Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals NFL Team Column
By:George Howe
2009 NFL Draft Grades
2010 NFL Draft Coverage

16 December 2010

Feely Shines in Cards Win

Kicker Jay Feely scored the teams first 22 points which was more than enough to defeat the struggling Denver Broncos (3-10) 43 - 14 at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Feely signed as a free agent to replace Neil Rackers, kicked 5 of 6 field goals, made a tackle on a kickoff return, and ran for a touchdown from 5 yards out on a fake field goal. His points total earned him the NFC special team’s player of the week. It’s the second time he received the honor, the first time back in 2002 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. His Pro Bowl worthy numbers, 20 of 22 FG’s made and 25 total points against Denver was one shy of the NFL record.  “To have a game like this is special,” Feely was quoted as saying.  “He’s a tough guy, business like, works hard and the guys love him,” Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was quoted as saying.

There was another story line to this game. Rookie QB John Skelton was given the start.  The unflappable Skelton wasn’t overly impressive completing 15 of 37 passes for 146 yards but didn’t make any mistakes. A perfect example was when on two occasions Center, Lyle Sendlein playing through a thumb problem, caused 2 bad shot gun snaps. Then Skelton’s first 4 passes all catch able, were dropped.  “Nothing really flusters him and that’s a great quality to have in a quarterback,” Larry Fitzgerald was quoted as saying.  The Cards (4-9) did rack up 357 yards of total offense but once again were dismal on third down, converting just 4 of 16. RB Tim Hightower scored 2 touchdowns on runs of 8 and 35 to finish with an impressive 148 yards.

Whisenhunt again was non-committal on who his starter would be this week against Carolina. The Cards end of the season schedule seems to favor Skelton’s NFL education for the future. Which right now looks a lot better than any other alternative that the Cards have at quarterback?

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7 December 2010

Cards Losing Streak Hits 7

It appeared that Arizona’s game plan was simple right from the start against the St. Louis Rams, get Larry Fitzgerald involved early and often. Most Cardinal players have said that the team seems to get energized when Fitzgerald catches the ball.  On their opening drive QB Derek Anderson completed two passes to Fitzgerald. I guess the team needs to give their definition of the word ‘energized’.  The Cards (3-9) were only able to muster 6 points on two field goals in the first quarter by Jay Feely enroute to a lackluster 19-6 defeat at the University of Phoenix Stadium for their seventh straight loss. 

The Rams (6-6)  at the top of the NFC West standings, didn’t light it up offensively either, but did just enough behind the kicking of Josh Brown (4 fg) and  running of Steven Jackson who scored the lone touchdown on a 27 yard scamper capping off a 10 play 85 yard drive in the third quarter.

The Cardinal coaching staff clearly looking for a play caller worthy of directing an anemic offense, decided to pull Anderson out for Max Hall at the 4 minute mark of the third quarter. There weren’t any smiles on the sidelines. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt later said that he thought Anderson might have been suffering concussion symptoms after several hard hits. Hall didn’t last long. He was sacked twice and threw an interception.  He fumbled the ball on the second sack and separated his left shoulder trying to recover the ball and has been put on season ending injured reserve. Third string rookie John Skelton, a highly regarded fifth round pick out of Fordham got his first NFL experience by default. Skelton looked comfortable in the pocket completing back to back passes to Steve Breaston (22) and Fitgerald (19) despite penalties ending the drive. Whisenhunt is undecided on who will start against Denver but it doesn’t change Skelton’s preparation. “I’ll be ready to go regardless if I get the call or not,” he was quoted as saying.

The question that needs to be asked is; would Matt Leinart been much worse?

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16 November 2010

Season slipping away for Cards

The Cards (3-6) posted their fourth straight loss of the season, falling to the Seahawks 36-18 in front of 61,000 vocally unhappy home crowd fans. The Cards continue to ignore the urgency of an almost lost 2010 campaign. They came into this game knowing that a win could land them on top of the weak NFC West. This is the longest losing streak since 2006. What makes things worse is that the Cards are now two back of the Seahawks (5-4) but realistically the deficit is three games because Seattle swept the season series. “There were so many mistakes out there today, it’s too hard to talk about them all,” Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was quoted as saying.

For most of the game the Cards offense was silent despite a good day numbers wise by QB Derek Anderson, who finished 23 of 45 for 322 yards with one td and a int. The Cards only lead of the game came in the opening quarter when RB Tim Hightower (13-39) ran it in from the two yard line after an impressive 5 play 52 yard drive. Seattle kicker Olindo Mare had 5 field goals to lead all scorers. The Cards got a token score in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Anderson hit WR Early Doucet from the two. The 12 play 79 yard drive ate up almost five minutes on the clock.

