Tag Archives: Cam Newton

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.

Battle for the Conference Title: Arizona v. Carolina

After today’s games, the losers will settle in for months of whittling, breeding miniature schnauzers or whatever it is NFL players do in the off-season.

Conference Championship day has arrived.

The Arizona Cardinals will butt heads with MVP candidate QB Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte this evening, and the prize is a Super Bowl berth against the winner of the New England/Denver war.

Were it not for Larry Fitzgerald’s late-game heroics in last week’s rousing home win against the Packers, the Cardinals would be watching this one at home, guacamole at the ready, mojitos in hand.

Novellas may well be penned about the last five minutes alone last Saturday. But even the most subdued telling would be rejected by any credible publisher, so rife were those minutes with improbability, pendulum swings, Hail Mary success and twists of fate. Space precludes an analysis here, but Arizona rose from the mat after a body blow and in the end, Big Game Larry hoisted the football to wild cheers and pushed the franchise’s best season to the doorstep of the Super Bowl.

When Carson Palmer started dreaming of winning the NFC Championship game 13 years ago, Pluto was a planet and no one had heard of Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter. I imagine Palmer’s rookie musings played out on a sun-splashed field before an adoring throng. But the Cardinals fly into hostile territory for this one, and a recent blizzard has dropped more than two feet of snow across the mid-Atlantic region and blanketed Bank of America Stadium.

Nothing rousts a dreamer from sleep like a cold shiver.

Carolina was 8-0 at home in the regular season and 15-1 overall. The defense is punishing, the team leads the NFL in turnover differential, and Cam Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 35 touchdown passes and run for 10. Newton flashes his toothy smile, strikes superhero poses, and possibly feeds the hungry, roots out terrorist sleeper cells and adopts stray animals. But one thing he does delights Panthers fans more than any other: he wins games.

Coach Bruce Arians and his staff are tasked with dialing the tumblers into place and cracking Carolina’s winning code, and doing so in front of an antagonistic crowd that could well celebrate a win by draining beer kegs and discharging firearms into the snowy woods.

As a three point underdog and a western team flying east, the Cardinals will need to bring all their weapons to the fight. Their 7-1 road record is a point of pride, and as always, Palmer is the linchpin. He finished the regular season with a career high 104.6 passer rating and threw for 35 touchdowns, tied for second best in the league. He led the offense to an NFL-best 408.3 yards per game and the NFC West title. Palmer doesn’t have Newton’s legs and his passing hand seems to be bothering him a bit, but he’s experienced, relatively healthy, and he’s mastered coach Arians’ offense.

Palmer and Newton are the first Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks to meet in the playoffs.

Considering the unfriendly confines, jet lag, uncertain turf conditions and frigid game-time temperatures, the deck seems stacked against coach Arians and the Cardinals. But this team appears to have shaken off the stigma of too many decades without a title. The reigning NFL Coach of the Year brings his long, glowing history as a football mentor and mentee to the turf today. Arians has the pedigree to win with this team, and he’ll add a dash of gambler’s bravado to the tactics.

With a trip to the Super Bowl on the table, look for Arians to belly up and slide in all of his chips.

Eric Forgaard

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

Philadelphia Eagles Lose To Carolina Panthers 27-16

The Panthers were efficient from the onset of the game, opening the contest with a four-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in 2 minutes, 36 seconds the first time they touched the ball.  And, after a string of interceptions and inopportune penalties, the Eagles were lucky to be down by only 7 points after the first quarter.

The Eagles took almost 25 minutes to score points in the game, and, when they did, they settled for a 52-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis.  On the next play, though, Sturgis sent his kickoff out of bounds, and the error gave the Panthers the ball on their 40-yard line.

The Panthers subsequently answered back immediately with another touchdown, giving the Panthers a 14-3 lead.

Penalties were a major issue for the Eagles in the first half, and the end of the drive that gave the Panthers a 14-3 lead highlighted that truth.  Consecutive encroachment penalties by Bennie Logan extended a second and goal from the eight-yard line to the two-yard line, where Cam Newton had to just easily run it in from two yards away.

