For Cardinals, a running game takes root

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2015 – 12:34 pm

The Cardinals ran for 120 yards against the Saints, 115 against the Bears and 139 Sunday against the 49ers. It is the first time the Cardinals have rushed for at least 115 yards in each of the first three games of the season since 1988. The 374 rushing yards are the most for the franchise in the first three games of the season since the Cards had 416 in 2002. (That 2002 start was aided by Thomas Jones’ 173 yards in the first regular-season game ever at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, a Cardinals’ win, the second week of the season. The Cardinals had 249 yards rushing in that game alone.)

The Cardinals have done it with nearly equal contributions from Andre Ellington — who looked great against the Saints before he got hurt — and David Johnson and Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the 49ers, and showed plenty of burst just a couple of days after his 30th birthday. Better yet, after Bruce Arians said that generally Earl Watford was a better run blocker than Bobby Massie at right tackle, the Cards had their best rushing game against San Francisco with Massie in there. And this team hasn’t even gotten to see what guard Mike Iupati — arguably their best run blocker — has to offer yet.

“It’s just a start,” veteran center Lyle Sendlein said. “You can’t just show up and expect you’ll get that kind of yardage every week.

“Obviously it had a level of importance in the offseason that they had been working on, and when I got here (in training camp) it was pretty apparent we were going to commit to getting yardage in the run game.”

Under Arians, the Cardinals are 14-1 when rushing for at least 100 yards. That can be misleading; Arians always says being committed to balance only counts in the first three quarters and then the game itself dictates how the fourth quarter will be called. Against the 49ers, for instance, the Cardinals went into the fourth quarter with a 40-7 lead and 10 of 13 Arizona offensive plays were runs as they drove for one more touchdown. (The final “drive” was three Drew Stanton kneeldowns, which count as “runs” but also screw up the stats with minus-one yard on each kneel.)

Like everything else, Sendlein emphasized it’s only a start. But it’s a start. The Cardinals, since 1995, have ranked higher than 21st in the NFL just once — 15th in that 2002 season — and haven’t been higher than 23rd since 2004. Seven times they have been ranked 30th or lower. This year, the Cards are currently 11th in the NFL.

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Goodwin analyzes his O-linemen

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2015 – 3:03 pm

Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin met with the media for the first time since the offensive line was set, and over the course of the press conference addressed four of his five offensive line starters (all except Jared Veldheer, and it’s safe to say Goodwin is more than happy with his left tackle.) A quick Goody rundown:

C Lyle Sendlein: “Just a solid veteran. Smart, dependable. He has some limitations but he knows what they are. He just makes me feel comfortable as a coach having him in there. He can correct me when I’m wrong, but usually, for the most part, we’re on the same page.”

RT Earl Watford: “You see a little bit more snap in his punch. Bradley (Sowell) does a good job athletically but sometimes you have to have a little power too. Earl is a little bit more powerful and little more assertive in pass protection. … Hopefully the butterflies don’t get to him early

LG Ted Larsen: “Ted has actually gotten better. Coming out of last season, playing a lot of left guard for us, he has done a good job. I think he’s actually a better guard than he is a center. He’s more confident and comfortable at the guard position.”

RG Jonathan Cooper: Goodwin was asked if it was a good thing that Cooper hasn’t been talked about much. “I’ve actually stopped cursing a lot, so things are getting better.” So, is Cooper back to the level where the Cardinals thought he was when he first was playing as a rookie? “My expectations are high, so I’d say no, not yet,” Goodwin said. “Never satisfied.” Goodwin chuckled after that last remark.

As for going into the regular season without left guard Mike Iupati (knee) and without the suspended Bobby Massie (who declined interview attempts Thursday), Goodwin said he wasn’t going to worry about it.

“I can’t ever remember having the same five guys the whole season, so it’s the nature of the beast for me,” Goodwin said. “Things happen, people get hurt, but you can’t pout because guess what? They’re still going to play the game on Sunday.”

