Steelers aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 18, 2015 – 7:51 pm

It was tough not to get the feeling that, after a half in which it looked like the Cardinals would take control of their game against the Steelers but never did, the Cards missed their chance. That’s how it played out of course, with the hamstring injury of Mike Vick turning out to be the best thing to happen to the Steelers. Landry Jones looked OK, but the fact he was able to give Pittsburgh a semblance of a passing game made all the difference.

What it means now is that the Cardinals will again draw skeptics that they have lost to the only two decent teams on the schedule so far. That feeling probably won’t change in the next two weeks, with a Monday night game against the Ravens at home and then a trip to the feisty Browns. There was, not surprisingly, confidence in the locker room this will get fixed over the next week. It was, like the game itself, a lot like what happened after the Rams loss.

The Seahawks lost, at home to the Panthers, so the two-game division lead remains intact. The Cardinals play like they are capable, they win Sunday. But the math is simple in the NFL – everything else considered, when you’re minus-3 in turnovers, you’re almost always going to lose. If the Cards finish that next-to-last drive and Carson Palmer doesn’t throw a pick, well, again, we were saying the same thing after the near-game-saving drive against the Rams – you’re talking about a win regardless of the warts.

— It was a little surprising the Cardinals didn’t run it more. They gained only 55 yards on 20 carries, and the Steelers were stout on the day. But Andre Ellington only got one carry for seven yards, early, and then didn’t carry it again.

— Dwight Freeney got his first playing time as a pass rusher. I didn’t watch him a ton, but it seemed like he had a couple of pressures. That’ll be something to watch on the replay.

— The penalties just killed the Cardinals Sunday. Whether it was Michael Floyd’s offensive pass interference to negate a TD or Kevin Minter’s post-play push or the chop block, they didn’t help. There were definitely some questionable calls – the Markus Golden helmet-to-helmet hit wasn’t, as replays proved. But officials are calling that in real time and will always err on the side of caution.

Bruce Arians was blunt about how to fix the mistakes and penalties.

“Stop doing it,” Arians said. “Drag your foot closer and make a touchdown. Don’t give up an 80-yard touchdown.”

— He was talking about the Floyd-TD-that-wasn’t – a huge turn, and Floyd was a toe away from being in, it looked like – and then the final TD catch-and-run by Martavis Bryant. That may have been just as painful as the Palmer pick. A three-and-out there, and the Cards get the ball with about 1:50 left and one timeout. Instead, the game was over.

— So in the Cards’ two losses, they are 2-for-9 in the red zone. In their four wins, they are 16 for 17. The latter is an unrealistic pace to keep up, but still, it makes all the sense in the world to Larry Fitzgerald.

“Our issues on offense are pretty simple to me,” he said. “We are getting down there, we have a ton of offensive red zone snaps. We just have to execute them better. Point blank, that is where it stops. If we are scoring touchdowns and we put 30 points on the board we walk out of here with a win.”

This is true.

— Fitz did do one somewhat strange move late in the first half, during a timeout. He went over to the Steelers sideline to say hi to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who used to be the Cardinals’ OC back in 2007 and 2008. He promptly dove at Haley’s legs and tackled him – relatively gently – to the ground. Fitz used to do it all the time to Haley at practice (he’s done it to many people over the years, including me), although I will admit to see it during a game was different.

— Safe to say Floyd is back in the mix. One touchdown, and he was targeted for three others, although in one way or another they weren’t completions.

— It’s been a long week. Time to get home.


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Friday draft aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on May 1, 2015 – 9:26 pm

Day Two is in the books. Some quick notes and thoughts before I call it a night:

— After the trade Friday with the Ravens, the Cardinals have six picks on Saturday. There is a chance they won’t still have six by the time they draft Mr. Irrelevant to end the whole thing. GM Steve Keim said the trades might not be done. He mentioned a trade up possibility twice, so it’s on his mind.

“There are still a lot of guys (left) that Coach and I like,” Keim said. “We’ve had some conversations about going up (in a trade.) We will be active and aggressive. If there is someone we think that can help us, we will certainly make a jump at them.”

— As I noted in my story, Keim had Markus Golden on the brain Friday morning, long before the Cards were on the clock. That doesn’t mean they would’ve taken him no matter what, but they definitely feel good about the pick. Can he turn into James Harrison, as Bruce Arians suggested in who Golden reminded him of, well, we will see.

