A rough time for 49ers in the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2015 – 1:42 pm

In a division where keeping up with the Joneses is important just to have a chance at the playoffs — and goodness knows the Seahawks have been the Joneses for a couple of seasons now — the Cardinals feel like they have made strides to compete with Seattle. Their free agent class filled holes in the front seven of the defense and on the interior of the offensive line. More importantly, their quarterback is doing well in rehab. The Seahawks, meanwhile, added arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. The Rams bolstered their defensive line with Nick Fairley and think they have upgraded at quarterback with Nick Foles (at least, he should be healthy enough to play.)

Then there are the 49ers, who have gone through one rough offseason, which started when they moved on from successful coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Niners got the shocking news young linebacker Chris Borland decided to leave the game instead of risking his long-term health to play. Borland was supposed to be the guy who filled in for Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who retired because his oft-injured feet ended his hopes for a comeback. Defensive lineman Justin Smith likely will retire. Then they allowed multiple free agents to leave, like running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati (who came to Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox. They probably won’t bring back Michael Crabtree either.

Now, the Niners have added some pieces. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Darnell Dockett. Lions running back Reggie Bush (although he may be beyond his productive years.) But the way things have gone, it’ll be tough for the 49ers to right the decline they went through in 2014. That comes with the QB caveat all teams have — if Colin Kaepernick emerges as a star, that covers most issues.

While it could be considered the “offseason from hell,” the Cardinals did have one of recent vintage that they could put up in any argument. It’s tough to forget the offseason after 2009. In case you have forgotten, a refresher: quarterback Kurt Warner retired, safety Antrel Rolle was released for cap reasons (and subsequently signed with the Giants), linebacker Karlos Dansby left as a free agent and Anquan Boldin was traded. All were still playing at high/Pro Bowl levels. Those were a gut punch of transactions that eventually took out a coaching staff and brought the Cardinals to the Bruce Arians/Steve Keim era.

John Brown, Leon McFadden


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Niners (and a season) aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 29, 2013 – 8:56 pm

This is what happens, even after a 10-6 season and a finale that goes down to the final play of the game and an exciting trading of four scores in the last 3:30 of the fourth quarter. All of it seems so inconsequential, because immediately, your thoughts go to the future.

There will be lots and lots of time to speculate, break down and report on what is going to happen with the Cardinals this offseason. Certainly I won’t cover it all tonight or even tomorrow on the final day for the players. There are a lot of free agents-to-be, a lot of decisions that have to be made, and most guys are going to say they’d love to be back. Because of course they will, as long as the money is right, and I do not blame them. The shelf life is relatively short in this league. You don’t pass up a big contract elsewhere because you like the vibe your feeling in the current locker room. I mean, you can (and sometimes, you might), but you take the guaranteed money where you can get it. That’s the business.

So where does that put the Cardinals now, on Sunday night, after a finale that started terribly and ended almost magically and once again underscored just how far this team has come.

“This is a totally different ballclub (from 2012), not just looking at the wins and losses but with the mindset of the guys in the locker room,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “That starts with coach Arians. You can tell it’s a different feel with this team.”

— In a lot of ways, Sunday encapsulated the season. There was a slow start but ultimately, the Cards rallied. The defense played well against the run and gave up a crucial pass or two. Offensively the Cardinals threw an interception but did enough to keep the team in the game. If nothing else, the Cardinals showed the last two weeks they have nothing to fear from the Seahawks or 49ers. Remember that Arians’ training camp quote about how he didn’t see a dominate team in the division? Well, from the perspective of his team, he was right.

— Yeah, that Saints game went exactly how it looked like it was going to go. And the NaVorro Bowman pick against the Falcons was really the death knell.

— If you are looking for the Cardinals’ full list of 2014 opponents, click right here.

– -And as I mentioned in that post, the Cards will pick 20th in the draft.

— It’s been mentioned before but the Cardinals have got to find a way to stem the turnover tide against the Niners. In the last 10 games – nine losses – the Cards have turned the ball over 30 times and forced just seven.

