That’s-much-better Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2016 – 7:15 pm

Justin Bethel came flying down the field on the Cardinals’ second punt of the game and lit up return man Adam Humphries after a one-yard return, Bethel’s helmet flying off and Bethel emotionally jumping up and celebrating. Last week, Bruce Arians said Bethel had to decide if he wanted to play. This week? “He looked like Justin,” Arians said.

“It felt good to get back to my regular self, especially when it comes to special teams,” Bethel said. “I definitely felt I was myself, playing at the level I should be playing.”

Bethel might’ve been talking about everyone. The Cardinals had an off Week 1. You can talk about being overconfident or overhyped or too anxious or whatever, but the Cards clearly put that game in the rear view Sunday (Jimmy Garoppolo clearly showed this week it wasn’t a fluke of a game either, before he got hurt against the Dolphins.) It’s a week-to-week thing, and the Cards have to go cross country this week to play an early kickoff game in Buffalo. But for now, the ship has been righted. Pretty emphatically.

— Bethel said he predicted he’d have three special teams tackles in the game, and he had three tackles.

— Training camp MVP Jaron Brown was excellent Sunday. He had a huge 27-yard reception on third-and-10 that helped spark a touchdown drive (Michael Floyd’s one-yard TD catch) and, of course, hauled in the 51-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first half. With Floyd’s future in Arizona uncertain because of upcoming free-agent status, Brown (who will be an unrestricted free agent himself) is an intriguing option.

“All his catches seem to be in the biggest time of the game,” fellow wideout Larry Fitzgerald said.

— Bruce Arians wasn’t happy that David Johnson ran the wrong route in the end zone, not only possibly costing the Cardinals a TD pass but nearly costing Carson Palmer an interception when Brent Grimes dropped the ball. Palmer, however, was forgiving of his star back. “He had just run like 90 yards and broke a bunch of tackles,” Palmer said. Close — it was right after Johnson’s awesome 58-yard catch-and-run into the red zone. “I was tired from just jogging down.”

— The Cardinals, after forcing five turnovers Sunday, are now a plus-7 after two games and have yet to turn the ball over. It won’t last — not like that — but it’s impressive.

— Don’t forget coming back out to University of Phoenix Stadium tomorrow for the weekly “Monday Nights at the Big Red Brew Haus” event. This week, running back David Johnson will be in the haus.

— Patrick Peterson’s first interception of the season, on a long bomb try from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, had to make Fitzgerald proud. Peterson ended up behind Evans and then expertly kept his body up against Evans, cleanly squeezing Evans until the ball got over the 6-foot-5 Evans’ hands and into Peterson’s.

Of course, later Peterson could have had a second pick, but he dropped it. On the drive, the Bucs eventually scored on a TD pass to Evans over Peterson. “Usually when you drop an interception, bad s*** happens,” Arians said.

— Linebacker Chandler Jones got a sack in the waning moments, but he had a very quiet night. The Cardinals will need more QB pressure from him going forward.

— Arians wasn’t thrilled kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point. I’m not sure of the snap on the play, but a later snap on another Cat Man kick looked a little low. Rookie Kam Canaday is going to be watched carefully after his opening game.

— After two games, no defender is playing better on the Cardinals than safety Tony Jefferson. He too is going to be a free agent after the season. Not sure what will happen with him, but he’s played excellent football.

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Wednesday before the Broncos

Posted by Darren Urban on August 31, 2016 – 11:08 am

It’s an early edition of a “Before” post, but later today I will put up my guesstimate at the final 53-man roster — at least the one the Cardinals figure to have without knowing who is cut from other teams and who the Cards might try to claim on waivers or sign. Before then, there is a game to play.

It’s a different kind of game, since most starters won’t even be dressed. This game is about precious few rosters spots and the push to at least be asked on the practice squad (or trying to impress 31 other teams to pick someone up). Bruce Arians estimated the Cardinals have about 12 players fighting for about four spots. Impossible to know what we are talking about, but here are some of the positions/players that could be in that conversation:

Offensive line: Earl Watford as tackle/G Cole Toner/C Evan Boehm/T John Wetzel. Watford figures to make this team because he’s so versatile. And Toner has made a strong push to stay after seeming to be a long shot when camp opened. Boehm, as a fourth-round pick, will stick, but can he keep pushing to see if he gets playing time. Here’s the question: Can Watford show something at tackle so that, at least for now, he can back up there?