— The addition of RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa will help, but he’s got a long way to go to battle for the title of best Cardinal to come from Northern Iowa. That happens to be a quarterback who directed the team to the Super Bowl.

— Johnson will be in the mix for kickoff returns. “Yes indeed,” Arians said. “He and anybody else who can catch it,”

— Keim acknowledged the Cards were headed toward taking another offensive lineman Friday because of how their board fell. He made the point that another pass rusher or offensive lineman could end up another pick on Saturday.

— Nice job by Adrian Wilson making the announcement of the Golden pick. “Go Birdgang.” He’s a natural.

Adrian Wilson

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A chance at a comp pick

Posted by Darren Urban on March 18, 2015 – 12:26 pm

The spring owners meetings get underway Monday here in town at the Biltmore, and among the many things that will go on will be the annual reveal of the compensatory picks for April’s draft.

A quick refresher for those who don’t know about comp picks: Each year, there are a bunch of extra draft picks sprinkled in through the draft (starting in the third round) that are awarded to teams with a net loss of free agents from the year before. The exact formula for doling out picks isn’t public, but it’s a mixture of the player, his free agent contract and performance. Basically, if you lose more free agents than you sign, you’ll get an extra pick or two.

(Or more, perhaps. Baltimore often lets players leave as free agents with the idea of stockpiling comp picks to replenish the roster with cheap labor. It’s great if you hit on many draft picks. The Ravens have made it an art form.)

As for the Cardinals, has estimated that the Cards are in line for an extra seventh-round pick. Now, there are caveats to the various qualifying players in this admittedly complicated guesswork. The Cards could conceivably get an extra fifth-rounder instead of a seventh or maybe no comp pick at all. As it stands, the Cardinals have their seven original draft picks, starting with the 24th overall in the first round. Last season, the Cardinals added tackle Jared Veldheer, wide receiver Ted Ginn, guard Ted Larsen and running back Jonathan Dwyer in free agency. They lost linebacker Karlos Dansby, wide receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Jim Dray and cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Javier Arenas. (Players that are cut by their previous team do not factor in the equation, which is why bringing in Antonio Cromartie did not hurt the Cards in this example and why losing Darnell Dockett this year will not help in next year’s comp equation.)

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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.



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Defense wins championships(?)

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2013 – 12:25 pm

The Ravens won the Super Bowl and the 49ers reached the Big Game. Both teams have long been known for their defenses, and at one point last week, I saw someone note that regardless of what big numbers guys like Brady and Manning and Brees put up, teams with strong defenses were left standing at the end. Defenses win championships.

Except it’s not true.

I’m not saying the defenses of Baltimore and San Francisco aren’t good. Of course they are, and the 49ers’ defense in particular spurred them to another great season. But you can’t have a Super Bowl end with a score of 34-31 and say defense wins championships. It’s about the teams that can be effective offensively enough these days that will win the title. The Ravens did lock down the Colts in the Wild Card round (nine points) and the Patriots in the AFC Championship (13 points), but in both cases the offense did plenty, and certainly, the Ravens’ wins against the Broncos and Niners were more about scoring points than not allowing them. The 49ers provide a greater example, allowing 31, 24 and then 35 points in three postseason games. San Fran did shut out the Falcons in the second half of the NFC Championship, but if it wasn’t for an offense that could pile up four touchdowns, that wouldn’t have mattered.

Is it any wonder, then, that teams were looking for offensive head coaches? As well as the Cardinals’ defense played this season, the offense just wasn’t enough (and yes, I realize that is the understatement of the year.) The Cardinals’ defense in the 2008 season was just OK statistically, but it had it’s moments — and it could rely on an offense that could score points with anyone. Bruce Arians is here because the offense needs a fix. The Seahawks and Niners will be favorites going into next season not because they have good defenses — which they do — but because their offenses suddenly look explosive behind young quarterbacks.

A team still needs a good defense. The Ravens still needed a crucial stop at the end of the game in New Orleans to clinch their title. A poor defense gets you nowhere near a Super Bowl no matter what your offense is like (right, Saints?) But the days when a team can ride a defense practically alone to a title are long gone, like the 2000 Ravens did. The rules don’t allow it, and at some point, points are needed. These days, you need a championship offense to win a championship.


