Nothing new for Miller, and some sack changes

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2012 – 9:23 am

There’s been a lot of talk about the Cardinals adjusting their playcalling to fit with what seems to be a transitioning philosophy on offense — a little more deliberate, sticking with the run, etc. But offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing really has changed in what he has been dialing up on game days.

“It feels pretty much the same,” Miller said. “I haven’t really done anything differently. We’ve made adjustments in-game that come up specific to that opponent. But as far as the way we call it, I mean, we ran no-huddle in the Seattle game, mixed it up in the New England game. It’s been ‘up’ we just haven’t called it.”

Through three games, the Cardinals are fairly balanced, although not 50-50. The Cardinals have 87 pass attempts and been sacked five times, and nine of the 12 quarterback runs have been scrambles from a passing play, for 101 pass plays. With the three intentional quarterback runs, they have had 78 rushing plays. Interestingly, even though the offense needs to generate more yards and have been outgained, the Cardinals have almost even time of possession with opponents (29:46 to 30:14) and the Cardinals are one of only six teams in the NFL to score at least 20 points in each of their three games.

(They are the only team in the NFL to allow less than 20 points in each game too.)

— There were a couple of statistical changes from the Philadelphia game, affecting the sack totals of a couple of linebackers. Sam Acho had previously been credited with a tackle after a Michael Vick one-yard scramble in the second quarter, but after further review it was deemed Vick only got back to the line of scrimmage — which by definition gives Acho a sack. In the third quarter, Daryl Washington had been credited with a 12-yard sack of Vick on a first down play, but after further review it was decided Vick was a runner when Washington got to him, so instead of a sack it became a 12-yard tackle-for-loss. It means Washington now only has two sacks this season and Acho now has two himself.

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Thursday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 16, 2012 – 3:27 pm

So here it is, the day before the game in which Ken Whisenhunt promised to play his starters until they got it right. That was the message at the beginning of the week, and then Whisenhunt and his staff worked the Cards pretty hard over the next few days in Flagstaff.

It seems to me – and really, what do I know? – it worked.

“I don’t quite understand why he was trying to take us out of the preseason earlier anyway,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “I guess it’s (being) cautious, but we’re not out there to protect guys. We’re out there to get better, to make strides. For him to have to come and say that to us is disappointing, and we have to take care of our Coach because he takes care of us. I can guarantee that will not be the same Cardinals’ team (Friday night) that you all saw the last two weeks.”

The stars line up well for the Cards. It’s their first home game. There is desperation by a defense that has been disappointing and a starting quarterback fighting to stay in the hunt to be a starter. There is a clear edge in the air from a coaching staff that wants more, and an opponent who just played Monday night.

We’ll see if the attention to detail Adrian Wilson was searching for shows up.

— Assuming Ryan Williams finally plays, and all indications are that he will, Friday marks 364 days since he ruptured his patella tendon in Green Bay. It will also be his first game at University of Phoenix Stadium, since the Cards began with a pair of road preseason games last year.

— It’s been said many times, but this game will be important to Kevin Kolb. A poor showing doesn’t necessarily eliminate him from being a starter – at least, Whisenhunt hasn’t said that – but it’s hard to think, with time running out, that this is crucial. I’ve already been asked a bunch of times if the Cards will trade for another QB if Kolb doesn’t play well, or if they will cut him. I say the same I have been: I expect whoever isn’t starting to be the backup this season. But never say never.

(I will say that I can’t see trading for the contract of Tavaris Jackson, for instance, at $4M when he’s not necessarily an improvement. Same with Colt McCoy. How do they make you better? Especially when they’ll be coming in cold? Makes no sense to me.)

— Speaking of the QB competition, offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing is different even though the Cards haven’t settled on a starter. To the contrary, the changes come after a starter is named.

“I don’t change anything about how we install or operate day-to-day,” Miller said. “Once a decision is made, and as any team does at any position, there are strengths and weaknesses with each guy. So you try to cater your game plan to meet that player’s talent. What does he do best? It’s the old saying: Who are your best 11, and what do they do best?”

— Just because this game feels more important to Kolb, it doesn’t mean that John Skelton, whenever he comes in, should be ignored. He needs to play well too. Everyone is watching.

— While watching quarterbacks, how can you not look forward to seeing how Matt Leinart does for the Raiders? He’s backing up Carson Palmer these days and this will be his first visit back to UoP since being cut by the Cards. Against Dallas, he was 11-for-16 for 98 yards, fairly typical numbers – high completion rate for not a ton of yards.

