You can see the emphasis Steve Wilks is putting on special teams early on in his tenure, devoting a good chunk of both Phase Two and Phase Three on-field work every day to let special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers do his thing. Along those lines, the Cardinals have had some pretty good special teamers over the years, and that was noted when veteran NFL reporter Rick Gosselin — who has long had a detailed system on how to rank special teams units and is an expert on that part of the game — created his all-time special teams lineup.
Three Cardinals made the list, all for their coverage work. Four-time Cardinals special teams Pro Bowler Ron Wolfley, now the Cards’ color analyst, made Gosselin’s first team, along with a quote from Patriots coach Bill Belichick — who was Wolfley’s coach when both were in Cleveland.
“Wolfley had less speed than those other guys,” Belichick said. “But he was very tough with a top motor. He was physical to run through blockers. He wasn’t always the first downfield, but he was around the ball and smart to recognize wall returns and the blocking schemes. He played next to the center on the punt team and was both strong and smart in protection.”
The other two Cardinals landed on the second-team, and are more recent vintage. The just-departed Justin Bethel never quite worked out as a cornerback, but he was excellent on special teams, making three Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Cardinals. And Sean Morey was one of the first players Ken Whisenhunt brought over from Pittsburgh. Morey made a Pro Bowl as a Cardinal as well, memorably blocking a punt in overtime in 2008 that Monty Beisel recovered for a game-winning overtime touchdown against Dallas.
Tags: Bill Belichick, Justin Bethel, Ron Wolfley, Sean Morey
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The Cardinals’ offense was inconsistent much of the season, certainly compared to the previous season. And in light of 2015 — when the Cardinals smashed the franchise record for points in a season with 489 — most seasons were going to suffer in comparison. But as I look through the aftermath of this season (and look at some of the notes stat guru Mike Helm puts together), one of the stats that sticks out is the 418 points the Cardinals finished with for the season.
No, it’s not 489, but it’s not far off the 427 the 2008 Super Bowl-reaching team collected, a 427 that had been the franchise record before the 2015 squad came along. In fact, the 418 points the Cards scored this season was fourth all-time in team history. And it was mostly the offense that drove it — special teams did not score this season, and the defense accounted for 22 points (three return TDs, two safeties.)
The total was aided by a flourish of a finish, with 41, 34 and 44 points in the final three games. But even with all their troubles, the Cardinals were held to 20 points or less only five times (and appropriately went 0-4-1 in those games.) That was with what seemed like a rotating door on the offensive line, especially late when the scoring jumped, and with an underachieving wide receiving corps.
As Ron Wolfley likes to say, the ability to score provides hope. The Cardinals have had many years where that hope didn’t exist. The current version still allows for that hope.
Tags: offense, Ron Wolfley, Super Bowl
Posted in Blog | 31 Comments »
There were plenty of things to watch at Saturday’s Red-White practice, but in case you didn’t see it, Larry Fitzgerald made a catch heading out of bounds and before he came back inbounds, he took a slight detour to tackle former Cardinal and current game analyst Ron Wolfley before running back on the field. It was captured by various in-stadium cameras so it was preserved for all eternity.
Those that are around are well aware that Fitz likes to tackle innocent bystanders. Having covered this team for Fitz’s entire career, I’ve seen it many, many times. So I thought this might be an apropos time, in this day and age of power rankings, to throw in my own rankings of Fitz’s top five tackles. Unfortunately, one on James Harrison does not exist. Without further adieu:
5. Media members. Fitz isn’t shy of taking down a reporter. I’ve been on the receiving end of those a couple of times, although in recent years he prefers to toss the ball at me while I’m taking photos, so that’s a whole different balancing act.
4. Tackling Steelers OC Todd Haley during the game in Pittsburgh last year, only the latest example of Fitz dogging Haley in all the years they’ve known each other, dating back to Haley’s OC days in Arizona.
