Fitz, waiting to play, talks big hits

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2013 – 12:37 pm

Considering Larry Fitzgerald’s concussion-fueled plight this week — the wide receiver is expected to play Sunday, although coach Bruce Arians said he still had to go through his official final step of the concussion protocol later Friday and he will officially be questionable — how players hit each other during a game might mean a little more to Fitz.

(And as a quick aside, watching replays of the onside kick hit Fitz took from Tennessee’s Jackie Battle, I didn’t think it was bad at all. It was helmet to helmet out of circumstance more than anything as Fitz curled to protect the ball and Battle’s helmet happened to be in the wrong place. I actually am surprised Battle didn’t try to get him harder. Fitzgerald said he didn’t consider the hit excessive either. UPDATE: And Battle was not fined on the play, FYI.)

With all this talk about defenseless players and the like, it’s surprised me a little that players themselves don’t take it upon themselves to not crush each other in every circumstance. That’s what happened the first time the Cardinals and Seahawks met. Fitzgerald twice delivered blindside blocks on Seattle defensive backs. They were powerful, sure, but they could have absolutely laid the Seahawk out and Fitz clearly didn’t do that. He made the block necessary but wasn’t looking to hurt the guy.

It was so noticeable that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll even said something: “With an iconic guy like that, I just thought it was really powerful. … It’s still a big hit. But it could have been a colossal collision had he taken full advantage of the opportunity, and he didn’t. His poise and his character demonstrated that he understands. That’s really cool stuff and that’s where the league is going. We can do this.”

Fitzgerald was asked about the hits on the now-suspended Walter Thurmond and Richard Sherman. With Fitz, it wasn’t about being nice but instead understanding what big hits can do these days the way officials are calling games.

“There are many ways to skin a cat,” Fitzgerald said. “In that particular position, on both hits, one was third-and-7, Mike (Floyd) was catching the shallow route. I could’ve knocked him out if I wanted to. Possibly we could have gotten a 15-yard penalty and I would have been fined. I don’t want to set my team back. It would have been third-and-20. We were driving. I didn’t want to hurt my team. That’s my first thinking. I can’t speak for anybody else. I just want to make sure I do everything I can to help my team and not hurt it.”

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Friday before the Falcons (and Ryan Williams?)

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2013 – 4:05 pm

What is it about Ryan Williams and his story that is so intriguing? The Cardinals go into an important game against the Falcons Sunday, and even if Williams – because of the toe injury of Rashard Mendenhall – is active, he might not even play much. Yet many are waiting to see if Williams is active and what he would do if he played, and I am one of them.

Williams (smartly) hasn’t said much about his situation, but you can tell he’s frustrated. “I’m probably the freshest guy on the team right now,” Williams said. “I’m ready to play. I’m just waiting.” Practices are closed so it’s impossible to know exactly what Williams has done, and since he is so far down the depth chart, he’s likely getting what work he is getting on scout team and not the regular offense. But Bruce Arians has said a couple of times he has been happy with the work Williams has done. Now Sunday, if the Cards, for instance, are going to have newcomer Teddy Williams active to play special teams, who sits instead? Would that be Ryan Williams’ potential spot?

In a lot of ways, Williams might be in a type of limbo. Clearly he isn’t ahead of the others on the depth chart. But Mendenhall’s injury potential is high enough that the Cards might not want to let him go. If Mendenhall goes down with a major injury, do the Cards really want to lean just on two rookies in Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor? (There is still a chance I suppose he could be dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, but I don’t expect it.)

I guess I’m looking forward to seeing that inactive list at 11:55 a.m. Sunday.

— Lot of talk about Ellington, and people keep trying to send me comparative measurements between the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington and other backs, like Jamaal Charles, etc. Look, I can’t speak to those guys. And I don’t know if Ellington could absorb more. But I think what Bruce Arians is thinking about limited reps is the idea that a lot of punishment would take away the best thing about Ellington — his explosion and ability to get outside. I’m sure he’ll touch the ball plenty Sunday.

— The Falcons were a Super Bowl favorite coming into the season. Now, the defense is much more leaky, the offense doesn’t have Julio Jones and Roddy White has been hurt so much he’s a non-factor. Steven Jackson has barely played. Now, it’s not like Atlanta hasn’t been close – their four losses have been by a total of 19 points – but they aren’t as daunting of an opponent as they once might have been.

