Pressure and feeling pressure

Posted by Darren Urban on September 24, 2013 – 9:15 am

Pressure their quarterback, protect your quarterback from pressure. In a lot of ways, that’s what today’s NFL turns on each game.

The numbers from the Saints game were encouraging and discouraging at the same time in those areas. analyzed the game and noted that Carson Palmer was pressured on 13 of 39 dropbacks. You want it to be better, but in retrospect, it seemed like Palmer was pressured more than that (and it underscores some of the issues Palmer had himself throwing the ball.) On those 13 drops, Palmer was just 1-for-9 and was sacked four times. And all four sacks came without blitzing, on a four-man rush. (And as a side note, Palmer did not complete any of the four passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield.)

Arians said the offensive line will “just continue to work.”

“Crowd noise affects those guys and it couldn’t have been any louder,” Arians added. “They just have to continue to work on it. It will be a challenge (this week.)

On the other side of the ball, PFF noted the four sacks and charted three hits on Drew Brees and 16 hurries — all good numbers. Arians’ problem? It should have been better.

“Biggest thing defensively, we missed some wide-open sacks,” Arians said. “We had just running free that were unblocked. Didn’t get the sack. Drew got away, got the ball out. His yards rushing was huge. It’s hard to come up with blitzes where guys from free but we did it about four times in the game and got no sacks.”

Making more problems for the defense was missed tackles. PFF counted 14 missed tackles, the Cards’ worst total the year. That definitely has to change, quickly. The Cards got a little sloppy against the Rams and adjusted for the Lions’ win. Time to adjust again.



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An equation for sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on November 2, 2012 – 10:54 am

The math seems pretty simple.

The Cardinals and Packers are currently tied for the NFL lead with 26 sacks each, and each have a dynamic linebacker who is leading the way (Daryl Washington has eight for the Cardinals, Clay Matthews has nine for the Packers). On the flip side, while it’s known around these part the Cardinals have surrendered the most sacks while on offense (39), the Packers have allowed the second-most sacks (28).

“(The Cardinals) have a have a uniqueness to their pressure in that their interior three guys are all very good pass rushers, which you don’t always see in a 3-4,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and certainly it seems that Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett can create more havoc than most 3-4 ends. “This is a unique challenge because it’s a defense that kind of throws a different pressure package at you, so it’s been an intense week of preparation.”

Given all that, it would sure seem like the team that can best protect its quarterback Sunday would gain an advantage. It may not be easy. It also isn’t a surprise to note both teams have had trouble running the ball this season, another way opposing teams can amp up its pass rush — knowing a pass is coming. Of course, in this matchup, props must also belong to defenses that know how to get to a passer. The Cards and coordinator Ray Horton can bring pressure from a lot of different places, and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers can do the same.

“Dom is one of those guys who wants blood,” said Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge, a former Packer. “He’s got a couple of guys who can rush the passer and the way we are doing pass pro right now, I’d assume those guys want to rush the passer too.”

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Nothing new for Miller, and some sack changes

Posted by Darren Urban on September 28, 2012 – 9:23 am

There’s been a lot of talk about the Cardinals adjusting their playcalling to fit with what seems to be a transitioning philosophy on offense — a little more deliberate, sticking with the run, etc. But offensive coordinator Mike Miller said nothing really has changed in what he has been dialing up on game days.

“It feels pretty much the same,” Miller said. “I haven’t really done anything differently. We’ve made adjustments in-game that come up specific to that opponent. But as far as the way we call it, I mean, we ran no-huddle in the Seattle game, mixed it up in the New England game. It’s been ‘up’ we just haven’t called it.”

Through three games, the Cardinals are fairly balanced, although not 50-50. The Cardinals have 87 pass attempts and been sacked five times, and nine of the 12 quarterback runs have been scrambles from a passing play, for 101 pass plays. With the three intentional quarterback runs, they have had 78 rushing plays. Interestingly, even though the offense needs to generate more yards and have been outgained, the Cardinals have almost even time of possession with opponents (29:46 to 30:14) and the Cardinals are one of only six teams in the NFL to score at least 20 points in each of their three games.

