Scheduling a look back for a look ahead

Posted by Darren Urban on June 24, 2011 – 9:11 am

Our own Jim Omohundro will be putting together a series of web videos starting today that highlight the Cards’ 2011 schedule by looking back at a few of the highlights from games against that team in recent years past. For instance, Jim’s first piece is about the Cards and Panthers, who will visit University of Phoenix Stadium Sept. 11 to open the 2011 season (and yes, I am staying optimistic it happens). On the video are looking at three Panthers’ games of the past — wins in Carolina in 2001 and 2002 (Jake Plummer! Pat Tillman! Freddie Jones!) along with the game no one will forget, the playoff road trip against Carolina after the 2008 season. That game, of course, brings up one of the best quotes ever — Panthers coach John Fox about QB Jake Delhomme, after the Cards forced Delhomme into six turnovers. “He picked a bad day to have a bad day.”

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The free agency effect

Posted by Darren Urban on June 9, 2011 – 4:13 pm

So I was looking over this article by Football Outsiders about the top 10 most disappointing NFL free agents of the past 25 years and it got me thinking about the Cardinals (although no, there are no Cards on the list). My first full free-agent offseason came in 2001, when the Cards — up against the salary cap — chose to sign Seattle guard Pete Kendall as their one big purchase, to team with center Mike Gruttadauria from the year before and first-rounder Leonard Davis to build the “Big Red Line.” Kendall, as always, was blunt; when he came in for his press conference and was asked, why the Cardinals, he said, “Because they paid me the most money.”

That’s usually how it goes.

The bottom line is that, occasionally, help comes via free agency. More often than not, you acquire the best players through the draft because, aside from a player here or there, there is a reason a team lets a player go. Usually it’s because they don’t see him being worth the money he commands on the open market. (Karlos Dansby? Maybe he was. Antrel Rolle? Probably not.) I would argue that, if you charted all the “bigger-name” free-agent signings in the NFL over the years, there would be more that underperformed to expectations rather than met them.

Anyway, you look back through the years and think about the “key” free agents the Cards signed. How many provided the impact that people thought they would provide the day they signed?

  • 2002 – CB Duane Starks, TE Freddie Jones
  • 2003 – QB Jeff Blake, RB Emmitt Smith, S Dexter Jackson
  • 2004 – DE Bertrand Berry (now this one was a real winner, even with Bertrand’s later injuries)
  • 2005 – DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner (OK, that one turned out pretty well)
  • 2006 – RB Edgerrin James (Edge was actually pretty effective, but certainly not the star his contract said he should be)
  • 2007 – T Mike Gandy, C Al Johnson, CB Rod Hood (The Cards decide not to get FA “stars” under Whiz, just pieces to the puzzle).
  • 2008 – DE Travis LaBoy, NT Bryan Robinson
  • 2009 – CB Bryant McFadden
  • 2010 – QB Derek Anderson, LB Joey Porter, LB Paris Lenon, K Jay Feely

Certainly a mixed bag over the years. The biggest disappointment? No, I’m not going with Anderson — remember, he was signed to be Matt Leinart’s backup, so how much disappointment can there be? (Careful now …) I think I’d probably go with Duane Starks, who parlayed his spot in that great Ravens defense into the idea he could be a shutdown corner, which he wasn’t, especially on a team that sometimes used Fred Wakefield as the right defensive end (Fred was a great guy but didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks). Realistically, Emmitt probably provided what everyone expected and so did Edgerrin, especially since he never seemed to fit Whisenhunt’s style (and was clearly at the end, which was proven out after the Cards let him go).

Berry, by far, was the best signing, based on his 2004 season alone. I would have loved to see what sack numbers he would have had if he hadn’t gotten hurt every year after that. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Some of you want to know how I could ever pick Berry over Warner. The simple fact is that Berry, as a free-agent signee, impacted imemdiately. Warner’s time in Arizona didn’t come across that well until after a change in coaches. That was Warner’s third season as a Card by then. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe. But in the context of this discussion, it’s difficult to argue that, as a free agent coming in, Berry didn’t produce better than Warner.

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Finding another Freddie

Posted by Darren Urban on May 13, 2011 – 11:36 am

In 2002, the Cardinals signed tight end Freddie Jones as a free agent. He had a good start to his NFL career while in San Diego, and he was an upgrade at the position. Turns out he was necessary that season too, because starting receivers Frank Sanders and David Boston each suffered injuries (as did MarTay Jenkins and Bryan Gilmore, the No. 3 and 4 guys) and with green wideouts like Jason McAddley and Nate Poole forced to play, a tight end was incredibly important.

So, for the one and only time since the Cardinals moved to Arizona, a tight end – Jones – was the team’s leading pass catcher in a season. Jones had 44 receptions for 358 yards and one touchdown that season. Jones was even better the next season, with 55 receptions for 517 yards (that was Anquan Boldin’s rookie year, though, with 101 catches). And in 2004, Jones had 45 receptions for 426 yards.

