The door for Chris Johnson to return to the Cardinals was never really closed, and that speaks to the relationship between the veteran running back and the franchise. Both knew where the other side was coming from. The Cards got that Johnson would want to explore his options, especially with a situation here where David Johnson is going to get the vast majority of the work. Johnson understood that coming back to the Cardinals not only would likely mean limited snaps but also a limited salary — especially after Johnson had both his Cardinals’ seasons end early because of injury.
To be honest, I thought the David Johnson roadblock would ultimately keep CJ2K from coming back. Only 463 yards shy of 10,000, you get the strong sense CJ wants to show everyone what he can still do as a runner. That’ll be difficult with DJ atop the depth chart.
But he does like this organization and this locker room. And I think CJ is a large benefit to the Cardinals on multiple levels. He immediately becomes the best running back on the roster in pass protection. (Hopefully DJ is making strides in that area, but then again, you want DJ going out to catch passes.) He is a good vet to have in the running backs room. While Freddie Kitchens will do a good job as the new running backs coach, CJ can help with the transition from Stump Mitchell, who had been DJ’s only position coach. Oh, and CJ can still run a little bit, I’m guessing.
Chris Johnson never was hurt in his career until that broken leg two-thirds of the way through 2015, when he was the among the league leaders in rushing yards. Last year, he got little work before badly hurting his groin, which turned out to end his season — a season that didn’t go the way wanted for many Cards. It makes sense for him to come back and try and wipe out the bad taste in his mouth from 2016. There are a lot of Cardinals who want to do that this season.
Tags: Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Freddie Kitchens, free agency, Stump Mitchell
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After it came out that Chris Johnson had a fracture in his knee (to be clear, it is a tibial plateau fracture, with a chip in the tibia near the knee), it was pretty clear he was going to miss some time. The Cardinals clarified that Tuesday when CJ was put on the IR-designated to return list, meaning he cannot play before the Super Bowl. You know, assuming the Cardinals can get there.
Many have asked if the Cardinals were going to sign a running back. They promoted Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad. They are hoping Andre Ellington, who looks like he’ll be week to week with a turf toe, comes back sooner rather than later. And I was reminded of what running backs coach Stump Mitchell told Chris Johnson when Johnson was considering signing with the Cardinals back in August.
“I love Andre Ellington,” Mitchell said. “I love Kerwynn Williams. I love Stepfan Taylor. I love all the running backs we have here right now. Honestly, we don’t need you to win.”
This isn’t to denigrate Chris Johnson or what he has accomplished. He is shelved with 814 yards rushing, fourth-best in the NFL for now (and sadly, he won’t be one of the few 1,000-yard rushers for the franchise since moving to Arizona. But I digress.) But assuming the Ellington problem is short-term, the Cardinals are prepared and were prepared to attack this season without CJ2K. Rookie David Johnson has looked pretty good in limited time and he looks like he’ll be the starter if Ellington is gimpy. Would they have been as successful? Hard to know — David Johnson certainly would’ve gotten more work by now — but this isn’t something they feared.
Now, if David Johnson gets hurt, or Ellington can’t get healthy, then there’s a problem. It’s not like this offense was anchored by Chris Johnson. This offense still revolves around Carson Palmer and the passing game. You want the running game to be effective, but there is belief that it will be (with better blocking). There is little question every single guy in that locker room is hoping CJ2K plays again this season. Both for his sake, and for theirs.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson, Kerwynn Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Stump Mitchell, Super Bowl
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By the time the Cardinals get to Seattle Saturday evening, it’ll be dark and probably rainy. By the time they play the Seahawks Sunday night, it’ll be dark and probably rainy. The crowd is going to be intense from the opening kick, and everyone knows the football world will be watching.
Bruce Arians knows his guys will be jacked up. He wants them jacked up. Except …
“Snotbubbles and tears don’t win s**t,” Arians said.
This is still about the execution. This is about being smart with the football and not turning it over. It’s about the Cardinals being able to run the ball with Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. It’s about tackling Marshawn Lynch (sure, he’s questionable, but he’ll play) and containing Russell Wilson. I still think this game will be about the Cardinals scoring, because I believe the Cardinals’ defense can keep the Seahawks at bay.
