Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2011 – 4:59 pm

As we sit on this flight back to Philly for one final two-day trip of the season, it jogs the memory of the last trip to Philly – which was only one day. That’s because the game was at night. A Thursday night to be exact, Thanksgiving night, when the Cards were knocked around pretty good, 48-20, and everyone wondered just what the Cardinals were going to be able to do in the playoffs a month later.

It was 2008 of course, and while the Cards had trouble keeping it on the road in that stretch run, we all know what they did in the playoffs. And that was the last time the Cardinals played the Eagles as well, hosting them in the NFC Championship game when Tim Hightower worked the perfect screen pass for the go-ahead touchdown. Funny thing was, even though the Eagles dominated the Cards every which way in that regular-season game, I always thought the Cards would win the playoff game.

It was that kind of season.

This season is different. Both the Eagles and Cards are struggling. The best subplot of this game – Kevin Kolb’s return – probably won’t happen. Kolb is officially questionable, but he hasn’t practiced at all since the Friday before the Ravens game. Besides, with all the problems he has had on the field, I don’t know if you would want to put him in this maelstrom of drama if he wasn’t totally healthy.

Instead, the Cards are trying for an upset. No one seems to think the Cards have a chance, although if they do win, even with all their troubles, they’d have the same record as the Eagles. Who would have thought that a few weeks ago?

— No Kolb would leave John Skelton of course, and while he has gone 3-0 in his home starts, his two road starts were not so good last season. He struggled mightily against both the Panthers – who were so bad they had the No. 1 overall pick, even after beating the Cards – and the 49ers.

— Before we even get to Sunday, Cardinals play-by-play man Dave Pasch has a huge assignment – he has to call the Penn State-Nebraska game for ESPN. Pasch knew his assignment last Sunday, just when the Penn State scandal was beginning to come to light.

“It’s just being prepared for anything,” Pasch told the New York Daily News. “Who knows what’s going to happen from now until Saturday, let alone from kickoff until the end of the game?”

A big job, but Pasch is so good he’ll pull it off. One subplot is already off the table – Urban Meyer, normally the third man in the booth with Pasch and Chris Spielman, won’t be there after his father passed away this morning.

— How will the Cards defend Michael Vick? Someone actually asked defensive coordinator Ray Horton if he would change personnel just for Vick, a query that brought a chuckle from Horton. He wasn’t about to reveal state secrets. Besides, containing Vick isn’t easy regardless.

“You can spy him, you can account for him, but he is going to get out because he is so elusive and, unless you have played this guy … you see it on film and you think, ‘I can get there,’ ” Horton said. “And you don’t.”

— Cornerback Michael Adams, who was close with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, said DRC was hurt that the Cards traded him away. DRC seemed to echo such a sentiment talking with Philly reporters this week.

“I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder since the Cardinals were the team that decided to trade me,” DRC said. But, he added, “I’m going to go out there and give it my all, like I do every week. I’m trying to treat this game like any other; I’m not going to let it affect my play. It’ll be nice to see some of my old teammates and friends, but at the end of the day it’s business.”

— If the Cardinals can keep it close, the Eagles can be had late – Philly has been outscored 60-24 in the fourth quarter.

— Of course, that only matters if the Cards keep it close. The first quarter is Arizona’s Achilles heel, getting outscored 48-23.

— A piece on says that Levi Brown is tied with the Rams’ Rodger Saffold for the most sacks allowed this season, with 8½. Obviously there is no true way to measure exactly what happens – the story acknowledges there are times when it is tough to tell, and there are times, for instance, when Kolb has dropped back so far he is out of the pocket. But everyone knows Brown needs to play better.

— The great under-the-radar news for the Cards: How much better running back Beanie Wells feels. Actually practicing full today means a lot, not only to Beanie but to this game. The Eagles can be run on (Matt Forte cracked 130 yards against them Monday) and it’s a crucial part of the Cards’ offense these days.

One last thing: My most memorable moment in Philly. No, it wasn’t Adrian Wilson crushing Donovan McNabb and breaking his ankle on the first series of the game, only to have McNabb play on it and throw four touchdown passes. No, this was the 2001 game, and going down on the field at Veterans’ Stadium and watching Jake Plummer hook up with MarTay Jenkins on an improbable Hail Mary-esque TD pass with 17 seconds left to beat the Eagles.

Man, I’ve never heard such a loud stadium get quiet so fast.

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An eye open, then adding a CB

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2011 – 1:54 pm

The loss of cornerback Greg Toler to a knee injury is a blow, and it’s a tough coincidence that the two good players the Cards dealt in trades — Tim Hightower and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — happen to play the positions where the two season-ending injuries occurred with Toler and Ryan Williams. In the meantime, coach Ken Whisenhunt continued to say the same thing: The Cards will keep an eye on who is available, but in neither case are they definitely going to add someone.

