Some tid, some bits on a Thursday morning

Posted by Darren Urban on November 15, 2012 – 10:52 am

Sometimes, it takes intense evaluation to know where you are as a team. Sometimes, it’s a little more simple.

“It really comes down in this league — and watching (Sunday’s opponent) Atlanta is a good example, to making those plays (to win),” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The Falcons make a lot of catches in tight coverage and the quarterback throws it in there. If the Green Bay game is any judge of that, we drop balls when we’re wide open. We can’t do that. We miss tackles in the open field. You can’t do that.”

Again, and this has been said too many times to count, the Cardinals as constructed don’t have margin for error. Their defense is good, but not so suffocatingly good it can hold off the opposition every time. The offense can’t turn it over and must carve out more points when it has a chance, because there won’t be too many — if any — 30-point outbursts. Special teams has to contribute to aid both sides. The Cards have to have something more to be in the game.

— My first visit to Atlanta, way back in 2004, was memorable. The Falcons won, 6-3, even though first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast came up with a great gameplan to foil QB Michael Vick and Cardinals defensive end Peppi Zellner — remember him? — had probably his best game (only good game?) in Arizona. The Cards fumbled the ball late (wide receiver Karl Williams) in the red zone right before a chance to at least tie the game. Atlanta’s kicker booted two field goals for the win. That kicker just happened to be Jay Feely (h/t Mark Dalton for that memory.)

— Because I know some people still might be interested, word out of Philadelphia is that the future of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is uncertain with his contract set to expire.

— Another former Card, Chiefs wide receiver Steve Breaston, was a surprise healthy scratch on Monday night.

— The bye week is tough. With no games, you start to run out of things to talk about over two weeks (although a losing streak doesn’t help.)

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 36 Comments »

Rough out there for a QB

Posted by Darren Urban on November 13, 2012 – 10:20 am

When Ken Whisenhunt first named John Skelton his starting quarterback to begin the season, he noted that Kevin Kolb would stay ready, because the way the NFL goes, the Cardinals would need both their quarterbacks. That, of course, turned out to be true, with Kolb subbing for an injured Skelton in the very first game and then playing well enough to hold down the starting role until getting hurt himself when his ribs detached from his sternum on a hit against Buffalo.

Kolb had promised himself he was going to try and play through any injury after being sidelined so much last season. This time around he just couldn’t. This weekend, with the Cards coincidentally on a bye, the NFL showed exactly how difficult it can be to stay healthy as a quarterback in this league.

Three starters — the Eagles’ Michael Vick, the Bears’ Jay Cutler and the 49ers’ Alex Smith — had to leave their respective games because of concussions (which, of course, Kolb had to do last season.) The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the king of playing through any and all injuries it seems, had to leave Monday night’s game after hurting his throwing shoulder. As of this moment, it’s being called a sprain but no one really knows how much time it could cost him. As for the concussed QBs, well, Kolb missed a lot of time because of his and at the very least, it’ll be a little surprising if the trio can return the very next week, given the concussion concern around the league these days.

Bottom line (even as obvious as it is)? That backup QB is always just a play away, and the odds are good he’s going to be forced into some playing time at some point. This isn’t about fragility. It’s about fast, 275-pound bodies colliding with or twisting oddly the guy who has the ball in his hands more than anyone.

As for Kolb, he continues to throw it around at practice (like Monday, below) although his progress keeps his status in a kind of limbo. He still doesn’t sound like his return is around the corner.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 29 Comments »

Eagles aftermath, with a Kolb topper

Posted by Darren Urban on September 23, 2012 – 7:46 pm

The defense is dominant. But before we get too far away from one of the key storylines from today’s game, here’s a nod to Kevin Kolb. The quarterback keeps downplaying what it meant today to beat the Eagles, but the man is human. You can only imagine, with everything he’s been through – the guy wasn’t even going to be playing two weeks ago.

“We wanted to come out and play hard for him because we knew what it meant for him,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “He made the throws, he scrambled when he needed to and he did a great job commanding the huddle. In the huddle, he was very demonstrative. He really wanted it. He was calling guys to reach down and dig deep and make plays. He really doesn’t talk all that much in the huddle, but today, you could tell he was actually trying to motivate.”

Someone wanted Kolb to reflect on the past three games. He wouldn’t bite. “I want to stay focused,” Kolb said. “Because I’ve done it in the past, you know, tried to foresee the future and every time it comes up and knocks my legs out from under me.”