Secondary: CB Cariel Brooks/CB Harlan Miller/CB Ronald Zamort/S Matthias Farley. It was telling when Arians, asked about the cornerbacks beyond Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams at this point, only mentioned Brooks, who has put himself in a good place for the 53 especially given the Mike Jenkins injury. Can another cornerback step up? At safety, the Cards already have so many in play (Branch, Mathieu, Swearinger, Jefferson, Christian).

ILB: Chris Clemons/Lamar Louis/Donald Butler/Alani Fua/Gabe Martin. Technically, Clemons is listed as a safety but he’s basically been Deone Bucannon’s “moneybacker” backup. Do the Cards stick with the vet? Or is the youth of say, Martin make sense. Lamar Louis has been very good on special teams too. For these guys, special teams may be the place to watch.

There are others, but with everything done over the summer and camp and three preseason games, most decisions have already been made.

— The Broncos have already announced that their No. 1 pick, quarterback Paxton Lynch, will play the entire game Thursday. He’s their QB of the future. It’s something interesting even for Cardinals fans — and you wonder, had Lynch fallen to No. 29, if the Cards would have grabbed him.

— Arians isn’t sure cutting down the preseason will help the teams. Yes, injuries can happen, but he said doesn’t think two preseason games is enough to prep a team for the season.

“I think you have to build your roster, and the only way to build it is see these kids play,” Arians said. “The fourth preseason game is not for your starters. It’s for those guys who you build your roster on, build your practice squad on, the guys who need that week of work and that game. You’ll need them in November and December.”

— Arians isn’t worried about the leadership/knowledge lost in the secondary with the departures of Rashad Johnson and Jerraud Powers. Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson have worked to fill that void. “All those guys making all the checks,” Arians said. “And with that, they’re not leaning on somebody. They used to lean on Rashad, so they wouldn’t study as hard.”

— Mathieu and John “Smokey” Brown have been cleared to play, but honestly, I’ll be surprised if either does play. As for Justin Bethel, with a sore foot, does he give it a try? He may just rest too. Arians said Bethel will have to play with a sore foot all season, but Bethel had already said he had to play with soreness last year as well.

— Final cuts won’t be announced until the weekend (they are due at 1 p.m. Arizona time Saturday). Until then, let’s finish up the preseason.

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The first depth chart, 2016

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2016 – 11:19 am

The Cardinals’ first game is Friday night against the Raiders, so that means the first depth chart of the season was put out today. As always, it’s a preseason depth chart, and there is a ton of wiggle room in what it says and what happens once the games start and who plays on the field.

“It’s (in) invisible ink,” coach Bruce Arians said, laughing. “It ain’t even in pencil.”

That said, it’s always interesting to take a look at where the players are at this point.

— On offense, there is nothing really wacky. The starters, given what Bruce Arians has said about both A.Q. Shipley and D.J. Humphries, are as expected. Perhaps the only notable thing is that, as of now, tryout rookie Chris Hubert — who has flashed multiple times in practice — is ahead of veteran Brittan Golden at one of the wideout positions (behind Fitz and Jaron Brown.)

— On defense, even though Ed Stinson has been with the first-unit much of the offseason and camp, it is Rodney Gunter listed as a starter with Calais Campbell, and the now-injured Corey Peters as the starting nose tackle. Given the depth at the defensive line, the rotation will show starting means little since so many guys will be moved in and out.

— Brandon Williams, the rookie, is the starter at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. That’s not a surprise since Justin Bethel has been hurt for so long. Bethel hasn’t been on the field to play since the NFC Championship, although he should be close to a return.

— At safety, something to watch. The starters are the injured Tyrann Mathieu, and he is backed up by Tony Jefferson. The strong safety starter right now is listed as D.J. Swearinger, ahead of Tyvon Branch. Before the offseason, you would’ve thought Branch or Jefferson would be penciled in there, but it is Swearinger right now. As much as the Cards have had to figure out their cornerback situation, their safety spot — especially with rookie Marqui Christian making strides — is pretty strong. There might have to be a tough choice made there too, especially once Mathieu is considered healthy.