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Suggs’ near-miss in the desert

Posted by Darren Urban on January 30, 2013 – 10:41 am

It seems now a lifetime ago, a few years before the Cardinals would even move into their new stadium and the culture shift within the organization just beginning to take root. But the Cardinals had a high pick — sixth overall — in the 2003 draft, a need for a pass rusher and a local kid who dominated on the college level who wanted very much to play for the home team. It seemed logical that the Cards would end up with Terrell Suggs.

They didn’t, of course. The Cards instead made a trade with the Saints, swapping the first-round pick for the Saints’ two first-rounders (17 and 18) and the teams also swapped second-round picks. That actually moved the Cards lower in that round as well. In the end, the Saints took defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan, who was a wash-out. The Cardinals took defensive end Calvin Pace and wide receiver Bryant Johnson, each of whom had limited success (although Pace to parlay a decent 2007 season into a big free-agent contract with the Jets.) Of course, the Cards’ draft was made that year when, with the second-round pick, they took wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who performed like a first-rounder from jump.

Meanwhile, Suggs, who had 24 sacks in his final season at Arizona State, was taken 10th, by the Baltimore Ravens. That turned out pretty well for both him and the Ravens, and now he finds himself in the Super Bowl for the first time. That doesn’t mean the near miss with the Cardinals doesn’t still resonate, however.

“I was disappointed because I did want to play at home,” Suggs said during media day Tuesday on the Cards passing on him, “but it worked out better for everybody.”

Suggs began his prep career at Chandler High School a few miles from the Cardinals’ facility, eventually transferring to new (and burgeoning football powerhouse) Chandler Hamilton High School where he starred as both a defensive end and running back. Then he went to ASU where he dominated. The Cardinals were still battling perception around the league as a franchise, but Suggs wanted to stay right where he had made a name for himself.

The trade didn’t come out of nowhere — rumors of the Saints deal were floating around a day or two before the draft commenced — but it did leave an impact locally. Obviously, in hindsight, Pace (or even Pace plus Johnson) didn’t equal Suggs. On the flip side, no one would have guessed that day the Cards would have actually reached the Super Bowl before the Suggs-infused Ravens. (From the file of storylines-that-could-have-been: The Ravens and Suggs lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the year the Cards made it to the Super Bowl.)

“We had a hint that they might do (a trade), but I was thinking that they wouldn’t,” Suggs said. “I wasn’t surprised, but like I said, it was a rumor that they might do it so it didn’t catch me all off-guard. I was disappointed when they did, but like I said, that was 10 years ago and it all worked out for the best now.”


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Versus the final four

Posted by Darren Urban on January 20, 2012 – 1:37 pm

It’s an inevitable comparison, especially when the NFL gets down to a Final Four and the team you cover (or root for, in the case of a fan) isn’t one of those four: How exactly did Team Whomever fare against those left? The Cardinals had four games against three of the teams, sporting a 1-3 record. They split with the 49ers, of course, playing poorly (especially on offense) in San Francisco and then dramatically holding off the division champs in Arizona (in the only one of the last five home games of the season that didn’t go to overtime).

The losses to the Ravens and Giants, of course, were the two most painful of the season. In both cases the Cardinals probably should have won given the circumstances, with a 24-3 lead in Baltimore late in the first half in the first case and a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left at home in the second.

Of course, “should have” is a dangerous concept in this league. There are eight opponents of the Cards this season that were undoubtedly thinking “should have” after the Cards knocked them off. Still, second-guessing isn’t limited to fans and media. Players and coaches all say they put it behind them by Tuesday — and in the context of the season, they usually do — but it lingers and gets rehashed.

Not that it has an impact this weekend.

Speaking of this weekend, I’d be curious, if I could take a poll (and it was answered honestly) what the results would be about the 49ers’ place in the NFC title game and what they want to happen. Is it a case of guys wanting the NFC West to succeed? Or has enough bile built up that they are hoping the Niners get knocked off?

— As a postscript apropos of nothing, guard Daryn Colledge (who has been here rehabbing his surgically repaired elbow) and his wife donated $150,000 to his alma mater, Boise State, today to improve the weight room for the athletics program. Colledge was a four-year starter at Boise from 2002-05.

