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Home means so much — now, and then

Posted by Darren Urban on December 19, 2014 – 11:40 am

The  Cardinals are 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. They are 13-2 at home since Bruce Arians became coach — a meaningless, close loss to the 49ers to close out the 2013 season, and the the 34-22 loss to the Seahawks in October of last year. The home-field advantage is real for the Cards, a big reason why this team still has the optimism it does going into this game despite having to dig deep into the depth chart for a quarterback.

Only three times have the Cardinals ever won more than seven games at home in a season, the most recent being 1925 and that total (11 home wins) was helped by the fact the Cards played 13 of 14 games at home. (That is a seriously unbalanced scheduling.) The Cardinals are the only team in the league to have given up 20 points or fewer in every home game this season.

Details of what player will be the QB aside, that’s ultimately what Sunday’s game is about. If the Cardinals win, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs. Literally, in fact, since that would include a Super Bowl appearance. If the Seahawks win, they are in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, and it almost goes without saying the home-field advantage the Seahawks have in Seattle. There’s still a chance the Packers could be the top seed, and no one wants to play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau in January.

So it’s fitting that, for the Cardinals, it’s a home game that determines future home games — and possibly the direction of the entire postseason in the NFC.

Homefieldbloguse


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Packers loss gives Cards-Seahawks extra meaning

Posted by Darren Urban on December 14, 2014 – 3:11 pm

The Cardinals won in St. Louis Thursday, and can spend Sunday watching the rest of the NFC playoff picture unfold. Already, they caught a break. The Green Bay Packers went to Buffalo and lost, 21-13, to fall to 10-4 and a game behind the Cards. Ultimately, what does that mean? It means that regardless of the result of the Seahawks-49ers game going on right now, because of all the tiebreakers the Cardinals have spent the year building, if the Cardinals can beat the Seahawks a week from tonight on “Sunday Night Football,” the Cardinals will clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

It would be an incredible feat given the injuries the Cards have absorbed.

(UPDATE: The Seahawks did beat the 49ers. As expected.)

A loss against Seattle would not necessarily eliminate the Cards from the No. 1 seed, but the math is much more simple if they win (and a loss versus the Seahawks would mean the Cards would need a lot of help as well as a season finale win in San Francisco.)

A No. 1 seed would mean a ton, from a first-round bye (time to heal Drew Stanton) to home-field advantage for as long as the Cardinals remained in the playoffs — including, of course, the Super Bowl if they got that far.

— ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning Stanton is expected to be out four weeks with his knee injury. The Cardinals have declined to get into specifics of Stanton’s issue other than it is his right knee that’s injured. The Cards do expect him back at some point.


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Beat the Rams, and the playoffs are all but a lock

Posted by Darren Urban on December 9, 2014 – 9:39 am

The NFC West can’t be decided this week. That is going to come down to the “Sunday Night Football” game at home against the Seahawks. But if the Cardinals can beat the Rams Thursday night, regardless of what happens in the rest of the league over the week, they will all but clinch a playoff berth.

The win would make the Cards 11-3, meaning their worst possible record would be 11-5. This is where the head-to-head wins over the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions this season become crucial. All three of those teams are 9-4. A loss by any one of them means the Cards will make the playoffs (again, assuming a win in St. Louis). Since the Cowboys and Eagles play this Sunday night, that’s practically guaranteed.

There is still a sliver of doubt, and as the Bengals and Panthers can attest, it’s not impossible. It is, however, incredibly unlikely an 11-5 Cardinals team is left at home for the postseason:

Here’s the one scenario which would leave an 11-5 Cardinals team out of the playoffs, as unlikely as it may be:

— The Lions finish 3-0 to go 12-4 (and they still have a game against the Packers).
— The Cowboys and Eagles tie Sunday night, and then each come up with wins in their final two games. That would make them 11-4-1.

(h/t to colleague Kyle Odegard for crunching these numbers.)