— We don’t know exactly how Michael Floyd’s year will go yet, but at least he’s not tossing his cookies because of nerves. Then again, that’s been normal for him. “I’m surprised because usually I get sick and feel a little nauseated,” Floyd said. “But no. I feel comfortable and as long as I keep practicing and getting these plays down, I can have that comfort and be faster.”

— A tip of the cap to the long and good life of my grandfather, Raymond Urban, who passed away Wednesday afternoon. He had just turned 101 July 30.

— Interesting that DC Ray Horton mentioned to Kent Somers no cornerback has really challenged William Gay for the starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson. I didn’t get the impression that was because Gay has been flawless either. It’s one of the reasons this game means a lot to the defense too – where is that unit with the 2011 closing kick?

— Well, maybe they were around in practice this week. “There’s been no around,” Dockett said. “It’s been about business.”

Yeah, that’s what this Oakland game feels like. It definitely doesn’t feel like an exhibition. Not from this side.

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A night of intensity

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2012 – 9:56 pm

The night practices in Flagstaff — especially the first one, which this year means the only one — always brings with it a certain vibe. It’s usually at least a week into camp. By then, the offense and defense are tired of each other. Then coach Ken Whisenhunt pulls out the live goal line session at the end of the evening, and all heck breaks loose.

After Wednesday night’s battle, linebacker Clark Haggans was succinct: “What happens at Lumberjack Stadium stays in Lumberjack Stadium.”

It’s not so much what happens but how it unfolds, with both sides yapping at each other and trash talk of the highest order. It was heated when Kevin Kolb threw a bullet into the back of the end zone that Larry Fitzgerald and Justin Bethel each got a hand on, only to have to ball pop in the air so Fitz could grab a touchdown. It went back the defensive way when fullback Anthony Sherman, on a rare carry, had his helmet blasted off by linebacker Colin Parker. And then the emotion swung to the offense again when offensive coordinator Mike Miller and quarterback John Skelton conspired to fool the world — with Miller calling the exact same play for Sherman and telling Skelton to keep it for a naked bootleg without telling the offense.


“We get the best out of each other,” said tackle Jeremy Bridges, the king of the talkers Wednesday. “We get on each other’s nerves as you can see. It’s bragging rights amongst us. But in the big scheme of things, there will be a lot of people who will feel the wrath of Birdgang this year.”

Cornerback William Gay doesn’t play in the goal line package, but he was up in the defensive unit’s face after every play, like a boxing corner man pumping up his prize fighter.

“It’s the only thing that’s fully, fully live, tackle to the ground,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Situation like that, you can’t let the other unit get the best of you.”

“No one ever wants to lose,” Skelton said. “You want to score a touchdown every time on offense and you don’t want to give up one on defense. It’s just pride.”

There was no official winner — Kolb said Whisenhunt called it a tie — but when Bridges was asked about who won, he didn’t miss a beat. “The Cardinals.”

(And yes, video will be posted later.)

— Kolb said his quad “held up fine” — he was not limited at all — but he knew everything else took a backseat to the part at the end. “The intensity was through the roof.”

— Safety Adrian Wilson and running back William Powell each came out of the practice after what looked like some sort of leg injury for each. Neither looked serious.

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Waiting for the last coach

Posted by Darren Urban on January 19, 2012 – 1:54 pm

I know everyone is waiting to hear about the Cardinals’ vacant coaching spot, but I don’t think anything is imminent. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has been talking to candidates and with everyone in the coaching world descending on Mobile next week for the Senior Bowl — it being a place where all kinds of coaching interviews often occur — it wouldn’t be a surprise to have an interview or two occur there for the Cards either.

A move to bring in Todd Haley seems unlikely when the logistics of the situation are taken into account — the most important of which is that Whisenhunt likes the progress of Mike Miller as offensive coordinator. Kent Somers does a spot-on job of breaking down the situation between Haley and the Cards. To sum it up in a cliche, the timing just isn’t right. There are still some head coaches to be hired that might want Haley for an offensive coordinator job.

Everyone is going to want to know potential names, but I don’t have any right now. The Cards do have a little wiggle room. For instance, wide receivers coach John McNulty also coached quarterbacks while he was at Rutgers; he could conceivably coach QBs if Whisenhunt picked out a receivers coach instead of a quarterbacks coach. As I have mentioned before, tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens played quarterback at the University of Alabama (although he has only coached tight ends and running backs in his coaching career.)