With seven weeks left in the season, things don’t get any easier as the Cards travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs who got spanked by Denver in their last contest. Time certainly isn’t on the Cards side now.

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21 October 2010

Cards Pull Off Upset Victory

Not too many Cards fans had much confidence in Head Coach Ken Whisenhunts decision to start rookie quarterback Max Hall over veteran Derek Anderson. Yet a new look and fresh start maybe  exactly what the team needed in their improbable 30-20 win over the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in week five of this NFL season.

Hall wasn’t flashy, but gritty completing 17 of 27 for 168 yards. The lone interception that he did throw came on his second pass attempt that took away great field position after a 60 yard kickoff return by LaRod Stephens- Howling to start the game. The Saints jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first on a 37 yard field goal by John Carney. Hall got sandwiched by three Saint Defenders near the goal line. His helmet went flying off; the ball went up for grabs, while tackle Levi Brown picked it up and scored.

Hall was shaken up. Anderson had to come in for a couple of plays, but Hall wasn’t going to be denied. “You’re not going to keep me out of a game,” Hall was quoted as saying. “I’d have to be out cold to not go back in. It’s going to be hard to keep me out.”

From there, the football Gods were looking down on the Cards (3-2) as it seemed that every break went their way. Stephens-Howling came up with another big return (48yards) to set up Jay Feely’s 37 yard FG.  The Cards later tied it when a Ben Graham punt pinned the Saints at their own one.

QB Drew Brees  screen pass to Ladell Betts bounced off his hands and into the alert arms of linebacker Paris Lenon, who grabbed it at the two to set up the Cards’ first TD. Both teams traded field goals until the fourth quarter when the Cards’ defense took over.

With the Cards up 16-13, DT Darnell Dockett on successive plays pressured Brees. First he forced him into a quick pass to Betts that resulted in a one yard loss. Then Dockett stripped the ball from Betts, allowing safety Kerry Rhodes to dash in and return it 27 yards for a TD and a 10 point lead. 

Brees hooked up for a 50 yard scoring bomb to Robert Meachem to close the gap to 23-20. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sealed the victory when he picked off Brees (third int. of the day) and scampered 28 yards to pay dirt. “People say that we are the worst defense in our division,” Dockett was quoted as saying. “We just need to stay focused. We have a lot of talent and will get better.”

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5 October 2010

Cardinals get Embarrassed

The bottom line in the NFL is clear; in order to be successful teams need a quality quarterback.  Kurt Warner is long gone. The high expectations and second coming of Matt Leinart is but a memory. Current play caller Derek Anderson doesn’t seem to be the answer and that was obvious in his performance of just 7 of 14 for 64 yards and 2 interceptions in week four’s 41-10 dreadful loss to the San Diego Chargers.  The Chargers (2-2) out gained the Cards (2-2) 419 to 124, while running for a combined 180 yards.

Early on, Anderson who had to run for his life and was sacked three times found receiver Larry Fitzgerald on the first two offensive plays and led the Cards on a solid drive to the Chargers 22 yard line. It appeared that Tim Hightower ran it in for the score, but it was called back on a holding call on fullback Reagan Maui’a.  On the next play, Anderson went to the well one too many times and tried to force a pass to Fitzgerald who was double covered, resulting in an interception at the Cards 9. The Chargers put together an 89 yard scoring drive, finishing with a 33 yard td pass from Phillip Rivers to tight end Antonio Gates. Gates had a monster game pulling in 7 catches for 144 yards and two scores. The Cards got their lone touchdown to tie the score early in the second quarter when safety Kerry Rhodes picked up a Darren Sproles fumble and returned it 42 yards.

Cards Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt looking for some kind of spark benched Anderson in the second quarter and inserted rookie QB Max Hall, all but waving the red flag in defeat but obviously creating a training session for Hall and the offense. Hall, despite being sacked 6 times, managed 82 passing yards on 8 of 14 attempts.  In was a somber locker room with many players shaking their heads wondering what went wrong? “We let it get out of control,’ Whisenhunt was quoted as saying.

Things don’t get any easier as the New Orleans Saints and their high powered offense come to town in week five.

Receiver Steve Breaston had knee surgery and is expected to be out for at least two games. Rookie Steven Williams out of the University of Toledo had a respectable game with 3 catches for 32 yards including one for 17 and should get a lot more chances in the coming weeks.