Before the end of the half, Malcom Jenkins intercepted the ball with one minute, five seconds remaining in the second quarter, and the Eagles drove the ball down the field, but the Eagles, who finished 0-for-2 in redzone conversions, could not benefit with a touchdown.

Bradford had Jordan Matthews open in the back of the end zone, but Matthews, who had a poor performance overall, couldn’t get both feet down in the end zone, and the Eagles had to settle for a second field goal and trailed 6-14 at the half.

Penalties, of which the Eagles committed 6 for 41 yards in the first two quarters, and dropped balls were the biggest issues in the first half.  The Eagles cleaned up the penalties in the second half, but dropped balls plagued the team throughout the game.

The Panthers came out firing in the second half with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took three minutes, ten seconds.  Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert fought his way into the end zone, and the Eagles defensive players trying to tackle him seemed to just bounce off of him.  That touchdown gave the Panthers a 21-6 lead.

However, Ryan Matthews responded five plays later with a 63-yard rushing touchdown, cutting the Panthers lead to eight with a 13-21 score.

On the next drive, Newton threw his third interception of the night to Byron Maxwell, who, after the interception, took the ball to the Carolina 18-yard line.

In the redzone following the interception, though, the Eagles struggled to move the ball, and, after two unproductive runs by Murray, Bradford threw to Josh Huff in the back of the endzone.  However, Huff dropped the ball, and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal once again, making the score 16-21.

Later, after the Eagles had a good defensive stop, they drove it down the field, but, after another ineffective finish to the drive, they had to kick a field goal, yet Sturgis missed it from 50 yards away.

Carolina then responded by driving down the field but had to settle for a field goal that made the score 24-16, and the Eagles were getting desperate with time quickly winding down.  In addition, they had wasted one timeout earlier to save themselves from a delay-of-game penalty.

The Eagles run defense was bad in the game, but they had a good stop with three minutes, eighteen seconds left in the fourth quarter, giving the Eagles one last chance to get a touchdown.  But the offense faltered once again like it has so many times this year.

The Eagles had the ball with three minutes, twelve seconds left, but the offensive line could not contain the Panthers defensive line.  A pass interference call on Luke Kuechly gave the Eagles a small sliver of opportunity, yet the Eagles couldn’t capitalize and turned the ball over on downs, essentially ending the game.

Dropped balls cursed the team all night long, and they couldn’t convert on fourth down when a ball that should have been caught slipped through Miles Austin’s hands.  The theme of the Eagles season recurred again: the defense played a decent game, but the offense couldn’t produce when needed most.

Carolina moved to 6-0 on the season, and the Eagles (3-4) are left searching for answers about how to fix their unproductive offense.

Fantasy Football: Top 5 Most Interesting Players of Week 7

1.  Lamar Miller (RB: Dolphins):  With Miami’s new head coach, Dan Cambell, installing what can be assumed to be a run-heavy scheme, Miller now appears to be on the fantasy radar for an upgrade in production.  Miami ran on 26-percent of plays in the first four games but 50-percent in Week 6 against the Titans, and, Miller, the unquestionable beneficiary, received 20-plus touches for the first time all season (19 rushes, 2 receptions).  Previously, he had not rushed more than 13 times in a game, in Week 1, and, in Weeks 2-4, he had 24 rushes for 78 yards combined.  However, on 19 carries last week, he totaled 113 yards (5.9 yards-per-carry) and a touchdown, and owners are hoping that trend continues.  He has no comparable competition for touches from Damien Williams or Jonas Grey, so he should be the workhorse back for his team, and, this week, they play the Houston Texans, who have allowed an average of 109 yards-per-game and 6 touchdowns on the ground.  Whether or not Cambell sticks with a run-heavy scheme again will be interesting to see going forward, but teams desperately needing a solid RB2 going forward will be holding their breath, both anticipating and hoping that Cambell stays committed to the run and Miller is the beneficiary.  Will Miller continue to produce like a top running back?

