Mixed messages from the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 9:49 am

At this point, it’s become clear that, at least publicly, no one is expecting a score in Saturday’s playoff game like the first time the Cardinals beat the Packers. Still, it was weird to hear complete opposite notions come from the Packers in the last couple of days.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday: “We’re no underdog going to Arizona. I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday: “We’re going in as the underdogs. We’re going to be loose and ready to go, and it’s going to be their stadium, it’s going to be rocking, but the pressure’s going to be on them.”

Technically, the Packers are the underdog. The point spreads say so, the circumstances say so (the Cards are at home, they had a better regular season, yada, yada, yada.) But what does all the Pack talk mean? It means the talk leading up to a game doesn’t really mean much. The Cardinals have been consistent in saying the Packers are a different team than the first time they met, but other than a couple of injury situations, that’s not true. The Cards still have a deeper roster. The Packers might be playing better, but the sample size — one game — is awfully small.

The Cardinals will have pressure on them. When you are 13-3, you are expected to win at least one playoff game. But it’s not like they are playing, say, the Bears. They are playing a team with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a fan base that has such high expectations that some were wondering if the Packers needed a coaching change this season — a season in which the Packers won 10 games. At this point, pressure is everywhere.

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Divisional playoff date sells out

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2016 – 11:43 am

It didn’t take long — officially less than an hour, and anecdotally, even less time than that — but the Cardinals’ game Saturday against the Packers is sold out. There are definitely tickets out there on the secondary market, from what fans are telling me, but the team has no more.

What that means for the crowd makeup at University of Phoenix Stadium is yet to be seen, but I don’t see how there will be as many Packers fans this time around as there were for the last meeting. In that game, Green Bay fans had months to plan for the trip and line up tickets. That game was also Christmas weekend, a time when it was easy for people to be off from work and make the flight out to Arizona.

Yes, I know there are Packers fans around everywhere. And I still expect to see some green. But as quickly as the tickets were sold out, I think the crowd will be very much red come Saturday night.

The game, by the way, will be the 104th straight sellout at University of Phoenix Stadium — every game the Cardinals have ever played in the building.

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Keim: Cards healthier after bye

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2016 – 8:05 am

There wasn’t much new to talk about this morning when General Manager Steve Keim made his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. That happens when the Cardinals don’t have a game. But Keim did note that the Cardinals’ bye gave certain players needed rest — the roster should be fairly healthy by the time game day rolls around. Keim specifically noted that running back Andre Ellington benefited as he continues to work with his sore toe, and quarterback Carson Palmer got another week to take care of his sore finger.

A couple of other Keim thoughts:

— The Packers ran the ball much better Sunday in Washington. Offensively, they “looked like they got some of their swag back,” Keim said. We’ll see how much that had to do with going against a defense that was down near the bottom of the league.

— As for facing a team that the Cards beat up, 38-8, a few weeks back, “I’m sure they will use that last game as some fuel to their fire,” Keim said. It’s kind of the opposite of what the Cardinals would deal with against the Seahawks. A little bit, at least.

— Keim fully expects the Packers to have “some different wrinkles.” “We just have to focus and have intensity,” Keim said.


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Wild Card weekend aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 10, 2016 – 9:07 pm

The Cardinals didn’t play this weekend but there was football that meant something from their perspective. The NFC games Sunday determined their first playoff opponent — it’s the Packers — and now, the build-up for a postseason game many on the team have been waiting for since that rough loss in Carolina at this time last year.

The NFC results weren’t a shock. The Seahawks are a better team than the Vikings. The Packers are better than Washington. Of course, the way the Seattle-Minnesota game played out, the Seahawks should be eliminated by now. They aren’t. So we see who will come out of the very interesting dogfight between the Seahawks and Panthers, and if the Cardinals can beat the Packers a second time, whomever they play in the NFC Championship will have gone through the gauntlet to get there (and the Cards could still host that game if the Seahawks win.) But there will be time to look at that. As for the games that were just played:

— It’s hard to believe the Seahawks won. Not because they played poorly, but because the Vikings put themselves in a spot to win and should have. To see Blair Walsh just yank a 27-yard field goal left is simply crushing for that team. Seattle did enough. The frigid weather was clearly a factor, but it was not Russell Wilson’s best game. And if anyone was thinking momentum was going to carry over from that season finale romp over the Cardinals, well, it didn’t (which is the other side of why the Cards kept saying that game wasn’t going to matter either.)