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Ravens aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 30, 2011 – 6:22 pm

I’ll start with Beanie.

You could see it, every time he tried to bounce it outside, that his right knee was trouble. He had no burst of speed. He couldn’t get the corner. And a few times after he was hit, the Ravens blasted him on the leg. He couldn’t get as many carries as he normally would have. Physically he couldn’t do it.

Yet there he was, plowing into the line. There he was, going over the top for a touchdown. There he was, probably needing to come out of the game after being blasted by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata on a third-and-1 but insisting to the sideline he wanted to stay in for a crucial fourth down and cracking off a four-yard rush on the next play.

The Cardinals didn’t win, but I – and anyone else watching – had to be impressed by Wells. That is one of those tangible things you see when anyone asks about the team shutting it down during this losing streak.

Of course, that doesn’t make the losing easier. Not the way it happened Sunday. For a half, it felt like a corner had been turned. There were things that helped, with Ravens’ turnovers and Patrick Peterson’s electric punt return, of course. Kevin Kolb didn’t have exciting numbers in the first half (other than the 66-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald) but he did look more comfortable.

From there, though, the offense stumbled and the defense couldn’t stop Anquan Boldin. Hard loss.

— Larry Fitzgerald only had three receptions, for 98 yards. He was only targeted on five passes total, much too low of a number. Fitzgerald, however, said the Cards called his number “six or seven times” in the second half.

“It’s not like they’re not calling my number,” Fitzgerald said. “The ball has to go where the ball needs to be depending on the coverage. If Kevin forces the ball and (Ravens safety) Ed Reed is over the top of me, time and time again, Ed Reed makes people pay for those types of mistakes. The calls were there.”

Fair enough. The Cards have to find a way though.

— The Ravens’ defense harasses quarterbacks better than any defense in the NFL, but Kolb has to complete more passes. Under 50 percent for a game in today’s NFL – where you really need to be at least at 60 percent to be better than average – isn’t going to get it done.

— The Cards had a defensive sub-package that had Richard Marshall at safety instead of Rashad Johnson. After A.J. Jefferson’s tough game – he was the one covering Boldin most of the time when Boldin went off — Marshall took Jefferson’s spot on the last drive when Jefferson was kept on the sideline. Marshall still gave up the bomb that sealed the Cards’ fate.

— Jefferson, meanwhile, tweeted this out afterward: “Only so many people actually know the schemes n game. I do what I’m told, If I had it my way… Well it’d be my way. #ItisWhatItis ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

— One last cornerbacks thought: Peterson likes playing physical, but in the NFL, it’s going to get you penalties more often than not. That’s going to be part of his learning curve – until/if he becomes a star and they let him get away with it more often.

— Right tackle Brandon Keith was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Jeremy Bridges. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he didn’t know if it’d be permanent. “We made a move because we had, obviously, given up two plays there and weren’t getting the job done,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ll work this week and whoever practices better will be the guy that plays there.”

— Boldin insisted again after the game playing the Cardinals meant nothing extra. No, I don’t believe him either.

— Linebacker Terrell Suggs, the ASU product from Chandler who everyone thought was going to be drafted by the Cards until the Cards traded on draft day, 2003, was the opposite. He admitted it does mean something to go against the Cards. He played like it – 13 tackles, a sack, four tackles for loss.

— I don’t know if Sam Acho or O’Brien Schofield will ever get to that level, but they each got a sack in the first game Joey Porter missed. Acho has two sacks, one more than Porter, in much less playing time.

— If FB Anthony Sherman’s left ankle injury is a lingering problem, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cards do at the position. There are no other fullbacks. And with Todd Heap and now Rob Housler gimpy, they are short on tight ends too.

— I don’t know how bad the Kolb foot injury is. (UPDATE: I have been alerted Whisenhunt said on the postgame radio show Kolb has turf toe.) He played the whole game, and even had that gutsy first-down scramble late in the game, prior to the Cards’ final punt. Between that and Beanie’s injury – and Wells thinks his knee is going to be an issue the rest of the season – ouch.

— Of course, that’s what the day was too.


