Tag Archives: Andre Ellington

Cardinals Entertain Brady-free Patriots in Season Opener

carson-palmer

Bud Light is the most popular beer in Arizona, and Cardinals fans reached for more than their share as they fidgeted their way through the first three games of a wobbly preseason. Arizona was outscored 83-37 by Oakland, San Diego and Houston.

The Cardinals’ 38-17 drubbing of Denver in game four came as a relief, even though both sides flung out players who were clinging to the bottom of the depth charts by their fingernails. Intellectually, fans know the preseason means almost nothing. But the Red Wave has grown accustomed to victory during Coach Bruce Arians’ tenure, no matter the date or circumstance.

And no wonder.

Arians came aboard in 2013 and coaxed 10 wins out of a Cardinals team that finished 5-11 the previous year. Arizona went on to win 11 games in 2014 and 13 games last year. The trajectory is not hard to plot. A franchise that for decades seemed devoted to mediocrity has experienced a tectonic shift in expectations and quality of play. The team is built to win, but can it get into and then roll through the playoffs?

Critical components from all over the field return, such as Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, and a healthier Tyrann Mathieu. This bodes well.

KEY ADDITIONS
Frustrated by the lack of pressure the defense put on Cam Newton in Carolina’s 49-15 beat down of the Cards in last season’s NFC Championship game, Arizona GM Steve Keim worked the phones and brought in outside linebacker Chandler Jones from the Patriots. The 2015 Pro Bowler’s 30 sacks the last three years ties him with Denver’s Von Miller, one of the game’s finest at his craft. Keim also imported Tyvon Branch from Kansas City, who was among the league’s top cover safeties in 2015.

FIRST UP: ARIZONA V. NEW ENGLAND
A grateful nation will tune into NBC’s Sunday Night Football as Arizona locks horns with the visiting Patriots, who are among Vegas’ preseason Super Bowl favorites. The Cardinals catch a break in this one—Tom Brady is in the penalty box for air pressure transgressions and All-Pro tight end and party beast Rob Gronkowski is expected to sit out with a balky hamstring. Arizona has been masterful at University of Phoenix Stadium the last few years, and is 20-4 in QB Carson Palmer’s last 24 starts, whether home or away.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DAVID JOHNSON
30-year-old running back Chris Johnson enjoyed a resurgence last season, stabilizing what had been a spotty Arizona running game. But when he fractured his tibia in game 11 he opened the door for young David Johnson. Johnson registers 6’1”, 224 lbs., and he’s proven to be the rare back with the ability to run over or around would-be tacklers. He has good hands out of the backfield and a nose for daylight and the big play. In short, he’s been a revelation and he’s earned the starting job.

FUN FACTS ABOUT DAVID JOHNSON
– Last season, Johnson forced 41% more missed tackles than any other RB in the NFL.
This really happened: Bobby Flay selected David Johnson first overall in ESPN’s celebrity NFL fantasy league draft. Of course Bobby Flay knows as much about football as David Johnson knows about pan-seared brook trout with Malabar pepper-infused aioli. So take it with a grain of sea salt.

If David ever falters, a healthier Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington have shown they are fully capable of making big contributions.

HUNTING POKÉMON
The following players will not play Sunday, and may be otherwise occupied:
Arizona: Kareem Martin, LB—knee.
New England: Tom Brady, QB—deflated. Rob Gronkowski, TE—hammy. Nate Solder, OT—hammy.

Arizona has won five of its last six openers. New England has won 11 of its last 12. Which team will take the first step toward the Super Bowl in Houston Feb. 5? Tune in at 5:30 PST.

– Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Larry Fitzgerald v. Rams

Arizona Cardinals: Sheet Cakes and Sparkling Wine

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

It’s not all sheet cakes and sparkling wine in Cardinals camp. Granted, Arizona sports a 9-2 record, has a three game division lead and has won five straight, but coach Bruce Arians has never acquired a taste for complacency. Last week the Cardinals were largely outplayed by the struggling 49ers, recent games have been uncomfortably close, and it hasn’t escaped institutional memory that last year’s team also started 9-2 before dropping four of its last six.

There will be plenty of time for celebration later if it’s warranted. There is a lot of work to do.