— Linebacker Karlos Dansby, on his Pro Bowl snub: “(I’ve) got to do more. There’s always room for improvement.”

— Dan Williams played very well at nose tackle Sunday. But that ACL tear for Alameda Ta’amu hurts. The Williams/Ta’amu combo was a big reason the Cardinals finished with the best rush defense in the NFL. Ta’amu, if he does have an ACL tear, is gonna be down for a while.

— Speaking of that run defense, Frank Gore (14 yards on 13 carries) was absolutely stoned. The Niners got cutesy early with some impressive misdirection, running wide receivers Anquan Boldin (11-yard run) and Quinton Patton (26 yards) on the first drive on end arounds. That’s 37 of the 83 rushing yards the Cards gave up (and QB Colin Kaepernick had 24 himself.)

— Fitz finishes with a flourish, 113 yards on six catches. Couldn’t get the 160 he needed for 1,000, but a nice ending.

— Do the Cardinals draft a quarterback? Possibly. As I said before, Steve Keim won’t take a guy he doesn’t love. But I fully expect Carson Palmer to go into the offseason work as starter, and I expect if he plays next season to be more efficient (with fewer picks.)

— Defensive end Calais Campbell with his ninth sack. Here’s hoping, as an alternate, he ends up in that Pro Bowl. Because he really had a Pro Bowl season.

OK, that’s enough for now. More tomorrow as the Cardinals wrap up with exit physicals, and much more over the offseason. No one ask me what I do now that the season is over. There will be plenty to write about.


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49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 30, 2010 – 1:55 am

Well, I didn’t expect that.

I didn’t expect the Cards to get beat up by the Niners like that, and I didn’t expect Derek Anderson to be all over the TV and radio when it was over because of his heated postgame comments (You can see the video here). That a few seconds of Anderson smiling on the sideline would garner so much attention is amazing yet understandable at the same time. I didn’t even see the video until after the postgame interview process was over, but I darn sure heard about it via Twitter from a lot of fans – already upset at the way the game was going – even moreso after seeing the quarterback like that. (I am also sure fans heard Jon Gruden on the telecast questioning it too).

My guess it was a bit of gallows humor from Deuce Lutui (Kurt Warner joked to me on Twitter after that “Knowing Deuce he was inviting DA over 4 a Tongan barbecue 2 lighten the moment, I would have laughed 2!”). That’s fine. Just explain that. In the grand scheme, it isn’t a huge deal really. But what else is there to really talk about?

The Cards misfired in all three facets of the game. They couldn’t take advantage of Frank Gore’s injury and let the corpse of Brian Westbrook erupt for 136 yards rushing. They couldn’t do much on offense again. Special teams also took it on the chin a couple of times, whether it was Ted Ginn ripping off some long returns or having a good kickoff runback by LaRod Stephens-Howling called back on a penalty.

Not good. Not good at all.

“To lose six in a row, it hurts,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Especially when you know these guys in the locker room. I look at what we do on the practice field, how we work, work, work, this doesn’t make no sense to me.

“People say, ‘When is it gonna change, when’s it gonna change?’ (Expletive), it don’t seem like it’s ever gonna change. I don’t know what’s going on.”

— That was as glum as I have ever seen Larry Fitzgerald. “I’m at a loss for words,” he said, and it was tough to blame him. I know this is where everyone freaks out again about Fitz long-term, and that is an issue that must be contemplated. In the moment, though, he’s not only at a loss for words, but also answers.

— Breaking down numbers seems pointless tonight (especially at 1:45 a.m.). The 49ers dominated, and you don’t have to look at the stat sheet to see that. It was stunning to see Westbrook run the ball so well, however. The running lanes were huge at times. Troy Smith didn’t even have a good night throwing, other than that first TD pass. It didn’t matter.

— The last thing this team needs right now is a turnover – especially on the very first offensive play. When you wonder about a team’s confidence, which coach Ken Whisenhunt did last week, it isn’t helped by a quick mistake.