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Watford, Sendlein start; Cardinals name their captains

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2015 – 1:46 pm

The offensive line is set. Bruce Arians said Earl Watford will be the starting right tackle against the Saints and Lyle Sendlein will be the starting center, joining guards Jonathan Cooper and Ted Larsen and left tackle Jared Veldheer. What’s more, Arians said the plan is for Watford to remain the starting right tackle even after Bobby Massie returns from suspension. That doesn’t mean Watford can’t lose the job, but it’s a huge statement for Watford, who has been looking for a starting role.

As for Sendlein, I felt since he was signed he’d find his way into the starting lineup. A.Q. Shipley provides depth at center and guard, but he’s had a hard time holding on to starting jobs thus far in his career and Sendlein played well in the preseason. More on the offensive line later on the homepage.

— The Cardinals named their captains. Offensively, it’s Veldheer and Carson Palmer. Defensively it’s Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell. On special teams, it’s Justin Bethel and Mike Leach. Arians said more than 20 players received more than three votes, which spoke to the depth of the candidates and leadership for the Cards.

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Keim: Raiders game “a great wake-up call”

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2015 – 8:07 am

General Manager Steve Keim acknowledged the obvious from Sunday night: There were a lot of issues offensively.

“It was a great wake-up call,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf show” on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Of the starting offensive line, Keim said guard Ted Larsen was the only to even have a solid game. But like Bruce Arians, he saw other problems, like Carson Palmer holding the ball too long a couple of times, some poor routes from receivers, and running backs failing to chip in certain situations.

“When you have so many things go wrong at the same time, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Keim said.

— Keim said the potential Bobby Massie suspension is “up in the air” until and if the Cardinals hear something from the league office.

— The battle at center between A.Q. Shipley and Lyle Sendlein remains ongoing, Keim said. (Shipley did have some issues Sunday night holding off the inside of the Raiders’ line, including ex-Cardinal Dan Williams.)

— Earl Watford played well, Keim said, reinforcing my view that Watford held up pretty good against stud Raiders pass rusher Kahlil Mack.

— Nothing has changed with Mike Iupati, other than he continues to rehab. Personally, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t miss some regular-season time, but we will see.

— Keim acknowledged there probably hasn’t been a preseason game the last two years where he hasn’t been concerned or there had not been some ups and downs. But he also said that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to feel good about. He thought the defense — other than a couple of blown assignments on coverage — played well. And he was happy with the play specifically of linebackers Alex Okafor and Kevin Minter and defensive end Calais Campbell.

— Keim said both running back Chris Johnson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon “have a chance” to play in Thursday’s preseason finale.

— The 12 roster moves needed to get to 75 should come today. “No reason to waste any time,” Keim said. The Cardinals practice this afternoon.

 


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Raiders aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2015 – 11:19 pm

There was a lot of talk about needing to watch the video before anyone could say for sure what the biggest problems were for the starting offense Sunday night in Oakland. Bruce Arians insisted there were no pass protection problems, although for whatever reason – whether it was line breakdowns or running backs not helping enough or Carson Palmer holding the ball too long in certain circumstances – it can’t be denied that Palmer was pressured more than anyone would like.

But again, there wasn’t any panic after. There weren’t any major injuries, so in the end, that probably qualifies any preseason game a success. It is true that the starting offense won’t really get a chance to work in a game before the opener. If that side of the ball is worried, nobody showed it afterward in the locker room.

On the flip side, I thought the starting defense held up well. They were put in some tough positions by the offensive struggles, but I thought they were solid, save for that one third-and-16 conversion they allowed.

— Palmer, who had his right knee wrapped with ice in the locker room after the game, took some hits. But it was his own journey outside the pocket that made everyone gasp a bit. It was third-and-9 and Palmer took off up the middle of the field – diving headfirst to make sure he picked up 10 yards and a first down.

“Larry (Fitzgerald) was screaming at me to get down,” Palmer said. “There is no hesitation. You want to get the first down, you want to stay on the field and keep playing. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but it worked out and I got away with it so I got lucky.”

— The second unit offensive line – from right tackle to left tackle, Earl Watford, Anthony Steen, Lyle Sendlein, Jon Halapio and D.J. Humphries – acquitted itself well, I thought. After the way Palmer was harassed, Drew Stanton had some time against the Raiders’ starting defense during his 12-play, 80-yard TD drive.

