Tag Archives: Bruce Arians

Arizona Cardinals 2017: The Journey Begins in Detroit

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: For the Cardinals to succeed this season, they’ll need to keep QB Carson Palmer upright and healthy. Indeed, that’s been the charge of the offensive line for the last few years. Some player pedigrees are good, especially that of four-time Pro-Bowler Mike Iupati, but injuries have led to position-shifting and uncertainty up and down the line. 37-year-old Palmer was sacked 40 times last year, and coach Bruce Arians winced every time.

Palmer’s a throwback to the pure pocket-passer tradition your father enjoyed. You know—Unitas, Lamonica, Starr. His style is losing favor in today’s NFL, where nimble-legged QB’s can spoil the third-down blitz to move the chains or buy more time for receivers to come open. One of those targets will be the venerable Larry Fitzgerald, who like Palmer, has hinted this may be his last season.

Fitz has a shot at joining an exclusive club in Detroit today against the Lions—with 82 receiving yards, he’ll become the fifth player with 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over a career in season openers. Other members of the club? Don Maynard (ask your father), Andre Reed, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice—three Hall of Famers, and Moss is knocking on the door.

The Cardinals’ faithful pray for Palmer’s health, and surely also for the health and fortune of the NFL’s quiet superstar: David Johnson. The average man on the street has never heard of Johnson; unless that man is on Camelback Road in Phoenix, in which case he may be wearing Johnson’s jersey and have his poster on the wall at home.

Johnson became the first player in league history to gain at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first 15 games. He rushed for 1,239 yards and added 879 receiving yards, falling 121 yards short of becoming only the third player in league history to gain 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving. “I feel like I definitely had the chance. I should have had it. I messed up a couple plays,” Johnson said.

Johnson may have been more than a couple plays away, but he’s unsatisfied and hungry. He wants more.

Same goes for Arians, Palmer, Fitzgerald, GM Steve Keim and that guy walking down Camelback Road. Last year’s 7-8-1 record left an ugly smudge on the end of a gleaming four-season run.

Can the Cardinals shake off a disappointing 2016 season and become a force again, starting in Detroit today? Bruce Arians was impressed with the summer and preseason work. He perhaps too-optimistically said, “Let’s get ready to put a ring on our finger.”

Echoes of Beyoncé there, and she’s done alright for herself.

-Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals Finale: Men, Beasts and Glory

palmer-colloseum

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer turned 37 this week and his body turned 49. Over his 13-year career, Palmer has suffered injuries to his shoulder, ribs, nose, ankle, head, knee, and elbow. He has suffered a concussion and blown out his ACL twice.

But in the final game of a discouraging season Palmer may well feel rejuvenated today when he leads his Cardinals teammates onto the sun-soaked lawn of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, an arena that still rings faintly with cheers from his halcyon days with the USC Trojans. The fair-haired Palmer detonated the school and conference record books, collected a Heisman Trophy, married his college sweetheart and was drafted into the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003.

Palmer’s exploits in the Coliseum were perhaps more palatable to the modern fan than the goings-on in Rome’s first-century Colosseum, after which the stadium was named. There, before the emperor and the blood-thirsty wails of 80,000 spectators, criminals sentenced to death were released to fend for themselves against an assortment of beasts such as hippos, elephants, lions and leopards. A man might be mauled by a bear, trampled by a rhinoceros, and then have his rib meat picked over by an ostrich. Acrobats and magicians performed in the intervals, perhaps to lighten the mood (“Behold Emperor, the olive branch has vanished!!!”).

Palmer will face a stout Rams defense today, but there is little chance he’ll have a limb gnawed off by a Caspian tiger. Arizona is fresh off a road win against rival Seattle, a small consolation for a Cardinals team that will watch the playoffs from the comfort and safety of Barcaloungers. Another small prize is at stake today, as Arizona hopes to avenge a week-four 17-13 home loss to the Rams, who have lost 10 of their last 11 since.

Some will tune in today to see if Cardinals running back David Johnson can set a record: at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game of an NFL season. Johnson, the 86th pick of the 2015 draft out of unheralded Northern Iowa, has been a revelation. He’s rushed for over 1,200 yards and added 841 receiving yards at a sterling 10.9 yards-per-catch clip. It’s not likely, but Johnson could hit another high mark today: with 159 yards receiving, he’d join NFL legends Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players to reach 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in a single season.

