Not all Madden choices created equal

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2011 – 10:50 am

This year, EA Sports has decided to make a contest out of who will be their cover photo for this year’s version of the Madden football video game. Given the past season, I guess I assumed Aaron Rodgers was a shoo-in for Madden ’12, but no, Rodgers is just one of 32 candidates — one from every team. It’s also set up in bracket form, so we aren’t just talking about the total number of votes.

There are many cover possibilities that make sense — Rodgers, Matt Ryan, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis, Adrian Peterson, Julius Peppers, Andre Johnson — and others that I look at and think, ‘A good player, but a cover?’ — guys like Peyton Hillis, Jake Long, Josh Freeman. There are repeat candidates, guys who have already been on the cover before, like Drew Brees, Michael Vick and, for the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald.

But just when you find a couple of head-scratchers (The Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap, the Bills’ Steve Johnson, the Patriots’ Danny Woodhead, Tim Tebow?) you end up freezing on the option for Seattle. Apparently, they have no player worthy of the honor, at least none important enough to usurp “The 12th Man” — the name the Seahawks give to their crowd (which yes, can be very loud, but is generally a non-factor if the team is lousy — just like any other crowd).

The 12th Man faces the aforementioned Willis in the first round, so I’d guess Willis will be the one to advance there. But still, the Qwest crowd? Really? Not, oh, maybe Mike Williams? Marshawn Lynch?

Besides, how exactly does the Madden curse affect that group — I’d be afraid of a natural disaster on game day.

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The NFL’s game of tag

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2010 – 10:35 am

By Thursday, teams must decide whether or not to use their franchise and/or transition tag on scheduled free agents. The Panthers aren’t going to tag defensive end Julius Peppers and the Cards aren’t (and never were) going to tag linebacker Karlos Dansby. In both cases, that’s because their salaries had grown so much that to use the franchise tag (or transition tag, which simply gives a team the right to match any contract offer) would be guaranteeing obscene amounts of money for a single season.

(The Cardinals still haven’t ruled out using a tag — a transition tag, probably — on one of their other scheduled unrestricted free agents, but it’s unlikely at this point. And no, if Antrel Rolle is released, the Cards can’t turn around and use a tag on him.)

The Patriots did tag nose tackle Vince Wilfork yesterday and the Steelers are apparently going to tag nose tackle Casey Hampton (which just shows how important nose tackles are, especially for 3-4 teams; the Cards would have probably had interest in chasing both those guys had they been available).

Dansby was mostly good about dealing with the tag, which he has had the last two seasons. He should, especially now, because it’s provided him $18 million in just two years and now he’s in line for a huge long-term payday. But most players — Hampton and Wilfork included — aren’t fans of the tag, fearing they won’t get the long-term deal (and big guaranteed money) while risking another season of injury. Darnell Dockett certainly made his thoughts known yesterday, something to keep in mind since Dockett would be a franchise candidate in 2012 if the Cards and he don’t come to an extension agreement by then.

“I think the franchise TAG is a way of saying we too cheap to pay u ur worth even though u worked hard to get a big contract,” Dockett tweeted. “Its BS.”

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A pass on picking Peppers

Posted by Darren Urban on February 9, 2010 – 1:59 pm

In some ways, the situation reminds me of how math can look simple yet get much more complicated quickly by adding variables: A (The Cards need a pass rusher) + B (Pro Bowl pass rusher Julius Peppers will likely be an unrestricted free agent) = C (The Cards try to sign Peppers) … right?

Not so much. Not when A comes with the caveat that the new guy needs to be able to play OLB in a 3-4, something Peppers hasn’t done. Not when B comes with the caveat Peppers will be a free agent in part because he wants a boatload of money. Not when C could be impacted by the uncapped year and the “rule of eight” to which the Cards must adhere.

The biggest obstacle I see for Peppers is the idea he could suddenly become an effective linebacker after playing his whole career — college and pro — with his hand down. There are few defensive linemen as athletic as the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder, and he made it clear last year he thought he could make such a transition. But Peppers is also 30, and while he isn’t exactly an old dog, it is a new trick. There is a reason there is a learning curve for young DEs coming into the league trying to move to LB (Will Davis, Cody Brown, for instance) and doing it with a high-priced free agent may not ay off in the risk-reward department. (Sure, I remember Peppers jumping up on the block to grab Kurt Warner’s pass and scoring a touchdown — as seen below — but that was still as a defensive end, as athletic a play as it was).

That’s the other part of this. Peppers made $17 million this past season and, after reaching the Pro Bowl again, is going to be looking for a mega-bucks contract now that he wants out of Carolina. He had 10.5 sacks this year — or about the same amount Calais Campbell would have had if Campbell could have held on to David Garrard and Vince Young when he should have. Peppers is good, but guaranteeing $25 million-over-three-years-good? (And yes, I am just throwing numbers out there).

I just don’t see it. And Peppers may not see that money anywhere. Barring a miracle there will be an uncapped year and while that does mean teams don’t necessarily have to worry about spending, the fact there could be a work stoppage in 2011 means teams will worry about spending. I just don’t see free-flowing free-agent riches anywhere, and that includes the Cards. Besides, if you are going to shell out that kind of money, I’d think you’re more likely to reward your own guys (see Dockett, Darnell) than go outside the facility.

