Draft (i.e. QB) trade changes NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on April 14, 2016 – 8:06 am

The draft was changed significantly Thursday morning, and with it, so was the NFC West. The Rams, now in Los Angeles, completed a huge trade with the Tennessee Titans to acquire the No. 1 overall pick. It will be a quarterback, either Carson Wentz or Jared Goff (the conventional wisdom seems to be Wentz.) The Rams were picking 15th overall, so the price to move up 14 spots was hefty: The Titans get back not only L.A.’s first-round pick but also two second-round picks and a third-rounder this season, as well as the Rams’ 2017 first-round pick (which if the rookie QB struggles, could be pretty high.)

The Titans did add in a fourth- and sixth-rounder in the 2016 draft back to the Rams.

It’s a reverse of what the Rams did in 2012 when they shipped the No. 2 pick to the Redskins so Washington could take QB Robert Griffin III. RGIII flamed out after an excellent rookie year, but the Rams didn’t really benefit much from the trade either — they have yet to make the playoffs since then. Now coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have come to the point where they need to make a push or get pushed out of their jobs, so they pushed all their chips in for a QB. Neither Wentz or Goff have the same kind of buzz around them like a Cam Newton or Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston. Its a risk.

Meanwhile, you figure a No. 1 overall pick would play right away, meaning the Cardinals will be seeing a rookie QB twice this season. The Rams have two very good part in place to help a rookie QB — a running back who looks like he will be great in Todd Gurley, and a very good defense. If the QB pans out, the Rams will be in good shape over the next few years. If not, their roster will take a hit from giving up so many high picks. But like Cardinals GM Steve Keim says often, most of the time the QBs that become the “QB of the future” can only be found at the top of the draft. The Rams made sure they made it to that mountaintop, regardless of the price.



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After the first loss, Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 4, 2015 – 7:25 pm

Now that it’s over, Sunday’s loss for the Cardinals reminded me so much – just from the feeling you’re left with – like a similar loss at University of Phoenix Stadium a few years back. It was the season opener, the Cardinals were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, and they were better than the 49ers team that came into the building that day. But the Cardinals played poorly, they lost 16-10, and it felt like a giant opportunity missed, especially in the division.

Of course, the Cardinals then won 10 their next 14 (even though they lost their next home game too, to Peyton and the Colts) and won the division.

There are differences now, of course. The Seahawks loom as a stout division champion, and there was nothing like that back in 2009 the Cardinals had to fend off. The Rams are going to be a tough out too, because they have a defense that is good. Very good.

But it’s not like the Cardinals drove off the road, or were exposed Sunday. They moved the ball a lot. They just didn’t score touchdowns, which I think, given the first three weeks, is not going to be a long-term problem. They can’t turn the ball over, but that too is something that I don’t think will be a lingering problem.

We’ll see what comes next. It’s an interesting little stretch for the Cards now. A game in Detroit, a week in West Virginia and then a game in Pittsburgh. Then comes the Monday night home game against the Ravens. The Cardinals get the Lions on a short week, because Detroit plays in Seattle tomorrow night. Sunday was not the result Bruce Arians wanted, but it’s what they earned, and you go play the next one.

— Carson Palmer took his share of hits. He was sacked four times, after being sacked only once the first three games. But as for the physical abuse, Palmer shrugged it off.

“It’s an NFC West game,” Palmer said. “That’s the nature of it. It’s a physical game. They are a very physical team, a physical defense. I feel fine, other than obviously what happened.”

— Palmer wasn’t the only one taking some hits. Other than a couple of hard hits during play, wide receiver John Brown was basically bodyslammed on his final catch near the sideline by cornerback Tremaine Johnson. No flag was thrown, although the Cardinals sideline was upset there was not a penalty.

“I as kind of surprised, but that’s part of the game,” Brown said later. “The referees don’t call everything so you just play, do what you’ve got to do.”

— Rams coach Jeff Fisher, on whether his team’s physical play bothered the Cardinals: “We’re going to play hard. I think we can play better, but we’re going to play hard. There was some contact out there, there’s no doubt.”

— It was surprising that the Benny Cunningham fumble-that-wasn’t was blown dead as fast as it was. Watching the replay, it’s hard to believe that from the time Cunningham was first hit to the time the ball popped loose the whistle could sound. Because it was ruled that forward progress had stopped, the play was not reviewable.

— All that said, I didn’t think the officials had a huge factor in this game. That was the turnovers and the red-zone play. To not get a touchdown after first-and-goal from the 1-yard line was a killer. To not ever take the lead at any point was too hard to overcome. It was probably fitting that last drive fizzled out, although it did look like driving for a field goal to win was going to happen – if the Cardinals did anything well Sunday, it was drive into field goal range.

— I thought Calais Campbell played his best game of the year, and he filled up the stat sheet (11 tackles, three tackles for loss, half a QB sack).

— This time, it was the Rams who suffered a crucial injury. Linebacker Alec Ogletree had a team-best 10 tackles and he went out in the third quarter with an ankle injury that needs surgery. It was friendly fire too – a teammate rolled up on his leg during a play. Ogletree is a big part of that deep defense.

— That was only the second time the Cardinals have run for 100 yards in a game under Arians and they have lost. The Cards are now 14-2 in those games.

— Chris Johnson looked good running the ball again. He had 83 yards on 16 carries, 5.2 yards a tote. As for those asking why he wasn’t in the game at the end, David Johnson was in the offensive nickel package (which is what the Cards were in down the stretch) so he was on the field. David Johnson is also the better overall receiver at this point.

— Six of the next eight are on the road. Lots of airplanes in the near-future.


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Wednesday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on December 10, 2014 – 2:02 pm

There are variables that play into the fact Drew Stanton has statistics that are noticeably different at home (a 3-0 starting record, plus one come-off-the-bench-to-lead-Cards-to-a-win-after-trailing-Rams, with six touchdowns and only two interceptions) and on the road (a 1-3 record, one TD, three picks). Bruce Arians says the noise is a factor. The teams the Cards have faced on the road are pretty tough, including the two Super Bowl teams from a season ago. Larry Fitzgerald missed two of the road losses.

Regardless of the whys, the point is Stanton has to have a better game Thursday to win in St. Louis. The Rams are playing incredibly well defensively. Yes, the back-to-back shutouts came against the Raiders and Redskins, but that doesn’t mean they are meaningless (perhaps you noticed Derek Carr just threw three TD passes against the 49ers the week after the Rams destroyed him.) Plus, when you have talent playing with confidence, it’s a scary combo.

Arians says he has to call better plays. Maybe that’s something. Stanton said he doesn’t really feel a big difference playing home or away in terms of how he does things.

“I think that it’s one of those things where communication is obviously a premium on the road,” Stanton said. “You have to be able to identify that and do that. I think that at the end of the day, like I said from the get-go, all I’m trying to do is get a win, and whatever that means, at the end of the day, that’s how you’re evaluated. We have to go on the road, and obviously the last two times we’ve gone on the road we didn’t take care of the football and we weren’t good on third downs.

“We have to go do those two things and be more productive in the red zone and come away with touchdowns instead of field goals and hopefully put ourselves in a good position at the end of the game.”

Simple enough. But as Stanton pointed out in terms of the run game – and the same can be applied here – everyone wants to do certain things, in this case, not turn it over and produce in the red zone. It’s executing that’s the key.

— Speaking of confidence, Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers was told the Rams have back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1945. “1945?” Brockers responded. “We’re about to shut out three! When’s the last time we shut out three?”

Wonder if the Cardinals heard that.

— Antonio Cromartie is a game-day decision. He didn’t blow out his Achilles, but it still seems tough to picture him being able to play after just a few days. The Cards need him, but they really need him for the Seattle showdown in 10 days, and you wonder if that could factor in to the equation.

— Speaking of injuries, the Cardinals have everyone listed as probable except for a couple of guys, but they aren’t as healthy as the Rams. Even Jeff Fisher acknowledged such. “You’re going to have to look far and long to find a team that deactivated seven healthy players last weekend like we did,” the Rams coach said. “I know injuries have been tough on Arizona. From that standpoint, we’re in pretty good shape.”

— The Cardinals haven’t won 11 games since moving to Arizona. So a win is a big accomplishment beyond its playoff implications.

— Considering both these teams got off to terrible starts this season in terms of accumulating sacks, they have both rallied big-time. The Rams have 34 sacks in their past eight games; The Cardinals have 23 in their past five.

— The trip to St. Louis used to be the one road game the Cardinals could ring up as a win. At one point after the Cards joined the NFC West, the Cards won seven of nine in St. Louis. But the Rams have won two straight there – one in 2012 when the Cards played their on Thursday night when it was impossible to protect Kevin Kolb, and then last year when the Cards blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead.

— It’s telling that Darren Fells, emerging blocker at tight end, got by far the most tight end snaps last week. I don’t know if it will remain lopsided, but I’m guessing Fells is going to be an important cog going forward.

— These teams are a lot different than they were just four weeks ago when they last played, especially with both starting different quarterbacks. It’s hard to read what that will mean. Plus, it’s a short week. Arians said he isn’t worried about his players being physically ready to handle it. We’ll see if they are mentally ready to go.


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Friday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2013 – 4:23 pm

First year with a new coach, tough division, players still getting comfortable with schemes. Maybe, just maybe, as the Cardinals prepare to fly to St. Louis tomorrow for the season opener against the Rams, a little patience is called for.

“No,” Bruce Arians very bluntly put it. “There’s no patience. I have no patience.”

If the Cardinals believe anything, it is that. Waiting around for success, or to build up to it, makes no sense to plenty of people, including the head coach. “Those days of building for the future in the NFL, I see them as gone,” Arians added.

When you put together the veterans like the Cardinals have, holdovers like Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell and mix in guys like Carson Palmer and Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell, no one wants to talk about down the road. That’s what makes this season so interesting. I’ve seen some pundits picking the Cards to have a three-win season, in large part because of the division they play within. I’ve seen many picking the Cards to have nine or 10 wins and sneak into the playoffs. If there is another team whose potential season holds with it such a wide berth, I’d like to see it.

It’s good the Cardinals open in the division, but against the Rams. There’s a certain symmetry to it. The Cards have, over the last decade, had their most road success in St. Louis. The Edward Jones Dome is also where the Cards’ season went off the rails last year, their first loss in what turned out to be a string of many.

So it’s time to start anew, with a new staff, a new offense, a (slightly) new defensive scheme, a new quarterback, a ton of new players and a new optimism.

“It’s win now,” Arians said. “Too many teams have done it, I’ve been around teams that have done it, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t get it done.”

Sounds like a pregame speech to me.

— This is Arians’ offense, but offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin has his role too. Arians is obviously the playcaller, but “leading up throughout the week a lot is on my shoulders,” Goodwin said. “So far, so good.” Goodwin, however, still focuses on coaching the line, which has always been his primary job in his coaching career.

“At the end of the day, in my belly, I’m still a line coach,” Goodwin said.

— The rumblings that Nate Potter would be tried at guard came as far back as the start of Arians’ first minicamp before the draft. But Potter didn’t get any work there until this week, when it became necessary. And it becoming necessary is why it took so long.

“We didn’t expect Coop to get hurt,” Goodwin said of the out-for-the-season guard. “That threw a monkey wrench into a lot of things.”

— Potter has gotten enough work at guard that he could play there Sunday if someone were to get hurt, Goodwin added. That means Potter will be in the mix to be active. All along, Arians has said he will have seven linemen active for the game, but he wouldn’t commit to that number Friday.

Good story from Jim Trotter about Arians, based around the anecdote about how close he came to cutting Robert Gill this summer after Gill accidently hurt Patrick Peterson during a practice. I didn’t know Gill might be cut, but I saw the play and I remember thinking that’s not a good thing for a guy trying to fight his way on to the roster. The day before, Peterson had made a one-handed interception over Gill on the same play. The next day, the ball was well overthrown Gill, Peterson was beyond him, and Peterson gathered in the interception over his shoulder. In the same motion, Gill leaped to tackle him, dragging him down from behind.

It was scary, with Peterson down on the ground for what probably seemed like longer than it was. You don’t want your Pro Bowl corner getting a major injury in May. Needless to say, Peterson ended up OK. Gill stuck around (only to be cut later). But those are the kind of plays that make coaches hold their breath every offseason (and practice and OTA and anytime their players step off a curb.)

— How much will we see Peterson on offense? “I can’t tell you that,” Goodwin said with a smile. “He’ll be in there some.” I’m looking forward to seeing Peterson in that role.

— Maybe it’s because everyone has been factoring it into the equation so long, but it seems like the absence of Daryl Washington has been under the radar. His suspension will hurt. Rules let Washington be at the facility and be around the team, but no practice, and no games.

— Peterson is anxious not to play offense or defense, but to get a shot at punt returns again. He clearly isn’t happy – nor should he be – after what he went through returning punts last season. He wants to get back to 2011 levels.

— There has been some speculation that the Rams, adding Tavon Austin and with Chris Givens, etc., might start throwing the ball a lot more often. That would be against everything coach Jeff Fisher has done in his career, and because of that, veteran safety Yeremiah Bell doesn’t see it.

“For the most part, coach Fisher is coach Fisher,” Bell said. “Once you are a coach in this league a long time and you kind of do things your own way, you are set in that. I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say he’s going to stray from anything he’s done in the past.”

— Larry Fitzgerald isn’t going to predict anything for himself, but you know the wide receiver wants to get back to his pre-2012 lofty heights. I expect he will.

“Last year is last year,” Fitzgerald said. “I put that to bed. Every year is different. When you see things in the rear view mirror, you can’t see what’s in front of you. Obviously I am aware of what happened last year and I don’t ever want to repeat last year, but moving forward I have to focus on what’s asked of me.”

That’s usually at least 1,200 yards and double-digit TDs. Anything short of that? Hey, we have no patience for that.

On to St. Louis.



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Considering a kickoff change

Posted by Darren Urban on December 7, 2012 – 8:01 am

Born out of the constant discussion to make the NFL safer and prevent some of the dreaded concussions that have obviously become one of the league’s top topics, there has been talk about changing the kickoff rule again — this time, taking kickoffs out of the game altogether.

Certainly, that would be a drastic measure. The idea this time comes from first-year Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. Schiano, who watched one of his Rutgers players, Eric LeGrand, become paralyzed when he was hurt on a kickoff play, devised this idea: After Team A scores, instead of a kickoff, Team A would then have the ball on its own 30-yard line (just like a kickoff now) but would be handed, essentially, a 4th-and-15 play. The team could either punt from there or go for it (which replaces the possibility of an onside kick). Fail to gain a first down would give Team B the ball wherever it ended up, just as if it had been a normal fourth down situation.

Schiano first floated the idea back in 2011 when he was still at Rutgers. It has come up again, and now NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has taken notice. Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the NFL’s competition committee (as is Ken Whisenhunt), said he thinks the kickoff situation will be addressed the next time the committee meets in the offseason.

There is a lot to consider with this, and changing the kickoff doesn’t necessarily mean going with Schiano’s drastic move. The league has talked often about how the most recent kickoff changes — moving the ball up, in particular, and other tweaks — have changed kickoff returns. Injuries are down, but so are electrifying returns. Touchbacks are way up.

Instituting the “Schiano rule” would impact the rosters. Punters would become more important. Kickers a little less so, now needed to just kick field goals and extra points (although some teams, who have punters kicking off, already have this situation). If you are a return man who can’t handle catching a punt in traffic, your chances of making it to the NFL decrease (you wonder what would have happened to a rookie seventh-round pick named LaRod Stephens-Howling if the current kickoff rules had been in place in 2009.) Patrick Peterson would get more chances to take one back, that’s for sure.

From a pure entertainment standpoint, such a new rule would certainly create an interesting wrinkle, not to mention making every post-scoring play look like a safety just happened. It seems a little too drastic to me. But at this point, given the way the league is trying to get safer, the game is clearly evolving, and that’s not going to stop.

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Wednesday before the Rams

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2012 – 3:10 pm

Maneuvering through a short week is difficult. The flip side, of course, will be Friday, and Saturday and Sunday and the extra days off. That could really benefit the Cards as banged up as they have been.

But they have to get through Thursday first. And truthfully, those benefits would feel a little bit better with a victory in St. Louis.

“(A short week) is pretty tough, but I think everyone in this locker room feels the same way – we’ve put together four decent games and are in position to be 4-0 and have an opportunity to play on national TV in front of the masses,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think guys are relishing the opportunity.”

I do get the sense that the vibe is better for this Thursday game than it was back in 2008, for the Thanksgiving game in Philly. Back then, it didn’t feel like anyone was relishing anything. It showed on the field. This team is in a different place. We’ll see how it plays out on the turf.

— Andre Roberts has four touchdown catches – that’s the most of any receiver in the NFL right now. He’s a long way from training camp of 2011, when every “name” receiver that popped up as available quickly was linked to the Cardinals. Roberts has become a real weapon – he has been since midseason last year – but as usual, downplays his situation.

I asked him if he thought he had crossed some kind of threshold as a player. “I don’t know if it is a threshold,” Roberts said. “I just try to make the best out of my opportunities. When it comes my way, I want to make the most of it.”

The steady play of Kevin Kolb and the clutch play late in the Miami game obviously plays well with teammates. But it’s also about a settling of the position. That’s all the rest of the Cards ever wanted was to find a player who was effective. They don’t care if it is Kolb or John Skelton.

“I’m pleased it’s not become an ordeal in the locker room,” center Lyle Sendlein said.

— It will be interesting to see who is playing cornerback across from Patrick Peterson. Will Greg Toler stay there after finishing the game at the spot? Does William Gay, who struggled, go back? If Toler gets more time, given that Gay stayed at nickel last game when that happened, it looks like rookie Jamell Fleming will be the one losing defensive snaps. Toler was the starter last year before he got hurt. I’m sure he’d like to regain that spot for good.

— The Rams are not the same team they were. They barely lost to the Lions and had they won that game, Jeff Fisher’s bunch would be 3-1. “This team is not sitting here with aspirations of going to the Super Bowl, because I think those things are unrealistic at this time of the year,” Fisher said. “Realistic goals are improving, accepting the next challenge, and doing whatever it takes to try to win the next game.” It’d be a big feather in the cap to beat division rivals Seattle and Arizona in back-to-back home games. The Cards will be tested to make sure that doesn’t happen.

— As I mentioned before, the Cardinals could make some headway with their struggling running game. They need to. Ryan Williams figures to get more carries. St. Louis has always been a place where Cards’ runners can get healthy, stats-wise.

— Speaking of guys who pop in St. Louis, Adrian Wilson is one. Against the Rams, he has six career interceptions and 7½ career sacks. Plus he is coming off a strong game, even if his diving interception (below) was eventually eliminated. Wilson thought the Rams, in 2001, might draft him with multiple high picks. They didn’t. He remembers.

Bring on Thursday night.

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Fisher helps Rams — and keeps Horton here

Posted by Darren Urban on October 2, 2012 – 9:21 am

The Rams, whom the Cardinals face Thursday night, are already improved under new coach Jeff Fisher. That was probably inevitable. Fisher came into St. Louis liking the owner and liking the fact the team already had a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford. The rest, he could make work, and he has his team at 2-2 — already equaling or surpassing the team’s win total in three of the previous four seasons, including last year’s 2-14 record.

“Clearly the past speaks for itself,” Fisher said in a conference call Tuesday morning. “It’s been a difficult few years. What you do, you move forward and let that go. From the time we started the offseason program to date, guys have a different type of expectation. They know you can’t fix this thing overnight. But they know if you work hard, study hard, you have a chance in every game.”

Fisher, indirectly, has helped the Cardinals too. It made sure Ray Horton remained in Arizona as defensive coordinator.

Fisher was the guy the Rams seemed to have targeted from the outset when St. Louis was looking for a coach this past offseason. He had a chance to go to Miami too, but the Rams waited for him to make a decision. Yet they did interview Horton for their head coaching job. The franchise did need to talk to a minority candidate to fulfill the Rooney Rule, and until Fisher made a choice, that may have been what Horton was. But there is little question Horton did and will draw interest as a head coaching candidate going forward if his defense keeps playing like it has.

Horton has said before he would like to be a head coach someday, although he wants to win a Super Bowl as a coordinator and said back in February he wasn’t in any particular hurry to leave for another gig. What would have happened if Fisher had picked the Dolphins? It’s interesting to ponder. (What would have Sunday’s game been like — anything like it turned out to be?) The Rams could have made a lot different for the Cards. Steve Keim, the Cards’ VP of player personnel, was considered for St. Louis’ vacant general manager’s job too.

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How Saints’ punishments impact Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on March 21, 2012 – 11:17 am

The punishments for the New Orleans Saints — at least most of them, since the player punishments are still TBD — came down Wednesday and they provided the expected doozy: A year-long suspension without pay for Saints coach Sean Payton, an indefinite suspension for former DC Gregg Williams of at least a year, and an eight-game ban for general manager Mickey Loomis.

Obviously this isn’t about the Cardinals, although there are parts of this that do impact the Cards:

— To begin with, the Cardinals will be the first team to play the Saints, since the teams will match up Aug. 5 in the Hall of Fame game to kick off the preseason. Wonder what the talking points will be during that broadcast? You wonder if the Cards are just going to be in the background, because it’s hard to see the Saints’ storylines not dominating.

— The Saints lose second-round picks this year and next. That’ll move up the Cards’ third-round pick a slot sooner. We’ll see what it means in 2013.

— Once the regular season begins, the Cards know that Williams, who had since been hired as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, won’t be around. Williams may never be around in St. Louis; commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t assuring anyone that Williams will be reinstated. Not that new head coach Jeff Fisher can’t work around it — former Cards head coach Dave McGinnis, on staff with the Rams now as an assistant head coach, could drop into the DC role like he once did for the Cards. UPDATE: Fisher said the duties won’t go to a permanent DC. He, McGinnis and Chuck Cecil will split the work.

— Then there is the Kurt Warner tie-in. The original investigation sprouted from the way the Saints treated Warner, then the Cards’ QB, and Brett Favre, then with the Vikings, during the playoffs after the 2009 season. The Cards’ playoff game, in fact, was mentioned a couple of times in the NFL’s official release about the punishments, including Warner himself. “The investigation showed bounties being placed on four quarterbacks of opposing teams – Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner.”

Warner, appearing on NFL Network Wednesday, had this to say about the punishment: “I’m shocked, like a lot of people, but not fully surprised. … But this is what Commissioner Goodell has done from Day One. And I love he is trying to make statements trying to protect our game for the long-term.”

Added Warner, “To a degree, this has gone on through the history of our game, where guys have gone out to hit guys really hard to knock them out of the game or at least knock them off their game so it affects (the hitting team) in a positive manner. Of course, not to the extent to where you are paying guys to hurt other guys, and I think that’s where this takes a different turn.”

— The NFL also made clear that they won’t let this happen again, sending a memo to all teams directing the owner of every team to meet with the head coach to confirm bounty systems aren’t in place in any other organization. Said the NFL release, “Each principal owner and head coach must certify this in writing to the commissioner by March 30.”

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