3. Fitz’s attempted tackle of OC Harold Goodwin, which instead turned into a Goodwin bear hug. Fitz didn’t read his keys at the Greenbrier that day.
2. Taking Wolf down (the fact we have multiple views of it on video just makes it better.)
1. Anytime Fitz takes down a kid with a big smile. I’ve seen it against the pee-wee football players that often play “games” at halftime of a Cardinals’ game, and I’ve seen it with the children of Cards’ people, like the sons of GM Steve Keim or VP of media relations Mark Dalton. Fitz is just a big kid in that regard.
You better pay attention when @LarryFitzgerald is around.
— #CardsCamp (@AZCardinals) August 7, 2016
Tags: Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Ron Wolfley, Todd Haley
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As a prelude to some live video chats we will have in Indianapolis at the Scouting combine — details are still being fleshed out, but the hope is to have all the big decision-makers among the guests –myself and Cards’ analyst Ron Wolfley will be taking part in a video chat Thursday morning at 10 a.m. We’ll talk all things Cardinals — whatever might be on your mind. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to @azcardinals using the hash tag #AZCardsChat.
The video can be seen at www.azcardinals.com/livevideo, which will also be the link to all the combine video chats. Again, more info to come on those, because I will be asking for submitted questions on those as well.
— I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but Josh Weinfuss has a great story on former Cardinal Roy Green, his kidney transplant and how Nicole Bidwill has put herself out there as a dancer to help raise money for the cause. Watch a video of Roy and Nicole here, and maybe donate a couple of bucks to the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona.
Tags: live chat, Nicole Bidwill, Ron Wolfley, Roy Green
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There will be many things that people will be waiting to see Sunday when the Cards finally kick off against the Bills – how the Cards’ run game looks, whether the Bills have recovered from a couple of historical beat-downs – but from the Cardinals’ side of the fence, it’ll be Arizona’s first few pass plays that will be under the microscope. The Bills won’t have (struggling) defensive end Mark Anderson, although they do have (struggling) defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and (struggling) defensive end Mario Williams. There has been plenty of talk not surprisingly, from the Buffalo perspective that their pass rush can get healthy against the Cards. It’s vice versa for the Cards, who count on righting the pass-protection ship after surrendering 17 sacks the past two games.
“If you go into the game thinking that you are going to do that just because, you could be in for a rude awakening,” Mario Williams said. “If we go out and think, ‘Oh well, it’s going to be easy because the last two teams did this,’ we could be in for a rude awakening.”
Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb spoke again this week about how there were many facets in the pas game that need to do better to improve the pass protection. Someone suggested more three-step drops for Kolb, which the quarterback dismissed. “You can’t just go to three-step drops,” Kolb said. “That’s not the way the game is.”
You can’t just do a lot of anything. Pro teams – and pro coaches – figure that out soon enough. Leave more guys in to block? OK, but that’s fewer people in pass routes, and fewer options for which Kolb to pass. Coach Ken Whisenhunt knows he needs better technique from his blockers, better protection schemes and better overall play. There’s will have been 10 days to try and iron some of this out.
— There are two banged-up teams going out to play. With cornerbacks Greg Toler and Michael Adams doubtful, it sure sounds like rookie Jamell Fleming will be thrust back into a prominent defensive role. And kind-of-newcomer Crezdon Butler may be active right off the bat after being away from the team since being cut at the end of the preseason. The Bills, meanwhile, are missing a pair of starting offensive linemen themselves.
— Cornerback William Gay, who stands to start across from Patrick Peterson again Sunday, has struggled at times. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said it is technique issues with Gay, and along those lines, Gay’s role was reduced against the Rams. “Obviously, he’s capable,” Horton said. “He had a good week of practice. We reduced his role and message sent, I believe. Now, whether message was received or not, we’ll find out.”
— The Bills have allowed 97 points the last two games, to the Patriots and 49ers. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cardinals will suddenly break out, but if the Cards’ offense is going to have a chance to improve, this is a matchup you want.