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28 September 2010

Cards Fantastic Finish in 24-23 Victory Over Raiders

It’s probably safe to say that most of the home crowd fans at the University of Phoenix Stadium were hanging their heads and a few heading out as Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski lined up for his chip shot  32 yard game winning field goal attempt with 3 seconds left to play in regulation. Janikowski is considered by many NFL experts to have the strongest leg in the game. He had already made a 22, 23, and 54 yarder.  Everything looked good with the setup to snap. Remarkably, he pushed it right, giving the Cardinals an improbable 24-23 victory and a 2-1 record in the NFC West.

This game was exciting and had a little of everything. On the opening Raider kickoff, Cardinal La Rod Stevens Howling took the ball two yards deep in the end zone, ran up the middle behind the wedge, made a couple of nice cut backs for a 102 yard touchdown.   Stevens also ran back a td against Atlanta in week two, only to have it called back. The Raiders tied the score at 7 when Bruce Gradkowski (17-34 255 1td 1 int.) found tight end Zach Miller for 22 yards. Janikowski added two and Cards kicker Jay Feely one for a 13-10 Raider advantage after one quarter.

WR Steve Breaston capped off an impressive Cards 12 play 76 yard  drive with a two yard pass reception from QB Derek Anderson (12/26 122 2td 1int.)at the 6:10 mark to go up 17-13. Running back Beanie Welles back from a knee injury had a couple of strong runs to set up the score. Welles finished the day with 75 yards on 14 carries.  With just over two minutes remaining until half, RB Darren McFadden burst through the Cards defense for a two yard score.

All Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald had only two receptions on the day, another reason why the Cards offense has lacked any consistency. He made the most of his limited chances when he hooked up with Anderson for an 8 yard td strike with 4 minutes to play in the third.

There were a lot of good things that happened on the Cards defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Joey Porter recorded his first sack as a Cardinal. Safety Kerry Rhodes had 10 tackles. LB Paris Lenon had a sack and interception in the same game for the first time in his career.  The most impressive stat was giving up only one red zone td on five Raider tries, including an impressive stonewalling in the fourth quarter when the Raiders began with first and goal at the Cards one yard line.

The Cards travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers Sunday Oct 3.

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25 September 2010

Cards Dismal in First Loss of Season

Going into the opening game of the season Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt spoke of the need for balance and getting into a flow. In week one’s squeaked out 17-13 win over the St Louis Rams, the Cards looked out of sync especially offensively. When they had to make a play they pulled them off.

The defense led by safety Adrian Wilson, blocked a field goal, sacked QB Sam Bradford , and picked him off twice not allowing the Ram’s offense to get too far. Wide Receiver Steve Breaston had a sparkling game racking up 132 yards on 7 carries. Third string RB LaRod Stephens Howling, in for Beanie Welles out with a knee injury, had 49 yards rushing on the day. Quarterback Derek Anderson certainly wasn’t impressive early on, but managed just over 100 yards on the Cards game winning drive.

The Cards (1-1) didn’t seem to realize that just getting by the Rams in week one could be a bad signal against a better quality opponent, case in point. The Cards defense had no answer for the high powered Atlanta offense allowing 33 first downs and 221 yards rushing in a 41-7 thrashing. The Cards again had no rhythm committing 10 penalties for 109 yards, with 3 turnovers and a total of 267 net yards for the game.

Quarterback Derek Anderson ran for his life most of the game due to a relentless Falcon blitz package. Anderson finished 17 0f 31 for 161 yards and 2 interceptions. The lone bright spot came in the second quarter after the Falcons had taken a 10-0 lead. Running back Tim Hightower (11-115-1td) on the Cards first play from their own 20 yard line broke off right tackle and scampered 80 yards for the Cards only score. Hightower’s td was the longest in Cards history dating back to 1958 against Washington. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt tried to put a positive spin on a poor team performance. “It’s just the second game we have a chance to correct things and show that we are better than that,” he was quoted as saying.

Beanie Welles was back at practice and should be ready to go in week three at home against the Oakland Raiders.

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16 August 2010

Matt Leinart, a New Start

In most circles of competitive sports there is a saying that for athletes it’s 20% ability and 80% mental. For QB Matt Leinart that may never ring more true than this season.

After two years on the sidelines watching and learning as now retired Kurt Warner’s understudy, Leinart 27, in his fifth year in the league, needs to prove to the NFL and especially himself that he belongs as the starter. The ‘lefty’ thrower had a stellar college career at USC, winning two national championships, a Heisman Trophy, and a 37-2 record as a starter. You couldn’t blame Leinart for a little over confidence with his jump to the NFL. Selected by the Cards with the 10th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Leinart had an impressive rookie season and his future looked bright. Then the lights dimmed.

A broken collarbone suffered in the fifth game of the 07 season, sidelined him until 08 where he eventually was beat out for the starting spot in training camp by Warner, who by the way incidentally led the Cards to the Super Bowl.  “It opened my eyes,” Leinart was quoted as saying. “If I want to be a great NFL Quarterback I have to work harder.”