The questions are going to be there and no, I don’t know what happens at quarterback. You’d have to think Kolb will stay as the starter even if John Skelton’s ankle is healthy. I don’t anticipate any big announcement – that’s not really coach Ken Whisenhunt’s style – but that’s my guess tonight.

— There was a lot of preseason concern about how much pressure the Cards could get with their outside linebackers. O’Brien Schofield and Quentin Groves each had a sack, Sam Acho had a play that would’ve been a sack if Michael Vick hadn’t decided to intentionally ground the ball, and the three totaled six QB hits. Not a bad day’s work.

— Safety Kerry Rhodes has had two excellent games in a row. Played well in New England, and then today he looked like, since Adrian Wilson was sitting out, he was going to suddenly take up the mantle as the guy who drilled everyone. He did it back-to-back plays on tight end Brent Celek, and later tagged Vick for the James Sanders fumble return.

“Everyone else is making plays, so why not me?” Rhodes said. “I have to make a couple myself.”.

— James Sanders and Rashad Johnson stepped up in Wilson’s absence. Reminded me of last year when Johnson and Richard Marshall filled in well for Rhodes

— Daryl Washington won’t win NFC defensive player of the week, I don’t think, because Calais Campbell won it last week. But he’d have an argument after his two sacks and the way he harassed Michael Vick all day. So I’ll say this: Has a team ever looked better in a two-week stretch of re-signing two players to big contract extensions. No worries about either one flaking out after getting paid.

— The PatCat got a snap Sunday. Four-yard Patrick Peterson running loss. It can’t always be productive, I guess.

— Kolb has played two games plus the end of the other without an interception. “With our defense and our style of play, not turning the ball over is a big key,” Kolb said. “It’s OK to punt. We don’t like it, it’s never been in my game, but to have that mentality, sometimes it’s OK.”

— It was so important for Ryan Williams to bounce back like he did. Not only did his 83 yards on 13 carries look good, but it softens the blow if Beanie Wells is out. We’ll see how Wells’ toe is this week. Williams does, as Whisenhunt noted, need to grab that 3rd-and-1 pitch and just drive upfield and make sure he gets the one yard, rather than look for a big play and get stuffed.

— Speaking of stuffed, I felt back for LaRod Stephens-Howling. He was in the game with Wells down and Williams suffering from cramps, and the Eagles knew the Cards just wanted to run it into the line late and burn clock, and the Hyphen’s stats took a beating. Eight carries, minus-14 yards. Talk about taking one for the team.

— Darnell Dockett said his hamstring will be OK, but jeez, that would be a tough loss if he were to miss a game. Dockett shrugged. “Every now and then, even the Hulk gets wounded.”

— Long snapper Mike Leach recovered the Eagles’ fumble punt today, which is why you need someone athletic enough to get down in coverage at that position. It’s not just about putting your head between your legs and throwing.

— Michael Floyd, welcome to the NFL. A highlight-worthy TD catch and drawing a 15-yard penalty on DRC? Nice production.

— Fitz had a good game, but what does he tell Andre Roberts about the 50 yards Roberts lost on Fitz’s block in the back penalty that Roberts may not have even needed. Roberts ended up with a 29-yard reception instead. “I cost my closest friend on the team a 70-yard play,” Fitz lamented. Ah, after all that time Roberts spent with Fitz’s jet skis on the lake this summer, I’m sure Roberts will forgive him.

I had just turned 4 the last time the Cards were 3-0. I wasn’t living in Arizona yet, even though I’ve lived here most of my life, and their move to the Valley was a long way away. At some point, the Cardinals were going to get to 3-0 again. Raise your hand if, on Sept. 8, you thought it was going to be this season.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 92 Comments »

Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2012 – 4:56 pm

A fan (@AzCardsGM) linked on Twitter today a video of the Cardinals’ dramatic late win in Philadelphia back in 2001, when Jake Plummer hit MarTay Jenkins for a long TD with 35 seconds left – what an improbable win, I remember thinking as I stood in the chill of the sideline that day – and mentioned that he wanted the same result Sunday when the Eagles visited University of Phoenix Stadium. Just without the drama.

Sorry. Drama is included with every season ticket these days, it seems.

“History tells us we might as well get ready for another two-minute drive to see who wins the game,” quarterback Kevin Kolb half-joked this week. OK, maybe not half. He’s probably 94.6 percent dead serious.

In 1976, the franchise earned the nickname “Cardiac Cards” because they won eight games by seven points or fewer. Well, since the beginning of last season – 18 games all told – 15 have been decided by seven points or fewer for the Cardinals. The Cards have won 10 of those. The Cards last 11 wins, in fact, have come by no more than seven points. During their current nine-wins-in-11-tries stretch, the margin of victory in those nine wins has been 2, 4, 7, 6, 4, 3, 6, 2 and 3 points.