— We will see if anything changes tomorrow or Wednesday but when asked generally about changing personnel this week – which, of course, includes the quarterback – Whisenhunt noted a short week and said “we’re going to stick with what we do.” I assume that means Anderson still starts. Even if he were to make a change, I wouldn’t think we would hear anything until Wednesday anyway, because tomorrow is a mandated players day off and Whiz doesn’t announce such things unless he gets to talk to players first.

— So obviously, no, I don’t expect Anderson’s postgame comments to impact playing time. Nor should they, in this case. If a change is going to be made, it should be for football reasons, and it seems – given the Cards’ record and future – there are valid ones to do so. Please don’t ask me about Max Hall and John Skelton playing beyond that information though. I don’t know and it doesn’t even make sense to hazard a guess anymore.

— As I wrap up, I think of wide receiver Steve Breaston, who has slid into the role of resident philosopher/soul of the team in many ways. Maybe it’s his background as a writer, I don’t know. But even when the Miracle Baby says he doesn’t have anything to say he ends up having something to say.

“We have been through trying times and we have responded so I think the people on this team know how to respond,” Breaston said. “I don’t know what’s going on…. ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’ are cool, but sometimes, you gotta jump over somebody, you gotta run through somebody. That’s all about being a football player and playing beyond the expectations of that play.”

At this point, I would guess the fans would be happy with just coming close to expectations.

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Saturday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2010 – 4:26 pm

In weeks like this – a Monday game, in which the Saturday before becomes a normal Friday, at least in the regimented world of the NFL – the time after the final practice is oddly quiet. The offices are closed, so while the team is going about normal business, the rest of the building is shut down. Media coverage is even lighter than normal. And this week, it gave coach Ken Whisenhunt a chance to be a little more introspective after the camera (there was only one, from was off.

Whiz was asked if, around the holidays right now, he was finding any chance of relaxing away from the game. He had already mentioned to us previously that night time – when there wasn’t any work left to be done and he was alone in his thoughts to mull what was going on – was the hardest.

Not surprisingly, Whiz said no.

“It’s hard,” Whisenhunt said. “I am disappointed. I want to win. It doesn’t sit in your gut right. You think about a million things that could have gone differently or been done differently. It’s not easy. That’s the way it is.”

Whiz hasn’t been through this as a head coach, although he mentioned a similar season he dealt with in Pittsburgh (which I noted earlier this week). There, however, Whiz was an assistant. And that doesn’t compare to living with it as a head coach.

“I feel like, ‘You let everybody down,’ ” Whisenhunt said. “You’re working hard, you’re trying to do it right, you want to have success. But you’re not. And it’s hard.”

— So the Cards will be on the national TV stage trying to break a five-game losing streak. Whisenhunt made it clear this week that while technically the Cards are still in the NFC West race, it was folly to think about such things until the Cards won a game (or two or three) and he’s right. The reality, however, is this: The Cards will know by the time they play what Seattle and St. Louis have done this week. If they have both lost, the winner of this Monday game is better off than any 4-7 team deserves.

— This is the fourth straight game the Cards are playing a team that is coming off a beatdown the previous week. The Vikings, Seahawks and Chiefs all had suffered multiple bad games in a row before beating the Cards. The Cards have to make that fact work in their favor for once.

— San Francisco QB Troy Smith is a wild card here – Beanie Wells has been swearing by his former Ohio State teammate all season, insisting he was the best the Niners had – but maybe the Bucs showed a blueprint of how to deal with Smith last week.

— That said, I have seen two Niners – Frank Gore and Vernon Davis – be particular pains-in-the-rear to the Cards over the years. Those two, I think, are the keys to the game. Gore especially seems to just kill the Cards. They have to contain him.

— If you missed it, this is a great video on former-Cards-receiver-turned-team-mentor Anthony Edwards.

— Steve Breaston talked about scoring touchdowns. The Cards have to find a way. The offense has scored more than one touchdown in just four of 10 games this season.