— Quarterback John Skelton is listed as probable for the first time since his ankle injury. I fully expect Kolb to start – who wouldn’t? – but Skelton, I would guess, would be the backup. After that, I don’t know if we are going to have any big announcement or not. The Cards are going to go through the gauntlet on the schedule after this game, at Minnesota, home against the Niners, at Green Bay and at Atlanta, which will be rough on whoever is playing QB.
— Today is Adrian Wilson’s birthday. He turned 33. His biceps don’t look a day over 27.
— Yes, I used that on Twitter.
— Speaking of birthdays, analyst and Cardinals Underground compatriot Ron Wolfley turns 50 Sunday, with the Cards playing against his hometown team. How great is that?
— The Cards are wearing black Sunday, as a reminder. And pink. This is the annual Breast Cancer Awareness game, in case you are still putting together your gameday outfit.
— It probably saved an interception return for a touchdown – and it wasn’t even flagged at the time – but wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was dinged for a $7,850 fine from the NFL after grabbing cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ facemask on a play against the Rams. The Rams didn’t escape fines for their play, though. Two players were nailed for roughing up Kevin Kolb – defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo was fined $7,875 for roughing the passer when he ripped Kolb’s helmet off, while defensive end Robert Quinn was fined $15,750 for hitting Kolb helmet-to-helmet.
— Fitz needs 48 receiving yards to reach 10,000 in his career.
— Fitz, by the way, wasn’t about to pop off about the Bills’ struggles. “I always remember my grandfather said, you let a sleeping dog lie,” he said. “We just don’t want to ruffle any feathers and try to sneak out of here with a ‘W’ without getting anyone upset.”
It seems like it’s been forever since the Cards last played.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bills, Greg Toler, Jamell Fleming, Janoris Jenkins, Jermelle Cudjo, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Michael Adams, Rams, Ray Horton, Robert Quinn, Ron Wolfley, William Gay
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The Cardinals will wear their black uniforms Sunday against the Eagles, the first time this season. I’m not sure when the other black-uniform date will be or if there will be one, but teams can’t wear their alternate third jersey on national TV (which rules out the Monday night game against the 49ers) nor can they wear them after the flex scheduling starts after the Cardinals’ bye week Nov. 11. So that obviously narrows the choices. Feels like it might be the Bills?
Some other news and notes:
— The Cardinals’ win in New England was nominated for the GMC “Never Say Never” moment award for the week. It’s a fan-vote thing, so you can vote here.
— I had some fans asking about seeing video of the PatCat formation. So here you go.
— If you want to rub shoulders with all the Cardinals and even bowl a little, check out the upcoming Kingpin Challenge Oct. 8 held for Cardinals Charities. All the details are here.
Tags: black uniforms, Dave Pasch, PatCat, Ron Wolfley
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It’s an early entry for the “Before” version of the Broncos game, because later today I’ll put out my best guess at what the 53-man roster will look like on Friday. I know — I’m sure you are all waiting with bated breath. There isn’t much to say before the final preseason game. We can talk about the final 53 and fighting for spots, but there are only a couple of roster holes you figure are still being determined (and really, it might not even be that many.)
— I wouldn’t want to have a post without mentioning the quarterback decision. I had one of those crazy thoughts as I was drifting off to sleep last night, a “What if” – as in, “What if coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to announce his QB in the postgame presser after the Denver game?” It won’t happen, I know, but that’d be one heck of a way to do it. Instead, I expect a press conference Friday since final cuts have to be made that day. That makes sense as a time he could do it. (Maybe I’m just wishing and hoping so I get a weekend off.) Either way, the decision is coming, which is good. I’m sure everyone is tired of talking about it. I know I’m ready for it to be over.
— There are three areas where you really wonder if this game will determine some spots. One is reserve offensive line – specifically, whether draft picks Senio Kelemete and/or Nate Potter have shown enough to nudge out a veteran. Another is defensive back, where you have a lot of choices and not a ton of spots. The other is running back, where William Powell gets his shot to play early, and we see if that is enough to unseat Alfonso Smith for a place on the roster.