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Talk of Haley’s return, and Keim’s future

Posted by Darren Urban on January 5, 2012 – 11:16 pm

Everyone was wondering – including me – if the Cardinals would have interest in bringing back Todd Haley to the coaching staff. Well, apparently there is. Kent Somers reported tonight Ken Whisenhunt will talk to Haley about coming back. There are no openings as of now, but that obviously can change quickly — and there also is nothing that says the Cards can’t just add another coach to the staff. It would make sense that Haley would come back to run the offense, but if that happened, I don’t know how offensive coordinator Mike Miller fits into the equation. Right now, Miller is OC, while assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm has a say in the running game and, of course, Whisenhunt has an offensive background.

The Cardinals struggled with inconsistency on offense all season. The Cards had just three first-quarter touchdowns in 16 games, and scored more than 21 points just five times. But over the second half of the season, they also performed well late in almost every game and frequently came up with big plays.

The Cardinals were tremendous in 2008 with Haley running the offense, but then again, that was also with Kurt Warner at quarterback, Anquan Boldin as the second receiver and the ability for everyone to have been together for all of 2007 before it clicked the Super Bowl year. He took the Chiefs’ head coaching job a couple of weeks after the Cards’ Super Bowl loss.

Haley, fired this past year by the Chiefs, still has a year left on that contract so he may not want/need as much money is 2012. But it is noteworthy that Haley was making $1 million a year as Arizona’s offensive coordinator before he left, and I’d assume he’d carry a similar price tag (and Grimm –pictured  below with Haley before the Cards’ Super Bowl, is also receiving seven figures). Haley kept his house in Arizona even after taking the Kansas City job he liked the area so much.

Certainly he’d bring an intensity like no other. He can get under people’s skin, but he can motivate; Larry Fitzgerald swears by the guy and often credits Haley’s ways as helping him step up to the next level. Of course, talking to Haley and actually getting to the point of hiring him are two totally different things. We will see how this develops.

The news also broke from multiple outlets Thursday that the Rams had asked for permission to interview Cardinals’ director of player personnel Steve Keim for their vacant general manager job. Keim previously had been considered for Seattle’s GM job a couple years ago. Keim runs the Cards’ scouts, losing him (and there has been nothing said whether Keim will actually talk to the Rams) would impact the Cards’ offseason, no question.

UPDATE: The news has also come out that the Rams will interview defensive coordinator Ray Horton for their vacant head coaching spot. Jeff Fisher has been considered the leading candidate for that job.

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Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2011 – 4:12 pm

The Cardinals are winners of four of their last five. Of course.

But those four wins test the heart. A 99-yard punt return in overtime by P-Twice. A touchdown drive with less than two minutes left in Philly. Running out the clock with a couple of third-down conversions in St. Louis. And, of course, The Hyphen comes alive in overtime last week.

At least the Cards are coming out ahead. Two teams have had a league-high nine games this season decided by seven points or fewer: The Denver Tebows, and your Arizona Cardinals. Of course, for a while, that just stung. Head back to the six-game losing streak (I know, picking at a scab here). There was a one-point loss in Washington, a three-point loss in Seattle, a four-point loss to the Giants and a three-point loss in Baltimore.

The Cards are 5-4 in those games decided by a touchdown or less. “It’d be nice to blow somebody out,” LaRod Stephens-Howling said this week, and that’s true. But it probably won’t be how these last four games play out.

— Niners linebacker Patrick Willis did not practice again Friday and he has not practiced all week with the bad hamstring. He’s questionable, I think we all know guys who have been listed questionable after sitting out all week and it is very, very difficult to find scenarios when they have played. I expect Willis to sit. The 49ers have greater aspirations than just this game, even if they like beating the Cards.

— The Niners have other defensive talent though. Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike Miller, talking about San Francisco’s “other” linebacker, NaVorro Bowman compared to Willis: “Watch them on film, they almost look like the same player.”

— There has been a lot of talk this season about defensive coordinator Ray Horton and only having a percentage of the defensive playbook in. What about the offensive playbook, especially considering that quarterback Kevin Kolb arrived without an offseason?