By 2005, though, Jones was gone. And the Cards have been searching for a tight end since.

As of now, that hope rests with third-round pick Rob Housler out of Florida Atlantic, a speedy 6-foot-5 H-back type who should be able to stretch the field. His blocking needs work, something he admitted already, but it would help to have a quality receiving option in that spot.

Since Jones left, it’s been a lot about hope unfulfilled. The undrafted tandem of Eric Edwards and Troy Bienemann was the first attempt. Then Leonard Pope was drafted, and while he flashed a couple of times, it was clear after 2007 and coach Ken Whisenhunt’s first season he wouldn’t be the answer. Ben Patrick – whose contract is expiring — also flashed a few times as a seventh-rounder (especially with his TD catch in the Super Bowl) but he never has made a huge impact and never had more than 15 catches in a season.

Granted, in the Warner years, using three- and four-wideouts made more sense, especially when the wideouts had the talent that the Cardinals did. Whisenhunt made clear Housler could be split wide at times and create mismatches, however. And, as many fans have pointed out, when you are breaking in a younger quarterback, the safety valve of a quality tight end can help with the learning curve.

Housler will get a chance to show what he has, and there is a chance the Cards also look in free agency. Jim Dray should be back, and Stephen Spach could be too; Patrick may be more iffy depending on who else is signed. The Cards will have at least four tight ends in training camp.

We’ll see if any of them can, at the very least, echo Freddie Jones.

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Jaguars aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2009 – 10:51 pm

The plane ride home is so much different after a win. Why wouldn’t it be, after a big win like the Cards had Sunday? Get into the Way-Back machine for a moment, and try to remember Jake Plummer’s middle screen to tight end Freddie Jones for a touchdown, and Bill Gramatica’s late field goal. That 16-13 win on Oct. 6, 2002 was the last time the Cardinals won a game with a 10 a.m. Arizona time start. Since then they had played nine eight such games, all of them losses:

  • 9/7/03  @Detroit  42-24
  • 9/26/04  @Atlanta  6-3
  • 9/11/05  @NY Giants  42-19 (Oops. Realized in the shower Monday morning this game was a late start)
  • 10/1/06  @Atlanta  32-10
  • 9/23/07  @Baltimore  26-23
  • 10/21/07  @Washington  21-19
  • 9/21/08  @Washington  24-17
  • 9/28/08  @NY Jets  56-35
  • 10/26/08  @Carolina  27-23

So now you can understand the significance of Sunday (and FYI, the Cards don’t have another 10 a.m. game this season).

On to other thoughts:

— Coach Ken Whisenhunt on Beanie Wells’ fumbles: “Trust me, he may be carrying the ball around all day now.” So why wasn’t it surprising to see Wells at the end of the game when the defense was on the field, helmet on his head and ball tucked firmly in the crook of his arm – despite sitting on the bench?

— The punt returns were (very very) ugly. But the whole reason Antrel Rolle is back there was on display during that field-goal return of 83 yards. Six touchdowns on 11 “quick change” plays is insane. His teammates know what’s what. This is Darnell Dockett: “When he gets the ball in his hands, there’s an 80 percent chance he’s gonna score. When he took off I was like, ‘Don’t nobody block in the back, just let him do his thing.’ We learned the lesson when we played Seattle a couple years back, when he gets the ball, everybody just move out of the way. He’ll create his own plays and we don’t want nothing called back.”

I’m not sure if Dockett meant the infamous Cincinnati game where Rolle lost a third touchdown return in the game, but he made his point.

— It was weird hearing this from Whisenhunt: “It is funny, people say practice isn’t important, but it is for us.” I don’t know if anyone doesn’t think practice is important for this team, because the players and coaches often talk about how it matters. I get fans and cohorts asking me all the time how they look at practice, when a) one of the big rules about being able to watch is that you can’t talk about it and b) I can’t really tell who’s having a good practice or not, not when I don’t know exactly what’s being worked on. I think Whiz’s message has to be more for the players, to remind them what practice means.

— Larry Fitzgerald tried to pretend he wasn’t getting upset at not getting many passes, including one point after he looked to be open down the field but didn’t get the ball. “I was just tired,” Fitz said, trying to suppress a smile. “It was humid out there today I was just trying to save my energy so that’s why I walked off so slowly. That’s all that was.” Nevertheless, Fitz got a TD catch in his eighth straight game, including that playoff run.

— Think NBC, which has Colts at Cardinals next Sunday night, is breathing a sigh of relief that the Cards’ offense got out of its funk, and that they aren’t 0-2? Me too.

— The defensive front continues to impress. Calais Campbell is going to be a player (Nice field-goal block, by the way). Clark Haggans had a good game. And Bertrand Berry has two sacks in two games. That’ll be important against a guy like Peyton Manning.


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