The season won’t be decided Sunday but it’s impossible to get past the power of the swing it holds: The Cards lose, and they are just one game ahead of the Seahawks with seven to go and the Cards with a harder schedule. The Cards win, and the Seahawks are three games back, don’t have the tiebreaker and are under .500 – while the Cardinals get over the hurdle of winning against a “good” team (although the Cards still won’t have beat an above .500 team in that case.)
This one is going to be interesting, to say the least.
— If it is rainy as expected, I’m wondering what that will mean to a passing game that has been excellent. Will Arians dial it back a bit?
— I forgot that not only did the Cardinals not have Carson Palmer for their trip to Seattle last season, they didn’t have Larry Fitzgerald either. And now both aren’t only playing, but playing as well as they ever have.
— Lost in that win from 2013 was how stupendous the defense was that day. The Cardinals’ defense might have had – given the opponent and context – its finest day under Arians for sure. It ranked up there with the Jake Delhomme beat down in the 2008 playoffs. The Cardinals could sure use a similar showing.
— There is a concern about Jimmy Graham. The Seahawks’ other tight end, Luke Willson, has hurt the Cards before too. Something to remember.
Running backs coach Stump Mitchell, who can’t believe he remains the franchise’s second-leading rusher after all these years, said he wants Chris Johnson to win the NFL rushing title. Johnson is currently third behind Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman.
“To win, we have to have guys who have individual goals that are team-related,” Mitchell said. “Chris is too close to the top of the rushing title to not want to win it. And that’s his goal. I know it’s the offensive linemen’s goal. I’m not surprised. (CJ) loves the game, and we are running the runs he likes to run.”
— Lot of questions, since the Cardinals still have a Thursday night game left (at home against the Vikings Dec. 10), if the Cards will be a part of the uniform “Color Rush” happening on Thursdays. The answer is no, they are not part of that plan this season.
— Some good links if you missed them:
Also thought the Jimmy Fallon bit (to pub fellow NBC property “Sunday Night Football”) was funny. Lyle Sendlein said it was the second time Fallon had poked fun at him. “I guess it’s better (this time) than him calling me a Human Angry Bird – I think,” Sendlein said. (You can watch the video, but I’m not so sure about that).
— Arians said he expects linebacker Alex Okafor to get 30 to 35 snaps in his first game back from a calf injury. He also said he’s going to have a steady rotation at outside linebacker. How the playing time is divided between Okafor, Dwight Freeney, LaMarr Woodley and Markus Golden will be interesting.
— Also interesting will be who is made inactive with everybody healthy – assuming Sendlein (shoulder) and wide receiver John Brown (hamstring) are both good to go (which I will not be surprised if it happens.)
— I leave with this: This is being written and posted as the horrifying events in Paris, with shootings and explosions and hostages, are playing out. Honestly, it’s tough to get too deep into football knowing that such things are going on.
With that in mind, I just say this – the game Sunday is important in the context of this world I work within and we all follow. I know I’ll hear from many if the Cardinals lose, but I ask you to just remember – it is just a game. Please keep it in perspective.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Chris Johnson, Jake Delhomme, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Graham, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Lyle Sendlein, Patrick Peterson, Seahawks, Stump Mitchell
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There are times when Larry Fitzgerald is, let’s say, careful with his words. The veteran receiver understands what and what not to put out for public consumption, so there are times when he’s delivering sanitized material. Not Sunday, not when the first question was what exactly happened at halftime to change the Cardinals’ fortune in Cleveland.
“We just pulled our heads out,” Fitz said, and thankfully he allowed us to fill in to ourselves from where the Cards were doing the pulling.
Between the turnovers and the sloppy defensive moments it wasn’t hard to figure out that the Cardinals were doing themselves dirty in that first half. They are fortunate they were able to turn it around. Why it took so long – “It seems like until we get pissed off or something, then we start playing and we can’t be like that to get where we want to be,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said – is something that will be a point of emphasis. But if there is always something to be learned, this week it is that this team can overcome turnovers and pull one out. Now, if you are a minus-two (and at one point, a minus-four) against a good team, that will be problematic. But this week, it was not.
— From the time the Browns scored their third and final touchdown, the Cardinals’ defense forced five punts, had an interception, forced a fumble and then got a stop on downs. The Browns gained a total of 92 yards on those eight possessions.
— The last time a Cardinal running back had 30 carries in a game before Chris Johnson’s 30 Sunday (for 109 yards?) Edgerrin James had 36 on Oct. 16, 2006. Perhaps you remember that one. James had only 55 yards in that game, and well, the Bears were who we thought they were.