There have been questions about Leinart’s mechanics. He acknowledges that during the off season and so far in training camp he has worked hard on his footwork and arm strength, looking for consistency that Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt felt that he lacked. The Cards hope to have a more balanced offensive attack utilizing the talents of RB’s Tim Hightower, and Beanie Welles, allowing Leinart to open things up and roll and throw off play action fakes, one of his strong suits.

With the departure of star WR Anquan Bolden, and Warner’s retirement, many pre-season prognosticators pick the Cards to finish with a .500 record at best. Leinart disagrees. “I don’t mind people doubting us it just fuels the fire,” he was quoted as saying.
Make no mistake this is Matt Leinart’s team. Let’s see what he can do with it.

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11 August 2010

News and Notes from Training Camp

Flagstaff AZ.  An unexpected amount of rainfall made the first week of camp a little problematic. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was concerned about injuries as he noticed quite a few players slipping…

The annual Walk up Skydome Red vs. White scrimmage was held on August 7 in front of 11,000 excited fans. Whisenhunt liked the intensity of the practice and said that he likes the chemistry of this group so far….

Undrafted wide receiver Stephen Williams out of Toledo continues to impress in camp. Most of the time the 53 man roster is all but set except for maybe 5 or 6 spots. Unknowns like Williams come along once in a while and can make an immediate impact. Williams caught a 10 yard touchdown strike from Derek Anderson for the only td of the Red /White scrimmage. Williams might push veteran Onrea Jones as the fourth receiver….

Cornerback Greg Toler has been working out with the first team due to Trumaine Mc Bride’s sore groin. Toler had an interception in the end zone on a ball intended for Larry Fitzgerald in the Red/ White scrimmage….

Rookie defensive backs and corners including A.J. Jefferson and Jorrick Calvin are finding out in a hurry that if you want to play with All-Pro Cornerback Dominique Rodgers Cromartie listening to his instructions is vital for success. Cromartie not known for much talking but leading by example realizes that he needs to be more vocal to help out the new guys which will in turn help him.

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22 June 2010

Cards Lutui Agrees To Terms

The Cardinals have wrapped up all of their veteran restricted free agents when it was announced that right guard Deuce Lutui signed his tender offer June 14. It was originally reported that the four year veteran held out in hopes of getting a long term extension deal done. The Cardinals made it clear early in negotiations that there would be no deal before the season. Lutui was in good spirits as he left the team complex, but declined comment.

The one year deal is worth 1.759 million. The Cards could have lowered the salary to 588,500 if Lutui had not signed by June 15. The Cards don’t have any schedules workouts until the team reports for training camp in Flagstaff Arizona in late July. Lutui’s holdout caused him to miss not only the mandatory minicamp held after the draft, but the entire voluntary organized team activities including, the strength and conditioning program.

The USC alum played alongside QB Matt Leinart has battled weight issues before. Listed at 338 pounds, Conditioning continues to be a concern for the Cards. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt had no immediate comment.

The rest of the restricted free agents that signed their deals before off season workouts began include; wide receiver Steve Breaston, center Lyle Sendlein, tight end Ben Patrick, and nose tackle Gabe Watson.

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9 June 2010

On the Job Training for Grimm

Temperatures were hovering around 100 degrees Monday as the Arizona Cardinals opened their fourth and final week of organized team activities. Assistant Head Coach Russ Grimm was at the helm, putting the team through their paces. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt is out of town playing in the Safeway Invitational Golf Tournament in California. Grimm who played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of fame in 2010, was always known as a tough, hardnosed player. He hasn’t felt any pressure filling in although he did acknowledge that dealing with the media and entire organization will be a process as a Head Coach. He was quoted as saying; “The team is pretty much on auto pilot,” he explained. “They‘ve been through the practices, and know what periods are what, how many reps were going to go. “As a Head Coach you have to yell and scream sometime, I do that anyways so it’s about the same thing.”
Many Cardinal players feel that it won’t be long until Grimm is an NFL Head Coach. Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was quoted as saying;” Grimm is a natural leader. He does a good job. He’ll get his chance.”

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29 April 2010

Arizona Cardinals 2010 Draft Picks

Rd 1 Pick #26: DT Dan Williams, 6’3” 326 lbs. Tennessee – Grade: A- This was another pick that I predicted. People seem to be surprised that he “slid down” this far in the draft but in all honesty he was a low first round pick at best in my book. Anyway, he could be the nose tackle that this defense has needed for a very long time. They just need to get him in the weight room to get him a little stronger so he can hold the line on first and second down and shield other defenders from opposing blockers.