At cornerback they still have A.J. Jefferson, Patrick Peterson and Richard Marshall to man the top three spots. At running back, they are still intrigued by Alfonso Smith (although he unfortunately is dealing with a hamstring problem right now, which kept him from running the ball against San Diego the other night).

There will be players who come available not this week but next weekend that can change the equation.

UPDATE: The Cardinals did add a cornerback Monday afternoon, signing Fred Bennett while waiving-injured LB Brandon Sharpe (hamstring). Bennett, a 2007 fourth-round pick of Houston, actually started 17 times in 40 games for the Texans from 2007-09. He spent time with San Diego and Cincinnati last season, and was just released by the Bengals this weekend. He has five career interceptions.

“We are always looking to get our team better,” Whisenhunt said. “It may be this week, it may be after this week, we will look and see. It’s got to be the right fit for us. You get a sense in training camp you have all these numbers that you don’t have in the regular season. We don’t have six corners or five corners or five running backs on the regular roster. We will look and see what’s available.”

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Peterson’s arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2011 – 10:11 pm

Don’t remember the last time a No. 1 draft pick’s arrival was so off the radar, but it was Sunday for cornerback Patrick Peterson, but that’s what happens when Todd Heap arrives and Tim Hightower is traded and Deuce Lutui returns (we won’t even talk about the fact second-round pick Ryan Williams signed).

But Peterson did arrive — his first practice is Monday morning, although it’ll only be a walkthrough — and he sounded ready to go. He knows Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is gone, but Peterson was a good cross between confident and humble as he spoke.

“I still have to come in and make plays,” Peterson said. “It’s definitely a big loss to the secondary but at the same time it a business. We have to move on.

“I was definitely looking forward to learning from DRC but now they brought in Richard (Marshall), so I have a great opportunity to learn under him.”

Peterson was asked about finally going against Larry Fitzgerald, but the rookie pointed out he had a chance to train some with Fitz in the offseason.

“He told me he’s going to make me better and he’s definitely looking for me to make him better,” Peterson said. “That’s the beauty of this whole deal.”

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Peterson agrees to five-year contract; Womack arrives

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2011 – 5:09 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt just said the Cards and No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson have agreed to a five-year contract, so the cornerback should be around — assuming he gets in in time to pass a physical — for Sunday’s afternoon practice I would think Sunday night, ready to practice Monday probably, according to Whisenhunt. With third-round pick Rob Housler getting his own deal earlier in the day, it leaves second-rounder Ryan Williams the last unsigned rookie (and I would guess he will be done very, very soon).

With the addition of free-agent cornerback Richard Marshall on a one-year contract earlier Saturday, the top three Cards’ corners are set: Marshall, Peterson and Greg Toler. How they play out — which ones start and who is the nickel guy — will likely come down to how quickly Peterson assimilates to the NFL game. My guess is the starters are Marshall and Toler, and when Peterson is ready, the better of the other two will team with the No. 1 pick.

Marshall is known as a physical tackler. Toler’s strength is tackling and the word on Peterson is physical first. I know there were a lot of people upset about DRC leaving and DRC was a special talent. But there is no question these three fit the mold of what defensive coordinator Ray Horton says he wants.

UPDATE: And the Cards made another addition to the offensive line as well, coming to terms with Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, late of the Browns and one-time Seattle Seahawk.

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Reacting to the Kolb deal

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2011 – 6:01 pm

After every draft, a slew of draft “grades” come out as people try to analyze what happened. In truth, it’s foolish because there is no way to know at that moment how the class will turn out. In truth, it’s smart, because the draft grades are probably the most read part of draft coverage.

But the draft grades were what I was thinking of today (and the last few days) as the Kevin Kolb trade moved to completion and the reality set in of the Cards giving up DRC and a pick. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the deal will be judged on whether the team wins, and that is true. I take it even further, which I mentioned on Twitter today: Bottom line, if Kolb wins and plays well, in the end, no one will care what was surrendered to get him. If he is a bust, the acquisition would have been attacked regardless of the compensation.

Take Derek Anderson, who was humanely released Thursday after one very rocky season in Arizona. He was a free agent. He cost nothing. But he played poorly, and most are upset he was ever brought to town.