— Matt Ryan was miserable in last year’s meeting. Ray Horton’s defense made him look terrible. Horton isn’t here anymore, obviously, but Todd Bowles is, and the Cards got after Russell Wilson pretty good. I wouldn’t expect five interceptions again, but the Cards are going to pressure him. “We got in his face early, rattled him up a little bit,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This is a new team. With them not necessarily having their top guys … we can’t fall into that they aren’t 100 percent. They still have guys who can get the ball in the end zone. But I believe if we do the same recipe as last year, we will have good success.”

— noted that there have been two receivers targeted a league-high six times when an interception has been thrown. One was Giants wideout Reuben Randle. The other? Larry Fitzgerald. Something to consider when Carson Palmer talks about being leery when forcing the ball to Fitz.

— Speaking of Fitz, he hammered Walter Thurmond on a blind-side block last week against Seattle and did it again later to Richard Sherman. They were blows – but they could have been much harder and destructive. Fitz downplayed them, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll came out and praised Fitzgerald for playing football the “new” way – those Seahawks still got hit pretty good, but it didn’t go over the top. You can say what you want about what that means for football, but I have to admit I agree with Carroll. You can walk that line.

— Be sure to welcome our new writer at when he starts next week: Kyle Odegard. I think you’ll find him a quality addition.

— Arians talks about starting fast and you wonder about the coin flip. Arians has said he will always take the ball if he is given the choice, so the Cards end up with the ball first almost every time. That makes getting off to a quick start even more important in my eyes.

— Arians reiterated what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said yesterday, that the Cardinals are “hoping” to play Bobby Massie some at right tackle. It will depend on how the game plays out, Arians said, but it would be for a series or two.

— Defensive end Calais Campbell took left tackle Bradley Sowell aside earlier this week to try and give him some advice. “I felt like the offensive linemen, the younger ones, they need to learn what we are trying to do to beat them,” Campbell said on the Big Red Rage radio show. “We just went over how I play the game and what I’m looking for. I gave him my advice. I think he has potential and we need him to win.”

— The Cards do need better play from Sowell at left tackle. And from the offense in general.

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As the coaching info turns

Posted by Darren Urban on January 9, 2013 – 11:47 am

With Steve Keim in place as general manager, the Cardinals now need to find a head coach. That is ongoing, and there was some spark thrown into Wednesday morning with conflicting reports about the Cardinals and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Some reported there was an interview happening, others said no. (Or absolutely no.) What we know is that the Cards have talked to Ray Horton and Mike McCoy and are going to talk to Jay Gruden Thursday. President Michael Bidwill said all those things Tuesday. The team has been pretty transparent with all their interviews once they are lined up. Then again, Haley might want this kept quiet (which doesn’t necessarily prevent leaks, not when it is fellow coaches apparently saying what is going on.)

The Cards, in the Haley case, are not commenting.

(UPDATE: Steelers president Art Rooney said Haley is interviewing. Feels like a solid source.)

Regardless, nothing has changed with the hiring time frame, which was that there was no time frame. Bidwill reiterated that notion. “The timetable is the timetable that gets us the right coach and the right decision for the team to move us forward,” team president Michael Bidwill said during Steve Keim’s introductory press conference Tuesday.

One final interesting note, which comes via Geoff Mosher from CSN Philadelphia, via tweets that make me think he too has been hit with many questions from concerned fans about no head coach yet hired, in his case with the Eagles.

“KC was first NFL team last year to hire HC, on Jan. 9. Chiefs went 2-14, fired Crennel. Colts hired Chuck Pagano on Jan. 25. Made playoffs”

Mosher makes the point of various successful coaches over the years and their hire dates: Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin Jan. 22 (’07); Baltimore’s John Harbaugh Jan. 19 (’08); Denver’s John Fox Jan. 13 (’11); Atlanta’s Mike Smith Jan. 24 (’08); and Seattle’s Pete Carroll Jan. 11 (’10). Again, I’m not trying to say every coach hired is the right one, or that waiting always is a benefit. But clearly, it’s not like taking time crushes chances for success. Of the seven teams that need new coaches, only two have hired new coaches, and that doesn’t include the possibility Jacksonville could change coaches now that they have a new GM.

— One final outlier here: After the Cowboys fired DC Rob Ryan Tuesday it became popular — driven by media speculation — that Horton could be a candidate to replace him. Horton was wooed by Jason Garrett to be on staff two years ago as Horton was coming to Arizona as DC. Here’s the problem: If the Cards don’t hire Horton has head coach, I’m pretty sure they want him to stay as defensive coordinator. Now, that can always change depending on who the head coach is, but with Horton still under contract for another season, he can’t go anywhere (except as a head coach) if the Cards don’t want him to. And I just don’t see the Cards allowing a lateral move, even if Horton did (of which I’m not sure either).

