Tag Archives: Chicago Cardinals

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.

Larry Fitzgerald v. Rams

Arizona Cardinals: Sheet Cakes and Sparkling Wine

Follow me on Twitter: @ericforgaard

It’s not all sheet cakes and sparkling wine in Cardinals camp. Granted, Arizona sports a 9-2 record, has a three game division lead and has won five straight, but coach Bruce Arians has never acquired a taste for complacency. Last week the Cardinals were largely outplayed by the struggling 49ers, recent games have been uncomfortably close, and it hasn’t escaped institutional memory that last year’s team also started 9-2 before dropping four of its last six.

There will be plenty of time for celebration later if it’s warranted. There is a lot of work to do.

The Cardinals have flown to St. Louis to butt heads with the Rams today, the team that took Arizona down 24-22 at University of Phoenix Stadium Oct. 4, leaving a “nasty taste” in QB Carson Palmer’s mouth and no doubt the mouths of others. Arians said he would have dinner with the Rams, “…but I ain’t liking them. I ain’t drinking with them.” Division foes don’t tend to receive holiday cards from the Arians.

Palmer claims he doesn’t hold a grudge against St. Louis for the play that tore his ACL in 2014, ending his season. Palmer doesn’t, but the fans well might. There was a whiff of revenge in the desert air this week. Safety Tyrann Mathieu simply says, “I just think every time we play them it’s a 60-minute fist fight.”

The once-promising Rams have suffered through a four-game losing streak to fall to 4-7, and Arizona will need to stay alert for blows from a team that may well thrash about in its season-ending death throes. St. Louis doesn’t look or smell like a playoff contender, and a loss today will effectively bury the Rams.

St. Louis RB Todd Gurley ran roughshod over Arizona in the Rams Oct. 4 win, sprinting for 146 yards on 19 carries, the only 100+ yard effort this year against the Cards’ fourth-ranked rushing defense. That game started a four-game 100+ yard streak for Gurley, but he’s tucked away his cape recently while averaging a pedestrian 54.8 yards since the outburst. It didn’t take deep film study for teams to begin to realize that if you stop Gurley, you stop the Rams.

Gurley’s counterpart RB Chris Johnson suffered a tibial plateau fracture last week that will put him out for the season–or perhaps, as Cardinals doctors optimistically put it, until the Super Bowl. That was a sharp blow to the spirit as well as the leg of Johnson, and there is little solace in the notion that perhaps now he can complete a definitive guide to the blooming patterns of saguaro cacti in Lost Dutchman State Park. He’ll be missed.

Time for last year’s starting running back Andre Ellington to step in, right? No. He’s week-to-week with turf toe, and has been ruled out. Rookie David Johnson will be the lead dog this week. Johnson has four touchdowns in limited touches and has impressed in flashes. He has fumbled three times but Arians says he’s getting better with ball security, as most rookies must learn to do.

Healthy runners are in short supply, but the 2015 Cardinals feature one of the league’s finest passing attacks. Carson Palmer’s 27 TD passes are second only to Tom Brady’s 28. Palmer is third in NFL passing yards and QB rating. His favorite target is Larry Fitzgerald, who has risen from several sub-par (by his standards) seasons to grab 83 balls, good for third best in the league.

There is a beautiful symmetry in play today for Fitzgerald: He needs eight yards to reach 1,000 for the season and eight catches to notch 1,000 for his career. Fitzgerald is sure to see plenty of balls spinning his way off the right hand of QB Carson Palmer.

St. Louis will counter at QB with fleeting golden boy Nick Foles. After coming over from Philadelphia in the off-season, Foles uncorked a 297-yard passing effort in his first game with the club, leading the Rams to a 34-31 overtime win over Seattle. Results have been mixed since, and he has thrown for one touchdown and four interceptions in his last five starts. Now Foles has been supplanted on the depth chart by the uninspiring Case Keenum; but since Keenum is concussed today, Foles gets the start. I imagine there is a shipping container in Hong Kong stuffed with Foles bobble-heads that will never see the light of day.

A win today would give the Cardinals 10 wins after 12 games for only the second time in franchise history. The only team to do better? The 1948 Chicago Cardinals out of Comiskey Park, who raced to an 11-1 record under coach Jimmy Conzelman and led the league with 32.9 points per game. Despite a fine season, the Cardinals fell to Philadelphia 7-0 in the league championship game and did not return to the playoffs for 26 years.

Memo from Bruce Arians: keep the bubbly on ice until February 7.

– Eric Forgaard

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