The Cards need pass rushers and they could chase a free agent. More likely, the draft is where the Cards will look to fortify that spot. At least in Arizona, the possibility of picking Peppers is probably poor.

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Friday before the Panthers

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2009 – 5:06 pm

Funny how the week seems to fly by when the team is playing well and the storylines are basically positive. And there’s no plane to climb aboard this week. OK, maybe it’s not funny. Just pleasant.

But enough chit-chat. I have a ton of stuff I haven’t been able to notebook/blog until now. So let’s get to it:

— The last time the Panthers came to Arizona, it was quite the result, if you don’t remember. It was 2007, and WarnerHurtCarolinaBlogMatt Leinart had just broken his collarbone the week before. The Cards wanted to sign Vinny Testaverde to back up Kurt Warner, but the Panthers, looking for a replacement for the injured Jake Delhomme, convinced Testaverde to go there instead – and he started despite being in Carolina all of three practices. The Cards signed Tim Rattay, and when Warner badly hurt his left elbow (pictured) on a Julius Peppers’ sack early in the game, Rattay – who also only had three practices – was forced to play. Eventually, Carolina pulled away late in a 25-10 win, a game the Cards always regretted after finishing 8-8.

— To think, Warner began his current 37-game starting streak that day and kept it up the very next week even though his elbow was scrambled and he had to play with a brace. That told me and a lot of people about Warner’s toughness (And no, before you all send e-mails or comments that I’m jinxing Warner, no I’m not. That’s simply a silly thought).

— Speaking of Warner, keeping him clean is the key, right? If he’s sacked two times or less, the Cards are 4-0 this season. More than twice, 0-2. For his career, those numbers are similar: 46-22 when sacked twice or less, 15-24 when sacked at least three times. His passing stats are also much better in the former than the latter. Yes, I know it’s kind of a “duh” stat. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pointed out.

— Whisenhunt has been leaning toward taking the ball if the Cards win the toss this season rather than deferring. “How many times have we scored on the opening drive?” Whisenhunt said. “We would have had (Sunday) night too.” I agree. If Tim Hightower hadn’t fumbled in New York, I have no doubt the Cards would have gotten at least three points there.

— The last time the Cardinals (4-2 going into the Panthers’ game) started 5-2 in a season was 1976, when they were actually 5-1. They eventually ran their record to 8-2 before finishing the 14-game season with a 10-4 mark.

— One man who doesn’t get mentioned much is backup safety/special teamer Matt Ware, who was in a serious fight in training camp with two others – Aaron Francisco and Keith Lewis – for one roster spot. Whisenhunt specifically talked about him today, noting it was Ware who caused the fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw in the Giants’ game. “The arrow is going up with him,” Whisenhunt said.

— No, the Cardinals aren’t going to wear white-on-white this weekend, because they didn’t request it in the offseason (the last home game was planned because of the pink for breast cancer awareness). Had Whisenhunt been given a choice, knowing the Cards are 4-0 this season wearing white jerseys and knowing how superstitious he is, would he have? Heck yeah. “You know I’m aware of it, that’s for sure,” Whisenhunt said.

— A couple fans have asked me about dropped passes and the Cards. The bottom line, there haven’t been many, not officially. The Cardinals have been charged with only 10 dropped passes out of 175 catchable balls, and their 5.7 percentage is sixth-best in the NFL (The Bears, at 3.5 percent, are first; the Browns, at 17.3 percent drops, are last). Fullback Dan Kreider has two of the drops; running back Tim Hightower three. Fitz has been charged with one drop in 63 passes targeted his way. Anquan Boldin has two in 51 targets, Steve Breaston none in 32 and Jerheme Urban none in 23.

— I do say, in light of the fines announced today by the NFL, I did enjoy Darnell Dockett’s response to the Ahmad Bradshaw fine for hitting Dockett.

— The Cards could make an impact with a sudden score, given that the Panthers have had trouble in that area. Carolina, in six games, has given up five such touchdowns – one kickoff return, one punt return, one fumble return and two interception returns.

— I think Fitz could be due for a big game. Sure, the Panthers lead the league in pass defense, but they are dead last in the NFL in pass attempts against. That tends to help your yardage average. Teams run the ball against Carolina (Beanie?) and don’t need to pass as much. The Cards, with Hightower and Edgerrin James, had 145 yards rushing in the playoff game in Carolina. And something tells me that’s going to free Fitz deep.

— Speaking of Fitz, if you haven’t caught it already, Fox Sports Arizona is airing one more time his story on an episode of VIZIO’s Pro Football PROfiles tonight at 11 p.m.

— Finally, it’ll be interesting to see what the Panthers do to free up Steve Smith, who’s been a non-factor. The Pro Bowl receiver used to always torch the Cards, all the way up until the playoff game. “He’s got that big-guy mentality,” Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He doesn’t fear anything.”

That’s probably true. But the Cards’ defense is playing so well right now. They handled Smith in the playoffs. Their run defense is prepared for DeAngelo Williams. Here’s hoping for another quick week around the Tempe office come Monday morning.


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