2. Stefon Diggs (WR: Vikings):  Minnesota desperately needs to find an answer at the wide-receiver position because they need someone to take attention away from Adrian Peterson.  Last year, everyone anointed Cordarelle Patterson as the wide receiver to own in Minnesota before the season started, but, after one breakout game, he fizzled out into fantasy obscurity.  Now, however, Stefon Diggs is looking like the receiver to own in Minnesota after two straight weeks of solid production.  Against a top-rated Denver defense that usually holds opposing wide receivers to minimal yardage, the rookie fifth-round pick had 6 receptions on 10 targets for 87 yards then followed that up with 7 receptions on 9 targets for 129 yards against the Chiefs in which he got his first start and logged 82-percent of snaps.  13 catches and 216 yards over two weeks is hard to ignore on a Minnesota team that desperately needs a No. 1 receiver.  This week, he plays a Detroit defense that has given up the 7th most fantasy points to wide receivers this season.  For people who may be scrambling to fill a roster spot for a last-minute injured player, such as Keenan Allen, Diggs could be the guy to replace him.  Are you digging Diggs as the next rookie breakout fantasy star?

3. DeMarco Murray (RB: Eagles):  DeMarco Murray has become the unquestioned leader in the Eagles backfield the past two weeks as he has 42 rushes to Ryan Matthews’ 17 in that duration.  Over the past three weeks, Murray has the seventh-most rushing attempts (50) amongst running backs and the tenth most yards (228).  He has a touchdown in each of his last two games.  Against the Giants last week, he earned his first 100-yard rushing game as an Eagle, and, this week, he goes up against a Panther’s defense that ranks 12th in run defense and 15th in rushing average.  However, the Carolina Panthers should improve now that All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly returned last week.  When Kuechly returned last week, the Panthers held Marshawn Lynch to 54 yards on 17 carries.  Murray will be tested this week against Carolina, but he should be started as his volume of carries alone should give him the opportunity to finish as a top-10 running back.  Will Chip Kelly continue to use Murray as much?  And, will Murray continue to respond with rising production?

4. Jeremy Maclin (WR: Chiefs):  Jeremy Maclin has been cleared to play Sunday after passing the concussion protocol on Friday, and he is expected to play against the Steelers.  The real question now is if he will be able to bring life to the ailing Chiefs offense.  When Jamaal Charles tore his ACL before the Chiefs played the Vikings last week, it seemed that Maclin would be the beneficiary of more points in Charles’ absence.  However, he he had his worst performance of the season, finishing the game with three receptions off four targets for 48 yards.  This brings up the question of whether Maclin can still put up WR2 points with no one else but Travis Kelce to take attention away from him.  This week, he goes up against a Steelers defense that gives up the 11th most points to wide receivers and just gave up an incredible 196 yards to Arizona receiver John Brown.  Maclin has only one touchdown this season, but his 531 yards rank 7th amongst wide receivers; his 56 targets rank 13th, and his 39 receptions rank 8th in the league.  Will he be able to keep putting up yards in the absence of Jamaal Charles?

5. Cam Newton (QB: Panthers): Cam Newton is the ultimate dual-threat quarterback this season, and his rushing attempts are coming voluminously.  Newton, almost half-way to his total rushes last season through six games in 2015, has 50 rushing attempts to 103 last season.  He has averaged at least four yards-per carry over the past three weeks and has a rushing touchdown in three of his last four games.  However, the major debate on Newton so far this season is whether his team’s 5-0 success is the product of a dominating team or an opportunistic schedule since the teams he’s beaten – Jaguars, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Seahawks – have a combined record of 9-20.  When Carolina met the Eagles last year in Week 10, he was held to six yards rushing and sacked 9 times.  Moreover, his passing stats this season are mediocre: 55.4-percent completion percentage, 215.6 yards-per-game, and a 83.2 passer rating. The Eagles are ranked highly against the run, so will Newton perform well if he is forced to win the game through the air?