Rd 2 Pick #47: LB Daryl Washington, 6’2” 230 lbs. TCU – Grade: A- The Cardinals might think he could become another Joey Porter type pass-rusher on the outside. He is not big but Washington has the size, speed, and instincts to become a solid professional football player. He played in the middle at TCU and may still fit there in the pros if the D-line can occupy blockers up front. He should at least help out on special teams as a rookie and may surprise on defense.
Rd 3 Pick #88: WR Andre Roberts, 5’11” 195 lbs. Citadel – Grade: B One of the best small school prospects in the entire draft, Roberts has the toughness and skills to contribute on offense very soon. Luckily he is stepping into a group of wide receivers with the top three or four guys already in place so he will get a year or two to develop. He should eventually become a reliable slot receiver, capable of turning in some good runs after the catch.

Rd 4 Pick #130: DE/OLB O’Brien Scholfield, 6’2” 230 lbs. Wisconsin – Grade: A- An active defender who will not be able to carry much more weight to handle a lot of base end duties but could be a nice standup pass-rusher. The team hopes he can at least provide adequate depth on the edges. He has nice value here.
Rd 5 Pick #155: QB John Skelton, 6’5” 245 lbs. Fordham – Grade: C+ A strong-armed passer who was very productive against marginal competition. He will take some time to develop but if he is willing to work hard he could compete for a starting spot some day.

Rd 6 Pick #201: DB Jorrick Colvin, 5’11” 184 lbs. Troy – Grade: B- An athletic prospect that could find his way on special teams but most likely will never be a great defender. Troy has produced some decent DB talent over the last few years though.
Rd 7 Pick #233: TE Jim Dray, 6’5” 245 lbs. Stanford – Grade: C Could become a backup but will never develop into much more than that. Hopefully he can play special teams.

Final Overall 2010 Draft Grade: A- Williams, Washington, and Scholfield all are great picks and all could be huge components on the defense of the future. Roberts should provide the offense with a little more versatility and play-making ability off the bench. If Skelton, Colvin, and Dray make the cut it will be simply an added bonus.

By Scot Acocks

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15 April 2010

Arizona Cardinals Mock Draft

            Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner and defensive leader Bertrand Berry both retired, wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to Baltimore, free safety Antrel Rolle signed with the Giants, and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was the Cardinal’s best defender in the playoffs, bolted for Miami. The team added linebacker Joey Porter and safety Kerry Rhodes to help ease some of those losses, and they both could upgrade the defense overall, but some holes still need remain on the roster.

            As far as team needs go, the Cardinals could still use another linebacker, a pass-rusher, an offensive lineman, and a run-stuffing nose tackle. This draft is as deep as any other we have seen in terms of overall talent so most of the organization’s needs should get filled at some point in the draft. With the annual event quickly approaching it seemingly gets harder to decide which direction the team will go in the first round. It goes without saying that nobody really knows until it actually happens so everything from here on out is purely hypothetical.

            Following is a seven round mock of how things could pan out for the Cardinals. This year’s crop of talent is deep so it is possible that the team will add a few guys that could contribute a lot as rookies.

Rd 1 #26: DT Dan Williams, 6’3” 326 lbs. Tennessee – Big, physical, and should fit in well at the nose. He may not fill the biggest needs on defense but he could help shield whoever plays linebacker in the middle of the Card’s defense. Williams may be gone already so taking Alabama’s Terrence Cody or TCU’s Jerry Hughes are huge possibilities as well.
Rd 2 #58: OG Mike Johnson, 6’6” 305 lbs. Alabama – Big, versatile, and extremely smart, Johnson was a big reason why Alabama was so effective at running the ball. He was a four your starter that played mostly guard but also saw time at left tackle when former first round pick Andre Smith was out with injury.

Rd 3 #88: CB Brandon Ghee, 5’11” 189 lbs. Wake Forest – Long and fast, Ghee could fit in nicely opposite of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He has good man coverage skills but does not have great technique and is not very physical. At the very least he should help upgrade the defense’s nickel and dime packages.

Rd 3 #89: TE Garrett Graham, 6’4” 248 lbs. Wisconsin – A solid all-around prospect with good hands and football smarts. He is more of a finesse player that could help pick up some of the slack on offense by running the short to intermediate routes that Anquan Boldin executed with precision.

Rd 4 #123: DE Brandon Deadrick, 6’4” 296 lbs. Alabama – Should at least be a decent backup in the Card’s defense and could become an eventual starter. He is a good run defender who showed versatility by playing both end and tackle.

