Redskins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2011 – 7:45 pm

Beanie Wells, like his teammates, was frustrated. The running back sat at his locker after Sunday’s one-point loss to the Redskins, having seen one slip away. He had watched friend and former teammate Tim Hightower light up the Cards in the first half, and then Wells – who had just six yards rushing on only three first-half carries – roared back in the second half. He ended up with 93 yards on 14 carries and nearly overtook Hightower (96 yards on 20 carries) despite the latter’s head start.

His second-half coming out was “just about opportunity and execution,” Wells said, and I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled it took a half to get there. More importantly, his comment serves well the Cardinals’ entire game Sunday. They had opportunity. They didn’t execute.

The defense is going to have a chance to rally big next week playing in Seattle. Clearly the Seahawks are offensively challenged. Of course, the Cards don’t have the luxury of making any assumptions right now.

— The game played out like bookends. Although the fourth quarter had a different vibe than the first, the end result was the Cards ran six offensive plays in the first quarter, and six in the fourth. The blame falls on both sides – the defense has to find a way to get off the field, the offense a way to stay on – and it’s difficult to win under those circumstances.

— The Redskins, by the way, had 25 plays in the first quarter and 31 in the fourth.

— The way Kevin Kolb took the hit from London Fletcher and still delivered that ball, I mean, that’s the reason his ex-Philly teammates kept swearing by the guy and saying he’d play well in Arizona and why his new teammates love him already.

— Kolb also did the most important thing with Larry Fitzgerald – he just gave Fitz a chance. I know Fitz was wide open, but Kolb was worried he had overthrown him. Nope. Fitz made it work.

— You don’t want to overstate the importance of an injury, but given the way linebacker Daryl Washington played in the opener and given his speed, I find it hard to believe the Redskins would have run the ball so well had Washington been able to play.

— That’s three field-goal blocks for Calais Campbell in his career. Having a 6-foot-8 weapon in the middle there is crucial. Campbell needs to make more of an impact on defense, however.

— Just for a brief moment, I thought Patrick Peterson – maybe, just maybe – was going to break that final punt return.

— You noticed Peterson and A.J. Jefferson a lot less Sunday than last week, Of course, the Redskins were running it more (and with more success) than Carolina did.

— Wells had a good day after he started getting the ball more. It sure seemed like he had most of his success, interestingly, on the quick draw off shotgun snaps.

— Two TDs in two weeks for tight end Jeff King. He’s already one short of his career-best season.

— Former Card RB Tim Hightower got away with baiting the Cards into an early penalty, giving a shot to linebacker Paris Lenon well after the play, setting off a scrum that ended with safety Kerry Rhodes getting nabbed for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Hightower said he knew how to push the buttons of his former teammates. You have to stay out of that stuff if you are a Card (although I’m not sure why Hightower wasn’t flagged in the first place.)

There isn’t a ton to analyze at this point. The Cardinals will have to find a way to slow opponents. Because certainly, when you have a chance to win a road game, you don’t want to see it fade like Sunday’s did.

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Panthers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2011 – 8:04 pm

I kept thinking, standing down on the field around the 10-yard line after watching the Panthers’ final offensive play Sunday, it reminded me of the final play of the Rams-Titans Super Bowl – the one where Rams linebacker Mike Jones grabbed Kevin Dyson and stopped him a yard short of the end zone. Obviously, the gravity of Sunday’s Cards’ win wasn’t quite the same. But seeing linebacker Paris Lenon stop running back Mike Goodson’s reception for four (plus an inch or two) instead of the five needed for a first down or the six needed for a touchdown was an echo.

Certainly, the Cards have to revel in Lenon’s play. To fall short in what was really an odd game would have been a gut punch. The way the Cards blew chances to score hurt, but they really would have left a mark if it would have meant a loss.

If you would have said beforehand Kevin Kolb would throw for 309 yards and two TDs without a pick and Beanie would have 90 rushing yards and a TD, I would have been thinking it’s a lock. Instead it was quite a bit harder.

They won, though.

— Here’s hoping Daryl Washington is OK with his calf strain. He had an interception, he had another called back on the Richard Marshall roughing penalty (more on that in a minute), was credited with half-a-sack and, I think, will be the one who ends up with the one credited to Joey Porter as well. Plus, on the play he got hurt, he flashed his amazing speed to catch up and tackle Steve Smith from behind. If he stays healthy, he’s going to be a very, very good player.