— Speaking of Walsh, this is a great story about him after the game. Something to think about the next time a player doesn’t make the play — and when fan disappointment has a chance to become more than that.

— The Packers looked a ton better Sunday than they did in their final two games in Arizona and Minnesota. Then again, Washington’s defense has a much worse defense than both the Vikings and Cardinals. I’d expect a better showing from Green Bay this week, but the Cards will rightfully be favored.

— There is hope from the Packers they will get cornerback Sam Shields back from his concussion, but they thought they’d have him back this weekend too and it didn’t happen. Other key injuries for the Packers to watch: left tackle David Bakhtiari, who remained out with an ankle injury (he missed the first game against the Cards) and wide receiver Davante Adams, who said he expects to be ready after hurting his knee Sunday, but you have to wonder even if he can what his effectiveness will be, especially on a short week.

— The Cardinals are off Monday still. They return to practice Tuesday.

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Keim: Palmer “as tough as they come”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 28, 2015 – 8:12 am

GM Steve Keim said he knew some were concerned about quarterback Carson Palmer after he hurt his right index finger in Philadelphia, and acknowledged Palmer did have to adjust a bit to account for the finger against the Packers. But he said he wasn’t surprised Palmer went out and played well despite being nicked up — Palmer “is like a machine,” Keim said during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 Monday — and Keim never saw anything watching the video that made him think Palmer was impacted by the injury.

“He’s as tough as they come,” Keim said.

Mostly, Keim had nothing but praise for a team that slapped around the Packers Sunday.

— Keim said that was the closest the Cardinals had come to playing a complete game this season. The Cards have won nine straight. It’s amazing to think the Cards, at 6-2, were considering such a daunting second-half schedule. Thus far, they are 7-0 in that stretch.

— Keim noted the intelligence of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, saying that one of the things he likes of all the coaches is that they cater to players’ strengths. As for Bettcher, he liked the fact he took some things from former boss/former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles but “at the same time, he’s true to himself.”

— The discussions between Keim and coach Bruce Arians about whether to rest players in the regular-season finale will go on the next day or two.

— The third-round pick of running back David Johnson continues to look incredibly smart. “Every week he continues to amaze me,” Keim said. “Some of the things he does athletically for a big man … he makes things look so easy.”

— Another good game for safety D.J. Swearinger, highlighted by his forced fumble to start the second half. Keim liked the performance, and it again looks like a smart pickup for Keim.

— Keim, a man who loves his men in the trenches, said he thought the offensive line played “excellent” and the defensive line rotation showed exactly why the Cardinals brought in so many guys, in order to stay fresh.


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Packers aftermath, now with more sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2015 – 8:54 pm

The last time the Packers played in Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. It only made sense that this time the Packers came to Arizona, it was highlighted by a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers. Actually, two. And actually, that’s the only thing those two games had in common.

That game long ago was seemingly who was going to have the ball last because Rodgers and Kurt Warner were so excellent that day (kinda ironic it ended on a defensive stop, so …) Sunday wasn’t that. Sunday was Cardinals’ domination, the kind of game that has to make any team that has to come to Arizona in the playoffs pause.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald both said they don’t think the Cardinals are peaking, and that’s in part because they would rather the team peak in about three or four weeks, when the playoffs begin. But the Cards were pretty good against an admittedly banged-up Packers team (although with the Cards without Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson, sympathy wasn’t forthcoming) and don’t have a whole lot of complaints.

Now, next week is going to be interesting. The NFL officially moved the Panthers-Bucs game to a late kickoff, matching it with the Cardinals, so the Cards can’t just base their playing time on the Panthers outcome (A Panthers loss and Cards win and the Cardinals are the No. 1 seed.) Meanwhile, you don’t know what the Seahawks are going to do. Do they definitely want to escape the sixth seed, which is still possible? The difference between going to frigid Minnesota/Green Bay or Washington in that case might mean something to the Seahawks.

So much to consider.

— There seemed to be a lot of concern about the right index finger (wrapped, as you can see below) of Palmer that was jacked up in Philly. He only missed one play, but some thought it was going to be an issue. Didn’t look like it to me.