(They are the only team in the NFL to allow less than 20 points in each game too.)

— There were a couple of statistical changes from the Philadelphia game, affecting the sack totals of a couple of linebackers. Sam Acho had previously been credited with a tackle after a Michael Vick one-yard scramble in the second quarter, but after further review it was deemed Vick only got back to the line of scrimmage — which by definition gives Acho a sack. In the third quarter, Daryl Washington had been credited with a 12-yard sack of Vick on a first down play, but after further review it was decided Vick was a runner when Washington got to him, so instead of a sack it became a 12-yard tackle-for-loss. It means Washington now only has two sacks this season and Acho now has two himself.

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Avoiding sacks

Posted by Darren Urban on June 7, 2011 – 9:29 am

The website posted a study yesterday about different ways teams handled pass-rush pressure last year and how it broke down in terms of “blame” for the offensive line, other skill positions when blocking and on the quarterback (Kent Somers broke it down further in terms of the Cardinals here.) The Cardinals actually weren’t as low as some might expect — 22nd in terms of pressure per play in the NFL, 23rd with the offensive line allowing pressure per play and, somewhat surprisingly, only 10th when it came to “QB-invited” pressures. It’s worth noting that the worst team in the NFL in allowing pressures per play was Pittsburgh at more than 50 percent of the time. The Steelers, who just happened to make the Super Bowl.

It goes to show that a) Ben Roethlisberger probably makes more plays with his feet than anything and b) a good quarterback changes the equation with things like this.

That’s why today’s PFF post about the percentage of times a team allowed pressure to become a sack becomes even more relevant. Is it any surprise that the best two teams in the league when it comes to making sure pressure doesn’t become a killer sack have quarterbacks named Manning? Eli and the Giants are first, Peyton and the Colts are second. Roethlisberger still takes too many sacks — the Steelers were 27th — but his percentage was still a tick better than the 28th-ranked Cardinals, who at 17.86 percent were 28th in the NFL. The Bears, Seahawks, Ravens and Panthers were worse.

I’d be curious to know what the Cards’ percentage was in 2009 when Kurt Warner was still QB.

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About the pass rush

Posted by Darren Urban on February 4, 2010 – 11:30 am

When you talk about the Cards’ pass rush, you can’t get away from the fact the Cards were very successful this season piling up sacks. They finished with 43, sixth in the NFL and easily the most the team has had since moving to Arizona. In fact, it was the third-most in franchise history, behind the 1984 (55) and 1983 (59) defenses.

The Cards had another five sacks in the Wild Card win over Green Bay as well. But that game was a microcosm of the way the pass rush operated. All five sacks — two by Bertrand Berry and one each by Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett and Michael Adams — came because Aaron Rodgers couldn’t make the throw on his initial read. Adams’ sack, which led to the fumble that ended overtime, came after Karlos Dansby got his hands in Rodgers’ passing lane, forcing Rodgers to wait. The other four all came after Rodgers was flushed from the pocket. There is a bit of irony that they could be considered “coverage” sacks, given the way the Packers were able to pass on the secondary.

But flashing forward, that’s what the Cards are searching to improve — they’d love to find an edge rusher who can get a sack because he quickly whips his man and the quarterback simply doesn’t have time to react. That’s what Berry was in 2004 when he went to the Pro Bowl, and that’s why the Cards are giving a shot to CFL star Stevie Baggs. The DeMarcus Wares and Elvis Dumervils don’t grow on trees of course, so it isn’t as simple as “just go get one.”

Dockett obviously can get to the QB from inside, and I think Calais Campbell should evolve into a double-digit sack guy. But in the 3-4 alignment, the Cards need speed and youth outside. Will Davis looked decent as a rookie before getting hurt. We’ll see on Cody Brown; he’s going to go through a rookie year all over again after getting injured in the preseason. The Cards think Mark Washington looks the part and could be a find after getting him on their practice squad. Baggs isn’t young (he’s 28) but maybe he has turned the corner in the CFL.

If one of those guys — plus whomever the Cards draft at the spot, and they will take a pass rusher, I’d think — pans out, the Cards’ pass rush could be formidable, given what they already showed they can do.