— Marshall still was incredulous after the game about his penalty. I have a feeling it was because Marshall “launched” himself at Newton, leaving his feet to deliver the hit. But Newton is 6-foot-5 and Marshall 5-11; all it did was allow Marshall to hit Newton’s shoulder with his shoulder. There was no helmet-to-helmet.

“We will see why they threw the flag, but I guess they will let me know,” Marshall said. “I’ve got to play full-speed. I’m not going to slow down. I just have to deal with it.”

— I will admit that I was dead wrong on Cam Newton. I thought he was going to struggle, at least for a while. Whoops. He played a hell of a game, and was much better from the pocket than I expected. Those were 422 real yards, not anything piled up in garbage time.

Does that mean the Cards couldn’t have played better on defense? Of course. They’ll say that. “It is (a work-in-progress) but at the same time, we made mistakes,” safety Adrian Wilson said. “It is a new defense but there are no excuses. Everybody understands that.” Patrick Peterson will get better, but anyone who expected a lot more from him to begin with wasn’t being realistic.

— The same goes for the offense’s issues. You just have a feeling that’s going to get fixed (Jay Feely’s miss is a great example. After he was so consistent last year, does anyone think today’s miss was anything but a fluke?) If Beanie Wells can run like that, the Cards will be OK. The Cards will have to figure out the best ways to get the ball to Fitz – he’ll need more than three catches, obviously – but think of it this way: If Kolb is throwing for 309 on a day when things don’t seem to be altogether smooth, what happens when the offense really “clicks?”

— Tight ends made an impact. Todd Heap had a pair of 20-yard catches early, and Jeff King made his early bid as the Cards’ speed receiver with that 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown. So too did Early Doucet with his 105 yards receiving (including his 70-yard TD, pictured below).  There’s another guy who continues to show he can play … as long as he is healthy.

— I know people want to jump on Peterson for his premature high-step (and I’d be curious, with the new college rules, if that would have been flagged if he was still at LSU and the ball put at the 18 or wherever it happened). In the end, though, it can be a lesson learned. He didn’t finish the high-stepped, he instead stepped up his speed and got into the end zone.

— Speaking of the punt, Wilson deadpanned that there was only one reason to be “mad” at Peterson: Because he fielded the ball back around the 10, instead of letting it drop and bounce into the end zone. “I don’t know if coach is going to scold him,” Wilson said. “Technically, at the 10-yard line, he’s not supposed to catch the ball. It was 89 yards, so I don’t know if he can really get mad at him.”

Tough to get mad after a win.

I think it’s time to go home.

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Captains named and getting healthier

Posted by Darren Urban on September 8, 2011 – 2:12 pm

The news that many seemed to be (anxiously) awaiting has been revealed: Team captains were announced Thursday, with mostly repeats. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and center Lyle Sendlein were named on offense for the second straight year. Kicker Jay Feely gets the nod on special teams. And on defense, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and safety Adrian Wilson were joined this year by a surprise — linebacker Paris Lenon. It shows the respect Lenon has in the locker room, since the captains are voted on by the players.

(UPDATE: You can read more about the captains choices right here.)

Injury-wise, the Cards are in good shape. Only two players failed to practice fully: tight end Jim Dray, who sat out with his pectoral strain, and cornerback Michael Adams, who remains limited after knee surgery. The Panthers did downgrade star linebacker Jon Beason to DNP as he continues to battle a bad ankle.

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Peterson enters season as starter

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2011 – 10:37 am

For most of training camp, a debate among the Cards’ depth chart was whether rookie and No. 1 pick Patrick Peterson would start the opening game. He was behind Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson, and, all things staying the same, I think Peterson would have come off the bench in the beginning.

But obviously all things didn’t stay the same. Toler got injured and is out for the season. So Peterson has now been elevated — above veteran Richard Marshall — to the starting lineup. He was there in the preseason finale and he is there again today when the Cards officially released the first depth chart of the season. Peterson is a starter at right cornerback, ahead of Marshall and newcomer Crezdon Butler. Jefferson is the left-side starter in front of Michael Adams and the other newcomer, Korey Lindsey. (Peterson is also listed as the No. 1 punt returner.)

The rest of the depth chart remains the same as it has through training camp. Rex Hadnot is the right guard, ahead of Deuce Lutui. And Paris Lenon, who has just impressed coaches time and time again since he arrived last year, remains a starter at inside linebacker ahead of Stewart Bradley. John Skelton is still listed as the No. 2 QB, ahead of Rich Bartel.