— No official word on the roof being open, but given that it is a night game and a national telecast, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the sky. We already know we’re going to see the black uniforms.

— It would be cool for Larry Fitzgerald to get the nine receptions he needs to become the franchise’s all-time leader in catches (he is eight behind Anquan Boldin’s 586). Then again, it’s not like he won’t be breaking the mark at home, with three straight home games.

— The last time both the Cards and 49ers used the same starting quarterbacks for both regular-season matchups was 2003, when Jeff Blake faced off against Jeff Garcia twice. Since then, one or both of the teams has used two different starting QBs. The chances both Derek Anderson and Troy Smith still will be starting in the regular-season finale Jan. 2? I’m just sayin’ …

— Jon Gruden took Fitzgerald on to the “Monday Night Football” bus this afternoon to talk a little and go over some video. I squeezed in to the tight hallway to snap a picture of Gruden and Fitz – Fitz was admiring Gruden’s Super Bowl ring. And if you notice on the screen in the background (sorry about the flash), cued up on the video is the moment right before Fitz broke his 64-yard Super Bowl touchdown.

Ahh, good times. But time to live in the now. It’s on to Monday night.

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Top 50 Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on September 9, 2010 – 10:31 am

The Sporting News has put up their annual list of the top 100 NFL players and the Cardinals have three guys in the top 50: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is fourth in the entire league (behind Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Chris Johnson), while defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is 47th and safety Adrian Wilson is 48th (and former Card Anquan Boldin is 92nd). The 49ers, by the way, have two three on the list: linebacker Patrick Willis is 12th, running back Frank Gore is 55th and tight end Vernon Davis is 69th. Wonder if Dockett will let Davis know via Twitter. Or whether Wilson will when the teams actually play.

Speaking of Wilson, he is hosting the first regular-season Big Red Rage tonight at 6 p.m. at Majerle’s Sports Grill in Chandler. Special guest? Quarterback Derek Anderson, who can talk about his college buddy, Rams running back Steven Jackson. It’ll be on live on Sports 620 KTAR if you can’t make it there.

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Saturday before the 49ers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 12, 2009 – 3:16 pm

OK, we’re a day late here, but not really, since the game isn’t until Monday night and today’s Saturday’s practice was really Friday, because Friday was really Thursday and Thursday was really … well, you get the idea. I am actually heading to San Francisco early to see a friend and to check out the apparently rainy weather, although the last time I checked it the rain should pass by the time we get to the game.

The Cards don’t want any rain to mess with an offense that is going so well. Heck, even that pass to Anquan Boldin that turned into a 39-yard touchdown catch-and-run against the Vikings wasn’t necessarily supposed to be so effective. Kurt Warner said originally, he though the defender was riding Boldin out of bounds and Warner thought he’d draw a pass interference flag. Instead, magic (pictured below).

“I thought, ‘I’ll throw it at his back shoulder, they are so good at that, maybe we can get a catch and if not maybe we get a PI,’ ” Warner said. “Of course Q muscles the guy and makes a great catch and throws him around puts it in the end zone. What do you say? Those are the plays you love to watch on replay and what makes Anquan so special.”

True. Coach Ken Whisenhunt called it “vintage Anquan” and it had been a while since we saw one of Q’s great catch-and-runs. He’s had a few of those against the 49ers over the years too. Maybe Boldin is the hero of a division-clincher?

— The Cards have been so good on the road this season. To be within six seconds of 6-0, and with games left at San Francisco and Detroit, there’s a real chance for 7-1. The Cards haven’t won six on the road in a season since 1963.

— One of the reasons for their success is that they are only giving up 15.2 points a game away from Glendale. I can’t expect the 49ers to wreck that average. San Francisco is still trying to figure out what kind of offense they have. TE Vernon Davis playing very well and rookie WR Michael Crabtree, I have to admit, is more effective than I thought he’d be.