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Rams aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on December 27, 2009 – 11:18 pm

There was one question I wanted to ask Early Doucet after Sunday’s rollover of the Rams. On his first NFL touchdown – an 18-yard pass from Kurt Warner – what was more difficult, making the play or surviving Larry Fitzgerald’s bone-jarring thrown-down tackle milliseconds later (pictured here)?

“Surviving the tackle,” Doucet said, grinning. “He told me, ‘If you ever get a touchdown, you’ll never celebrate yourself because I’m coming to the end zone.’ ” Fitz confirmed that version, saying “He told us he had a touchdown dance and I told him he wasn’t going to do it.” So he didn’t. Doucet scored, Fitz threw him down before Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston joined in a dogpile celebration.

“He slammed me to the ground and I couldn’t do anything but enjoy the moment,” Doucet said. “It was a good feeling.”

These are the things talked about after a three-touchdown win over a team that you should beat. First touchdowns and celebrations. Milestones, like A-Dub finally getting that sack he needed for his induction to 20/20 or Warner reaching 100 TD passes with his second team or DRC getting his sixth interception, which is the most for the Cards since Dexter Jackson had that many in 2006.

So much to touch on, so before I head off to bed:

— Yes, it was a Rams’ team severely short-handed, even on defense. But the Cards took their shots downfield Sunday and even got their biggest play of the season, a 45-yard bomb to Steve Breaston (topping the 44-yard catch-and-run of Boldin in New York in October).

— The Cards have more than 40 sacks in a season for the first time since moving to Arizona. They have 41 on the season.

— Boldin should be over 1,000 yards receiving. He is 14 yards short, a number that was taken care of on a 28-yard catch late in the third quarter – except an illegal shift on rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling negated the play. “I’m very upset,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said of that penalty, because the play had “really created momentum for us.”

— With Pro Bowlers being announced Tuesday, it’s too bad Boldin’s injuries threw off his early season showing. Because he is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and he has been at that level for a few weeks now.

— Tackle Levi Brown looked like he struggled Sunday, and generally, Whisenhunt said he was “a little disappointed in our protection today at times.” Obviously, that’s an area that needs to hold up when the Cards start playing postseason games.

— The Cardinals need the Vikings to lose Monday night in Chicago to keep hope alive to achieve the No. 2 playoff seed and a bye. So Fitzgerald – who grew up in Minnesota and was a Vikings ballboy and doesn’t really hide the idea he still roots for the Vikings – was asked who he will be rooting for in Bears-Vikings. “I’m from Minnesota, man,” Fitzgerald said, pausing before saying, “I want the Bears to wi…, ahh, yeah. We’ll see what happens.” It brought laughs, even from Fitzgerald. So yeah, we will see what happens.

— Jason Wright did an admirable job filling in at fullback after the last-second neck stiffness kept Dan Kreider, the Cards’ lone fullback, out. Beanie Wells had a nice game (17 carries, 68 yards and a score) but it seemed like, with Kreider around, he might have been even more effective.

— Calais Campbell tied Darnell Dockett for most sacks on the team with seven. Bertrand Berry is just one behind. What a race.

— Considering he had some tough moments in coverage this season (I’m thinking against the Bears for sure, and maybe a couple of other instances), safety Adrian Wilson actually has done well against the pass. He now has five interceptions and he’s made some nice pass breakups too. That shouldn’t be forgotten – although I am sure he’ll have a third Pro Bowl selection come Tuesday.

— It was nice to see A-Dub get to 20/20. If it wasn’t going to happen today, though … I mean, on that final Rams’ possession in which Wilson got Null for his second sack of the season, Wilson might as well have been a defensive end. He came off the edge on the rush on every one of the five plays, including his takedown.

— Finally, Whisenhunt said he thought about taking Warner out for Matt Leinart earlier than the three-minute mark, but “I kept wanting one more score in the second half. I wanted to make sure there was a point of emphasis for our football team that we got the 10th win.”

— Oh, Warner delivered the 10th win. Heck, Warner even delivered a 10-yard run. Who’s that, Chris Johnson I spy? Nope. Just Kurt.

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