Here’s the whole chart:

DepthChart2016


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For what it’s worth in June, defensive edition

Posted by Darren Urban on June 23, 2016 – 1:35 pm

The players have been gone for a couple of weeks. The coaches are on vacation. Now is the time for them to not think about football, since football will dominate lives when the end of July arrives.

In the meantime, it is the perfect time to speculate and predict.

As I have done for a number of years, here are my picks, in late June, of who will be the starters for the Cardinals when they begin the regular season Sept. 11 against the Patriots on “Sunday Night Football.” They are the best guesses for a team that has yet to take part in training camp, yet to absorb any of the inevitable camp injuries, yet to sign anyone late as a Steve Keim blue light special.

While the Cardinals often are in some sort of sub-package, for this post we are going with the base defense. I’ll post my thoughts on the offense tomorrow (and here they are):

DT – Calais Campbell. Going into the last year of his contract, Campbell’s future with the Cardinals is fuzzy. But the Pro Bowler has played well, and the addition of Chandler Jones figures to make him better, and in a year where the Cards are going to push for a Super Bowl, he’ll be a key piece.

NT – Corey Peters. The Cards like Rodney Gunter, who was solid as a rookie. But Peters was impressing coaches before his Achilles injury last season, and I expect him to make a similar push to get back into the starting lineup by the time the season starts. Other than Campbell, the defensive line starter positions are a) up for grabs and b) part of a rotation, anyway. One caveat: This is assuming Peters is indeed all the way healthy, but coach Bruce Arians said Peters would be ready to go come camp.

DT – Frostee Rucker. Rucker missed offseason work with a foot injury, and he may not be ready right when camp opens. But assuming he doesn’t miss too much time, he figures to find his way into the lineup again. He’s been solid the last couple of seasons, and while there is youth available (Gunter, Nkemdiche, Stinson) Rucker still leads the way.

OLB – Chandler Jones. He was penciled into the lineup the day he arrived in a trade. He’ll be a three-down player.

ILB – Deone Bucannon. Last year at this time I picked Bucannon to be the starting strong safety. It was, after all, where he spent the entire 2015 offseason working. Then, when camp began, Buc was back at dollar linebacker. The Cards don’t even pretend he is anything but anymore.

ILB – Kevin Minter. He got his chance to show he could be a starter last year, and he made it work. He’ll be back in place again as he goes into the last year of his contract.

OLB – Markus Golden. When it comes to outside linebackers, Jones is the star, Alex Okafor is the former starter on the comeback trail after his dicey exit to 2015, and Dwight Freeney is the still-available free agent. Meanwhile, Golden, who was solid as a rookie, will slide into the starting spot opposite Jones. He’ll have the chance to be a nice bookend.

CB – Patrick Peterson. Yes, 2014 was mostly forgettable. Peterson couldn’t have made 2015 more memorable. That was the stud cornerback he could be, and the one the Cards are counting on going forward.

CB – Justin Bethel. There is competition, not from someone unsigned, but from the rookies. If Bethel is going to grab this job, he has to hold off raw rookie Brandon Williams. He should be able to do that.

FS – Tyrann Mathieu. In the end, I think Mathieu finds a way to be ready by “Sunday Night Football” to open the season. If not, Tyvon Branch – who will get a lot of playing time anyway – is around. The Cards need a healthy and productive Mathieu.

SS – Tony Jefferson. Branch will be in the mix too, and D.J. Swearinger will make a push, but in the end I think Jefferson finds his way on to the field first, as the Cards once again mix-and-match often their secondary. (Would I be surprised if Branch starts? Not at all.)

DefenseWorth


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With a late lead, the Cardinals win

Posted by Darren Urban on June 15, 2016 – 2:57 pm

“No risk-it, no biscuit.” Bruce Arians loves to repeat the mantra by which he coaches (and lives, but that’s another blog post). Sometimes, that causes some to fret about the chances Arians takes late in games — passes the Cardinals try that fall incomplete and stop the clock, or a shot down the field. But there is tangible proof it works.

Football Outsiders writer Scott Kacsmar tweeted out this amazing fact today: Arians, since 2012 (so including his stint coaching the Colts), is a stunning 31-1 in games where his team held a one-score lead at any point in the fourth quarter and overtime. The one loss came in Arians’ very first game as Cardinals’ coach, when the Cards had an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter in St. Louis but eventually lost, 27-24.

