Tag Archives: Chandler Catanzaro

Arizona Cardinals: Battle Tested, Battle Scarred

Aug 22, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) looks on against the San Diego Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Chargers won 22-19. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“The two forces met with a fearful din of spears and bossed shields, clashing in a fierce and furious melee of bronze-breasted fighters. And there the screams of the dying were mingled with cries of triumph, and blood flowed over the earth.”
– Homer, the Iliad

Last Sunday night’s hostilities between Arizona and Seattle, for those who prize defense above all, crackled with electricity and treachery. The malice between the teams has intensified since 2013, the year coach Bruce Arians took the helm of a Cardinals team that had seemed content with occasional playoff appearances, like most teams. Arians talked Super Bowl from his first press conference, and Cardinals Nation regarded him curiously, as if he spoke a dialect they couldn’t quite grasp. But Arians guided Arizona to a 10-6 mark that season after the team turned in a lackluster 5-11 mark the year before. Something like hope had lodged inside players and fans.

But with hope comes heartbreak, and the Cardinals were home flipping burgers when Seattle eviscerated Denver 43-8 in the 2013 Super Bowl. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lifted the Lombardi Trophy that day. Seattle, Arizona’s division foe, held the prize that the Cardinals had begun to believe could someday be theirs. A rivalry was born.

In recent years, Arizona has won two games up in notoriously noisy and difficult CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Seahawk fans, dubbed “The 12th Man,” are so loud the stadium broke the Guinness record for crowd noise, registering 131.9 decibels following a sack of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick on Sep.15, 2013.

Coming into last Sunday night’s contest, Seattle had taken three straight in University of Phoenix Stadium, silencing Cardinals fans (known as “the Red Wave”). Those losses haven’t sat well with Arians and the Cardinals, and desire had risen in the blood to protect home soil this time and pull within a half game of the Seahawks in the standings.

It was an old-fashioned slobber-knocker. All-out grappling on the line, big hits, and stifling defense, particularly on the Cardinals’ side. Arizona held Seattle to just 65 net yards in regulation. 65. That is record-setting territory, and would be lauded for decades were it not for the Cardinals’ special teams, which suffered a blocked punt, a blocked field goal, and a potential game-winning 24-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal in overtime that doinked off the left upright. That’s shorter than an extra point, and after the game Catanzaro said, “I make that kick 999,999 times out of a million.” In the end the result shone clearly on the scoreboard: 6-6—a rare NFL tie.

It could have been worse. After the Catanzaro miss, Seattle drove down the field to give their reliable kicker Stephen Hauschka a 27-yard attempt to steal the game for the Seahawks and extend their division lead over the Cardinals to 2.5 games. Hauschka could make that kick with his eyes closed and maybe he should have—he watched wide-eyed as he swung the ball well left, missing not only the uprights but also the kicking net. Arizona dodged a bullet, Seattle’s sideline blinked in disbelief, and Coach Carroll’s mouth seemed frozen in a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

It was a brutal contest all around, and it left Cardinals fans smoldering. Blaming his final kick, some fans would just as soon Catanzaro took up gardening, or maybe the bassoon. They’re calling for GM Steve Keim to pluck a new kicker from the pool of NFL castoffs, whose fortunes rise and fall like a craps shooter’s at the Bellagio. Outside of the top-tier, placekickers can run hot and cold. Why not bring in another who might help the Cards run the table?

But the youthful Catanzaro has proven reliable in the past and blame should be spread across the whole of special teams. There have been injuries, bad snaps, and poor blocking. It has been a stark reminder of the importance of the underestimated third phase of football.

From my seat, I’m encouraged by a Cardinals defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in nine quarters, which they haven’t achieved since 1970. Before every snap, Seattle QB Russell Wilson saw them shifting and lurching, advancing and falling back all across the line. An attack was coming, but from where? The Cardinals prowled like panthers, with a hunch in the shoulder, all potential energy, ready to race snarling through the line and lunge at Wilson, intent on dropping him to the earth and picking the meat from his ribs. It was a dominant performance, and if the struggling offense can find its footing, a second half run is inevitable.

For now, Arizona sits at 3-3-1, and trails Seattle by 1.5 games in the division. The Cardinals seek redemption today against a Carolina team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs. Beyond that lies a bye week–a week to lick wounds, retool, take a hard look in the mirror and come out fighting for the long run to the finish.

-Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from 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: Quantum Physics and the Whiff of Rivalry

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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.