Eagles-Panthers Scouting Report: Previewing the Week 7 Matchup

The 3-3 Eagles are coming off consecutive wins against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants in which they outscored their opponents 66-24, and they now have won three of their last four games after going 1-4 to start the season.  This week, though, they are going up against the 5-0 Carolina Panthers, who are coming off of a comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks.  When the Eagles and Panthers met last season, the Eagles handily defeated the Carolina Panthers, 45-21, scoring 31 points in the first half alone to take a 31-7 lead into the half.  This year, though, Cam Newton is not ailing from injuries that limited his production last season, such as ankle surgery, fractured ribs, or a near-fatal car crash.

The Carolina Panthers are 5-0; however, the team has benefitted from an opportunistic schedule to start the season.  The opponents they have beaten – Jaguars, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Seahawks – have a combined record of 9-20.  As a result, it’s hard to judge the team at this point as they still have a lot to prove.

Run/Pass Ratio:  The Carolina Panthers rank first in the league in rushing attempts, running the ball 51-percent of the time against 49-percent passing.  That stat, however, is altered by the fact that Cam Newton has run the ball 50 times so far this season.  The Eagles, in contrast, have a 59-percent pass to 41-percent rush ratio.

Panthers vs. Eagles Pass Defense:  Both teams rank highly in yards-per-attempt allowed to opposing quarterbacks: Carolina (3rd, 6.1) and Eagles (6th, 6.6).  Yet, the Eagles have given up an average of 20 more yards-per-game to quarterbacks through the air.  Therefore, statistically speaking, the Panthers have the edge in passing defense.

Panthers QB:  The main characteristic about Cam Newton is that, as described above, he is a dual threat.  The massive 6-foot-5, 245-pound signal caller has 50 rushes this season, which is almost half the 103 he had all of last season.  On those 50 rushes, he has 225 yards and 3 touchdowns, whereas he had 539 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns all last year.  They use a variety of read options and triple options to spark Newton on the ground.

Thus, using a spy to minimize the effectiveness of a quarterback who is averaging ten rushes a game will be crucial for the Eagles.  That duty will be in large part be given to Connor Barwin, who handled the job well last year and had 3 1/2 sacks in the Eagles’ blowout win.  Overall, the Eagles held Newton to 6 yards on two rushes, but Newton was nursing an ankle injury, and his current offensive line has three new starters who are doing a much better job blocking.

Through the air, Newton has thrown for 1,078 yards in five games on a team that ranks 30th in the league in passing yards-per-game (201).  Sam Bradford, in contrast, has thrown for a 12th-ranked 1,573 yards, and the Eagles average 250 yards-per-game, ranking 14th.  Shutting down the Panthers rushing attack, then, seems more important than stopping their passing production.

Eagles QB:  Sam Bradford has not had a great start to the season, and it seems like he is making mental errors while becoming accustomed to the offense.  He does not seem to understand what his receivers are going to do when they are given option routes, and his decision making has been substandard.  He is currently tied for the second-most interceptions (9), behind only Peyton Manning (10), and that is not a statistic in which you want to be trailing Peyton Manning.  His turnovers, including five interceptions in the past two weeks, will become costly when the Eagles play more opportunistic teams than the Saints and Giants.

Cam Newton’s 83.2 passer rating is only marginally better than Bradford’s 80, but Newton has five less interceptions than Bradford.  Therefore, they’re not that different statistically through the air, except that Bradford has 1,561 yards through six games to Newton’s 1,078 through five.  However, their teams use different schemes regarding running and passing.  Sam Bradford will have to become more acclimated to the mental aspect of the offense if the Eagles want to defeat the top-tier teams in the league.

Panthers Wide Receivers:  Carolina has just 356 yards after-the-catch receiving, a production that ties the Minnesota Vikings for least in the league.  In addition, Carolina has only 14 plays that have gone for 20 yards or more, ranking last in that category, too.  6-foot-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin, who had three receptions for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Eagles last season, was a revelation in his rookie season with the Panthers last year, finishing the season tied with Greg Olsen in yards (1,008) and leading the team in touchdowns with nine.  However, after tearing his left Achilles, he is out for the entire 2015 season, and no other wide receiver has filled in for his production consistently.