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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 12, 2010 – 3:42 pm

It didn’t take Adrian Wilson long to answer the question, sitting there on his own Big Red Rage radio show Thursday night. He was asked to give the Cardinals’ defense a grade for the first half of the season.

“F,” Wilson bluntly said.

And he didn’t back off it.

“I mean, you’ve got to be critical of yourself and you’ve got to judge yourself pretty hard,” Wilson added. “I’m pretty sure if you ask anyone in the locker room they’d say that. We’re playing nowhere near how we should be playing.”

(Hmmm. I hope that wasn’t conduct detrimental, me quoting him off the radio … I’ll consider that.)

Of course, there is no way the Cards’ defense is playing that poorly. You can be frustrated at the end of the Minnesota game, but as Seattle coach Pete Carroll said “they just got Favred” and there is truth to that too. The unit does need to finish – which Wilson emphasized, and which has apparently been emphasized all week from coaches to players – but that can happen.

Here’s the thing to me: Linebacker Joey Porter is playing well, as are guys like Alan Branch, Kerry Rhodes, even Paris Lenon. If the Cards’ Pro Bowlers start to flash more often (Wilson, Darnell Dockett and DRC come to mind), the idea of an ‘F’ will be laughable. For sure, Wilson is thinking about his season, which has been in a holding pattern since his huge season opening game in St. Louis.

“I got to start making more plays in the second half of the year, and that’s a guarantee,” Wilson said.

And with that, the Seahawks are on deck:

— In contrast to the two gut-punch losses the Cards have endured the last two weeks, the Seahawks have lost the two games since the last time these teams met by getting run off the road. There was a 33-3 shellacking against the Raiders and 41-7 ugliness against the Giants. It would seem to have made it harder to see much on video, since the games got out of hand.

But the Oakland game didn’t get sideways until later on, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said, so there was plenty to mine from that tape. The Giants, not so much. But, “when you are playing a division opponent that you have seen, you have a better feel with what they are going to do and how they will try to attack you,” Whisenhunt said, “so I don’t think it’s a big issue.”

— You’re gonna want to know about Beanie Wells. Well, I don’t know. As I said earlier, if he can’t give you something early, you have to think long and hard about making him active, since he doesn’t play special teams. My guess – and purely a guess – he will play more this week, although I’d think Tim Hightower will end up with more work.

— Speaking of Hightower, he was carving up the Seahawks last game (six rushes for 59 yards) before the fumble heard ‘round the world (or at least, ‘round the Cardinals’ locker room). More of the former without the latter this time?

— Forgot to drop this in the blog yesterday (I did tweet it, and if you’re not on you’re missing some of my best stuff, at least in 140 characters or less), but the game Sunday is a sellout. That’s 49 in a row for those scoring at home.

— The legendary Kent Somers has a nice breakdown of how the Cards were Favred last week on all those killer slant passes.

— Don’t forget the food drive Sunday either. Or the chance to help the Tillman Foundation scholarship fund.

— The Cards have given up 28 sacks this season, two more than all of last year. There are some reasons for that other than questionable protection or the fact Kurt Warner isn’t playing quarterback. Rookies always tend to get sacked a little more, and Max Hall endured 12 of the sacks despite having thrown only 75 passes to Derek Anderson’s 181. A couple came last week at the end of regulation when the Cards were fruitlessly trying to move downfield in 20 seconds.

“It’s been more about mental errors than physical errors,” Whisenhunt said, noting that one game had three sacks all on missed blocks by backs.

— The Cards felt they killed themselves in Seattle more than the Seahawks beating them. That final was 22-10, and the Cards gave up five painful turnovers. Regardless of how the last two games ended, the Cards are a better team than they were when they went to Seattle. Great? No. But definitely better.

Let the second half begin.

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Avoiding kickoff returners?

Posted by Darren Urban on November 11, 2010 – 10:04 am

Two of the best kickoff returners in the league will match up Sunday in the Cardinals-Seahawks game. Seattle’s Leon Washington leads the NFL with 31.4 yards per return, while LaRod Stephens-Howling is sixth in average (27.9) and has the most total yardage (1,060). Each has two touchdowns. Each have emerged as dangerous weapons for teams that have not had a lot of consistent offensive success.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last week, the Giants — who hammered Seattle — simply stopped letting Washington have the ball. “They did everything they could to kick the ball away from him,” Carroll said. “Which turns out to be great field position for us. We would love for him to get the ball in his hands and let him do his thing, but if they’re going to give us great field position … I think we started at the 36 (yard line) all game and that’s a good number.”

