Abraham has Cards living on the edge

Posted by Darren Urban on July 29, 2013 – 10:02 am

Steve Keim, speaking for the first time since the Cards’ flurry of roster activity at the outset of camp, mentioned the obvious when talking about newly-acquired John Abraham.

“John obviously brings an element that we don’t and have not had,” the general manager said.

The Cardinals haven’t had a double-digit sack guy since Bertrand Berry had 14.5 in 2004. In the eight seasons since, nine is the top individual number. Safety Adrian Wilson had eight one year to lead the team. Chike Okeafor had 8.5 in 2006 and he was an edge defensive end, but no one was adjusting their protection schemes for Chike. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have taken their turns too, but even when Campbell was operating as a 4-3 DE he wasn’t the guy who was going to turn the corner and constantly wreak havoc.

Often the Cards have made it work through blitzes and schemes. But to add a guy like Abraham potentially changes that for the better.

The Cards have tried this recently, as I’ve mentioned before. Joey Porter was coming off a nine-sack season with the Dolphins when the Cards signed him in 2010; Porter had 17.5 sacks the year before that. (By contrast, Abraham has 19.5 sacks the past two seasons). At 33, Porter clearly was out of gas, which is why Miami let him go in favor of the up-and-coming Cameron Wake and why Porter never made an impact in Arizona.

The way the Cards scout and break down players now, though, they are certain Abraham — at 35 — is in a much better place to produce. The previous staff tried to play Porter every down (and Porter made that a problem, fighting tooth and nail never to come out) and that wasn’t going to work. Abraham made it clear he wanted to be every down but also said he understood he might be used more in pass-rushing situations.

Clarity with Abraham is easy to see for Keim, too.

“Sometimes when you study a 35-year-old on tape, he looks like a 35-year-old,” Keim said. “I don’t know if they put this guy in wax, I don’t know what it was, but this guy can still get off the rock. He had had 10 sacks last year, seven forced fumbles. His ‘get-off’ to this day is still what I remember when I scouted him at South Carolina. There are some areas of his game where he would probably admit his skills have declined, but to pick a player up of this caliber at this time excites us all.”


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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 30, 2011 – 4:02 pm

The last week of the season – in a playoff-less year – is always so strange. The grind is the same all week, just like every other week. Then the game happens Sunday, and you can almost hear the squeal of the brakes as everything comes to an abrupt halt.

There’s always some cleanup involved. I’ll be down in the locker room Monday talking to some of the players who are scheduled to be free agents and getting a sense of the offseason to come. It’ll be different. This is the first time in three offseasons quarterback won’t be the major story. After the ’08 season, the team had to re-sign Kurt Warner, which took a little time (and a visit to San Francisco for Warner). After ’09, it was the Warner retirement speculation (which ultimately happened). Last year, everyone knew the starting quarterback wasn’t in the locker room (plus the lockout was going to mess with things).

I’m not 100 percent sure who the starting QB will be in 2012 – if you ask me on Dec. 30, 2011, I’m saying Kevin Kolb – but I feel pretty good in saying he is already on the roster.

But there is a game left, one more weekend to barrel into full speed.

— Skelton will start one last time against the Seahawks with a chance to put the slow start thing in the rear view. One thing I do like about Skelton – he hasn’t sugar-coated his issues. Of the five sacks suffered in Cincy last weekend, “either three or four of them were probably on me, whether it’s not throwing a hot throw or not throwing a safety sight or just holding it too long.”

“Like anything, with experience and time, (quicker starts) will come,” Skelton said. “At the same time, there are mistakes that even a rookie shouldn’t be making that I’m making out there sometimes.”

Why, he is asked. “That’s the million-dollar question,” Skelton said. “I don’t know.”

The Seattle defense is pretty good. It hasn’t allowed more than 19 points in a game in more than a month. It gave up just 10 to the Cards in the first meeting (although kicker Jay Feely missed a couple of field goals that day). Skelton will be tested.

— Honestly, I was a little surprised that Patrick Peterson could do as much as he did today. After the Cincinnati game, I was sure there was no way he’d play against Seattle. Now it seems like a legit game0-day decision.