With little else to play for, Arizona may well feed Johnson the ball today in hopes he might earn some personal glory. But the unassuming Johnson would gladly trade that for the game’s ultimate prize.

Tiffany’s silversmiths will not be etching Arizona’s name on the Super Bowl trophy this season. And one wonders if they might do so next season, considering that Palmer and star receiver Larry Fitzgerald are mulling retirement.

Cardinals Nation is hoping those inner fires will flicker to life next spring. And through the long off-season one question will enrich dinner conversations and barroom debates: Can coach Bruce Arians, movitator, philosopher and tinkerer, pry open the championship window that slammed shut this year?

Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: Culinary Arts and Krampus

krampus

The Arizona Cardinals have labored through a difficult season, and like naughty children, they won’t receive the Christmas gift they coveted—an invitation to the playoffs.

Today they’re simply playing for a consolation prize—the chance to play spoiler and defeat playoff-bound Seattle. In the chill breezes that slip over Bainbridge Island and swirl through CenturyLink Field, the Cardinals might warm themselves with memories of their last two treks north, when they returned home with hard-fought victories. A Christmas Eve loss today would really roast Coach Bruce Arians’ chestnuts.

As you settle in to watch today’s game and nibble on fruitcake and gingerbread cookies, consider other Christmas culinary traditions from around the world:

  • South Africans sample the deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth
  • Many Japanese families enjoy KFC on Christmas, thanks to an effective 1974 ad campaign
  •  In Slovakia, the oldest man of the house scoops up a spoonful of Loksa pudding and whips it at the ceiling. The more that sticks, the better.
  •  In Greenland, raw whale skin is served with a side of blubber, and some enjoy kiviak—500 dead auk birds fermented for seven months inside a seal skin

And be mindful of other unusual Christmas traditions today:

  • Urged on by raucous Seattle fans, the Seahawks’ defense may well rise up like the Kallikantzaroi, a race of evil goblins that according to Greek legend lurk underground and then surface to wreak havoc during the 12 days of Christmas.
  • Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is a bit like the Yule Cat, a mythical Icelandic beast that is said to stalk the hills devouring those who haven’t received new clothes before Christmas.
  • Hard-hitting safety Earl Thomas might be compared to Krampus, a Christmas devil who beats poorly-behaved children with branches.
  • And be thankful for the spirited cheerleaders today in their traditional outfits. At Christmastime in Bavaria, male revelers wear lederhosen and fire mortars into the air.

There, we’ve done it. We’ve diverted our attention for a few moments from the mournful fact that such a promising Cardinals team has stumbled to a 5-8-1 mark this year. This season’s story is all but written, and is rich with unpleasantries.

Still, the tale may be preferable to the story South African children are told about Danny, a young boy who angered his grandmother by eating the Christmas cookies that were left for Santa. In her rage she killed him, and he is now said to haunt homes at Christmastime.

Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: Miami Invasion

palmer-and-beatles

After the Beatles’ first performance on American soil, February 9th, 1964, before a swarm of shrieking, swooning teenagers on the Ed Sullivan show, the band jetted south from snowy New York to take up a week’s residence in Miami’s Deauville Beach Resort, a sunny, swanky, palm-lined paradise then favored by Sinatra, Sammy and Joey, where fawning fans wrote love letters in the sand and offered free rides on their powerboats and yachts, prompting Ringo Starr to refer to Miami Beach as “The most magnificent place I’ve ever seen.”

The Arizona Cardinals flew into Miami International Airport with less fanfare Friday. They were whisked off to an undisclosed location, a flicker of desperation behind the eyes of a team fighting for its playoff life. Sunday’s clash with the Dolphins is a must win game for the 5-6-1 Cardinals against a Miami team that needs a victory to hold on to its own playoff position. This is a stern test for an Arizona team that has only one road win this season–against the hapless San Francisco 49ers. This is a business trip.

It’s serious business indeed, but this is the land of dangling chads, and the Cardinals need only look at actual headlines such as these to ease any stress:

  • Man sprinkled fiancée’s ashes at LensCrafters, causing Florida mall’s evacuation
  • Man who “exposed himself” tells police: “I was just airing out my penis”
  • Florida goat skateboards into Guinness Book of World Records
  • Babysitter accused of sleeping on toilet as 2-year-old wanders to canal with alligators
  • Florida man calls 911 80 times to demand Kool-Aid, hamburgers, and weed
  • Lawmaker files bill to repeal state ban on dwarf-tossing in bars
  • Kangaroo leads Florida deputies on 10-hour chase
  • Accused Florida man says his cat downloaded child porn, not him.
  • Florida woman renews marriage vows with Ferris wheel named Bruce

Strange things happen in Florida, but would an Arizona victory be so odd? Best to stick to the game plan: slow down Miami running back Jay Ajayi, who has sprung from obscurity to rush for a 5.2 yard average and seven TDs; devise a way for undrafted free agents John Wetzel and Ulrick John to slow down the onrushing bull that is Ndamukong Suh; and trust the defense to rise up in critical moments like it did last week in the Cards’ 31-23 victory over Washington.