— Peyton Manning is not expected to play against the Cardinals Thursday night. But the Broncos do have another quarterback that will generate interest, with rookie Brock Osweiler slated to come in after starter Caleb Hanie.
— With Dave Pasch off to be ESPN’s voice for the first game of the rest of Penn State’s life, Paul Calvisi will team with Ron Wolfley for the TV broadcast tomorrow night on ABC 15. It’s like Cardinals Underground, without me.
— The Cards are taking part in a backpack drive again this year, collecting new or gently used backpacks for needy kids. The program benefits the “Hope Endures” organization. Backpacks can be dropped off at UoP Stadium gates before the Broncos game.
OK. I’m off to the annual Kickoff Luncheon with the team. I’ll opine on the roster later. The preseason is almost over.
Tags: Alfonso Smith, Brock Osweiler, Broncos, Dave Pasch, Ken Whisenhunt, Nate Potter, Paul Calvisi, Peyton Manning, preseason, Ron Wolfley, Senio Kelemete, William Powell
Posted in Blog | 25 Comments »
Ah, Nashville. The last two times we were here, the story was always the quarterback. In 2009, Kurt Warner, last moment, decided his concussion wouldn’t let him play, and Matt Leinart almost had the game he needed – until Vince Young put together a 99-yard drive to finish the game and the Cardinals. The last time here was the beginning of the end for Leinart, the preseason week spent in Tennessee where Leinart was demoted from the first unit in favor of Derek Anderson and we all know how that turned out.
Some things never change. Quarterbacks are still front and center. John Skelton gets the start and ostensibly, the chance to put a stranglehold on the job. Kevin Kolb will play. Coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t given any indication this battle is over. This game will mean something. Ron Wolfley made a point the other day both on the podcast and his radio show that Kolb has probably been better in practice where Skelton has been better in games, which is why this is probably closer for coaches than fans (who don’t watch practice daily but watch the games.)
In any case, it looks like this game will only add to the quarterback legacy that Cards’ trips to Nashville have built.
— Watching Beanie Wells in a game for the first time will be fascinating. We’re on the precipice of the regular season. It looks like Ryan Williams is in good shape to be ready as expected. It’s time for Wells to make a similar step. It has been suggested Beanie runs with a limp. Some of that has to do with getting used to his brace and getting back on the field for the first time in a while. But those of us who have observed Beanie have always noticed what to me, at least, seems like an awkward gait when Wells walks quickly or runs half-speed, even when totally healthy. When he turns it up, it disappears.
— Larry Fitzgerald said he knew all along there probably wouldn’t be a choice at quarterback just yet. “You can’t just give guys one game. That’s not much of a competition,” he said. “We knew it would probably come down to the wire.”
— D.J. Young and D’Anthony Batiste get their chance to show what they can do at left tackle. Will one emerge? Maybe. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Batiste has a better shot than Young. There are more options than Batiste at right tackle, which could be Jeremy Bridges or even just sinking or swimming with rookie Bobby Massie (although the Massie move might be easier to deal with if Brown was still in the lineup). A savior isn’t coming, though. The Cardinals might pick someone up in free agency or the waiver wire, but again, anyone on the street is on the street for a reason. Chad Clifton is available, for instance, because he’s been injured and is 36. Anyone cut next week will be cut because there were at least two guys better than him on his previous roster. That’s reality.
(And a quick side note on the depth behind Brown, and the Cards being caught unprepared – you always want the best depth you can get on the roster, but I’m not sure you build a roster with the idea of a guy possibly going down with a season-ending injury. You’re counting on the starter to be there, especially a guy like Brown, who had played every game for the last four seasons. I think they felt Batiste/Bridges would have been fine as a Brown fill-in for a game or two.)