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Thursday before the Packers (with a Fitz contract update)

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2011 – 12:04 pm

Here we are in Titletown, and what do you know, the team that plays here just won a title – and they haven’t played a home game since then. Now the Cards come to visit.

The big “news” today is Jim Trotter’s report about Larry Fitzgerald’s contract talks. Fitz says he won’t talk extension after Sept. 4, but at the same time an agreement is “not too far away.” Trotter says on his own he believes a deal will get done, which I have said all along. Since he talked to Fitz for a good 45 minutes the other day, my guess is Trotter got a good vibe (or something more concrete) from Fitzgerald.

In the meantime  …

— It will be interesting to see how the Cards use the pass rushers. Will rookie Sam Acho get some snaps on the right side? How much do they play O’Brien Schofield, knowing he needs as many reps as possible? Coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week that while he wants vets Joey Porter and Clark Haggans to play – the defense is “new” for them too – they don’t need to play as much.

— No way to know how banged up the Cards are right now, but guard Pork Chop Womack did come out of practice yesterday and had his right shoulder wrapped briefly. I expect Deuce Lutui to play regardless even with his conditioning issues, but if Womack can’t go, it probably makes it more important. As was guessed to start camp, Lutui’s story will be one of the main ones to watch.

— Whisenhunt talked about all the back-fade routes the Packers like to run and how it’s high stress on cornerbacks. It’s a good test, especially when seeing where rookie Patrick Peterson is right now in his development.

— And, this time is as good as any, here are a few of the position battles at which you can look (sticking mostly to starting jobs right now, unless something really jumps out at me):

WR – Obviously Fitz will start. Someone asked me if there was a way Early Doucet (pictured below) could beat out Andre Roberts. I don’t think there is going to be one true set No. 2. Roberts is going to get his playing time, but there will be some mixing-and-matching, I’d expect.

TE – Todd Heap and Jeff King are both going to play quite a bit, and I won’t be surprised if the starting lineup a few times includes two tight ends. But King is a very good blocker, and since that is not Heap’s strong suit, don’t be shocked if King gets this nod some of the time.

RT – I still expect Brandon Keith to be the guy here. But don’t underestimate Jeremy Bridges.

RG – Lutui can still make this quite an interesting battle between he and Rex Hadnot. But Hadnot doesn’t have too much to fear if Lutui can’t get his weight/conditioning in order.

ILB – I believe Daryl Washington will start. Paris Lenon is a good soldier who is solid and versatile. Can Stewart Bradley do enough to surpass him on the depth chart? I could see Lenon in a reserve role, able to fill in for both Washington and Bradley. It may be a moot point anyway, since I could see them using all three quite a bit.

CB –Peterson vs. Greg Toler vs. A.J. Jefferson vs. Richard Marshall. In terms of sheer numbers and lack of absolute locks, this position has to be sorted out. Toler and Jefferson remain with the first unit, but to see Peterson and Marshall there to start the season makes sense. So does, quite frankly, any combination of the four. This is why they make preseason, for  battles like this.

There are other end-of-the-roster issues to figure out, but like every year, the top 53 probably already has 45 or 46 locks before camp even begins. That may be more true this year than any other, because the chances of an undrafted guy doing enough to make anything more than the practice squad seems slim without an offseason.

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Sturdivant’s got to speak up

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2011 – 8:29 am

The walkthrough was sparsely attended by fans, so it was even easier to hear the chatter on the field. That included linebackers coach Matt Raich, who was watching his charges from the offensive backfield when at one point he bellowed at rookie inside linebacker Quan Sturdivant, “I need to hear you back here!”

Sturdivant was calling the pre-snap signals. He wasn’t doing it loudly enough.

“Some players have that take charge voice,” Raich said. “Young guys come in here and they are not sure. That’s why I always say, ‘Say it loud and say it proud.’ They laugh about it, but it is true.”

It’s not just a Sturdivant issue, or even just young players. Raich said that even veterans new to the team might not be quite loud enough at first. It’s tough to have conviction in your voice when you are just learning the defense yourself. The starting inside linebackers, Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington, have been around a year, so even though they are learning the defense, they have been more confident. So too is new veteran Stewart Bradley.

As for Sturdivant, “you’re the Mike linebacker, it’s what you are supposed to do,” the rookie said. “It is a little adjustment. I’m not a loud person. I’m not going to say it’s tough but it is something to get used to.”

Sturdivant, the first of two sixth-round picks, will have to battle to make the roster. The addition of Bradley and the influx of new information (without an offseason) has made his impact minimal right now. Asked if he was “swimming” with all the incoming info, Sturdivant smiled and said, “you could say that.”