Arizona’s leading lights shone in that Redskins game. 36-year-old Carson Palmer looked spry and solid for long stretches, and his 300 passing yards and three TD’s rekindled memories of last year’s glories. Quiet superstar David Johnson added two touchdowns of his own. With 175 yards from scrimmage, Johnson became only the second player in NFL history to gain 100+ yards in a season’s first 12 games. Larry Fitzgerald caught 10 balls for 78 yards, and moved into third on the all-time receiving list. Coach Bruce Arians rolled the dice and went for it on 4th down and 1 from Arizona’s own 34 yard line late in the game with the Cardinals holding a 24-20 lead. Johnson ripped off a 14 yard run, then Palmer chucked a 42 yard TD pass to struggling J. J. Nelson to add to the lead. And finally, Patrick Peterson intercepted Redskins QB Kirk Cousins with 41 seconds left to preserve the win.

Succeeding on key plays has gone from last year’s routine to this year’s rarity. The Washington triumph restored a dash of confidence though, and distracted from subtle retirement hints dropped by Palmer and Fitzgerald, if not after this season then perhaps the next.

But years from now, when those two recall this season on the porch to a huddle of grandkids, they’re more likely to hold the youngsters spellbound with tales of long bombs, one-handed catches, toe taps in the corner of the end zone and a raucous championship celebration than with the current slog of injuries, under-performance, offensive line position-shuffling, kicking game misadventures and a mediocre record.

Today’s game isn’t just about holding on to the bottom rung of the playoff ladder. It’s about the kids.

Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals Pause, Reflect, and Return to War

christmas-truce

Christmas Truce – The Illustrated London News

As dawn broke on Christmas morning, 1914, entrenched British troops on the Western Front of World War I heard singing from the German side, across no man’s land, accompanied by a brass band. Soon after, German soldiers rose and walked toward the British side, calling out “Merry Christmas.” Eyeing them with suspicion but noticing the troops were unarmed, British soldiers lowered their rifles and took to the field themselves, their linguists calling out “Fröhliche Weihnachten.” Plum puddings and cigarettes were exchanged, carols were sung, and a soccer game broke out. The “Christmas Truce” was a welcome respite from the brutality of the Great War.

The Arizona Cardinals are coming off their much-needed bye week, a ceasefire in the hostilities of a long NFL season. The Cards sit at a disappointing 3-4-1, but some wounds are healing, such as speedy WR John Brown’s achy legs after treatment following diagnosis of the sickle cell trait. All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu was expected to be out several more weeks with a shoulder injury, but the Honey Badger was observed prowling the practice field this week. He’ll miss today’s home game against the 49ers, but his progress is encouraging.

Another beneficiary of the week off may have been Chandler “The Cat” Catanzaro, the Cardinals’ beleaguered placekicker. Cats are not known for their kicking, except perhaps for certain European breeds, but Catanzaro performed well last year, converting every kick from 46 yards and in. This season he missed game-winners in weeks one and seven, the latter a chip shot against rival Seattle that now surely visits his dreams. Arizona GM Steve Keim could be forgiven if over the break he had auditioned former NFL kickers, a couple of Rockettes and a mule.

To clear his head, Catanzaro retreated home to South Carolina during the break to visit family and friends and to “self-medicate.” No word on the nature of the medication but Cardinals Nation is praying for its potency.

Coach Bruce Arians and his staff settled in over the bye week to review game video, noshing and gnashing and trying to solve the puzzle of an underperforming offense. The films are unlikely to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but they may reveal clues to a team that has fallen from number one in offense last season to 16th this year.

Even to the naked eye, the receiving corps has vastly underachieved after being one of the league’s most feared units last season. Michael Floyd has declared himself a top receiver in the NFL, but his numbers (19 catches, three TD’s, multiple drops) have yet to reflect that in the last year of his rookie contract. Larry Fitzgerald has gone 15 games without a 100-yard effort, his longest such streak since 2004.