That scenario — and assuming the 10-3 Packers avoid what looks like an unlikely 1-2 finish against Buffalo, Tampa and Detroit — would leave the Cardinals at home. But a tie isn’t going to happen. Three more 100-yard rushing games by Kerwynn Williams seems more likely than an Eagles-Cowboys tie. (OK, the mathematicians out there probably would disagree, but you get the point.)

A win in St. Louis would be a major step.

Playoffclinchbloguse

 


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Glancing at the 2015 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 14, 2014 – 2:46 pm

You know that it’s the dead of the offseason — real dead — when it comes to mind to point out who will be on the Cardinals’ schedule for 2015.

But here we are, inside of two weeks before training camp begins and a week away from the quarterbacks and a handful of other players reporting for a couple of days of “quarterback school” prior to the opening of camp. It’s the last hurrah for time off for both coaches and players. It doesn’t leave a lot to discuss right now. That’s all coming. But as I flipped through the new edition of the NFL Record and Fact Book, I came across the 2015 opponents for the Cardinals. So I thought I’d point them out.

As always, there are the home-and-away games against the NFC West opponents. The teams visiting University of Phoenix Stadium include the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and then an NFC South team that ends up inhabiting the same position in their division that the Cardinals do in the NFC West by the time the 2014 season is over.

Road trips in 2015 for the Cardinals include the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the corresponding NFC East team.

FitzInChicagoBLOG

 


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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2013 – 10:38 pm

The way Carson Palmer threw the ball Friday night was good. So was the way backup Drew Stanton did, for that matter. But what may have been the most promising of all for the Cardinals was the way the pass protection held up.

“There were some great pockets to throw in,” Palmer said.

This all has the usual caveats. It was the preseason. The Packers weren’t coming with a complex package. Yet that didn’t help a ton in the preseason last year when the Cards struggled. I thought the first unit (Brown-Cooper-Sendlein-Fanaika-Winston) did very well. The Cards are smart too. On a 17-yard Palmer-to-Fitz pass from their own 1 early in the game, Michael Floyd was in – and then stayed in the backfield to help with protection. Palmer was clean.

Palmer wasn’t touched in his short stint. Stanton was a couple of times (his lone sack was of the coverage variety) but he also Russell-Wilsoned himself out of trouble a couple of times. Everything tonight comes with the “It’s early in the preseason” sticker attached. But a team with consistent pass protection? That’s something to embrace.

— The running game wasn’t as effective. That will be something that needs improvement. But Bruce Arians was just thankful the Cards got through with just two healthy running backs. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t play, and Andre Ellington sat too. Stepfan Taylor and Alfonso Smith was all the Cards had.

— The offense is going to get the spotlight. That’s natural after the season the unit had last year. But the defense, under scrutiny itself with the

Horton-to-Todd Bowles coordinator change, played well. Two turnovers led to two touchdowns, which is how Bowles wants it to go. And preseason or not, the Packers didn’t score, which is the best you can do.

“It’s a good starting point for us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “I’m sure we didn’t play nearly as good as we could have, I’m sure there was a lot of mistakes on film. That’s football and the preseason. It does show us how good we can be.”

— You don’t want to go overboard on any player in the preseason. And a rookie has a long way to go. But what’s the No. 1 thing you want to see out of a player – especially a rookie? You want to see them , if they were showing you good things in practice, to show those things in a game. Tyrann Mathieu did that.

His stat line was gaudy: Two tackles, one for loss, a sack, a quarterback hit, a pass breakup, a pass breakup, two special teams and a 26-yard punt return. He also thought he had a chance at an interception and didn’t look thrilled Packers receiver Myles White grabbed him to mess with that possibility. You don’t want to go overboard, but a very, very impressive debut.

— Patrick Peterson tweeted about his protégé: “Proud of my baby boy @Mathieu_Era doing great things in his first @NFL game. Can’t wait till Sept. 8

— Not to be outdone, though, Peterson made sure to get his own interception in his brief stint, leading to the Cards’ first TD.