Stephens-Howling has been wondering if — when? — that will happen to him.

“That’s another thing we talk about in the meeting room and our whole return team has to be ready for that, to adjust on the run, because if we keep being this successful, they’re not going to continue to kick to us,” Stephens-Howling said. “We’ll probably see more ‘morter kicks’ around the 25- or 30-yard-line, trying to give it to one of the bigger guys.”

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Friday before the Seahawks

Posted by Darren Urban on October 22, 2010 – 3:51 pm

It was suggested the Cardinals this season were a “mysterious” team. Ken Whisenhunt said that was a “fair assessment.”

“We’re working to try and figure that out,” the coach said. “Changing the quarterback sometimes changes your team and sometimes the way the games have gone have determined who we are. Hopefully we’ll build off what we did against New Orleans and play better football. That’s all we can try to do.”

Well, Max Hall, what do you think? “Yeah, I think we’re still maturing, still growing,” he said. “There is still a lot to figure out, a lot to learn. I think we are headed in the right direction.”

So here we are, about to go to Seattle (the team leaves early afternoon tomorrow) not knowing exactly who the Cards are. The bye is great when you are coming off a victory, but the extra time off always lets the previous game settle a bit. You lose, and by the time the next game arrives you realize things aren’t necessarily as bad as you thought. You win, and the opposite is true – the euphoria is gone, and you adjust to reality.

The reality is that this game against the Seahawks means a lot. It means a lot in Hall’s development as a starter. It means a lot in the Seahawks’ quest (pun intended) to regain a footing as a division power, and a lot in the Cards’ efforts to show Atlanta and San Diego were more fluke than fact.

And we get to do it in the rain …

— Whisenhunt and Hall (and everyone) seem to be confident Hall got better as the game went. You figure they want to avoid early mistakes. You want to anyway, but a) the Seahawks get a big boost when the crowd is behind them and early mistakes help that (Tim Hightower pointed out the fast starts by the Cards the last two years in Seattle pretty much killed the crowd) and b) Hall’s mistakes seem to come early anyway, so if you can dodge the landmines …

— The Seahawks have the second-ranked rush defense and the 30th-ranked pass defense. Not sure that really means anything other than they have played pass-happy Chicago and San Diego already among their five games. The Cards have to run, both because of the weather issues and because of Hall. But bottom line, the Cards have playmakers like Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, and they get the ball through passing. They can’t – and shouldn’t — be ignored.

— Hall, on the mini-version of Max mania in the Valley: “I don’t make it bigger than it needs to be. It’s fun to get it. It’s fun to be recognized and to say hi to people going to the store, but I still have to keep my head down and work. I have a long way to go.”

— The Cards have benefitted from a gimpy Matt Hasselbeck the last couple of years. He is healthy now. He also has Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Yet Hasselbeck doesn’t feel totally comfortable, and the Cards have to use that. “I’m trying to get caught up with this first-year offense,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s been a get-to-know-you situation.”

— How much have the Seahawks changed under Pete Carroll? They have made an amazing 219 roster moves from the time Carroll took over in January, including 13 trades involving 16 players and 21 draft picks. I honestly thought it would take them longer to get their act together with so many new people.

— Guys in the spotlight Sunday: Tackles Brandon Keith and Levi Brown (because of the noise issues) and the front seven on defense. The Cards need to make the Seahawks work on offense because, frankly, that unit is still not consistent enough.

— If the Cards can win the special teams battle – and make sure Leon Washington doesn’t hurt them in the return game – it’d be a huge advantage.

— Finally, Hall was asked if he has been working on his sliding. “Work on sliding, you know, yeah … I’ll just leave it at that.” Let’s hope he gets down.  We don’t need to see any more of  Brown’s “scoop-and-score” moves this season.

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Redskins aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 2, 2010 – 11:37 pm

The preseason is over. That’s always nice to say.

Where things go for the Cardinals from here, we will see. Sometime in the next day or two – the team must be shaved to a 53-man roster by 3 p.m. Arizona time Saturday – we all get to see who is in and who is out. Obviously, everyone is waiting to see what will happen with Matt Leinart. Could he still be traded, after the report that agent Tom Condon has been given permission to work one out? Could Leinart simply be released, something that multiple media outlets have speculated could happen?

Heck, could Max Hall have played his way into being Derek Anderson’s backup?