Field General Carson Palmer simply hasn’t looked like himself all year. He’s been slowed by ailments and he hasn’t connected on the big plays that lit up scoreboards last year. The Cardinals aim for at least five “explosive” plays per game—22 yards or more—but that feature of their attack has been muffled so far. It doesn’t help that 6’8”, 321 pound offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is on injured reserve with a torn tricep, giving Palmer a tick less time to throw.

Arizona continues to lean heavily on running back David Johnson, the only player in the NFL with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season. And despite its share of injuries, the defense has sparkled, allowing the fewest yards in the league.

Arizona hosts the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers today at University of Phoenix Stadium, which may be just the tonic to settle the nerves. It’s a must-win game for a team still stocked with talent and with playoff aspirations. After today, the Cardinals set off on a lengthy road peppered with land mines—three early games in the Eastern Time Zone, a looming skirmish in Seattle, and five of their last seven contests away from the comforts of home.

After a welcome break, it’s back to business for Arizona today at 1:25 p.m. PST for the season’s second half. Cardinals Nation is hoping it only faintly resembles the first.

– Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: No Evidence that David Johnson is a Cyborg

Dec 27, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) carries the ball after a catch in the first half against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

One can be forgiven for thinking that Arizona Cardinals third-year running back David Johnson was created in a covert Midwestern lab by some mad genius. Johnson is a chiseled, 6’1”, 225 pound cyborg who rose from the corn fields of Northern Iowa to take his place among the NFL elite.

I have no evidence that Johnson’s a cyborg. It’s just a hunch, and even Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7 this week, “You wonder if he’s real.” Johnson has the power to run over you, the speed to run around you, and an instinct to burst through just the right crack in the line and then jump-cut to the outside, buckling the knees of would be tacklers and leaving them strewn all over the field. In 2015, Johnson became just the fourth player in NFL history to post 500+ rushing yards, 400+ receiving yards, 500+ kickoff return yards and 13+ TDs in a season, joining greats like Maurice Jones-Drew and Gale Sayers.

Oh, and he only started five games all season.

Johnson is averaging five yards per carry this year and a hefty 13.3 as a receiver. He has rushed for an NFL-high eight TDs in the first six games. He is one of the most elusive backs in the league and even if you can get your hands on him, he’s averaging three yards per carry after first contact.

Scouts didn’t see this coming. Johnson was selected 86th in the 2015 draft out of the University of Northern Iowa. The school enjoys a strong liberal arts tradition, and publishes The North American Review, a celebrated literary magazine whose past contributors include Mark Twain, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Walt Whitman. The university is not, however, known for producing pro athletes; one could pen the complete list before Usain Bolt breaks the tape in the 100-meter dash.

The well-spoken Johnson made the dean’s list twice, and since being drafted he’s acquired a wife, a house and a dog, and the couple is expecting their first child in late January. He’s doing it all, on and off the field.

The franchise has piled heavy expectations on Johnson this season, and he’s shouldered them with an easy grace. He’s lifted the spirits of Cardinals fans who are still drifting on memories of last year’s aerial circus, with ringleader Carson Palmer spinning floaters and bombs to a skilled and speedy receiving corps that lit up scoreboards all over the league. This season Palmer’s numbers have dipped across the board, and with the exception of Larry Fitzgerald the pass catchers have been hobbled by injuries and under-performance. As a result, Arizona is leaning more heavily on the ground game. Johnson’s out front, carrying the ball and the banner.

UNUSUAL SIGHTING
Patrick Peterson is one of the toughest shutdown corners in the NFL, and seems to be part man, part beast. Now there’s proof: https://twitter.com/AZCardinals/status/788139269256654848/video/1

MONDAY NIGHT MASTERY
The defense swarmed over the NY Jets last Monday night with barbaric urgency. The Cards held the Jets to only 33 yards rushing and a single field goal. That performance and Johnson’s three TDs were more than enough for a solid 28-3 victory. Arizona has won two straight to pull even at 3-3 on the season, righting a foundering ship after a 1-3 start. Arizona is now 10-3 in prime time games under coach Bruce Arians.