— Arians said he gave the receiving corps a C grade. He poked fun at Andre Roberts a little for not catching the first bomb from Palmer (to be fair, it also hit off the DB) but Roberts atoned with his TD. Jaron Brown and Charles Hawkins did well, I thought, although Brown had a drop he can’t make and Hawkins fumbled the ball on a long reception (he got it back but the fumble probably cost him a chance at a bigger play.)

— John Abraham didn’t play much at all, but he managed a strip-sack of Graham Harrell in his brief time in the game. You sign a guy to rush the passer and you get that out of the gate.  “Doing that just helps the team out and helps them see that I have a little something left,” Abraham said.

— The only injury reported by Arians was a hip pointer for rookie tight end D.C. Jefferson, who twice couldn’t hang on to passes he should have – including one in the end zone. Arians isn’t going to let him forget about that. He told the media about the hip pointer, and then added “that’s what happens when you drop big touchdowns.”

— Arians was irritated at the offensive issues in terms of substituting and getting lined up, something that really affected the younger players. That will have to be cleaned up. Timeouts were burned too often.

There’s probably more I could say, but it’s late, there’s a long plane ride ahead and I’ll have time to hit on more over the next few days. As Palmer said, “it’s a small step.”


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Ellington among those not expected to play

Posted by Darren Urban on August 9, 2013 – 3:47 pm

The Cardinals are not going to have rookie running back Andre Ellington (neck) tonight. Again, in the preseason, there are no inactive lists, so an “iffy” guy can still dress and see how it goes.

Besides Ellington, those not expected to play include:

— WR Robert Gill (hamstring)

— WR Kerry Taylor (hamstring)

— CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring)

— RB Ryan Williams (knee)

— LB Karlos Dansby (hamstring)

— LB Alex Okafor (ankle)

— G Daryn Colledge (leg)

— TE Kory Sperry (ankle)

— TE Jeff King (knee)

— DT Dan Williams (ankle)

— DT Ricky Lumpkin (ankle)


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Thursday before the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2013 – 11:36 am

Finally, football.

This is about that time when players are tired of hitting each other on their own team and yearn for a chance to hit someone else. The Cards get that Friday night in Green Bay. Although I suppose that’s all relative. Carson Palmer was asked if he had been hit less in this camp –and if he would have liked to be banged around a bit more in prep to a game.

Palmer was blunt.

“No,” he said. “I don’t like to get hit in the preseason.”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been tackled in training camp,” Palmer added. “There is plenty of that that goes on during the season. You don’t need to prepare yourself for that. You prepare yourself in the weight room and your conditioning and your fitness level. I’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t need to be reminded what it feels like to get hit.”

Can’t blame him for that. And with that, some stuff to chew on before the Packers:

— The starters are going to get 15 plays or so. We will get a little taste of what this offense is going to be about. But are we really going to see the full extent of Palmer’s progress? Probably not.

— Curious to see how Bruce Arians works in the offensive linemen, especially the tackles. Do first-stringers Eric Winston and Levi Brown go the 15 plays and come out? Do backups Nate Potter and Bobby Massie get any snaps with Palmer behind center? Certainly, the play of all four will be among the most scrutinized. I know that’s one spot where I will be watching.

— The lights get bright for those receivers too. It’s always interesting to me the play of the younger receivers in the preseason because there is no position that can pop more when watching practice in shorts but that changes more in a game. Think about it: A receiver doesn’t really get hit at all all offseason or in camp. There is no fear in the middle. Now, in a game, you can get drilled pretty good. That can fuzzy up the concentration.

— Seeing the versatility of the defense in action will also be something to watch. How does Matt Shaughnessy do in his new role of sometimes-linebacker? Rookie inside linebacker Kevin Minter? How much does Daryl Washington play? Against the Packers’ first offense, I want to see how the cornerbacks do.

— It’s tough not to get a feeling that Tyrann Mathieu figures into a big play at some point.