— Linebacker Sam Acho has six sacks, which is the most for a Cardinals’ rookie since … wait for it … Mark Smith had six in 1997.

— Fitz needs 38 yards to reach 1,300. He needs 138 to reach 1,400. I expect the former, not the latter, but if he ends up with 1,400 yards, I may say, given circumstances, it’s his best season.

— If the Cards beat the Seahawks, that’ll be five straight home wins. The franchise hasn’t done that since 1976.

— If you are looking for some of Ron Wolfley’s annual Cards awards – including some highlights of the team’s coolest plays of the year – watch this piece.

— I have not heard about the roof status for Sunday. It’s supposed to be 75 degrees, which is right at the general cutoff they have for the roof (an outside temp of 75 gets it hotter in certain parts of the stadium). I am expecting a game-day decision.

— Linebacker Joey Porter told Kent Somers he wants to play in 2012. I guess that doesn’t surprise me. I think I might be surprised if he can find a team. He really struggled this year when he did play.

— It’s telling that DC Ray Horton called Richard Marshall “my MVP” because what he allowed Horton to do with the defense. Of course, Calais Campbell and Adrian Wilson and Daryl Washington had very good years. But the guys who are versatile and become key components, those catch the coaches’ eyes and Marshall has done just that.

Marshall is a free agent and is open to returning. He’s also one of those players that, not mincing words, got screwed in free agency because of the lockout and the CBA rules on restricted FA the last couple of years. Word is it bothered him in Carolina. But he’s been a model locker room man. He’s up studying video with DB coach Louie Cioffi all the time (I’ve seen him in there) and he didn’t blink when asked to play safety. You want an under-the-radar guy on this defense, Marshall is it.

— I have had a lot of people ask me if I think 8-8 is a successful season. I answer like this, in context – because you always need context.

Before the season, I thought this team was going to go 9-7 and win the division. I obviously didn’t see the 49ers coming. In the end, 8-8 is pretty close (assuming the Cards win Sunday) to where I thought they would be. A successful season is making the postseason when you think you can, and the Cards rightfully felt they could have before the season. Hard to claim success when you don’t make there.

They lost in Baltimore when they shouldn’t have. I remember being down on the field for the end of the Rams’ game, thinking that it would hurt this team so much if they fell to a bad Rams team, even if the Cards too were bad. Peterson took care of that, and off they went.

Being around here when the Cards ran off the road, walking the halls when the team had lost six straight, to think they’d even sniff .500, I mean, it was hard to think that. On the doorstep now, success might not be the word I’d use. But I’d echo coach Ken Whisenhunt: I do think it’d be significant.

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Porter to IR, future cloudy

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2011 – 11:24 am

After missing most of the season with a bad knee that required surgery, the Cardinals finally placed veteran linebacker Joey Porter on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season and — barring a surprise — his time in Arizona. There’s a good chance the 13-year pro, a free-agent-to-be, also has played his last down in the NFL as he deals with the chronic knee issues.

Porter came into the season needing three sacks to reach 100 for his career. He notched just one before he played for a final time this season against the Steelers the sixth game of the season; the knee sidelined him since.

The Cards promoted linebacker Brandon Williams from the practice squad to take Porter’s roster spot. Running back William Powell, who was with the Cards in training camp and the preseason, was signed to the practice squad.

Porter was signed before the 2010 season in a hope he could provide some pass-rushing help, but it never materialized. He had five sacks last season and then had to take a huge paycut to stick around this season, from $5.75 million to $1.5 million. He was starting while healthy, but the Cardinals always wanted to get young linebackers more playing time and rookie replacement Sam Acho has provided a significant boost since entering the lineup in Baltimore.

To Porter’s credit, he has remained engaged at the games in which he has attended (he wasn’t traveling after surgery). But he was never able to demonstrate the same pressure off the edge that allowed him to generate 26.5 sacks in the two seasons (in Miami) before coming to Arizona.