— The Cardinals now have 57 touchdowns this season, soaring past the franchise record of 53 set in 1948. So, so many touchdowns.

— How’s this for interesting: With their nine-sack game Sunday, the Cardinals have 35 on the season – the same number as the Seahawks. The teams are tied with the Eagles for 14th in the league. The Cards are tied with Denver for fourth in scoring defense, at 18.5 points a game.

— Veteran DT Cory Redding couldn’t get to the end zone in Detroit, getting tackled after an interception after a 30-yard return down to the Lions 4. After he picked up a Packers fumble Sunday at the 36, it wasn’t going to happen again.

“I would not be denied,” Redding said. “My boys and teammates gave me a hard time the first time. Letting the quarterback tackle you, blah, blah, blah.

“I picked up the ball and tried to go as far as I could. I had a nice little convoy. (Packers RB Eddie) Lacy tried to (get me), I didn’t even know it was him. I just shoved off somebody and kept running.”

— Crazy Palmer numbers: He is now 29-8 as a starter for the Cardinals, and 26-4 in his last 30 starts. Quite a happy birthday for a guy who turned 36 Sunday.

— It was funny to see Larry Fitzgerald dress so quickly Sunday to try and do his interview at the podium. Usually Fitz is among the last but he wanted to get out of there. He was ready to go after Calais Campbell – except Dwight Freeney already thought he was next. Freeney, told he was going to go after Fitz, fixed that quickly. He pulled rank, telling Fitz he was older. So Freeney went first, and Fitz sat in the corner waiting, legs out like he was a kid waiting for his mom to finish shopping.

— Freeney has had three sacks in a game six times before Sunday, but Sunday was the first time since 2006.

— In three seasons, Bruce Arians – after taking out the Packers Sunday — has already beaten every NFC team at least once.

— Many asked during the game if David Johnson was hurt. He was not. He came out because of the big lead and Andre Ellington’s need to work. Arians said Johnson is fine.

— The amazing touchdown-to-punt ratio stat held up for another week. The tally now is 57 touchdowns for the Cardinals this season, and 55 punts. It’s hard to fathom if the Cardinals can make that hold up through the season finale.

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Rashad Johnson sitting out again, Ellington active

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2015 – 12:58 pm

Safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) will be inactive today, meaning the Cardinals’ secondary will be without two key members after Tyrann Mathieu was put on IR last week. The Cards are deep in the secondary, but those are two valuable pieces to be without. Running back Andre Ellington will play today for the first time since the game in San Francisco last month.

The full inactives list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— CB Corey White

— LB Shaq Riddick

— S Rashad Johnson (ankle)

— T D.J. Humphries

— NT Xavier Williams

— DT Josh Mauro (calf)


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Friday — and Christmas — before the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on December 25, 2015 – 6:53 pm

The last time the Packers visited University of Phoenix Stadium, it ended up being the end of an era. It was a fantastic game, with Kurt Warner finishing with more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) in what he knew at the time was his final game at home. And, of course, there was the stunning overtime ending, when reserve defensive back Michael Adams came in on a blitz to strip-sack (with the help of a missed facemask/hands to the face call) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with linebacker Karlos Dansby returning it for the touchdown.

“Yeah, I think there might have been something like that,” Rodgers said this week.

The return visit Sunday for the Packers is not a playoff game. Both teams will be in the playoffs regardless of the loser. But it means so much for both sides. For the Cardinals, wrapping up a bye – with an injury list that has grown the last couple of weeks – would be nice.

The players know this. The talk in the locker room has been all about clinching that bye. The focus after clinching the division hasn’t waned, not outwardly (something that didn’t seem to be the case back in 2008 when the Cards clinched.)

— Arians had a big smile Friday afternoon. The Cardinals held practice much later than a normal Friday, in order to allow for Christmas morning home with the family. Arians also allowed for families to attend practice, making for a relatively sizable group watching.

“Largest crowd ever today,” Arians said with a grin.

— Quarterback Carson Palmer was limited all week because of the finger that got dinged in Philly, but he’s fine. Arians said he looked very good in practice Thursday and Friday.

— Palmer, by the way, turns 36 on Sunday. Wouldn’t be a bad birthday present to himself to get a win.