— Not sure they’ll break out any of the Patrick Peterson offensive package. I think I’d keep that sidelined for now but we’ll see.

— The rookie hazing went down Wednesday night, some nasty haircuts just in time for the trip. I saw some of the rookies walking around the hotel this morning (ouch). Alex Okafor came out ahead quite frankly (see him here). Mathieu is here.

— This story about Fitz growing up and maturing – including the anecdote where he was fined by the NFL for not talking to the media (oh, I remember those days) – by Jim Trotter is good. Fitz has come a long way. A long way.

— Mostly, it’s just good there are games on tap. A game a week, a regular rhythm, something to analyze besides practice. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks of camp though. Why, you say you want to look back? Here’s a mashup to prep you for the Packers.


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Another Tyrann pick and practice notes

Posted by Darren Urban on August 5, 2013 – 5:23 pm

The Cardinals were running deep red-zone offense — passing situations around and inside the 10 — at one point in Monday’s practice when safety Tyrann Matheiu got a hand up to deflect a pass near the goal line, hitting it straight up in the air and tipping it to himself for an interception. I know this has been said before, but the kid just is always in the mix when the ball is around. Could an opponent burn him for his aggressiveness? Maybe. But if he’s on the field, he’s going to create his share of turnovers. It’s hard to see otherwise.

Other tidbits from the afternoon:

— RB Ryan Williams, dealing with the knee irritation that has been keeping him out of practice, basically ruled himself out of the Green Bay game Friday. It’s disappointing to him on multiple levels, since it was a preseason game in Green Bay in 2011 when he tore his patella tendon and suffered the first of a few NFL injuries. “They started this whole thing, man,” Williams said. “I was really hoping to get over this hump in the sense of playing on that field where it all started, but you know, I’m not able to. So I can’t think too much about it. It is what it is. I’ll be there for the Cowboys, though.”

— Ever since Bruce Arians mentioned that his defense wasn’t getting its collective hands on the ball enough, they have. LB Daryl Washington, CB Justin Bethel and CB Javier Arenas also made picks. (That isn’t to say there weren’t a couple of nice pass hookups too. Charles Hawkins had a couple of downfield plays I recall.)

— G Daryn Colledge isn’t back at practice, but he was able to move around well enough to do the some of the snapping for the 7-on-7 drills. He doesn’t look too far away from returning.

— The tight end group was helped when both Jeff King and Alex Gottlieb returned to work. WR Kerry Taylor is out with some sort of leg/hamstring injury.

— DT Ricky Lumpkin went down after a play and took a few moments to get up. They brought the cart out but Lumpkin later was able to get off the field himself, with a limp, with the aid of head athletic trainer Tom Reed. Lumpkin was trying to walk it off on the sideline. It’s been a tough run for the defensive line and injuries over the past week or so.


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Final four factor for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2013 – 11:07 am

The Cardinals, for a second straight season, played three of the teams in the NFL’s final four. It helps that division brother San Francisco has made it in, and the Cardinals had their trouble with the 49ers this season, whether Alex Smith was the quarterback or Colin Kaepernick was calling signals. The games against the other two opponents that have made it to the championship games went a little bit better. The trip to Atlanta was a loss, yes, but it should have been a win with the way the defense played that day, amid the controversy of the benching-Skelton-for-Lindley situation. Obviously, the trip to New England was the Cardinals’ signature victory of the season, complete with late-game dramatics and a heart-stopping ending.

(And a game that seems like it was four years ago, not four months ago.)

It’s the same 1-3 record the Cards had against final four opponents last season. It’s hard to make a lot of comparisons with the way those teams are playing now to when the Cards met them. Even though the 49ers last game before beating up the Packers Saturday night was against Arizona, the game plan devised by the Niners with Kaepernick looked so deadly the other day. The Cards didn’t play great in that finale, but Kaepernick at least didn’t look like a Hall of Famer like he did against Green Bay. The Patriots, who lost tight end Aaron Hernandez early that day against the Cards, have clearly smoothed out the offense. The Falcons just don’t scare anyone, even in their dome, and everyone seems to agree — the Niners are road favorites against the No. 1 seed, for goodness sake.