Everyone will have an opinion on this (and most of the ones I hear are very strong) and that’s fine. If he goes down in flames, I’m sure everyone will pat themselves on the back. If he succeeds, he’ll end up generating the same good feeling Kurt Warner did, even if no one liked how he got here. Heck, even Darnell Dockett was conflicted, immediately tweeting “I don’t know how to feel” to later predicting Whisenhunt would make “big moves” and the Cards would win the NFC West.

As for the big contract, ESPN’s Andrew Brandt tweeted that Kolb’s deal is similar to the one Aaron Rodgers got in 2008 when Rodgers had just seven starts under his belt — like Kolb. So the money isn’t out of context.

Maybe DRC leapfrogs his 2009 season and Kolb struggles and this looks bad in the end. Maybe DRC feels the pressure of being in Philly and hears about his tackling while Michael Vick gets banged up and Kolb shines. Maybe Kolb plays well and DRC plays well and everyone is happy. Who knows. But that’s why we pay attention to this in the first place, right?

P.S. The story is wrong. The Eagles did not trade the Cards a second-round pick.

P.P.S. In case you missed it, LB Gerald Hayes was also released today.

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Kolb reportedly a Cardinal

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2011 – 12:04 pm

Multiple reports have the Kevin Kolb trade finished, with the Cards getting the quarterback from the Eagles and dealing, as expected, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in return. There has not been an official announcement from either team, however.

Kolb also reportedly will get a five-year contract extension. So there’s the QB the Cards wanted/needed. Given the debate that led up to this whole thing, I don’t doubt that Kolb will be topic 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in training camp. He’ll have heavy pressure to succeed.

UPDATE: NFL Network is reporting Cards are also looking at San Diego WR Malcolm Floyd to replace Breaston. Floyd is a speed guy (averaged more than 19 yards a catch last season, and more than 17 the previous two years) who would look good opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

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DRC talks about the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2011 – 9:56 am

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just did a phone interview with Philadelphia radio station WIP, obviously to talk about the speculation that he would be part of a trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb.

“A lot of people been hitting me up,” DRC said. “I’m just playing it by ear. Whatever happens, happens.”

He added that whether the trade goes down or not, “It don’t matter to me.” He was careful to walk the line about being a Cardinal or being an Eagle. The hosts obviously wanted to ask him about coming to Philly, but DRC knows there is a chance he will remain in Arizona. Even the hosts, after it was over, noted DRC was trying to stay neutral.

“I’m waiting until it all plays out,” DRC said. “I ain’t getting too antsy yet.” Asked about his desire to play for the Eagles, DRC made clear he still had a fondness for the Cards because they were the team that drafted him and gave him his start. “But if they’re talking about trading me, I can’t do nothing about that, because it’s a business,” he added.

According to reports, teams can start discussing trades Tuesday, although they can’t become official until 3 p.m. Arizona time Friday.

The hosts did ask DRC about his tackling. “I know when it comes down to it, if I have to make the tackle, he’s going to come down,” DRC said.

Now we just have to wait to see in what uniform DRC will be doing that tackling.

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More and more Kolb

Posted by Darren Urban on July 19, 2011 – 3:42 pm

When Kevin Kolb went on the “Dan Patrick Show” this morning and talked about how he has “envisioned” himself as a Cardinal, that probably isn’t a surprise. We’ve been sitting around talking about this possibility for so long, it’s only natural Kolb himself was going to do so. Do I think the Cards will make a play for Kolb? Yes. Do I know what they will offer? No.

The DRC thing seems to be gaining speculative steam, not that it sits well with everyone (Tweeted Adrian Wilson today, “Everyone need to stop with the DRC for KOLB trade rumors… Ridiculous!!!! Can we get to football first. Just stop it already” and new DRC/Wilson teammate Patrick Peterson retweeted the sentiment.) Kent Somers broke down his thoughts on such a swap and I already had mentioned what I thought.

But let’s just talk about what is fact for right now: Kolb’s interview. He said a lot of stuff today that he’s said before, but a couple of particular comments stood out. To start, “Most people can connect the dots now,” he said. “Arizona is a great place.”

Then there was this: Regardless of where Kolb goes, on the idea that he could end up staying an Eagle, Kolb said, “I don’t even want to look down that route (that he’s not traded). I have had a great time there (in Philadelphia) but it’s just time for me to move on and do my own thing.

“I had my shot (in Philly) and it didn’t work out and so I have to go prove myself somewhere else if that possibility presents itself. But I can’t think of one (scenario where he stays). From the conversations I had before this all happened, it sounds like (trading me) is the plan and hopefully everyone sticks to it.”

So there’s another pressure point on the Eagles’ end to do a deal, and like every pressure point, it really doesn’t force a trade, but it means that both sides probably won’t end up with “best-case scenario” in a deal for one to happen. The Eagles won’t get a ransom, the Cards won’t get off cheap.