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Friday before the Ravens

Posted by Darren Urban on October 28, 2011 – 4:07 pm

The question was about quarterback Kevin Kolb taking “heat” – or too much of it – given the way the first six games had gone. Coach Ken Whisenhunt shook his head, although his answer wasn’t just about Kolb.

“I don’t think anybody can take too much heat when your record is where it is,” Whisenhunt said. “We have to be very clear about it. Our expectations are not to be where we are as a team. We are disappointed. It hurts. We hurt all the time, because we want to be good. We want our fans to be proud of our team. We haven’t done that.

“Criticism is justified. That’s this game. If fans weren’t out there caring then we’d be concerned. All I’ll tell you is that we are working hard and we that we believe we are going to get it fixed.”

Getting it fixed this weekend in Baltimore is a major task. The time change shouldn’t be an issue – I write this at 30,000 feet on the flight east on Friday – although playing better is. I remember the last time the Cards played in Baltimore/played the Ravens. That was the 2007 visit, in which Kurt Warner had his initial “Wow, maybe he’ll have a rebirth” thoughts has he shredded the Ravens splitting time with Matt Leinart (Anquan Boldin, coincidentally, had 14 catches for 181 yards that day too).

— Given that Whisenhunt acknowledged Monday that the fear was that running back Beanie Wells was done for the season when he first hurt his knee last weekend against the Steelers, it’s amazing to me he was able to practice as much as he did this week. I thought there would be three DNPs, and instead, Beanie got in a pair of improving “limited” showings. Will he play Sunday? I think he is about as truly “questionable” as a player can get – which is 50/50.

— Speaking of questionables, I can’t see how tight end Todd Heap doesn’t make it back on the field. He downplayed going back to Baltimore, but at the same time, admitted it’s hard to not carry the knowledge of playing his former team. (Plus, Heap made a big deal this weekend by taking out a full-page ad in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.)

His former Ravens mates are looking forward to seeing him too. “The love is always going to be there off the field,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Of course, once you put on a different colored jersey, here we go again. If the ball comes his way, and it just happens I’m there, I might tap him on his shoulder a little bit.”

— Speaking of carrying the knowledge of playing his former team, I don’t believe for a second Anquan Boldin is treating this like any other game.

— And speaking of Heap, he was at the center of that 2007 game. The Ravens won that game by kicking a field goal right at the end of the game after Heap made an impressive catch – and somehow held on when Adrian Wilson absolutely blew him up on a hit (pictured below). Wilson was flagged (I still don’t think it should have been a personal foul given the rules at the time, although these days, it might be) and the Ravens got 15 free yards toward their field goal.

— It was the story of Ravens tackle Michael Oher that was immortalized in the movie “The Blind Side.” The Cardinals have their own tie – practice squad cornerback Marshay Green is close friends with Oher, having played together in college at Ole Miss.

“He was one of the first people I met and ever since then we’ve been tight,” Green said. Green spent a ton of time with the family, including Oher’s adoptive parents Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. Then, the movie came out.

“It was crazy,” Green said. “I had spent my whole college career with the guy, we joked around, all kind of stuff, playing video games — I never thought it’d be a movie.”

— Given the Ravens’ status as the No. 1 defense and their own offensive troubles, this is a huge game for the Cards’ own defense. Darnell Dockett declined to speak this week – he is from the Baltimore area and it’s safe to say this game means a ton to him – but he did tweet at one point, in part, “I gave 6 games to give the other cats some now its time to give 90 a run.” Not sure if that means Dockett is getting more free reign or what, but he will be one to watch Sunday.

On to Baltimore.

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Schedule hope

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2011 – 3:19 pm

In the middle of waiting for the labor problems to be resolved comes the news the 2011 regular-season schedule will be released tomorrow — Tuesday — at 4 p.m. Arizona time (which is 7 p.m. Eastern). I know, I know, there are some of you who feel “What’s the point” until there is a labor agreement, and clearly, the NFL has taken part of that into account. Another game in London, between the Bears and Bucs, has been scheduled for Oct. 23 — except there is a caveat that the game will move back to Tampa Bay if a new labor agreement hasn’t been reached by Aug. 1.

As a quick reminder, the Cards’ home schedule includes the NFC West teams, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Carolina, Cleveland and the New York Giants. The away schedule includes the NFC West, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington.

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