— Watford, in particular, played well against Khalil Mack. Watford quietly has been pretty solid, and that’s playing through a bad ankle.

— Defensively, Calais Campbell and Alex Okafor were stout against the run, and Kevin Minter made some good plays. Jerraud Powers showed up in coverage.

— I don’t know if Cariel Brooks makes the 53-man roster but making a play like the 81-yard touchdown return tends to help. I think he’s the leader in the clubhouse if the team’s fourth cornerback is already on the roster – I just don’t know if he’s already on the roster.

— Arians said a couple of times that Phillip Sims would come in first in this game because he wanted Logan Thomas to potentially get a two-minute drill. He couldn’t have come up with a better scenario – tie game, 2:18 left on the clock. Thomas came up big, especially after taking a huge hit on his knee at the outset of the drive.

— Speaking of huge hits, tight end Ifeanyi Momah took a big hit too on his catch-and-rumble to set up that game-winning score. It looked worse than it was, Momah said.

“I’m good,” Momah said. “We ran the play a couple times today. The safety kind of cheated over and the middle of the field was wide open and Logan made a good read. I was expecting the safety. I tried to stick my shoulder into him. It was a big hit but I initiated it too. It wasn’t too much of a blindside.”

— Interesting that tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was expected to play, did not. It did not come up when Arians spoke afterward. Chris Johnson said he thinks he’ll play Thursday after skipping Sunday – he could run full speed straight ahead but was having trouble cutting in pre-game warmups.

— It’s a short turnaround. We’re on this plane flying back to Phoenix now, and the Cardinals have practice Monday afternoon to prepare for Thursday’s preseason finale.

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Riddick return, OL moves and similar butts

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2015 – 2:24 pm

It was a long presser from Bruce Arians today after no morning walkthrough. Here are some of the highlights before I head down to practice:

— The injury list right now includes cornerback Jerraud Powers, who is now dealing with a hamstring issue of his own and will be “shut down” for a few days. Arians did not sound concerned. Good news, though, running back Chris Johnson is actually better than Arians originally thought with his hamstring and is day to day. Arians said Saturday he thought Johnson would missed a week or two. OL Earl Watford had a shot in his troublesome ankle and gets a rest day (the Cards are off Tuesday too), and will be back Wednesday, as will TE Jermaine Gresham (back) and WR Brittan Golden (sore after taking a big hit Saturday.)

— OLB Shaq Riddick is finally back at practice. So is CB Jonte Green and T Rob Crisp.

— Arians said it was “discouraging” ILB Sean Weatherspoon is still out with his bad hamstring. There is a hope he’ll return to practice this week, but we’ll see.

— The coaches have talked as a staff about playing the starters less Sunday in Oakland in light of all the injuries around the NFL. Arians said each guy will be gauged differently, based on practice and the need for reps.

— When Watford comes back, he’ll work at right tackle and have the chance to battle Bradley Sowell for the starting job. D.J. Humphries will spend the week at left tackle to get some work there; Arians wants him to be able to play both sides as a backup — which he will be to start the season almost assuredly.

— Arians praised Alani Fua and, to a lesser extent, Gabe Martin, at inside linebacker. Arians intrigued by Fua’s length.

— After video watching, Arians still said there is no leader at third QB between Sims and Thomas.

— Although Mike Leach already took the blame on Twitter, Arians reiterated it was Leach snapping the ball too soon to holder Dave Zastudil that caused the botched PAT in the game. “A 25-year-vet, whatever he is, snapping to a 30-year vet, and one wasn’t looking,” Arians said. “You would not anticpate that happening out of thise two guys, but it did happen.”

— Arians liked the game starting left guard Ted Larsen had a lot, but “he blew it with one dumb penalty,” Arians lamented of Larsen’s 15-yarder for jumping on a pile. Still, he said he liked Larsen’s game, and that of Jonathan Cooper’s too.

— The starting center job between A.Q. Shipley and Lyle Sendlein is “heavily contested.” Arians added that Carson Palmer gets no say in the matter. “Their butts are about the same,” Arians quipped.