— In the head coach search, Jay Glazer reported the Cards want to talk to Broncos OC Mike McCoy for a second interview. He was interviewed in Denver the first time so you’d figure everyone would want to get him in the building so he could actually see the physical situation.

Final4BlogUSE


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Packers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on November 4, 2012 – 6:30 pm

Perfection isn’t an option. Everyone knows that. But that means a couple of mistakes, not many. If Adrian Wilson is going to miss on a red-zone tackle that ultimately cost the Cardinals four points – the difference between a touchdown and a field goal – then Early Doucet can’t drop a couple of passes that should have gone for first downs, and John Skelton can’t force a ball into coverage that ends up being intercepted (and turned into a field goal) and the defense can’t get caught allowing a 72-yard touchdown pass, whether it was Paris Lenon or someone else.

Both sides of the ball had slow starts again Sunday. That wasn’t happening early in the year. The defense was punctured too many times in the first half. That wasn’t happening earlier in the year. The Cardinals lost again. That wasn’t happening earlier in the year.

What that means on the other side of the upcoming bye – a road trip to the currently undefeated Atlanta Falcons is up next – is anyone’s guess.

“It don’t get no easier, that’s for sure,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

Dockett was talking about the schedule. Hopefully he wasn’t foreshadowing how the Cards will play the rest of the season.

— The “big” story of the game, if you want to call it that, was the insertion of Nate Potter at left tackle. I thought during the game he held up well after coming in to replace D’Anthony Batiste in the second quarter. Potter got a lot of first-team work during practice last week so it wasn’t a surprise to see him. I’m guessing we will see him a lot more, and now he’ll have two weeks to prep for what I would suspect will be his first NFL start.

— No idea what has happened to the defense, especially early in games. They are playing well after some time, but those early hiccups are killing the Cards. Clearly the Cards set up to foil the Packers’ passing game Sunday, so the Packers said “OK, we’ll run.” And they ran for a season-high 176 yards, while Aaron Rodgers still got his four TD passes. If Wilson had just been able to make that first tackle of Randall Cobb on the catch-and-run – it was déjà vu of the Michael Crabtree San Francisco in-close catch-and-run – who knows how that might’ve changed things?

— The drops were not good, especially those of Doucet. According to Mike Sando of ESPN.com fame, Doucet already has six drops this season. “I had a couple of plays that I let get away from me,” Doucet said. “I need to do my job.” The question will be how many chances he’ll get to do that. Given Whiz’s post-game comments, this could easily be the point where Michael Floyd gets more playing time going forward. Floyd did have his best overall game, with five catches for 80 yards.

As for Doucet, Whiz shook his head when asked about what was wrong with Early, although he certainly wasn’t going to scapegoat his receiver. “I do not know. I do not know,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s not just him. We missed tackles. We missed a tackle on the first touchdown. There was a busted play on the 72 yard touchdown pass. That’s the point of what I am saying.”

— So much for the sack fest everyone – including me – was expecting. One sack for the Cards, two for the Packers.

— Whisenhunt was asked, again, about the possibility of rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley playing.

“I don’t know if the way that John (Skelton) played today would warrant that,” Whisenhunt said. “We feel like we’re going to go forward looking for the guys that can help us win. If that comes up in that situation, then we will certainly consider it.”

Personally, I didn’t think it was the quarterback play that got the Cards. There may be a point where the record dictates the Cards should try the rookie behind center. I don’t believe this is that time. Not yet.

— The Cards will have a couple of practices this week. There are multiple days off, something I believe is mandated by the CBA. I don’t know if this team needs a break – “After a loss, the one thing you want to do is get back on the field and play,” Lenon said – but I can’t say that I don’t welcome the mental respite.


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