Coach Ken Whisenhunt pumped the brakes a bit on the Hall hysteria after Thursday’s game. “You have to understand this was preseason, and they weren’t doing a lot defensively,” the coach said. “Sometimes you get a little too excited about those situations.”

“But,” Whiz continued – and it was an important but – “I like the way he handled himself and I like the way he handled our team.”

Handling the team was one of the catch phrases Whiz kept bringing up when he was talking earlier in the preseason about Anderson and Leinart. Hall was impressive Thursday, and he certainly doesn’t lack for confidence. He said “absolutely” when I asked him if he’d be comfortable being a rookie backup. I don’t doubt it.

— That, of course, means Leinart would be moved. I’m not sure he can be traded, not with a contract that would force a team to play him $12 million next year. But when an agent gets permission to shop – and let’s assume that happened – it includes talks of contract restructuring usually. That could help.

— Leinart, not surprisingly, was saying nothing of substance after the game. He said a couple of times he hadn’t been thinking about his future or what will happen, and I would be willing to bet a lot that’s almost all he has been thinking about. But what else can he say right now? That he wants to play for Pete Carroll again? Of course not. So he’s right. He has to wait. But I don’t doubt that wherever he is playing, he probably hopes it isn’t Arizona.

— It sounds like Deuce Lutui is just about in a place to get back to starting. “Deuce has been playing pretty well, consistently during the preseason,” Whisenhunt said. “I haven’t been displeased with his play. That has not been the issue. The issue is obviously what we’re all well aware of.”

Lutui’s weight problems, of course.

“Once he gets out of my doghouse, I think he’ll be fine,” Whisenhunt added.

The guess is Lutui will supplant Reggie Wells sooner rather than later in the lineup.

— The Cardinals finished 3-1 in the games that don’t count, eclipsing Whiz’s win total from the previous three preseasons combined (two). “I don’t know how comfortable I am being 3-1 in preseason,” Whisenhunt quipped.

— I think Max Komar, the undrafted rookie wideout, has made this team. I wonder if Monty Beisel’s play – an interception and sack at linebacker – may have saved him. I believe this team will look hard at the waiver wire this weekend, and that the 53-man roster we get first will not be the roster than climbs on the plane to St. Louis.

— It looks like Sam Bradford has wrapped up the starting QB job for the Rams, which means Darnell Dockett will get his wish when the Cards visit St. Louis for the season opener. This defense was praying that would happen, even if Bradford may eventually turn out to be the real deal.

— Finally, Beanie Wells is OK. He could have gone back in, he said. But no reason to risk it. That’s what the fourth game of the preseason is about – minimizing risk.

And, maybe, reshuffling the quarterback depth chart.

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Leinart’s thoughts on the new Seahawks coach

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2010 – 4:43 pm

Pete Carroll already had a good thing going at USC before Matt Leinart became a college superstar, but it’s fair to say the Trojans’ program took its spot on the top of the college football heap during the Leinart years. And it’s obvious he and Carroll — who left the Trojans last week to become the new head coach and grand pooh-bah of the Seattle Seahawks — were close.

So it’s not surprising to hear that Leinart, from his perch in the Cardinals’ locker room, thinks Carroll will be successful in Seattle. And Leinart confirmed what many suspected for a long time, that Carroll had a desire to get back to the NFL and prove he could be successful and not just a near-.500 coach as he had been earlier in his career with the Jets and Patriots.

“Even when I was in college, if the right (NFL) opportunity presented itself, I knew he was going to jump all over it,” Leinart said. “This situation was too good to pass up. He’s such a competitive coach and person, I think it is challenging for him, he wants to be successful (in the NFL). He’s done pretty much all he could do in college, he probably could have been there forever and be one of the greatest coaches ever in college but the NFL has kind of always been what he has loved … it’s hard to say, but his personality, he’s always wanted to go (back) to the NFL and be successful and win.”

Now, the question is, can he win? The Seahawks are in transition, no longer the bullies of the NFC West. They are on their third coach in three seasons. They need or are going to need a new quarterback with Matt Hasselbeck seemingly near the end of his career. Carroll goes from being a college coach for a decade to not only coaching in the NFL but, by most accounts, having control over the roster (although the talk of bringing Floyd Reese in as general manager would probably be a good move).

Most importantly, it’ll be interesting to see how Carroll runs his team. NFL players don’t respond well to rah-rah head coaches; it’s one of the downfalls Carroll had during his first NFL stints. We’ll see if Carroll is different, or if his message is simply better received this time around. Obviously, the Cards will have a close-up view of his results.

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