“As long as we get the ‘W’s,’ I really don’t care,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think you can turn the highlights on every week and you see a bunch of games that come down to the wire. We’ve been involved in a lot of those games but you have to learn how to win and you have to win the tough games and our guys have done that. It’s definitely stressful, but our guys have gotten mentally tougher because of it.”

The Cards may have gotten mentally tough, but I’m willing to say it – the constant close games are mentally taxing.

— Don’t forget the Cards are wearing the black uniforms Sunday.

— Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has come through with some strong statements of late – last week, Tom Brady was the best NFL player in history – and this week, it was his praise for his defense that got the nod.

“This was our best week of practice ever,” Horton said. “The guys came in, they had attention to detail, the focus, the practice, the talk, and that’s how I knew was the talk. By far our best week of practice since I’ve been here.”

— The Cards will need it. They face an Eagles’ offense that leads the NFL in yards per game at 471, a stunningly high total (the Cards, by comparison, are 30th in the league with their 249 yards a game). Yet the Eagles have scored only one more total point than the Cards. Why? Turnovers. Mike Vick and crew have already turned it over nine times, making their 2-0 record impressive in a backhanded way.

“If we can eliminate the turnovers, our offense can accomplish great things,” Vick said. Added Eagles coach Andy Reid, “(Michael) has never been a turnover guy. He’s started out with a few, but that hasn’t been throughout his career what he’s done.”

The Cards did pick off Vick twice last season in their win at Philly. Clearly, how the Cards’ defense handles Vick and company will be the story of the game.

— Horton’s defense has been on a field a lot already. After playing the most defensive snaps in 2011, the Cards already have played 163 total defensive snaps in two games (the Cards have a total of 129 offensive snaps).

“We are always concerned about that,” Horton said, noting that his unit needs to generate more turnovers. “That gets you off the field. No matter how you get on the field, you can’t control that. You can control how you get off the field.”

— Because of the scheme the Cards played last week, starting nose tackle Dan Williams played just seven of 82 snaps, backup nose tackle David Carter just three.

“After missing six games last season it was definitely hard,” Williams said. “Talking to Dave, we have to do what is best for the team. If we only have two big guys in there, can’t complain because it is Calais (Campbell) and (Darnell) Dockett in there, two great player. Dave and I, we understand. As a football player, you want to play but the team is bigger than ourselves.”

— The NFL announced it suspended Cardinals practice squad wide receiver Gerell Robinson. Multiple reports have it for four games for violating the agreement against performance-enhancing drugs. No official word from the team as of yet.

— It will be crucial to see how the Cards’ offensive line, particularly tackles D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie, handle outside pass rushers Jason Babin and Trent Cole. The Cards have only given up two sacks in two games. The vibe from Philly is that Babin and Cole are expecting big games. Keeping Kolb clean will be so important.

The Cards have to find a way to run the ball better. Larry Fitzgerald emphasized that Friday. That will help slow those pass rushers too. But Fitz has to have more than one catch. “We’ve got to feed him,” Kolb said. There’s a fine line between risk and reward, but Fitz needs to make an impact, get in the end zone.

— Ryan Williams has to bounce back. Quickly.

— Fitzgerald had high praise for former teammate and current Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, returning to Arizona for the first time.

“I’ve said it all along, DRC, he’s the most, from a physical standpoint, talented guy I’ve ever been around,” Fitzgerald said. “Dude is (running a) 4.3, (has a) 40-plus vertical, his quickness is unbelievable. I was teasing him this week, I’ve got to put my hands on him. He’s still only 172 pounds.”

— Just like the Cards need to protect Kolb in the pocket, the defense needs to take advantage of Philly’s backup left tackle and center. The Cards have multiple sacks in eight straight games, and the way Vick plays, they really should be able to extend that streak.

— Horton, on how his defense is handling success: “We haven’t had any success yet. We started off 1-6 last year and we still talk about that. I don’t think they think we’ve had success yet.”

— The Cardinals haven’t started a season 3-0 since 1974. We’ll see if they can update that. As far as the last time they started 2-0, well, that season included an Eagles’ trip to Arizona too.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 32 Comments »

Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2011 – 4:59 pm

As we sit on this flight back to Philly for one final two-day trip of the season, it jogs the memory of the last trip to Philly – which was only one day. That’s because the game was at night. A Thursday night to be exact, Thanksgiving night, when the Cards were knocked around pretty good, 48-20, and everyone wondered just what the Cardinals were going to be able to do in the playoffs a month later.