— But that also means Cards killer Frank Gore is getting the ball less. He had nine carries against Seattle last week. Nine! The Niners said it was because the Seahawks were stacking against the run, but if that’s true, then expect more of the same because the Cards are worried about Gore first and everyone else second. “They are throwing the ball 75 percent of the time, which is kind of crazy because that first game, they were running the ball 75 percent of the time,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “They did a 180.”

— On the subject of running the ball, the Cards not only are averaging 4.1 yards a carry as a team, but both Tim Hightower (4.5 yards per tote) and Beanie Wells (4.3) are above that line. Hightower in particular has a lot of doubters to where he could be an effective back, but that’s shifted.

“I know neither one of us are getting 20 carries a game, but we’re just sticking with the run as much as possible and having faith in it,” Hightower said. “At times last year, you get in that mindset as a running back, you may get it 10 or 15 times a game and you were trying to make too many big plays and you’re not working within the confines of the offense. (Now) it’s taking what’s there and trying not to get negative yards.”

— Can Warner break that record of five straight games of a passing rating of 120.0 or better? He’s been good on Monday nights and last year on MNF against San Francisco, he posted a rating of 121.9. My guess is Warner could not care less, as long as the Cards win and clinch the NFC West.

— Keeping Warner upright will be a key. The 49ers got pressure on Warner in that first game using a four-man rush much of the time. If they have to bring someone extra, Warner can usually exploit such moves.

— I don’t think you can measure the impact of having a healthy Boldin and Steve Breaston back in this game, compared to the first meeting. And that doesn’t include how much more effective Hightower and Beanie have been. I know the Cards and Niners have recently always had close games. But frankly, I don’t see the teams being that close right now. Not if the Cards play the way they can.

That’s good for now. It seems so far away to actual kickoff. But, considering how this season started – with that loss to the Niners that seems so, so, so long ago – it would be poetic to wrap up the division at Candlestick Park.

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49ers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 13, 2009 – 11:19 pm

What sticks with me more than anything else after the Cards’ disappointing season-opening loss was the TV shot of an animated Larry Fitzgerald talking to Kurt Warner in the huddle late in the first half. I don’t know what Fitz was saying nor did I get a chance to ask, but I’m willing to guess – since Fitz didn’t have a catch at that point – Fitz was saying something along the lines of “Just give me a chance and I’ll go get it for you.”

Shades of last season’s opener against the Niners. Of course, the Cards ended up winning that game. The Cards didn’t win Sunday. But it was game two where the offensive air attack really starting clicking after an uneven first game. Can they repeat that in Jacksonville?

Anyway, some other thoughts:

— If the Cards can really play defense like that, they’ll be in good shape. Their new style is now on video though, so teams will be better prepared. But if Chike Okeafor can play like that and Darnell Dockett continues to be disruptive ad Calais Campbell (pictured below stuffing Frank Gore near the Niner goal line) plays like he is ready to make us forget Antonio Smith, that’s a start.

— Beanie Wells showed some things after his messed-up first play, but if Tim Hightower can make plays out of the backfield catching the ball, that’s why Hightower will continue to start. Hightower did seem to slip back sometimes into some east-west running after making strides toward north-south in the preseason.

— The receiver injuries have to be a concern. It’s now clear why Lance Long made the team, because Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston were banged up. Are the injuries a major reason the offense has slid backward? That makes sense.

— The penalties should be a thing of the past. They were a bugaboo in 2007. They were cleaned up for the most part last season, but there they were Sunday killing the Cards. “There was a lot of aggression out there, a lot of emotion,” Dockett said of the penalties. “Penalties hurt you but at the same time I don’t think that dictates whether you win or lose the game like that out there.” That could be true, but what stuck with coach Ken Whisenhunt afterward were the two penalties when the Cards got the ball back when they could have won. They had 38 yards to go and went backwards 15 yards first.

— The offensive line play was uneven. It wasn’t helped when Warner held the ball a couple of times waiting for plays to open up. But Levi Brown had trouble with rush end Parys Haralson, as one example. The Cards didn’t get to establish much of a run, either, playing from behind much of the game.


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