 


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Smokey on the move, and #CardsCamp notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 12, 2015 – 8:46 am

Tangible evidence of the relationship last season between Carson Palmer and John “Smokey” Brown was seen every day after practice. The locker room at the team’s Tempe facility is generally separated into position groups — except Palmer insisted Brown’s locker be installed next to his, so his mentoring of Brown could find easier access. That’s changed. The locker room has been redone in Tempe — it’s really quite nice — but now Brown has been moved back to the wide receiver side.

“Drew (Stanton) said I’m not Hollywood anymore,” Brown said with a smile.

I think Brown would have been just fine staying where he was. That tight bond with Palmer isn’t changing anytime soon — and here’s where I point out if you haven’t had a chance to read my story about the two, please check it out: azcardinals.com/smokesignals. It’s also our first attempt at a special long-form layout.

— Palmer bounced back in a big way at Tuesday’s practice. The defense “won” Monday, and Palmer had three interceptions — one by Patrick Peterson, two by Tyrann Mathieu. It was really Palmer’s only not-good (he wasn’t bad, per se) practice, and he looked great Tuesday. The Cardinals worked on the deep ball, and he was on point all afternoon.

— One more story to see, in case you missed it: I thought Adrian Wilson had some interesting comments about Peterson. The fact Peterson weighed 203 coming into camp — after coming into the league at 219 — is pretty significant too.

Lyle Sendlein’s deal was for $1.4 million on one-year, $500,000 of that guaranteed. He reportedly was offered $1.5M non-guaranteed back when he was first released. The battle between he and A.Q. Shipley will be interesting (Ted Larsen hasn’t worked at center at all since Sendlein arrived, instead staying at guard.) I still think Sendlein ends up as the starting center when we get to the regular season, but we’ll see.

— No new news on the running back/Chris Johnson front. I could see Johnson taking his time on a decision, especially with the entire preseason still to go. I don’t know if he is concerned about money, as has been suggested, but I highly doubt the Cards are going to be upping their offer.

— Drew Butler kicked Monday in place of Chandler Catanzaro. Bruce Arians wanted to give Catanzaro a day off, but the Cards also wanted to work on extra points. If Butler made the team, it’d give the Cards a true emergency kicker. And make no mistake, as much as it seems many don’t want to hear it, Butler has a chance to beat out Dave Zastudil.

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Cardinals looking at Chris Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on August 11, 2015 – 8:53 am

Monday, Bruce Arians said the Cardinals would look to add a running back. Tuesday morning, ESPN reported that the Cardinals had offered a one-year contract to veteran Chris Johnson and that Johnson is mulling the opportunity. The Cardinals aren’t the only team out there openly looking for a running back; the Texans would like to add one after Arian Foster’s sports hernia surgery. One hitch, reportedly, is that Johnson isn’t sure he would make the team with the Cardinals. To me, it’s a fair concern. If Andre Ellington is healthy, he’s your top guy, and as frustrating as it is not to have third-round draft pick David Johnson at this point — he remains out with a hamstring injury and Arians said he could miss another week – when those guys are healthy, it would get awfully crowded in that backfield.

But this is about putting the best team together (as Arians talked about last week about the business of Lyle Sendlein) and a chance to add a vet who could help makes sense for the Cards right now. Ellington is just now getting back to practice. Johnson provides speed in the backfield, and while he didn’t reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last season with the Jets, he still averaged a healthy 4.3 yards a carry. It’s a waiting game now. The Cards make their free agent play. Many times it works, but other times, a player will pass (remember Brett Keisel this time last year? The Cards still ended up with Tommy Kelly.)


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Sendlein and the center position

Posted by Darren Urban on August 7, 2015 – 10:13 am

The Cardinals are working on a deal to re-sign veteran center Lyle Sendlein, Bruce Arians said. UPDATE: Sendlein has been officially signed, along with G Nate Isles and WR Travis Harvey. The Cards cut QB Chandler Harnish.

Bringing Sendlein back wouldn’t be a complete surprise, it’s something that was always a possibility as long as he didn’t sign anywhere else after being released in March. The Cardinals have A.Q. Shipley and Ted Larsen, although neither had taken hold of the starting job. Shipley lost a couple of battles with defensive linemen the other day. If Sendlein comes in he wouldn’t just be handed the job, but he would bring in a wealth of starting experience. And not having done anything over the summer, his body should be fresh as well.