Rd 6 #195: OLB Junior Galette, 6’2” 245 lbs. Stillman (AL) – A project with potential as a pass-rusher, Galette originally played at Temple and may have some character issues. He could be a steal late in the draft and the Cardinals need pass-rushers.

Rd 7 #233: WR Freddie Barnes, 6’0” 212 lbs. Bowling Green – Had 155 catches as a senior. Displays good body control and runs great routes. He probably will never be a starter but might be a great third or fourth receiver on third downs.

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23 January 2010

The Arizona Cardinals: Final Grades for 2009

Coaching: B Ken Whisenhunt is a good coach who treats his players with respect and is in turn respected by his players. However, something was lacking when it really counted down the stretch. This team did not show the fire it possessed during last season’s playoffs, especially in the loss to New Orleans. The defense got pounded for 455.5 yards per game against the Packers and Saints, despite having a bunch of high draft picks and a couple pro-bowl caliber players on the field. The coaches, including defensive coordinator Billy Davis, should be held accountable for that since the team was giving up over 100 yards less per game in the regular season. The players, though are also to blame, cannot be the only ones at fault.

Quarterbacks: A- Kurt Warner keeps doing what everybody thinks he can’t do anymore, which is continuously win games with his arm. He will retire soon though, and Matt Leinart continues to be patient and work hard as Warner’s backup in the meantime. That will not continue too much longer. The Cardinals eventually want to get something out of the first round pick they invested in him four years ago.
Draft Outlook: Don’t expect the Cardinals to take a passer in round one with Leinart still on board behind Warner. It would not be a surprise to see one taken later on however.

Running Backs: B- Chris “Beanie” Wells played well as a rookie and gave the offense another dimension that it needed. Tim Hightower showed flashes, including a nifty touchdown run in the first play of their divisional round loss to New Orleans. They should continue to make a quality pair of running backs for at least the next few years but need to improve on their ranking of 28th in the league.
Draft Outlook: Not much is expected to be added here as not a ton of running back talent abounds this year.

Wide Receivers: A This is the best group in the league…period. Larry Fitzgerald is a beast who can take over games. Anquan Boldin may be a bit slow but he is quick enough, has great hands, and is as physical as anybody. He can power through most defenders once the ball is in his hands. Steve Breaston continues to be productive as the team’s third receiver, running good routes and using his speed to sneak through defenses. Early Doucet had a breakthrough season and played well down the stretch, especially against the Packers in the first round of the playoffs. Jerheme Urban may be the best fifth man in the league but he is a free agent.
Draft Outlook: The team may still take a receiver high if a really good one falls to them but they definitely will not go out of their way to get one. Anquan Boldin is still a little bitter about his contract situation in AZ.

Tight Ends: D Starter Anthony Becht, who is a blocker, had seven catches and backup Ben Patrick had 12.
Draft Outlook: Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham and Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski are first round talents that could still both be available when the Cardinals pick. Both would help improve production from the position and help offset the possible loss of Boldin.

Offensive Line: C These guys have been playing pretty well up front but they do not do anything great. With the 28th ranked rushing attack in the league and starting right guard Deuce Lutui becoming a fee agent some help may need to be added here.
Draft Outlook: If center prospect Maurkice Pouncey drops down to them in the first he’ll become a Cardinal quicker than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Defensive Line: C They ranked 17th against the rush in the regular season. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell both had seven sacks on the season from their end spots in the 3-4 scheme, which is great. However, they can get pushed around in the running game. Starting nose tackle Bryan Robinson is not really big enough for the position and backup Gabe Watson is a free agent.
Draft Outlook: It will not come as a surprise if the team takes another D-lineman high in the draft again in order to help with the run defense. Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody would be a logical first round pick if he’s still there.

Linebackers: C- Karlos Dansby saved this group from getting a lower grade. He seemed like the only guy on the field at times throughout the playoffs. Bertrand Berry also announced his retirement. Some help is needed here on the inside and outside.
Draft Outlook: Another fast, athletic pass-rusher would be nice to have. Texas’ Sergio Kindle will be around in the first. The team may look to free agency to find somebody to compete with Gerald Hayes on the inside.

Defensive Backs: C- A lot has been invested in this unit, including a couple of first round picks in free safety Antrel Rolle and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The only real pro-bowl caliber player thus far has been strong safety Adrian Wilson. This unit got torched for over 325.5 passing yards a game in the postseason and Don’t forget that they also gave up a last second touchdown catch to Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes in last year’s Super Bowl.
Draft Outlook: Anther guy to come in and compete for a starting spot would be nice. If a safety is brought in Rolle could move back to cornerback, which was his original position.

Special Teams: C- The kick return and punting units were good but the rest of the special teams were atrocious. The team only made 18 total field goals and kicker Neil Rackers missed some crucial ones in the playoffs.