It not only shows the ability of the Cardinals to play the kind of fourth-quarter offense necessary to hold on to wins but also rally (think of both wins in Seattle in 2013 and 2015.) It also underscores that the defense has made big plays to seal wins (Rashad Johnson and the secondary versus the Eagles in 2014, Tony Jefferson versus the Ravens last season come to mind.) Overall, it also shows a good team — good teams know how to win close games. The Cardinals have definitely done that.

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Mathieu and the Cards’ contract cliff

Posted by Darren Urban on May 16, 2016 – 10:25 am

Tyrann Mathieu is going to get a contract extension. When, exactly, remains an unknown, although Ian Rapoport reported Monday the team and Mathieu are “deep in negotiations” toward a deal. I’ve long felt this was a matter of when and not if with the all-pro safety. For a multitude of reasons for both sides, it behooves both to get a new contract done.

But from the Cardinals’ end, a big reason to want to lock up Mathieu is because of the laundry list of players who, as of right now, are free agents after this upcoming season. It’s a subject we’ve talked about before, and the reality is not everyone will be with the Cardinals after this year. Still, if you have hope to having some guys around, you’d think the Cards would want to pare down the work facing them before this year ends. Here is the list — and it doesn’t include every single FA-to-be — of guys who are contract-less after 2016, as it stands right now:

— S Tyrann Mathieu
— WR Larry Fitzgerald
— OLB Chandler Jones
— DT Calais Campbell
— WR Michael Floyd
— G Evan Mathis
— DT Frostee Rucker
— RB Chris Johnson
— RB Andre Ellington
— S Tony Jefferson
— TE Jermaine Gresham
— OLB Alex Okafor
— ILB Kevin Minter
— WR Jaron Brown
— S D.J. Swearinger
— RB Stepfan Taylor

That isn’t the entire list, but those are the bigger names. Obviously, each are taken individually to an extent. Some guys the team will just move on from in the normal course of roster change in a salary-capped world. But big picture, it’s a puzzle GM Steve Keim and his department are working on as this season approaches.

Contacrtcliffblog


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Undrafted, but someone will make Cards’ roster

Posted by Darren Urban on May 4, 2016 – 3:31 pm

Thursday, the Cardinals’ rookies arrive in Tempe. That’s the six-man draft class and the undrafted rookies (as well as a bunch of guys in on a tryout basis for the weekend. QB Philip Sims was among a few guys kept on last year after such a tryout.) We will see, as the offseason and training camp goes, who will make an impression. There has been a lot of talk about QB Jake Coker, but it’s much too early to assume he can supplant Matt Barkley as even a third-stringer much less anything else (and don’t forget, after the Logan Thomas-Sims battle all last year, neither one made the team).

There are guys that intrigue. Canadian cornerback Eli Bouka, who is coming off an Achilles injury, has the size (6-foot-1) and tape that has impressed from afar. We’ll see if punter Garrett Swanson can give Drew Butler a run. And it certainly seems like there will be one undrafted on the roster, since the Cardinals’ only current choices for a long snapper are undrafted rookies Kameron Canaday and Daniel Dillon.

Here is a list of the undrafted rookies to make the roster out of training camp since 2007 (many undrafted rookies have made it to the practice squad and were promoted at some point, but these are the guys from the 53 to start the season:

2015 LB Alani Fua, DT Xavier Williams
2014 K Chandler Catanzaro, LB Glenn Carson
2013 WR Jaron Brown, LB Kenny Demens, S Tony Jefferson
2012 WR LaRon Byrd
2011 None
2010 QB Max Hall, CB A.J. Jefferson, WR Max Komar, WR Stephen Williams
2009 LB Reggie Walker
2008 LB Ali Highsmith
2007 FB Tim Castille, C Lyle Sendlein


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Wednesday before the 2016 draft

Posted by Darren Urban on April 27, 2016 – 4:57 pm

The draft, thank goodness, is close.

There are many who love the run-up to the draft each year. I’m not really one of them. Let me know who the new Cardinals will be and we’ll go from there. It’s a little different when this franchise was picking top 10, but 29th (or 30th, we’ll get to that in a second)? There’s just so much that can happen that changes the dynamic whenever it is the Cards actually make a pick. Still, I wanted to put out some thoughts as we head into the 2016 selection process.