— CJ2K is also the first Cardinal to have four 100-yard games in a season since … wait for it … Stump Mitchell, now Johnson’s position coach, who did it in 1985.
— Former agent/cap guru Joel Corry tweeted out that with his surpassing of 664 yards rushing on the season, Chris Johnson has earned the first $280,000 of the $1.13 million in incentives built into his contract. Why 664 yards? Because he had 663 yards rushing last season while playing for the Jets.
— The Cardinals did not get enough pressure on Josh McCown in the first half. That changed in the second half, and you could see the results. In a side note, Dwight Freeney had his second sack in as many weeks.
— Carson Palmer was just talking last week about how he doesn’t care about stats but how he cares about red-zone efficiency and third-down conversions. Sunday, the Cardinals were 3-for-5 in the red zone – a very solid 60 percent – and 13-for-16 on third downs – an amazing 81 percent.
— And this is a team that missed on two wide-open bombs down the field on overthrows both Bruce Arians and Palmer said were because of the wind.
— Palmer is on pace for 40 touchdown passes.
— The bye comes at a good time. Arians pegged both wide receiver John Brown and cornerback Jerraud Powers at “85 or 90 percent” Sunday, but were held out because the Cardinals could afford to hold them out. If that’s the case, you figure a week off will do wonders and set them up to be ready after the bye. Same goes for Larry Fitzgerald, who hurt his ankle late and will get some welcome rest.
— The players are off Monday – “Victory Monday” has arrived. With the bye week, they’ll have practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and then get the mandated four-day weekend. At 6-2 halfway home, and with a two-game lead in the NFC West, it’s been a solid start.
Tags: Browns, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Frostee Rucker, Jerraud Powers, John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Stump Mitchell
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The Cardinals finally released a list of their new coaching staff Tuesday. They had already announced, after the hiring of head coach Bruce Arians, the addition of assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Now comes 13 new names, along with keeping four holdover coaches:
— Special teams coordinator: Amos Jones (last job, special teams coach, Pittsburgh Steelers)
— Quarterbacks: Freddie Kitchens
— Wide receivers: Darryl Drake (receivers coach, Chicago Bears)
— Running backs: Stump Mitchell (head coach, Southern University)
— Tight ends: Rick Christophel (head coach, Austin Peay)
— Assistant tight ends, assistant special teams: Steve Heiden (tight ends coach, Concordia University)
— Assistant offensive line: Larry Zierlein (OL coach, Hartford of UFL; was Steelers’ OL coach from’07-’09)
— Defensive line: Brentson Buckner (intern DL coach, Steelers, 2010-12)
— Pass rush: Tom Pratt (consultant, IMG Academy)
— Linebackers: Mike Caldwell (linebackers coach, Philadelphia Eagles)
— Outside linebackers: James Bettcher (special assistant to head coach, Indianapolis Colts)
— Defensive backs: Nick Rapone (defensive coordinator, University of Deleware)
— Cornerbacks: Kevin Ross (safeties coach, Oakland Raiders)
— Defensive assistant/assistant defensive backs: Ryan Slowik
— Offensive assistant: Kevin Garver (offensive assistant, University of Alabama)
— Strength and conditioning: John Lott
— Assistant strength and conditioning: Pete Alosi
An interesting note: the offensive line doesn’t have a offensive line coach per se. Duties teaching the line will be split between Zierlein, Moore and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who has spent his coaching career as an offensive line coach.
Kitchens had been coaching tight ends under Ken Whisenhunt, but moves to quarterbacks, a position Kitchens played in college. Slowik was outside linebackers coach on the last staff, and of course, Lott and Alosi remain in their former jobs. The staff of 21 is four more coaches than was on Whisenhunt’s staff. Arians said he preferred to have extra coaches on staff, and said he likes the diversity of experience and youth. The group moved into offices and began their meetings today. More in a bit on azcardinals.com, including more background on the new group. (And here it is.)
Tags: Amos Jones, Brentson Buckner, Bruce Arians, coaching staff, Darryl Drake, Freddie Kitchens, Harold Goodwin, James Bettcher, John Lott, Kevin Garver, Kevin Ross, Larry Zierlein, Mike Caldwell, Nick Rapone, offensive line, Pete Alosi, Rick Christophel, Ryan Slowik, Steve Heiden, Stump Mitchell, Todd Bowles, Tom Moore, Tom Pratt
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