Draft Outlook: If the team adds some talent to its linebacker and defensive back units that should help with coverage units too.

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19 January 2010

Simply Dominated

Going into their AFC divisional round playoff game the Arizona Cardinals were faced with the daunting task of going into New Orleans and playing a Saints team that was virtually unstoppable through most of the 2009 NFL season. It was nothing new to the rolling Cardinals who had ousted a tough Carolina Panther team in the same round last year and just got done ripping through a surging Green Bay Packer team in the first round.

This Saints were well prepared, though, and picked up right where they left off in the regular season, shredding the Cardinals 45-14.

I may have mentioned earlier this week that whichever team shows up with a defense will walk away from this one victorious. I was right. The Saints, who had been struggling as of late on the defensive side of the ball, held the Arizona offense to 359 total yards. Quarterback Kurt Warner, who may have been playing his last game for the Cardinals, did not throw a single touchdown after tossing five against the Packers just six days earlier.

Maybe it is time for the 38 year old warrior to hang up his cleats. After the hit he took from Saints defensive end Bobby McCray while pursing an interception he had just thrown, I am sure the thought crossed Warner’s mind at least a couple of times. At the moment Arizona fans will have to wait and see if their next season’s hopes will be decided by the arm of Matt Leinart. In the meantime Warner will try to remember the first half of Saturday’s game.

That may be the least of their worries however, as the defense continued to be non-existent this post-season. In fact, they gave up more points in two consecutive playoff games than any other team in NFL history (90). Anybody will tell you that it is hard to win in January, or any other time for that matter, when you allow 45 points per game.

Coming Up: I will post the Cardinals final grades for the 2009 season.

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13 January 2010

Offense Keeps the Cardinals’ Heads Afloat

The Green Bay Packers have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL over the second half of the 2009 season. After starting 4-4, including a loss to the hapless Buccaneers (3-13), the team surged to an 11-5 record behind quarterback Aaron Rogers and the #2 rated defense in the league.

For their efforts the team was awarded a Wild Card and a #5 Seed in the NFC playoffs. Their first opponent: The Arizona Cardinals, last year’s NFC Champion and Super Bowl representative.

On Sunday a mob of Cheeseheads showed up in Arizona and filled a good portion of University of Phoenix Stadium. Aaron Rogers had a great day, throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns, showing the world that he is in fact the guy who is capable of leading his team into the next decade.

In the end the Packers racked up 48 points on 493 yards of offense and overcame a 17-0 deficit in the first half. It was an impressive performance that was worth noting. The only problem is that the Packer’s vaunted defense, in their first year running a 3-4 scheme, stayed home in Wisconsin and allowed the Cardinals to rack up 531 of their own yards on their way to a 51-45 defeat. It was the highest point total in NFL playoff history.

The loss may have put an end to the Packer’s season but it allowed the Arizona Cardinals to virtually pick up where they left off in the playoffs last year before they ran into the Steelers in the Super Bowl. If the Cards want to continue those January winning ways, however, they cannot allow the other team to put so many points up on the board.

That may be a tall order, considering next up is a trip to New Orleans to visit the Saints and their #1 rated offense.

With this matchup we may just see another record-setting or, if the NFL gets its wish, a trend-setting day. The league welcomes these kinds of games as it loves to see the scoreboard light up like a Christmas tree. It does sell tickets.

However, it will be the team whose defense shows up that will get a shot at the NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.

The Saints have had a good offense for a couple years now and they know the need for good defense. They had the number one offense in the NFC last year and were in last place of the South Division last season. Adding a couple of defensive backs, including veteran free safety Darren Sharper with his league leading 9 interceptions, and re-signing linebacker Jonathan Vilma have helped them get out of the doldrums and back into January play. It may still be their Achilles Heel though as January brings whole different kind of ball game.

Comparatively, the Cardinals defense ranked 20th in overall defense, allowing 113 yards per game rushing and 234 yards per game passing, in 2009 after ranking 19th in defense last year. The Saints went from being 23rd in total defense in ‘08 to  this year, to taking two steps back and placing 25th in that category in ’09.

With a little bit of momentum now on their side again, the Cardinals will look to spoil Mardi Gras this year for the city of New Orleans. They like to play the part of spoiler. They did it a year ago in Carolina, beating the #2 seed Panthers 33-13.

The defense showed up big time in that game, intercepting quarterback Jake Delhomme five times and forcing one fumble.

Six turnovers would go a long way in securing a win this weekend in the Super Dome.