“I’m taking it day by day,” he added. “I ask questions of the vets if I have questions.”

Learning to pipe up is just one of his early lessons.

“He has to scream it,” Raich said. “I want them to make sure. He has his hand up to say, ‘right, left’ but the defensive linemen can’t see him. I’ve got to get Quan going.

“You’ve got to be able to communicate before the snap and obviously after. I think guys are unsure at times. … It’s just like anyone if they are talking. If you are comfortable with what you are going to say, you are fluent.”

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Back to practice in Flag

Posted by Darren Urban on August 14, 2011 – 7:19 pm

Sunday afternoon the Cardinals got back on the field for the first time since the Oakland game. It was, coach Ken Whisenhunt said during his lunchtime presser, a chance to go over the mistakes the Cards made against the Raiders.

What was noticeable in the work that just lasted over an hour (in the Walkup Skydome, after it rained — hard — most of the afternoon) was the intensity that crept in by the final 11-on-11 work.

“The energy was pumped up,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “I think everybody knows where we are about to go this week.”

That’s Green Bay for those who aren’t sure, and the defending champs will be playing a game at Lambeau for the first time since winning the Super Bowl. Preseason or no, that’ll be a big deal. So it wasn’t a surprise when the volume got loud, when tight end Jeff King and linebacker Paris Lenon scuffled (tight end Stephen Spach as peacemaker and not instigator? Imagine that). The offense went crazy when running back Ryan Williams juked and broke an ankle or two (not literally, for anyone concerned) to get loose down the field. The defense did the same when safety Matt Ware came from centerfield for a nice on-the-run interception and return.

Some other moments/notes:

— Didn’t seem to be any changes on the depth chart. That’s not a shock right now. One game does not an evaluation make.

— RB LaRod Stephens-Howling did a good job blocking linebacker O’Brien Schofield on a blitz pick-up.

— RB Beanie Wells made a fantastic one-handed catch — left-handed — in traffic.

— CB Patrick Peterson did a good job ranging over to make a leaping interception at one point.

— Learning from mistakes was one thing QB Kevin Kolb kept stressing. He showed it tangibly Sunday. One play Andre Roberts beat Greg Toler deep on what looked like a skinny post, but Kolb didn’t get enough air under the ball and over threw Roberts. A couple plays later, same scenario, except Larry Fitzgerald was the receiver. This time, Kolb put it on the money.

— Speaking of Roberts, that he got open deep was to be noted, especially with all the wonder/speculation about the Cards “needing” a No. 2 receiver. Both Kolb and Whisenhunt said after the Raiders game Roberts got open deep a couple of times, just that the passes didn’t work out. That’ll be something I’m sure everyone will be watching going forward.

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Wednesday before the Raiders

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2011 – 2:22 pm

Yes, we are, actually, ready for some football.

The lockout ended less than three weeks ago, yet it feels like months. That first few days of camp – and the couple of days before it – were such a whirlwind and now, suddenly, it’s the eve of the Cards’ preseason opener in Oakland.

How this game turns out is anyone’s guess. It’s always a little harder to know before that first exhibition game and now you throw in the chaos of learning everything on the fly. Whatever they do – whatever quarterback Kevin Kolb does, specifically – should be taken with a grain of salt. We’re a long way from anything counting, whether it be Kolb game-planning or defenses game-planning against him. He said he just wants to make sure he learns from whatever mistakes might happen. A fair goal.

There are plenty of players to look forward to seeing. As I have mentioned, the depth chart is going to be fluid, and coach Ken Whisenhunt made clear the last couple of days how much competition is going to be going on.

— It’ll be fascinating to see how a couple of positions filter themselves out. Greg Toler and A.J. Jefferson have been running first-team at cornerback, but – at least early – rookie Patrick Peterson looks pretty good to me. And officially, new signee Richard Marshall is third team. I just don’t see that holding steady.

— Speaking of cornerbacks, how many will the Cards eventually keep? Besides those four, there is Michael Adams to consider. The coaches like him. Here’s the thing, however. I could see five cornerbacks and four safeties, expect now there is the injury of Adrian Wilson to consider. Do you carry an extra safety with Wilson’s situation so dicey? It’s a decision that doesn’t have to be made until after the fourth preseason game, but it will be a choice that has to be made.

— So far, it’s hard not to be excited seeing what inside linebacker Stewart Bradley does in the middle there. Hopefully he can stay healthy. With so much vague with the outside linebacker spots, a trio of Bradley, Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon wouldn’t be bad.