That leaves tight end Greg Olsen, who is seeing 29 percent of Cam Newton’s targets, as the primary receiver with little production of significance coming from any other receiver on the team.  Therefore, stopping Olsen, who had six receptions for 119 yards against the Eagles last year, will be crucial for the Eagles.  Ted Ginn could be a surprising player against the Eagles, but his targets have decreased significantly since the first two weeks of the season, and, against the Seahawks, he was second in routes run (29) to Corey Brown (35).  If the Eagles can shut down Olsen, they will likely be able to shut down the Panthers through the air.

Eagles Wide Receivers:  When the Eagles played the Panthers last season, Jordan Matthews had his best game of the season with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.  This season, though, Matthews does not have Jeremy Maclin to draw attention away from him, and that loss is hurting his overall production.  Currently, Matthews is 14th in the league amongst all wide receivers in total targets and 13th in receptions, but he is ranked 23rd in receiving yards.  Teams are focused on limiting his yards-after-catch.  Matthews has more yards through six games this season (384) than last season (226), but he has the second most drops in the NFL.

Nelson Agholor was out last week and appears likely to miss the game this week.  In his absence, Riley Cooper, who played the fewest number of snaps amongst all receivers, became the top producer on the team.  However, it is impossible to predict how Chip Kelly will portion his snaps if Agholor is out again.  Tight end Zach Ertz received the most snaps, but his production was minimal.  Josh Huff, too, did not produce much with increased snaps, and only Miles Austin saw increased production with more snaps.  Nonetheless, how Chip Kelly will use his wide receivers against the Panthers is anyone’s guess.

Panthers vs. Eagles Rush Defense:  The Panthers rank 12th in run defense and have allowed 483 yards through five games.  They are ranked 15th in the league in rushing average (3.9).  The Eagles are ranked 8th in run defense (565 yards through six games) and 3rd in rushing average (3.5).  The teams are close is average rushing yards allowed per game: Eagles (94.2) and Panthers (96.6).

Panthers Running Backs:  After scoring zero touchdowns in Weeks 1-4, Jonathan Stewart bounced back and scored two touchdowns against the Seahawks last week.  However, his highest rushing total for the season, 78 yards, came against the Seahawks last week.  Clearly, he is not the most prolific runner in the NFL.  Stewart has 298 yards rushing this season, but Cam Newton has 225, even though Stewart has 79 rushing attempts to Newton’s 50.  They don’t have any running backs of note behind Stewart.  Therefore, the rushing attack begins and ends with Newton and Stewart.  Thanks in large part to Newton, though, who has rushed for a first down on 36-percent of his rushing attempts (18 of 50) – more than any other quarterback in the league – the Panthers are averaging 133 yards-per-game, ranking third in the league.  In comparison, the Eagles are averaging 101 yards-per-game, ranking 19th in the league.

Eagles Running Backs:  DeMarco Murray is making a significant claim on the lead-back role in Philadelphia through the past two games.  In that span, Murray has more attempts than Ryan Matthews by 42-17.  Classifying Matthews as the change-of-pace back to Murray as the featured back is a fair statement at this point.  Darren Sproles, with a combined seven rushes for 31 yards over the past two weeks, has disappeared from the backfield and, after playing on only 31-percent of the Eagles’ snaps against the Giants, was thrown to twice.  He is the primary punt returner, but it is fair to question his role outside of that duty.

Overall, Murray is playing better with increased rushes.  He had four runs of ten yards or more last week after having just five through the first five weeks.  He will likely receive around 20 attempts again against the Panthers but will go up against two top-tier linebackers: Luke Kuechly, undeniably one of the best linebackers in the league, and Thomas Davis.  On the defensive line, he’ll have to contend with Kawaan Short, who was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 6.  Nonetheless, he should be in line for another big game.

Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Panthers 20