— If the Cards win and sew up a bye – and the Panthers win, which would seal the No. 2 seed – the finale against the Seahawks will mean nothing. So might Arians rest players? “Hopefully, we can have that conversation,” he said.

But Arians did chuckle at the idea of “resting starters,” noting the Cardinals can only dress 46 players total and injuries can play a factor on who is available. “We’re talking maybe three to five possible guys (to rest),” Arians said.

— With two games left, the Cardinals have already surpassed their rushing yards total by more than 400 yards this season. The Cards, sixth in the NFL in rushing, have gained 1,769 yards on the ground. And now Andre Ellington should be back to supplement David Johnson.

— The Cardinals have 52 touchdowns this season and only 51 punts. That’s a crazy stat. The franchise record for TDs in a season is 53, set in 1948. That should be broken Sunday.

— Hope everyone had a good Christmas. On to Sunday – which just happens to be the Cardinals’ first afternoon home game since they lost to the Rams way back on Oct. 4. Lots of road games and primetime games since then.

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Considering another flex for Cardinals

Posted by Darren Urban on November 24, 2015 – 10:53 am

The Cardinals have made it through their “Sunday Night Football” gauntlet of two weeks running. They have at least one more primetime game — their next home game is on “Thursday Night Football” against the Minnesota Vikings. But that might not be the only one. Their games down the stretch might mean something. Whether those games will be free to flex is another story.

As of right now, the game that would make the most sense to flex to “Sunday Night Football” would be the Dec. 27 home game against the Green Bay Packers. Two good teams, likely with something on the line as the Packers battle the Vikings for the NFC North title and with both teams possibly fighting for a first-round bye. Meanwhile, the scheduled “Sunday Night Football” game is Pittsburgh at Baltimore, normally a lock to stay there with such a great rivalry. But the Ravens have lost quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Terrell Suggs all with season-ending injuries. They are struggling anyway. It’s not going to be the same.

Even if Cardinals-Packers makes sense, though, it’s far from a guarantee, because Fox has the ability to protect a game that week and Cards-Pack would seem a natural one to keep. It has national interest, and it’s a good game. The Panthers play the Falcons that week, so it might be worthy of Fox’s protection too — in fact, whichever one Fox doesn’t protect becomes a strong candidate to be flexed. (The Patriots play the Jets that week, but the Jets are fading fast.)

As for Week 17, which doesn’t have a named “Sunday Night Football” matchup — NBC gets to pick a game with playoff implications — the Cardinals and Seahawks is possible, but I’m guessing the NFC West will have been determined by then and there will be other games that mean more (Washington-Dallas? Minnesota-Green Bay? Philly-Giants?)

Flex

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Turnovers and a trip to Seattle

Posted by Darren Urban on November 9, 2015 – 9:30 am

It’s Seattle week. More specifically, at Seattle week, a game the Cardinals have been anxious to play for a long time now that Carson Palmer is healthy. It’s interesting that the Cardinals are coming off that four-turnover game in Cleveland, a game in which they won — because the last time they had turned the ball over four times in a road game, they had also won. That game was the 17-10 stunner in Seattle near the end of the 2013 season, the one in which Palmer threw four interceptions yet found Michael Floyd for a touchdown pass late in the game for the clinching points.

The Cardinals are now 2-1 in four-turnover road games under Bruce Arians. The one loss was a 32-20 defeat in San Francisco in 2013, a game that is remembered for a crucial Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cards driving for a go-ahead score — but what might be better remembered for the 18-play, smashmouth TD drive of the 49ers that took up 9:32 and 11 of the plays (including the final eight) were runs up the gut.

The point is that there are always ways to overcome even messy turnover days. The three-turnover games that led to the Cards’ two losses this season weren’t based on the turnovers alone — in both cases, the Cardinals still had chances to win the game late.

But turnovers make the job so much harder. The Cardinals have 14 turnovers total in eight games and 10 turnovers in the aformentioned three games — the win in Cleveland, the losses to the Rams and Steelers. Other than the Packers and Bengals, the Cardinals (while facing a much harder schedule) don’t see a lot of great offenses. None that match up to what the Cards can bring on that side of the ball. But turning it over can change those odds quickly.

TurnoversBlog

 


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