It was 2008 of course, and while the Cards had trouble keeping it on the road in that stretch run, we all know what they did in the playoffs. And that was the last time the Cardinals played the Eagles as well, hosting them in the NFC Championship game when Tim Hightower worked the perfect screen pass for the go-ahead touchdown. Funny thing was, even though the Eagles dominated the Cards every which way in that regular-season game, I always thought the Cards would win the playoff game.

It was that kind of season.

This season is different. Both the Eagles and Cards are struggling. The best subplot of this game – Kevin Kolb’s return – probably won’t happen. Kolb is officially questionable, but he hasn’t practiced at all since the Friday before the Ravens game. Besides, with all the problems he has had on the field, I don’t know if you would want to put him in this maelstrom of drama if he wasn’t totally healthy.

Instead, the Cards are trying for an upset. No one seems to think the Cards have a chance, although if they do win, even with all their troubles, they’d have the same record as the Eagles. Who would have thought that a few weeks ago?

— No Kolb would leave John Skelton of course, and while he has gone 3-0 in his home starts, his two road starts were not so good last season. He struggled mightily against both the Panthers – who were so bad they had the No. 1 overall pick, even after beating the Cards – and the 49ers.

— Before we even get to Sunday, Cardinals play-by-play man Dave Pasch has a huge assignment – he has to call the Penn State-Nebraska game for ESPN. Pasch knew his assignment last Sunday, just when the Penn State scandal was beginning to come to light.

“It’s just being prepared for anything,” Pasch told the New York Daily News. “Who knows what’s going to happen from now until Saturday, let alone from kickoff until the end of the game?”

A big job, but Pasch is so good he’ll pull it off. One subplot is already off the table – Urban Meyer, normally the third man in the booth with Pasch and Chris Spielman, won’t be there after his father passed away this morning.

— How will the Cards defend Michael Vick? Someone actually asked defensive coordinator Ray Horton if he would change personnel just for Vick, a query that brought a chuckle from Horton. He wasn’t about to reveal state secrets. Besides, containing Vick isn’t easy regardless.

“You can spy him, you can account for him, but he is going to get out because he is so elusive and, unless you have played this guy … you see it on film and you think, ‘I can get there,’ ” Horton said. “And you don’t.”

— Cornerback Michael Adams, who was close with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, said DRC was hurt that the Cards traded him away. DRC seemed to echo such a sentiment talking with Philly reporters this week.

“I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder since the Cardinals were the team that decided to trade me,” DRC said. But, he added, “I’m going to go out there and give it my all, like I do every week. I’m trying to treat this game like any other; I’m not going to let it affect my play. It’ll be nice to see some of my old teammates and friends, but at the end of the day it’s business.”

— If the Cardinals can keep it close, the Eagles can be had late – Philly has been outscored 60-24 in the fourth quarter.

— Of course, that only matters if the Cards keep it close. The first quarter is Arizona’s Achilles heel, getting outscored 48-23.

— A piece on says that Levi Brown is tied with the Rams’ Rodger Saffold for the most sacks allowed this season, with 8½. Obviously there is no true way to measure exactly what happens – the story acknowledges there are times when it is tough to tell, and there are times, for instance, when Kolb has dropped back so far he is out of the pocket. But everyone knows Brown needs to play better.

— The great under-the-radar news for the Cards: How much better running back Beanie Wells feels. Actually practicing full today means a lot, not only to Beanie but to this game. The Eagles can be run on (Matt Forte cracked 130 yards against them Monday) and it’s a crucial part of the Cards’ offense these days.

One last thing: My most memorable moment in Philly. No, it wasn’t Adrian Wilson crushing Donovan McNabb and breaking his ankle on the first series of the game, only to have McNabb play on it and throw four touchdown passes. No, this was the 2001 game, and going down on the field at Veterans’ Stadium and watching Jake Plummer hook up with MarTay Jenkins on an improbable Hail Mary-esque TD pass with 17 seconds left to beat the Eagles.

Man, I’ve never heard such a loud stadium get quiet so fast.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 24 Comments »

Dealing with Vick’s quicks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2011 – 11:47 am

The Cardinals have faced Michael Vick twice in his career, and both times it was before his reincarnation as a better, more studious passer. Both times it was during his stint with the Atlanta Falcons, a time before he was sent to prison for dog fighting and during the time he admittedly didn’t work very hard at his craft. Certainly, Vick still was an amazing athlete — like now playing for the Eagles — and his running ability makes him so dangerous.