“For the most part, our plan is our plan, and the system is what it is,” Miller said. “It takes time. You’d like for anyone, a quarterback or a running back or whoever, to line up and play right away, but it takes time. But we have everything operating. It’s just about whether we want to dial it up in a game or not.”

— This game will be about mistakes. Can the Cards force any? Can they avoiding making them? Ken Whisenhunt was technically right when he said the previous games don’t mean anything Sunday, but the way the Niners have controlled the scoreboard – the Cards haven’t scored double digits the last four games or reached 17 the last five – the Cards need to be smart and take care of the ball. Turnovers always hurt. They seem to inflict more damage when they come against the Niners.

— No, no new updates on the contract status of defensive end Calais Campbell. I don’t know what will happen. He is having a fantastic season though. The defensive turnaround has been Campbell’s hot streak; in those five games he has three sacks, 19 tackles, four tackles for loss, an interception, six QB hits and two blocked field goals. Not bad for a 3-4 DE. Pro Bowl possibility, anyone? “I think that’s everyone’s goal,” Campbell said. “If not, you shouldn’t be playing. It’s something a lot of people value, including myself. I would really like it, but in the end, it’s about winning games.”

— He didn’t get to do anything on punt returns last week, but Patrick Peterson played possibly his best game as a cornerback last week. And while his value as a punt returner is greater than most punt returners because of the scoring chances, the Cards still need him more as an elite cornerback, all things being equal.

— Don’t forget – the roof will be open Sunday.

— Don’t forget – there will be a toy drive at the stadium Sunday, so bring new, unwrapped toys (or donate money) to any stadium entrance.

— Don’t forget – Beanie and Fitz are chasing 1,000.

— If the Cards win, they will clinch at least a .500 home record this season – and Whisenhunt will become the first coach in franchise history with five straight seasons at home of at least a .500 record. Whiz would also tie Don Coryell for most wins by a head coach (42) in franchise history if the Cards win.

I’m interested in seeing if this defense can carry the Cards to another win. I’m sure it’d be close. Of course.

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Always upstairs, Miller tries downstairs

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2011 – 1:30 pm

Offensive coordinator Mike Miller spent the game against the Steelers on the sideline instead of the coaches box since, well, ever. He’s always been a coach up in the box, and for a coordinator, it’s always about personal preference (like DC Ray Horton, after spending a preseason game on the field, going back upstairs).

But Miller’s preference right now is to find some way to have the Cards and the offense snap out of their funk, so it was decided he would be on the sideline Sunday. He will return there this week in Baltimore, although the plan is to reevaluate on a week-to-week basis. The idea, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, is to better the communication for the unit, especially quarterback Kevin Kolb.

“We were just going down to see if we could improve and I think it was good,” Miller said. “There were some advantages for me too, to be able to look at guys in the eyes and be able to talk to them and they were able to come up to me.”

Miller got a chance to talk to most of the offensive staff face-to-face for the first time. Wide receivers coach John McNulty became the eyes in the sky. “He’s got good vision for the game, especially his savvy in the pass game reading coverages and blitzes,” Miller said. “That was a bonus for us with the move. I thought we saw some advantages.”

The coaches box does have tension, but nothing compares with the cauldron of emotion that is an NFL sideline. Miller said assistant head coach Russ Grimm jokingly reminded Miller that “It’s just a football game” when it started, and linebackers coach Matt Raich — who began coaching together at Robert Morris University once upon a time — reminded Miller to stay far from the line of scrimmage to improve vision of the play. That’s one of the biggest deals, since the main reason Miller (or any coach) likes being upstairs is the ability to see all the players and how plays develop.

“It was good to communicate with Kevin on that level, and it was fun,” Miller said. “It was definitely a different experience. You’ve got to try and stay calm, you’ve got to be able to think, and I think removing myself from right there at the line of scrimmage where everyone is helped.”

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Kolb, his footwork and the future

Posted by Darren Urban on October 24, 2011 – 2:05 pm

Sunday, quarterback Kevin Kolb said he felt like he was making progress. Monday, coach Ken Whisenhunt said the progress is there in some places. In other places, not enough — like Kolb and his footwork.

Footwork means a lot of things to a quarterback, from his depth of drops to his balance while throwing. It’s the latter Whisenhunt wants to see improve.

“In this league, you have to be able to throw the ball from all kinds of different angles,” Whisenhunt said. “You see guys do that all the time. But he’s getting his body in bad position because of his footwork and that’s what we have to change. A lot of those plays where he’s running out of the pocket are because of his footwork and we have to get that corrected. He has to step up in the pocket and make some of those throws.”