BRING ON THE SEAHAWKS
Buoyed by their Monday night performance, the Cardinals will play under the lights again tonight when they host rival Seattle in a pivotal division matchup. A Cardinals victory would pull them within a half game of the division lead and extend their winning streak to three. A Seahawks win would give them a 2.5 game margin in the division. The Seahawks boast the league’s #1 defense, and QB Russell Wilson has found his footing after suffering ankle and knee injuries early in the year. He’s hitting on 66% of his passes and Seattle has averaged 30 points in its last three games. Arizona has to find a way to shut down the Seahawks and gut out a win in what may be a low scoring game.

The Cardinals have been a cordial host to Seattle in recent years, allowing the Seahawks to win their last three games in University of Phoenix Stadium. Frustrated cornerback Patrick Peterson was at a loss for words when asked why this week. “Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that question,” he said. Coach Arians offered an explanation: “They beat the s— out of us.”

The players are hell-bent on halting the recent home slide against Seattle, and they’ve drawn a line in the desert sand. The biggest challenge will be to get the running game going, which has been thoroughly squelched in the recent home losses to Seattle.

Maybe David Johnson will somehow run wild against the Seahawks’ punishing defense. If he does and Arizona wins, as far as Johnson’s devotees are concerned he may as well just keep on running to Canton, OH and install himself as the first living exhibit in the NFL Hall of Fame.

He has the talent to get there someday. Why wait?

–  Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: Reality and Reverie

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Wide receiver John Brown #12 of the Arizona Cardinals attempts to catch the football against safety Anthony Harris #41 of the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of the NFL game at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 10, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

A wave of generosity has swept over the Arizona Cardinals.

No, they haven’t upped their corporate philanthropy or increased community volunteerism. Rather, on the field, they’re giving away footballs like holiday fruitcakes.

NFL coaches preach the necessity of protecting the ball—how it’s essential to winning in the league. Turnovers frazzle their nerves, turn their hair white, and cause them to sit bolt upright in bed, perspiring, in the small hours of the morning. Sideline cameras have been trained more than ever on Arizona Coach Bruce Arians, likely not only to detect the increasingly bulging veins in his temples, but perhaps to capture the precise moment that his head finally explodes.

The Cardinals, darlings of the NFL cognoscenti before the season, have fallen to 1-3, already losing as many games as they did all of last year. In 2015, they scored more often than Ryan Gosling at a summer cheerleading camp. In 2016, the offensive attack looks muted, and baffled by even mundane defensive formations. And there have been coverage errors and missed tackles on the defensive side. But the biggest culprit lately has been turnovers, a gaudy ten in the last two games.

The epidemic has spurred my crack research team (well, me) to scan the franchise archives in search of a historical precedent, even going back to the old Chicago Cardinals days. I’m still searching.

The Chicago Cardinals began life as the Racine Cardinals in the early years of the 20th century. The “Cardinals” nickname came from the reddish hue taken on by the faded maroon uniforms the team purchased second hand from the University of Chicago’s athletic department. The Cardinals were part of a burgeoning football circuit in the Chicago area, which included the Hammond Pros, Chicago Tigers and Decatur Staley’s, famously coached by the legendary George Halas. The Cardinals were forced to suspend operations in 1918 due to the outbreaks of World War I and the Spanish Flu. Resuming play in 1920, the team became a charter member of an organization that would become the National Football League, for a franchise fee of $100. The team’s current value? $2.2 billion.

Legend has it that when the Cardinals played the Chicago Tigers in 1920, the loser agreed to leave town. While this has not been proven, the Tigers disbanded at the end of the year.

My research hasn’t turned up a two-game Cardinals stretch with 10 or more turnovers. But here are two more items of note:

1. In the mid-1920’s, the Cardinals signed the first African-American lineman in the sport, Duke Slater, who become one of the top linemen of his era.

2. Veteran fans may remember this: In 1944, due to player shortages brought on by World War II, the Cardinals merged with the Pittsburgh Steelers and were known that season as the “Card-Pitt.” Really. The squad didn’t win a game all year.

Perhaps this little diversion has been a welcome break for readers. One must sometimes step away from analyzing the untidy minutia of missed blocking assignments, improper route running, and yes, excessive turnovers.

Fans can be forgiven for losing themselves in sun-washed daydreams of recent seasons past, with talent stretched across the field, a high-powered offense and a respected defense. But they’ll be snapped out of their reverie at 5:25 p.m. PST this evening, when Arizona takes the field against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. After fans blink their way to full consciousness, they’ll be broadsided by the current state of things: a 1-3 record despite high expectations and three home games, quarterback Carson Palmer out with a concussion, a misfiring offense and an under-performing defense.