The Cardinals have flown to St. Louis to butt heads with the Rams today, the team that took Arizona down 24-22 at University of Phoenix Stadium Oct. 4, leaving a “nasty taste” in QB Carson Palmer’s mouth and no doubt the mouths of others. Arians said he would have dinner with the Rams, “…but I ain’t liking them. I ain’t drinking with them.” Division foes don’t tend to receive holiday cards from the Arians.

Palmer claims he doesn’t hold a grudge against St. Louis for the play that tore his ACL in 2014, ending his season. Palmer doesn’t, but the fans well might. There was a whiff of revenge in the desert air this week. Safety Tyrann Mathieu simply says, “I just think every time we play them it’s a 60-minute fist fight.”

The once-promising Rams have suffered through a four-game losing streak to fall to 4-7, and Arizona will need to stay alert for blows from a team that may well thrash about in its season-ending death throes. St. Louis doesn’t look or smell like a playoff contender, and a loss today will effectively bury the Rams.

St. Louis RB Todd Gurley ran roughshod over Arizona in the Rams Oct. 4 win, sprinting for 146 yards on 19 carries, the only 100+ yard effort this year against the Cards’ fourth-ranked rushing defense. That game started a four-game 100+ yard streak for Gurley, but he’s tucked away his cape recently while averaging a pedestrian 54.8 yards since the outburst. It didn’t take deep film study for teams to begin to realize that if you stop Gurley, you stop the Rams.

Gurley’s counterpart RB Chris Johnson suffered a tibial plateau fracture last week that will put him out for the season–or perhaps, as Cardinals doctors optimistically put it, until the Super Bowl. That was a sharp blow to the spirit as well as the leg of Johnson, and there is little solace in the notion that perhaps now he can complete a definitive guide to the blooming patterns of saguaro cacti in Lost Dutchman State Park. He’ll be missed.

Time for last year’s starting running back Andre Ellington to step in, right? No. He’s week-to-week with turf toe, and has been ruled out. Rookie David Johnson will be the lead dog this week. Johnson has four touchdowns in limited touches and has impressed in flashes. He has fumbled three times but Arians says he’s getting better with ball security, as most rookies must learn to do.

Healthy runners are in short supply, but the 2015 Cardinals feature one of the league’s finest passing attacks. Carson Palmer’s 27 TD passes are second only to Tom Brady’s 28. Palmer is third in NFL passing yards and QB rating. His favorite target is Larry Fitzgerald, who has risen from several sub-par (by his standards) seasons to grab 83 balls, good for third best in the league.

There is a beautiful symmetry in play today for Fitzgerald: He needs eight yards to reach 1,000 for the season and eight catches to notch 1,000 for his career. Fitzgerald is sure to see plenty of balls spinning his way off the right hand of QB Carson Palmer.

St. Louis will counter at QB with fleeting golden boy Nick Foles. After coming over from Philadelphia in the off-season, Foles uncorked a 297-yard passing effort in his first game with the club, leading the Rams to a 34-31 overtime win over Seattle. Results have been mixed since, and he has thrown for one touchdown and four interceptions in his last five starts. Now Foles has been supplanted on the depth chart by the uninspiring Case Keenum; but since Keenum is concussed today, Foles gets the start. I imagine there is a shipping container in Hong Kong stuffed with Foles bobble-heads that will never see the light of day.

A win today would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. The only team to do better? The 1948 Chicago Cardinals out of Comiskey Park, who raced to an 11-1 record under coach Jimmy Conzelman and led the league with 32.9 points per game. Despite a fine season, the Cardinals fell to Philadelphia 7-0 in the league championship game and did not return to the playoffs for 26 years.

Memo from Bruce Arians: keep the bubbly on ice until February 7.

– Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Arizona Cardinals: At Home on American Soil

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Astute Arizona fans will recall that the Cardinals played in the first regular season NFL game held outside the United States. It was October 2, 2005, and the Cards took down the San Francisco 49ers 31-14 in front of over 103,000 spectators in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.

Today’s international games are played in London, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is dead set on flinging mediocre squads across the Atlantic in an effort to gain a foothold in Europe. Presumably the only way Londoners have been able to stomach these games is by clutching tankards of Newcastle and locking arms in full-throated song. Sunday’s fare includes 1-6 Detroit battling 2-5 Kansas City.

Proper Englishmen are unfailingly polite (“Sorry old sport, I believe I’ve snapped your Achilles tendon”) but they are surely tested by the stop-and-start nature of American football. Unlike the flow of rugby and European football (soccer), the average NFL game contains about eleven minutes of action after all the huddling and various breaks. This said, the English often find a leisurely pace to their liking. Consider this: First-class cricket matches are played over three to five days with at least six hours of action each day.

I flew to London on business in October, 1994 and my pants needed ironing before a meeting my first morning. Not finding an iron in the room I rang the genial bloke at the front desk, who explained that the odd device in the back of the closet known as a “pants press” would do the trick. I simply had to hang my pants on it and flip the “on” switch. I did so, and I waited. And waited. Had I not removed them barely warmed from the contraption after 40 minutes so I could make my meeting I’m convinced they would have been well-pressed by the time the Labour party took power in 2007.

In domestic matters, 5-2 Arizona visits Cleveland today to take on the 2-5 Browns. Arizona staved off a late Baltimore rally Monday night for a 26-18 victory and they enjoy a 1.5 game division lead over St. Louis. A banged-up Josh McCown will start at QB for Cleveland, but the Cardinals prepared for both McCown and backup Johnny Manziel in practice this week. Arizona learned its lesson by failing to adequately prepare for Pittsburgh’s backup QB Landry Jones two weeks ago in a loss to the Steelers. That one left a bad taste in coach Bruce Arians’ mouth. Whomever’s under center for the Browns, Arizona will try to add to its NFL-leading 12 interceptions.

RB Chris Johnson is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, which puts him among the game’s elite. It’s no wonder the Cardinals discussed a contract extension with him this week. The Brown’s defense figures to be accommodating, as they have allowed a league-worst 1057 yards on the ground. Arians plans to get RB Andre Ellington more touches today as well. He continues to regain strength after an ankle injury, which has given Johnson the chance to step in and shine. Add David Johnson to the mix and the Cardinals are loaded in the backfield.

Some traveling Arizona fans took in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week, and no one could have blamed WR Larry Fitzgerald if he traveled 60 miles south to Canton and the NFL Hall of Fame, to walk the hallowed halls in which his jersey will one day be enshrined.

NFC West pursuers St. Louis and Seattle are expected to win today, and Arizona will fight to do the same and maintain its division cushion. It’s expected to be windy on the shores of Lake Erie. Despite Carson Palmer’s success in the air this season he’ll be happy to hand it to Ellington and the Johnson boys to punch through the Cleveland defense.

Starting today, five of the Cardinals’ next seven games are on the road. After that? Two tough home contests against Green Bay and Seattle. Arizona must handle winnable games like today’s in order to absorb possible stumbles down the road. If the Cardinals fail to knock the Cleveland buggers arse over teakettle Coach Arians will be left bloody knackered and off his trolley.

Memo to Roger Goodell: I beg you—keep the game on home soil where it belongs.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Arizona Cardinals: Apparent Darlings of the Sporting Public

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Last weekend this blogger made his annual pilgrimage to Reno, NV, ostensibly to gauge the temperature of the sporting public regarding the Arizona Cardinals.

Cocktail servers in cheerful hairstyles and abiding grins combed the sportsbook at the Peppermill Hotel and Casino, ferrying over-iced, lower-shelf cocktails to wagering hopefuls gathered around small, round tables in the muffled calm preceding kickoff of the morning games, before the flash of 100 TV monitors set visiting hopefuls in replica jerseys aglow alongside unshaven locals burning Camels down to the butt and recounting last week’s wagering triumphs to anyone within earshot.

I observed that a bloody mary does tend to lubricate one’s thinking as one considers, say, adding woeful Jacksonville and the points to a parlay card. But soon enough I settled in, scanned the board and got down to business.

I noticed the Peppermill had installed visiting Arizona as a mere 2.5 favorite over the Detroit Lions. The oddsmakers had either lost confidence after the Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season to St. Louis the previous week or they reasoned that the Lions were due to bust out at home for their first win. Judging by the yelps that would rise up when Arizona’s Chris Johnson broke off another big run or Carson Palmer threw for one of his three touchdowns, the smart money in the room was on the Cardinals. In the end, Arizona returned to winning form and dismantled Detroit 42-17 at Ford Field, to the delight of many.

This week I’ll watch the Cardinals take on Pittsburgh in the relative quiet and fresher air of my home. Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger is still nursing a knee injury and is unlikely to play. Coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher have hatched a plan, therefore, to stop backup QB Michael Vick and running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell has ripped off consecutive 100+ yard games at a nifty 5.5 yard clip. Vick’s game no longer features explosive running speed, and Arians will trust the No Fly Zone to stop Vick’s short and mid-range passing game. All defensive eyes will be on Bell whenever he touches the ball.

Aging sack machine Dwight Freeney will take the field for the first time this year. Arizona hopes he can recapture some past magic and partially replace the departed John Abraham’s 11.5 sacks of last year.

Defense aside, one can’t ignore that the 2015 Arizona Cardinals are an offensive juggernaut, scoring over 40 points in three of their first five contests. The team is healthy and weapons abound, bolstered by the return of RB Andre Ellington, who raced for a 63 yard score last week. Chris Johnson continues to impress at 5.1 yards per rush. Carson Palmer forgot to pack his knee brace last week at Detroit–really–but it will be safely attached this week to help withstand whatever menacing shots Pittsburgh blitzers might deliver.

Palmer’s QB rating of 114 has him breathing the same air as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Another strong performance, this time in the roiling cauldron of Three Rivers Stadium, will go a long way toward solidifying Arizona’s place among the NFL elite.

Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Arizona Cardinals Week Two: The Rise of Chris Johnson, by Eric Forgaard

Squinting against the reflected glow of the franchise’s best record since its 1920 birth in Chicago, Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim sank into his Chesterfield sofa this off-season and pondered the team’s future. How best to sustain that momentum and go deeper into the playoffs? Which puzzle pieces ought to be brought in? Keim twisted his mustache, poured himself two fingers of Jameson and called Chris Johnson’s agent.

Johnson, once among the game’s elite running backs, was underutilized last year with the New York Jets and felt betrayed when Chris Ivory shouldered most of the load. Johnson had sprinted for a league-leading 2,006 yards with the Tennessee Titans in 2009–nearly 600 yards more than his closest competitor—and he added 500 receiving yards, averaging more than 10 yards per catch. It’s no wonder that Keim placed the call.

But 2009 was another time, another team, and six years of punishing hits will rob the verve from a man’s legs. And wasn’t Johnson ostensibly brought in to play second fiddle to the young, darting Andre Ellington? Why the fuss? Because Ellington will watch Sunday’s game against Chicago from home, dipping into guacamole and resting the sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. For one Sunday at least, the ball is Johnson’s.

Arizona dispatched New Orleans in week one 31-19, led by quarterback Carson Palmer’s 300 yards passing and three TDs. Larry Fitzgerald snared six Palmer darts for 87 yards but left the scoring to others. Ellington rushed at a 5.75 yard clip and added a touchdown. It was a solid start for the aspirational Cardinals, who appeared to answer questions about their offensive line and displayed depth at the skill positions.

The Cardinals and Bears are two of the NFL’s original franchises, and they’ll butt heads for the 90th time at Soldier Field Sunday, where rugged, menacing linebackers once roamed. These days the Bears are a bit nimbler and flashier, reflecting the NFL trend.

Descriptions of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler fall uniformly between genius and lunkhead, and can alternate from one daring throw to the next. He’s missing a key weapon this week in Alshon Jeffery, who has tallied two straight receiving seasons of well over 1,000 yards. Chicago must lean more heavily on Matt Forte, who is quietly one of the best players in the league and is a feared receiver even from the running back position. Memo to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: stay alert for screen passes to Forte.

Arizona is 14-3 at home under Coach Arians, but a tamer 8-8 on the road. The Cardinals are installed as a slight favorite to take down Chicago Sunday, and each team is battling injuries. If Carson Palmer has time in the pocket to ply his trade and no foul winds whip up off of Lake Michigan, the Cardinals will return to the desert with a 2-0 record, brimming with confidence for their clash next week with division rival San Francisco.

September 20, 2015

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard
This blog is not supported by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.