Tag Archives: Calais Campbell

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: Quantum Physics and the Whiff of Rivalry

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

The Arizona Cardinals’ long dream of a season continues, win piled upon win, and so far, at 13-2, this has been the finest year in franchise history. The dream rose out of a reverie fueled by last year’s stunted success—and the hope that this season, health and good fortune would merge with talent and hard work to elevate this team to elite status. And so it has.

Dutch children leave hay and a carrot in their shoes for Sinterklaas and his horse this time of year, which are replaced by a gift, often a marzipan figurine. On New Year’s Eve their parents make great bonfires in the streets out of Christmas trees, which helps purge the old and greet the new.

The new year in the Valley of the Sun is flecked with children draped in red, pint-sized jerseys emblazoned with names like Palmer, Fitzgerald and Peterson, courtesy of Santa. Long-suffering parents are now raising youngsters who believe Arizona victories are simply part of the natural order of things.

It’s a conundrum of quantum physics that the very act of closely observing something can change the behavior of the subject. Still, one is compelled to ask: How did the Cardinals get here? Nine straight wins—five on the road—in a sprint to the playoffs that began with an October 26 win over visiting Baltimore. In a 40-16 win over Philadelphia Dec. 20, star safety and inspirational leader Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury following an interception. The defense responded by sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times last week and returning two of his fumbles for touchdowns in a 38-8 blowout. “You want to play your best ball at the end of the season,” Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell said, “and I think this is the best game we’ve played.”

Arizona clinched a first round playoff bye with the win, and a home victory against Seattle today combined with a Carolina loss to Atlanta will give the Cardinals home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Tesla v. Edison, Mozart v. Salieri, Burr v. Hamilton—rivalries are born from the clash of two forces of abounding talent and ambition struggling to gain the same bit of ground. The scuffle between Arizona and Seattle for NFC West supremacy has risen only in the last few seasons but it figures to have staying power and it packs an NFL-sized punch. Coach Pete Carroll’s Seahawks reached the Super Bowl the last two years, and they won a ring with a 43-8 thumping of Denver in 2013. Now Arizona coach Bruce Arians wants to take that stage and bring home the prize, which he has voiced since training camp. And Arians is not one to make his feelings known in haiku form.

The Cardinals journeyed north to drop 39 points on Seattle in a Nov. 15 victory, and would like nothing better than to sweep the season series today. Pride and a clearer path to the playoff finish line are at stake. The Seahawks have surged in recent weeks, winning five of six to reserve their place at the playoff table. They will take to the road whether they win or lose today. Job one for Arizona? Slow down QB Russell Wilson, who has thrown for a scorching 21 TDs and only one interception since the Cards’ week 10 victory over Seattle.

The venerable Cardinals franchise has already begun updating its record book, and by the end of the day a few more entries may well be in order:
– QB Carson Palmer needs 73 yards to set the all-time single season passing yards mark.
Larry Fitzgerald’s next catch will give him the single season receiving record at 104.
– Kicker Chandler Catanzaro will establish the franchise’s single season high for points if he scores four or more.

And for good measure, a victory over Seattle today will tie the 10-game winning streak of the 1948 Chicago Cardinals.

Coach Arians says he’s playing the starters today. He’s not one to ease off the throttle, as is often the case when the playoffs are imminent for teams that have already clinched. Certainly not with newly-minted rival Seattle in the building. Between calling plays and working the officials, expect a few flinty stares across the pitch between the head coaches.

The NFL has provided its share of coaching rivalries over the years. Think Lombardi v. Landry, Noll v. Shula and Madden v. Stram.

Arians v. Carroll? Believe it.

– Eric Forgaard

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

Arizona Cardinals: King Olaf and a Date with History

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

King Olaf Tryggvason ruled Norway from 995 to 1000 C.E. and was hailed as a master of both mountain climbing and oar-jumping. The latter art involved leaping from oar to oar on the outside of longships as they were being rowed. His majesty was also a capable knife juggler.

When the Vikings weren’t raiding, plundering and pillaging they indulged in those tests of skill and more, such as wrestling, fist fighting and stone lifting competitions. And then there was horse fighting, with two stallions pitted against each other within sight and smell of fenced-off mares. Brimming with testosterone and bloodlust, the Vikings had a taste for both sport and the expansion of empire.

The modern-day Vikings hail from Minnesota, and they’re a crew on the rise. Their forebears were known to attack by sea, but these marauders infiltrated Arizona by air for the Dec. 10 clash with the Cardinals, one of the premier matchups of that NFL week.