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Kolb doubtful for Rams, four others out

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2011 – 1:09 pm

Quarterback Kevin Kolb didn’t practice for a third straight day because of his turf toe, and has been officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Rams. The way he has limped around, that isn’t really a surprise. The door is still cracked — backup QB John Skelton said “As far as I heard, Kevin is still a possibility” — but if Skelton doesn’t start Sunday, it’s an upset.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt again talked about Kolb’s need to be able to push off the right foot, because it would impact his throws. Kolb’s inability to practice points to how difficult that would have been all week.

It’s a laundry list of players already unable to play Sunday, the longest list the Cards have had all season, and that doesn’t even include Kolb. Safety Kerry Rhodes (foot) is of course still out after surgery (he said on his Big Red Rage radio show last night his cast is scheduled to come off a week from today), but also out are linebacker Joey Porter (who has a chronic knee problem), tight end Rob Housler (groin) and fullback Anthony Sherman (ankle).

It stands to reason Sam Acho will get another start at linebacker in place of Porter. Housler is out but the Cards are hoping Todd Heap can finally play again. And the Cards of course signed Reagan Maui’a at fullback to replace Sherman.

For the Rams, there seems to be a small chance QB Sam Bradford (ankle) plays. He is listed as questionable and probably is a game-day decision.

The Cards have five others questionable, including running back Beanie Wells and tight end Todd Heap. Wells, after last week, I would expect to play. Heap is probably a game-day pick again.

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Beanie active, Heap and Porter out

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2011 – 8:49 am

A week ago the Cards feared RB Beanie Wells was lost for the season with a knee injury. Today, Wells will be active for the Cardinals, although they will have all four of their running backs — including LaRod Stephens-Howling, Alfonso Smith and Chester Taylor — active, just in case. Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) is out, however, taking away that reunion potential. LB Joey Porter (knee) is also out, and will be replaced by rookie Sam Acho (and no O’Brien Schofield) in the lineup.

The rest of the Cards’ inactive list today:

  • QB Rich Bartel
  • WR Stephen Williams
  • S Kerry Rhodes
  • T D’Anthony Batiste
  • DE Ronald Talley

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Beanie, Heap game-day decisions in Baltimore

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2011 – 12:29 pm

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said RB Beanie Wells was indeed able to do more work on his sore knee Friday, and with both he and TE Todd Heap (hamstring) “progressing,” they will be part of the group of players that will be game-day decisions for the Cardinals. Included in that will be LB Joey Porter, who is dealing with a chronic knee issue. They are among six players — WR Early Doucet (quadricep), WR DeMarco Sampson (hamstring) and TE Jim Dray (pectoral) as well — who are officially questionable for Sunday’s game in Baltimore.

S Kerry Rhodes (foot) is obviously out. CB Michael Adams (hand) is probable.

The hope is that Heap and Beanie get better, but Porter’s problem is something that isn’t going away. “It’s something it depends how he responds week-to-week,” Whisenhunt said of Porter. “We’ve been giving him time off at practice. It depends on whether he takes a shot in the game or what happens gamedays. It’s indicative of a lot of older players around the league.”

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Second-half storylines

Posted by Darren Urban on October 17, 2011 – 9:52 am

OK, so the Cards aren’t to the second-half of the season yet, but the bye not only gives the team a chance to recalibrate where it is heading into the rest of the year but also a chance to assess what will fall under the microscope for the balance of 2011.

The play of Kevin Kolb: Obviously the Cards have made a long-term commitment to the QB. Long-term is relative in the NFL, but he’s so early in his tenure he isn’t (and shouldn’t be) going anywhere anytime soon. That said, NFL teams lean on their quarterbacks. He doesn’t have to be Tom Brady, but the Cards were counting on more.

How Beanie’s year unfolds: RB Beanie Wells has been, thus far, the back everyone hoped he would be when he was drafted. If he can continue that, it’d be a major step forward offensively.

Tackling the tackles: Who will be the tackles? Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges? Brandon Keith? Kent Somers broke down why Brown probably won’t be around next season. Looking around the league, there are a lot of teams hurting at the position (the Steelers, who visit Sunday, among them). Clearly, though — and obviously, this isn’t out of the box thinking — the Cards have to get more consistency out there.

The linebacker transition: The Cards are still trying to find a way to make Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield work on defense, instead of riding veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. This one may just end up dictated by how the wins and losses play out. If the season further gets away from the Cards — and having the 49ers at 5-1 already doesn’t help — you’d think youth will be served.