By Scot Acocks

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4 May 2009

2009 NFL Draft Class
By John L. Clarke

Round 1 (pick 31) – Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State (6’1”, 235 lbs.) With all the talk last year about how Edgerrin James had lost a step and Tim Hightower is just a short yardage back, an upgrade was needed.  Beanie has Top 10 talent, but slide due to teams looking for value in the RB position in later rounds.  Still, this was an excellent pick and fit.  Although he has some durability issues, he will give the Cardinals another offensive option that can close out games when trying to hold onto a lead.  If he can stay healthy, this is a great pick.

Round 2 (pick 63) – Cody Brown, DE/OLB, Connecticut (6’2”, 244 lbs.) With ‘tweeners being all the rage, Brown gets a chance in the NFL that he might not have gotten as a DE.  With the 3-4 defensive scheme the Cards run, Brown will get to utilize his pass rushing skills as he converts to a full time OLB.  The Cards pass rush was inconsistent last year, and they are hoping Brown can use his great athleticism to make a seamless transition and provide some stability.

Round 3 (pick 95) – Rashad Johnson, DB, Alabama (5’11”, 203 lbs.)
How Johnson slide to the 3rd round is a head scratcher.  He has great instincts and is a ball hawk.  He also played under Nick Saban, and with that kind of coaching style, Johnson should be ready to play sooner rather than later.  There are some concerns which may be the reason he slide one round later than he should have.  He has some character issues, albeit small, but it is still there.  He also needs to get stronger to handle the punishment from WR/TE that will come down field to block him.  He has only average measurable’s, but so did new teammate Anquan Boldin and he turned out just fine. 

Round 4 (pick 131) – Greg Toler, CB, St. Pauls (5’11”, 191 lbs.)
As there is in Draft’s of the past, teams will take a chance on little known student-athletes that could develop into big time Pro’s.  The Cards hope Toler fits that bill.  After missing out on a Division I due to poor academics, Toler got a 2nd chance at Division II St. Pauls.  Under former Philadelphia Eagles safety Kevin Grisby, Toler excelled at cornerback during his tenure.  He also will graduate soon, which shows how far he has come.  He may prove, in time, to be a great nickel back.

Round 5 (pick 167) – Herman Johnson, OL, LSU (6’7”, 364 lbs.)
The biggest baby ever born in Louisiana (15lbs., 14 ounces) is now in Arizona.  Johnson has the frame of one giant offensive tackle, but probably will fare better kicking inside to guard as he did during his college career.  Johnson is never going to be a superstar guard, however if he stays mentally and physically stout and devoted, he will be a welcome asset to the stability of the Cards offensive line.  He has a lot of work to do to maintain his weight and focus.  Strength and speed are not a part of his game, but he is massive and understands how to play o-line which is why he wins those battles in the trenches.  He may be a back-up for the next few years as he adjusts to the NFL speed of defender’s he will play.

Round 6 (pick 204) – Will Davis, DE/OLB, Illinois (6’2”, 260 lbs.)
Although Davis underachieved at Illinois, it was not due to effort.  He is going to have the most trouble adjusting to standing up in a 3-4 and would probably be better suited in the nickel as a rush defensive end (DE).  He has good speed, balance and strength but could not be a full time DE.  If he loses weight, gets faster and learns to play in space, he could be a valuable back-up.  He did start his career as a WR/TE so he does have the athletic background to switch positions, but only time will tell.

Round 7 (pick 240) – LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Pittsburgh (5’7”, 180 lbs.)
This small running back is very quick and shifty.  LSH would be very useful in the passing game since he is much faster and shifter than Hightower and Wells.  Other than being a 3rd down back and/or return man, he is going to be hard pressed to make the team.  Still, Darren Sproles, Garrett Wolfe and Maurice Jones-Drew are small in stature and have succeeded in the league. 

Round 7 (pick 254) – Trevor Canfield, OL, Cincinnati (6’5”, 307 lbs.)
Trevor Canfield may have been selected in the 7th round, but he has the ability to be a starter in this league in the near future.  His size, attitude and athletic ability have carried him this far and he is suited for the Cardinals passing approach.  Although he still needs to get more lead in is butt to better absorb bull rushing defensive tackles, he plays with a mean streak and will fight to gain position.  A valuable back-up that could also play some right tackle in a few years.

The Super Bowl runner-up seems to have helped their cause by getting a star running back to accompany diamond in the rough Hightower.  Picking Rashad Johnson in the 3rd round is one of a few steals in the entire draft.  He should find playing time behind Antrel Rolle early and will contribute in the nickel and dime defenses instantly.  Wells makes a good offense even better, but there are a lot of projects in this draft class that will label them as having great foresight or being horrible draft evaluators.  We’ll check back in a few years to see if these gambles paid off.

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