The Cardinals wanted Sendlein to stick around, asking him to take a pay cut before he was released. He grew up in the Valley and his family is settled here, so it makes sense he’d want to play for the Cardinals. Details of the contract and how this plays out will be interesting. But it’s possible that this year’s big camp signing could end up being an familiar face. For now, Arians said Sendlein will simply be competing with the other two guys.

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For what it’s worth in June, offensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 19, 2015 – 3:03 pm

So, before it’s time to take leave for a bit, we come to the second part of the “for what it’s worth” posts. Yesterday, it was the defense. Today, the offense, which starts with a healthy Carson Palmer, always a good thing. This team should be in a better place offensively this season, if for no other reason than the system is set and the offensive line should be better than it’s been overall in a long time. Of course, the Cards have to show it. And Palmer needs to stay on the field.

QB — Carson Palmer. Whatever else the Cardinals might have done on the field this offseason, just having Palmer back and working in 11-on-11 by the end would deem it a success. We’ll see how it plays out in camp — and more importantly, the first preseason game he takes part in — but it’s important that he is on track to be the starter.

RB — Andre Ellington. Rookie David Johnson should end up playing a role and could end up as a key on offense. But right now, all things still figure to go through Ellington to begin with. The entire running back situation is an interesting one. Will the offensive line upgrade trickle down to help this position? How might Kerwynn Williams fit in? The Cards just want Ellington to stay healthy, and see what that means.

WR — Larry Fitzgerald. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact, after another year under 1,000 yards, that Fitz was really clicking with Palmer before Palmer got hurt. If the two vets can play together, I’m curious to see what Fitz’s numbers can be, even in this system when not one receiver figures to dominate the stat sheet.

WR — Michael Floyd. It’s a big year for Floyd. The quarterback situation did not help last season, but there were times even when Palmer played where, for whatever reason, Floyd didn’t produce. Sometimes, that was a lack of targets. The Cards certainly have other options too. But the former No. 1 draft pick needs to make a greater impact.

WR — John Brown. In this setup, the Cards go three wide receivers (I’ll hit the tight ends in a minute.) Brown has added a little muscle and had strong self-awareness of what happened to him last season, including wearing out at the end of the season. Palmer can’t say enough good things about Brown, with whom he developed a strong bond with last summer. Smokey will get his chances.

TE — Darren Fells. Troy Niklas is going to be in this mix and when the Cards go two tight ends on running downs, Niklas will likely join Fells. But right now, with Niklas still trying to get healthy, it is Fells who as emerged out of a very inexperienced tight end room. One caveat: Can’t exclude the possibility of the Cards signing a veteran at the position, which could change this dynamic.

RT — Bobby Massie. D.J. Humphries is making strides, but as of now, it’s hard to see Humphries surpassing Massie. Things could change when the pads go on. Another possibility is if Humphries makes enough strides, maybe Massie is a guy who the Cards would consider trading, especially if another team loses a tackle in injury in camp. But if Massie is around for the first game, I think he starts.

RG — Jonathan Cooper. He’s in great shape. He doesn’t have any of the issues left from a broken leg or turf toe or any of the other problems he might have had. If Cooper is going to become the player the Cardinals hope he can be, this is the season he needs to do it. His confidence clearly has never been higher, and he comes across as a different player than he was at this time last year. A big, big camp awaits.

C — A.Q. Shipley. This is an interesting spot. Shipley and Ted Larsen will battle in camp. OTAs and minicamp are what they are, but Shipley was the one getting more first-unit snaps by the end and he has history with both Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin. This will come down to how Shipley and Larsen perform in games. (And if they both struggle, I wouldn’t completely write off the idea of a Lyle Sendlein return either, as long as he remains a free agent.)

LG — Mike Iupati. For a second straight year, the big free-agent purchase was an offensive lineman. Iupati’s reputation is that of excellent run blocker and a guy who needs to work on his pass blocking. Iupati certainly looks the part, and it will be fun to watch him in pads during camp and see what collisions develop.

LT — Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals wanted a left tackle and after one season, it looks like they have gotten a pretty good one.

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