In 2004, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast came up with a new scheme just to mess with Vick and it worked perfectly. The Falcons did almost nothing most of the day offensively in Atlanta, and the Cards bottled up Vick. Unfortunately, the Cards’ offense also did almost nothing, except turn the ball over a couple of times in scoring range. The Falcons kicked two field goals that day to Arizona’s one. Up until the very end, Vick was stymied — 10-for-20 passing for 115 yards and one interception, and seven rush attempts for 10 yards — until Vick made the one play to seal the 6-3 win, running  a play-action naked bootleg with two minutes left on second-and-7 for 58 yards.

His 2006 showing was better, in a game that for Arizona fans was better known for Matt Leinart’s debut and introduction to the lineup (Denny Green grabbed the microphone during a postgame interview between Paul Calvisi and Leinart, as Leinart was trying to dance around the question of whether he would start, and announced that Leinart was indeed the starter). The Falcons romped, 32-10, kicking six field goals. Vick only threw for 153 yards (13-for-22, one pick) but he ran for 101 on just 11 carries.

Vick’s running ability hasn’t changed. He has 456 yards rushing and averages 8.0 yards a carry (remember, in the NFL, sacks are not included in a quarterback’s rushing totals). Keeping him contained will continue to be important — keeping gap responsibility, and being wary of where he is in the pocket. He can be deadly as a passer, but it’s his running that can be the backbreaker.

Tags: ,
Posted in Blog | 31 Comments »

Talking more Kolb

Posted by Darren Urban on May 30, 2011 – 7:52 pm

What’d I miss?

I know of one thing: Kevin Kolb showed up to some of the workouts Eagles players were having, so naturally, he was asked about being traded. And the quarterback said what would be expected, that he wants to be a starter and he wished he already knew where he’d be playing in 2011. No, nothing really is different from the last time I talked about Kolb. Or the time before that. There is little question, as in the dead of this offseason Kolb continues to be dissected over and over, there is a immovable object/irresistible force feel to Kolb’s situation, whenever it plays out.

Take the Cards, for instance. We all know they need a quarterback, and while it’s impossible to know what they a) are willing to give up for a QB right now and b) think about the worth of Kolb, it’s fair to think they will consider Kolb heavily. In theory, the Eagles are dealing from a certain position of strength there, with the Cards or an other team. They don’t have to trade Kolb, after all.

But Kolb’s impending free agent status after 2011 looms large, regardless of the collective poker face the Eagles may want to put on. It may allow the Eagles to talk about getting enough to offset the reality Kolb could be the ultimate Michael Vick insurance policy. In the end, though, it’s hard to believe Philly won’t want to get something for Kolb ahead of time. What’s the more palatable risk: A backup-less Vick and an extra draft pick or two, or letting Kolb sit around all season — and assume Vick will get hurt — before letting him walk?

I am looking forward to the time when we can talk about this as after-the-fact analysis instead of speculation.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Blog | 48 Comments »

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Blog | 18 Comments »

Expect Leinart — not a QB blockbuster

Posted by Darren Urban on January 27, 2010 – 10:57 am

There has been a lot of talk of the direction the Cardinals go at quarterback if Kurt Warner walks away (and here’s where I insert the standard disclaimer for every one of these items — Warner has yet to make a decision whether he will retire or not) but it’s being made overly complicated by the rumormill.

If Warner leaves, Matt Leinart is going to have the first crack at starting quarterback.

The Cardinals aren’t going to try and trade for Donovan McNabb. They aren’t going to give up draft picks for an older QB who is going to be looking for a new contract (McNabb is scheduled to be a free agent after 2010). Maybe McNabb, who has a house in Chandler, becomes more attractive if he hits the free-agent market after next season, but that’s assuming the Eagles let him leave. But there will be no trade, even if the Eagles decide to deal him.

The Cards aren’t going to chase Michael Vick either. Vick should get released by Philly at some point, given the large amount of money ($3.75 million as a backup) he is due for next season, unless the Eagles dump McNabb. But Vick carries with him too much baggage to be worth bringing him in, and his style (including the fact he has never proven to be a consistent NFL passer) doesn’t fit the Cards’ offense. Vick is not coming to Arizona.

If Warner steps away, expect the Cards to sign some sort of veteran quarterback, but one that will likely be told he will begin behind Leinart on the depth chart. Expect the Cards to use a mid-round draft pick (or at least seriously consider it) to draft a quarterback.

But mostly, if Warner retires, expect Matt Leinart to be behind center in 2010.

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Blog | 93 Comments »
%d bloggers like this: