Tag Archives: Arizona

Arizona Cardinals: Angst, and the Loneliness of the Long Snapper

long-smapper

The Arizona Cardinals announced the release of rookie long snapper Kameron Canaday this week. “Release”—what a pleasant term. It evokes images of doves at a wedding or dandelion seeds on a spring breeze. Other words seem more suitable for a promising team that has slogged to a 1-2 start, such as “fired,” or “axed.” Canaday botched the snap on the game winning field goal attempt in week one, and blew another in Buffalo last week that was returned 53 yards for a defensive touchdown. Cardinals fans may prefer his head, but they’ll have to settle for his dismissal.

Canaday played his college ball at Portland State and participated in football and basketball in high school. His father played college football at Western Oregon. This is more than you should ever know about a long snapper. He’s like your company’s custodian or computer guy–you don’t think much about them until something goes wrong.

In a season rife with expectations for the Arizona Cardinals, much has gone wrong.

The Cardinals went three-and-out on each of their first five possessions in their 33-18 loss to Buffalo last week, amassing a total of…wait for it…two yards. And QB Carson Palmer threw interceptions on Arizona’s final four drives—the same number you would throw if you were somehow called upon. This from an offense that lead the NFL last year with 408 passing yards and 30.6 points per game. Adding to frustrations, a defense stocked with difference-makers like Pro-bowlers Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Calais Campbell has generally underperformed.

In assessing last week’s effort, Arizona General Manager Steve Keim said, “When you lose it feels like the sky is falling, and when you win everything is great.” This mirrors the fans’ perspective, but the difference is that Keim has the power to work the phones and ship out players to ply their trade elsewhere. “The talent is there,” Keim said, “…but the number of ‘mental busts’ on both sides of the ball after three weeks is distressing.”

Distressing indeed.

Early season cobwebs, an out-of-sync offense, balls bouncing the wrong way—a Cardinals team that may appear to need some fine tuning instead likely needs a slap in the face. Coach Bruce Arians, the strategist and philosopher, reasoned to the media that the team may be trying too hard or is perhaps overconfident. Arians the red-ass used more colorful language in the locker room this week, and Cardinals practices were shot through with anger and urgency.

Arizona hosts the Rams Sunday, a team that has been a thorn in its side the last few years. Carson Palmer was left writhing in pain with a torn ACL in the Nov. 9, 2014 contest, and a Cardinals team that had been rolling at 7-1 skidded to a 3-4 finish and an early playoff exit. And on Oct. 4, 2015 the underdog Rams topped Arizona 24-22, delivering one of only three losses the Cards suffered all year.

The Rams franchise returns to Los Angeles this season after a twenty year hiatus in St. Louis. There were flares of greatness in those years, mostly in 1999, when The Greatest Show on Turf, highlighted by QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk, finished 13-3 and took down the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. There were lean seasons too, when wins were as scarce as condor sightings and Donald Trump apologies. Between 2007 and 2009, the Rams’ record was an appalling 6-42.

LA fans may yearn for the glory days of Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood, or Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy “crazylegs” Hirsh. For now, they have a great running back in Todd Gurley, a promising defense, and not much more. The 49ers spoiled LA’s season opener, throttling the Rams 28-0, but the Rams have since rebounded with two wins and share the NFC West lead with Seattle.

Arizona can pull into a three-way tie with a home victory over LA today and a Seattle loss to the NY Jets. But a loss would leave the Cardinals in the division cellar, and the cauldron of a packed University of Phoenix Stadium would surely boil over with exasperation.

LONDON, AGAIN

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is keen to grow the game internationally, yet every season he flings substandard teams across the Atlantic like Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Oakland—and now Sunday’s contestants, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts.

The British gave us Newton’s Laws, the programmable computer, the steam locomotive, and the theory of evolution. Oh, and the English language. What have we given them? The Jacksonville Jaguars, every year since 2013.

The Jaguars’ 0-3 record this year squares with their recent history—they’ve notched only three winning seasons since 2000—and this time the good citizens of London will shuffle into Wembley Stadium to endure the Jags’ scrum against 1-2 Indianapolis. It’s a “home” game for Jacksonville, in the sense that it’s 4,259 miles from Florida. While trying to grow the fan base abroad, Mr. Goodell, might you be softening a U.S. base accustomed to watching games on home soil?

This series is not a glad-hearted tale of cultural exchange. It’s an all-too-familiar story of corporate greed.

WATCHING HILARIOUS CAT VIDEOS

The following players are unable to play this week, and may be otherwise engaged:

Frostee Rucker, defensive tackle: knee
Drew Butler, punter: calf
Kameron Canaday, long snapper: embarrassment

  • Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Arizona Cardinals, Week Two: Back on Track or Panic Time?

fitzgerald-ponders

Arizona’s last-second game-winning 46 yard field goal attempt in Sunday night’s opener was a four-step process: Low snap, late hold, wide left, heads hung.

Kicker Chandler Catanzaro had converted 100% of his kicks from that distance and closer last season. Not this time, and the Cardinals sputtered out of the 2016 gate with a 23-21 loss to the visiting Patriots. Without offensive stalwarts Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Coach Bill Belichick had tricks up his sleeve—he’s Houdini in a hoodie—and too often he left the Cardinals mystified. Damage had been done well before that kick.

After the disappointing result, many Arizona fans fashioned a two-step process of their own:

Step one: Locate panic button.
Step two: Press it, with vigor.

Catanzaro’s wide-swinger was the final act of a special teams unit that was sub-par all day. The return game offered little. Punts were short. Coach Bruce Arians will tell you that, and he’ll regale you with tales of poor tackling, missed assignments, third down defensive laxness, vanishing receivers, lack of sustained offensive flow, and much more. Monday morning, GM Steve Keim used words like “disappointed” and “embarrassed” when he assessed the effort.

Still, Arizona came within a whisker of beating the vaunted Patriots and helping to wipe away the foul memory of last year’s NFC Championship smack down at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.

Don’t press that button just yet, folks.

Keep it handy though, just in case. Tampa Bay’s wunderkind QB Jameis Winston rolls into town today with his aerial circus in tow. Winston is fresh off Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 23 of 32 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a Buccaneers win over the Falcons last week. Arizona’s cornerbacks will have their hands full as Winston slings it to talented Buc receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, who are both tall and can stretch the field.

The Cardinals’ mood is more anger than panic. They aim to prove they still belong in conversations about the NFL elite.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  1. More touches for running back David Johnson. Johnson gained 89 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for a 10.8 yard average last week. Johnson may be the most elusive 225 pounder on the planet and he can plow over you if needed. He has a flair for first downs and touchdowns. Get him the ball.
  2. Help Larry. Larry Fitzgerald hauled in eight catches last week and scored twice. He has sticky hands and he’ll be in Canton someday. But he needs some help right now. Michael Floyd caught three passes last week. No other Cardinal wide receiver caught more than one.
  3. Boost Brandon Williams’ confidence. The rookie cornerback won the job in the preseason, though it would likely be Justin Bethel’s if he wasn’t playing with pain in his surgically-repaired foot. Williams blew a coverage and misplayed a pass last week, both leading to Patriots scores. Tampa Bay will want to throw his way, and the Cards will have to play more zone to help Williams.

KNITTING DOG SWEATERS
The following players will be unavailable Sunday and may be otherwise occupied:

Frostee Rucker, DT (knee).
Kareem Martin, LB (knee).

The season is young, but this feels like a pivotal game for Arizona. A win over Tampa Bay makes the Patriots game a blip. A loss makes it a trend.

Fans: If you need to push that panic button, please wipe the BBQ sauce off your fingers first. It’s mannerly, and simply good hygiene.

– 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.

Venton Yablonski

Arizona Cardinals: 2015 Edition, by Eric Forgaard

The Arizona Cardinals raced to a 9-1 mark last season before finishing 11-5 and falling in the playoffs to the upstart Carolina Panthers. Despite the disappointing finish, Cardinals fans enjoyed a rare off-season of reverie, ice tinkling in tall glasses of summer tea, daring to imagine hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara Feb. 7.

But Super Bowl dreams are slaughtered wholesale for teams without solid offensive lines, and this year’s unit has something to prove. Last season the O line had trouble opening holes for Andre Ellington and the other running backs, and the unit finished dead last in the NFL in yards per carry. Off-season acquisition Mike Iupati was expected to shore things up, but he’ll miss the first several games recovering from knee surgery. Guard Jonathan Cooper, the Cards’ 2013 first round pick, will need to take a big step forward. Iupati, Cooper, and linemates Veldheer, Larsen and Massie are also tasked with keeping 35 year old Carson Palmer in the pocket and upright. The sparkle the Arizona offense acquires when Palmer has time to throw dulls measurably when he’s forced to watch from the sidelines.

The Johnson boys–rookie David and veteran Chris, no relation–will provide depth and experience to complement the flashy Ellington at running back. Wily vet Larry Fitzgerald still anchors the receiving corps, flanked by Michael Floyd and the speedy John Brown. If Palmer has time to throw the trio can do its share of damage.

Offensive uncertainties are assuaged by the return of a defensive unit that performed quite well in stretches last year. Young defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson are among the brightest stars in the firmament and should continue to improve.

HISTORY IS MADE

In 2014, the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution signed 5′ 3″ 130 pound Dr. Jennifer Welter to play running back, making her the first woman to play pro football at a position other than kicker. Ashley Collman of dailymail.com wrote, “After taking a particularly hard hit from 6-foot-4, 245-pound lineman Cedric Hearvey, Welter shot back with: “Is that all you got?” In February this year the 37 year old Welter again broke new professional ground when she joined the coaching staff of the Revolution. This summer the Arizona Cardinals hired her as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and the preseason to work with the inside linebackers. The bright and feisty Welter holds a doctorate in psychology and she earned the respect of the linebacker corps. Word is that she excels at film study, and I’m not talking about the early work of German auteur Ernst Lubitsch. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is open to hiring her on permanently in the future.

A LOOK AHEAD

Arians has notably fostered a culture of esprit de corps in the desert, which was tested this summer during the players’ family picnic when Tom Brady showed up and deflated the kiddie pool. No one expects another 9-1 start this year. The Cardinals are not predicted to perch atop the division at season’s end; the division foe Seattle Seahawks are the darlings of the cognoscenti after two straight trips to the Super Bowl. But Arians’ influence has energized the team and buoyed the confidence of the long-suffering faithful. And the law of NFL parity states that nearly every team has a chance in a given season.

Vegas has installed Arizona as a slight favorite to beat visiting New Orleans in week one. A Cardinals team equally studded with stars and question marks must win such games to have a shot at the playoffs.

Sep. 13, 2015

 

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