The contest featured big plays, fumbles, lead changes and drama. But it came down to this:

Muhammad Ali had the rope-a-dope. Allen Iverson had the killer crossover. Deacon Jones had the head slap, Kareem had the sky hook and LeBron has the talcum powder toss. Signature moves all. Recently acquired Arizona defensive tackle Dwight Freeney? He has the spin move.

With the game tied and under five minutes to play, QB Carson Palmer drove Arizona 55 yards to the Minnesota 29 and Chandler Catanzaro booted a 47-yard field goal to put the Cards up 23-20 with 1:23 remaining. Minnesota surged right back into range of a game-tying try from kicker Blair Walsh with 18 seconds left. Then Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater dropped back and looked to get Minnesota a little closer for the tie, or even pitch one deep for a winning touchdown. That’s when seven-time Pro Bowler Freeney whirled with menace around Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil and sacked Bridgewater just as he cocked his arm to throw. The ball popped loose and Calais Campbell pounced on it to preserve the narrow victory for Arizona.

Catanzaro earned NFC special teams player of the week honors, Arizona reached 11 wins and clinched a playoff spot and 35-year old Freeney earned a $200,000 bonus for reaching four sacks on the season. He will now earn $100,000 for each sack he notches for the rest of the season.

Statistical oddity: The Cardinals’ opponents have not missed a field goal this year in 22 attempts.

Sunday night, Arizona will step into the prime time spotlight again when they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.

NBC started airing Sunday night games in 2006 in a broadcast dubbed “Football Night in America”, a brazen swipe at the brand that Monday Night Football starting building Sep. 21, 1970.

The Browns defeated the Jets in that first MNF contest 31-21, clinching the win when Joe Namath threw a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. Keith Jackson handled the play by play and was joined in the booth by Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Jackson was awarded the job because neither Vin Scully nor Curt Gowdy were able to get out of their contracts with other networks.

Meredith was a former Dallas Cowboy quarterback and Cosell was plucked from the sports desk of WABC-TV in New York. Never far from controversy, Cosell infamously showed up ill and allegedly intoxicated for the November 23rd Giants-Eagles game that year and proceeded to vomit on Meredith’s cowboy boots. The incident earned Cosell a cab ride home at halftime, and he and Meredith went on to exchange mostly congenial on-air verbal barbs for years. Meredith served as a folksy foil to the bombastic Cosell, producing an unlikely but potent brew and an innovative angle on sports broadcasting.

Has NBC’s prime-time NFL experiment succeeded? No doubt. The network has poached a chunk of the MNF audience and consistently scores the higher ratings of the two, adding to the Sunday sorrows of football widows nationwide.

Arizona will take the field Sunday night in the city known for Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, the Rocky franchise, and exquisite cheesesteak sandwiches. Philadelphia fans don’t lack passion, as they famously proved at halftime of the final game of the 1968 season when they loudly booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs. Philly’s opponent that day? The Minnesota Vikings, the team the Cardinals just conquered.

And you thought I would never tie all this together.

Tonight Arizona faces an Eagles team that closed out November with three straight losses to sub-.500 teams. Already angered that the team was underperforming compared to expectations, Eagles fans were calling for coach Chip Kelly’s head. Cue the snowballs. But Philly righted the ship with a huge win at New England, garnished with another against Buffalo last week. They are tied for first in the anemic NFC East with a 6-7 record.

Calculating playoff scenarios at this point in the season is an excellent way to kill time you might have spent, say, with loved ones. Thankfully the New York Times’ NFL Playoff Simulator has saved you the trouble, and has spit out the news that Philadelphia has a 43% chance of making the playoffs. Despite a disappointing season, the brass ring is still within reach.

Coach Bruce Arians and the Cardinals are seeking something more precious, and are not content with 11 wins, a ticket to the playoffs, and a chance to set a franchise record this evening with their 12th win.

“Somebody texted me, ‘Hey, you punched your ticket,” Arians noted. “I said, `Yeah, we’re trying to upgrade to first class.”

Winners of seven straight, Arizona keeps pushing toward a playoff bye and home field advantage throughout. Carson Palmer is having an MVP-type season, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdown passes. Tom Brady is the only other QB to do so this season. Larry Fitzgerald has caught 11 TD passes in his last seven games against the Eagles. The Cardinals’ defense has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game in the league.

Philadelphia is ranked 16th in offense and 26th in defense. But the Eagles are 5-1 in the last 6 games QB Sam Bradford has started and finished, and they’ve generally played well against good opponents. When in rhythm, they pass the eye test with ease.

One more number? Game time temperature is expected to be a brisk 35 degrees.

Arizona clinches the division with a win or a Seattle loss today, and secures a playoff bye if Green Bay cooperates and loses to Oakland. But don’t fritter away your time contemplating the scenarios.

Go hug your kids. Or someone else’s.

Eric Forgaard

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