— Brown had his surgery, by the way. The Cardinals have to trim 15 players off the roster by Monday (although it may come as soon as Friday.) One of those moves, I would think, would be Brown’s move to injured reserve. I just don’t see them saving a roster spot for an end-of-season return. We will see.
— Left guard Daryn Colledge on losing Levi: “If anyone was (indestructible) I thought it would be Levi. Anyone who tears a triceps and just takes a knee (after the play) and talks about it, that’s a pretty studly guy to me. But anyone can go down on any play, that’s the hard part about preseason. We lose him in Week 14, that’s something, but lose him in Minus-Week 3, that’s one of the worst things that can happen.”
— Lots of questions about whether Quan Sturdivant is going to make the team, but it seems like a longshot with the way Reggie Walker has been playing. Your starters are Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon, and I think both Walker and Stewart Bradley have played well in the preseason. Four inside linebackers seems like enough. It’s been suggested that maybe the $3 million for Lenon might put him on the bubble, but the way he has performed and with his durability, I just don’t see him anywhere but the roster.
— Besides the first cuts that I mentioned earlier, final cuts must be made the day after the final preseason game, Friday the 31st.
Tags: Beanie Wells, Bobby Massie, Chad Clifton, D'Anthony Batiste, D.J. Young, Daryl Washington, Daryn Colledge, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Matt Leinart, Paris Lenon, Quan Sturdivant, Reggie Walker, Ron Wolfley, Ryan Williams, Stewart Bradley, Titans
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Justin Bethel understood the goal. “Going in I knew I needed to play well on special teams,” he said.
The rookie sixth-round draft pick knows he’d have a tough time making the team just as a safety. But he was a special-teams demon in college and showed it Sunday against the Saints. He whiffed on one of his early attempts but made an impressive tackle as a punt gunner — blowing past two blockers to bring down the return man just as he caught the ball — and the came off the edge, a la Patrick Peterson, to get a hand on a 54-yard field-goal attempt. At one point, he even told special teams coach Kevin Spencer he would block a punt too, if he had been given the chance.
On the blocked field goal, Bethel wasn’t on the outside and tried to get a teammate to switch. He was turned down, but a timeout was called and Spencer made the move anyway. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to go get it now,’ ” Bethel said. “I just wish I could have gotten it a little more so I could have tried to pick it up, but a block is a block.”
Bethel’s abilities create a lot of options for the Cards. Would his work mean it was less likely to keep special teams ace Michael Adams at cornerback, or might the Cards keep both and punch up what analyst Ron Wolfley likes to call the “transition game.” It’s Bethel’s only option to the active roster, because it’s hard to see him breaking into the safety rotation soon.
“I wanted to show up on special teams,” Bethel said. “We have great safeties. Kerry (Rhodes), Adrian (Wilson), Rashad Johnson and James (Sanders). I know if I can make the team on special teams it will give me time to mature and learn, where they can trust me not only on special teams but defense, making the right calls and making the right plays.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson, James Sanders, Justin Bethel, Kerry Rhodes, Michael Adams, Rashad Johnson, Ron Wolfley, Saints
Posted in Blog | 16 Comments »
The last week of the season – in a playoff-less year – is always so strange. The grind is the same all week, just like every other week. Then the game happens Sunday, and you can almost hear the squeal of the brakes as everything comes to an abrupt halt.
There’s always some cleanup involved. I’ll be down in the locker room Monday talking to some of the players who are scheduled to be free agents and getting a sense of the offseason to come. It’ll be different. This is the first time in three offseasons quarterback won’t be the major story. After the ’08 season, the team had to re-sign Kurt Warner, which took a little time (and a visit to San Francisco for Warner). After ’09, it was the Warner retirement speculation (which ultimately happened). Last year, everyone knew the starting quarterback wasn’t in the locker room (plus the lockout was going to mess with things).
I’m not 100 percent sure who the starting QB will be in 2012 – if you ask me on Dec. 30, 2011, I’m saying Kevin Kolb – but I feel pretty good in saying he is already on the roster.