— Quarterbacks beyond Kolb will be scrutinized too. Max Hall is not practice-squad eligible and neither is Rich Bartel. Bartel is ahead of Hall right now. They like him as a potential backup. And it will be interesting to see how John Skelton has progressed.

— Todd Heap is the sexy name at tight end, but they really like Jeff King as a blocker. As said before, the position has had a big upgrade.

— Preseason games are always a good time to look at players’ ability to win one-on-one battles. Watching young pass rushers like O’Brien Schofield try and get pressure – heck, even Joey Porter – will give everyone a better picture of where that part of the team stands.

— Safety Rashad Johnson gets his chance to show off the work he has done coming into his third year. He has always weighed in the 200-to-204-pound range, but he has much more muscle, he said, trimming his body fat from 17 percent to under eight percent.

That’s thanks to a summer at Club A-Dub, working out under Wilson’s tutelage.  “It is ironic I spent the entire summer in Scottsdale working out and doing the same type of workouts he has been doing for eight or nine years,” Johnson said, knowing he is replacing Wilson in the short-term at least. “Of course we want Adrian to be able to come back and play and help us. Whatever my role is, I will be ready, whether it is starter or nickel and dime and special teams.”

That’s enough for now. Time to stop speculating and actually watch a game.

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Washington wants to look the part

Posted by Darren Urban on August 6, 2011 – 7:28 am

It was out of necessity, but inside linebacker Daryl Washington started as a rookie last season right away, pairing with Paris Lenon (pictured below, with No. 58 Washington) when Gerald Hayes couldn’t start the season. And by the end of the year, when Hayes fell out of favor, Washington and Lenon again were the starters.

Washington has speed. That you cannot miss. In one play earlier in camp during an 11-on-11 drill, there was a sweep to the right side. Washington, coming from the backside, was amazingly in the backfield in a flash in what would have been a tackle for loss. Drafted to ostensibly be the replacement for the departed Karlos Dansby, Washington’s physical gifts were evident.

But he certainly isn’t as big as Dansby was. That’s one of the reasons Washington felt — even though the offseason was spent away from the team facilities because of the lockout — he needed to bulk up at least a little. It’s noticeable too in the upper body, even though his playing weight has only gone from about 227 pounds last year to 230 this season.

“I put on some muscle,” Washington said. “That was the expectation for myself, actually looking like a linebacker and not just playing the linebacker position.”

(As a side note, one of the bigger concerns from the lockout was how the second-year guys — the ones who went through an offseason as rookies in 2010 — would handle themselves on their own. Most came back not only in shape, but physically built up from last year. Washington, Max Komar, Stephen Williams, Andre Roberts, O’Brien Schofield.)

For now, Washington and Lenon are running with the first unit, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see free-agent signee Stewart Bradley find his way into the strongside ILB spot (formally Hayes’ spot) and allow Lenon to become a rotational player backing up both Bradley and Washington. Washington just needs to make a normal progression from his rookie season, and changing his body was part of that. Last year, Washington said he was “too lean” and needed to gain strength. So that’s what he did.

“People have been noticing,” Washington said, “so that’s a good thing.”

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Adams is money when it comes to tackling

Posted by Darren Urban on June 22, 2011 – 11:25 am

It’s been mentioned more than a few times that cornerback Michael Adams is pound-for-pound perhaps the best tackler the Cards have on defense. Now there are some stats to back it up. A new study by shows the defensive players who are most effective in making the tackle after a pass reception, and “Money Mike” is listed as the second-best cornerback in the NFL, percentage-wise, in 2010. Adams is credited with 47 percent “successful” tackle rate (14 in 30 chances), behind only the Eagles’ Asante Samuel.

(Clarification: The success rate means of the 30 tackles Adams made on pass catchers, 14 were considered successes. FO’s Aaron Schatz said Adams had three missed tackles last year, about average.)

Adams has shortcomings because of his size, but there are good reasons why he has stuck on the roster. One is his superb special teams play. Another is his fundamental tackling skills, which would only seem to help in his quest to stick around seeing that new defensive coordinator Ray Horton has professed his love for defensive backs who can tackle.

The Cards actually had a handful of defenders who landed on the “best” lists for tackling on pass plays. Adrian Wilson was on the best list for safeties (although third safety Rashad Johnson was on the “worst” side) while Paris Lenon tied for the best percentage (54) among linebackers and Daryl Washington also ended up on the best linebackers list.

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