— I won’t be surprised if the Cardinals trade down Thursday night. Yes, Steve Keim said it’ll be harder for picks to make the team, but if they can spin the late first-rounder into an early second-rounder and maybe an early fourth, those guys are far enough up the food chain to be near-locks. So much of it has to do with who is available when the Cards are on the clock. That seems obvious but it’s also true. You figure the quarterbacks available — and teams trying to move up to get one — would influence that the most.

— The Cardinals (without a trade) will pick the 29th player but the NFL is still listing them with the 30th pick. No. 29 was supposed to be the Patriots, who lost it in DeflateGate, so if you are curious to know why the league’s draft tracker has a difference, that’s it.

— If I had to guess, I’d say the Cardinals do draft a QB at some point but it’ll be Saturday.

— It’s hard to argue with those who think the Cards would take center Ryan Kelly in the first round if he’s there. I don’t think he will be. I think it’ll most likely be defense — a cornerback if one is there, a defensive lineman if not. Wouldn’t rule out linebacker/pass rusher, but I’d lean toward an up-front guy.

— I don’t do mock drafts these days — I know, a crushing disappointment — but we do have a mock coming from the Cardinals, straight from the mind of safety Tony Jefferson. He has the Cards taking Clemson safety-or-corner T.J. Green. Maybe Jefferson eventually follows in the footsteps of one-time Cardinals defensive back Corey Chavous, who was a draft guru even when he was playing and continues working in that role these days.

(Cohort Kyle Odegard will have a full mock draft roundup of all the picks made across the internet for the Cardinals tomorrow.)

— The Cardinals currently have 73 players on the roster, so room for 17 right now. With six draft picks, that means 11 undrafted free agents. I think there will be more than 11 undrafted rookies signed, so I expect some cuts, and that doesn’t include the possibility of adding picks.

Even if the Cards don’t make a pick tomorrow, it’ll be an interesting night all the way around. See you then.

2016 NFL Draft

 


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Considering cornerback depth

Posted by Darren Urban on April 4, 2016 – 2:21 pm

With free agent Jerraud Powers visiting the Giants last week (and the increasing reality that he is likely to move on), it underscores the shift at cornerback the Cardinals are going through this offseason. Drafting a cornerback at some point seems inevitable, although you never know how the draft will fall. As it stands, Justin Bethel — he of the 2015 contract extension — is in line to start across from all-pro Patrick Peterson. Tyrann Mathieu, once he returns to health, is a candidate to play the slot if needed too, especially since the Cardinals have Tyvon Branch and Tony Jefferson — assuming he signs his tender — at safety.

(Powers tweeted he isn’t in a rush while looking for the right situation.)

Beyond Peterson and Bethel, the cornerbacks on the roster include a couple with some experience (Asa Jackson, Shawn Prater), a couple who were on the practice squad last season (Cariel Brooks, Kevin White and Carrington Byndom), and one giant unknown in Aussie Joel Wilkinson. Not exactly the depth the Cards would like, which is why they visited with veteran free agent Leon Hall — who remains unsigned —  earlier this month.

There could be a good cornerback sitting there at 29th overall and that will be tempting as a draft pick. And even if the roster stays status quo through the draft, finding another vet at some point before training camp wouldn’t be a surprise. We’ll see how the market plays out.

CornerbackDepth


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Branch, a safety, on the way

Posted by Darren Urban on March 9, 2016 – 3:32 pm

Nothing official yet, but multiple reports have veteran safety Tyvon Branch agreeing with the Cardinals on a two-year contract. Branch, who was in Kansas City one year after seven years in Oakland, is 6-foot, 210 pounds and also ran a 4.26 40-yard dash when he first came into the league. GM Steve Keim had said he wanted to add speed in the secondary.

In 16 games – one start – for the Chiefs last season, Branch had 43 tackles, a sack and an interception. Branch, 29, was a long-time starter with the Raiders, but played in just five games his final two seasons in Oakland because of injuries.

The safety position is one in flux for the Cardinals right now. Rashad Johnson is a free agent, and his spot is the one most likely taken by Branch as free agency gets underway. Tony Jefferson is a restricted free agent who could still sign an offer sheet elsewhere — the Cardinals have the right to match any offer — and Wednesday was the first day Jefferson was able to discuss options with other teams.

Tyvon Branch, Ryan Griffin

 

 


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