But there is a game left, one more weekend to barrel into full speed.
— Skelton will start one last time against the Seahawks with a chance to put the slow start thing in the rear view. One thing I do like about Skelton – he hasn’t sugar-coated his issues. Of the five sacks suffered in Cincy last weekend, “either three or four of them were probably on me, whether it’s not throwing a hot throw or not throwing a safety sight or just holding it too long.”
“Like anything, with experience and time, (quicker starts) will come,” Skelton said. “At the same time, there are mistakes that even a rookie shouldn’t be making that I’m making out there sometimes.”
Why, he is asked. “That’s the million-dollar question,” Skelton said. “I don’t know.”
The Seattle defense is pretty good. It hasn’t allowed more than 19 points in a game in more than a month. It gave up just 10 to the Cards in the first meeting (although kicker Jay Feely missed a couple of field goals that day). Skelton will be tested.
— Honestly, I was a little surprised that Patrick Peterson could do as much as he did today. After the Cincinnati game, I was sure there was no way he’d play against Seattle. Now it seems like a legit game0-day decision.
— Linebacker Sam Acho has six sacks, which is the most for a Cardinals’ rookie since … wait for it … Mark Smith had six in 1997.
— Fitz needs 38 yards to reach 1,300. He needs 138 to reach 1,400. I expect the former, not the latter, but if he ends up with 1,400 yards, I may say, given circumstances, it’s his best season.
— If the Cards beat the Seahawks, that’ll be five straight home wins. The franchise hasn’t done that since 1976.
— If you are looking for some of Ron Wolfley’s annual Cards awards – including some highlights of the team’s coolest plays of the year – watch this piece.
— I have not heard about the roof status for Sunday. It’s supposed to be 75 degrees, which is right at the general cutoff they have for the roof (an outside temp of 75 gets it hotter in certain parts of the stadium). I am expecting a game-day decision.
— Linebacker Joey Porter told Kent Somers he wants to play in 2012. I guess that doesn’t surprise me. I think I might be surprised if he can find a team. He really struggled this year when he did play.
— It’s telling that DC Ray Horton called Richard Marshall “my MVP” because what he allowed Horton to do with the defense. Of course, Calais Campbell and Adrian Wilson and Daryl Washington had very good years. But the guys who are versatile and become key components, those catch the coaches’ eyes and Marshall has done just that.
Marshall is a free agent and is open to returning. He’s also one of those players that, not mincing words, got screwed in free agency because of the lockout and the CBA rules on restricted FA the last couple of years. Word is it bothered him in Carolina. But he’s been a model locker room man. He’s up studying video with DB coach Louie Cioffi all the time (I’ve seen him in there) and he didn’t blink when asked to play safety. You want an under-the-radar guy on this defense, Marshall is it.
— I have had a lot of people ask me if I think 8-8 is a successful season. I answer like this, in context – because you always need context.
Before the season, I thought this team was going to go 9-7 and win the division. I obviously didn’t see the 49ers coming. In the end, 8-8 is pretty close (assuming the Cards win Sunday) to where I thought they would be. A successful season is making the postseason when you think you can, and the Cards rightfully felt they could have before the season. Hard to claim success when you don’t make there.
They lost in Baltimore when they shouldn’t have. I remember being down on the field for the end of the Rams’ game, thinking that it would hurt this team so much if they fell to a bad Rams team, even if the Cards too were bad. Peterson took care of that, and off they went.
Being around here when the Cards ran off the road, walking the halls when the team had lost six straight, to think they’d even sniff .500, I mean, it was hard to think that. On the doorstep now, success might not be the word I’d use. But I’d echo coach Ken Whisenhunt: I do think it’d be significant.
Tags: Joey Porter, John Skelton, Patrick Peterson, Ray Horton, Richard Marshall, Ron Wolfley, Sam Acho, Seahawks
Posted in Blog | 26 Comments »