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Like everyone, Bidwill ready for football

Posted by Darren Urban on July 18, 2011 – 8:52 pm

Out in Los Angeles Monday, at Memorial Coliseum, the annual NFL 101 All-Access event was held – at its core, an effort to keep the dream of an NFL team (or teams) in Los Angeles alive. This year, the Cardinals were invited to have a booth for the fans, and then for president Michael Bidwill to sit on a panel with the 49ers’ Jed York and the Raiders’ Amy Trask.

Bidwill acknowledged, again, that there is “no doubt” the Cards will focus on getting a veteran quarterback as soon as the labor situation is settled and “I have no doubt it will happen quickly.” He didn’t talk specifics, but that’s not a surprise (and yes, I know about Mike Jurecki’s report earlier in the day that he heard about the Cards willing to offer DRC for Kolb. I don’t  know what will happen there).

Earlier, Bidwill smiled when it brought up that the labor situation may indeed to coming to a resolution.

“We’re almost there,” he said. “It feels like there are just a few more issues left. It’s kind of like watching a pot boil, you watch it every day it feels like it takes longer. Hopefully we will get it wrapped up soon and I am looking forward to going to the meeting in Atlanta (Thursday) and see where we are.”

Bidwill, like everyone, said he would be rather be talking football anyway.

“It does make me feel good because getting back to football is what it is all about,” Bidwill said. “We’ve been talking about labor issues and lawsuits and I know fans want to be talking about quarterbacks and what we’re doing in free agency and how we’re going to beef up the defense and the running game. We have some good draft choices and we haven’t even had a chance to meet them yet.”

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The rookies and their impact

Posted by Darren Urban on July 7, 2011 – 11:30 am

So’s K.C. Joyner — the  “Football Scientist” — wrote an Insider article about No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson and the possibility he could bring the Cards’ secondary elite status this season. Joyner uses football metrics (fancy stats) to prove his point. He compares the Cards’ move to that of Bill Walsh and the 49ers back in 1981 when they added future star Ronnie Lott.

“This combination of traits helped the 49ers pass defense improve to top-five rankings in passer rating allowed, passing yards per attempt (YPA), passing yards allowed and interceptions in the 1981 campaign, all of which were key elements in San Francisco’s Super Bowl run that season,” Joyner writes.

“Fast forward to this year’s draft. It’s very hard to project any draft pick to be as impactful as Lott — who was a star at cornerback before he was eventually shifted to safety — but Whisenhunt and the Cardinals’ brain trust may have had the same idea in mind when they drafted LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 pick.”

Joyner also writes “It may sound hard to believe given how bad Arizona’s pass defense statistics were last year, but the metrics show that the addition of Peterson and an achievable turnaround by former Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could give the Cardinals a truly elite secondary.”

Of course, that would be huge for the Cards if Peterson indeed did so (while noting DRC also has to up his play). But it also got me wondering about the entire rookie class. The way coach Ken Whisenhunt likes to break in rookies, there is usually a waiting period for them to make a large impact. Add in the complete loss of the offseason — so that this rookie class with have absolutely zero idea about life in the NFL and what this coaching staff expects until we are two weeks away from an actual preseason game — and you have to think the learning curve will be that much steeper.

Peterson, of course, should get a chance to play early. But with DRC and Greg Toler, there doesn’t have to be a rush into the starting lineup. The Cards can afford to pick-and-choose his spots (which may, again, slow down that scenario Joyner envisions). The same goes for second-round running back Ryan Williams, since the Cards obviously have running backs already in place — even if one of the guys already on the roster isn’t there once the season begins, which remains a possibility.

Interestingly, it’s the next four picks that really could be the ones to watch, depending on how free agency turns out. Third-round tight end Rob Housler is a pass-catching piece the Cards could use right away, if he can quickly assimilate. Fourth-round outside linebacker Sam Acho will have to learn the position, but given the Cards’ need for pass rushers and the ability to spot-play such guys, he too could be used early. And the Cards will probably carry only one fullback, so if fifth-rounder Anthony Sherman is the guy, he’ll have to be the blocker right out of the gate. Meanwhile, sixth-round linebacker Quan Sturdivant will find that there is playing time to be had in the middle — again, if he can quickly learn on the job.

(Sixth-round DL David Carter and seventh-round WR DeMarco Sampson, to me, are depth at best and will be fighting just to get on the roster.)

Until these guys get on the field, it’s always easy to be optimistic what they can add right away. History shows the free agents the Cards bring it — whomever they will be — will be more important, one way or the other, at first. That may just be underscored with this absent offseason.

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