? Hard to know, given Kolb’s relatively short career and seven NFL starts.

This is about more than Kolb, though. So many questions are flying around about Marc Bulger too, and he’s got a much longer resume. And Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton and even Carson Palmer. I realized it reminded me so much of the ramp-up before a draft when it comes to quarterbacks. Obviously, the veterans have played in the league, but this feels a lot like how Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, etc., were deconstructed over and over. Such as Sam Bradford last year.

It’s the position, of course. It’s the position and the importance it carries and, this offseason, its the days of dead time that allows for possible paralysis by analysis. The trade market for a player like Kolb doesn’t hurt either; unlike the draft, there is someone on the other side of the equation (the Eagles, in this case) hoping Kolb’s value is driven up during all these discussions.

Like the draft, however, it’ll be impossible to know what any of these quarterbacks could really do in a different situation until they get to a new place. Until someone gets here to Arizona. The naysayers could be right about Kolb, for instance. But like the draft, that’s why a team has scouts. They scout veteran players too. You have to assume, whichever player the Cards chase, they believe he will be successful. Why else get him?



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Playing it “safe”

Posted by Darren Urban on April 15, 2011 – 2:23 pm

The talk about grabbing a “safe” pick high in the draft has been used for a long time now. As I have responded to a few people in blog post comments over the past month or so, there really isn’t such a thing as a “safe” pick. Now ESPN’s John Clayton has written a really good column on the subject, and the reality of going “safe.”

Clayton uses the example of the Dolphins going with tackle Jake Long (three Pro Bowls in three seasons already) and then taking QB Chad Henne in the second round, instead of taking QB Matt Ryan over Long. Henne isn’t working. They are still looking for a QB. Long was “safe” and he has been excellent. But was the pick for the best?

That’s why there is so much hair-pulling (figuratively, of course) about Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, and what they could mean. If you are the Bills, for instance, and you go with Von Miller over Gabbert, and Gabbert turns into Matt Ryan — even if Miller is another, say, Clay Matthews — did Buffalo make the right call? (The same argument can be made for the Cards, for instance, for taking Larry Fitzgerald over Ben Roethlisberger). It’s why the Panthers seem likely to take Cam Newton No. 1 overall, because no matter how “safe” a Patrick Peterson or Marcell Dareus might be, they can’t trump the impact of a franchise QB.

Then again, you don’t know if that QB is going to be a franchise guy (see Leinart, Matt — among others). Another concept: Is it better to take a QB who might wash out or end up with a position player who washes out? The upside of impact usually rests with the most important position. It’s another reason why making the decisions on draft day are never simple, even when sometimes they look that way.


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All In the draft room, combine interview

Posted by Darren Urban on April 11, 2011 – 3:54 pm

So you want “All In,” here’s a chance to come pretty close – a glimpse of some of the behind-closed-doors things that go on before the draft. The latest webisode from the “All In” series is up, a riveting piece from Tim DeLaney that not only goes over some of the ins-and-outs of the pre-draft process but also gives some visuals of the Cards’ decision-makers in the draft room as the draft meetings are underway.

Oh, and I know I had mentioned I was lucky enough to be in the interview room for a couple of combine chats between the team and potential draftees. Tim was too – with the camera – and you can see some of that in the video, including a few moments with Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert (this is where I feel free to stoke the rumormill … if Ken Whisenhunt’s interaction with Cam Newton at Auburn’s pro day got everyone fired up, what about this!?!?!)

No, you’re not going to know who the Cardinals are going to pick if you watch the video. But you will get to see some things not usually on display for the world.


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