Whisenhunt said the missed throw to tight end Rob Housler “was purely a footwork thing.” Kolb’s footwork was good on plays like the dump pass to The Hyphen for the 73-yard touchdown (pictured below) and the deep pass to Larry Fitzgerald for 31 yards. When Whisenhunt sees plays like the latter, he believes Kolb can emerge as the kind of quarterback the Cardinals seek.

Whiz clearly didn’t want to single out Kolb for a lack of progress, even when asked directly about Kolb’s progress thus far. “I don’t think anybody is progressing at the rate we need to go forward,” Whisenhunt said. “I think you’re naive if you say that.”

Kolb’s lone interception came on a protection mistake by the interior line, “which is unacceptable.” On the safety, the Steelers ended up with a different front than expected for the situation. The Steelers had five men at the line of scrimmage — two standup outside linebackers, three down linemen — and at the snap, the right outside man dropped into coverage. The line blocked the way it was supposed to, although it left linebacker LaMarr Woodley coming off the edge free. Certainly it wasn’t ideal, but Kolb needed to recognize the play and get rid of the ball.

The reason offensive coordinator Mike Miller was on the sideline for the first time Sunday was to allow for better communication with the quarterback too. “As much time as Mike and Kevin spend during the week … he gives (plays) to him on the practice field,” Whisenhunt said. “That’s the thinking with that. We’re trying to make him more comfortable.”

(And no, don’t expect a quarterback change. John Skelton was elevated to second-string Sunday, but Whisenhunt said the Cards just wanted him 100 percent healthy from his ankle sprain, which Skelton has been for a while, actually. Post-bye was an easy time to swap them.)

After each loss, it’s been popular for the “If the Cards keep losing and get the No. 1 pick, do they pick Luck?” question. Way too early to ask. That’s a December question or even January, after they have worked with Kolb for a season. Now? Premature is an understatement.

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Horton’s place will be upstairs

Posted by Darren Urban on August 25, 2011 – 6:50 am

In the first game of the preseason, defensive coordinator Ray Horton was captured by TV cameras at his spot up in the coaches box high above the field. For fans used to seeing the past two defensive coordinators — Clancy Pendergast and Bill Davis — on the field, it was jarring. Then, last weekend, Horton was down on the field in Green Bay.

Turns out he was test-driving both spots. But Horton, who was always upstairs in Pittsburgh when he was defensive backs coach, will be sticking with his upstairs perch going forward.

“When you are up there you can evaluate everything yourself,” Horton said. “I just wanted to explore all avenues, and make sure there wasn’t a better way to do something.”

In the end, it comes down to comfort with a coordinator. Offensive coordinator Mike Miller stays upstairs, and he has always been there, even when he was wide receivers coach. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley was on the field when he was with the Cardinals.

“For me, I can see everything,” Horton said. “I can see the personnel coming in, I can see the play develop. I never have to ask anybody what happened. People say, ‘Well, you can look in the player’s eyes.’ I don’t need to look in their eyes. I know my players. The other (assistant) coaches can get what I want. Whether it is overrated or underrated, I don’t know. I want to know what happened. I am that kind of guy. I don’t want to ask, ‘Hey, what happened?’ ”

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Chatting from a room with a view

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2011 – 4:41 pm

Indianapolis is the anti-Dallas — meaning it’s cold, but no snow. You can see Lucas Oil Stadium from my hotel room (proof below). And speaking of my room, that’s where the computer will be hooked up for tomorrow’s live chat with general manager Rod Graves and director of player personnel Steve Keim (the link is here), which will begin a little after 1 p.m. Arizona time. As you can imagine, time is precious here in Indy, but we will have some combination of 15- or 20-minute chats each or one bigger one for about 30-40 minutes. Obviously we will get to as many questions as we can (and try to be realistic; Don’t bother asking flat out if the Cards will take a QB with the first pick, for instance. They don’t know yet and even if they did, I don’t see it being revealed on a live chat in February).

Before then, I’ll be over at the stadium as the first wave of players, coaches and GMs come through the media area. Because so many athletes train at the Valley’s Athletes Performance, our flight today had a heavy NFL-bent — among those I saw on the plane were Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, Washington QB Jake Locker and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, along with Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator Mike Miller and special teams coach Kevin Spencer.

Welcome to Indy 2011.

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