Clearly, there will be other spots to watch and evaluate (which is good, since I still need subjects to write about the rest of the season). Given the first outcome against Seattle earlier this season, I am also very curious how the Cards play in the five games remaining against the NFC West. And how the team performs on the road — where they will be for four of five weeks following the Pittsburgh game Sunday.

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Balancing Porter and Schofield

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2011 – 3:46 pm

Finding a balance between his main two right outside linebackers has been difficult for coach Ken Whisenhunt, and since it directly impacts the Cards’ pass rush — and is one of the easiest things to watch for on game days — it has risen to the center of the spotlight for the team and fans watching.

Porter acknowledges he has not created the kind of pressure on the quarterback that both he and everyone else expects. He said that before the season and again this week. Twice in the last two days, Whisenhunt has followed up the idea in training camp Porter had to play too much last season by noting it is happening again.

“We probably play Joey too many plays,” Whisenhunt said. “Joey is effective when he doesn’t play too much and we have to keep him fresh. We’ve got to get the rotation.”

Porter, who has one sack this season (and should have had a second, although Cam Newton somehow got the ball off in the opener), has also appeared on the injury list a couple of times, including this week. It’s for Porter’s knee, but it’s also about Porter’s age.

“This time of year, you have to start giving him some time off,” Whisenhunt said. “I think that was pretty evident at the end of the Giants game, he was out of gas. We have to do a better job managing him during the week and managing his reps on game day.”

That’s where Schofield comes in. The expectation was that Schofield — and to a lesser extent, rookie Sam Acho — would be eating up more of those Porter snaps. Except he’s not. Schofield recently began wearing a wristband to be familiar with the defensive playcalls, and while Whisenhunt is clearly hesitant to say Schofield isn’t coming along fast enough, the reality is there is a reason Schofield isn’t getting more defensive time.

“When you see things happen, whether it’s in a practice or in a game, and players make mistakes, you have  a tendency to be hesitant to put them in,” Whisenhunt said.

It obviously creates an awkward and difficult situation. The Cardinals would have looked at pass-rushing 3-4 linebackers on the open market except the best ones all ended up with franchise tags. Teams, not surprisingly, don’t want to let them go. That said, it’s a spot the Cards are going to have to look at after the season, depending in part on the growth of Schofield and Acho. For now, they have to balance their issues.

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Beanie added to injury report

Posted by Darren Urban on September 22, 2011 – 2:34 pm

Running back Beanie Wells was added to the injury report today, listed as limited because of a hamstring problem apparently suffered today. The injury report just came out, long after locker room access and coach Ken Whisenhunt’s meeting with the media, so there won’t be any further info. Certainly tomorrow figures to be an important day for Wells, who has been playing so well in the first couple of games.

Any injury issue with Wells, whether it keeps him out of a game or not, has to give the Cards pause. That’s why the season-ending injury to rookie Ryan Williams was such a blow. Veteran Chester Taylor had just one carry last week in his first game as a Card (it went for no gain). I am still curious to see Alfonso Smith get a chance in a game that counts. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) is still limited.

Wells wasn’t the only player added to the injury list. Linebacker Joey Porter showed up with a knee issue, limiting his work. On the flip side, Daryl Washington did some limited work for the first time since hurting his calf in the season opener.

Wide receiver Chansi Stuckey (hamstring) and tight end Jim Dray (pectoral) each had to sit out practice. For the full injury report, click here.

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Washington questionable; Butler out

Posted by Darren Urban on September 16, 2011 – 12:41 pm

Linebacker Daryl Washington (calf) missed practice for a third straight day but he is listed as questionable for Sunday. Same goes for running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) and wide receiver DeMarco Sampson (hamstring), who missed practice but are questionable.

The only two players already out are tight end Jim Dray (pectoral) and cornerback Crezdon Butler (ankle), who hurt himself in practice Thursday and it could be serious.

Everyone else is healthy enough to play, including linebacker Joey Porter (knee) and punter Dave Zastudil (calf).

And with that, it’s time to head downstairs and hop on the bus. Time to fly to D.C.

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