And then there are those veins in Coach Arians’ temples, and the danger they may portend. Watch the game diligently tonight, but be prepared to avert your eyes from time to time.

Eric Forgaard

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

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: Buffalo Bill and the Queen

patrick-peterson

Patrick Peterson

After a tentative season-opening loss to New England, the Arizona Cardinals found their stride against visiting Tampa Bay last week. Carson Palmer threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in the 40-7 victory, and the defense proved it can be one of the league’s premier units when all pistons are firing. When it was over, Arizona found itself in a flat-footed tie with every team in the NFC West at 1-1.

On to Buffalo.

Historically, western teams traveling east for morning games haven’t fared well. But the Cardinals catch a break traveling to upstate New York in snow-free September, and they face a stumbling 0-2 Bills team fresh off the firing of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. That early-season move comes with a whiff of desperation, considering Buffalo’s defense was far worse last week, giving up 37 points and nearly 500 yards in a loss to the visiting Jets.

But the Buffalo Bills lead the league in one respect: they are the only team named after a 19th century frontiersman.

“Buffalo Bill” (William Frederick Cody) was a ranch hand, Pony Express rider, fur trapper, gold prospector, and buffalo hunter. In 1867, he was contracted to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with meat. He set off on a wild-eyed 18-month spree, slaughtering 4,282 buffalo. The bloody deed earned him the moniker that would stick with him the rest of his life.

Cody cemented his legend in 1883 with his formation of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, a sweeping spectacle with a cast of hundreds, Indian attacks on wagon trains, stage coach robberies and yes, a buffalo hunt. It portrayed a western frontier that was rapidly disappearing but captured the public’s appetite for tales of daring and conquest–not unlike Buffalo’s 2015 hiring of Coach Rex Ryan, a tough-talking gunslinger type who led the New York Jets to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010. But wins have been scarce lately and some fans are calling for his head.

The natives are restless.

Meanwhile, the mood lightened considerably in the Valley of the Sun after Arizona dismantled Tampa Bay last week. The victory was partly spurred by Carson Palmer warming up in a Stay Puft marshmallow suit prior to the game. Really. Palmer had lost the team’s weekly quarterback competition, and the loser must take the field questionably dressed. Check out the video: http://foxs.pt/2cXsWJx.

Palmer’s exploits helped keep the team loose, but their improved performance was likely due to solid game-planning and execution. The Cardinals defense picked off Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston four times. Larry Fitzgerald had been the lone bright spot in the receiving corps in week one, and this time seven different receivers caught passes. And the offense didn’t turn the ball over. Since 1940, the only other time the Cardinals started the season with consecutive turnover-free games was 2008, the year the franchise reached the Super Bowl.

Arizona’s defense strives to be one of the league’s top units, and it was especially promising last week. Coach Bruce Arians had uncharacteristically called many of the defensive plays in week one, and the zone coverages he dialed up took the edge off the aggression the squad is known for. Arians stayed away from that side of the ball against Tampa Bay, and Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher returned to man coverage and called for blitzes 43% of the time, from all angles, leaving the Buccaneers flummoxed.

Arizona looks to corral Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor today, who threw for 297 yards and three TDs last week. Taylor may be scrambling to find viable targets this week though, with Sammy Watkins, Greg Salas and tight end Charles Shaw all questionable with injuries.

The Cardinals are healthier but are still missing some pieces, most notably right guard Evan Mathis, who is sitting out with turf toe and didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo. Mathis had played in pain against the Bucs Sunday and Carson Palmer noted that when he came in Monday morning, “his entire foot was purple.” Medical issues aside, I find the color purple unsettling, as it brings to mind unpleasant things such as Barney and eggplant. I suppose it’s the color of royalty though, which conjures images of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who at this moment may be holed up in her bedchamber in Buckingham Palace, Welsh Corgis lapping at the purple spider veins in her feet.

I’ve gone off the rails. Again.

SORTING SOCK DRAWERS

The following players will be unavailable Sunday, and may be otherwise engaged:
Buffalo:
Cordy Glenn, offensive tackle: ankle
Colt Anderson, safety: foot
Arizona:
Evan Mathis, guard: purple foot

The Cardinals’ task today is to overcome jet lag and a hostile Buffalo crowd. A loss would leave them with a 1-2 record, and raise fresh questions about a team with Super Bowl aspirations. A victory would keep them tied for the division lead and help their season-opening loss recede safely into memory.

– Eric Forgaard

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

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.